NaNoWriMo 2012: Day 1

Words for the Day: 2,106
Total To Date: 2,106
Chapters Written: 0.5 / 27

Bit of a slow start first thing, since this first chapter is another version of a scene I have already written several times but built up a bit of momentum. Writing on the bus went pretty well, but I was planning on writing at lunchtime and that completely blown out by how things went at the paying job.

Still, well setup to finish this first chapter tomorrow.

Did I mention I have two presentations to write for a conference next week?

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H P Lovecraft

A long time ago*, in a little town in New England, lived a writer. His stories were in the pulpy style of his time: the characters were melodramatic, the writing lurid, but the subject matter… it was unusual. Special.

The writer was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and he invented the Cthulhu Mythos.

My first introduction to Lovecraft was through the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. I was very struck by the richness and the soul-crushing futility of the central premise: that Mankind is not the first tenant of this planet, nor indeed the only intelligent inhabitant now, and that our troubles and concerns are of no interest to these alien others. Further, the earliest inhabitants were great alien gods who now lie in unquiet slumber until the stars are right once more and they can return to ravage he Earth and the paltry smattering of life which it possesses.

Cthulhu is one of these monsters, but there are others yet more powerful and unknowable: Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep.

Lovecraft’s stories concern the discovery of this hidden history by unfortunate individuals – nerdy rather than heroic – and chronicles their efforts to survive these revelations.

It’s powerful stuff, and its popularity was helped by Lovecraft’s prolific correspondence which encouraged many writers to work with these ideas.

The Mythos is a tremendous universe for roleplaying, too. Call of Cthulhu I have already mentioned, but there are board games, card games, dice games, and multiple roleplaying supplements set in this noosphere – there is even a setting for Toon, the cartoon RPG, and let me tell you that playing a cartoon drum combattting nameless horrors is a bizarre experience!

But aside from roleplaying, Lovecraft’s concepts turn up everywhere. They are a pervasive undercurrent, a subtle corruption touching everywhere. I use these themes occasionally myself, although sometimes what begins as a Mythos story turns into something else more tractable when the characters need to win.

My favourite author working with the Mythos at the moment is Charles Stross. His books about The Laundry (a secret British agency dedicated to containing these horrors)  are consciously pulpy themselves although they written more to subvert the conventions of the espionage genre rather than those of horror.

But do try reading some of Lovecraft’s original stories. They’re by no means all wonderfully written, but they’ll stick with you for a long time.

[*] It has been said that the problem with Europeans is that they think 100 miles is a long way, but that the problem with Americans is that they think 100 years is a long time.

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Ready for NaNoWriMo?

Are you ready for NaNoWriMo?

Herewith a few observations on where I stand three days before the off:

  • I have a plot. This was not always true. The basic problem with the first Kissiltur novel has always been that there was a good setting and some likeable characters, but that only one of them really had a plot arc that made any sense at all. I’ve now got a plot line that drives the narrative for all the characters. The plot also gives me the title of the book, which is Bluehammer.
  • I have some chapter summaries. I don’t have enough but I haven’t finished working through the plot yet either – I need twenty five, I have twenty. These also don’t really count as the chapter outlines I would prefer, but I will see if I get to those – I have enough familiarity with the world that the key words I have put into the summary should trigger the writing that I need.
  • I have a pitch, or at least the beginnings of one. It’s not quite as tight as I would like, but for five minutes’ work I am pretty pleased with it:

Brinny Hanto is a no-account technologist from a backwater town who got his chance for greatness in Kissiltur, so why does he want to destroy this seat of Empire? Unravelling his story will change three lives: Jenna, the hardline heir to the Crown; Russik, her time-wasting brother, and Reegor the underachieving genius. Between the three of them lies the truth.

  • I have a new maze tracker. It’s an 8×8 square, rather than last year’s 10×10, since I have no intention of getting much past 50k.

Feel free to buddy me on the NaNoWriMo site – my participant name is Dunx. I welcome opportunities for friendly competition and being kept honest.

This blog will continue during November, but I am doubtful that I will be able to keep to the three posts a week schedule for regular content. What I will be posting regularly, nay frequently, are updates on my progress within NaNoWriMo. I shan’t trouble anyone with excerpts of the text, but I will try to mention twists and turns that the narrative makes away from the chapter outlines.

My goals for the next three days are to finish the chapter summaries, and to get some sleep because I tend not to do so well on that the first week or so of November.

May your caffeinated beverage stay at the right temperature and your carpal tunnels remain uninflamed.

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Portland NaNoWriMo Kickoff

It’s almost November which means it is time for the NaNoWriMo regional kick off events. The Portland kickoff is tomorrow.

  • Where: Portland Central Library, US Bank room (just inside the main doors on the right)
  • Date: Saturday 27-Oct-2012
  • Time: 2pm-4:30pm
  • Bring: a snack to share, your own drink + vessel of drinkage

Start your NaNoWriMo off right.

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Finding Time To Write

Here’s the thing: I accrete hobbies.

I’ve done this as long as I can remember. My bedrooms and work spaces have always been littered with incomplete drawings, half-made models, and barely begun electronics projects. I have never been good at budgeting my time, and finding time to write has not been easy for me. I don’t think it’s really easy for anybody.

I have the usual demands on my time – I have a day job, and a roleplaying group, and a family. Me being me, the job has to be engaging and demanding. Roleplaying is every other Friday evening – at the moment I am not running a game, which at least frees me from inventing stuff there. I try hard to be an involved father. And on top of all that I need to exercise. Oh, and there’s this blog.

So in there somewhere I need to carve out a couple of hours a day. My wife is supportive, but she is also busy so I try not to introduce yet more demands on her time. Change is necessary in order to support the writing.

The answer for me comes in three parts:

1. Mornings – I have cultivated the habit of getting up before five so I can be sat at my keyboard on the stroke of five to start writing. The kids don’t get up until six, so that’s one hour. The challenge here is to actually write when I sit down rather than, say, trawling Facebook.

2. Lunchtimes – demanding my job may be, but they’re good about people taking an actual lunch hour. Sandwich, desk, ear defenders – that’s another hour.

3. Occasional breaks in the rain – I can write while my son does his kung fu class. I may be able to manage an hour in the evenings once the kids are asleep.  I should be free to disappear into my office for a few hours of a Sunday morning. These other nooks and crannies should be enough to finish.

But I won’t lie – this year is going to be tough to fit it in. In truth, it’s one of the reasons I am only planning on writing 50k for NaNoWriMo in 2012.

As you consider how to make time for writing, the question to ask yourself is how permanent you want the change to be. Writing regularly is a habit to be nurtured, and NaNoWriMo is good for kick starting that. Unfortunately, it’s also good for burning out on writing and then not doing anything for months. The five o’clock start is something I have been doing for a while but I will refocus it on the writing in November.

So, what changes are you going to make to accommodate your writing? Are you going to try to make a permanent change?

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No Plot? No Problem!

No Plot? No Problem! is the book Chris Baty wrote about how to write a novel in 30 days. It could reasonably be called the manual for NaNoWriMo, but that makes it sound like a technical document.

This is a profoundly optimistic writing book. In that sense it reminds me of Star Trek, with its optimistic vision of the future of humanity. It presents a cheery map to navigate high speed novel writing, and helpful tips to make the problem tractable. It also provides tools for handling the emotional load of such an endeavour, because there certainly is one.

The book falls into two broad sections: preparing to write, and writing for a month. There is also a brief coda covering what to do with your novel once it’s done.

The prep section covers everything from why to write, through what kinds of things to put in your book, all the way up to ideas for character sources and point of view. In keeping with the nature of NaNoWriMo., this is a briskly paced section delivered with a great deal of humour.

The writing section starts by urging you to banish your inner editor, then gives you a map to help you navigate the month to come. Each week of a 30 day writing sprint feels different from the last, from sailing out into the heady unknown in week one to the triumphant return to the safe shores of normalcy in week four, every week has its distinctive character.

I first read this book during my first NaNoWriMo and it helped me a lot, I recommend it to all high velocity novellists.

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A Slight Loss of Faith

I described my probable NaNoWriMo workflow the other day, and presented an approach based on using Evernote to share text between the myriad computing engines upon which my eyes fall.

My belief in this approach has been somewhat diminished, for two reasons.

Firstly, I have discovered that I cannot write on the bus if I have a cup of tea with me. This is troubling, but a sacrifice I am willing to make for my art*.

Secondly, and indubitably more troubling, I find that the syncing between the Evernote instance on my tablet and the cloud is not as through as I had believed. In particular, I was going to work on a piece for the “Brave on the Page” reading on the bus and found that the text I wanted to work with was not on the device.

This was a bit of a facer since although it is not a note that I have opened before on the Kindle I have not had a problem before with missing note contents.

I am hoping that it is just a function of not having opened the particular notebook recently on the tablet, but it is definitely something I need to keep an eye on.

[*] anyone who knows me will recognise that this is no small thing.

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How To Write A Novel in 30 Days

NaNoWriMo looms like a big loomy thing – time to write a novel. In 30 days.

So how do you do that?

What I’m going to talk about here is how I do it. I’ve pulled bits and bobs from other people’s writing on the subject (particularly Chris Baty, of whose wisdom we will learn more at a later time) but I try to express these tenets in language which appeals to me.

I have already written about what I do to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but in short I will have 25 chapter summaries, expecting to write around 2,000 words for each (although of course more is better).

These are my rules for NaNoWriMo in general, and for high velocity writing in particularly.

The Rules of NaNoWriMo

0. give yourself permission to write crap. You will be writing quickly and not always selectively – do not think about quality. Get the ideas down, as fast as possible. More will be along soon, and you wouldn’t want to cause an idea traffic jam, would you?

1. write every day. Or thereabouts, anyway. 25 chapters in 30 days allows for five days off, but every day is better. This is particularly true of the wave of initial enthusiasm. Which brings me to –

2. build up a buffer. Aim to overachieve early in the month. This is usually not hard to manage in my experience because everything is fresh and joyful, especially in that first week, but the reasons for building up a buffer are more than just making allowances for an enthusiasm deficit in the third week.

Christmas is mere weeks away. In the US there is Thanksgiving in the last week. For myself, I lost my job half way through November 2008 and was so glad of the buffer.

So, write fast while the wind is at your back.

3. back up your novel. There are sad stories every year of people who lose a day’s work, a week’s work, or everything. The computer crashes, or gets stolen, or breaks, and everything is gone.

Back up your novel. Every day at least, in multiple locations.

As blogger Dan Rutter puts it: data you haven’t backed up is data you do not want.

4. finish the story. Hitting the daily word count goals is good; having a completed story at the end of the month is better. No worries if a chapter runs long, but at some point you have to go on to the next. Keep moving.

I broke this rule once, that dreadful 2008. I hit the word count goal for November, but there was still another 20k of story to go. Trying to grind through that in December was hard, particularly since, mirabile dictu, I was starting a new job and had to spin up on that too.

5. don’t read it straight away. This is the single most important piece of advice in Stephen King’s book On Writing – you need distance before you read the story, so you have some degree of objectivity about its quality. I leave it for six weeks pace King. Try not to let impatience overpower your good sense here.

The Rules of High Velocity Fiction

Getting everything down takes discipline. Follow these three rules and you won’t go far wrong.

1. never look back. It wasn’t a good idea for Orpheus, and it’s not a good idea for you. Editing is for later. You don’t have time for that now.

The story I wrote during my first NaNoWriMo in 2004 was one that had never previously got past chapter two because I kept going back and editing.

2. turn off the internet. That animated GIF of Space Cat? Look at it another time. Turn off the internet (pull the cable, turn off the wireless card, cut the string) and focus on what you are supposed to be doing: making words.

And researching that plot or setting detail you need for the story is not excluded here: time researching is time you are not making words. If you need to look something up, then put a note in the text [in square brackets] that this needs to be checked and then make something up which will serve as a placeholder. Look it up when you have the words for the day, or during a consistency edit.

3. don’t delete anything. Bad simile? Wrong name? Inappropriate joke about pixies? Don’t delete it, put it [in square brackets]. They’re words you have written in your novel and they should count towards your word count.

This may seem specific to November’s frenzy, but I would argue it is a general rule for any draft – they’re your words, and if you see them again in context during the edit there may be something there that might be of value. So leave them in place.

Truth to tell, I find that I don’t delete much for reasons of quality control because I am writing too quickly to be able to make such judgements in my sleep-deprived state (is there really such a thing as an inappropriate pixie joke?) but I do bracket out the wrong word or name. I also treat discursive commentary on the story as deleted words.


These are my rules for success. What are yours?

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Tracking Progress

Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is keeping track of your word count.

The tool available on the NaNoWriMo site itself is the word count graph. When you update your word count, the graph updates automatically. This gives you information on how you are doing against the nominal pace. There are also word count widgets available to publish your progress on a blog (such as this one, I suppose, although I generally eschew such fripperies).

I like to print out trackers which I can post in prominent places to show others who don’t go to the NaNoWriMo website (eg co-workers, family) how I am doing. I’ve done thermometers and game tracks, but the thing I really like is the maze tracker.

What I do is to generate a maze using a program I wrote and then post the maze on a wall or something.

Here’s the one I used last year.

On that maze each square is meant to represent 1,000 words, for a trackable total of 100,000 words. This was reasonable last year since I was aiming for something like 80k.

This year I have a 6×10 maze, since I am shooting for 50k but won’t be surprised if I over-shoot a bit.

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How Much Can You Type In A Month?

The National Novel Writing Month goal is a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This number was chosen because it is long enough to be called a novel while also being an achievable amount without entirely sacrificing your life away from the keyboard/notepad/slate.

How much typing does that take?

Before I started NaNoWriMo in 2004 I timed myself to see how fast I could write – not copy typing, because that is not what writing is about: just making words. There was no story that I recall, just free association sentences. I managed 450 words in the fifteen minutes I allotted for the test, or 1,800 words in a hour. That gave me confidence that I could get the work done, at least.

These days I reckon I can manage 1,000 words an hour as a baseline with maybe 1,200 words if things are flowing really well. I don’t touch type but I have been using a keyboard so long that I type fluidly.

So, given 1,000 words an hour, how much could you write in a month? What’s the longest story you could commit to screen in thirty days?

  • 50,000 words is an average of 1,667 words each day, takes about 1:40 per day.
  • 100,000 words => 3,334 words per day, which takes 3:20 per day
  • 150,000 words => 5,000 words a day or 5:00 per day
  • And if you could spend ten hours a day every day for the full thirty days, you would have something like 300,000 words at the end of it. You would probably also have some pretty serious musculo-skeletal issues after sitting in the same spot for so long, but let’s gloss over that.

So I reckon that I could reasonably expect to write a 100k novel if I wrote three hours a day for the whole month, but that would absorb all of my free time and doesn’t allow for holidays (such as Thanksgiving, which is quite the thing in the States). Anything above 100k is getting into not working full time, and 300k is the upper limit of my writing energy, although I don’t think my body could actually take it.

In that light, the 80,000 words I wrote last year is probably the upper end of what I can really manage in a month.

Of course if all of this is too easy then you could always try writing a novel in three days.

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