Final NaNoWriMo 2018 Update

I won NaNoWriMo for the 15th straight year. I hit the 50,000 word mark with 4 days to go but then slacked off the pace and had to scramble to make my personal goal of 60,000 just a few minutes before midnight on the last day. The story isn’t finished but I do have a workable first draft of a novel that I’m looking forward to working on. So that’s a double win.

I’ve taken a few days off since finishing, partly because I’ve come down with a virus and partly because my brain needs the rest. I will get back to Project Academy but not right away. I need to get back to the rewrites on the novel I was working on before, Project Kindness and at some point I have to take a look at the novel I tried querying and decide if I want to do anything with it.

In the meantime my spouse and I have been using Minecraft creative mode to build a replica of the setting for Project Academy. It’s slow going, partly because I’ve been so under the weather and partly because of the limitations of Minecraft. Also we’re pretty sure we have the scale wrong so that’s a problem. I can recommend it as an exercise for authors though.It’s nice to do something imaginative, that’s related to your novel, but is totally unlike writing.

The other thing I want to do this month is to clean up the first couple of chapters of Project Academy. My mother will want to read a bit of it just to see what I’ve been working on and for once I don’t have to worry about the sex, violence or swearing.

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NaNoWriMo Update 4

Five days to go and I’m currently less than 3,000 words from the 50,000 word target. I could hit it tonight. I still have another 10,000 beyond that for my personal goal of 60,000 words and it’s looking like I’m going to have trouble fitting in all my scenes.

I’m also having trouble actually writing scenes. I keep sitting down to write a scene that I have roughly blocked out and then realising that I can’t actually write it yet. That I have to write an earlier scene or three so that I actually know what’s going on. And I’ve discovered a massive plot hole in my plan for the climactic action scene that I don’t know how to fix. But it is NaNoWriMo so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

No problems at all with my characters. They are wonderful. I love them all but I am a bit worried that I have too many of them. That’s the problem with a school setting. Even with a tiny school roll there’s still the pupils and the teachers and the support staff and my main character’s family and I’m starting to see why there are so many horribly under supervised orphans in YA fiction. It’s as much about keeping the cast down as it is about narrative.

My story keeps branching out. Tiny details of setting or character keeps leading to new stories that I definitely want to tell. It’s a little intimidating. It’s as if I started to dig a new flower bed, found a few Roman coins, excavated a corner of a villa, and now it turns out I’ve found a street and I have no idea how big the town is. I’m starting to feel preemptively guilty because there’s so much potential there and I’ll never have time to write it all.

Wish me luck.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 3

I am continuing to write. I’m well ahead of where I need to be to hit the official target of 50,000 words but am slightly behind on my personal goal of 60,000.

My story is feeling really episodic. Not so much a coherent plot line as a series of scenes that don’t really connect to one another. That failure to transition properly from one scene to another is something that I can fix in the edit but I know that it’s going to be really annoying. I’d like to save future me from that soul destroying task but I can’t do that without slowing down. And I cannot afford to slow down.

I’m also having trouble with one of my characters. I have a character that I’ve described as a ‘trans boy genius’. Throughout the story everyone treats him as a boy and I always use male pronouns. How do I show the readers that he’s trans? My main character is meeting him for the first time at a point in his life where he’s already on puberty blockers and everyone he knows has got used to using his male name and male pronouns. You could argue that I don’t have to bring it up at all, trans boys are boys, but if I don’t then I’m concealing a part of who he is and denying my trans readers the representation they deserve.

I’m also having intermittent problems with my finger joints. Following my last appointment with the doctor I now have anti-inflammatory gel to apply when they start to swell and hurt but it’s not magic. It doesn’t work instantly and it’s not fixing the underlying problem. Can the underlying problem even be fixed? Is this just another example of life kicking me in the teeth? My continuing existence is going to be more unpleasant and there’s nothing I can do about it?

The worst thing about the finger pain is that it feels like a betrayal. I’ve never been pretty or fit or anything but I used to be able to rely on my hands. My hands were always steady and quick and strong. I could touch type, and crochet, and make jewellery, and I could learn new things to do with my hands quickly. My hands looked good too. They looked considerably better than the rest of me. And now my little fingers are crooked and the joints are swollen and it’s probably only a matter of time before the rest of my fingers look like that. Eventually I won’t even be able to paint my nails to cheer myself up.

I’m going to finish this post with some pictures of that time when I accidentally co-ordinated my nails with my iPad case. I don’t know how many more pictures I’ll want to take of my hands.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 2

NaNoWriMo is going super well, thanks for asking. Ha ha. No, don’t look at Scrivener.

Damn.

Look I can totally explain all the red text. Those are just notes. About how badly it’s going and about how I don’t know what order things should be in or when things happen or which characters to use in which scenes. And also about how I’m not totally convinced by my own plot.

Joking aside, my word count is fine I’m just worried that this novel is going to take even more editing than my writing usually takes. Which is annoying because when I can work out what a scene should actually be the scenes usually come out pretty good.

I now have a new writing table which means I can sit on a comfortable seat while writing. Hopefully this will help. However I am deep in procrastination. Things that I have done when I should have been writing include manicures, mobile games, stress eating, online shopping for Xmas presents, multiple trips to the pharmacy and housework.

I finally got to see a doctor about the question of whether I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands. Apparently my inflammatory markers are only slightly elevated so maybe not and if I do then it’s very early days. I’ve been prescribed gel NSAID painkiller to apply to my hands. It seems to work. Now I just need to remember to use it even when my hands are not hurting.

So good luck to all you other people NaNoWriMoing this year and my the writing gods have mercy upon our souls.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 1

For the duration of November I’m going to be focusing this blog on NaNoWriMo because I’m focusing everything else on NaNoWriMo and I like things to match.

As I write this it’s day 4 and I’m on track to hi 50,000 words early and hopefully get to the approximately 60,000 that I think is a good length for the first draft of the story that I’m trying to write. Things are going well. I don’t hate my characters yet, the plot still works and my body hasn’t started rebelling.

This year my support team (by which I mean those of my friends and family who are not taking part in NaNoWriMo) are being unusually supportive. So give them a quick virtual cheer. It’s pretty thankless being an unpublished writer’s support team. They get most of the hassle of NaNoWriMo but they don’t get the creative rush or the potential feeling of accomplishment and it’s not like there’s any money in it.

Good luck my fellow writers. May the words come easy to you.

Performance review 2017

Since writers don’t have employers we don’t get handy annual performance reviews to tell us how we’re doing. So I’ve decided to do one for myself.

My primary focus for the last year has been to move toward getting published. So that’s a fail then. I have queried some agents. Not as many agents as I could have so that’s something that I could improve on next year. All the ones that have replied have said no. There’s still one I’m waiting to hear back from but I don’t expect to hear anything now until the new year. I did pitch my finished novel at Bloody Scotland and while I got some useful feedback to improve my query letter it hasn’t led anywhere.

Since my main focus is about being a professional writer rather than simply publishing one book I’ve also been writing. I’ve been re-writing and editing a sequel to my finished novel. I wrote the first draft of a novella and for NaNoWriMo I wrote the first draft of a straight crime novel. That’s pretty good but there’s room for improvement. I think I should aim to write at least one first draft and move at least one novel to the completed stage every year.

My secondary focus was to build the skills I need if I have to self publish. I’ve have been moving in the right direction but not nearly far enough. I’ve taken up calligraphy, which can be used to do cover art, and I’m improving my design skills. If I absolutely have to I could probably create a professional looking front cover.

I also wanted to build up this blog. I think that’s been fairly successful. There are more people reading it regularly, I’ve been posting at least 3 times a week most weeks since the beginning of April. Hopefully if I do publish a book at least one of you will actually be willing to pay to read it.

Since July I’ve been trying to get something, anything, done about my Lipoedema. After 4 Doctor appointments and 2 nurse appointments at my local practice, a trip to the leg ulcer clinic in Dunfermline and another to the Lymphoedema clinic in Kirkcaldy I may be only a couple of weeks away from trying on my first compression garments.

Since September I’ve been dieting because apparently you have to if you want to get your Lipoedema treated even though calorie restriction isn’t a treatment for Lipoedema. I’ve lost 11.5 kg and I’m hoping to get back into weight training. I’m just waiting for my equipment to be delivered.

So I haven’t been entirely useless this year but it still feels a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that this year has felt like someone raised the corpse of 2016, decked it out in leather and spikes, stuck it behind the wheel of a steamroller and then pointed it at democracy.

Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2017

Every year I write a first draft in November and every year I try to learn something new while doing it. This year’s first draft was a straightish crime novel with the working title Project Cecil. The name doesn’t mean anything I just had to call it something and one thing I’ve learned in previous years is that I suck at titles.

This year’s big lesson is that I can write a novel without relying on fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural. I’m just not entirely sure I want to. It’s really too early to tell if the story is any good. That wasn’t the point. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. But I am starting to question the logic of writing it.

I wrote a straight crime novel because a friend challenged me to write it. She challenged me because my attempts to get an agent or a publisher are hampered by the kind of stories I normally write. It’s not that they’re bad it’s just that they’re hard to market because they don’t fit easily into any single genre. My friend suggested that if I could write a regular crime novel I would have more chance of getting an agent or publisher interested and once I have something published I might have more luck with my weirder books.

My friend might be right. But I’m starting to think about the long game. My ultimate aim isn’t to get a single book published or even to get paid for a couple of manuscripts. My aim is a career as a writer and to do that I need to concentrate on the books I actually want to write. I like the story I’ve been telling but it’s not representative of most of the stories that I want to tell.

Of course it might still be worth taking this novel to Bloody Scotland next year and pitching it. Even if it doesn’t lead to the career I want it might at least lead to enough money to pay to self publish the other stories well enough to build a career that way.

This doesn’t mean I regret this experiment though. I’ve met some interesting characters while writing this story and I think I’ll probably come back to them at some point and finish telling their stories properly.

Reasons to party

My final post for those in the midst of NaNoWriMo.

Here we are. Just four days left and this one is partially used. All that’s left is to keep writing whether we do it from habit, or stubbornness, or desperation, or hope. What else is there to do?

We look ahead to December and we think of reasons to party. What we don’t do is take our scrappy first drafts and send them off to any agents or publishers. We’re not even going to look at them until January. Christmas holidays at the very earliest.

What are our reasons to party then? If you got your 50,000 words and an official win then you have my permission to party. If you wrote more than you’ve ever written that’s a reason to party. If you wrote every day, or at least every day until your story was finished then it’s party time. If you turned up to an in person meeting and met new people then break out the paper hats. If you supported other people online then pour yourself something nice.

For some of you the work has only just begun. Some will have to keep writing next month to finish the story. Some have discovered that they are slow writers and they need to write a little every day. Some will spend the next 12 months cleaning up what they wrote during November. I myself will be going back to rewriting and editing the story that I was working on in October.

But regardless of where we are on our journeys December is always the right month to pause, to look back on the lessons we’ve learned, to look ahead towards new challenges, and to party.

There’s only going to be one more post on the subject of NaNoWrMo 2017 and that will be about the things that I’ve learned this year. I might keep up the playlist posts though.

Keep on keeping on

For those deep in the depths of NaNoWriMo.

As we face week four my advice to you is just keep going. No matter what your word count or where you are in the story just keep writing. I do have some slightly more nuanced advice but it all boils down to “keep writing”.

If you’re ahead of where you need to be, even if you’ve hit your 50,000 words then keep writing. If you’ve finished your story either go back and add some revision notes (but don’t actually revise anything yet) or start something new while the magic lasts.

If you’re on track then keep going. Yes I know you’re tired but why give up now when it’s actually working? And if you’re on track but you’re increasingly sure that your novel is worthless and you’ll never be able to stand to even look at it keep going anyway. You might be wrong and even if you’re not you will still learn something from finishing it.

If you’re behind but you think you can catch up then stop reading this and write something. You might also want to spend 10 minutes thinking about ways that you can find more time to write.

If you’re behind and you’re sure you can’t catch up I have two things to say to you. Firstly don’t stop writing because you might be wrong and even if you’re not you’ve got nothing to lose by building a habit of writing daily. Secondly it might be time to have a look at why you’re behind and see if you can learn anything for next year.

You could be behind because you are a slow writer. There’s nothing wrong with being a slow writer. Plenty of professionals are slow on the first draft. Slow writers typically end up with a much cleaner first draft and spend less time on editing and rewriting. So don’t assume that this is a problem that you need to fix. But if you are a slow writer then you might want to start thinking about building a daily habit of writing. Slow and infrequent is no way to finish a novel.

You could be behind because you’re too busy or because even when you have time you’re too tired or stressed. If that’s the case then the solution is preparation. Next October you might want to spend time cutting things from your November schedule and planning your novel so that you have a good idea what you’re writing.

You could be behind because you’re having trouble letting go of the perfect novel in your head. You either keep editing as you go or each time you sit down to write you find yourself paralyzed by the empty page and take ages to get started. For this year try timed sprints and remind yourself that this isn’t your novel. This is a first draft. You’re exploring the idea of your novel just now. For next year maybe try to write something that you don’t care about as much just to get used to the process. Once you have a bit of faith in yourself as a writer it’s much easier to tell your inner critic to take a hike.

Good luck with week four and keep writing.

Playlist Track 9 and 10

Track 9 is another song that makes me think about co-dependency but now with a heavy side order of loss and regret. If you’ve never seen the video then I recommend stopping what you’re doing and watching. It’s beautiful and poignant.

 

Track 10 is more about loss and regret and about how sometimes a brief happiness can make seem like a cruel lie when the misery returns.

 

These two songs take me into the state of mind of my little group of amature detectives. They’ve all felt a terrible loss they’re each one striving to be strong for the others. They’re each living with a gaping hole where someone they cared about used to be.

Why not tell me in the comments about the sort of music that helps you when you’re writing? Does it help you to concentrate, or help you visualise a scene, or does it create a mood. And if you don’t like music what do you like? Silence? Ambient noise? Podcasts?

All the Playlist posts.