nanowrimo


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This year, I continued working on the same story I have been writing for the last two Novembers. I had plans – well, vague aspirations – of finishing it this year. At a little over 67,000 words, I am nowhere near that point.

I’m hitting my stride more this year than I was last year. The first year was all very merry, under-the-greenwood-tree, and a lot of fun, but it was also the beginning. Last year was hard – a dry, too-real, unpleasant, storyless artificial wasteland, much like the setting. This year is all stories, tales-within-tales, wolves and mirror-eyed strangers, houses with roofs that ruffle softly in the breeze, gilt-paper stars, borrowed coats, belled riders and red-eared hounds. The next stage – I don’t know yet, but I think it will be sacrifice, and overcompensation, and hard lessons (but I’m not making any promises).

I suspect that, with all I have learned, I could plan a story and write it. Making this up as I go along is going to be harder in the long run, if I decide there is something salvageable in this great mass of words. But it is enormous fun, as well – amusing myself, surprising myself, occasionally startling myself.

Working title: A Golden Arrow

Appropriateness of working title: Minimal.

First line: The night before this story ended, before the world slipped away –

Middle line: “-a fine hunt, had I not seen the forest lord-” (that followed by laughter)

Last line: She wished for the stone she had lost on the road.

Things introduced which will cause me difficulties later: Fitzroi’s Theory of Sparrows; 2 leaves; 2 chickens; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; bloody dog; wooden child; shot-gun approach to adjectives.

Titles of tales-within-the-tale (i.e. ones the main characters aren’t actively participating in during the main chronology):

  • Silence and Nettles (pretty much a straight retelling)
  • The Sparrow-Wife
  • The House in the Woods
  • The King’s Heart
  • The Swan-White Harp
  • The Nursemaid’s Tale
  • Red-coat and that Wolf, the Wind
  • The Man who would Sleep Alone
  • Fitzroi’s Theory of Sparrows

It’s a stretch to call that last one a story. But I wish it was, just so I could extract it and use that title.

Total words: 60942, (personal goal was 60,000) and I am two scenes away from the end of this stage of the story – it would be nice to think I could wrap that up in another, say, 2000 words. Maybe tomorrow.

Middle words: and walked (this phrase is used 16 times)

First line: Marion woke up and it was all a dream. (I’m going to lose this, but I’ve wanted to start something that way for a while).

Last line: Marion said, “I am sure that when the idea occurs to them, poison will take their fancy.”

Most pointless adventure: Duplicated a character and had to kill off one version with a carnivorous waterhorse. This failed to make the surviving half any more interesting.

Favourite part: Bloodthirsty rose maze.

Favourite story-within-story: A ghostly version of LRR in which the grandmother gets to say, “My, what big eyes you have!”.

Worst parts: Aimless angst.

Best realisation: That there were some themes emerging – paths between worlds, beast-people and truth-despite-love.

Part that would probably be the most embarrassing to read out loud: any of the indirectly reported lyrics.

Best lesson: Lay clues, foreshadow, and give ominous predictions. These are more fun if you have no idea what they are clues to, and prove invaluable down the track. The double-sided coats and talkative convent students and wolf-faced old women and mysterious cups that I littered through the story last year for no good reason (other than having no idea what was happening) turned out to tie in with curses of truth, and timid teenagers, and roads that go through more than one forest, and lost daughters and pied pipers and tides of gnawing, chittering things. Maybe next year they will even feed back into the main plot.

Secondary lesson: If you mention archery in the working title, it is pretty much a given that you will never, ever be able to get anyone in the story anywhere near a bow and arrow. Well, someone found a golden arrow in their roast, but that only happened last night, and out of desperation.

Things to do once November is over: Write short stories! Read novels. Talk to people. Answer emails. Tear out all the secret-project-scribbles and pin them to corkboards around the house. Be civilised. Take the plastic wrap off the mop. Rearrange chairs. Sketch in my sketchbook. Design Christmas cards. Not resent mealtimes. Move. Look at photos of tiger farms in Brisbane and wonder whether I can work that into a secret project. Eat vegetables. Not feel guilty about working over lunchtime instead of writing. Go to movies. Think it’s realistic that I might go to bed at a reasonable time. Remember the existence of things like “editing” and “proof-reading” and “spelling”.

Just sayin'

Just sayin’.

Still aiming for a second goal of 60,000.

I just hit halfway. 25,094 words. 50.19%. I find out tomorrow whether something-at-the-day-job is going to happen which will mean I need to bow out. But still – an average of 2,091 a day so far, and if I average 1,384 from here on in, I can still make it. Having run some studies, I can write at least 400 words in 10 minutes, which means at least 10.4 hours of writing remaining.

Did I mention I like spreadsheets?

My NaNoWriMo spreadsheet has columns for:

  • Target
  • Total
  • Daily
  • Av. to date
  • Av. daily
  • Remaining
  • Av. remaining
  • 2nd target
  • Remaining
  • %

plus a chart of various values and some other calculations (writing minutes remaining, average needed to obtain higher word counts) off to the side.

It isn’t procrastination – I set it up once and can use it over again, it takes moments to update and I love seeing the numbers tick over and grow and fall, the lines on the chart move and waver and cross. My biggest motivation is adding in the new total and seeing how many I have written for the day, how the averages shift.

It’s great for this sort of writing because it makes it a game against myself, a challenge, a strategy of little by little and bit by bit (and yes, I have a spreadsheet with various compound interest calculations that I carry around on my thumbdrive). It keeps my eye on the goal: words on paper. And sometimes, when I get to the end, I look back and find pieces that are even salvagable, links and patterns and plots wavering out of the fever dream.

And sometimes I look back and realise I’ve just written an unrelated interlude which is best characterised as “Orpheus & Eurydice” + selkies + “Gawain and the Loathly Lady” + Thomas the Rhymer, with advice (but not philosophy!) from a very lost Robin and Little John, roses, mortality and a musing on social responsibility.

Someone asked at Conflux whether NaNoWriMo was a good thing for one’s writing, and I said I don’t know – it could be the worst imaginable thing for it. But as the world’s most extreme parlour game? For that, I would recommend it to anyone!

So I am doing NaNoWriMo again and have just reached 27% of the wordcount (the 50,000 words, that is – I’m not trying a repeat of the 90,000 I did last year). And so far it is… much as it always is. Agonising and crazy-making and fun and horrific and startling, and full of lessons that I knew in theory but had to learn in practice.

These are my personal November writing principles.

  1. Writing can be like an inkblot: if I fling enough words at the page eventually I start seeing things.
  2. I may never get around to editing what I do have, but I can’t edit what I don’t have.
  3. Keep moving forward.
  4. Never go back.
  5. When a character sticks, add a new one, or dredge up an old one. Some of my favourite characters started as space-fillers who got grafted back in when I suddenly needed an extra speaking part.
  6. When a scene sticks, change scenes. Even in the middle. Especially in the middle – this has the double benefit of giving tension to the plot on one hand, and time to work out what happened on the other.
  7. When the plot sticks, use high explosives. I’m quite serious about this – in a pre-industrial setting, particularly, it can give pages of people running around and trying to work out what happened, and why.
  8. If I can’t lose characters in a forest, I can occasionally lose them up a tree.
  9. Trade contractions in for adjectives.
  10. Describe liberally – if I describe in circles around a scene for a while at high speed, I will usually write a detail that could come in handy.
  11. Graft old established plots in. I started my NaNoWriMo project with a well known legend, but throwing in an element or two of a fairytale can liven things up a bit. It gives a line for my fingers to follow while my mind is thinking of ways to remix it.

Number 11 is a lot of fun. It’s the one I usually rember to use when it isn’t November, and is a way of tapping into patterns and echoes of stories and then just messing with them. There are usually a few examples in most of my stories – an irish fairytale blended with some A. A. Milne and a bit of John Birmingham, or Cinderella meets The Crucible with a dash of the Paper Bag Princess.

The thought process tends to go: I don’t know what is happening at the end of this sentence so – oh, here is a tree. I will send my character up a tree. Now what? It would be boring to just come down. Okay, she will get lost in the tree and come down in another part of the forest. Now she is lost in the woods. Okay, she should meet… meet a wolf. Who turns out to be a motherly, Tiggy-Winklish wolfish sort of person, who keeps mysteriously losing chickens. This has tied into a whole subplot of lost things (shoes and cups and kingdoms and hearts). It does give a lot of draggled loose ends, but that means there are more threads to weave back into the plot later on. At the moment, I am pulling together a Sleeping-Beauty-as-murder-victim strand with a Lancelot-is-really-Orpheus strand and about to add a dash of Tristan and Ysolde.

Of course, it also yields such awkward situations as a character who was entertaining, but going nowhere, so I had to duplicate him and then kill off his first manifestation with a conveniently-timed carnivorous waterhorse. But hey! It’s NaNoWriMo! No one ever has to read that part, and if I ever do need a story about a carnivorous waterhorse, I’ve got a page of description all set up there ready to go.

nano_08_winner_small

90 thousand and… something. 83 by my count, 539 by the NaNoWriMo word count. And while I did not finish the draft of the novel, I did come to the end of the first section, and a natural break. Call it Part One: A Coat of Green. M-M F, R (formerly C G) and their merry company will return in Part Two: A Staff of Ash. Added to the 12,000 words I wrote a month or two ago, it gets me past the 100,000 word draft I put on my list of Aspirations for 2008.

There are interesting things in it. Salveagable things. Possibly even some parts that with pruning and research could become a story. Aimee, if/when she gets to read it, has strict instructions to just indicate the parts she likes.

I want to celebrate but I think I would fall over. Maybe I will celebrate by sleeping in until 6am tomorrow. Or doing something with ink.

Days: 19

Words: 50,042

Average daily word count: 2,634

First word: Marion

50,000th word: could

Primary motivation: spreadsheet

Plot: let’s not talk about that

Back: sore

Reward: Acer Aspire One netbook

NaNoWriMo 2008

(Wordle can be seen larger at Wordle. Chart extracted from my Excel spreadsheet tracking goals, averages etc).

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