NaNo 2014 – Anthology of False Starts

50,013 words

NaNo Graph 2014

If I thought that NaNo had been difficult last year, then 2014 was a complete nightmare. I wasn’t worried about my slow start and I was away for four days the first weekend of the month to celebrate my little brother’s wedding (gratz! I love you little bro!)

However, each day it got harder and harder to put anything down at all. I pushed back the writing again and again. This went beyond the usual lack of motivation, I was in a deep dark funk. I had weekly appointments with my doctor, half of which I blew off to sleep instead, and my daily medication didn’t seem to be touching the depression in the slightest.

My starting idea was a story called Asylum. I’d recently started playing the game The Evil Within, which had inspired a wild theory about a committed serial killer that I had plans of spinning into a novella. The first two real writing sessions went well, but it quickly became apparent that either my story wasn’t going to pan out or I didn’t have the skills to build on the concept I’d created.

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Worried About Word Counts

How long is a novel? It’s probably one of the most commonly asked questions from aspiring authors-to-be, and it’s an important one. The answer depends on your genre and your target audience: a pulp romance won’t be as long as the first book in the trilogy for your epic fantasy, and stories for younger audiences are generally more succinct than those written for mature readers.

So, why do I bring this up? Because I’m struggling against a word count that just doesn’t want to increase.

Part of the problem is my reluctance to just dig in and write new content. The other part of the problem is word bloat.

NaNoWriMo is fantastic for the problem of getting your stories committed to paper (virtual or no), but in reaching the target word count, sometimes entire sections of what was produced in November is belaboured, repetitive, loquacious, or just plain awful.

So, with the NaNo well behind us, the time can be taken to excise the dead weight so that the healthy flesh of good writing can thrive. All the same, few things can be quite so disheartening as finishing a day’s work with significantly less words than you started with. It doesn’t feel like progress, and worse, it took you all that effort to accomplish.

So, I’m even further from my goal than before, but tomorrow’s a new day, to try again.

Competitive Writing

Early in the year, when I was all gung-ho about publishing and marketing, I was reading a lot of blogs with advice for new and aspiring authors. There is one piece of advice that has – in a way – stuck with me, niggling at the back of my mind.

The tip that the blogger was attempting to impart was that, in order to be “competitive” in today’s market, a writer should be producing two novels and a short story each year. That’s two complete, polished, ready-to-publish novels and a complete, polished, ready-to-publish short story. The reasoning seemed to be that if you didn’t have something coming out every 4-6 months, the modern reader would grow bored and forget all about you.

Wether this is true or not, it still bothers me. Admittedly, I am the kind of writer who needs deadlines, I can’t and won’t deny that, I am a woefully unmotivated writer. Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking that anyone who can nail 5,000 words in a breezy day of writing wouldn’t need help finishing anything, and yet here we are.

So, surely, this benchmark would seem like a good thing for me? This kind of thing that I could strive for? After all, surely the faster you can write books, the more money you could (theoretically) make, right? Well, maybe that day is still yet to come for me, but in the meantime, I found this little ray of hope:

GerogeRRMartinGoodBooks

Yes, A Song of Ice and Fire is insanely complicated, and I’m not even close to being in that league, but I have a little faith in my readers that, even if they forget me in between novels, I found them once and I will find them again.

BONUS! Check out this Buzzfeed on how George R.R. Martin will destroy everything you love (caution: spoilers).

My Own Worst Enemy

Writer’s block. It seems to plague even the most prolific of writers. That creative stoppage that keeps you from moving forward.

The trouble with writer’s block is that it is only a symptom. The disease is far more insidious. There are thousands of tips, strategies, techniques, & exercises for overcoming or by-passing that looming sense of “not knowing what to write”. The thing is, dealing with the block is simple. Dealing with what caused it is another thing altogether.

I haven’t done any real work in quite a while now. I’ve entertained dozens of distractions – some of them constructive, some of them highly enjoyable – but, at the end of the day, they are exactly that: distractions from the real task. Ways to get around doing writing.

I could say that I’m stuck, & that wouldn’t be entirely untrue. It is a fact that I’m not sure how to connect where I’m up to with where I want to go, but I already have a favourite way to deal with that.

The real problem is one of motivation.

Whether it is self-doubt or procrastination or just the lack of discipline, the heart of the matter is that I could be working, I just haven’t been. I really do enjoy writing. I just wish I was better at making myself do it.

At Great Cost [Spoilers]

CAUTION: This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I killed off one of my characters. It wasn’t the first time I’d done so, either. In fact, I find I have quite a knackfor murdering my non-narrating characters. Why do I do this, & what does it have to do with Star Trek: the Installment Where all the Dudes Cry?

I was watching Into Darkness for the second time today (did you know there’s a deleted scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering? You’re welcome), when my biggest complaint about this movie got me to thinking.

In an awkwardly shoe-horned scene, Old Spock tells New Spock that their enemy was only defeated at great cost. The running theme up until this point has been sacrifice and the worth of a life, and the survival of the Enterprise’s entire crew rests precariously in the hands of a ruthless killer. It’s a dramatic staple, to dangle the life or lives of those dear to the protagonist, to ask them just how high a price they would pay. As a dramatic staple, it works, if for no other reason than the fact that we mostly agree that our own lives are pretty damn valuable.

So, at the end of the movie, what did it really cost them? Old Spock may recall paying the ultimate price (this is why you shouldn’t drop bridges on characters if their actor wants to quit), but (new) Kirk got to punch his Free latte on your tenth visit! loyalty card in the afterlife, and make some valuable personal growth.

As previously discussed, I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen to my characters several thousand words down the line, & I’ve never created a significant character with the prior knowledge they were going to die (there was that one guy whom I created for a single scene, that I gave a back story to, & he ended up surviving on me, go figure). But when all the trials are through & it’s time to take stock, it’s important that the heroes don’t get off scot-free.

As demonstrated by the trope Earn Your Happy Ending, no one wants to see the hero get a free ride. Star Trek‘s use of the Reset Button not only negates the driving moral of the story; but if Death is Cheap, then the primary tension turns out to have been false as well.

So, yes, I’ve put characters on the chopping block. Perhaps it’s a cop out – after all, death is a bit of a short-cut to drama – but there can be no denying the price has been paid.

And Then They did What?

If you want to experience the next-closest thing to lucid dreaming, try being a writer. Non-writers generally don’t believe me when I say that I don’t always have control over what my characters do, or what happens to them, but a common refrain amongst writers is “I didn’t expect that”.

Imagination is an amazing thing, as is the process of creation. Telling a story often begins with the seed of an idea that you germinate into a majestic tree, full of life and colour. And like a growing tree, you can’t always account for the actions of the weather and the other life around you. Perhaps the weather turns bad, or there is a bushfire, your tree becomes dormant and damaged. On the other hand, sometimes the weather is good, too good, and you end up with wild overgrowth that needs to be hacked away into something more manageable and attractive.

Some writers are planners. Their ideas are more like bonsai, shaped and influenced from the very beginning. They usually have a pretty good sense of what will happen when, but even if you plan or things to go a certain way, you might not get what you want. When I was writing Speak for the Dead, I saw a way for my characters to get together. I had put them in the same room, all I needed to do was write the dialogue between them & have them end up in bed together. However, at the end of the conversation, one party walked out – it simply felt more natural for that to happen.

It’s hard to explain the process of writing, of drawing ideas from your mind and committing them to paper. I’m doing it right now, words are coming out of my brain & after I think them, I type them for you to read. It kinda just happens. Writers often attribute their ideas to their characters for no better reason than “where else could the idea have come from?”

A long time ago, someone shared this link with me, a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing your creative side. The entire video is 20 minutes long &, if you can spare the time, please do, because it is one of the most beautiful & moving things I have ever watched. In her speech, Ms Gilbert discusses the idea that genius is not something you ARE, but something you HAVE. Having always felt that writing was something that moved through me, rather than coming from me, it was an idea that I could especially relate to.

So, if you hear voices in your head, you might not be crazy, you might just be a writer.

Camp NaNo 2013 – Grim Repercussions

23,390 words

Camp2013

Camp NaNo is normally run in July, but this year, just as I felt I was floundering on my current project Grim Repercussions, came Camp NaNo in April.

Camp NaNo is different to NaNoWriMo & ScriptFrenzy in that it takes a more relaxed approach to the idea of writing challenges. NaNoClassic is for novels & is strictly 50k words. ScriptFrenzy is for stage and screen plays & that’s all I know about it. Camp NaNo is for writing of all kinds & you set your own word goal, you can even change your goal right up until the last week.

I decided to set my word goal at 50k because I already know I can write that much in thirty days, but perhaps I was overly ambitious. In all likelihood, I just slacked off too much during the month.

Every November I find myself distracted by side projects, or the desire to sleep, but the wide knowledge & appeal of NaNoClassic usually keeps me in line fairly well. Having nothing to prove, no one to compete against, & my timetable being tossed out the window by starting a new job all conspired to keep my word count low.

However, success is measured in more than just word counts. There are measures by which I can consider myself to have done adequately, if not well. Firstly, I met the suggested word count of 20k, so my failure was no where near as spectacular as the first time I tried NaNo. Secondly, I discovered what was stopping up my flow of creativity. This is an important point, because I learnt something about the way that I write that will influence my attempts at composition for the rest of my career.

Lastly, I achieved what I needed to achieve. While I only wrote about half of what I would of liked to write, I’ve built something with the 20k I wrote that I can really work with. I’ve solidified ideas, discovered major plot points, & met a new character.

I still have a long way to go, but, if I had been at this point when Camp started, I would have aced it – either by word count or by finishing the novel.

Writing Inside the Box

My current project is giving me a lot of trouble, more so than any other story I’ve attempted before. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that’s blocking the flow, but every time I look at my story, I feel lost.

Some writers are like architects: everything is beautiful and precise and structured. Some writers are like gardeners: their ideas grow more organically. I am a rather disorganised writer, my ideas are like seeds that I germinate and encourage to grow and bloom. While the main thrust is ever upwards, there are branches that I go back and cultivate or trim as I need, pruning and grafting until I have a complete form.

I usually start with a sentence and let the words flow out of me, happy to be carried along by the stream. Occasionally I come back to fill parts in, rearrange sections, & add scenes I thought of later. This has never bothered me before. I have never planned out a plot from beginning to end, more often than not, I have no idea how a story is going to end until I’m at least halfway through. This hasn’t bothered me either, except that you can’t really write a blurb when you don’t know what the point of the story is going to be.
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