Month: October 2013

2013 Goals Post: Samhain Edition

The period from the equinox to now has been dominated by writing not connected to fiction. This reminds me a little of Neil Gaiman’s remark about the day that he realised that he was spending all his time replying to email rather than writing.

November, obviously, is going to be different from that – there will be a lot of writing, but again not on the projects I started out on at the beginning of the year.

So the question for the annual update will be whether I want to set a lot of whole year goals again, or perhaps review goals at the half year for relevance.

This update is going to abbreviate consideration of my original goals, because although many are still relevant the reality is that I am not actively working on most of them.

1. Finish Bluehammer

No work on this recently, and none on the horizon.

I still really like this setting but I am having some serious doubts about the way I am telling the story, and indeed about the story itself.

The problem I have with letting go of this story is down to the sunk cost fallacy: I have spent a lot of time on the Kissiltur trilogy, starting in 2005, and it’s still not done. What I need to remember if I decide to let it go is that working on this story has been valuable in itself – the writing has improved over the time I’ve been working on this, and even though in its current form it is not a very successful story, writing it has taught me a lot about story structure and chapter linkage and characterisation and world presentation and many other things.

I’m not quite ready to abandon it yet, but I am on the point of giving up on it (even temporarily) as a better use of my time than continuing to feel guilty about (not) fixing it.

2. Execute the Song plan

Last time I said that I would come back to this in October, but I have done no more work on this story. I will reassess the plan in the new year.

Unlike Bluehammer, this still feels like there is a compelling story to write. I just need to write it.

3. Submit one novel.

There won’t be anything to submit this year, so abandoning this goal for now.

4. Start looking for an agent.

Last action: construct query tracking system.

No further work on this over the last few weeks. Knowing that there is little point in querying agents until you have a completed novel has rather taken the wind out of my sails.

However, The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen (one of the craft books I bought at Wordstock this year) has a few suggestions for organising a query tracking system and I will be using that as a starting point.

5. Establish a daily writing practice.

Next action: break down tasks into two day chunks.

This has not been a difficult thing to manage since I’ve been working on small tasks.

The planning for the NaNoWriMo writing has brought up the usual issue of tracking work on a large slab of writing. I have broken it down by act like I did with Song, and at least the acts for this story are a more consistent length. Still, this is going to be something I always have trouble with I suspect.

Next action: plan NaNoWriMo work

Last action: make time during the day to write

This has been very hard. The whole cycling to work thing is, as I mentioned last time, good in principle but disastrous for my writing in practice. And I like my job, but it is a demanding place to work so doing anything but working at lunchtime never seems to actually happen.

Except, as noted elsewhere, during November. And people at work know this.

Next action: write NaNoWriMo draft.

Last action: define writing priorities

I haven’t done this. I will re-examine it in the new year. Running roleplaying games has to be a primary target, sadly.

Roleplaying

Last action: run next story arc for A New Dawn to completion

Nearly there – last session of this story arc is tomorrow.

Next action: plan next set of sessions for A New Dawn. Or abandon entirely… one of those.

Last action: write more Animal Agents scenarios.

No further play in this setting since our weekends have been largely consumed by football. We’ll come back to this I hope.

Blog

Last action: determine continuing posting schedule.

Sticking to three a week for now, since it still seems to be working. We’ll see whether that holds into November.

NaNoWriMo

Last action: plan NaNoWriMo writing

This, at least, I can say that I have done: I have a story, characters, and an outline that I like. Now I just need to write it.

Next action: write NaNoWriMo story.

Overall

I’m not happy with this last period. I’ve used my writing time for the wrong things and although I’ve done a decent job of staying on top of the things I’ve taken on, I probably should not have taken those things on in the first place.

What I’ve done in this week leading up to NaNoWriMo is to assign particular tasks to particular times of day: blog posts in the morning, outlining the NaNovel on the way in to work, and then plotting A New Dawn on the way home. That time allocation seems to have helped in keeping me focussed on the work in hand, so I will try applying that more broadly.

Because I have to do something.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo, part 3

This is the third post in a series presenting the collection of National Novel Writing Month T-shirts that I’ve built up over the ten years that I have been participating (and winning).

2010

2010 shirt

2010 shirt

Black shirt, graphic rendering of a game board representing the novelling journey. Title above reads: NaNoWriMo 2010. Caption on start square reads: 30 days, 50,000 words… GO!

I love games and I love writing so this shirt ought to hit my sweet spot, but for some reason it falls flat for me. Even the strategic use of orange doesn’t quite lift the shirt above “meh” for me.

This year I worked again on book one of the Kissiltur trilogy, trying to turn the energetic but chaotic zeroth draft into something with a bit more conistency. I was also starting to introduce more complex plot elements to make the story more compelling. I wrote a lot this year – something north of 80k, IIRC – but this was only a portion of the text written for that draft. After a final to finish the draft in April the following year (an effort I called FiThDaBoMo: Finish The Damned Book Month) the word count stood at 120k.

… which I am still working on.

2011

2011 shirt

2011 shirt

Black shirt covered in quotes from Chris Baty in various-coloured text. Large pale blue roundel with the quote: “The world needs your novel”. Caption underneath reads: National Novel Writing Month 2011.

This was Chris Baty’s last NaNoWriMo as director of the event, so they decided to commemorate his tenure by quoting him on the T-shirt. A lot.

I rather like this one, myself, or at least I like the core quote because, honestly, this is something I believe: the world does need more people to be writing novels, whether those novels see the light of day or not, because more people being creative would help the world be a better place.

I wrote something new this year, a near-future science fiction story called A Turquoise Song. Or, as more than one reader pointed out, two novels one of which didn’t get finished and which I am working on turning into a complete story now*.

2012

2012 shirt

2012 shirt

Black shirt, graphic of Venn diagram showing an intersection of three circles: 30 days, 50,000 words, and 300,000 writers. Central intersection is labelled: Na-No-Wri-Mo. Caption beneath reads: November 2012

300,000 writers! This is why the NaNoWriMo web site always slows down so much for the first few days of November, although that has been vastly better over the last few years since they moved the site to Amazon’s elastic cloud**.

I was still working on the first book of the Kissiltur Trilogy, now renamed Bluehammer. The mission for this month was to inject plot into the story by writing new material to add to the draft from 2010/2011, an endeavour which almost worked, but which still needs refinement on the storytelling. And the story. And the characters.

Well, I still like the setting.

2013

2013 shirt

2013 shirt

Black shirt, white outline box mimicking the shape of the kind of CRT TV screen that we used to play computer games on. Pixellated title graphics read: National Novel Writing Month / November. Graphic under that of writing adventurers wielding ideas and pencils, with a plot bunny running off to the side. Text below reads: Press Start; sub-caption reads: (c) 2013

This is a terrific motif for the shirt and this year’s graphic concept – the “Press Start” terminology alone makes it great.

I am writing something new this year, and although this will be the tenth time I participate in NaNoWriMo it will only be the fifth story I’ve written.

It’s a science fiction story about a peasant girl who learns she can do some strange things, and the consequences of her finding these things out. I’m very excited about the story, and I am looking to write at least 80k and I’m really aiming for 100k, which would in fact be a record for me.

The Model

Fred the fruits of other warrior labours

Fred the fruits of other warrior labours

Fred cannot run not having a sufficient collection of legs, but he is proud to wear the warrior helmet procured in the course of running of the Warrior Dash in 2010.

That was a good day.

 

 

 

 

[*] no, not right now. I will come back to Song in December.

[**] NaNoWriMo is pretty much the quintessential scalable cloud application – it has spiky demand over a few very short periods of time, and the rest of the year can be left at a much lower level of resources for the die-hards who still check the forums year round***.

[***] actually not including me.

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Upper Class Twit of the Year

what, what?

what, what?

The most perception-altering workshop that I took at Wordstock this year was the one on social media.

I already use various social media (possibly on rather too much) but the thing that really blew my mind was finding out that Twitter can be useful.

My Twitter account has lain fallow for many years. The only time I really took any notice of the account recently was when a friend mentioned that it had been compromised and that I should reacquire control so as to stop the steady stream of link spam being tweeted in my name. My social media time has been spent more on Facebook and Google+*.

Since the workshop I have revived my Twitter presence:

  • picked a more appropriate handle
  • updated my bio
  • refreshed my profile page

I have followed more people: people whose writings I respect and enjoy, as well as informative and forthright voices in publishing and software.

I have also been tweeting more. There was always a struggle with Twitter before to know what to tweet, and I am not sure that I’m really any better at that than I was before, but being authentic and avoiding being spammy are both hugely important. It is already making a difference to how connected I feel to other writers.

Another interesting effect is that I feel less overwhelmed by other social media. I have a tendency to want to read everything in my various feeds and streams, but for some reason having a Twitter stream that is innately overwhelming has freed me from worrying about reading all the articles in Feedly or every wall post in Facebook**. I wasn’t expecting that.

In any case, my Twitter handle now is @DunxIsWriting – I would be delighted to hear from you.

Does Twitter fit into your social media profile? What’s yout Twitter handle?

[*] and LinkedIn, I suppose, although I use that more as a library than a social space.

[**] yes, yes, it’s not called a wall any more by Facebook, I know.

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NaNoPreMo 2013 – Outline

a basic outline form

a basic outline form

This is the fourth and final part of a series about preparing for NaNoWriMo. If you like to fly without a map, then I wish you safe travels and I will see you in December.

I’ve mentioned before that I am trying to be more efficient in my writing, and to me this means outlining. The goal with this November’s novel is to have the story nailed down before I start so that subsequent editing won’t be of the “how do I turn this into an actual narrative?” variety. Or at least not so much.

There are all sorts of outlines. I have used a broad outline for all my NaNoWriMo efforts, using chapter summaries to guide what I am going to write. The general structure of these outlines has been to give a starting state, a desired end state, who’s involved, and events that need to happen on the way.

Outlines can be simpler than that: a list of the turning points in the story, for example. The outlining workshop at Wordstock this year mentioned the idea of a W outline, which I thought was a nice reduction of the turning points to their diagrammatic essence:

  • left upper point of the W is the inciting incident
  • left lower point is the first crisis
  • middle high point is the “I know how to fix this” scene, or the fake resolution
  • right lower point is the darkest point for the protagonist, the moment of deepest crisis (also, if you’re going to start in media res, this is a good point to start the narrative and then do flashback to the beginnings of the story)
  • right upper point is the actual climax and resolution

For my outline this year, I have a number of turning points and crises for the protagonist and I am going to break down the specifics of what happens, in two areas:

  1. the transition from one crisis to the next
  2. the details of the resolution of each crisis

Between that and the character network, I feel like I should have a pretty good handle on having a complete story by the end of the month.

Do you have an outline, or any structure at all for your story?

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Catching Up On Books

Sometimes you don’t buy a book for a few months and then a dozen turn up at once.

It has been a busy couple of weeks of book acquisition here at the Identity Function World Headquarters, what with Wordstock and a sudden realisation that I was years behind on British authors I collect, amongst other things.

Craft

craft books from Wordstock

craft books from Wordstock

I picked up a couple of craft books at Wordstock.

As I mentioned in my Wordstock roundup, I went to Sage Cohen’s workshop last year on *mumblemumble* and should have picked up her book The Productive Writer then, but I finally picked it up this year and have been reading for the last week or so. It’s quite an energising read, and I’ve had a number of epiphanies and striking points even with only being about half way through it. I will be rereading it for sure, if only to go over some of the exercises.

Christi Krug’s book was slightly more impulsive a buy, but I reasoned that anyone Laura Stanfill was friends with couldn’t be all bad, and it is a book about unleashing your creativity which is of interest.

craft-catchup-1

catching up on craft books while buying something achingly new

A couple of weeks ago I saw a tweet from Chuck Wendig about Wonderbook.

O. M. G.

I was drooling.

I preordered it almost immediately (after wiping drool off my keyboard) along with a couple of other craft books that I had been meaning to get – the first Writer’s Notebook from Tin House, and Reading Like A Writer which I had bought as a gift for someone else a while ago. More on all of these once I’ve read them.

Fiction

the Renata stories

the Renata stories

I only bought one fiction book at Wordstock this year, Stevan Allred’s linked short story collection from Forest Avenue Press, A Simplified Map of the World.

It’s a beautiful book, filled with enticing language and intriguing design. I am looking forward to digging into the stories properly.

Culture shock

Culture shock

Later, I was buying a birthday gift for my father from the British branch of Amazon. I recalled that I was behind on my Pratchett and Banks books, and had to catch up on those too.

catchup Pratchett

catchup Pratchett

And what a cornucopia of UK paperback editions this was – a new Discworld book and a new non-Discworld YA book to add to the Pratchett shelves, two new Culture novels and a salty tale of homecoming to add to the Banks collection. There are also new Pratchett and Banks novels in hardback, but I want my collected books to match* so I’ll wait for the paperbacks.

It is very sad to think that the one Banks out in hardback is the last Banks book.

Gaming

scary

scary

The book rounding out the dozen is not a recent acquisition, but I haven’t mentioned it before: tremulus is “a storytelling game of Lovecraftian horror”, funded by a Kickstarter that I backed. It’s a lovely book, with a simple system that accentuates a lot of the same storytelling cues that Stealing Cthulhu encourages.

roll playing

roll playing

And I got special dice.

I have come to realise that I am far more interested in storytelling games than crunchy stat games – this wasn’t the thing that put me off D&D (or AD&D as it was when I first played it) but the crunchiness was certainly what put me off D20 Modern. The freeform nature of this and, of course, Fiasco is very attractive to me.

[*] not that the editions I have do actually match, but they are all the first run paperback covers which is all I really want. Both Pratchett’s and Banks’ covers have changed over the years. I particularly miss the original form of the Banks covers.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo, part 2

This is the second post in a series presenting my extensive collection of National Novel Writing Month T-shirts from the ten years I have been participating.

2007

2007 shirt

2007 shirt

Olive green shirt, hour glass standing on a closed hardback book. Title above reads: Time to write. Caption beneath reads: NaNoWriMo 2007.

I like the imagery on this shirt, but don’t particularly care for the colour.

This time I wrote the zeroth of the first book of the Kissiltur trilogy, and it was the first time I wrote significantly more than 50k.

2008

2008 shirt, front

2008 shirt, front

2008 shirt, back

2008 shirt, back

Chocolate brown shirt. Front has the NaNoWriMo crest with “NaNoWriMo 2008” emblazoned across the middle, over a banner reading: Celebrating 10 Years of Literary Abandon, itself over the word “AUTHOR”. Back has a football jersey-style printing of “NANOWRIMO” above the number 10.

This was the tenth anniversary shirt, and it is probably my favourite of all of them.

In 2008 I wrote the zeroth draft of book two of the Kissiltur trilogy. This was the second year where I struggled to finish because I lost my job half way through November (remember the 2008 crash? Not a good time for a startup to run out of money). I was extraordinarily lucky in finding a new job quickly, but the job search completely took the wind out of my novelling sails and I crept across the finish line with barely 50k to my name. I finally finished the story in the middle of December.

When you hear the advice to finish the story in the month even if it means compromising the word count, heed it.

2009

2009 shirt

2009 shirt

Black shirt, graphic of the novelling machine turning ideas into books. Caption reads: National Novel Writing Month 2009

The novelling machine is a lovely idea. I particularly like the knife stuck in the conveyor belt. And the shirt is black, which is always a win.

This year I wrote the zeroth draft of book three of the Kissiltur Trilogy. By this time, a lot of the ideas in the setting were becoming more solid – the aggressiveness of the plants, the malignity of the Church, and so on.

One day I will make this story interesting.

The Model

Fred, enjoying the view.

Fred, mercifully dry

Fred likes pina coladas, but does not care for getting caught in the rain since it makes his face soggy.

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NaNoPreMo 2013 – Setting

conkers

conkers

This is the third post in a series about preparing for NaNoWriMo.

Some people call it worldbuilding, but how much worrying about setting you need to do will vary.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. is the world I am writing in different from the usual world?
  2. do I like to discover the world as I write?
  3. do I have elements of the plot which turn on the nature of the world?

If you’ve been thinking about your characters at all, the chances are that you’ve already got some ideas about place where they live and how they go about their days, but the nature of that setting may not be fully realised yet.

As an example, let me talk a bit about Bluehammer, the story I started writing for NaNoWriMo in 2005.

The inspiration for Bluehammer was the idea of a crown wreathed in flames, worn by a boy who begins the story as a dilettante – a ne’er-do-well who has no interest in anything but his own trivial adventures. The only setting detail for this was that the chief city of the empire that this crown belonged to was set into a cliff face overlooking a monstrous chasm which split the world in two.

What kind of world was this? How would the boy come to wear a crown which he had no initial interest in?

The first draft of this story was a voyage of discovery across this world, driven by a few early insights:

  • the humans were not native
  • the life native to this world was both highly aggressive and inedible to humans (at best not nourishing, at worst highly toxic)
  • growing food was difficult enough that the procedures to be followed became the basis for the human religion on this world
  • the Empire was built on controlling access to the religious texts

So what is the central insight for your world? How could that play into other aspects of the setting? What games do people play there?

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Why I Write About Writing

the-doctor-is-inOnce upon a time, I had a blog called “Why Should I Listen To You?” That blog foundered because it was unfocussed (and ultimately died because of platform obsolescence), but the question posed by its title is still relevant: why should you listen to me, or indeed anybody?

This is a blog about writing in general, but it is drawn from my writing experiences and my exploration of how I write – discovery writing for process, if you will. It is in my nature to need to constantly change what I do in order to keep things fresh. There are invariants in how I approach planning and writing, but my process of story generation and reification is always in flux, otherwise I fear I would always write the same stories.

What I try to impart here then are lessons and practices which I find helpful and which I hope others will find of interest: your mileage, as the hackerly saying goes, may vary. Indeed, I would be quite shocked if it didn’t: you, dear reader, are not me and I am not you. Our brains work differently, and our experiences take us in different directions.

So what is the value of advice? What is the point of writing or reading about this practice of wordsmithery?

What I get out of reading about writing is to keep the craft at the front of my mind – to make me more conscious of what I can improve and where I’m going next – regardless of whether I really learn anything new. I find these kinds of tracts especially useful during drafting prep and execution, but different texts are appropriate at different times. I also get a lot out of writing about my process and my creative activities in general: the best way to learn something is to teach it, as the saying goes.

But I’m not writing here to be prescriptive. There are rules to writing – spelling, grammar, certain narrative structures – but those exist to give common ground for you to communicate your ideas. These rules can be broken to make a point (see Spunk and Bite for some excellent examples) but the things I usually write about here, though sometimes presented as rules and procedures, are really more in the way of guoideloines, if you’ll pardon my Pirate. If something really is a hard and fast rule it’s usually effective to try following it for a bit just so you know the parameters of how it can be broken, but I’m not going to claim that much of what I write here can be elevated to that lofty level.

In short, I write down what works for me because doing so helps me explore and solidify my practice. If those concepts are of use to you then that is a truly glorious outcome.

And I am glad you’re here.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo, part 1

Part of my tradition of preparation for National Novel Writing Month is the NaNoWriMo T-shirt. Since I have been doing this event for nine years now, I have a few of these.

2004

2004 NaNoWriMo T-shirt

2004 shirt

Grey shirt, white box with red borders top and bottom. Top border reads: National Novel Writing Month; bottom box reads: 2005 participant; central box reads: So many words, so little time.

My first attempt at NaNoWriMo coincided with probably the least satisfactory shirt of my collection – I like the sentiment, but the design is a bit undistinguished.

The book I wrote was “The Vampire Hunters”, a story about a team looking for a vampire. Would it be a surprise to say that it does not end well?

2005

nano-shirt-2005

2005 shirt

Charcoal grey shirt, running man logo. Large caption under: National Novel Writing Month; smaller caption below that: 2005

This was more like it – a simple, dark shirt with an iconic design. I have worn this shirt a lot even outside of November’s frenzied times, and I think the running man with his giant pencil perfectly captures the spirit of the event.

This year’s work was “The Flame Crown of Kissiltur”, the 50,000 word précis for the epic science fiction trilogy which I am still trying to figure out how to make into an actual story that someone would want to read.

2006

nano-shirt-2006

2006 shirt

Pale blue shirt, finger-printed keyboard graphic. Small caption under: November 2006; large caption below that: National Novel Writing Month; small caption below that: Thirty days and nights of literary abandon

I like the dirty keyboard graphic, although I think it works better on its poster than on this shirt. What I really like about this shirt, though, is the introduction of the term “literary abandon” to describe NaNoWriMo, the quintessence of it right there.

2006 was the first year I almost didn’t finish. I chose to write “Paragons”, a tale of apocalyptic horror which ended up being mostly people whinging about their jobs. This is a story I would like to come back to at some point – I have a better way of telling it in mind – but in this year I struggled to reach 50k, crawling across the finish line on the afternoon of the final day.

The Model

Fred, enjoying the view.

Fred, enjoying the view.

Meet Fred, who is helping me model these T-shirts so that I don’t have to. Fred often feels a little flat, but now he’s taped onto a coat hanger he likes to hang around in my office.

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