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NaNoWriMo Week 2

18 November, 2014

I’m a bit behind with these weekly posts, but that’s all just part of the general NaNoWriMo craziness! Now, let’s get to it.

Words      I’m past the halfway mark! Hurrah! In fact, my total word count is now creeping close to 30k, and I remain a teeny bit ahead of the target word count for this point in the month (more on that in a sec). However, I’m now reaching the point where my planning mostly runs out and I’m going to be winging it when it comes to ‘what happens next’. I reach this stage with every novel, of course, but the added pressure of needing to write every day to stay on track means finding the time for further brainstorming might be tricky.

A day off     In the middle of last week, I took a day off from writing to engage in a bit of early Christmas shopping. Now, I could actually have fit in my writing as well and I really wish I had. Although I was far enough above the target word count at the time to never drop ‘below par’, as it were, having a day off made it much harder to get into the writing groove the day after, and I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. I’m back to around 1000 words above the target at the moment, but it’s really felt like a slog to get there. However, I also need to blame…

The day-job     Didn’t I say my day-job was likely to be quieter in November? Who’s going to be looking for a B&B in rural Yorkshire at this time of year, I thought – and in this weather! Apparently, I was dead wrong, and November has been just as manic as the preceding two months. Whilst that’s great for the business (and our bank balance!), I’ve frequently had days where I’ve cooked, cleaned, baked, written and done nothing else. Of course, day-job + writing is the formula for the days of many writers who don’t write full-time, so I’m not complaining, but it does make me realise how much gaming, reading and TV watching I was managing to fit in before. I really wasn’t working as hard as I thought!

Week 3 is now upon us and I’m already wondering what it’ll bring. Will it be all downhill from here to the finish – or will something else crop up first?

NaNoWriMo Week 1

8 November, 2014

We are, believe it or not, now a week into November, which also means a week into this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s been a bit of a strange week for me, as I’ve rearranged my time around fitting in so many words. I’ve been, for the most part, very successful, so here’s what I’ve found so far:

Progress    Good, overall! I’m about 1700 words ahead of the target for this stage of the month, the equivalent of being a day ahead. Unlike previous years of NaNo-ing, this hasn’t incorporated any major spurts – instead, I’ve simply aimed for 1800-2000 words a day, instead of the required 1667. I’m obviously pleased with this, although I do foresee days later in the month when writing every day will be a challenge. I’m also pleased with how the start of my novel’s shaping up. I’m enjoying the characters I’ve brought together, the world-building keeps nicely complicating itself when I’m not looking, and I’ve just about reached the point where all the characters are introduced and the plot can start getting properly moving. I pointed out in an earlier post that the 50k words of NaNoWriMo is actually only about 41% of my projected total, though, so I’m in this for the long haul this year.

Time management    Perhaps not surprisingly, I quickly found that I have a lot more time in my day than I assumed before the month started. Partly that’s because my day-job is genuinely quieter this month, but I also seem to have rearranged my days to allow more time at my desk. I think finishing most of the video games I was playing in October definitely helped!

RSI    Less positively, it became clear to me within the first two days of November just how much difference spending less time writing was making to the RSI in my hand, wrist and arm. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate this, but there simply seems to be no way around the fact that the longer I spend writing, the worse my RSI becomes. However, the further I get into NaNoWriMo, the more I expect this to ease, because of point number four (and because my RSI is worse the longer I spend at my desk, not the more words I type).

Writing speed    The first few chapters of a novel always take a bit of getting used to, which has meant it’s frequently taken me a good few hours to produce those 1800 words a day. However, I’m becoming more accustomed to my world and characters, which means I’m starting to pick up pace. I’ve also noticed one very pronounced aspect to my NaNoWriMo this year: in my morning writing session, I tend to hammer out 1200 words, and then come to a halt. The other 600, typically, gets written later in the day. Quite why 1200 words is my comfortable limit for a single session, I’m not sure, but I’ll see whether it changes as the month goes on.

So, there’s my first week of NaNo progress. Let me know in the comments if you’re taking part – and how well it’s going!

This Writing Life: Here Comes NaNoWriMo!

31 October, 2014

It’s been, amazingly, a full month since I last posted on the blog. October seems to have been the month that got away: I’ve been busy with day-job stuff, more home improvements, writing, gaming and even spending time with friends. Not much opportunity for blogging, in other words! It hasn’t escaped my notice, though, that with October nearly over, November is upon us – which means only one thing. NaNoWriMo!

In my last post, I mentioned I was thinking of taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, for the third time. Since then, I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing over whether that’s really a good idea. I could certainly do with getting 50k words of a new novel down, but I’m also insanely busy. Maybe, I kept thinking, I should stick to a smaller daily word count. Maybe I’m just too busy for NaNo this year.

And then I realised that perhaps I could do with the challenge. I’ve managed around 150k words this year, which isn’t bad, but I don’t really feel like I’ve pushed myself as much as I could have. Additionally, my previous two attempts at NaNoWriMo were both successful, but under pretty relaxed circumstances. In both cases, I had plenty of time, and that 1667 words a day target wasn’t particularly onerous. This year… I have a feeling that won’t be the case.

But isn’t that the whole point of NaNoWriMo? Pushing yourself to write more than usual whilst life carries on around you – the day job, the kids, the family, your hobbies (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NaNo takes place in November, either, which carries the twin pressures of Thanksgiving and being close to Christmas for the US). It’s when you’re pretty sure you don’t have time to write that NaNoWriMo is so valuable, providing an incentive and a network of support to push you to greater lengths of productivity.

In the past, 50k words in a month was no great challenge for me. This year, I think it’s going to be a monumental struggle – and that’s exactly why I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo. There’s every chance this’ll be the first year I don’t ‘win’, but writing anything at all will be a victory this year. Who’s with me?!

A Little Writing Progress

29 September, 2014

It’s been a while since I blogged about my writing progress, so here we are. I’ve noticed recently that the busier my life becomes, the more ambitious my writing plans are. For example: start new business this year? Great! Also self-publish for the first time this year? Er, ok. And do NaNoWriMo? Um…

Ok, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I am planning to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, in which I will be writing 50,000 words (actually only 41.67% of my projected novel – yes, I just checked!) in the space of 30 days, but that’s over a month away yet so let’s just forget about that. (Note: I haven’t forgotten. Not at all. I already have reams of planning material, to make sure I’m genuinely ready to start a major novel by then, not just launch into a directionless mess.)

So if we’re forgetting November, what am I currently up to? Another novel, of course! Sort of. Essentially, I decided I want to have a go at posting something to Wattpad, which largely revolves around serial fiction (something I’ve been thinking a lot about ever since I started writing fortnightly for Chronicles of Tyria). Could I have simply chopped up an existing story to post? Of course! Is that what I’m doing? Ask a silly question…

Let you introduce you, then, to my latest progress bar.

Whilst I’m aiming towards a short novel of 60k words overall, I’m planning to break the story into three parts of 20k each (roughly 10 chapters of 2000 words – about what I write for CoT). By the end of October, I want to have that first part complete and ready to post, which means aiming for a word count of 1000 words most days. Not a huge number, or it wouldn’t have been once upon a time, but did I mention that new business? Yeah… It’ll be a good warm up for NaNoWriMo anyway!

So, lovely readers: what are your current writing targets? Are you being as ambitious (read: idiotic) as I am – and are you joining me in the craziness of NaNoWriMo this year?

This Writing Life: Writer Problems

24 September, 2014

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably noticed by now that there are some strange facets of the writing life that, to outside eyes, don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try to describe them to a non-writer and you’ll generally get a blank look, whilst writer’s partners will probably groan in exasperation, if not exactly understanding. In fact, the only other people who do understand are other writers – here are a few of my examples:

You lose the ability to speak. You spend all your time putting words together, crafting perfect sentences and making your thoughts flow onto the page, hopefully in a coherent fashion (on a good day, anyway). And yet, when you step away from the computer and try to hold an actual conversation with an actual real life person… Something goes a bit wrong. Words, sometimes whole sentences, elude you. You start speaking, only to trail off halfway, distracted by some recalcitrant plot point or ornery character. Alternatively, you manage a sentence, only to realise it didn’t make the slightest bit of sense; somewhere between your brain and your mouth, everything got jumbled into random words, which your poor partner/family member/friend is left to ponder. At which point, you wonder if you should just commit all conversations to print instead, and cut out the incoherent mumbling and blank looks from acquaintances.

You’d rather spend time with your characters than your friends. Speaking of ‘real life people’, spending time with them is all well and good, but sometimes they’re just not as… interesting as the ones in your head. You love your friends and family, of course, but there comes a time when, instead of seeing them, you start making excuses. And the more creative and elaborate those excuses? The more you know you’ve got the writing bug!

Procrastination. You’ve made your excuses, fobbed off the family, and have a whole day to yourself. Free, uninterrupted writing time. Bliss! So you sit down at your computer, open your word processor, and… decide you’d better have a look at Twitter first. Okay, that’s done, back to writing… except when did you last check your email? Right, that’s done, writing time… but maybe you should put a load of laundry on, and tidy up the kitchen, and isn’t it about time for another cup of tea…? The strange thing is, no matter how much you love writing, adore writing, live and breathe it, when it actually comes to writing, somehow there’s always something else to do.

Word choice is IMPORTANT. You’ve finally got to work. The words are flowing, the story is coming together, the characters are really speaking to you, until – what’s that word you’re looking for? This is yet another problem non-writers won’t understand. There is, for every circumstance, that perfect word, the one that just absolutely expresses what you want to say. You know it’s out there, you know that you know it, it’s just on the tip of your tongue… but it won’t come. And if you ask someone else, a non-writer, for advice? They’ll tell you your placeholder word is fine, it makes sense, it’ll do… When you know very well it’s not quite right, and you can’t keep writing until you find the word that is.

Maybe, at this point, you’re shaking your head and wondering what drugs I’ve been taking. Or… maybe you’re vigorously nodding in agreement – in which case, welcome to the club! The crazy world of writer problems might seem incomprehensible to the outside observer, but rest assured, some of us do understand – although that doesn’t necessarily mean we have any idea how to fix them!

Review of ‘The Relic Guild’ by Edward Cox

18 September, 2014

It’s true I’ve been a bit short on writing time lately, but I have been squeezing in a fair amount of reading – and after getting my hands on a shiny new copy of ‘The Relic Guild’ through a Goodreads giveaway, I was eager to review it.

First of all, a confession: I have a real weakness for novels that take place in unusual settings, so ‘The Relic Guild’ was never going to have a hard time drawing me in. Whilst fantasies set in single cities are becoming increasingly common, Labrys Town is something apart, situated in the centre of an endless labyrinth, and apparently a realm in its own right. Once a hub of trade and travel, connected to hundreds of other worlds – the Houses of the Aelfir – it’s now been cut off by war, leaving it isolated and apparently abandoned by all but the humans trapped within its walls. Except Labrys Town’s old enemies aren’t as dead and gone as everyone seems to think, and they certainly haven’t forgotten their past foes.

Taking place across two timelines, forty years apart, ‘The Relic Guild’ relates both the first war and the re-emergence of those enemies thought banished. We see the Relic Guild itself, both in its prime and in its ‘present day’, much diminished form. Multiple characters appear in both narratives, and the two arcs run parallel courses, intertwining rather than one simply being used as an excuse to provide backstory. Both are equally compelling, too, and I found myself eager to get back to each timeline as chapters ended – if not always on cliffhangers, then at least on points of tension.

It helps, of course, that there wasn’t a single character in the novel that I disliked. There’s a certain creepiness about the villains, of course, particularly towards the end, but I found each equally fascinating – and whilst there are numerous heroes, each felt well-rounded and distinct from the others. It seems a little unfair to pick out favourites from such a large and diverse cast, in which each member of the Relic Guild has their own particular role to play, but I found myself warming to Marney and Samuel, whilst the necromancer Hamir – though appearing only infrequently – seemed to have by far the most intriguing secrets left to reveal. (On a side note, I was also pleased to find so many female characters in the book, from protagonists and villains, to women who appear for a single scene before meeting a sticky end; too many fantasy worlds, after all, seem to have populations that are 90% male, judging by the named characters and ‘spear-carriers’ in their pages.)

Plot-wise, ‘The Relic Guild’ starts and ends well, but does flounder a little in the middle, as the key characters are forced back and forth across the city with the enemy always one step ahead. The two parallel timelines also work against the otherwise decent pace of the novel: because of their interwoven nature, and the way the story jumps between them, it takes a long time to get any answers from each of the two strands. Still, the prose is rarely wordy and focuses on moving the story on, meaning I found myself turning pages surprisingly quickly for such a chunky book.

On the subject of plot, though, a warning: here lie cliffhangers, and big ones. Neither of the two narratives has reached anything like a resolution by the end of the book, and whilst both have reached suitable stopping points, there’s definitely a feeling that there’s a lot more left to come (and big, important stuff too, judging by how much has to happen to finally connect the timelines together). If you can take the wait for a sequel, however, ‘The Relic Guild’ is certainly worth your time, bringing together an intriguing setting, likeable characters and some enjoyable weirdness that suggests the story’s only just getting started.

This Writing Life: Writing Through Chaos

15 September, 2014

It’s fair to say that my life has been fairly turbulent recently. First there was quitting my job, then moving house, then renovating said house and opening a B&B. For a while, I thought I’d be able to keep writing consistently, just as I have done for the past few years, with an aim of at least 200,000 words a year across multiples novels, novellas and short stories. I had good intentions, in other words, but when your life turns upside down, it’s difficult to stick to them.

Today, then, I want to share a few of the tips and habits I’ve learnt for trying to combine writing with every other aspect of a chaotic life. First of all, I’ve discovered it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. I spent weeks agonising over not getting enough words down, whilst trying to manage a burgeoning business and not go completely insane in the process. In the end, I realised all my stress about word counts and time spent in front of the PC wasn’t getting me anywhere – I was worrying about writing instead of actually doing it. At the moment, then, I’m cutting myself some slack and only aiming for 500 words a day (still 180,000+ words over the course of a year, I was amazed to work out). As I tend to plan several scenes (at least) in advance, I can easily hammer out that number of words in 20-30 minutes, meaning I’m both making slow, steady progress, and not beating myself up over missing my targets.

However, that 500 words a day is only my target for now. Life comes in fits and starts; sometimes you can predict them and sometimes you can’t. I know in advance that my winters are likely to be far quieter business-wise than my summers (which comes with the tourism territory, in the UK at least), which means I’m already planning to take part in NaNoWriMo and, if I can, write an entire novel between November and, say, February of next year. There might also come lulls I didn’t anticipate, though, such as weekends with fewer guests than usual, or cancellations. Whilst it can be a bit of a shock to the system to change plans at short notice, I’ll need to be able to take advantage of these breaks and put them to good writing use.

Tangentially related to my first point, there are also times when I have to acknowledge I just can’t write. Maybe because I’m exhausted, maybe because I can’t get more than five straight minutes at the keyboard. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t fit in something writing-related. Time spent waiting for guests to arrive can easily be spent reading, for example, whilst even when I’m scrubbing bathrooms, I can be musing on plot points and world-building. Again, this is all about taking advantage of your time however you can, although it does sometimes require a fair amount of mental gymnastics.

I’m not going to tell you to write in every spare minute, or give up every other hobby so you can produce more words. Plenty of writers do both, of course, but I find that kind of single-minded focus can be counter-productive and, frankly, exhausting. I want my writing time to be enjoyable, something I look forward to (because when it’s not, I think that really shows in the work), and fitting it naturally into the rest of my day is the best way to achieve that. However, by making the most of my time, by being prepared to write at the drop of a hat, and by setting myself small, realistic word count goals, I’ve found I can keep writing even when the rest of my life has exploded around me. I hope you can too.

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