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  • Writer's pictureJames Varma

Writing Another Way

Sometimes things don't work the way they always do, so what do I do when they don't?

Writing Another Way

Writing the JSR Way

Back in July I wrote an article here about how I write, what my process is and how foolproof it is for me.

As it turns out I was the fool.

This past Nanowrimo I was writing the final book in my Wild Card series, a wild west fantasy series set in a fictional state of america. As the final book there was a lot to put together, not just the threads of this book and the rest of the series, but of another series I had written. this had turned into my Avengers. The culmination of multiple stories, with more protagonists and quite frankly more words than was possible in a month.

It didn't help that I had a bad start to Nanowrimo month and never really recovered - I finished the 50k but I was nowhere near done with the story.

Something that I was worried about before starting - and that I think was made true during the month - was that my writing process just doesn't work for longer books. The books I usually write are in the realm of 60k-120k words (which is between 200 and 400 pages I think), and my methodology, where I write for a solid month with maybe some spillover is great for that. You're a little burned out at the end but you have a full first draft, and that burn out means that you will wait a little while before reviewing it with a fresh mind.

With this book I realised pretty early on that I wasn't going to finish it in one sitting.

Though writing is still ongoing with this book, today I'm going to do a little bit of a retrospective on what happened, what I learned and where I've gone from there.

Nanowrimo 2023

For slightly deeper context, at Nanowrimo I like to set aside as much of the month as I can. At one time I would have totally disappeared into my writing bubble for the whole 30 days, but these days I'm much better at making sure I don't become a hermit.

That said, the first weekend is still always me time and I use it to get as much writing done as I am physically able to.

I don't travel.

I don't go out.

I just write.

It's a really good way for me to get things started and give myself a lot of momentum to kick things off.

About ten years ago was the only time I've ever failed a Nanowrimo and I believe to this day that it's because when writing began I was visiting a friend in america so I didn't get that full head of steam, and so momentum fell away pretty quickly.

So what went wrong?

This year I was also visiting a friend on the first weekend.

Usually the first weekend of a writing month I get a good 4k words per day friday-sunday. This year I only got 4500 over the whole weekend.

It killed my momentum from the start and I never really picked it back up. I had 1 day after that where I got more than 3k words and a lot where I got less than 2k.

Now for most people anything over 1k is great, it's fantastic even, but I'm not most people. I aim for 3333 words a day, and when I don't hit it I'm disappointed in myself.

All that said, I did complete the month. I got 63340 words, but then my daily count fell off a cliff.

Post Nanowrimo 2023

Usually when Nanowrimo ends I get to the end of the month and if the book isn't done I lower my standards (I don't want to hit 3333, I want to hit 2000 a day) and I keep going.

This month I was so done that I just stopped. By the fifteenth of December, 2 weeks later, I had written about 3500 additional words.

I kept going back because I felt guilty, but I wasn't really writing.

I have in the last couple of days started writing properly again, getting almost 3k on day 1 and almost 4k on day 2, but only time will tell if I keep it up.

But those two weeks were brutal.

My methodology just didn't work for this project, in fact it had harmed the project. I could see that I still had two thirds of the book left and I baulked. I just couldn't keep going. Which meant to me that the project was dead, because usually when I stop writing I'm done for good.

I won't be picking it up again.

So what was different this time?


It's easy to say that I managed to rally because this book is important to me, because it is and there was no way that this book would remain dead.

I simply couldn't get to book 6 of the series, the final book and just give up, but there was every chance that I'd be able to put it down and not pick it up for 6 months, or decide that what I'd done so far just didn't work and start over.

It's also easy to say I just found the motivation, but I don't think that's the point either. Yeah, I did find the motivation, and yes I did know that I was going to have to keep going eventually, but why now, why did all of that happen when it did?

I think it happened because of a few totally disconnected things happening at the same time.

Trigger 1

The first trigger was easiest to discern. I started my 2 week Christmas holiday period. I don't have work for the next 2 weeks and I have plenty of time to write.

Trigger 2

I recently 'renovated' my office into an office/living room. I created a comfy space that allows me to disconnect from work and feel relaxed. It also gives me an extra space to write, whereas before I was writing at the same desk I was working at.

Trigger 3

And trigger 3 which I think is the important one, was that I stumbled across Christy Anne Jones' Youtube channel.

Christy Anne Jones is a speculative fiction writer (like myself apparently). Now I usually see other writers' youtube channels or blogs or whatever and keep moving. I don't know what it is, I think it's something about seeing their stuff making me mimic them or something, genuinely not sure. But this time I stopped.

She does vlogs on a lot of things, but the ones that intrigued me were the ones where she read up on a creative person's creative regime/schedule/process and did it for a couple of days.

I'm not sure why but it fascinated me. I think she was genuinely entertaining, but I also noticed and heard about things that I thought sounded like a good idea and all of a sudden I wanted to try them. Now I couldn't try them without also writing but... wouldn't you know it, I have a book that needs finishing.

And so I did, and am and will.

What did I learn

So what did I learn from this whole experience?

First of all I wouldn't say that this was a failed experience. I wrote 60+k of my novel in a month and that's not nothing. It's just not what I was expecting. From that I learned that I need to be able to adjust my expectations. Writing a book in a month is not the same as writing any book in a month, no matter how many times I've done it.

I also learned that my writing process isn't suited to every situation, especially long books like this one. I think in future a long book like this needs to be done outside of the Nanowrimo landscape. Nanowrimo is a great tool, but not every tool is used on every... I've lost this metafore, so let's just say it wasn't right for the project. Its 1 month limit gives a writer an end point. Something that I have learned as a game designer is that if you give a player an end point, then that is when 90% will stop playing the game, it's why multiplayer games became so popular with publishers a few years back, the lack of conclusion means players keep playing (and spending), the same is true here. For a big book like this I don't want to have that end point. That day where I'm aiming to finish. I don't want a lake where I can see the other side, I want an ocean where I could keep sailing forever, or at least until I run out of fuel. (That Metafore landed a bit better)

I learned that what I get from Nanowrimo in terms of stats I can build myself in Google sheets. Brandon Sanderson is a big fan of tracking word count and thats how he does it, it just never occurred to me until Christy Anne Jones said that he and she did this that I could as well.

And I learned that putting something down doesn't always mean it has to be finished. Sometimes taking a break is fine, though sometimes it takes a lot to return, and it might not be something you can instigate internally.


Something else I've been thinking about since watching some of Christy's videos is that she talks about writing a lot in her vlogs, and about what she's doing. I think it helps to keep her motivated. I don't have the presence for youtube, but I might start writing a little more about how writing's going on here or on Twitter (stupidly now called 'X') but we'll see.

Thank you for reading. I hope some of that was helpful to anyone out there. If not the things I learned, then at least the knowledge that, if you're having a bad writing day, you're not the only one.

Interested in reading Day Bringer? it's in the Amazon UK store and the Amazon US store or any Amazon store near you.


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