I reached my NaNoWriMo goal on Monday: 50,000 words in 30 days (well, technically 27 days). What does that feel like? At this point, it’s more a relief than anything else. I did celebrate reaching my goal by opening the 12 year old single malt scotch and drank a glass with my wife, but only because I decided to save the 21 year single malt for when the manuscript is actually done.
Because that’s the weird thing about NaNo projects, at least for me; 50,000 words has never, ever conincided with me reaching “the end.” For the only NaNo that actually went on to become a finished manuscript, 50,000 words was roughly the midway point.
Which means that there isn’t really a feeling of being done. You turn in your word count, get the neat little validation thingy from the website, which I do like quite a bit because I’m a gamer and gamers are conditioned to perform repetitive actions to raise bars. This aspect of my personality is why YNAB worked on my finances and Fitbit was working for my fitness level (at least, it was working until the damn band broke and I stopped wearing it).
So here I am, done with my big goal, my winning streak extended by another year (up to eight wins in a row now) and then, with all that said and done, you get back to work. Because there’s still a lot more story to tell and a hell of a lot of rewriting for this one.
When last we spoke, I informed you of the exciting news that NASA is planning its first voyage to Mars. That’s still true, which is good. I also saw The Martian at the movie theater and liked it very much, which is also good. In fact, I loved the movie whereas I only enjoyed the book. This has everything to do with the fact that I’m an artist rather than an engineer and I tend to favor soft, squishy subjects like the humanities rather than MATH.
Ahem. Sorry. I may have lapsed into the remnants of a heated discussion about The Martian that evidently I’m not entirely over.
In other news, it’s November and November means NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo means “oh my God, I have so much writing to do, how can I waste it blogging, what the hell am I thinking, I have to get back to WORK!” So, you know, there’s that.
The new book I’m working on is pretty cool, though. At least, I think it’s cool. My working title is Dinomancer and it’s a book about people who can ride dinosaurs into battle. I’d tell you the elevator pitch about it, but since I haven’t written it all yet, it’d be somewhat insubstantial. I feel good about it, though, and my girlfriend fiancée says that she hasn’t seen me get this excited about a new project in a long time, so who knows. Maybe this will be the book that makes millions of dollars enough dollars to make a small payment on one of my outstanding student loans.
Also, this is my first winter since I moved to Washington state several months ago. My verdict thus far: seasons are beautiful, I really enjoy the cold weather, I look great in my stylish long raincoat, I hate the fact that it gets dark like at 4pm, and related to the previous bullet point, DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME SUCKS. Arizona may not get a lot of things right (politics, 115 degree summer days, the impending fiery apocalypse drought brought on by global climate change), but they’re the only state in the Union that doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time, and that’s pretty damn good in my opinion.
Anyway. Thanks for stopping by. I’m going to get back to writing about dinos.
Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone. My winning streak is safe for another year. This year it seemed particularly difficult to keep my momentum going on the story, even though I ended up finishing two days early due to a nice sprint on the 28th. It’s possible that I say this every year; I haven’t looked back at any of my previous blog posts or Twitter updates to see how 2014 compared to 2013 or 2012. Regardless, the month is over and I have another 50,000 words of novel that I’ll now need to do something with. I have the next 11 months to sort it all out. Perhaps I’ll write another follow-up post about the experience, but right now, the idea of writing much of anything is just tiring. It’s time for a break.
It seems that quite a bit happened in November and perhaps you’ve been stopping by expecting my commentary. I apologize for letting you down. There’s certainly a lot of negative things in the world deserving of scorn and well-honed verbal barrages, but you know, I spent a lot of time thinking this past month, when I wasn’t writing and I’ve felt the urge to shy away from posting about the shitty stuff in the world. This blog started out as a way for me to vent my anger, which is really obvious if you look back at the first few months of posts. Well, actually, if I’m being honest, first this blog was just my squatting on my domain name, then I decided to write a blog to vent my anger.
It’s easier to be angry and pissed off and writing about it doesn’t it any better, at least for me. I stopped seeking out things that intentionally pissed me off just so I have fuel to write about. It probably doesn’t make the world any better but I also can’t imagine that it doesn’t make it any worse. And it certainly makes me feel better to not be as angry. So there’s that.
Movie trailers! The Jurassic World trailer and the Star Wars: Episode VII trailer were both released in the same month! 2015 looks like it will be a very good year for movies for my personal demographic (that demographic being “people who are me.” It’s an admittedly small niche) in a way that 2014 was very much a lackluster year. Did I actually go to the movies this year? I can’t recall. But 2015 has me excited. I don’t care what anyone else in the world says; a scene involving motorcycles and velociraptors fulfills one of my dreams. And yes, I do often daydream about riding my motorcycle alongside a pack of velociraptors, usually on my way to work. It’s just a thing that I want to do, because it’s awesome. The Episode VII trailer has me excited for Star Wars once again, although it’s still a cautious excitement; I remember how exciting the trailer was for Episode I. Trailers cannot always be trusted.
I’ve been learning to cook over the past few months and I’m getting pretty good at it. One of those little things about being a vegetarian means that most of your cooking efforts also involve chopping. And slicing. And dicing. And cutting. And whatever other words exist for cutting things in the culinary world. I bought a new knife a few months ago to begin this new journey into adulthood and it was getting really, really dull, so dull that I had trouble with a tomato. I’d learned how to sharpen knives on a whetstone when I was a kid and I was curious to see if I’d still remember how to do it, so I went out today and bought a whetstone and used my dull kitchen knife for practice.
There is nothing more pleasing than taking a practice cut with a newly sharpened knife. It’s liking taking a lightsaber to your vegetables. I promptly went crazy and sharpened all of our knives. I can’t wait to use them back into dullness so I can sharpen them again. I don’t know what this new feeling is; it’s either self-reliance, adulthood, or some combination thereof. I don’t have a word for it, but I think I like it.
I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo at my library this past weekend and one of the questions I was asked by one of the attendees who hadn’t done NaNo before was why I thought it was worth doing. It’s a reasonable question, after all. Why undertake the mentally exhausting challenge of writing furiously for thirty days, especially when it’s very likely that much or perhaps even all of the words that you write will end up being complete junk?
There are a lot of possible answers I could have given; because it’s fun even though it’s hard. Because it’s the one time during the year that writing is a group activity and you can tell people about your novel without being the pretentious ‘oh-let-me-tell-you-about-my-novel guy.’ Because it’s good to allow yourself to be creative.
But here’s the answer I settled on and the one that I truly believe (although when I gave this answer during my presentation, I used considerably less profanity).
It’s a common saying within writing circles that everyone has at least one novel in them. Consequently, it’s popular to retort and say, no, everyone does not have a novel in them in a rather curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids sort of cane shaking. For the record, that post just happened to be the first one that I pulled up on Google; I don’t actually know if Tim Clare shakes a cane at kids on his lawn. I’m sure he’s actually a great guy and probably really nice.
Regardless, it’s trendy to be cynical and one of the best way to be cynical is to crush the idealism of others by telling them “no, the world doesn’t really need to hear your story. Your story probably sucks.” Even if Tim Clare isn’t saying that, many, many other people are. They want you to know that your story sucks. It’s bad and you should feel bad.
So here’s why I think NaNo is worth doing, no matter what you do with your story after it’s over.
NaNoWriMo is worth doing because it’s a month-long exercise in saying “fuck you” to the cynics.
A lot of people call it the “inner editor” or the “inner critic” or the “inner perfectionist.” You know what I’m talking about if you’re ever tried to create something, ever: it’s that little voice that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough or that you’re doing it wrong or that you really don’t have anything worth saying.”
I have a different name for that little guy. It’s my “dark voice.” It’s the voice that arrived in my brain sometime around middle school or early high school, right around the time that I left childhood behind and entered a world that was very eager to tell me how much I sucked, how much of a dork I was, how awkward I looked, and just how bad I was at life in general. The dark voice is always there and it’s always happy to remind me about all the things I fucking suck at in life. Writing. My job. Being a friend. Keeping my house clean. Doing yard work. Budgeting. Calling my parents. Exercising every day. Updating my blog. Blogging in general, actually.
Sometimes, people who sound a lot like my dark voice write posts about how there are too many novels in the world and really, your story sucks and you should just keep it to your own damn self.
Well, fuck those people. Fuck the dark voice.
Telling stories is what makes us human. Every single human who has ever lived or will ever live has at least one story to tell. It doesn’t matter if that story will ever be published. Being published is not the quality-meter that says “your story is worthwhile and has justified its existence.” Don’t get me wrong, being published is great, especially if you want to tell stories and get paid for it (which I really, really do).
But that has nothing to do with telling or creating stories. Creating stories is something we do and have always done as a species because it helps us figure things out. It helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. It helps us grow. Telling stories helps us be better humans.
So write your story. Write it because it’s helping you be a better you. And whether that story is 500 words long or 50,000 or 500,000, whether it takes you 30 days or 30 years, write it because every story has value. Every story deserves to exist.
Stories make us better. All stories do. The world needs more of them. The world needs every story it can possibly get.
Since it’s now November, that means another National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Not to brag (okay, I’m bragging a little bit here) but since I have a five year winning streak going, I think that means I’m now officially required to keep participating in perpetuity lest I break my streak. Each success only makes it harder to consider quitting.
I did a presentation at my library today about NaNoWriMo, which was a decidedly fun experience. I have no idea if the seven adults who attended my little workshop will stick with it or not but getting to talk about writing in a professional setting like that was wonderful. Likewise, I felt great talking about writing and getting to be the voice of encouragement to a group of people who don’t have to listen to me. That’s always empowering.
Perhaps you’d like to join me in doing some writing? If so, head over to the NaNoWriMo site and sign up. We can even be writing buddies if you’d like. Writing with other people knowing that you’re writing is always more fun, which is why we blog and go to coffee shops.
It’s very likely that there will be a halo effect here and the time I’m spending writing will actually encourage me to blog more than I did in October. I needed to take October off, I think. After that Gamergate post, retreating from the Internet for a while felt like the intellectually healthy thing to do. Also, there was this fun two-day thing trying to unscramble a mess involving a hacker, my Xbox Live account, and EA Origins.
All I know right now is that I wrote 3,000 words today on a new story, which is great, and it smells like dinner is ready, which is honestly even greater!
I met my NaNoWriMo word count goal last night: 50,149 words in thirty days (actually twenty-nine days since I finished a little early). Hooray!
I only started entering my daily word counts a few years ago but it’s one of my favorite things about doing NaNo. I like seeing the daily goal, the words per day, and the various other statistics it provides.
One thing that I’m proud of is that I didn’t miss a single day of writing, although I did have a few lean days here and there. Compare that to last year or the year before and you’ll see the difference. This year was much smoother than previous attempts.
In 2011, it was even more spotty. The first big gap was caused by a local convention that I was working, but I honestly don’t know what happened on the other days.
Another statistical quirk I noticed is how things always accelerate in the last few days. I think this is because the momentum starts to swing in my favor; I’m moving towards the most exciting part of the story (hopefully) and I also have the weight of all those words behind me spurring me on to finish. It’s a good thing, too, because it’s nice to have things move so smoothly after the slog that is the 20,000 to 40,000 push. I think the only reason I was able to tough it out this year was because I’ve seen the pattern a few times now.
So I’ve finished another NaNoWriMo; my fifth, to be exact, and yes, I am bragging a little. For one thing, I’m proud of the accomplishment and it’s the kind of thing one does just to do it.
With the conclusion of NaNoWriMo for another year, it’s safe to say that December will be a much better month for blogging than November was. My original intention was to keep up a blog schedule of 3 times/week, but by day three of NaNo, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Although I’d love to spend all of my spare time writing things and posting them and then writing other things, I did have a graduate school course that needed attention. And my friends like to “socialize” and “see me” now and then. And I need to finish the quest for my legendary cloak on my druid. So, you know, I was busy.
I titled this post “a retrospective” because I spent a lot of time thinking this pat month thinking about what NaNo meant to me and why I was doing it. I’d like to share a few of those observations.
I can honestly say at this point keeping up the streak is a pretty big motivation, as petty as that sounds. Alcoholics and anybody who has tried to quit smoking (or other drugs, I imagine) can attest to the power of the streak; if you break it, all that hard work is undone. You go back to day one. Is doing that thing (or not doing it, in my case) really worth going from five years back to day one?
With five NaNos under my belt, where do I go from here? I know there are other challenges out there. Some folks do a “double NaNo” and aim for 100,000 words or they try to do 50,000 in half the time or whatever. That’s not really for me. Honestly, I feel like I manage to make the 50,000 writing goal by the skin of my teeth every year and trying to increase the difficulty of the goal seems a recipe for failure. Life itself seems to be a great way to add difficulty to one’s writing time; every single time I was asked to go out for a beer with a friend or to see a movie or anything . . . that was a challenge on the writing time.
Not that I’m complaining about those other things, of course. I enjoy those things very much.
There was something else I realized during this past month. Before I explain, a caveat; I love NaNoWriMo. I will advocate for it for the rest of my life. I love that for a month, being a writer is cool. Everybody wants to talk about writing! Do you know how often people want to talk about “that novel you’re working on?” Other than NaNo, the answer is never.
Not to mention, NaNoWriMo was a great catalyst that got me through my own writing doldrums. My first win in 2009 was the first time I’d managed to achieve something in writing since I wrote my first (terrible) novel at 16 and then I languished for several years, starting dozens of projects but never developing any of them.
NaNoWriMo gave me my confidence back. It gave me a seed that grew into the novel I’m proud of today, the one I feel really does deserve to be published. Sure, it took years and years of work and rewriting, but the important thing is that it exists and it exists because of NaNoWriMo.
That all being said, it pains me to admit that I think this past month was something of a distraction. Yes, I wrote another story. Yes, I wrote a story in a genre I’ve never even tried before (although it did slip into something else quite bizarre halfway through). Yes, I challenged myself and proved once again that writing time can be carved from even the busiest schedule.
But NaNoWriMo also meant that for an entire month, I completely ignored all my other projects. Actually, it’s been more like two months since I worked on anything else, since around October, the gravity of NaNo’s impending arrival started to pull my thoughts away from anything else. I didn’t do any editing. I haven’t attempted to do any more query letters.
I now have another half-finished story sitting on my hard drive. With the exception of Unrepentant, which I wrote in 2009,all of the NaNo novels I wrote since then have gone untouched since reaching the 50,000 goal. Some of them may remain buried forever. The Snake Detective might end up being one of those stories; I’m not particularly pleased with large parts of it and I don’t know that I have the motivation to polish it up. I did have one idea that appealed to me that I may still pursue, depending on relevant enthusiasm. Since I have no real intentions of trying to publish the Snake Detective, I might edit it and post it for free on my blog. At the very least, it’d be a chance to show something of my writing beyond just talking about it all the time.
Regardless, what I learned this month is that sometimes, even writing can be a distraction from writing. I allowed this month’s NaNo to be an excuse to not work on other things. Yes, it was fun (mostly). Yes, it means I cranked out another story that would have otherwise just languished in my brain as a weird idea (it’s like Castle, but he’s a herpetologist and then things get really weird. Seriously, that was the extent of my outline before I started).
So what do I do moving forward? Although it might seem premature to start thinking about next year’s NaNo before this one is officially over, I want to write down what I learned so I have it to look back on come October 2014. And what I realized from this past month is I need to make NaNo be about something else other than hitting the word count. I need to change things up.
The rules state that you shouldn’t work on a novel you already started and that you should always start from scratch. From nanowrimo.org:
This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.
Honestly, this is a very good rule. Most writers have a novel, whether it’s their first or just their favorite, that they’ve been working on for years and years. I did that for almost six years myself and I can honestly admit that I would not have been able to write recklessly with the characters and plot I’d begun in 2002.
This rule served me well for five runs, but I think next year, it’s a rule that I need to break. I have four stories sitting on my hard drive that are half-finished and need some attention. They are stories that deserve to have a shot at being completed.
Patrick Rothfuss has a great post on his blog from a few years ago where he arrives at a similar conclusion. I encourage you to take a look.
NaNoWriMo gave me the push to start and develop stories. Now I need it to help me finish what I’ve started rather than continually starting one project after another whenever my attention wanders.
This could change, of course. Maybe I’ll finish Bleed (fropm NaNo 2012) or even the Snake Detective and be ready to start a new story. I still have a few ideas that I really want to develop at some point; Dreamshift seems like it could be awesome and I had a pretty amusing idea after watching the trailer for Divergent for a parody version involving the MBTI. Perhaps the appeal of one of those ideas will provide the impetus for me to finish one of my other projects to clear some space for a new story. Otherwise, for NaNo 2014, I’m going to continue a story I already started, even though it’s against the rules. I’d really like to finish writing Bleed and I know I have at least one person who is absolutely appalled by the fact that I haven’t touched Angel’s Descent since 2011.
There’s a lot to do. I’m grateful that something like NaNo exists. It gave me the boost I needed to get where I am today. I think next year, it might again be a source for growth. Regardless, it’s a wonderful thing. I’m glad that it exists and I’m proud to have completed it for five years running.
The blog has been quiet for a few weeks. Only my Twitter feed has provided an indication that I haven’t shuffled off this mortal coil and even that’s been pretty sparse. This is typical behavior during a NaNoWriMo; the only way for me to focus is to completely submerge myself in the project. Time spent blogging is time spent not getting to that glimmering 50,000 word count.
My attention was drawn out of my NaNoWriMo-induced haze and back to my blog when my phone pinged me this morning to let me know that I’d had an explosion of new page views; several hundred in the few days. Considering how my usual average is about thirty unique hits a day, this was very noteworthy!
It was also head-scratchingly confusing, since I haven’t written anything new for almost two weeks.
My first thought was that I was getting increased traffic flow from folks searching for reactions and opinions on the news that acclaimed psychic and bestselling author liar and fraud Sylvia Browne had passed away. My condolences go out to her family; the death of a family member is a tragic thing regardless of how that person made her living.
That being said, I’ve made my feelings on Ms. Browne well known in the past and that hasn’t changed. I hate how she preyed on the desperation of many, many grieving people. I’m already kind of a tree-hugger, so I try to adopt a live and let live approach to others, but I have an important distinction when it comes to paranormal and New Age things: is it harmful?
Lighting candles, doing affirmations, meditating, or whatever doesn’t hurt anybody, so if that’s your thing, cool, go for it. Likewise, if you want to try to contact the spirit world with a Ouija board, it’s something that’s usually done for fun at sleepovers and such. Most people aren’t looking for solace. At worst, the person that bought the board is out twenty bucks.
That’s not what Sylvia Browne did. A psychic reading over the phone would cost upwards of $450 dollars, which people desperate for answers are willing to pay. She wrongly told the mother of Amanda Berry, Louwana Miller, that her daughter was dead. Miller died before Berry’s rescue and never learned the truth.
Enough about that.
Interestingly, however, a look at my stats has shown that it isn’t anything to do with the news about Sylvia Browne. Instead, the increased traffic flow has been due to my recent posts about the MBTI. WordPress hasn’t identified where the traffic is coming from exactly, which would be interesting if my post was picked up by a larger site. Regardless, hello to all the new people!
Regular blogging will resume at the end of November. This has been the most grueling NaNoWriMo I’ve ever done (although I think I say that every year). Even though this is my sixth year doing it, it’s still a challenge. More thoughts on that soon(ish).
Just a quick status update to keep the blog from atrophying. I’m currently considering what to do with this blog while I triumphantly plow through my NaNoWriMo project, the future bestselling novel The Snake Detective. I currently don’t really have the time or energy to meet both my NaNoWriMo daily goal of 1667 words and do a 1000 word blog post.
If you’d like to track my progress, you can follow my novel’s update page here. I really enjoy looking at the stats throughout the month as the novel progresses. It’s very personally rewarding to see the bar graph fill up day by day.
I’ve been idly considering posting a few chapters here as I write them, but the idea of showing this rough draft gives me hives. It might completely destroy the ability to move forward if I know I’m going to show it to somebody.
I’ll keep trying to think of something to do with this space so it doesn’t go stagnate for the entire month of November. To those of you who are trying NaNo yourselves this year, I hope it’s going well and you’re meeting your word requirements. If you’re not doing it, I invite you to try. Even if you don’t succeed (and most people don’t, especially your first time), it’s a very rewarding experience that I highly recommend everyone tries at least once.
We’re just over a week away from November 1, which means we’re a week away from another National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is one of those things people either seem to love or hate; you either drink the kool-aid (as I have) and are a believer that it’s a great antidote for procrastination or you scoff at the idea that writing a novel is something that can be distilled down to a 30 day flurry.
I’m torn about what to do this year. I have two ideas for novels, one titled The Snake Detective about a herpetologist recruited by the police to help solve a bizarre snake-related murder. Now, murder mysteries are certainly not my forte, aside from my love of the TV show Castle, and I can safely say I’ve never written a murder mystery of any kind in my life. So while the murder mystery might be a genre as over saturated as any other, for me, it’s uncharted water. Also, I’m pretty sure very few people have written murder mysteries about herpetologists, so there’s my hook. Yes, this idea was inspired by my reaction to the rock python strangulation in August.
My second idea is one called Dreamshift. This one is more nebulous in my mind, but the basic idea is that each time you fall asleep, your mind shifts into a different world. This worlds exist concurrently, so each world you shift into moves on without you even after you wake up. The main character would then be living out fragments of his or her life in several different storylines. I’m sure this idea is already the basis for an anime somewhere, because that’s what always happens when I have a high concept idea like this. “Oh, that sounds just like Neon Galaxy Ghost Dream Warriors.”
The last idea is to try something different, which is to break one of the cardinal rules of NaNo. One of the rules is that you shouldn’t work with a story you’ve already been working on. There’s too much investment and time which can interfere with the ability to just write like crazy. There’s always the chance you’ll get bogged down. Also, you can’t use a word count from last year as a starting point, since that would be cheating.
Regardless, you’re still free to do what you want and since I’ve “won” the last few NaNo’s, it might be time for a change. My idea is to take the novel I wrote last year, Bleed, and finish it. I stopped at about 50,000 words, which wasn’t the end of the story. The goal then would be to create another 50,000 words. Bleed, Part Two, maybe. Bleed was my first venture into the cyberpunk genre; basically, a near future where everybody had their smartphone equivalents implanted directly into the brain which led to problems as the distinctions between the virtual world and the physical world began to bleed into one another. Hence the name.
I’m not going to crowd source this particular decision, of course. I’ll start working on whatever I feel the most inspired by come November 1. But some feedback would still be interesting. What do you think?
It occurred to me that I haven’t written a blog post since last week, since is the longest gap I’ve had in writing with the exception of the week I took in July for my grad school course. I’d love to say that I was really busy with class or that I’d been focusing on work or studying or inventing a new kind of robot-serpent that I will use to bend the world to my will. The truth is, while I was working and studying, neither of those things are reasons why I’d stop writing. The truth is, there’s only one thing that keeps me from banging out even half-hearted posts about whatever is on my mind.
That’s a word that will either have you nodding in sympathy and understanding or scratching your head in confusion.
Seriously, I’ve got it bad right now. I’m worried, because although my performance at work and my grad school class haven’t slipped, virtually everything else has. I haven’t taken a crack at the manuscript for a few weeks now, even though I’m literally in the 9th inning on my rewrite with less than 50 pages to go.
On the other hand, my druid dinged 90 two nights ago. Yay, I guess.
Even worse, November is right around the corner. November means NaNoWriMo. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo every year since my first success in 2009. Every year, I tell myself that I don’t need to do it again, that I’ve already done it and I really should focus on the growing pile of unfinished stories collecting on my hard drive. And then every year, November 1 rolls around and I think, if I don’t do it, I’ll break my streak.
The worst part is I already have a character and a title, so I know I’ll probably end up doing it and going a little (more) crazy. Alas. If only I could get my addiction to Azeroth under control before that day comes.
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