Scribblings of a shaved monkey with a keyboard

Rambling

NaNoWriMo: Why I won’t take part.

na NO wrimo for me

naNOwrimo for me

This year, I’ve kept popping into the NaNoWriMo forums to see how people were going, and to see what the general atmosphere was.

It’s been the first year I’ve actually paid any sort of attention to it, and the first time I’ve put any thought into whether or not I’m likely to take part next year.

After all, 50,000 words or as it’s billed “A novel in a month”. Quite an achievement I’d say[1]

That was, until I spent some time on the boards.

People melting down because they weren’t ‘on target’; had written themselves in a corner; having to start again as it wasn’t as good an idea as first thought or a load of similar reasons.

Towards the end, there were people saying ‘I’ve not used the delete key at all, so I’ve got typos and plot threads hanging all over the place. That’s how I’ve got my word count up’. My personal favourite: “Every so often I’ll just key whatever’s in my head into the manuscripts, stream of consciousness fashion and it usually is nothing to do with it. I’m leaving it in however so that I can include it in my word count.”

I ask these people, especially the ones that artificially boosted the word count to hit the ‘target’: Why. Can you look yourself in the eye and say: “I did it”; or more likely, are you looking at yourself and saying “I didn’t do it, but I found a work around so it looks like I did. I didn’t hit the target so I didn’t succeed at writing.”

Really? REALLY?

In my opinion, word count is not an indicator of story[2] Word count should not dictate the story. The story should come first, whether it needs 2,000; 20,000 or a 200,000 epic. Of course, if you’re writing to a commercial deadline/contract you usually have an idea of the page count/word count required, but then once the story is out, you can then look at additional scenes/plotlines to explore or ones that it could live without to get towards what the publisher is asking for.

I’ve seen the arguments that NaNoWriMo is about pushing you to set and meet a target. 250 words a day is a target, and one that I so far have managed to hit quite well[6] Eventually, I may increase my daily target, or turn it into a weekly target[8] as then I can work more on Fridays and the weekend when I’m not at work to hit it. I didn’t need anything external to decide this. I did find that I’m not the only one however.

I’m also not a competitive person[9], and NaNoWriMo feels to me to be encouraging competitiveness (you get a certificate if you ’win’) between writers, rather than supporting each other generally.

The other thing weighing against NaNoWriMo for me is simple; November see’s both my wedding anniversary, and my birthday, so wrapping myself into NaNowriMo would mean sequestering myself away in the man-cave for most of the month[10] and missing both of those. That’d go down really well….

So yeah, I’m not going to take part in NaNoWriMo.

  1. It’s not a novel, it’s a first draft. Lot of difference…
  2. Look at Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings – MASSIVE word count, fairly straightforward story (Summed up perfectly in Clerks 2) with a LOT of padding[3] On the flipside of this, Harry Turtledove’s[4] Southern Victory series – Massive word count per book, but the way it’s written gives  quite a tight, detailed and rich story, and that’s just per book. I’ve got the paperbacks of all bar How Few Remain and they take up about 3-4 feet of bookshelf.
  3. I tend to skip a lot of Lord of the Rings when I read it, especially the Elven poetry and overly bombastic descriptions.
  4. This man is insanely productive with his writing, there are times where I’d love to meet him to learn, and others when I’d love to meet him to break his fingers[5]
  5. Usually when I’m having a none productive writing session and the little jealous monster is coming out.
  6. Well, apart from Monday night[ when Heather gave me an early xmas present of the Transformers video game.[7] But then, that’s why the target is for 250 words/day 6 days a week
  7. Because Giant Transforming Robots. That’s why.
  8. Which is effectively 1,500 words per week at the moment
  9. Take a look at my other blog for more about that
  10. I guarantee I’d come out of it at the start of December looking like Gollum, blinking in the daylight, going “Was I supposed to be going to work this month? So that’s why the phone kept ringing!”

Targets

So, as a birthday present to myself this year, I’ve set myself a daily writing target.

250 words a day. 6 days a week.

It doesn’t sound like much I know, but I set it based on a few things:

  • I’m working full time 37.5 hours/week. So, realistically I can guarantee myself about an hour a day on each workday.
  • I’m very much finding my feet with my writing, so I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself to produce say 1,000 words/day [1] so I’ve gone for a lower target.
  • I can always increase the target number as I get more comfortable with my writing.

Overall, I figure it’s a reasonable balance between having a life, and writing.

Since setting myself this target, the has only been 1 day I didn’t write 250 words – this is because I was editing sprawl run. According to my daily goal counter in FocusWriter [2] I managed -2.4% of my 250 word daily target – in reality it mean I’d removed 6 more words during the edit than I had replaced.

So yeah, I’ve got a target. It’s small[3] but something I’m confident I can hit and just that little ego boost from knowing you’ve hit a target everyday is something. Plus it’s enough to get going – last night for example, while outlining project-x15[4] and setting project js-1[5] according to the counter I’d hit something around 467% of my goal. That’s about 1200 words in about an hour of actual writing.

Something I feel proud about[6]

250words-250w

  1. Too many days of not hitting a target would not help me feel good about it
  2. A rather handy bit of software, designed to provide a distraction free writing environment
  3. But it’s better than ‘whatever’ for me
  4. Better known (currently) as “The Torture Room” – A horror story with psycho-cannibals. And apparently according to Mike, following a brief character description: Al Murray, cannibal pub landlord Sci-fi setting
  5. Which is not at all easy to do when fighting severe depression

It’s all about perspective

So, for part of today (In between procrastinating on the Transformers Wiki* and finishing decorating the kitchen) I’ve been working on a few bits & bobs for my writing.

One of the well.. Exercises threw up a couple of interesting viewpoints and at least one of them shows a possible character in the making. That is, if I ever decide to write that kind of story.

The premise was to begin a story with a given first line. I didn’t write much, as I didn’t feel it needed it. But, as an experiment** I wrote the same scene from the other participants point of view.

Behold: (And there’s a teensy bit of profanity behind the cut) (more…)


Humorous title goes here…….

So; last night I finished the entire* first draft of my short story Sprawl Run intended for the short story/first line competition in writing magazine (www.writers-online.co.uk).

It’s the first time in years I’ve actually finished a story; even though it’s a little over the word count and needs editing and a serious polish before I send it on it’s way.

Plenty of time yet, the deadline isn’t until mid-January.

Interestingly, it was a similar process for me to working on my various warhammer roleplay campaign ideas – Once I’d got started, the ideas started flowing and I got into the groove the words flew by.

In the end I had to drop a couple of scene ideas as there just wasn’t enough room in the format I was working to; although I may expand on it later or maybe work them into another story. Maybe a sequel?

What struck me (and again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as the same thing happened once I got started with rpg work) was how much it fed into itself and how many ideas just a couple of characters and a couple of scenes can generate.

The overall story throws up in my mind a lot of questions about the two characters and how the whole situation came to be; What happens after; What’s the relationship between them; What have they done before. For example the quote:

Caspar chuckled. “That’s what you said in Kiev, and look how that ended up”

Tell me your not wondering what happened in Kiev? Shall I write that one at some point, or leave it as these characters ‘Noodle Incident

Not having the freedom of writing however much I felt like or a full length novel word count, I was forced to keep the focus on a relatively small window in time (I think it works out as about half an hour of in-character time, with a little bit set later in their day).

Because of the questions it’s raising even before an edit, I’ve laid the groundwork for other shorts I can write in the future if I want the characters to flesh out even more.

Overall though, there was the satisfaction of actually having finished a draft.

Something I’ve been saying I’m going to do for years now.

Heck I brought my current laptop in 2007 based on how useful it would be for writing etc.

It’s a small, faltering first step, But it’s a step.

*The half a first draft in my previous posts doesn’t count

More Preposterous Elitism

I’ll admit it.

I seem to be developing an urge to do something about the apparent amount of preposterous elitism that seems to perpetuate many, many aspects of the writing community.

In a drive to expand my horizons and help myself along with my writing I’ve been looking for local groups* as well as online ones.

I locate one, that along with its own facilities has courses, workshops, classes. The whole 9 yards – everything someone starting on the writing path, or further along it could want.

It’s not expensive to join. works out at about £5 a month. Not that  much in this day & age really.

However.

On looking at the how to join, I inferred a fair bit from these little bits below (I’ve edited out any identifying information) Highlights are mine. 

To join, fill in our Membership Application Form and send it to us along with a short sample of your writing.

Alternatively you can contact us with any questions at xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.xxx or on 99999 999 9999.

In order to join, you must:

  1. live in or be connected with xxxxx;
  2. demonstrate a commitment to developing your writing;
  3. demonstrate a commitment to reaching an audience with your work (e.g. through publication or production).

Membership is at the discretion of the xxxxx Board of Directors.

Now, from this I had a few questions.

  1. What if you were either only just starting out writing, or did not feel comfortable sharing your work with others (short or long-term)
  2. What if you didn’t want to be published, but just wanted to join and learn more purely for writing for fun

From this, I inferred that

  • You have to already have been writing before joining (No beginners here ,Thank You!)
  • If you haven’t been (or didn’t want) to be published or produced then you were not considered a real writer and as such, we don’t want anything to do with you.

These are further reinforced by the ‘members’ snapshot on the website – All published in one way or another.

Just to see if I’m alone in this and have completely lost the plot, or if it reads the same to others I’m inviting comments below as well.

I’ve also emailed the organisation concerned with a link to this to invite them to respond if they wish.

*This is quite a large step for me, having suffered from social phobia for many years


Chapter 2: On preposterous elistism

Well, module 2 of the course has come & gone, and I find myself disagreeing with the logic behind some of the thinking.

Already? Yep, already – I’m surprised as well, as I was expecting it to take a wee bit longer beforehand, but then I suppose it’s also good, as it encourages discussion (Or would, if I had joined the forum for the course, which I haven’t as I tend to avoid online forums)

It basically reads as:

What we’re suggesting here is you feed your writer brain with ‘health food’
just as you do the rest of your body. Again, mass paperbacks make good
money for authors and publishing houses. They are read by millions and
they can be enjoyed by very exceptional writers. But you must have a
balance in what you read.
By reading short stories or novels with a literary edge you’ll find that on a
subconscious level your writing will begin to improve. You’ll start to
examine things like characterization, plot, and probably most important,
theme, which is what most mass-market books seem to lack.
Even reading plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman or
Macbeth can offer wonderful insight into characterization, which is a key
element in the short story.

To my mind, he information and reasoning behind this is essentially that if you don’t read “Literary classics” then you can’t be a good writer. I call that preposterous elitism (Or in my usual parlance: Pretentious Bollocks). I read what I enjoy. I try other authors etc on occasion, and if I like the story they craft then I’ll keep reading them.

A perfect example of this is Harry Turtledove.

Years ago I was in one of the book clubs, that send you a random book a month or so if you don’t order anything particular.

I opened one, and it was the first of  Turtledoves “World War” series. I loved it, the whole concept of it and the way he spins the stories. Since then I’ve got shelves full of Turtledoves works.

Is he considered a “Literary Classic”? Don’t know. And frankly, don’t care.

While I can understand the need for examples of story structure, pacing, characterization and overall storycraft, what I don’t like is the fact that they are somehow overall better than anything else.

But then, I have a similar ‘thing’ about most award ceremonies/awards etc like the Oscars, Bafta, and generally, anything that could be construed as essentially patting yourself on the back for no reason than because you can – I mean this as an industry thing, rather than individual.

I’m also not a fan of critics. After all, what they say is simply their opinion, and as such it cannot be right, or wrong. It’s simply an opinion formed from their own preconceived ideas, tastes and experiences. So why people listen to them when tastes differ I will never figure out.

Sometimes I think as a society we are becoming homogonised, and anything that is construed as different is viewed with mistrust, suspicion and downright fear in some cases.


Happy almost-birthday?

Almost a year.

Wow, even for me thats a cracking bit of procrastination.

Or is it? Well, not really.

I’ve not done anything I’ve deemed really worth putting on here. I’ve got myself painting more (See Warped Reality for more on that), and I’ve got myself working on some bits of writing.

Admittedly it’s been mostly for our groups WFRP campaign, and more outlining a setting that working on stories. After all there just wouldn’t be a point to writing a story for a roleplaying group – the players are meant to be the main characters and they are meant to be the ones that flesh out the details in the story.

Not that some of the group have quite grasped the concept, being a little stuck in the hack’n’slash mindset thanks to D&D & similar line ’em up & knock ’em down settings.

The main thing that has seen my return to 1m1k is actively getting on with working on my writing. This has recently (Ie last week) received a huge kick in the behind to get started thanks ironically, to Amazon Local offers.

I had the offer for a comprehensive writing course drop into my e-mailbox with a whacking 89% off! As it was payday, and I’ve been looking for something like that to kick-start me it would have been rude not to sign up for it. So I shelled out the requisite £39. Oddly, 2 days before a free open course on “The Future of Storytelling” has also appeared on the Radar, so I’ve signed for that too *.

The final piece I think has oddly been a new pair of glasses.

For a while now I’ve had problems reading. My tablet has been relatively fine as I can resize the text, but I’ve amassed a large wodge of material that I’ve just not been able to concentrate on.

So I’ve got myself a pair of reading glasses, as well as my regular ones. This was after a debate** with my optician, that I was too young to need reading glasses as I wasn’t 40 or over. (Heh. I love it when an average is used as an absolute value). So I did a bit of work myself (In Sainsburys pharmacy) to work out what lens worked for each eye and ordered a pair online.

I love ’em. They have helped my painting too, or at least the details.

Anyhow, I’m waffling again, probably becasue I’ve got the writing bug, and I’ll have to chopthis down in an edit like a hockey-mask wearing, machete wielding psychopath ‘edits’ teenagers…

There are other things that h ave hindered me writing this year, and painting, and doing a fair few things, and that has been my ongoing battle with depression and low self-image. It’s not been easy at all, but I’ve got a good support network. I may put some stuff on here regarding the challenges*** of writing with depression****

Anyway, time to be off. I’ve got to get myself sorted in time for the Black Library Weekender tommorrow.

 

 

* With the added bonus that the main lecturer on that looks like Deborah Anne Woll in “True Blood” *grin*

** Read: Argument

*** I refuse to call it a problem.

**** Yes, I know. Most people would suggest a pen, or a keyboard.