Post-Nanowrimo


So the dust has settled and I can see through the haze now. What was that all about, eh?

I finished a day early, after a marathon session of about 4,000 words. Really I wasn’t going into this thing with the expectation of coming out with a novel: I wanted a learning experience instead. So what did I learn?

1. Write.
That sounds obvious, and it was a lesson I thought I’d learned years ago, but I gained a whole new understanding. All through writing Titans, Magocracy and Apostate I had the approach that the best time to write for me was morning and later on in the evening. This was fine when I worked in a coffee shop or was a student and my schedule was flexible, but now I’m in a 9-5 working as a programmer that tactic just doesn’t work – this is why I fell behind in the first half of the month.
The solution was to sprint – to sit down a write 500 words every hour from the moment I got home. It wasn’t always perfect, but I did end up with words on a page (well, in a file).

2. Cookies
I’m finding reward systems more and more beneficial for anything involving self discipline. I put a cookie on a plate, and put the plate in my eyeline while I wrote. I found this useful whenwriting at a coffee shop as well – a Latte in my eyeline, a sip every hundred words, and suddenly I developed laser-sharp focus.

3. Community
Having a community to support me was really, really useful during the process. I didn’t join any writing groups or write-ins this year (I was busy moving house and working my first month at a new job), but I did join in online. Being able to vent during the writing process is really helpful, and something I’m going to put more of an emphasis on in the future.

4. Graphs
I am a gigantic nerd – as such, I really like graphs, and metrics, and things like that. It’s slightly OCD, but it also ties in to the reward thing, as a graph is persistent and more satisfying than a cookie.

5. Write fast
Every now and again I’ll be writing and think ‘wow, that’s actually pretty good’. My natural self editor normally kicks in, but for that briefest of windows I’m happy with my work. This has happened a number of times before, but Nanowrimo really crystallized the conditions for me – it happens when I write fast. If I write slowly, there’s potential for my self editor to kick in, and it has a chance to edit before the words come out – and these words end up stilted and awkward. But once I’m in a real flow state they come more easily, and in better shape.
What about the book?
With regards the actual book itself, I’m largely happy with it as an extended brainstorm-y outline. I’ve thought about writing books like this before – doing a splurge-draft, much of it in narrative summary, to try out the ideas before distilling them into a more detailed outline. Of course I don’t actually do that, because mining through fifty thousand words of diseased mumblings is a lot of work, but it’ll be interesting to see what I come out of at the end of it, right after I’ve finished doing all the other stuff I want to get done. Which is a lot.



NaNoWriMARRRRGH


Ever since I became aware of Nanowrimo I’ve wanted to participate, but I was always held back by (or allowed myself to be held back by) the British academic year. November is when exams happen, and when (theoretically) the final crunch for all my coursework should take place.

And 2009 looked to be no different – although I’d finished uni I started a new job on October 26th, which I had to relocate for – I finally moved in on the 2nd of November, and I’m now trying to sort out my electricity and council tax and all that fun stuff that comes with the joy of being an independent adult.

But towards the end of October I was the the Writer’s Block chatroom with lots of people planning novels. I’d just finished editing Magocracy and was getting ready to re-read Apostate when I thought ‘hey, why not?’. I threw together an outline based as a kind of psuedo-sequel to Titanomachy, wrote up some simple world notes, and started writing.

My thinking was ‘oh, hey, I wrote a 100k novel in two months, that’s like two Nanowrimo’s in a row, so 50k in a month should be easy, right? Right?’

The problem is the outline – it’s very sparse, and I’m flying through it a bit too quickly. Also, I didn’t spend much time with the characters before I started, meaning they’re… well, kind of boring. I’m getting the hang of one (a pacifist monk), but my overall impression of the novel is… eh.

It’s also running short, at just under 10,000 words for the first act. So.

My next plan is to start writing another story once I’ve finished this one (because I WILL finish it, dammit). Probably something a little lighter, and little simpler, with few (if any) zombies. Current working title for the next story is Titanbone.

I wrote 2,000 words yesterday, taking me up to roughly 12k. Still well behind, though.

I might go for some hourly sprints instead – just put some words down, regardless of outline or whether I’m at my times of peak creativity (7-9am and 9-11pm) – after all, it’s only a first draft…



Wordle


So I guess Wordle is pretty neat.

A pretty image of my novel, by Wordle.net

That’s the current draft of Magocracy, with the common words removed. the character names aren’t a surprise, but One? Back? Door? Lots of really dull verbs in there as well.

Also, when the common words are switched on the entire image is dominated by a massive THE. Checking the actual word counts, it turns out that of the 100,000 words in the manuscript, over 5,000 of them is ‘the’. 5% of the novel.

I think I might need to start rewriting a few things.

The the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the the end.



Success!


So the main reason I haven’t been blogging has been due to some sort of backend glitch I’ve been having with my wordpress distro here – I couldn’t edit or add posts for whatever reason. Due to general procrastination I never really followed up.

But then I heard about how old wordpress versions were under attack, and resolved to tear down all three main blogs here (Daily Flash Fiction and LifeLacking being the other two). So now they’re working and I can blog again, and I will. So.

Statuses!

I’m currently about halfway through editing Magocracy into some sort of half-decent shape, after adding some more stuff earlier in the year. I’m currently 57,123 words into the 84,381 word first draft, which may get expanded again if I think it needs it. So that’s a little more than halfway after all.
57123 of 84381

I’ve also completely finished the first draft of Giant Robots Punching Each Other, or Apostate, or whatever I finally decide to call it. Going to let it sit until I’m closer to done with Magocracy.

I’m also working through the outlining/pre-draft stage for another novel, which will be a psuedo-sequel to Titanomachy (a full on sequel would be more or less unpublishable, but in this case the only character I’m taking over is the world itself). For this I’m using Mike Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel ebook/podcast lecture series (here’s the ebook version, it’s well worth it at $20). I always find the processes of other writers incredibly interesting, and I like playing around with workflows.

So there you have it. I have a stupid number of plates spinning in the air, and I’m trying to instigate more bloggery at the same time. To quote a childhood icon of mine, Arggh.



Assorted stuff and nonsense


I read Robert McKee’s book Story very recently, and have been playing around with the stuff he talks about. It’s a very mechanistic view of writing and the nature of story, and it’s primarily aimed at script writers, causing the prose novelist in me to scoff and say that’s fine for a screenplay because it’s a mechanistic art, versus the more artsy fartsy internal nature of prose.

Which of course is utter bollocks. But still, his view of the importance of outlining and setting up value charges in each scene robs the art of romance for me, so historically I’ve resisted it and gone for the method Stephen King outlines in On Writing – look at it as though you were a paleontologist unearthing a dinosaur, you dig in and find the spirit of the story. These two forces in my head battle constantly, my left brain wanting the clarity of an outline and my right brain wanting the spirit and romance of the more adventurous seat-of-the-pants approach.

So I’ve settled on more of a hybrid approach with the latest story. It’s to be a sequel to Kidnap over Dyra!, but this time I’ve written it straight as I did with Kidnap, before breaking the first draft down into scenes on 3×5 cards, throwing some scenes out and dropping others in, and eventually winding up with a full outline running to about a thousand words – the story itself will probably run at around four and a half thousand, and the thing will end up on Lulu just like Kidnap.

On Lulu, but not only there. I’m going to do a full rebrand of Daily Flash Fiction, primarily because it’s an awful name that sets up all kinds of false expectations in readers (specifically that it’ll be daily). I still don’t know what to call it, and the old domain will still go there, but instead it’ll be a base for serial fiction as well, sort of like Mike Stackpole’s serial fiction experiments. And the old Flash fiction will stay up there as well, possibly with an explanation.

On not-writingy-stuff news, I’m learning PHP in the hopes of being able to get a better day job, and I’ll probably play around with category-specific templates to separate the stuff in more of a clean manner.



More Progress


So I’m approaching the end. All of the pieces are in place, we’re in the midst of the final battle, and strange lights have started falling from the sky. Or those might just be a delusion on the part of Our Hero. He’s been through a lot in the past months after all.

Looks like it’s going to be below target, but I already think I’m going to have to add a few chapters to flesh out some secondary storylines, including a very important minor character (for one of the major characters if not the plot as a whole) who’s dropped in the middle of the novel. Might be some shuffling too. But for all intents and purposes I’m nearly done.

So what does this mean? It means the Daily Flash may well be coming back at some point fairly soon, depending on prior commitments. I’m at least going to get a few in the can fairly soon so I can make a start. That’ll keep me going until the novel’s been edited and added too. I plan on fixing the main mistake that led to me dropping it in the first place – scheduling. I’m going to get about twenty or thirty in the can before I start blogging again, so I can get around problems I had last time (flashes turning out to be more involved short stories, for example).

I’m also editing a short collection of the current stuff up there for a lulu book. Which should be fun.



A Rambling Post About Transformation


All my life I’ve been fascinated by the concept of transformation. In my early years I found the concept frightening – Doctor Who or the Daleks never disturbed me, but I could never watch the old Hulk series with Bill Bixby turning into Lou Ferrigno – I think it was the idea of letting something out, turning into something new, that upset my innate need for stability. But then, desirable transformations didn’t upset me at all – my favourite piece of childhood entertainment was, after all, called Transformers.

But as time has passed this fear has turned to fascination, until now I derive much joy from seeing different forms of transformation, be they into monsters or superhumans or anything else. I think that’s why, much as I love the western superhero tradition, I spend so much time watching eastern heroes like Kamen Rider – when the hero goes into battle, he literally transforms into his alter ego – rather than being the same person in a spandex suit, he gains new strength and new abilities and, in some cases, literally a new body.

I think this love of transformation is also what attracts me to writing fiction and stories – in the end, every story is about a transformation, be it a transformation of characters or a transformation of a world. Even if the hero or heroine awakes to find their experience a dream, they seldom walk away unchanged.

Personal Development, a recent interest of mine that precipitated the creation of my blog Hifelacking, is a further symptom of this deeper interest, and perhaps deeper need. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tony Robbins stuff lately, and he often talks about change itself taking only a second, something that reminds me of David Hume’s Bundle theory of the Self – the notion that a person is not an identity, but a loosely aligned collection of perceptions and experiences, and that identity is made up from these perceptions. All this means that we are all transforming from moment to moment, shifting being that only perceive a single identity.

Which is pretty cool.