NaNoWriMo Talk 2020

I’m sitting awkwardly on the side because I’m mostly writing RPG material. Some bits of that are very fiction-like and there’s a lot RPGers can learn from fiction. Other bits are technical writing.


Being a GM is what carried over my story-creation from highschool through university and up to the moment I decided I had to finally start writing those novels I had promised myself I would write…

You still create worlds, characters, plots… all those things that make up fiction are part of RPGs. It is just a slightly different mode.


It absolutely is. I did NaNo for… probably three, maybe four years before deciding that yes, in fact, I do love writing enough to pursue it in spite of the fact that I would probably never make more than a bare subsistence living (if that) from it. But I also realized that I don’t really like NaNo, in that it sorta has this core idea that absolutely anyone can write great fiction… and I don’t know if I agree with that.

Okay, look. Everyone can write (or everyone should be able to, at least). And absolutely everyone who takes joy in it should write. But by the same token, nobody goes around to recreational basketball games and tells people there that they should be playing in the NBA, or if you enjoy recreational jogging that you absolutely should be trying out for the Olympics. The “No” in “NaNoWriMo” implies that people are going to create marketable fiction. Novels. And this tells people two things:

  1. If you try for a month, you can create a ‘completed’ work of fiction that, with just a little polish, can be sold, and
  2. That professional authors are basically just people who do NaNoWriMo, and anyone can do that, so why bother with professionals when there is so much great fiction out there written by laypeople.

And that rubs me the wrong way. I really wish there was a huge push in December for National Novel Reading Month, because the market is already inundated with unpolished, awful, unedited crap, and it’s a nightmare to try and get people to notice your work over the sea of “Lookit what I can rite I dont knead no editor” that is pumped into Amazon and Kobo every day. A lot of publishers are really struggling (The Big Five just became the Big Four, I believe), and a lot of authors even more so.

But! That’s not to say that you (and I mean “you” in the global sense) shouldn’t write! You absolutely should! It’s fun! I just dislike the marketing around NaNo. Anyway. /ramble

Me either! This is nice! Thank you for starting the thread, Yashima!

Honestly, that’s usually what I do in a very rough way. I start with an idea about the characters and what kind of story I want to tell (almost always sci-fi, but occasionally fantasy). I then figure out what the climactic moment of the story is going to be… what are they working towards/against. I’ll then normally pick one or two critical points along the plot where, as Mary Robinette-Kowal says, “Yes But” and “No And” their problems, and then I just start writing.

My outlines usually also include a section of notes for significant technologies (FTL, communication, medicine, etc…) and sometimes a rough outline of governments or major organizations, but then I do my best not to spend too much time on those in the story itself. I’m not really interested in world-building, just story-telling.

I’m about 85% panster, 15% planner. A lot of the time I go into the major crisis not knowing how the heroes will solve it, and I “let” my characters tell me what they’re going to do and then retroactively seed those elements into the story so that there is an “surprising yet inevitable” element.

I used to GM as well (Robotech and Rifts from Palladium, great universes and artwork but ye gods the rules are awful), and I have a buddy who’s been published a few times in the old “Fading Suns” series. I love GMing… perhaps unsurprisingly… because it’s another way to tell stories with characters that you aren’t really sure what they’re going to do until they do it.

That stated, I don’t know if I could ever write an RPG myself. I would love to write supplemental stuff for established universes (and have done so very frequently for the “Infinity the Game” universe), but RPG writing itself requires a level of methodical approachedness that I don’t have. Good on you for doing it!

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Does it? Maybe I havent read enough on Nano, but I didnt think they were saying “Everyone can create great fiction”. I thought it was “everyone can create fiction”, and just maybe some people will find they can actually write well enough to sell.

Personally, I dont think my story is marketable. But I’m still proud I finished it. And I want to keep writing.


An editor of my acquaintance explained the publishing business a while ago. He claimed (and probably still does) that the purpose of publishers isn’t to put stuff in print. Any one can do that. The purpose of publishers is to keep stuff out of print that doesn’t need to be printed. That’s much harder.


I’ll probably rename the thread to “What are you writing” which is more neutral and more in line what my personal purpose for this thread was… (I don’t always know what I want when I first write the words, but editing is part of writing, isn’t it?)

I always felt that the original idea behind NaNoWriMo was to get young people to write. In a couple of years, I will probably introduce our friends’ daughter to it. She’s on her third attempt to write a novel at 12 years old :slight_smile: And I read the first few pages she wrote for the last one: better than whatever I wrote at that age. I don’t remember the details but I was impressed.

Almost all of us have the basic skill and the basic tools for writing. And I agree that with the advent of the internet and in particular self-publishing, the lines between the professional and the amateur are blurring, the role of publishers as gatekeepers has diminished.

The Zeitgeist is propagating this mindset of “with the right idea, you’ll make it big and if not that is your failure”. And this is not confined to writing. Coupled with some highly visible uber-successful authors who did make it big, this gives people the idea that they can do it, too. That it is only an extremely small minority in every field who become that sucessful is rarely mentioned.

Here the bonus words... ;)

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had three hobbies. She was in elementary school when she got her first camera, she liked math for the great puzzles and she liked reading so much she wanted to write her own stories. People always asked her what do she wanted to be when she grew up? She couldn’t be a princess–though that sounded tempting–so she said she wanted to be a math teacher because she had no idea one could be a photographer and she had already been told that writing was “brotlose Kunst” (aka a starving art). Eventually, she encountered computers and found out that it was possible to automate the finding of solutions to math puzzles and because she was a lazy girl, she was hooked. Because she thought that if she could only automate enough, she wouldn’t have to work at all (and could play boardgames all day instead).

In my day-job I am a software developer. Everyone can learn programming, you start with robo-ralleye (just kidding) move on to games like Opus Magnum (less kidding) and before you know it you have written your own javascript sorting algorithm…

But working as a software developer requires a little more than just knowing a programming language. I studied computer science for 7 years at university. What I learned there, I mostly forgot. Tons of math. But what stuck with me were tools and methods to work myself into problems to analyze them. And then I started working, found out I knew nothing of how to apply my knowledge and it took me another 7 years of working in the field to become someone I can confidently say knows software development. So from learning my first programming language around 1990 it took me around 20 years to learn the craft. And still I am ways and ways and ways off from the geniuses in this business. Also I completely stopped programming for fun once it became a profession. I do write code privately but very very rarely. And everyone can put up their code on github btw. It’s the kdp of programmers.

Long before I ever knew such a thing as programming existed, I had an interest in photography. And ever since I got my first digital camera I have been able to take that hobby to a new level. For many years, I uploaded a lot of my pictures to Flickr with a creative commons license and shared them in a variety of groups and a few of my pictures made it into wikipedia, into articles, album covers, books and whatnot and I am proud I was able to contribute these (especially wikipedia). And I have a friend who made this particular hobby into a job… I only very briefly entertained the idea because I like landscape photography not portraits and I am not a natgeo photographer. I like the pictures as visual memories more than I want to do this every day… but I can talk with my photographer friend about lenses, cameras, lighting and all these details because I know a bit or two about the craft. I’ll forever be an amateur with no ambition to go beyond that.

Now writing. It’s a long held dream of mine to be a writer not of code but words (it’s been up there in my bio since day one but the dream is far older). I’ve spent years now trying to learn to be better at that and I am with those who say to become a writer you need to write a million words. I started writing fiction around 2013 again. Since then I have written something between 350.000 and 400.000 words. So there is still some ways to go. My goal is to reach beyond the amateur level, which doesn’t mean I’ll make it there–in fact I think it is highly unrealistic. But every time I notice that I have taken a step forward in my writing (this time the outline) it gives me a little jolt of happiness at seeing that I am making progress. And maybe one day I’ll write something that people will think worth reading.

TL;DR: So many words… to say: there is a difference between doing something professionally and at amateur level and yet both are valid and one can go from amateur to professional with enough dedication and maybe an ounce of talent or two. But as said above, I dislike when people come to have unrealistic expectations through the influence of those who should know better.


Sounds like you’re doing well.

a realm called Five Cities spread across it. I am really good with names. The center of the continent is dominated by the huge White Desert and my „factions“ are called Mountain People, City Dwellers and Desert Nomads.

I wouldn’t be hard on yourself about names. I mean, what are most of our real-world placenames but generic descriptions in archaic terminology? And so many of us are either called “The People” or “The Foreigners”, depending which language won out.

The story is about two bank tellers battling for world supremacy by summoning an immaterial relic called the Belt of Orion.

I mean, I’m sold already.

I’m sitting awkwardly on the side because I’m mostly writing RPG material.

I spring wildly from one to another, like a grasshopper with a particularly short attention span and restless leg syndrome. Although I did actually finish something, which is now in the caring arms of The Path of Cunning editorial squad.

I tend to stumble over my own grammar / word-choice mistakes. I write in English despite not being a native speaker and this is definitely noticable in the first draft. My active vocabulary is not always where I wish it was but I find it impossible to write SFF in German for various reasons.

I do proofreading on the side, if you ever happen to want it. Your English is superb though, as I’m sure you know already.

Okay, my turn. My current fiction project is a generic dungeon fantasy isekai, almost. Instead of plunging a hapless Japanese gamer into a world of levels and XP, due to a bureaucratic error by the gods, I decided to plunge a hapless generic dungeon monster into suburban Merseyside due to a bureaucratic error by the gods. Former lizard-monster Sam is now faced with a bizarre mammalian body, trying to navigate life in a world without challenge ratings, with peculiar features like “skies”, “weather” and “paid employment”, and where eating humans is very much frowned upon.


On the other hand when I’m preparing game material I find I can’t build an NPC’s personality until I have a name for them. Up to that point they’re just “need to do this thing for the plot to work” and “motivation”; once I can name them they start to become people.


Sounds like you could lift some inspiration from r/outside…
It’s already giving me ideas of my own :slight_smile:

TYSM. I’ve had a bit of practice over the years. The only writing class I ever took was in English as well. I spent a year of highschool in Michigan maybe that is the reason when my mind goes into writing mode it chooses English over my native language. Also, SFF is so full with genre specific terminology that fares ill in translation…

However, I can see my own German accent in the writing. There are a few classics mistakes I make regarding word order, hyphenating vs concatenating words and mispellings due to similar sounding words. Those are mistakes a native speaker wouldn’t make as often… On the other hand, because I am not a native speaker certain clichéd terms do not appear as frequently in my writing.

Absolutely. Naming things is important. Sometimes I have an idea first but the next thing is definitely a name. And I am considering leaving the White Desert in it. Also Five Cities is kind of fun because they have a very important number in their culture which is the six. Everything is six. Except the cities. Maybe I am griping about names because I started reading Rhythm of War the other day and I have naming envy whenever I read Brandon Sanderson (and a lot of other writer’s envy).


Since we’re talking writing and all, what do people use? It seems Scrivener is fairly popular. I used the trial, but it just seemed a bit convoluted. After looking at a few apps, I decided on Ulysses (which is only on Mac). Everything is held as plain text, so searching is lightning fast. It uses markup language for headings, comments etc (headings and comments are the only ones I used). Like Scrivener, it has a distraction free mode.

And, talking about distraction free writing, I have used this a few times.


I’ve been using Scrivener (lately the windows beta) for years now. It certainly feels convoluted at first. But it syncs with my Ipad and that’s what I need even though my ipad keyboard is broken and I can’t get a new one because my ipad is too old.

I’ve tried a bunch of other editors before settling on Scrivener. What I like about it is that it helps me with the outlining process and keeps chapters apart and cuts projects into smaller more manageable chunks. It certainly has a few issues with formatting and usability and the darkmode is fiddly to configure.

As a software developer I am used to work with big development environments like Eclipse that allow me to work with the project in a variety of ways and maybe that is another explanation why I favor Scrivener over other things because it reminds me of that. I actually considered modding Eclipse into a writing tool for a while.

I have a bunch of other tools that help with specific tasks that come up in certain phases of the writing process. I experimented with a bunch of tools (including Ulysses) but the main one that I use is Scrivener.


I used Scrivener for a few years until I actually tried to convert the Scrivener file into something “usable” (PDF, epub, whatever), at which point it become multiple layered nightmares riding on a bigger, meaner, more useless nightmare. I ended up having to spend a whole day CTRL-C and CTRL-Ving the entire document into Word.

Which is what I use now. I liked Scrivener for some of its functionality, but I realized I could do the same thing with a few folders and separate Word documents, and that’s what I use now (one document called “Whatever-Title Characters”, another called “Whatever-Title Setting”, and then the main document itself). Very useful when doing series work, since I can copy those documents over to the new title.

I use jEdit for converting Word into HTML (for ePub formats), Calibre for converting HTML into ePub (and Mobi when I did Kobo books, which I no longer do since I was getting 1 or 2 sales, at most on a format that took twice as long as Amazon), and Word Templates for Print-on-Demand books on Amazon (the template is actually quite good, although the Table of Contents is a little fiddly).


I actually tend to just write things in Word. I’ve not really explored anything else. I’d be interested in your recommendations.

For bigger projects (like the Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve somehow ended up trying to write) I break chapters up into different documents for manageability. For fiction and everything else, though, I don’t tend to bother.

I buy virtually all my books from Kobo, since I have one, and only from Amazon if it’s the only option. Everything, ahem, mysteriously loses its DRM when I register it in Calibre anyway…


I don’t know about Kobo as a sales platform, but my physical device is quite happy to display epubs.

For bits where layout matters, LibreOffice (formerly Apache OpenOffice (formerly OpenOffice (formerly StarOffice))) Writer. It’s huge and clunky and has eleventy million features I don’t use, but it will read and write MS-Word formats.

But if I can get away with it, I write in LyX, which is a sort of front-end to TeX. It’s a highly responsive editor (*office always feels a bit sluggish), and someone wrote a Tufte-book layout template for it, so that’s what I use when e.g. I’m rewriting some boardgame rules. (E.g. my Firefly Big Damn Rulebook which aims to cover all the rules from base game, expansions, FAQ entries etc., in one document. And, @agemegos, that’s one of the few documents I print out, because I’d rather have a paper copy at the table than an electronic one.)

If I don’t need even that much control of the layout, I tend to work in emacs, either org-mode or markdown.

So if I’m putting together an RPG thing I may have a separate org-mode file for each NPC or organisation, then they gradually migrate into the official document.


In all seriousness, I use MS Pocket Word on a Dell Axim Pocket PC. I like the feeling of poking it, and it’s comparatively easy to carry. Have written at least 100k words on it.

Otherwise I use Word. Used to use notepad, but word is easier to read and autosaves. Dunno what other features are so important that someone would pay for them :man_shrugging:


I have an old (2012?) Macbook Air I use for most of my writing, and a backup cheap-as-snot ACER of some variety that I use as a school laptop.

I think it may be time to update the Macbook. I definitely need to replace it before it dies because I have a lot of stuff on there that isn’t anywhere else (nothing irreplaceable, but a pain in the butt if I do lose it). Originally I couldn’t afford anything better… I still can’t, but I can at least get something newer.

I like Macs. I don’t mind Windows, but I was super pissed off at “Windows S” when it arrived on my new(er) laptop. Dropbox was a nightmare to use, whatever browser comes by default on Windows is awful, and a lot of the controls that are pretty intuitive on a Mac were just more difficult on the Windows laptop.

I took a look at the small PC-like-things you guys listed, and I think that would make me want to gouge my eyes out. I don’t usually struggle with being distracted when I write, and I often need ye olde Wiki when I’m writing anywhere (as well as lots of Safe Searches for “What happens to a body in the vacuum of space?” and “What happens when somebody decelerates too quickly?”). I keep pen and paper near my bed and in my backpack almost wherever I go, but the vast majority of the time I write on that old Mac.

I used to go to coffee shops to write (because stereotypes ho!), but that stopped back at the end of 2016 when I had to get paying work to continue my writing. These days it’s mostly in the basement or on my couch in the living room (better light, worse seating up here). For the last couple of years (2020 excluded), my partner and I would rent a cottage somewhere remote and isolated for a week and I would crank out a novel over 5-6 days (I average about 2-3k words a day most weeks, and on my writing retreats, as I arrogantly call them, I can get upwards of 15k a day). 2020 I wrote a novel in March-May, and have spent the rest of the year editing, revising, and self-publishing (3 novels this year, which is 1 short of my goal for 2020, but, considering the circumstances, I’m okay with falling a little short).


Trust an aging techie: if it’s not backed up, you don’t really have it.


Same. Doesn’t mean I am much better at regular backups.
Because I use Dropbox to share between my computer and my tablet there is a “kind-of” offsite backup but: filesharing services are not a backup because you can still accidentally delete your data and also they can fail or be broken into. (" accidentally delete your data" happened to me with a big cleanup thing of Google Drive I did back when I used it for anything–I got lucky as I noticed it and GDrive had a trash bin back then and I was able to recover almost all the files)

I do semi-regular syncs to a local git repository with Beyond Compare (this has to be separated from the Dropbox because Scrivener Sync does funny stuff) and the git repo is backed up to our NAS2 (NAS1 is only for backups of moving pictures) and when I feel like it to an external hdd and my server. I know I should automate this.

Writing this, I realize I need to both: do better on the backup and maybe maybe think about how much Scrivener really does for me. Mobile git clients suck though. I am not good enough to write my own.

Anyway, Word. Lots and lots of writers simply use Word–or at least that’s what they say when they tweet or do AMAs or make podcasts. Word is the format editors want and use and it’s what you feed into a lot of other backends. Also it has got much much much better than when I first hated it in the 90s.


Once upon a time, at work, I was working towards publication of two years’ work by me and my former supervisor (who had just left the org). There was the original on my stand-alone modelling machine. There was a copy on the hard drive of my networked machine used for e-mails and office productivity. There was a copy in the “backups” folder on the departmental LAN. There was a copy in the “backups” folder of the bureau IT machine, and I got IT to bring a DAT drive on a trolley and make another backup to DAT.

Then I got a tech from departmental IT to come and swap the hard disks of my two machines, which would have voided the warranty if I had admitted doing it myself.

The tech has two little oopsies with wildcards in DEL commands (he was one directory higher than he thought he was, on both my machines). And then he tried to undelete both machines simultaneously with a virus-infected copy of Norton’s.

The Department’s monthly backup had not been done. The Bureau’s monthly backup had been over-written because someone re-used the wrong tape. The backup to DAT I had had done specially had been lost.

I re-installed the modelling software we had bought from the original installation disks. Reconstructeded the modifications I had made to it by typing the FORTRAN code back in from a paper print-out. Recovered my former supervisor’s text and diagrams from a copy in the Publication Section and re-typed his final edits from proof-reading marks on a paper proof of his chapters. And then I reproduced all the modelling results in six months of eighty-hour weeks.

You always have fewer backups than you think you have, even when you take this fact into account.


See, stories like this are sort of why I haven’t bothered to backup my computer…

That stated, I have Dropboxed ‘most’ of my stories (it should be all of them), and Google Drive’d a bunch of others. That stated, I don’t think I’ve ever done an official backup of this computer.

I probably should. I’m definitely jinxing it by not doing it now. I’ve lost my gaming PC a few times, and nothing of value is ever really lost (thanks Steam!), but yeah, my writing one would be a blow.

$1,300 for a new Macbook Air. Definitely money I don’t have… but maybe I’ll throw in an external hard drive while I’m at it? You can backup to those, right?

(Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a luddite? Technology and me have never really gotten along… this from a guy who used to design satellites… most of the software we used when we were working with JPL was Windows 95-compatible… and used serial ports… sigh)

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