Leveling up

I’m an eight-for-eight Nanowrimo winner. About every other year I go in with no idea, no inspiration, no outline. This was one of those years. All I had was a mildly unpleasant character and the LKFWriters’ Plot Twist Box of DOOOOOOOOOM! [0] Any time I got stuck or bored I’d draw another card.

Every day I’d write my 1700 words and then not think about it for another 22.5 hours.

I “won” on Saturday the 29th, killed off my character [1], validated my word count and stuck my notebook in a box, never again to see the light of day.

Sunday, with time and little to do [2], I opened my calendar of writing prompts and 15 minutes later I had written a new story. It was short, less than 500 words, and unpolished, but it had all its fingers and toes. Beginning, middle, end, protagonist, setting, conflict, resolution.

Huh. That’s never happened before [3].

See, I’m good at thinking up characters and situations [4], but plots and structure are always hard. I can never think of an interesting antagonist, conflict, or response. But there it was, on the page, easy peasy.

Yesterday I did it again. I’ll try again tonight. I wonder how long I can maintain the streak?

This year’s Nanowrimo wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t all that fun, and it wasn’t exactly a swirling maelstrom of creative ecstasy and agony, but I’m pretty sure I leveled up my game.

[0] AKA the Dare Box.
[1] Trampled to death in a Zombie Walk/Fun Run populated by women he’d dated, then insulted on his blog.
[2] All the people I’d normally hang out with on a Sunday afternoon were frantically pounding out their own last few thousand words.
[3] No. Seriously. It hasn’t.
[4] Bartender in an interdimensional speakeasy! City worker who maintains the municipal feng shui! Ten-year-old and her talking teddy bear in a Munchausian milieu!

NaNoWriMo Wrap-up: About the letters

Every year during November, the Cafe comes alive again while we talk about our experiences as we write our novels for National Novel Writing Month. I decided to take a different spin on the “from the trenches” posts as we call them.  We write them the day they go live without another pair of eyes to edit them for us, in the heat of however we happen to feel about our novels at the time. Thus the “from the trenches” designation.

I decided to write my posts using an extended metaphor of writing being a war zone and NaNo being my tour of duty. That is sometimes what it feels like to a “NaNo Veteran” (those of us who have done NaNo before call ourselves). I was able to project my thoughts and feelings about the writing, the struggle, the excitement, my duties as ML (and the loss of our family dog) to fit the metaphor.

I did it to give myself an outlet for creativity in a month that sometimes feels like a slog. Instead of dreading my Cafe posts, complaining about how I was struggling with the writing or I was tired and my diet had gone off track completely, I looked forward to how I could turn my usual complaints about NaNo into something creative.

Please note: I meant no disrespect or offense by this comparison. I do not mean to belittle any actual veterans or imply that writing a novel is anywhere near as important as those in the military serving our country. Or that I have any actual combat or veteran experience. It was simply meant to be a metaphor.

Thanks for reading. I hope you had a pleasant NaNoWriMo experience and that maybe my metaphor was something you could relate to.


Post-NaNoWriMo: The End is the Beginning

thumbI did it. I conquered NaNoWriMo with a few days to spare, aided in part by vacation and in part by a sickness that kept me home from my day job for two half days and one full day. The benefit of writing as an occupation (or preoccupation) is that you can do it even when you are sick. There are many writers who talk about writing every day. Stephen King famously writes every day (although I call bullshit on how strict he claims to be about it). Other writers have said every day except for Christmas. There is a range of scribe diets out there, but it is possible to write well when you are ill. You are sitting down. You can take breaks when needed, and you don’t have to worry about getting anyone sick.

Aided by medication and sheer willpower, I finished my novel, writing between four and five thousand words each day towards the end. I am happy with the first draft, overall. It clocked in at right around 54,000 words. It’s more the skeleton for the book than the book itself. I started out as a screenwriter. I tend to be a bit too sparse on description and sensory experience. I go back during the rewrites and flesh all of that out. The final book will probably be closer to 70,000 words, which is a good length.

I like where the story went. It took some turns that I didn’t really expect, and there is a lot of work to do to clean up that mess and make it all work together. I’m not happy with the way I used present tense, and I changed a character’s gender about a third of the way in, which will be messy. Not to mention, this is a Lovecraftian novel, and the guy didn’t exactly pick common names for his deities. I can’t wait to see what a travesty I made of some of those names.

That being said, December will not be a time to revise this book. I like to leave some distance between the first draft and my revisions. It helps me to see the book from a more neutral place and not fill in gaps automatically. I have several short stories that I would like to revise, as well as a novel and a novella from previous NaNoWriMos.

The hardest part about NaNoWriMo, I think, isn’t November, but December. In November, you power through the draft by thinking that December 1st is just around the corner. Then you get to December and lose some of that steam. That’s fine. It is bound to happen, but I think the goal should be to lose less of that steam every year and carry that momentum forward in to a writing habit that will foster your creative productivity until next November. Easier said than done, but I am going to give it a shot.

There will be short stories to write, and I have half a novel from a previous half-NaNo. Then, there will be revisions. Endless, tedious revisions that will remind me that the real work of writing isn’t getting the words on the page, but getting them to make sense to anyone else.

Today, however, I can bask in the bliss of victory, knowing that I accomplished a goal, and that I have once again earned the right to be called an author. With that, I wave goodbye to Very Dangerous People, with the promise that I will return to it again, when I reach another end that demands another beginning.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

There are three days left of Nano. I have 12.5k words to write, so about 4k a day. I haven’t done anything in the past two days thanks to work and general laziness. But with November ending with a weekend, I think I can get it done. And I really really want to.

I don’t think I’ve talked about my novel too much here, so I might as well now. It’s titled “Alexander Hayes vs. The Seven Deadly Sins.” It started as an idea of a series of short stories about a cowboy preacher fighting evil. You know, “Alexander Hayes vs. The Poltergeist of Whisper Canyon,” “Alexander Hayes vs. The Obsidian Steam Tank,” etc etc. Now he fights his toughest challenge yet, as the embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins from Catholic mythos are trying to bring about the apocalypse, and he has to protect the young girl who holds the key to it all.

I have basically tried to think of every cool Western pulp trope and take it to eleven. There’s gunfights through a town, a train boarding, saloons and brothels, and everything else I can think of. I don’t know if it’s any good, but at least it’s fun. Which is why it’s a bit frustrating that I’m so far behind. I enjoy writing it, so damn it, what’s the deal?

NaNoWriMo Week 4: Last Letter Home

I finally received your letter.

Your news is difficult to accept. One always thinks of the trenches as the place where one loses ones comrades. The news of death at home, where things are supposed to be safe and apart from the battles we fight, has shaken me to my core. Words cannot express my grief at this news. Our poor girl. She will be missed.

I find that this news colors my last week in the trenches. It should be a time of celebration. The war is almost won. The first wave of soldiers has already made it home. And yet, all I can think about is what will not be waiting for me when I get home.

In the meantime, I try to refocus my energies and keep true to the task at hand. My victory will still be a victory; I know now that unless an unexpected attack comes, I will succeed in my mission. But somehow this victory seems hollow. The whole experience has seemed tiresome. Not as I remembered it.

I have a few more duties to complete for my comrades at arms, and then I shall be free to lay down my arms. Possibly for good this time. I have spent ten years dedicated to a cause that I find I no longer believe in. I do not believe I can fight this fight anymore, nor lead people into this fight another year.

I am tired, my love. I look forward to a long rest when I return. Perhaps I will tell you all about my tour in greater detail when I am back in the arms of familiarity and the comfort of my normal routine again. I cannot tell you how much I long for things to go back to normal.

Soon, my love. This tour is almost done.