Notes on surviving Nanowrimo AND KICKING ITS BUTT

It’s Halloween! Which not only means it’s time to eat lots of novelty shaped chocolates, it also means it’s practically Nanowrimo: that special month of the year where a bunch of very enthusiastic people attempt to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days.

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This pleases Skeletor.

I am, in my own small way, a Nano veteran. When I first started taking writing seriously, I decided to try Nanowrimo as a way of teaching myself some discipline, and much to my surprise (being an inherently lazy person) it worked! In 2008 I reached my wordcount with an odd little fantasy book for younger readers called Bird and Tower. In 2009 I won with a YA book called Ink for Thieves, and in 2010 it was with an oddly named SF crime romp called Dead Zoo Shuffle. 2011 was where it got complicated – I intended to write the rest of this odd little serial I was writing, called the Copper Promise or something, but then the first section of it received a lot of attention and Nanowrimo dropped off the radar for me…

I was back in 2012 with another YA book called London-Under-Sea, with which I did reach the 50K goal but the novel itself remains unfinished, alas. By then, The Copper Promise was on the verge of being a real book, and what I found was that publishing schedules neatly elbowed Nanowrimo out of the way. I never seemed to be writing a first draft when November rolled around – I was always in the midst of edits. Consequently, 2013 was a miss for me, but with 2014 I squeaked in with 50K words of The Silver Tide. Similarly, history records that last year I registered The Ninth Rain as the novel I would be working on, but edits for The Silver Tide put a stop to that.

This year I have decided, with a heavy heart, that I will not make the attempt. I love Nanowrimo dearly, but I am in the middle of the copyedits for The Ninth Rain now, and there is no greater antithesis to the spirit of Nano than the dreaded copy edit. However, I thought it would be fun to have a think about all the things I have learnt about surviving a month of super-fast writing, and collect some of it here. If you are about to experience the strange adventure that is Nano for the first time, it might be useful. Or it might at least indicate what not to do…

No edits
It’s the most obvious and tiresome piece of advice, and if you are doing Nano you will have heard it 800 times already but: take your inner editor by the hand, give her one last hug, and then give her a sharp shove down the basement steps. Ignore her squawk of outrage and snapping limbs – for the next 30 days, you don’t need her. Soz, lady.

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Stop! Put that editing pencil DOWN!

Time is precious
Nano is brilliant because it teaches you to give yourself periods of time dedicated solely to writing. This time is precious. It must be offered up in sacrifice to bring your characters to life. But with Nano I would also suggest looking closely at all those bits in your day where you briefly have nothing to do, and snaffle those as well. Write bits of your novel on the phone when you’re on the bus. Scribble a section on your lunch break. Stuck in a waiting room? Get those words out. It sounds a little, uh, over the top, but even 20 words or so will help when you’re dragging yourself towards that 1667 words a day.

With that in mind…
I almost always write in a linear fashion these days, with scene following scene, etc. But with Nano, all rules are out the window. I highly recommend, particularly when you’re on the bus or stuck at work, scribbling little extra scenes, snatches of dialogue, conversations that pop up out of nowhere. The beauty of these little isolated fragments is a) they add to your word count and b) they can often lead to unexpected things – a secret about a character you didn’t know, a piece of worldbuilding that suddenly slots into place, and so on.

Sweets
A more responsible writer would tell you to eat healthy snacks, and if you like them, go for it, but I am not a responsible person and I like sweets. Snickers Flapjacks are bloody amazing, and there’s always the trusty Peanut Butter Chunky Kit-Kat. PLUS I highly recommend buying up all the cheap Halloween candy on November 1st.

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Shredder cannot *wait* to get his mitts on those tasty kit-kats.

The Desk of Awesome
If you can, make yourself a base of operations for November. I like my desk to be quivering under the weight of a thousand toys, but you might like a more minimal approach. I dunno. I guess some people like that. Jeez. I found that having a dedicated space to return to for writing sessions made more of an occasion of the whole process, and helped to get my mind into the right head-space.

Share it
Get other people to do it with you. Or, at least tell other people that you’re doing it. Abandoning the project halfway through November is much easier when it’s your secret challenge – if you have friends and family asking you how it’s going, that little flicker of guilt can be enough to get your bum back in the writing seat. And with Nanowrimo the little things count.

Incentivize!
Decide beforehand some landmark word targets, such as 10,000 words, 15,000 words and so on, and treat yourself when you hit them. An hour playing videogames, a special cake, a big glass of booze, or a giant Lego set. Or all of the above.

Get involved with the community
Although I was always more of a lurker than a poster, I spent quite a bit of time on the Nanowrimo forums. It’s comforting to know the struggles other writers are facing, and I was always fascinated to see what other people were writing. It goes without saying that the forums are packed with advice themselves.

Above all, have fun! The spirit of Nanowrimo is wild abandonment, so write whatever you bloody well like, and relish the freedom! FREEEEDOOOOM!!!*

*Wild spelling and outrageous use of exclamation marks are an inevitable side-effect of Nanowrimo.

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Look! Mumm-Ra believes in you!

Happy Almost Halloween!

zombieme

So the amazing Crispin Young (@crisp22 on twitter) made this for me. I am so chuffed. Of course if I ever did contract the zombie virus and was doomed to spend my days wandering the earth as one of the undead, you can bet I’ll still be trying to foist my book on people. 😉

As this gives me an excuse for a mini update, I’m pleased to report that the proof-read version of THE IRON GHOST has now been returned to my publisher (phew!) and it’s available to request on Netgalley, which I suspect means it won’t be long until there are ARCs flying about*. This is both brilliant and scary.

So now it’s back to book 3 with me, which I intend to plough through during Nanowrimo (or at least, a 50,000 word section of it) – it just wouldn’t feel like Autumn/Winter without speed writing and binge eating Halloween sweets.

If you’re doing Nanowrimo yourself, buddy me up! I’m on there as sennydreadful, unsurprisingly :)

*EDIT: Apparently the Netgalley proofs have been popping up on devices today, THE TERROR OF IT ALL 0_0

NaNoWriMo Day 28: Fishpunk and Flu

Sealondon

I’m writing this now through the fog of flu (well, probably not flu – I felt a little too warm earlier today so I’ve decided it might be, because I do like to overreact like that) and the general exhaustion of the last days of nanowrimo. I’m very, very close to the end now, only a couple of thousand words away, but unfortunately I’m having to think around a wall of snot and grimness, so everything is suddenly really bloody difficult.

            Typical, isn’t it?

            This is annoying, but I’m not too concerned. I’ve a good chunk of London-Under-Sea out of my head and on to the page, and so far it’s been an… interesting experience. I’m not sure I’m getting everything right, and sometimes bending the book to my will seems nigh on impossible – I have these things that need to happen, but the characters keep wandering off and doing other things – but I sense that the bones of it are there, at least. Isaac in particular has turned out to have an interesting backstory I hadn’t even guessed at when I started, and as usual with nanowrimo the sheer break-neck pace of writing (some might even say desperation) has produced some very weird stuff.

            Which is good. Weirdness is what this book needs. We’re talking about a distant future London, flooded with an alien sea and full of fucked up sea monsters, peopled with humans who are no longer quite human. I jokingly referred to this book as fish-punk when I started writing it, but the more I get to know London-Under-Sea, the more I like the term.

            Who knows? Perhaps my feverish lurgy-brain will help! Bring on the lemsip-induced hallucinations and I might even get this thing finished.

Nanowrimo Day 16: Eyeball Blistering Agony

Desk

 

Day sixteen of Nanowrimo, and although I’m ahead of the projected wordcount I am feeling the midway miseries, big time. The opening third was great – fun to write, full of the setting up of mysteries for later and character sketches – but now we’re into the fat middle third, where stuff happens. Only I’m not sure what stuff. Not really.

            I have notes on possible ideas, but when I come to write them none of it feels like it’s quite there. More troublingly, Isaac seems to be very different to the character I initially imagined, and this makes the dynamic of the group a little difficult to juggle – I had thought he was troubled/brooding/angry/shouty, but he actually seems to be troubled/brooding/introspective/reserved, which makes for an entirely different set of interactions.

            So, much griping and misery from the writer. What happened, I ask, to the fine and sexy outline I had? And there is a suspiciously low body-count for one of my books. The baddie is great, and things are connecting in those small, magical ways that random things do when you’re writing a book, but there’s no doubt it’s a struggle at the moment.

            Still, this is all fairly standard for the third week of Nanowrimo, and I’ve not been very well for the last few days either, which hasn’t helped. It’s time, I think, to scribble some brainstormy notes and give my typing fingers the night off – I’ve got a full week of nothing but writing ahead!

 

Holy Link Post, Batman!

Busy week, no sleep, too much sugar… my brain isn’t sensible enough to give you a big fat blog post today, but I do have a series of links I should wave about, and one of them does include a big fat blog post:

 

I have been guest blogging over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, where I talk in a meandering sort of way about fantasy maps and my own journey as a fantasy reader.

 

The Dark Fiction Magazine Halloween issue is now complete, with excellent stories from Lou Morgan, Emma Newman, Adrian Faulkner and Joshua Malbin – all with a watery theme. I strongly recommend giving your ears this spooky and slightly damp treat.

 

The cover for Adam Christopher’s The Age Atomic has been revealed and it’s a corker.

 

Nanowrimo continues on its coffee-sodden way; I’ve popped up a rough synopsis for London-Under-Sea if you’re curious.

 

And that’s it! Hopefully next week I will have a more coherent set of thoughts for you, but for now it’s back to the word count.

NaNoWriMo Day 4: Weekend Writing

Duncan

Today’s writing mascot is Duncan. I imagine his writing advice would be something like: “In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In November, too much caffeine and fingerless gloves.”

Historically I’m not very good at writing at the weekend. I have quite a strict writing routine during the week so my brain tends to flop into SUPER RELAX MODE on a Saturday and it’s a minor miracle if I’m out of bed before midday. Although I always have good intentions of getting some words down, by the time I’m dressed and awake, it’s time to eat dinner and slip into a food-induced coma.

This weekend though I have behaved myself. I’m about 2,000 words ahead of where I need to be for Nanowrimo, and London-Under-Sea is moving along at the pace I want it to. We’ve witnessed Esther’s troubling beginnings, had a quick swim around the submerged city, and met Isaac, who is smouldering in an angsty and brooding fashion. At the moment I’m feeling quite happy with where it’s going, and looking forward to seeing where this book wants to take me.

 How about you? I’d love to hear some Nanowrimo progress reports in the comments!

NaNoWriMo Day 1: Mascots and Pigs

Mascot

The first day of Nanowrimo is under my belt, along with half a packet of Percy Pigs and too much pasta, and I have to say it’s gone quite well.

            That’s not tremendously surprising, as the first day is always the easiest. Now, the third week, that’s a bitch, when you’re tired and you’ve forgotten what this was supposed to be about and you’ve bought so many packets of Percy Pigs that the people in M&S are starting to give you slightly fearful looks… but all that is a way off yet.

            I’ve had the opening scenes of London-Under-Sea in my head for a few months now, and it feels good to get them out onto the screen. With the characters walking and talking and generally getting into trouble they’re starting to fill out, to become real people, and the little details of the world are dropping into place. I didn’t know before I started writing this morning, for example, that Mr Tallow was actually quite liked by the children, or that the object Esther was remembering is a golden plate. I love finding this stuff out; it’s the joy of a first draft.

            I’m giving my eyeballs a rest now and ruminating on what might crop up on day two. I doubt I’ll be blogging every day, but I might just throw up the occasional update, more for my own reference than anything else.

 

Oh, and Grumpy Bear is today’s writing mascot. I should point out that the word next to him is “Sea”, and not… the other word.

 

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)

 

Writing: The Beginning of All That

I’ve been working very hard on The Copper Promise lately (no, really, stop laughing), typing away until my fingers are nothing more than shiny little nubbins, so consequently I haven’t come up with any interesting blog ideas lately. So in lieu of something good, I thought I would do one of those self indulgent posts about how I started writing.

 

I’ve always loved stories, of course. When I was very wee, I asked for a desk for Christmas, and the year after that I wanted a typewriter (gods, I have always loved having a desk). I wrote lots as a child and then tons at school, and then it tapered off somewhat and I got distracted by art college, with its poshery and paint and dodgy vodka in the union bar. I started writing seriously, I suppose you could say, on one random day in my early twenties.

 

I came home from work in a bad mood. This was back when I worked for a certain bookshop, and I know some people will say: “You worked in a bookshop! How could you possibly have had a bad day? You whinging numpty.” – believe me, it is possible to have a bad day, particularly when you’ve heard a lot of “Have you got that book? It was on that table last month and I can’t remember what it was called or who it was by. Don’t you know any of the books?” This happens more than you would believe… But, anyway, I was cheesed off, and I decided, in a desperate act of therapy, that I would sit down and write a scene that had been stuck in my head for some months. It involved a girl becoming a witch via a really rather nasty and brutal ritual, and once I’d written that I found that, a) I felt better, and b) I wanted to know how the girl came to be in that situation in the first place. Those were the seeds that became the book Bad Apple Bone (still the best title I’ve ever come up with, I think) and over the course of a couple of years, writing in fits and starts, I eventually finished it.

 

This was a big deal for me. I’d thought about writing books before, but I’d always considered it beyond my abilities – I wrote short stories, picture books, and essays, but not books. But I’d started one and finished it, which proved that actually, I did have the attention span for these things. After that I got involved in NaNoWriMo, where I wrote a short children’s book called Bird and Tower, and the next year I started writing a much longer book called Ink for Thieves… Somewhere along the way I realised two things; that writing books made me happy, and that I couldn’t stop. In fact, writing seemed to satisfy two very basic needs of my personality; the need to make things, and the need to control everything (Yes, writing is a control freak’s dream: “You will all do as I say! Dance my puppets, dance!).

 

And that’s how I came to be writing a sword and sorcery serial that’s getting longer and more complicated by the minute… I look back at the years when I wasn’t writing books and I worry that I lost time there, that I should have been working on it ever since I got my first typewriter and that little desk with all the stickers on it. But the important thing is, I got there in the end. And art college does get you access to some really cool libraries.

My Brief But Obligatory Nanowrimo Post

Far too many things going on this week for me to blog sensibly or in detail about anything, so given that we’re almost at the end of October, I would just like to salute those crazy novelists about to take part in a month of literary abandon, also known as Nanowrimo.

 

I’ve blogged about this many times before, and I know you’ll all have heard me hark on about how great I think the scheme is, and how useful, so I’ll keep it short. Today I came across Johanna Harness’ blog on “Telling Your Own Story”, and when I read it I nodded so hard in agreement my head nearly fell off (go read it, she is very wise). The fact is, every year at this time there’s always a flurry of anti-Nano types, talking about how Nano helps push into being a thousand rubbish books, how Wrimos don’t know the difference between a rough draft and a completed manuscript, or how outrageous it is that all these non-writers are writing.

 

Balls to that, I say. Not only is it snobbery of the highest order, it also ignores that fact that writing is often about different things for different people – a challenge completed, a way out of a rut, or just a bit of bloody good fun. Making things is one of the joys of human existence, after all. Aside from wanting to see my books in a bookshop one day, I also find writing stories the most marvellous form of escapism, and it gives me a sense of control that I crave in all other areas of my life (OCD does tend to make you a bit fond of controlling things). It’s very nearly therapy, is what it is, and Nanowrimo brings this fabulous and often frustrating activity to thousands of people every year. Yay for that, I say.

 

(If you didn’t guess, I am planning on participating again this year, with the intention of completing the next two parts of The Copper Promise. See you there, Wrimos!)