All posts in NaNoWriMo

Rinse and repeat

This always happens. All year I plug away at various writing projects, averaging about 2000 words a day. Then at the end of October, people start talking about Nanowrimo and suddenly I think it’s a great idea.

I mean, I know 50,000 words is not a novel, and the 1,667 words per day required for Nano is actually less than my minimum daily wordcount anyway. So even though the friends who start talking about Nanowrimo are mostly writers anyway (one of the criticisms of Nano, certainly, that those most excited about it are writing more than 50,000 per month anyway), there is a certain spirit of camaraderie that crops up.

And why not use this chatter to get a nice start on a new project, right? Fifty thou is half a novel, and, well, if I was going to write it anyway, why not add a few people on the Nano website and have a bit of an online party.

And then it all goes wrong. In fact, it’s gone wrong the last three years at least that I can remember. I’m going to call this the NaNoCurse. Check it out. This is a snapshot of my progress chart for Hang Wire, my superhero novel about an exploding fortune cookie and a serial killer stalking the San Francisco night:

It started well. Three days above 2k. One day a huge 4,091. And then… a big string of zeroes. So, what happened? What’s my excuse this time?

Actually, it’s the same as every year. November is a busy time for my day job, and this year was no exception. I didn’t even start until a week into November, and on my fourth day I was flown to Vienna for a meeting. When I got back I was flooded with post-meeting work, and then after a brief return to writing on the 18th, I came down with a cold and it all ground to a halt.

Depressing, right? Right. You better believe it. Yet another NanoFailMo. And I’ve blogged about that before.

However, I wasn’t as idle as that chart suggests. I wrote a 1,000 word Christmas-themed short story (more on that later) and wrote a 3,000 word chapter for The Gospel of the Godless Stars, my horror Western collaboration. I also plotted a long-short (novellette? novellina? short novella?) I need to write by the end of January (and more on that), and worked on outlines for two more shorts (and that too!). So not quite as disasterous as my Nano stats tell me.

Periods like this suck, but I need to accept they happen a few times a year. No biggie.

So Hang Wire is at 10,065 words. Theoretically that’s 10% of the book, but nothing much has happened yet except for a fortune cookie exploding, a superhero sizing up his new city from a rooftop at midnight (a cliche, but I had to do it), and a brawl between a Celtic dance troop and the operators of the fairground rides at a travelling circus.

The Gospel of the Godless Stars is now at 8,500 words exactly, with three chapters (two of mine and one of Kate’s) and a prologue down (also Kate). This is turning into quite a fun ride, which I’ll talk about later this week.

November action!

Happy November!

I like November. Back in New Zealand, it’s heading towards summer and great weather. Here in the UK, autumn is in full swing and the countryside is an amazing collection of colours. Plus November is nicely ushered in by Halloween, my favourite holiday, and last night was celebrated with friends with a viewing of the chilling 1968 BBC production of Whistle and I’ll Come To You, followed by my favourite Hammer horror film, 1970’s The Vampire Lovers. The day before was spent mostly at the Lowry theatre in Salford, where we saw a double-bill of M. R. James stories performed by R. M. Lloyd Parry. If you ever get a chance to see these productions, I can heartily recommend them.

This November is likely to be a busy one for me. Last month I locked the final edit of my detective noir fantasy, Empire State, which means I can finally move onto some new projects. This year I’ve signed up for Nanowrimo again to give my fifth novel a bit of a kick-start. It’s modern day superhero story set in San Francisco, and while I quite like the work-in-progress title of The Cosmic Fortune Cookie, it’s now officially called Hang Wire. And yes, that’s part of my ongoing quest to drop names and titles of/from Pixies songs into all my books.

Hang Wire features a newspaper reporter with a drinking problem, a sentient fairground, a fire-worshipping cult, a man who never sleeps, and a mysterious spandex-clad crime fighter chasing a serial killer. And explosions. And, erm, ballroom dancing. If you want to add me as a buddy on the Nano website, you can find me under ghostfinder.

But that, as the breathless narrators of TV informercials would say, is not all. As well as Hang Wire, I’m starting properly on The Gospel of the Godless Stars, the weird Western collaboration with Kate Sherrod. Writing two novels at once sounds like possibly a bad idea, but I’m just trying to be practical. Kate and I are alternating chapters, and neither of us expect an overnight turnaround on materials. As a consequence, work on this will be constant but sporadic, and as I need to write something every day, Hang Wire will fill the gaps nicely. Plus, Hang Wire and Gospel are completely different genres and styles, so separating the two shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have at least 1,667 words to write.


NaNoWriMo is over. In fact, it’s been over nearly a week. A lot of people wrote a lot of words. A few people wrote too many (I read reports of 35,000 words a day, or 1,050,000 words in a month), and the scary thing is that some of those people were telling the truth. I can’t imagine what the prose is like but I’d go with something in the region of “unreadable”. But that’s none of my business. A few friends of mine hit the 50,000 mark, and my hat’s off to them. The good news is that they’re still going strong and heading to the real finish at 80-100k.

I didn’t make it. I lost NaNoWriMo. Not that it’s a competition, not that I was out to achieve anything other than writing 50,000 in 30 days. But Empire State stalled at 32,000 about halfway through November. It was going well too – I was ahead of schedule and averaging 2000 words a day. All well and good.

Until… well, like many writers, both published and unpublished and best-selling and unsuccessful, I have to keep a “day gig” to pay for bills, food, rent, heating, power, petrol, etc, all the things that allow me to work on my fiction. My fiction is what I consider my job. That is what I do. The day gig is an inconvenient thing I have to involve myself with for eight hours a day, five days a week.

And as I said, a lot of writers maintain the day gig well into their writing careers. So I’m not alone and my circumstances are not unusual. However, what is possibly rarer is that in the middle of November, my day gig became seriously hard work. It’s a hard job anyway, but last month it turned me into a zombie. Evenings of writing were out as I was braindead by 5pm. Mornings of writing were out as I was too worried about the day gig ahead.

Result? Writing ceased. Actually a lot of things ceased (updating this blog, for example). It’s not an excuse for not writing, but it is an explanation. I failed NaNoWriMo (not important) and I stopped writing (very important).

Fortunately, there are several different solutions. One is the fact that I have nearly all of December off. Another is that I’ll be taking more control of the day gig next year. Overall, things are looking much better. I’ll have more time, and importantly, I’ll have more energy.

So here’s to December and to 2010 and to getting back into Empire State and to forging a career in fiction. Because writing is my job.

A little R&R

So much for daily updates during NaNoWriMo.

This weekend I’m off to the UK’s best comic con, Thought Bubble, held every November in Leeds. Some of my favourite writers and artists will be there, the hotel we’re staying in is right next to the convention centre, and it’s a great chance to take two days off and relax and recuperate and collect sketches and generally have Good Times.

Because November has hammered me a little, I must say.

It started off well. Harper Voyager – the science fiction/fantasy imprint of major publisher Harper Collins – named me “Tweeter of the Month”, which meant not only did I get a wee blurb in their monthly e-newsletter, I got a swag of books from them including some George R. R. Martin and Rad Bradbury.

And then my good friend Mark Nelson (zardoz67) won the Stephen King hidden text competition – and was even interviewed by The Guardian – and, amazingly, I came in second. The prize is a limited, numbered, advance reading copy of King’s new novel Under the Dome, and although that hasn’t arrived yet, they sent me a regular store hardcover in the meantime. I must say I’m completely chuffed to be one of the two runners up, considering more than 5,000 people entered. My hidden text entry is here.

Rad Bradbury: Empire State is also going well – I’m not writing every day, which is a problem, but the book is currently at 30,207 and on track for completion. The reason for not writing every day, and indeed not updating this blog, is because suddenly the day gig went mental. And not in a good way either, which means it has been a significant drain on not only time but energy, which for a writer who needs to write out of office hours, is really bloody annoying.

However, here’s the plan. Two days off enjoying Thought Bubble, plus I have Monday off for some writing catch-up. Then just two weeks of the day gig and I’m on holiday for a month, and then after that (fingers-crossed) I’ll be my own boss.

Roll on 2010. See you Monday!

NaNoWriMo 2009: Days 3 and 4

I knew I’d slip.

Not, I’m pleased to say, on the writing. On the blog. But there is no point worrying about some so trivial as not being able to update it yesterday. That’s life.

But tonight is a different story. Tonight I had a bath and read some more of Red Claw (which is excellent), then I drank a rather too-strong strawberry milk, and I brought today’s wordcount to 2,008 words. Today was a good day.

Yesterday was not so good. Writing wise, I hit 1,735 words, but it was hard work after a particularly difficult day. Hence no blog update. But my new axiom (I’ve always wanted to use that word, but never have until now!) is: words must flow. It doesn’t matter how bad the day is. I have to get some words down.

Rad Bradbury is proceeding according to plan as well. Chapters 1 and 2 are about 2,500 words each, by accident rather than intent. Chapter 3 comes in at 1,500, but I suspect the following chapter will be a long one (currently at 2,008 words and only about half done), so it’ll even out.

NaNo report, days 2-3 (Tuesday 3rd – Wednesday 4th November 2009)
Words written Tuesday: 1,735
Words written Wednesday: 2,008
Total wordcount: 8,908 (18% of NaNoWriMo, 8.9% of entire novel)
Words to go: 41,092 (NaNoWriMo), 91,092 (entire novel)
What I wrote: Rad Bradbury: Empire State, chapter 3, first draft, half of chapter 4, first draft.
Status: My average daily wordcount is still well above the Nano requirement at 2,227. Okay, okay, enough with the maths! But I need to fit this in around other stuff, and I need a routine, and I need a schedule. So maths it is.

I’m okay with chapter 3, but it’s more of an interlude, although it’s fairly important. It’s one of those ones that will live or die in the second draft, as it’s quite possible the information could be imparted in a different way somewhere else. But that’s for another time.

Chapter 4 is going well. It’s the whole private detective, Raymond Chandler thing, and while I’m not attempting to emulate (nor could I, or should I) and can’t get anything like the poetry of his work, I’m having fun playing with sentences and descriptions, and the rhythm of the scene. There is a damsel in distress, and she’s wearing a red dress and a black hat. Rad spends the entire scene in his socks.

Am I happy with Rad Bradbury: Empire State? Y’know, I think I might be. Early days, early days. Luckily my desk is made of wood and my wrists rest on it as I type, so I can say daring things like that.

NaNoWriMo 2009: Day 2

Weekdays are going to be hard. Like a lot (most) writers, I have a day gig, and it’s a day gig which tends to take it out of me a bit. So weekdays are when I need to concentrate and channel and focus my enthusiasm for storytelling and get the words on the page.

And today is no exception, but by splitting my writing session into two chunks – one early morning shift, one late evening shift – I don’t hit the wall too much and I can hit my goals. That’s the plan.

And today, it worked. Rad Bradbury: Empire State, chapter 2, is done!
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NaNoWriMo 2009: Day 1

NaNoWriMo is here – 50,000 words in thirty days (that’s 1,667 words per day), which for me is only half a novel, but it’s a great excuse for a little pedal to the metal. This is the first time I’ve actually officially signed up for it, so I’m going to attempt a day-by-day blog on progress.

Day 1 started with a serious bout of procrastination. Now, 1,667 words a day is less than my 2,000 words a day requirement normally, and as I’ve said earlier, on a good day I can get up to 3000 words. But having not written for a month or so, actually sitting down and getting started was going to be tough. And it was. But, as always happens, once I got the first chunk down (about 1000 words) and had a break, I felt marvellous. Later this afternoon I did my second chunk. It felt good.

I actually wrote all of chapter one of Rad Bradbury: Empire State, and I managed to wrap it up almost exactly on my arbitrary 2,500-word target – 2,510, to be precise! How, exactly, I’m not sure, but I’m not going to think about it too much!

An important motivator for NaNoWriMo is remembering that you are allowed to suck. The first draft will be rubbish. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but here it is again – this is the vomit draft, a regurgitation of the plot before you forget it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be aiming for perfection – you should! But if the work sucks, that’s okay. You can fix it later. The important thing is to get the words down to meet you daily goal of 1,667 words.
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Art vs Science

NaNoWriMo is now only four days away, and as I said last time, I’m using this annual event to get the first half of my third novel, Rad Bradbury: Empire State down. The required daily wordcount – 1667 words for every day in November – is actually around my usual writing rate anyway, so the added peer pressure from friends also doing Nano will provide a nice little impetus. I’ve spent about two months editing Dark Heart, so I’m expecting the jump back into writing to be a little rough.

As preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve done a complete chapter breakdown for Empire State. It has a target length of 100,000 words, and to break this into manageable chunks, I’ve assigned it 40 chapters of 2,500 words a piece. I’m a fan of slightly shorter chapters when reading anyway, and this sounds like a good amount.

I’ve been building the world of Empire State for quite some time in Voodoo Pad, which is a personal Wiki application, as the story is fairly complex and I needed to really understand some of the central concepts before I start writing it. The individual entries for people and places in Empire State blossomed into a chronology of events – essentially the beginning, middle and end, with linking material between. Once this list was down, I created a new project in Scrivener, made 40 chapter folders, then using the outliner I broke the chronology down even further into a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. So far, so good.

Filling in 40 individual chapter synopses is actually fairly hard work, even with a full event list to use, and at a couple of points I found myself creating a slightly less detailed linking scene to get characters from one point to another. This is fine for the outline, which is likely to change anyway, but this method reminded me of various conflicting pieces of advice I’ve been given about writing.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo

Time to post something official about Rad Bradbury: Empire State, seeing as it is my next novel. In fact, as NaNoWriMo starts in just under two weeks, that’ll be a good chance to get 50% of the book done – there’s nothing like a strict regimen of 1667 words a day and peer pressure from fellow writing friends taking part in the annual writing event to provide the motivation to get the words down!

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo before, although I have thought about it, mainly because something came up nearly every year which would make the daily schedule difficult to maintain. NaNo also has its detractors, I can see where they are coming from – for an agent or editor with a slush pile already reaching astronomical proportions, there is nothing worse than a million additional manuscripts coming in at the end of the year, the majority of which will be too short for publication anyway. It’s a distraction from those manuscripts already in the slush pile that are waiting for their turn to be read. And that’s the problem of NaNoWriMo – while it’s great to get people writing and thinking about writing, 50,000 words is not a novel. Definitions vary, but I’ve always set the threshold at 60,000 words, minimum, which might be a typical young adult book. For a debut novelist, 80,000 is more the norm, with science fiction and fantasy heading up to 100,000 words. 100,000 is what I aim for with my books. Of course these numbers are debatable, and you’ll find various suggested wordcounts for different genres and styles if you care to Google for it.

So if it’s not a novel, and if the potential for a lot of short, substandard (as in unedited, unrevised, un-beta-tested) manuscripts landing in already overflowing slush piles around the world, what’s the point of NaNoWriMo?

For me, this November’s challenge will be about getting back into a proper writing routine. When I’m on a roll, I can manage 3000 words a day. My target is usually 2000 words. So 1667 won’t be too bad, except I have spent the last couple of months trying to edit Dark Heart and haven’t really written much at all. But more on that later. For the moment, I need to get back into a solid, sustainable writing routine.

For people who haven’t written before, NaNo provides that motivation and impetus to start. And sure, 1667 words a day for a new writer is a huge number and is very scary. But so long as you remember that for one month it’s quantity over quality, and that this is only the start of your novel (not the whole novel), and that when the madness of November is over you can truck on and finish it without a deadline, and then let it rest before going back to edit it and write a second draft, perfect! NaNoWriMo might be the start of something wonderful.

Sunday, 1st November 2009, I’ll be writing the first 1667 words of Rad Bradbury: Empire State. I’ve decided to make this my third novel after spending a while thinking about my options for my steampunk series, which begins with Dark Heart (or The Devil in Chains, technically). I have planned this as an ongoing, open-ended series, with each book a standalone adventure, but with an over-arching linking theme. While it would be entirely possible to read the books in any order you like, Something Big happens in Dark Heart, which forms the basis for a plot thread in book two, Dreamweapon. The events of book three – The Computer King, to give it a temporary, work-in-progress title – relate directly to what happens at the end of Dreamweapon, although then the story goes off and does its own thing.

All well and good, except having written Dark Heart, and then my superhero novel Seven Wonders, is it necessarily the best idea to go straight back to the steampunk universe of Bellamy and Clarke with Dreamweapon? If Dreamweapon is linked to Dark Heart, does its sale depend upon the sale of Dark Heart? Or to put it another way, if my first three books are Dark Heart, Seven Wonders, and Dreamweapon, I’d have three novels written but only two to sell (Dark Heart and Seven Wonders). But, on the other hand, if my first three books are Dark Heart, Seven Wonders and Rad Bradbury: Empire State, I’d have three novels written and three to sell.

Now, this is oversimplifying things and quite possibly over-thinking them as well. Talk of sales and the like are premature, and to be thinking about this in too much detail is just wasting my time. A lot of debut writers (especially in fantasy and science fiction) do start with multi-book series, and I should be writing what I want to write rather than what I think I should be writing. That way lies madness and (possibly more importantly) failure. The most important thing to do is write well. If the stories are good, then everything else will follow.

So having said that, why no Dreamweapon? The answer is simple because when I came up with the idea for Rad Bradbury: Empire State, it excited me, and I couldn’t wait to plot it and write it. It’s a complex story, and for the last month I’ve been battling with an outline (thankfully I discovered VoodooPad which is making world building a lot easier) in order to start writing in November. Dreamweapon is plotted and I like the story and but it won’t hurt for it to sit in the drawer for a bit. Besides which, I haven’t finished editing Dark Heart yet, and would prefer to get that book done and dusted before moving on the sequel, just in case something major changes that impacts future books in the series.

Rad Bradbury: Empire State is a standalone science fiction fantasy pulp detective noir adventure. Which sounds immensely silly. For NaNo I’ve picked “fantasy” as the genre. Which doesn’t quite fit, but it’s more appropriate than “science fiction”.

Stay tuned!