Thursday, December 3, 2009

After Action Review of Writing Project

I’ve seen many “winners” post war stories from their recent NaNoWriMo experience.  I thought I would let the din of it all settle down a little before sharing my reflection on why it was a good experience for me.

NaNoWriMo.org was explained in an earlier posting.  I participated this year for a few major reasons.

  1. I felt the need to expand my creative writing.  I’ve been working in the Non-fiction and business realm for a while and needed a diversion.  I’ve not attempted a piece of fiction other than my screenplays so I wanted to test myself as a writer.

  2. With the exception of my poetry experiments, I edit my writing constantly, so the thought of writing 50,000 words before touching any of them was intriguing and would stretch me.

  3. Frankly, to accomplish something, that many people talk about, but few do.  Write a novel.

  4. Finally, I have built my life around helping others achieve their goals.  If I couldn’t publicly declare a goal of mine and successfully achieve it, what right would I have in helping others?


Writing about one’s writing experience has a megalomaniacal feel to it, so I’ve decided to frame it within an After Action Review.  The format is a good one to follow when it’s time to reflect on your recent projects.

What was the objective?

I’ll explain it by way of a SMART Goal

  • Specific.  Write a first draft novel of 50,000 words or better in 30 days or less

  • Measurable.  A binary result, are 50, 0000 words written, yes or no?

  • Attainable.  According to the projects’ organizers it should be.  I have a comfortable writing pace of essentially 1,000 words per hour.

  • Realistic.  By sparing about two hours each night and securing good family support, it appeared realistic.

  • Timely.  The timeframe was predetermined; November 1 – November 31.


What happened?  (Facts only)

  • I achieved 51,266 words in 25 days.


What do you need to do more of and why?

Making the time to think about and carefully setting SMART goals works.  What I underestimated to begin with was the value in creating and maintaining a support structure.  I had several communities of which to share the experience with.

  • The NaNoWriMo.org community provided success measurements and pep talks,

  • My family, a supportive group of writers in their own right provided shared excitement and understanding of “sequestered” writing time,

  • My offline writer friends, some of who wanted to write but couldn’t,

  • My online writing friends, assorted groups of writers I’ve met via social media particularly via Twitter and Facebook.

  • Offline friends who didn’t participate but were encouraging.


Each community provided support in their own way and I called on them, as I needed them, for ideas, pep talks, validation or inspiration.

What do you need to change about your approach or goals going forward and why?

Accountability is so often uncomfortable.  It needn’t be.  It’s the thing that keeps us on track.  With all future goals, writing or otherwise, it’s important to have an accountability partner or system that keeps me focused and moving forward.

What worked and why?

Prior to beginning the project, I was open to ideas of what to write about, but I was not in the mindset of having a story that NEEDED to be told.  I was open to whatever came me.  I decided to capture those nuggets on index card throughout the day.  Over a few days, I had a stack of cards.  I reviewed them and organized them into a loosely thread story.  That served as my outline prior to writing.

When I began, I was not looking to achieve the highest word count of my buddies and eventually learned to not be looking for much quality in my first draft.  I also was not looking to be the first in meeting the word count goal.  My two biggest fears were falling too far behind and not finishing.  Not finishing was not an option.  That spurred the desire to not fall behind, which certainly aided the friendly competitive spirit with other writers.



What didn’t work and why?

I had scheduled time to write, but it didn’t always work out.  For some reason the majority of my writing occurred between 10:00pm and midnight.  I would post my word count on the NaNoWriMo website and then, if still in the mood continue writing -on a few occasions until 3:00am.  This was never the plan, but inspiration and desire do not always work to plan.

Whom do you need to recognize?

My family and numerous members of the communities mentioned above provided a lot of support.  At the risk of leaving people out, I will provide an honorable mention to just three in particular.

Bill Siderski, a fellow writer from Emerson College days, kept the competitive spirit fueled.

Unbeknownst to them, twitter’s @bookoven provided just the right random encouragement that kept me going the one time I nearly sabotaged myself.

And a huge shout out to Lia Keyes and all the active writers at her site Scribbleratti, which provided so much humor, encouragement, competition and praise for every writer.

In conclusion, pick your goals wisely and set about accomplishing them.