What I learned from Nanowrimo 2017

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Nanowrimo. When writers around the globe battle to finish a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. 

Have you finished your novel? How was Nano for you this year?

I've only joined Nano three times, the first in 2013, then 2015 and now 2017. All have been successful attempts, only because I'm a terribly competitive person and hate to lose any challenge.

While I think it's great to write a novel in a month and all, unless you do it with a goal in mind, Nano can be a pointless exercise.

I learn something new about my writing process each time I do Nano because I set out to test out new techniques or spot weaknesses in my writing than I need to improve on. Whether I "win" or "fail", Nano will always be a learning experience for me:

2013

I wanted to see if I could write a 50k novel. I found out I could but it was an incoherent mess of a draft. Although it formed the basis of my space opera series, I ended up not using what I wrote in 2013 and started from scratch instead. (However, I carved bits of that manuscript into short stories and novellas, so all is not lost!)

2015

I was intrigued with the idea of being a Nano Rebel. I realised I enjoyed switching from project to project and that's probably my natural writing style and process. As a result, I had no trouble at all hitting 50k words.

2017

This year I wanted to see if a) my writing speed has improved b) I could write a workable draft c) I could finish the novel e) spot any weaknesses in my writing I can improve on.

The first few days of Nano was a breeze as you can see from the graph below. I easily wrote 3000-4000 words in two hours. (Deep Work techniques helped me immensely!) However, I was hit by a cold in the middle of the month, and had a couple of personal matters I had to deal with, and as a result didn't write for almost a week. By Day 25, I was pretty sure I would fail this Nanowrimo, but something in me spurred me on and I ended up writing 7,000 words in a day. I was exhausted the day after and instead decided to switch projects to the memoir I was working on. This gave me a third burst of enthusiasm to finally finish writing 50,000 words.

All in all this was a very challenging Nanowrimo, though it gave me hope that I truly can complete my novel in a month if I fine tune certain things.

Nanowrimo stats

This year, I learned that:

If I have an outline, I can write a lot faster

I spent the whole of October writing an outline for the third novel of my space opera series, tentatively named Blood Cenotaph. In 2013, it was a struggle to produce even 2000 words after hours and hours of writing in one day. This year, I can write 3,000-5,000 words in two to three hours.

Still, I probably need more time to percolate the novel 

Act I and part of Act II was very detailed, and I could picture the events in my head. The words just flew off the keyboard. But the rest of Act II was a blur.  I analysed what went wrong and realised crucial things about the plot wasn't properly fleshed out and that there were logical problems.

Solution: Start writing the outline months before, perhaps in August. Have a set of questions to ensure that the world building is solid, and maybe use mind-mapping to brainstorm ideas for the novel.

I need to strengthen my Act II plotting skills

This has been consistent all my writing years, and I realise I need to improve on this or else I'll have this problem over and over again.

Solution: I plan to read books in my genre and plot it out to see what the authors did, and I'm also reading books on story structure such as Story Grid and Story Engineering.

I need to improve my description

I realised that I slow down quite a bit when I write descriptions.

Solution: Read books whose authors excel in description, practice writing description as often as I can.

I should not push myself beyond my limits

Anne R Allen wrote an interesting post on how Nanowrimo isn't for everyone. She urged writers to take care of their health and well-being first and foremost. I have a tendency to push myself beyond my limits; I often put my health a distant second last or something. After completing Nanowrimo 2013, I promptly fell ill. The late nights struggling to produce the words really did a number on me.

This year, when I had that bad cold in the middle of November, I was tempted to do what I used to do: Soldier on and write. This time, I said no. I rested, I read, I took naps. To hell with the writing. And I still finished anyway.

* * * 

All in all, Nanowrimo 2017 was a satisfying effort. I managed to finish a workable novel draft albeit with big holes in Act II, but I'm confident that I can build on this draft rather than chuck it away and start anew like I did with the 2013 draft. I have also finished my memoir on my time in Australia, but I forsee a lot of work ahead of me as it's an emotionally challening topic for me and I'm holding back a lot. As a result, the memoir isn't as effective as I want it to be.

In 2018, I hope to improve enough to complete a workable draft with less holes in the middle and, of course, speed up my word output.

How did your Nano go?

How Elizabeth Spann Craig used Wattpad to gain new readers

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Wattpad's users are young, so if you write fiction aimed at older readers, you might as well not try. Or so goes the logic. But Elizabeth Spann Craig, who writes cosy mysteries and whose protagonist is an octogenarian, begs to differ.

I wrote about Elizabeth in my Wattpad feature for The Star,  but couldn't include the many other wonderful things she said. Here's a full transcript of interview:

What attracted you to Wattpad? 
There was an interesting study done by Nielsen in 2014 that found that 28% of mystery readers were over the age of 65. Another 19% were ages 55-64.  My self-published series features an octogenarian sleuth, and the readership skews far over age 65. I was interested in ensuring more longevity for my series and hoped to introduce it to a younger demographic. Wattpad has 40 million users and is 85% mobile. 45% of its readers are between the ages of 18-30. It was the perfect place for me to try to connect with young readers.

How do you use Wattpad? 
At first I wasn’t exactly sure how to get traction for my first story. After reading up on Wattpad best practices, I realised that for visibility with the sites algorithm, it's best to post weekly, uploading a chapter each time. For each uploaded chapter, I include a call to action reminding readers that my completed novels are available for sale on Amazon and other retailers. And I'm careful to respond to any reader comments that seem directed at me (sometimes readers will have conversations with each other, inline, during the course of a chapter).  And, of course, I asked to be considered as a ëfeatured book' on Wattpad.

Before you were a featured author on Wattpad, did you get many reads at all, or did it all only start rolling after your book was featured? 
I had a few reads here and thereópeople who stumbled upon my book.  But when I was a featured book for Wattpad, the reads and comments really started escalating.

Do you read any books on Wattpad?  
I do read on Wattpad. Sometimes I'll read because a new writer asks my opinion on a chapter. There are also some interesting mysteries on the siteóAgatha Christie included. But it's not the primary way I discover books, no. I'm a middle aged woman and not their targeted demographic. Plus, I tend to read a lot of detective fiction. There's room for a lot more mystery on Wattpad and I'd love for more mystery writers to discover the site.

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I noticed that you don't just upload the free books that you offer on other retailers, but upload books that are on sale on Wattpad. That's a unique strategy - would you mind elaborating why you chose to do this?  
That's true. I think there are a couple of reasons behind that. One is that, although my books are part of a series, each story works as a standalone — there's no series-long character arc, for instance, so I don't have to worry about readers being confused. Also, it's something of a sales strategy for me. I'm hoping that readers will pop over after an exciting chapter and buy the completed book on Amazon. 

How has Wattpad impacted you as a writer? 
Honestly, it's been something of an ego-booster for me. The support and encouragement from such a different group of readers has been surprising and gratifying.  I think my experiences with Wattpad have also trickled into my writing. I'm less likely to make references to things that only seniors will understand, or if I include the references, I'll make sure they're explained in context. And my senior sleuth is now very active on social media, which I thought would make my younger readers smile.

After more than a year on Wattpad, have your sales been influenced in any way by your presence on Wattpad? 
I've had quite a few readers tell me that they've bought other books in the series. I've also noticed a nice uptick in my newsletter signups, which I mention in my call to action at the end of each chapter. I use that newsletter as a direct marketing tool when I launch new books. As far as a direct impact, my sales on Amazon India have dramatically increased and I know that to be completely due to Wattpad because 11% of my readers are from India.

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What do you think is the biggest benefit of uploading your work on Wattpad? 
The biggest benefit is that I'm now reaching readers that I previously had not been able to reach before. I love seeing Wattpad's map showing the different countries where my readers live. Another benefit has been my ability to reach more male readers than I ordinarily do. And, of course, I'm being read by the millennial readers who were the whole reason I explored Wattpad to begin with.

What do you love most about being a Wattpad user?  
I love Wattpad's storytelling innovation. They dabble in transmedia, which is where I believe the future of reading may be heading ó sort of a multimedia experience. Authors have the opportunity to link to video content on each chapter and can talk about their character or the events in the chapter, or a little about their writing process. Writers may also upload a cast of characters to help their characters come to life for readers. 

Wattpad is also experimenting with native advertising and writers have been paid for writing in product placements or writing short stories to tie into a movie release. It's just a very forward-thinking site and I'm enjoying seeing where they may head next.

Many authors, however, seem wary still about uploading their work - especially their works in progress - onto Wattpad. One of the things they worry about is that they will forever be remembered for a terrible first novel. What do you think about this?  
I can understand their concern, but this is, in all, a very supportive community. What's more, writers can delete their story with the click of a button. Wattpad can also be a valuable tool for gauging reader reaction to chapters in real time. There is a demographics tab that writers can access that graphs reader responses to each uploaded chapter. There writers can see where readers stopped reading their story and what chapters especially resonated with readers (reflected in interaction/comments/votes).

Would you share your work in progress on Wattpad?  
No, I can't see myself writing serially. Publishing serially, yes. That's mainly because I don't edit as I write (it hinders my creative process), so I'd be worried about typos and other issues. Or, conversely, I'd worry that I wouldn't write as well if my left-brain were thrown into the process.

Would you still continue using Wattpad? 
I definitely will. I'd miss the reader interaction that I get and would miss the fact that I'm introducing young readers to my favourite genre. I love the idea that there's a new generation of mystery readers developing.

Elizabeth Spann Craig can be found on Wattpad and her website is one of my favourite author websites.