NaNoWriMo – A November of Novel Adventuring

Note

Yes, it’s that time of the year again.

 

And I do appear to have signed up, partly because I can’t bear not to, and partly because I do have a new book project waiting and raring to go. It’s exciting to browse the forums again, reading about everyone prepping for the long month of madcap novel writing to come. It may not work out this year – things are a touch up in the air for me, in several ways – but I think I’m going to be there at the start line at least, fingerless gloves and cheap Halloween sweets in hand.

 

I’ve participated in Nano for the last four years. In my first (2008, I think) I wrote a short children’s book called Bird and Tower. Next up came Ink for Thieves, a book I still love and hope to find a home for, followed by Dead Zoo Shuffle, a book I’m not that massively keen on these days but isn’t entirely hopeless. Last year I did the Beta month of Camp Nanowrimo, and followed that up by doing the official month too, managing to write the entirety of The Snake House in two months, which was something of a record for me.

 

And as everyone starts to get excited, there’s usually a wave of cynicism about Nano too, and I’ve seen the first trickles of this. All those amateurs, moan the weary cynics, thinking they can write. 50,000 words isn’t even really a book, and they’ve never even heard of editing…

 

Sod that, I say. Yes, a lot of young people take part in Nanowrimo, and yes, lots of them might be writing some rather familiar re-hashes of boy wizards, angsty vampires, and demon-hunting hotties, but so what? It’s very easy to sneer at these things (and at fanfiction, although perhaps that is unwise – fanfic led to the biggest publishing hoo-ha of this year, after all) but I’d much rather see people (particularly young people) getting excited and making things, than, say, the umpteenth wannabe farting Wannabe by the Spice Girls on Britain’s Got Talent. Or maybe that’s just me.

 

Besides which, Nano teaches you all sorts of important stuff if writing is where your soul rests. So the first book you harass into life via Nano might not be that great – it might even suck the big one – 50,000 words will still show you all sorts of wonders you’d never even have guessed at on November the 1st. Plus, Nano shows you (albeit in a slightly extreme way) that it is entirely possible to fit writing into your life, and that is often a wonderful and life changing thing to learn. It certainly changed mine.

 

So come, mighty Nano Vikings, with your cups of coffee and writing mascots, let’s go kick November up the plot bunny!

(and while you’re here, tell me how you prepare for Nano)

 

Editing, the Second Draft and Serious Business

So the second draft of Ink for Thieves is finally finished. I’ll probably need to give it one more read through before I pass it on to my brave and wily beta reading team, but for now the big chunk of work is done. At least, on that book it is. The next couple of months will see more pulling out of hair and knuckle chewing as I read my way through the rough draft of Dead Zoo Shuffle and realise exactly how much delicate surgery that book needs before it’s readable- along with plenty of merry hacking, amputating and other bloody works.

 

Last night I remembered something Stephen King mentions in his book, On Writing. He said, (I may be paraphrasing slightly here) that you “shouldn’t come lightly to the page”. The first time I read that I don’t think I really understood what he was talking about. I thought perhaps he was suggesting that writing, real writing, was always hard work and could never be fun, which clearly wasn’t true at all. Now, having slogged my way through my first novel-length edit and emerged with what is, hopefully, a much shinier and sexier book, I think I’m starting to understand.

 

I think he’s talking about an acceptance of the sheer work involved. Yes, it’s fun and there are moments when the story suddenly comes together and the characters wander off to do what they want, and then the writing is exhilarating, but what you are doing is serious business. It is art. And you may well have to write this damn book over and over again until it is any good, and that thought is daunting, but no one ever said this was going to be a walk in the park, where gnomes massage your toesies and butterflies waft their secret songs into your ear holes. Much of the time in fact it’s rather more like heaving a giant dung ball on your back (that may or may not have a diamond secreted in it somewhere) and hauling it to the top of an impossibly tall mountain while goats with sarcastic eyebrows frown at you in a judgemental manner. But that’s alright because this is hardcore, this is SRS BSNS.

 

At least, I think that’s what he was talking about.

The Tasty Joy of Finishing the First Draft

So, I finished the first draft of Dead Zoo Shuffle a couple of days ago. The last few chapters took a little longer than I anticipated, although so far every single book has been the same; you think you’ve got the ending all figured out, and then it throws up a few little surprises just when you’re convinced you’re on the home stretch.

This book has been an interesting journey. It was my first attempt at crime (er, as a genre, I didn’t do any actual bank robbing) and  my first attempt at novel length first-person narrative. It was the first book I planned chapter by chapter and my first real experiment with the trappings of science-fiction. And I think the risks paid off, at least in terms of how much I enjoyed the writing. In many ways I feel like I found my voice with this story, or the beginnings of it.

There’s an awful lot of work still to be done, of course, with the editing and redrafting already looking to be a big job, and there’s plenty of stuff I know needs to be tightened, or added, or cut entirely. Unusually though I’m looking forward to it (remind me of this when I actually come to edit the thing, I’m sure I’ll be less enthusiastic then).

So now I’m putting Dead Zoo Shuffle aside for a short time while I finish polishing Ink for Thieves. I’m also starting to put together notes on a potential fantasy/steampunk novel called The Iron-Haunted Heart, a project that’s been bouncing down my mental rapids for a while now (no, I don’t know either) and fiddling about with a couple of short stories. I said in January that this would be the year for editing and submitting, didn’t I?  So as much as I might like writing books and then putting them in a drawer to forget about, I do believe it is time to embrace the red pen…

The End Is In Sight- A Small Writing Update

I’ve not done a writing update for a little while, so here’s a wee quickie.

 

Dead Zoo Shuffle currently stands at 98,000 words, and is reasonably close to being completed- I would say between another 5,000-10,000 words and I’ll be able to write THE END in a giant font and dance around the room. I already know that DZS will need a heavy beating with the editing stick, not to mention the addition of an entire subplot that needs to go in there somewhere, so the work is far from over. Still, I’ll be glad to have the first draft under my belt at least.

 

This is a strange stage. Now that I’m so close, finishing the book seems, for the first time, inevitable. At no other point in the first draft do I feel like I’m definitely going to get to the end. I spend most of the draft convinced that I will lose all energy and enthusiasm and splutter out at around the 65,000 word mark (I usually get this feeling most intensely at the 60,000 word mark, funnily enough). So this is a nice place to be. Another week, two weeks, and I’ll get there if I keep plodding on. Although, Marshall and Zootsi have been so much fun to write that I’m glad there’s going to be at least two more books in the DZS series – I couldn’t bear to part with them at the moment!

 

So I’m thinking I need to develop some sort of writer’s ritual for finishing the book. You know, type THE END, sit back, light a cigar. Or have a glass of wine. Or break open that special box of chocolates. Or sprint round the block banging a saucepan with a dessert spoon whilst singing Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance.

 

Any suggestions? And if you’re a writer, do you have a ritual?

Sauce

Just a brief update to say that so far this year, I am more or less behaving myself.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but the two words I do have in mind at the moment are EDIT and SUBMIT. Every six to twelve months-ish Marty and I will have what we call a “planning session” down the pub, where we get bits of paper and make lists of what we want to have done by when, and what we need to do to get it done. It’s possibly the most informal planning session ever, with plenty of drink, doodling and amusing names for our plans, but I find it very pleasing and we stick our bits of paper up on the box room wall for all to see (us and the cat). Thanks to my aversion to a) editing and b) showing anyone my work, edit and submit were featured very highly on my list this year.

My current schedule is writing in the morning, editing in the evening. As simple as that, but, amazingly, I seem to be making some progress. Stuff that needs tidying up is getting tidier, and the Steampunk story is chuntering along slowly (Dead Zoo Shuffle is briefly on hold while I sort this thing out).

So let’s hope I can keep up my slow and steady progress, and 2011 might be the year I let another human soul read one of my books for the first time. Possibly.

The Year that was Writing Dangerously

So it’s that time of the year where we blog about the last twelve months, summing up the triumphs and the achievements and so on. Well, to be honest I’ve always been incredibly bad at remembering what happened in what year (I know, useless isn’t it? I have a great memory for pointless facts and a terrible one for the actual timeline of my life) so this blog post will be the vaguest sort of summary of 2010, including some of the things that I’m reasonably certain happened this year.

I started and finished The Steel Walk, a sword and sorcery novel about an ex-prostitute turned swordswoman forced into protecting the unwanted child of an evil family, whilst fighting off the evil machinations of the Green Council and their dreaded “dead walkers”. It was a book that didn’t go exactly according to plan, but it taught me lots of lessons that I’ll take on with me to the next book. And I did finish it, always the hardest bit.

Short story wise I’ve had a reasonably successful year, achieving way more than I ever thought I would. I’ve had a tiny wee piece of flash fiction published in Black Static as part of the Campaign for Real Fear- picking up a copy in Alt:Fiction and seeing my name in print was particularly exciting! I’ve been published twice in Hub Magazine and received some fabulous feedback on the stories. I’ve found homes for other stories in the From the Dark Side and Farrago anthologies, had a spot on the Un:Bound blog for Barleycorn (one of my favourites) and recently became involved in Dark Fiction Magazine where I had a lot of fun reading out Sarah Pinborough’s Do You See? I even had two of my own stories included, the second of which was a Christmas ghost story read out by Kim Lakin-Smith (who did a beyond fabulous job!). It’s been a good year for me and short fiction, and I owe a huge thanks to everyone who took a punt on an unknown writer. I hope I can keep it up in 2011!

Speaking of Alt:Fiction, I am pleased that I got my arse out of the house for once and attended a proper convention, meeting many lovely people and hearing so much writerly wisdom that I was filled with huge optimism and enthusiasm as well as dread and terror at the size of the task in front of me. Mostly, I just loved geeking out about books for an entire day with a bunch of like minded people.

I started writing Dead Zoo Shuffle in November with Nanowrimo. DZS was a big challenge for me; it was science-fiction/crime, and written in the first person, neither of which I had tried with a full length novel before. I got through 50,000 words in a month, and of course I’m still writing the bugger. Mainly I’m pleased with how much this book is making me think- trying to figure out the plot of a crime novel at 9.30am in Starbucks really sets you up for the day.

So at the beginning of 2010 I christened it “The Year of Writing Dangerously”, and in many ways it was. I formed a routine and forced myself to stick to it, and wrote more words in one year than I ever have before (the quality of those words is quite another thing, of course). I wouldn’t have had such a fun and groovy year without the help of a number of people, so since I’m here I’d like to say a quick thank you! Firstly, to my partner Marty Perrett (@Boxroom on twitter and go here for his website-http://boxroomboy.co.uk/ ) who has provided endless support and chocolate in the face of my erratic enthusiasm and changeable moods, whilst also putting together some amazing creative projects of his own. Thanks as well to Adam Christopher (@ghostfinder on twitter and go here for his blog-http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/ ) a friend and writing buddy who has beta read for me all year, always giving useful advice and a kick up the arse when needed. I also owe Adam specifically for his ability to remind me of the right writing competition at the right moment, and for singing my praises to others. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a whole gang of marvellous people on twitter too, including Sharon Ring (@DFReview) and Del Lakin-Smith (@dellakin_smith) in charge of Dark Fiction Magazine http://www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk/, and Neil C Ford (@nubenu) who was kind enough to lend a struggling writer a netbook, enabling me to construct my coffee shop related writing routine. Thanks also to the lovely Adele (@Hagelrat) at the Un:Bound blog http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/, and the charming Alasdair Stuart at Hub magazine http://www.hubfiction.com/ who were kind enough to give my stories a home. And a general hug and slurred drunken “love ya!” to all the fabulous twitter peeps who have kept me sane and entertained this year- you know who you are!

So if this was The Year of Writing Dangerously, what is 2011? The Year of Getting My Arse in Gear and Finally Editing Something?

The Brave Bit

And lo, we enter the armpit of my writing year, the blind boil on the bottom of my writing schedule; here we come my friends to December, the worst of all writing months.

It’s easy for me to appear to be a fantastic, productive writer in November. Nanowrimo surges me through the month on a tidal wave of word counts, calendars, countdowns, word sprints and all nighters, presenting me gleaming and victorious on the other side with 50,000 words and a certificate of win clutched in one triumphant fist. I write my socks off that month and kick writerly ass in all directions; I even wrote a short story this time, as if I didn’t have enough to do, and managed it all with, if not grace, then at least relentless cheeriness.

So it is always painful to come immediately to the bumhole that is December, when you have so recently bathed in glory and achievement. In December I am exhausted, for a start, burnt out from all the late nights and early mornings of the previous month, and there’s the sudden looming horror of Christmas, which I am inevitably underprepared for because I’ve been throwing my heart and soul into Nanowrimo. I suddenly need to figure out what I’m getting people and how, and when, and with which magical beans, and there are social gatherings happening that might require my attendance and for me to wear something other than an old chocolate encrusted jumper.

And the real bitch of it is, thanks to Nanowrimo I’m also at the hardest point in the book, that stinking gulf of words between 50,000 and 70,000 words where anything and everything can go wrong, and usually does. Every time it is the same for me- this is the point where I desperately want to give up and start something new, where I’m convinced I’m a terrible writer and the story I’m telling is boring, pointless and barely makes any sense. Every word is an agony and all attempts to make something new and shiny shrivel and die on the page.

Oh December, what fresh hell is this?

So this is the Brave Bit. Nanowrimo makes you look exciting and bold and impossibly glamorous, with your thousands of words under your belt, but if you’re like me and the book needs another 50,000 words to finish, then December is where you show your true bravery; where you screw your courage to the sticking place and bear down for the sheer excruciating agony of writing. You’re in for the hardest part of the journey now and there’s no comforting community to keep you going, no sense of a joyful challenge or even the false assurances that you’re not that bad a writer- there’s only all those blank pages to fill, a worryingly tight shopping schedule and a parade of increasingly threatening Santas.

So, I’ll come back to it all in January, yeah?

Dark Fiction Magazine’s Twelve Days Anthology

So Nanowrimo is over, Dead Zoo Shuffle is half way through, and hopefully I’ll be back to blogging again regularly. Phew!

Just a quick note today to do a brief snoopy dance of Christmas joy- not because I’ve actually done all my Christmas shopping (pressies bought = 2) or because I remembered to buy an advent calendar, but because my short story “Milk” has been chosen as the “maids a milking” section of Dark Fiction Magazine’s Twelve Days Anthology.

All the details are here: http://www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk/blog/twelve-days-anthology-the-winning-stories/

I’ve also been lucky enough to have another one of my stories included in Dark Fiction Magazine in Episode 2: Dystopian Desires. If you haven’t heard it yet, On the Last Wave is here: http://www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk/episode/issue-2/

Obviously, I’m dead excited about this because it means my name is appearing next to some authors who I really admire- a truly fab christmas present. 😉

Dead Zoo Shufflings

At risk of jinxing myself, since I haven’t actually crossed the finish line yet (800 words to go!) I thought I’d do a quick post about this year’s nanowrimo experience, and the first 50,000 words of Dead Zoo Shuffle.

It started off rather peacefully, with a week in less than sunny Cornwall to bash out as many words as possible. Despite being largely sozzled much of the time I did manage to get a reasonable amount done on the incredibly long train journey, and in small country pubs with roaring fires. Really, I wish the entire Nano experience could be as picturesque and relaxing.

The following three weeks however, with work and my occasional attempts at a social life, have flown by at an alarming rate. So quickly in fact that I think I’ve barely been on the Nano forums this year, and have had none of the usual encouraging nanomail chats and banter. I’m a bit disappointed about that, as I always enjoy the sense of writerly community November brings, but it seems this year I had no time to do anything but get my head down and write.

Dead Zoo Shuffle itself is proving to be an interesting book to put together. I knew it would be a challenge, because it was both crime and science-fiction, both genres I don’t normally have much to do with aside from reading them, and I wanted it to be in the First Person. Since the only other book I’ve attempted to write from that viewpoint was a massive failure I half expected to give in during week 2 and make the whole thing third person after all.

But I haven’t. It’s hard, and I struggle with some of the twists and turns, but so far Dead Zoo Shuffle has managed to do something quite rare- it’s kept my interest at all times. Not to say that I’ve been bored shitless by my previous books, but there’s almost always a moment where I think “Ye gods, if I have to write about one more night by the campfire I am going to kill someone” or “How can I make their journey over to this place remotely interesting?”. DZS, with its teeming city planet of dodgy bars and even dodgier mercenaries, with its aliens and spaceships and artificial moons, has been strangely refreshing. Dead Zoo Shuffle has so much to keep me occupied I can barely keep up with it.

So hurrah for Nano for providing me with another interesting November. And here’s to the next 50,000 words!

Nanowrimo & the Small Plastic Dragon

So we are ten days into Nanowrimo. I’m glad to report that it has been proceeding reasonably well, and Dead Zoo Shuffle is 15,000 words in at Chapter 5- amazingly enough, exactly where I am supposed to be. The first five days were relatively easy, given that I was on holiday and had the rather lovely landscape of Cornwall to look at (which is always fabulous, even in November- possibly especially in November, with all the mists and autumn trees and fierce waves. If anything I was vaguely disappointed I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy of the sort that starts out in grassy hills and ends in perilous mountains…). I did my writing on the train, at the dinner table and in small country pubs, and had no trouble reaching the daily word count.

Writing while also having to go to work is a little bit trickier, but luckily I have formulated a routine over the last few months where I sneak into libraries and coffee shops and get it all done before I even have to think about the day job. This has set me in good stead for Nanowrimo, although that’s not to say it isn’t a struggle; the pace and the pressure are somewhat more extreme, after all, and I can’t give myself the night off just because I’m feeling sleepy.

The book itself is both hugely fun to write and incredibly challenging. I’ve written in the First Person before for short stories but keeping it going for an entire novel throws up all sorts of difficulties, not to mention the complications of writing about a human character on an alien world- and at its heart this is more a crime novel than a science-fiction story. But I’m loving Dirk Marshall and Zootsi, even Fredo and his dubious personal hygiene, and the dialogue in this story feels more natural than I’ve managed before.

So in celebration of my wobbly progress, I offer up some things I have learnt over the last few years of Nanowrimo that seem to have helped me:

Tell everyone you know that you’re doing it. I found this awkward and embarrassing the first year, as trying to explain why you’re writing an entire book in a month isn’t easy (“Yes, 50,000 words… Yes, I have to write them all myself… No, you don’t get a prize or any money at the end of it… well, it’s more about having, you know, written an entire book…”) but if everyone is expecting you to be flourishing 50,000 words worth of manuscript at the end of the month you’re less like to give up when you’re feeling a bit tired.

Rewards! Yes, the book at the end is the true reward, ahem, but that’s not to say that you can’t treat yourself with cool stuff as well. Don’t save it all for reaching the end either; 20,000 words is especially sweet when you can finally eat that special bar of chocolate or buy that CD. This year I have a Duncan the Grey Warden action figure on order for my future glory (What? Toys are rewards. Toys are allowed).

Speaking of toys, see if you can find a writing space! They probably aren’t essential, and to be honest I have used mine exactly 3 times so far this month, but having a little nook that is dedicated to writing and your book can help you feel like you’re taking it seriously. My desk is surrounded by pictures of things that interest me, and covered in toys, or, uh, writing mascots. This year I am assisted by Charlie the My Little Pony (a Nano veteran), Tyrion the Small Plastic Dragon and a couple of gaming dice for the cat to push onto the floor to wake me up (hopefully, they will soon be joined by Fully Articulated Duncan).

And there you go, those are my three main tips for Nanowrimo success, or at least, Nanowrimo fun. And if you are doing it this year, tell me what you’re writing about- my favourite form of procrastination is reading other people’s synopsises…
Good luck!