NaNoWriMo – an update

Ah, NaNoWriMo. That time of year when thoughts turn to the crazy challenge of cranking out fifty thousand words in thirty days.

Didn’t make it this year.

I got to just over 3,000 words. I was falling behind on the average daily wordcount needed by day 3, but figured I could still recover. After all, there was plenty of time. My characters weren’t really talking to me though, and I struggled a little with where the plot was going.

Then I saw this.

It stopped me in my writing tracks. My NaNo story involved a mysterious library where strange things happened. There was even a dragon involved. It was spooky. Characters running around doing Exciting Things and Saving The Day. In a library. With a dragon.

Don’t get me wrong, the tv series looks like a huge amount of fun. But the story? Someone had done it. Turns out they’d done it many years ago and turned it into a series of made-for-tv movies.

Confidence dented, I pretty much gave up. Kept poking and prodding at the fledgling story, wondering what I could do with it.

Then the double whammy. I read a story excerpt from Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library (coming out in January 2015).

“THINK DOCTOR WHO WITH LIBRARIAN SPIES”

Well, that did it. The opening chapter of The Invisible Library was utterly brilliant, and what’s more, *exactly* what I wanted my story to be like. Soon afterwards I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of The Invisible Library – it’s just as good as the opening chapter promised to be.

So my NaNo Library story languishes in the cloud. I’ve still got a few ideas, and have continued to poke and prod at it. Maybe I’ll write it yet – after all it’s not *quite* like the others.

After all, Neil Gaiman once said:

“Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

NaNoWriMo may be over, but that doesn’t mean the writing stops.

The writing never stops. Long may the story continue.

NaNoWriMo

Ah, NaNoWriMo.

I started the month with such good intentions. It’s been a couple of years since I last tried to complete the 50,000 words in 30 days challenge so I thought the time was due again.

Three and a half thousand words later, and I think I’m calling it a day on this one. I’ve got characters and setting, but no real idea of where the plot is going. I’ve poked and prodded at it over the past couple of days but no plot has fallen out. I’m pretty far behind on the wordcount target (should be on 10k by now)

Last time I did it I had enough of an idea to see me far enough in that momentum had spun up and carried me through to the finish line, but this time I’ve just got characters sitting around not doing much.

I’ve got some ideas for scenes and stuff, but it’s not inspiring me to write it.

Given all the other stuff going on this month I’m tempted to bin it and sit back and relax a bit (and play some Alien:Isolation, which is *brilliant* and I’m counting as research for the edit of my previous NaNo which is set aboard various spacecraft. Ahem)

On the plus side, I’ve definitely been doing more writing this month as a result of NaNo, which is brilliant. And some of the scenes and ideas are  good, just looking for a plot to hook them around. I’ll keep poking away at it and see what falls out.

I’ve also been looking into story beats and Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet looks really interesting.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? How’s yours going so far?

 

NaNoWriMo Eve

Ask most people what October 31st means and they’ll say one thing: Halloween.

Some people will look you in the eye with a slightly manic expression.

NaNoWriMo Eve, they’ll say. Ah, the writers…

The day before the month-long writing extravaganza that is National Novel Writing Month.

I won NaNoWriMo 2011

I did NaNo a couple of years ago (and learned a few things). I’ve even got a copy of the ‘novel’  that I wrote sat on the desk next to me in hard copy. I’ve re-read bits of it, and whilst it’s not entirely terrible, there are huge swathes of it which are completely horrible. My protagonist, the Big Idea for that year’s effort, promptly disappears after the first chapter, only to be rediscovered sometime much later in the story. I have no idea what happened to her. She just… vanished.

That’s the thing about NaNo thought – it’s entirely about the wordcount. Quantity over quality. It forces you to put your butt in the seat and write. Pour the thoughts from your head out of your fingertips and onto the page. There are whole sections of the proto-novel which could easily (and humanely) be removed and replaced with a single line of prose. I also started to lose track of who was doing what to who, and why.

That said, I really enjoyed NaNo in 2011. I got to the end of the month (not necessarily the end of the story, mind you) having turned out something slightly in excess of 50,000 words in thirty days. I’d drunk an awful lot of coffee in the process.

And I’ve written virtually nothing since. Apart from this blog, obviously.  Almost no fiction. Monty, the character who I’ve written the most about, has languished in my subconscious, waiting for the day to come for his hiinks to ensue once more.

So, here I sit, on NaNo Eve, pondering. Do I begin? The excuses are already lined up and waiting – it’s already going to be a busy couple of weeks – this weekend is a write off and we’re getting some decorating done next week for starters. Should I commit myself to another herculean task, churning out another 50k words?

Half of me says yes. Half of me looks at the other half and wonders if the other half is insane. Should I throw Monty at NaNo and see what happens? See if I can get a full story out there?

How about you, dear reader? Have you tackled NaNoWriMo? Are you doing it this year?

Things I learned from #NaNoWriMo

Things I have learned from doing #NaNoWriMo last year.

1. 50,000 words is a lot
Really a Lot. With a capital L. On day 1, it’s a huge snow-covered mountain of Lot, and you’re standing at the foot of the Trail of Lot wearing shorts, a t-shirt and entirely inappropriate shoes. You’re giddy with excitement and the promise of a story to be told. Along the way you’ll get cold and wet and experience the highs and lows, but when you reach the summit, the view is incredible.
Oh, alright. You probably won’t get cold or wet (unless you’re typing in the rain, which is pretty foolish) but trust me on the views.

2. When you get to 10,000 words, 40k still seems like a lot
It is, obviously. But you’re well on the way. Characters are turning up and doing Stuff, Plot is starting to happen. Giddy early days.

3. 25,000 words is a weird place
You’ve achieved a massive amount. Characters are now doing Stuff to each other in new and interesting ways, Plot is everywhere, Subtext might get a look in if it’s lucky, and Sub-plots bounce around like excited puppies. You’re halfway. Well done, writer!

4. When you get to 40,000 words, 10k seems like hardly anything
Weird, huh? True though. Perspective is a wonderful thing. That moment when you realise you’ve got four thousand words to go and you think ‘ah, I can do that tonight’ – brilliant.

5. Taking a day off writing isn’t the end of the world
So long as you remember to share the missing wordcount over the time remaining and don’t sweat trying to catch up. Unless you’re on day 29, in which case get your butt in the chair and WRITE. Don’t take too many days off though. I did miss a couple near the start and spent ages playing catch-up. Then missed two days near the end which left me 10k to do and four days in which to do it.

6. NaNoWriMo stories don’t come out finished
Or fully polished. Or even slightly polished. There might be the essence of a story in there somewhere, but it will need work. The first draft is suppose to suck, or so I’m told.
Boy, does mine suck.

7. Writing lots of characters is hard
I had entirely too many characters in my NaNo last year, to the point where I remembered late in the day that the two characters I introduced on Day One had entirely failed to make a reappearance. I also found another three characters wandering around from Chapter Two, lost and confused. They all came in quite handy when I needed some people for my psychotic homicidal teenage-angst-wridden AI to bump off in entirely creatively gory ways though.

8. Introducing lots of characters at once is also hard
Yeah. Mine turned up in groups of two and three. Finding an interesting way of introducing three menacing mercenary terrorist pirates in one go is bloody tricky. Go on, you try it.

9. Dialogue is my thing
Seriously, get me two characters in a room or on the other end of a phone/radio, and I’m happy as a pig in muck. I like my characters to talk. A lot. To themselves, if no-one else is around.

10. Planning helps…
I set my NaNo on two spaceships, with action bouncing around and between each. I realised late on that I had characters running around between different locations, but had no idea how those locations hung together. Whilst it was quite nice to be able to have them get from Engineering to the Bridge quickly, it probably contradicted tons of earlier stuff.

11. … but is not essential
It’s quite nice to wing it. Characters had a bit more freedom to do Stuff, and I can go back and re-plan my locations based on what I know now. At the end I threw in an entirely new pair of characters and let them experience the results of what had been happening for the previous 45,000 words. It was fun to see it through a fresh pair of eyes. And finished off the last 5k quite nicely, though opened a whole new set of questions. I reckon that the story needs at least another 25k to finish it off.

12. I need a new keyboard
My super-cheap Microsoft value keyboard is fine for puttering around on the internet and firing off status updates to twitter and G+, but for serious keyboard time, it sucks. Note to self: remember to buy new keyboard.

13. Sleep is for wimps
I find that my best writing time is from about 10pm until about 1am. I’ve done my day, I’ve settled down with a nice cup of really hot tea and I can just go at it. My brain has had the day to work out the kinks from the previous writing session and come up with some new things I wanted to try.

14. Music rocks
Finding the right tunes to write to can be a challenge, but is fun. If you’re writing sci-fi, I can recommend the Portal 2 soundtracks, ‘Music to Test By’. Bonus points as they’re FREE.
Whereas writing exciting action scenes to Kate Bush? Doesn’t really work. Although her new album is utterly glorious and beautiful.
Over the month I also compiled a ‘stuff I really like’ playlist on Spotify which I would put on shuffle and just write to.

15. I need to get a good thesaurus
Lots of what my characters ended up doing was going through airlocks, doorways, corridors, hatchways and interacting with computers, consoles, control panels and so on. Finding new and interesting ways of describing the same thing over and over is a challenge. I suspect in the second draft, a lot of that will find itself on the cutting room floor.

So, fellow writer. What have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo ideas

I think this year’s NaNoWriMo[1] might have to be a homage to Bond, James Bond. It is his 50th anniversary, after all. And I’m a HUGE Bond fan.

I need a good villain name – I’m thinking female, as very few Bond stories feature a really good female villain, with the exception of Rosa Klebb[2] and possibly Elektra King[3].

I need a good name. And possibly a Dastardly Plot – I’m considering having her attempt to wipe out the world’s coffee supply…

Suggestions onna postcard, to the usual address.

[1] oh god, am I really considering doing it again??
[2] though if memory serves, in the films[4] she was part of SMERSH, and therefore technically part of Blofeld’s gang
[3] not the best of Bond villains, though, was she?
[4] in the book though, she was working solo iirc

NaNoWriMo approaches

It’s that time of the year again when thoughts start to turn to NaNoWriMo.
For those new to NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month (see what they did there?), and takes place in November of each year. The premise is startlingly simple:
You start on November 1st and finish at midnight on November 30th. In those 30 days, you write 50,000 words.

Fifty thousand?” I hear you cry. “Isn’t that like totally a lot?”

Yes. Yes it is. And stop shouting, please..

That’s kind of the whole point. You’ve got thirty days. You need to be averaging 1,666-and-a-bit words per day, so you don’t have time to edit (well, assuming you’ve got other things to do other than write). It’s all about getting that first draft out of your head. Write first, edit later.

(First drafts, by the way, are supposed to suck. That’s the law. You can check if you like.)

Anyway, I did NaNoWriMo last year, and for the first time ever (I’ve tried it several times before), I went over that magic 50,000 word mark.
Not only that, I finished a day early. *polishes winner’s medal*


There were points in the process of writing it where I was literally laughing at how bad it was. The grand plot and character that I’d started on day one sort of fizzled out by day three as I moved over to see some action over *there*. I realised on day… fifteen? sixteen? that the character I’d based the whole story plan around hadn’t been seen for two weeks. I wrote her back in, decided that I didn’t really like her much, and wrote her back out again. These other guys? Doing all the cool stuff over *here*? Far more interesting.
So, it was an experience. It completely drained all of the writing mojo I had though, and I’ve not really written anything much since. I picked up last year’s NaNo recently and started re-reading it. I was surprised that bits of it didn’t actually suck quite as badly as I’d remembered, and bits of it actually sounded like I knew what I was doing. Other bits sounded like someone else had written them.

These were clearly the post-midnight caffeine-fuelled sections. You tend to get a lot of them.

I’ve not decided if I’m doing NaNo again this year. I quite fancy the challenge, but also fancy doing something a bit different.
Watch this space.