On Why I’m Not Doing NaNo This Year

Long time no post!  Like, really long time.  Oops?  As it turns out, I find talking about my writing not very interesting, so this blog died a little bit.  But fear not (unless you’re afraid of zombies), for it is back, and definitely doesn’t just want brains.  Mostly.

But I’m back to talk about why I won’t be participating in NaNo this year, even though I will be cheering people on from the sidelines.

First, let me say that all my reasons and reasoning is personal; none of it is meant to apply to anyone else.  When I talk about what does or doesn’t work for me, I mean it just for me; other things could work well for you that just don’t fall flat for me, and that’s great!  Writing advice and opinions are laughably far from universal.

Now, down to business (of defeating the Huns (who never even invaded China, but I (parenthetically) digress)).

I have done NaNo for 10 years.  The last 8 of those were wins, seven of them as an ML, all of them with significantly over 50k words.  5 times (I think) I wrote 50k in a single day, the first time to win a bet (she didn’t know that’s what I was going to do – oops?).  I’ve come up with novel ideas that have stuck with me, that stick with me even now, and others that I mostly forget about, unless I need a good thing to laugh at.

I’ve also made many friends, several of which I’m even friends with not around the month of November!  The jump from NaNo friends to “real” friends ain’t small, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have it happen, several times over.

I have, in short, done pretty well with this “NaNo” thing.

But I’ve also felt my focus changing when I write not during NaNo, which I am trying to get better at.  Too often, I find myself looking down at that wordcount.  That’s how I measure my progress, how far I am to that goal of “finished novel”.  And then – especially during the month of November – my focus switches entirely to numbers.

Not that there aren’t words!  There are, but the only thing that matters about them is how many of them there are.

This isn’t a question of quality, really.  I had already mostly stopped sprinting these past few years, and that’s when the quality with which I write slips.  When I sit down and focus, if it’s 200 words in an hour or 2000 (or more), it’s about the same quality.  The difference is topic.

As in, what story I’m writing.

Some stories, I can breeze through.  They’re silly and fun and don’t mean anything.  And I enjoy writing those!  I can churn out 10,o00 words in a day on them and still come back the next day.  Which is really, really good when my focus becomes numbers.

But see, I don’t want to write that kind of story, at least right now.  Earlier this year, I slipped back into writing some.  It was a whirlwind two month affair of 30k words or so that told me that I was starting the story at the wrong time, and exactly when to start it.  I’ve been doing some prep (a lot of which is letting the story sit, turning it over in my mind, this way and that), getting ready to start Yet Another Draft of it soon (possibly this week).

This story, though, is not one I can rush (I’ve tried).  I can’t tell it at pace, or at least not at the kind of pace I would want to.  Some days, sure, I can knock out 2k on it (above NaNo par), but others the words don’t come so quickly.  And I have learned, though several fucked up first drafts, that pushing through is only going to ruin it, which I’m kind of tired of doing?  I’ve not started calling it Albatross for no reason.

Patience.  Plodding patience, my favorite.

There’s also the fact that my life is filling up with…life?  Writing is important (I don’t feel whole without stories), but I have other interests I’m trying to focus on, too.  Programming (I have a fun personal project I’ll share in a future entry), woodworking (ditto), hiking/camping and just so much else.  NaNo kind of takes over, and this year, I’m not so willing to share space.

I’ll have a few goals this next month I’ll be working towards.  Daily writing is one of them, and I hope to make decent progress on my book…and on other things.  Sort of a combo goal, if you will, but decidedly different than the all-consuming way I’ve done NaNo in the past (those of you who suggest a relaxed approach to NaNo, or rebelling, don’t know me – I don’t middle ground well, and know myself well enough to know how it would end up).

Hell, the closest to real participation likely from me is translating lines of code into a NaNo like challenge, as that I can move on, but even then, I don’t want it to be my whole focus, ya dig?

I will, however, still be cheering everyone else on!  And prodding those who wish back to writing, while trying not to distract those who want to get shit done.

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Novel Notes Organization

So, I’m currently doing some world-building and general planning for a draft of a novel that I’m going to be starting in March.  Unlike my normal “get a two sentence idea and then write 100k of bullshit on it” approach, I’m trying to approach this one a bit more intentionally (the fact that it’s not my first first draft of this story helps).

What that means is that I have approximately a metric shit ton (~1.1 imperial short shit tons) of information.  While that’s all useful, a folder (in cyberspace or meatspace) of notes with little organization to them is only marginally more useful than not knowing anything and definitely more annoying.

I am exploring using a custom MediaWiki install (like Wikipedia only, you know, mine) for this, and initial signs are positive.  What I really like is the ability to easily categorize things (using multiple user-defined categories) and the ease of cross-linking.  So, when writing up the page for my main character, I can link everything that I know I need to write about and it helps my flesh out content.

On the other hand, I’ve not yet thought of a good way to use it to organize plot notes, or to be able to have some sort of timeline of events.  I could possibly use a category for that (“Draft One Chapters” or some such), and will try, but I’m not yet sure.

Anyhow, my question for all you others out there in ReaderSpace:  how do you organize novel notes?  Not just what you use (Scrivener, google docs, a notebook), but how you go about organizing the information in them for easy retrieval, too.

Note that my current story is a nice starter-story for this idea, because it’s an Urban Fantasy story with only a bit of world building required (though still with full character and plot development requirements).  I am interested in a solution for organizing information for entire complex societies and world, too (because I have a distinct interest in writing Epic Fantasy and SciFi as well), so part of what I care about is how well a solution scales.

So yes!  What do you out there in ReaderSpace do?

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My History with 50kDayOne

A little less than five years ago, I found myself starting NaNoWriMo as an ML for a newly created region.  I was excited, and determined that this would be the year that I would finally win, but my first two years had been rough.

Before long, I found myself involved in a race to 50k with a rather fantastic writer/ML, Annalia.  That year, we basically tied – both hitting 50k within minutes of one another, with no way to tell who was first.  We decided to renew our friendly competition the next year, racing to 50k again.

And that’s when I first decided to write 50k on the first day.

You see, I was a faster typist than her, but she had a dogged persistence that I just couldn’t match (and still greatly admire).  The only way that I could ensure victory was to do it before she would be physically able to.  And so I spent the first 24 hours of NaNoWriMo 2010 slaving over my computer, growing tired and delirious, and finishing my 50k with mere minutes to spare.

The next two years went much the same, except that my hands were freezing and I was doing it in Dvorak.  Oh, and importantly, other people were doing it with me!  I told no one (except my girlfriend at the time) about my plans the first year, but my second year I wanted company and got it, and have been recruiting it since.

Then last year something clicked.  Not only did I hit 50k in the first day, I did it fast (in ~17 hours), and then wrote more (ending at 55,555 words, and it could have been more if I hadn’t decided that I needed a celebratory drink or three).

Which brings me to this year, which would be year five of my race to hit 50k on the first day.  Only this year, there is a bit of added fun to it.  I somehow have talked myself into a challenge with an amazing group of writers (Cai, Kateness, and Chom), and we’ll all be racing to 50k.

Fastest one there wins (to allow for time zone differences), and to the winner goes all the bragging rights and gloating.  (We’re seriously only doing this for fun, and to help motivate ourselves to write even more words than usual).

I know it hasn’t really started yet, but I think this promises to be a hell of an awesome year, and I personally can’t wait to get started on it.

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NaNoWriMo 2014 Plans

This year, I’m undertaking one of my most hallowed NaNo traditions early:  I’m changing the story that I’m working on.

Every year since 2010 (including 2010), I have come up with a story idea during November and then switched to it, because I didn’t like whatever it was that I was working on.  Sometimes I finished my old story (though the slog through to the end of the book always slowed me down) and sometimes I just say “fuck it” and move along.

I’ve barely started preparing for this year, but my strategy was to use NaNo to do a rewrite of the story that I wrote last year/finished earlier this year.  Ideally, I would have had a chance to step back and set the story up well, to do at least some planning and world building and all that jazz so that my first draft was less…shit.

I mean, it would still be shit, but more workable shit, or at least that is what I told myself.

The problem there is that I bought a house, and am still in the middle of moving, and I have (and have had) basically zero time to work on writing things (a problem for me all year, sadly).  Which means I haven’t had time to do any prep work and there is no reason to assume that my second first draft of my novel would be any less shit-tastic than the first first draft.

So I think I’m changing my NaNo purpose.  Instead of writing something that I care about, or that I feel at all serious about, I think I’m just going to write something fun and weird.  To play, not to strive for good (or even “potential to be good after a lot of work”).  Like that time that I wrote self-fanfic with all my characters trapped on a dying space station filled with killer sand.

No, really, I wrote that, and called it “The Ultimate Showdown of Mediocre Destiny”.

I have a couple of nebulous ideas of things that I could work on, though only one that is really concrete enough for me to start with (a story about a guy who accidentally becomes a superhero).  I’m not that worried about coming up with new ones, though; ideas are not the hard part about writing to me (I have more than I know what to do with).

So I think I’m going to take this NaNo just to play.  I’ve barely written this year, so I don’t trust myself as well to write seriously anyhow.  Plus, I just want to have fun with it, not to be Mr. Serious D. Writer.

So, in short, we’ll see what I actually decide to write on this year!

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NaNo Rewards – The New Idea

Every year for NaNo, as part of my strategy to keep myself motivated throughout the month, I figure up a couple of rewards for myself at a few milestones.  I’ve played with the idea some, going from months for percentage of monthly goal to doing it on a week-by-week basis, so that one bad week doesn’t put everything out reach.

And on a scale of 1-10, I would put its effectiveness at about ½τ.  All in all, it does a bit for me, but it’s really not that effective.  Part of the problem is that I rarely even buy the rewards for myself, and it’s generally a big chunk of words needed for me to earn one.  But too many rewards is far too expensive, and I just didn’t think there was anything cheap enough that I wanted enough of in order for it to work.

Also, it should be noted, that I can be an idiot, because the Answer (or at least the Next Idea That Might Work) was staring me in the face the entire time.  I spend NaNo writing a book…and never think to use books as rewards?!

So that’s what I’m going to try this year, at a smaller level, because I’m not sure that I can have too many books.  Also because I’ll be trying to get a lot of them used, and a book is one of the few $3 items that can be motivating and that I could buy dozens of.  I’m thinking ~10k words for a book, which means it’s something I can achieve a lot more rapidly than my usual “if you write 70k this week, you get a mug!”.

As part of this, I’m going to need to create a list of books and order them by how much I want them and such.  I’ve probably got a dozen-ish low-hanging fruit that I can grab without much effort, but I will probably need more, and book recommendations aren’t exactly an awful thing to have anyhow.

So this is where you come in!  I’m looking for recommendations in Fantasy, Horror, and SciFi, roughly in that order.  The books can be old or new (but if it’s by one of the Big Old Authors (Tolkien, Heinlein, Asimov, King, as for instances) I’ve probably read it), long or short, whatever!  I have no real preferences or subgenres, as long as the books don’t suck (I can find bad novels myself pretty easily).

So!  What do you recommend for me?

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NaNoWrimo the Next: 2014 Edition

This year will mark my eighth foray into the wild world of NaNoWriMo, and it will be my sixth year as an ML.  The latter is more incredible to me, as it really does not seem like it has been that long.

This year is also a particularly good year for it, as far as the calendar is concerned.  There are five full weekends in NaNo this year.  That means one third of NaNo is weekends, and to me, that is insanely awesome.

Which really wants me to go big or go home this year.  Well, considering where and how I do my writing, that really means going big at home.  As I’ve been a real slack-ass as far as writing is concerned this year, I also want to make up for it.  You know, not have my total word count for the year still hovering sadly around 20k words.  (I know, I know)

I’ve got two novel ideas that I could work on, which helps quite a bit.  I have done NaNo before where I made up my second (okay, let’s be honest: and first) novel idea during NaNo, and I just don’t think it works out as well.

There is also the fact, though, that giving NaNo my all like this, putting everything else aside (including, at least sometimes, sleep) is getting harder and harder.  I don’t want to pull the “getting old” card, because I’m not getting old, but I think that kind of manic focus and ultimate determination, including the sacrifice of sleep, is something I could do a lot better when I was in my early twenties.

Every year, sleep and other things becomes more important.

So there is a chance, and not a small one, that this NaNo will be my last big hurrah.  Not that I won’t keep doing it; plans right now are definitely to do so.  But this very well could be the last year that I shoot for six digits, or for so much on Day One.  Hopefully part of the reason is that I become a more dedicated writer year-round, so that I have a lot more going on in general and with writing in specific.

And this is my last big hurrah, I want it to be a damn good one.

So!  Who else is excited about NaNo and already starting preparations?  And what are you thinking for your NaNo this year?

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Project Euler – Problem Solving Programs!

So, a few months ago, I stumbled across/was linked to a rather interesting site called Project Euler.  It’s a rather simple idea (that you can go read for yourself), in which they present a whole bunch of problems for you to solve by writing a program.

Looking at the first couple of problems, it seems that they can all be brute-forced, but there are clever tricks that you can use to solve them quickly or more efficiently.

I’ve been employed as a developer for a number of years now, and one of the things I worry about is plateauing.  You know, getting lazy such that I still produce code, and it might even be good code, but I’m not really getting any better as a developer.  I want to keep pushing myself, and think this would be good for that.

You can do it in any language, because you are usually giving single numerical answers.  You could work directly in Assembly if you wanted to torture yourself, or work in Python, C#, Java, whatever.  I will be working in C++, because that is my language of choice.

I know I have other friends who are into software development, so if any of you guys think this is cool, you should try it, too!  I want to at least get the first couple done this weekend, and then read the forum posts about more clever solutions.  I might even post blog posts now and again with solutions, though I can promise to make them easy to ignore for all my writer followers.

Which, yes, I’m going to do NaNo, and there will be a post about it at some point in the future.

But yes!  You guys should consider signing up and doing it, and if so, you can add me at the site to track my progress.  My username there is the same as everywhere, cosmam.

Posted in Programming | 3 Comments

A Writing Status Update

Well, I blinked and now it’s almost July.  Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

July is this year’s second CampNaNo, one that I will not be participating in.  I think (but don’t quote me on it) that most years I only end up doing one of the Camps anyhow, and this year I got it out of the way with a mostly disappointing April.

Oh, except I finished the first draft of a novel, which is always a good, if daunting, feeling.  The entire time I was writing it, finishing the draft felt like this wondrous end-goal, if I could just there then everything would be awesome (cue The Lego Movie theme song here).

Well, I’m rereading it now, when I can squeeze in the time, and I can pretty definitively say that everything is not awesome.  There is the definite potential for awesome, but it’s currently buried beneath a mountain of mediocre words and ideas.

So the next step is to pull out the shiny bits and reform them into something beautiful (or at least a little more cohesive), a magical process occasionally referred to as “editing”.  I hear tell that editing can fix all manner of sins, which is good, because this draft has them, and a few that I wasn’t entirely sure was possible before I started.

Isn’t learning fun?!

Sarcasm set aside (or at least toned down), this does mean that my current writing focus is editing, not the production of words on a new story, so the word-focused deadline of Camp just doesn’t fit well what I want to do.  I could, perhaps, find a different way to count what I’m doing and maybe a stab in the dark at estimating what a good goal would be, but it seems like rather a lot of work for little reward, especially as I won’t be joining a cabin.

Plus, at some point, I really ought to get good at this whole “writing consistently” thing without NaNo.  NaNo is fun, but doing NaNo doesn’t make one a serious writer (though it can help).

The minor difficulty here is that I have no idea how to edit, and there are about as many ways to edit as there are writers (and possibly more – some writers might work on different books in different ways).  So this will be a process of discovery, of figuring out what works well for me, and then (hopefully) sticking to it.

You know, in that abundance of free time that I have right now.

How about you guys?  Any of you planning on doing the CampNaNo thing, even if you’re doing it somewhat as a rebel?

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April CampNaNo Retrospective

Yes, I realize that this is a few days late, considering that it’s already the 3rd of May.  Then again, judging by the frequency with which I update this blog nowadays, it could easily be June before I finally got around to this.

No lie, April CampNaNo was a struggle.  I started off wanting to do a rewrite of a story that I wrote most of during the previous NaNo, with a lofty goal of 75k.  Neither of those survived contact with reality, and I ended up just trying to finish my NaNo work and get 20k.

Which, I did.  To both.  But holy hell was it a struggle.

The Bad:

For at least half the days in the month, I wrote less than 200 words.  It was probably more than that; I wrote a third of my total words in the last two days, as a last-ditch effort to not lose.  What I wrote isn’t going to win any awards, certainly not in its current form (hello, editing!), and I know there are some rough transitions as I gather myself.

The Good:

I wrote every day of the month, even if it wasn’t much.  I rarely even do that during NaNo.  I finished the book.  The ending scene or two, while structurally rough, has all the right ideas in it that sum up the rest of the book (as it should have been written). And I did all of that with a rather busy other schedule, meaning that I might have a chance of balancing writing with my other pursuits (something that I’ve been rather bad at).

So where does this leave me?  Ignoring writing this month.  I have a big push this month on another project that I’m on, and then I can turn my thoughts back to writing.  I need to give the story a break anyhow, but don’t want to start a new one right now.

What I really want to do is come back to this one and edit it.  Which is, no lie, nothing short of terrifying, mostly because I haven’t the faintest idea how to edit, unless staring at your work with a mix of loathing and horror counts (spoiler alert! it doesn’t).

But I am going to figure it out, and reshape the story into something perhaps presentable to other writers, at the very least.  Something that, while not polished or even good, is at least not an embarrassment.  Because that’s the next step between where the manuscript is now and it actually being “done”.

So June will see quite a bit of editing activity for me, with some higher-level structural work, and I may use July’s CampNaNo to rebel and do editing.  We’ll just see how things go.

So!  That’s where I am.  How about you guys out in readerland – how went your CampNaNo, and what plans have you for whatever you worked on there?

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The Stories We Tell Matter

I’ve not been writing much recently.  In fact, if we’re being honest (and come, let us be completely honest here if nowhere else), I’ve not written any this year, at least not yet.

And yet, stories have been on my mind.  Not just my own (though not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t slip into another world of my own creation, whether it’s a close neighbor of this one or something further out), but the stories we as people tell.

I think there is a popular, pervasive thought that the stories we tell each other, that the books we read and the shows we watch and the movies we see and the little events in our lives that we recount, are all for entertainment.  They draw us in, pass the time, and maybe even show us some new ideas, but that is the end of it.

And that’s bullshit.

The stories we tell matter a lot.  They shape the world that we live in to an extent that I am just now realizing, and that I think few people think about.

By way of example, I’m going to post a link that I’ve posted before.  This time, the thrust of my arguments is wider, but this is an excellent example.  It’s called “We Have Always Fought“, by Kameron Hurley, and it’s about how women fighting in history is portrayed as unrealistic even though it happened all the time.

At least read the opening section.  I can wait.

That narrative shapes our expectations, our worldview, and how we treat others.  The stories we tell do that, and if we just told different stories, we would change our world.  Not the past – that is immutable, no matter how we may pick and choose (or misrepresent) what happened, but our world today.

But this isn’t just about minorities in fiction (though that’s important), or how badly we understand the past (we’re full of misconceptions – and this too is important), or helping the under-represented (though that is really important).  The foundation of our society is storytelling, and its effects are far-reaching.

It’s why we think electric cars are unsafe and we’re worried about fires…even though our current gasoline engines are far more likely to catch on fire.  It is part of why we are more afraid of flying than driving, even though you’re more likely to die on the drive to the airport (and the control argument there is only so-so there – you only control your own car, not the other idiots on the road that could sideswipe you before you can react).

It’s why we worry about strangers murdering us, or kidnapping our children, or raping us, even though each of those is far more likely to be someone that we know.  It’s why we feel even less safe than we did twenty years ago, even though violent crimes are down.

Every expectation we have of the way another city is, another country is, another group of people is, the way life is – these are from the stories that we tell.  The facts barely enter into it, and usually just the ones we want to help tell our story.

In the end, what matters more than what happened or the way things are is the way we tell the story.

So don’t tell me that your story doesn’t matter.  Don’t tell me that it’s just a light and airy thing, something to read and then move on from.  The stories we tell, as people and as writers, can change the world.  They build our world.  We are storytellers at heart.

The stories we tell matter.  Your story matters, your contribution to the narrative that builds the world matters.  So take pride and carry on writing the world.

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