Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

NaNo Fail Mo

Right, so, “Why failing NaNoWriMo was a good thing”.

This was my fifth year of doing NaNo and the first year that I have not reached 50k in thirty days. At the moment my wordcount stands at about 31k. Now, that’s not really that bad for a month’s work. Averaged out it’s just over a thousand words a day.

The reasons I didn’t get my purple bar this year are legion: there were days when I wrote nothing because I had family visiting that I hadn’t seen for over a decade and I didn’t want to be rude; there were a couple of days I didn’t write because one of our friends had had a bad time and was round at ours and to be honest making sure she was OK was more important than my wordcount; there were days when I was just too tired after work.

Work is the main reason. I’m not saying that my work is more tiring than anyone else’s. There are people who work longer hours than me at more difficult jobs that Win every year. This year, though, for me, was super tough. It was like a perfect storm of distractions, complications and epic busyness. I signed up for some stuff at work that takes up more time, because I feel like I should be committed to personal development to keep me working to the best of my ability. I carried on helping at the Drama club. I had my actual job to do. I think I’ve had more late finishes at work this November where I’ve actually been doing work-related things than I’ve ever had.

I did not write a single NaNo word at work this year. Last year I wrote half of it at work. Oops. It usually becomes an obsession. I’m super-competitive and no more so than when I’m competing against myself. A CHALLENGE?!?! Bring it on. Fifty thousand words in thirty days is a good challenge. It involves writing (duh) and it is a target that is so easy to manage or totally fail at based on personal discipline. Last year, and the year before, my work suffered because I was so determined to get my writing done. An anonymous community of strangers judging me for my word count was more important to me than the work and the people around me. Failure was not an option.

So this year’s failure I’m counting as a Win for personal development. My work stayed the priority over my skewed and disproportionate pride and competitiveness. I’ve had a good month and I’ve really enjoyed the writing that I have done: I rediscovered my first ever NaNo and am closer than ever to finishing the complete draft for that story!

It was third year at university and I lived in a flat with all girls and a couple of them –OK, me and one other – were sort of into Twilight a little. Not totally obsessed. Not like Twihards. But we read the books and liked them a proportionate amount. Anyway, that November my other flatmate told us about NaNoWriMo and she said she was going to do it. So we all signed up to keep her going. So I wrote about what I knew. I based the main character on myself, wrote it in the first person, and off I went. Fifty thousand words later there were vampires and werewolves and shape shifters and trips to Norway and London. And danger! And romance! And a lot of kissing. It was a product of its time and in some ways so shameful but right now it’s at 70k+ and thus officially the longest thing I’ve ever written and I am super proud of myself.

So enjoying some pressure-free writing was more important to me this month. I am desperate to try and keep writing more regularly and at least get this vampire story finished so I can leave it be for a while and let it settle, and get on with some more grown-up ventures. Like the other unfinished drafts. And… the new sci fi thing… I accidentally started writing… um… oops?

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Out of the Silent Blog

I know, OK? I know. I’ve been mysteriously and possibly to some of you thankfully silent for a few weeks. What a month it has been! I have barely read anything, although I did start reading The Written by Ben Galley (currently free!) last night on my tablet and I’m looking forward to the rest of that later in the week when I’m not so ungodly busy. I can sometimes be put off by books with a really detailed map in the front because I’m not in it for the geography, but we’ll see how it goes.

You wouldn’t think I’d just had two weeks’ holiday. Oh yes, I put the apostrophe in.

Do you know what I really feel like reading at the moment? Twilight. I’ve got a hankering for something so vacuous that my brain has a holiday. Rivka and I were discussing Twilight the other night and we came to the cautious agreement that it wasn’t all that bad. I’m currently building a palisade (out of sharpened wooden stakes, of course) to protect our home from screaming Twi-fighters. It’s a book/series with issues, yes, but as an adult reading a YA book, blessed with a brain and the sense I was born with, I can appreciate it as a light read. I’m not about to get sucked into a creepy relationship with someone who watched me sleep before we even became friends, or who forbids me from seeing my friends, I’m not going to get married at eighteen (that ship has sailed, anyway) and I’m not going to spend hours looking pale and biting my lip. I’m just going to read it.

I tell a lie, I have been reading the Cosmic Trilogy, by CS Lewis. I’m halfway through Perelandra at the moment and by ‘eck it can be tough going. I have pretty much zero background in Philosophy and Theology (I have a GCSE in RE, and a term attempting to teach Critical Thinking to teenagers under my belt as well as a failed attempt to read Sophie’s World when I was younger) so I’m a little dazzled. I’m enjoying it though. Out of the Silent Planet was interesting though the pseudo-twist was quite clumsy (I suppose it was to thoroughly hammer home the moral point), and the linguist in me was happy with the way the narrator describes learning the language of the Malacandrians, and the different accents of the Hrossa and the Sorns. It was also quite short, which was good. I’ve got the trilogy in one volume, and That Hideous Strength is pretty much all of the second half. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to that or not. I’m glad I’m reading it as it’s making me think. It’s on the shelf for now though until I’ve recharged my brain a little.

So what else have I been doing? A little NaNoWriMo prep (it’s that time again) for my fifth run at 50k in 30 days, and hopefully my fifth Win. I’ve been sewing like mad for a wedding I’m going to this weekend, and we spent an amazing hour or so in Dobbie’s looking at all the Christmas stuff on Saturday night. We bloody well rock, in our house.

Yesterday was pretty autumnal. It was misty and damp and it just felt like a day for adventuring. So what did we do? We did a bit of cleaning (I still haven’t hovered…)* and we made butternut squash and bacon soup. Rivka made a nut roast as well, which we had with roasted vegetables and chibbly potatoes. We also watched Welcome to the Punch (I did sewing at the same time). Interesting. Just realised that the guy who plays Wearns the beardy guy was Neil in The Fades. Knew I knew him from somewhere…

Probably time for more updates as I procrastinate during NaNoWriMo. In the meantime, try not to let yourselves be drugged and kidnapped for a mission to Mars, eh?

*EDIT: Rivka read this and pretty much died laughing, imagining this:

Hovering

 

…at least I hope that’s what she meant when between fits of the giggles she connected Tom Cruise and hovering in her brain. Otherwise… she’s probably just shouting her superpower again. Right, Rivka? “Toooooommmm Cruuuuuiiiiiise!!!”

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Bits and Bobs

It’s Tuesday and that means… NEW BLOG POST DAY!

I have been tidying the attic to make it a more lived-in space, and I might put some pics up soon once the rest of the furniture arrives. I’ve been trying to keep busy and trying to get off my backside and actually do some stuff instead of spending all my time in front of the laptop.

To that end, I went for a walk this morning. I know! A proper one with walking boots and everything! The first half was pretty much all up hill, but that sort of slow, winding, gentle incline where you are slowly knackered without realising why. The second half was a steep descent where I could repeatedly say “I can see my house from here!” and look out over the Firth. It was worth doing from an exercise point of view, but it wasn’t as stunningly beautiful as I thought it would be. This is possibly because along the top section, where the best views would be that would make the climb worth it, some people have helpfully built holiday cottages so that they can enjoy the view. Cheers, you guys.

It was supposed to be nigh on four miles but I did it in about fifty minutes and I don’t think I walk that quickly, especially not up hills. Maths has never been my thing. Maybe I’m just thinking about all the walks we went on when I was little, that seemed to last for HOURS AND HOURS AND MILES AND MILES to my child mind and tiddly child legs, but that were probably an hour at the most. It’s probably right. I just Google-mapped the route and apparently it is 3.7 miles. Well done me, eh?

I’m still doing the Lies of Locke Lamora readalong. There’s a discussion every week and last night someone posted something that I disagreed with. I was about to go on a massive rant about but then I realised a. it was irrelevant to the actual book (and that’s what we were meant to be discussing) and b. it would have made me sound like a douche. So I left it and now I feel like I’ve grown as a person. Join in if you like. Three weeks to go! Details here.

I bought cherry Coke this morning and it is still the King of all Cokes. It’s currently sitting on the side going a bit flat because my body cannot handle the pure majesty of it. I am unworthy.

Last night, when I was meant to be going to bed early, I read Andrew Mayne’s Public Enemy Zero again. It’s still good. There’s a point near the beginning where the main character does the logical thing but we know it’s the worst possible thing to do, and that major OH GOD WHY reaction is still there. It’s 64p on Amazon UK so I think it’s worth a read.

What’s it about? I’d hate to spoil it. As the name suggests, it’s sort of a Public Enemy No.1/Patient Zero sort of story. It’s about a guy called Mitch who gets beaten up by stranger when he stops to help her change a flat tyre out on the road one night, and it goes downhill from there for him, really. He’s a bit of a loser – he does the graveyard shift on a local radio station – and a totally ordinary guy and he has to keep making stuff up as he goes along. It’s sort of The Fugitive meets 28 Days Later, except not really. I really don’t want to spoil it too much. It’s quite fast-paced and both times I’ve read it I have read the whole thing in one go. There is one totally ridiculous set-piece that wouldn’t be out of place in a cheesy explosions action film but mostly it’s not too overblown. Again, I say, 64p. Give it a go.

This is a bit disjointed but there we are.

I’m going to do a little writing experiment. When I have the time (which is NEVER but I will do it anyway) I’m going to write my sci-fi space-vampire novel. It’s called Blood Trace and it’s about an alien race who are vampiric, and it’s set in THE MYSTERIOUS FUTURE where humankind has gone out among the stars and interbred with anything vaguely humanoid in shape and genitalia. The point is, I’m going to try something radical by my standards, and that is to properly plan it out. Pics and detailed descriptions of characters; chapter summaries; motivations; a backstory for the universe to help me work out what they’re actually meant to be doing; all that sort of thing. I don’t usually do it that way. I’m trying something new. I’m envisioning a pinboard with loads of bits of paper and coloured wool. But that’s on the backburner, really, until I get some other stuff done.

I decided I’m probably going to invoke the Zokutou Clause for NaNoWriMo this year. Now I’ve been NaNoing for years I don’t feel comfortable not doing anything at all, but I do have three ongoing drafts to finish. If I can add 25k to each typed one, that’d do. The handwritten one I’m happy to add to as and when.

…Like this Friday! I’m off on a weekend adventure to Shropshire, which is hella far from here. If you’re not familiar with UK geography, it’s similar to the distance between Cleveland, Ohio and New York City. And a bit further than Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho.

I’m taking this last-minute, ill-advised trip (I’m back at work full time on Monday and I’ll be getting the train home Sunday alllllll day… Sunday service from the Welsh border to the Highlands is minimal, can I just say. What’s with that, National Rail Services? People need to go long distances, yknow!) to help out some people I don’t even know, and a person I’ve vaguely met. Because I’m kind like that. There might be pics from that as well, if anyone takes any. It’s a medieval thing.

If I’m not writing on the train, I’ll be sewing. I’ll be on the damn things for ten hours, give or take, and I have some embroidery to finish. My life, she is exciting. Right, well, off to ring the contents insurance people, and the electric people and tell them I’ve moved. Apparently they prefer that to a complex game of move and counter-move with treasure maps and coded messages. Their loss.

 

 

 

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Processing

This was posted on Joe Abercrombie’s blog the other week. I know at times it seems like I must be working for the man, but genuinely, it came up in my Facebook news feed and I thought it was particularly interesting and inspiring.

Now, if somehow you still don’t know about his work even though I bang on about it a fair bit, it’s pretty gritty, angry stuff. It’s fantasy with its teeth bared. The characters are morally ambiguous, the world is tearing itself apart, and the “heroes” can’t really be trusted as far as you can throw ‘em. It’s not really a chivalry and princess with wimple fantasy story. Heck, there aren’t even any elves! There’s magic, of a sort, but mostly it’s blood-and-guts “you’re on your own, buddy, have fun with this oncoming army and your tiny, ineffectual sword!” kind of stuff. It’s cynical and world-weary and defeatist. But in a hopeful way!

The point is, he’s now Made It. He’s not a writer. He’s an Author. He has Published Books. Someone asked him about his first draft for The Blade Itself, his debut novel. He says a lot of things, and amongst it was this:

“I spent an awful lot of time in those early days revising, refining, reading over, experimenting with what worked and what didn’t, developing a style.  Or perhaps different styles with the different points of view.  So whenever I wrote a line, I’d look at it, re-write it, think about it.  Whenever I finished a paragraph I’d revise it.  Whenever I finished a scene I’d look over it again, add, take away, reorganise.  Every time I sat down to write I’d start by reading what I wrote the last time.  So working out what needed to be described and when, how to pace a scene, how to use dialogue, mostly working on instinct and trial and error.  That was very important to do, I think, not just in achieving a good result, but in working out how to achieve a good result.” – Joe Abercrombie

That is a lot more work than I put in. Got to be honest it sounds exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I do edit as I go a fair bit; I type dialogue and then think ‘wow, that sounds so cheesy’ and rephrase, for example, but I don’t go that far. I just want to get the story out. Major editing is for after I actually know what’s meant to happen. I don’t think either way is a wrong way or a right way.

I mean, I like to think that when I write, I pick the words I want to use the first time around. Adjective choice might need refining, but on the whole I feel like if I’ve written it a particular way it’s because that’s the way it should be. If I’m trying to communicate that it is raining, why would I talk about the sun? Y’know? If it needs that much of a re-write then either what is in my head does not come out on the page, but I think it does, and I’ve just written 500 words about bananas even though I think it’s about my writing process, or whoever is reading/editing with/for me doesn’t get it.

I’m so modest.

“My own feeling is that the sense of effortlessness you strive for as a writer actually derives from an awful lot of effort.  But having said that, there was some spark in the book that became The Blade Itself right from my first efforts that I at least found fascinating.  Without that, I’m not sure I’d have got past the first page.” –Joe Abercrombie

Testify! I agree there. The ol’ swan metaphor. Obviously we need to put the effort in. I probably do a lot more revising than I think I do, because I do it without consciously thinking about it. I think the problem stems from the majority of my writing time coming from NaNoWriMo. Through November I have smoke coming from the keyboard as I Word Sprint and chase that 50k target. Quantity, not quality, perhaps. Although, even on a bad day I think my stuff is pretty schweet. So, anyway, since writing isn’t my job (yet… *shakes fist*) I guess I’m a bit haphazard about it. There are weeks when I’ll write every day even if it’s only a few sentences. Sometimes I go months without adding to anything existing. Not exactly the way forward if I want a career. So I know I need to be more proactive.

There’s a writing group near me. I don’t go. Maybe I should. I know someone who has been and apparently there are some scary practices going on. Like micro-planning everything before you begin: overall plot summary, chapter by chapter summary, lists and histories and bios and spider diagrams and everything neatly pinned to a board before the first creative word is written. I’m all for having a rough idea what the hell I’m doing but that’s going a bit too far. Isn’t it? I have a few major signposts and a rough idea of an ending, but how the characters get there is up for negotiation. But only with my own brain. I don’t negotiate with the characters.

I am sometimes a bit suspicious of people who treat their characters as though they’re real. A good example of this is from a NaNoWriMo write-in, in my first year of participating. My flatmates and I, all suckers together, were nervously listening to a seasoned NaNo vet. She was telling us things about her plot. She went into a little Word Sprint trance and rattled out another page or so, before exclaiming that she hadn’t realised that one of her characters had a cellar in their house. Um, what? There was an expositional scene in her book at that time, where two people are in a house. They end up in the cellar, much to the author’s surprise. She literally said, “Oh, I didn’t realise [character] had a cellar! It turns out that’s where they keep the [macguffin]!” like she was actually discovering a secret fact about a real person. Like she’d met this person and seen bits of their house and then found out, perhaps by a casual mention of the cellar in an un-related conversation, of its existence.

I know, when you’re writing, things come out that you didn’t plan. But it’s still a choice the author makes. Somewhere in her brain, she decided to have a character explain that the thing they were looking for was in the cellar, and take someone there to see it. She might not have expected to be writing about the cellar based on her original plan for the scene, but she did choose to make it part of the book. It’s slightly different from writing yourself into a corner with a character’s motivation or logical actions. That’s still a choice, but sort of a forced one. I mean those times when your writing is going as planned but due to the fallout for plot reasons, a character becomes derailed from your original idea and acts/speaks in a completely different way than you were expecting but it has to happen because ignoring it would make no sense.

For example, a spurned lover (who was a totally nice character and you thought they’d end up opening a pasty shop and they’d even filled in all the forms at the bank and everything) decides they can’t live in the same town as their ex/crush and moves to France because it’s high time they followed their dream, dammit!

What not to say: “Oh, I didn’t realise Tim was so keen on Impressionism!”

What to say: “It’ll mean a bit of a re-think but it made sense for the character, so I chose to put Tim in an art school on the continent while he sorts things out.”

I don’t care how invested in your work you are; please don’t become an idiot.

Slightly off-track. Writing process. I think I need to have one. Or is my lack of rigid process a process in itself?

Writing process isn’t enough in itself. Today, with amazingly good timing, Scott Lynch (another of my favourite authors) posted on his blog today about the magic shortcut formula of getting published. Or rather, the lack of one.

“Look, read this next bit very carefully: Famous useless idiots get book contracts all the time. Let us assume that we are not famous useless idiots, you and I. Therefore their situation is not germane to ours. Terrible, terrible writers also get book contracts all the time; this is because there’s no accounting for taste and because there is no accounting for taste and because, if you dig, there is no fucking accounting for taste. I can’t teach you how to get hit by a meteorite; I can only tell you about the “actively try to not be a terrible writer” approach, because it’s how me and most of my peers end up on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. This situation, which is my situation and, not to put too fine a point on it, YOUR situation if you’re unpublished and want to kill that ‘un-,’ is defined by the following equation:

Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE

“Maybe?” you say. “What the hell do you mean, maybe?”

What I mean is welcome to the universe, kid. No guarantees about anything, and the clock is already ticking. Try the potato salad. But that MAYBE is a golden result compared to the way the equation turns out if you subtract hard work, self-awareness, or perseverance. When you do that, MAYBE becomes NEVER. In fact, it becomes NEVER in bold followed by THIS MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS. !!!!!!!!!!!!” – Scott Lynch

You are my hero. Scott, if you ever read my books or even this blog, know that you are the first person this week apart from my friend J who is the person who sent me his own copy of Locke Lamora in the first place*, who has made me smile.

So, on top of the writing thing, I need to work on the perseverance thing. I feel like I’m already pretty self-aware. Amirite? I said the other day that I had a major motivator at the moment in pure and unadulterated rage and righteous indignation. I know that will wear off. I know I have to kick myself in the arse rather than wait for the next person to do it for me.

In the mean time, I’ll keep writing this blog, I’ll keep tweeting and writing short things and poems for online mags and fiction reviews, and I’ll keep bashing away at Quril and Murder Express, and maybe get around to making up better titles for them. I hope I do.

 

*I’m listening to the audiobook at the moment and Locke has just met the Grey King. I’m very excited by going through all this again but with character voices! The narrator is amazing.

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