NaNoWriMo ’09 Journal: T-minus 13 Days

Final search for the lost manuscript and warm-up exercises.

Back in 2007, I realized that I’d lost the manuscript for a novel work-in-progress. The working copy was lost in a hard disk crash. I thought I had backups, but it turns out the backups had not been created. I detail the steps that led up to this disaster and my thoughts about it at the time here.

When I realized that the manuscript had been lost, I spent a lot of time trying to recover it. I still have all the “recovery” files. I put “recovery” in quotes because although the file had contained 97 pages of text, I only recovered about two pages. Not much of a recovery.

Gathering the Remains

Yesterday, I went through those files again, trying hard to extract some more text from them. No matter how I tried, the only thing I could get was the same two pages: about a half page from somewhere in the middle of the work followed almost immediately by the text at the very beginning. Just the fact that the text does not appear in order should tell me something. The hard disk that crashed was almost full. Chances are, the recovered “files” are not whole files but bits and pieces of other files mixed in with my manuscript text. In other words, what I recovered was all I’ll ever recover because the rest is gone forever, written over by other text.

This is the book I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo this year.

I extracted the usable text from one of the recovery files and put it in a brand new document. Then I tracked down the other files I’d been keeping with the manuscript as I worked on it: a FileMaker Pro file that neatly recorded the details about eight of the main characters and an outline that broke down the plot into chapters with lots of notes. Although I had this outline in Scrivener as well as Microsoft Word — I likely created it in Microsoft Word and then imported it into Scrivener with the idea of writing there — I won’t be using Scrivener to write. I’ll stick to Word.

I also tracked down some index cards I’d been using to keep track of the plot and characters and make detailed notes such as maps. The book is a mystery and the murder takes place outdoors, so maps are an important part of my preparation process. I’d done quite a bit of preparation when I began the project back in 2005 (I think) and just about all of that material was still available. It’s just the manuscript itself that I lost because of my own stupidity and carelessness.

Warming Up

And this brings up the point for today’s journal entry: in the weeks leading up to NanoWriMo, participants should be preparing for the task of writing. Create your characters and build your plot now, before crunch time. Take detailed notes on index cards or in a computer-based outline, or with some other tool. Visit the world of your characters and story in your mind and take detailed notes about what you see and hear and feel.

This should be an excellent warm-up for NaNoWriMo’s writing process.

Here are a few other suggestions for those who are participating:

  • Decide now what kind of schedule you’re going to keep for NaNoWriMo. Will you write first thing in the morning, while you’re still fresh? Will you write after work? After you get the kids off to school? Before you pick them up? Or are you lucky/unlucky enough to not have anything to prevent you from writing all day? No matter what your time is like, decide now when you’ll write and be prepared to stick to it.
  • In the days leading up to NaNoWriMo’s start, spend your scheduled writing time preparing to write. Organize your workspace. Get out your notebooks or index cards or computer-based outliner. Do whatever research you need to do. Make notes about your characters and plot. Draw maps and diagrams. Spend at least 50% of the scheduled time doing this every day you plan to write.
  • Think about the things distracting you during this warm-up period. Are Twitter and Facebook and your e-mail client calling out to you? Turn off your router or WiFi card. Are you getting phone calls from friends wanting to chat? Shut off the ringer or take the phone off the hook. Is your family making too much noise or interrupting you? Close the door or explain that you need to work during this scheduled time every day. Learn about these distractions and how to handle them now, before the month begins.
  • Get your need to participate in NaNoWriMo writer’s forums (or other writer’s forums and blogs) out of your system. Some folks claim that the forums give them support and ideas. If you’re one of these people, now is the time to check in and participate. Use the other 50% of your scheduled time to do this. But get it out of your system now, before crunch time. Online forums are a procrastination tool. Every minute you spend online, is a minute you’re not writing. You know this is true. Don’t make excuses to waste time.

This is what I’ll be doing (and writing about here) in the days leading up to NaNoWriMo’s start.

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What do you think?