Category Archives: Personal writing

Attempting Camp NaNoWriMo

In April I will be attempting Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up, added my novel details and set my cabin preferences. My target is 30,000 words and the story I’ll be working on is a fresh attempt at the Penal Colony story I was working on way back in 2013.

There’s still a lot to do before April 1st, though. In the past I’ve tried to “pants” various NaNoWriMo challenges – to write with minimal preparation, flying by the seat of my pants (or trousers, since I’m British). It doesn’t work for me; I get so far and don’t know where to go next, and end up dithering around with long conversations between characters, or meaningless sequences of events that I later delete once I’ve made a decision about the direction I want to go. That was the downfall of Kell’s Adventures and Kell & Atoni: no direction and no plan.

But I’ve also not found much success with an outlining-heavy approach. I get bored of going over the minutiae of characters or the world, or I feel I’ve covered the plot in so much detail in the plan that I don’t need or want to write it anymore because there’s nothing more I can add. It becomes a chore. There’s no exploration, no discovery, no fun to it. And what’s the point if it’s not fun to write, at least some of the time?

With Horrible Monster, I took a middle ground. It was, perhaps, rather too much on the pantsing side of the scale – there were passages thousands of words long, covering multiple scenes, which I removed, and started again from a point I’d written a week or longer earlier. As for the ending, I hadn’t made a decision about that until literally a week before I finished the novel.

So with this story I’ll be doing more planning than I did for Horrible Monster, including working out the ending and writing chapter summaries. In order to distinguish this version from the 2013 version in my file system, I’ll be using a new working title – Volcano Island. A huge amount has changed, including most of the key characters (though I’ve kept the protagonist and a couple of other characters) and the plot. I see the original Penal Colony plot as being potentially the foundation for a sequel, if I get that far, but it’s not the story I want to tell right now, and the story I do want to tell needs to happen earlier in the chronology.

On my to-do list for the rest of this month, I have:

  • Draw maps showing the islands before and after the major eruptions – while the story takes place after most of the eruptions, I want an idea of where there used to be land, towns, ports and other features as my characters will encounter buried buildings and so on. I’m also considering having an eruption during the story, so I’d like to map out how that changes the islands too.
  • Create characters lists to draw upon when needing to use less developed/important characters – I’ve decided on the names and a few characteristics of my main cast, but there will be other characters involved too. I’ll need to sort them into groups, create short descriptions of them and have them ready to put into action when I need them so I don’t have to make this stuff up when I’m writing, and potentially lose flow.
  • Create a more detailed chapter-by-chapter summary. I’ve already got a very brief chapter outline, with about 2 lines of text per chapter describing the main events. I want to expand this into about 150-200 words per chapter, plus a list of the immediate goals and motives of the characters in the chapter to help me with interactions.

There’s plenty to be getting on with, but not so much it can’t be done by the end of March.

Quick general update for 2017

I know, I’ve been radio silence for a while. It’s been a hectic time involving job hunting, job doing, Christmas, bereavement, house sitting, being ill, studying and more in the weeks since I last posted. This is not a thorough update, but rest assured that I have:

  • Continued to write daily since my last update
  • Read some more books since my last update, though not as many as I planned

I intended to post an update on my writing progress, and an end-of year post about what I’ve been reading, last month. I obviously didn’t get to them but something along those lines will probably be forthcoming once things settle back down again.

I also wanted to set out my goals for 2017, both in terms of reading and writing. I shall do that now.

Reading Goals 2017

In 2016 I managed probably more than 30 books, smashing my 26 book goal, but I didn’t quite manage the 50% female authors goal, I don’t think. I’d have to check, but I don’t think I got there. So this year that goal is back, and the book total goal is going up to 39, which is 3 books per 4 weeks – half way between 26 and 52.

Writing Goals 2017

I still intend to write daily, and work towards that million word mark, but for 2017 I want to be more focused on improving and on finishing. This will manifest in two key ways:

  1. Finish “Horrible Monster”. I’ve got a first draft, and now I need to turn that into something more polished. I made a couple of false starts with a second draft in the first week of this year, but really I need to go back, reread what I’ve written, and create a chapter outline.
  2. Improve my writing by studying others’ writing. This will focus on 12 books – one per month – which I have already read and want to understand better. Each month I will copy out an extended passage from that month’s book (a chapter, for example) by hand into an A4 notebook, specifically the right hand page, leaving the left page to make notes about what I observe in the process of copying. Authors will include Austen, Tolkien, Gemmell, Rowling, Wynne-Jones, O’Brian and more.

And I dare say this will manifest itself in the occasional blog post to highlight what I’m learning along the way.

Progress Report: One Million Words, Autumn 2016

I’ve been a bit lax on updates lately, but I’m here to catch up now.

My current total is 307,504/1,000,000, or 30.8%. So I’m nearly a third of the way there now. Since my last update some time ago, I have written:

  • September: 13,776 words
  • October: 14,822 words
  • November: 15,812 words
  • December until the 10th: 3,195 words

The Story

Over the last three and a bit months, I’ve worked on a range of stories, including time travel fanfiction (that’s not a typo where I missed a comma, that’s a fanfiction involving a time travelling character from the modern world ending up on a British naval hired vessel in 1813; followers of my reading updates can guess exactly which ship that might have been), preparatory stories to help me get into the world and characters of Kell and Atoni, and my NaNoWriMo project, Kell & Atoni.

It is this latter which I wish to talk about.

It’s crap. I restarted it in the middle of November (don’t worry, I still counted the words I’d written). And I’m not happy with the restart either. I’ve been trying to work out why that might be today, and I think I have an answer: lack of preparation. Or at least, the right kind of preparation. I’ve got no outline, no theme, no goal for this story except to write a fantasy story in the same stylistic tradition as the Aubrey-Maturin novels, with a friendship much like that model at its core.

But it’s clear I need a more structured approach than I have been using. For now, I’m putting the project aside while I develop not only that structure, but also a deeper understanding of what I want from the story and the source material I wish to emulate. I also need to better develop the characters. At the moment they are barely distinguishable from any protagonist I’ve ever written, and it’s clear to me now that I have a significant weakness in that area.

Moving forward

I’ve got a short project planned in response to a challenge on /r/fantasywriters, so I’ll be working on that for at least a few days this month. The challenge is to use a stone age setting, which is something I’ve played with for a while but never quite got anything working (including one story in which Kell discovered a stone circle used by mammoths as scratching posts). So if nothing else I’ll have fun.

Beyond that, I need to work on exercises that enable me to develop the characters of Kell and Atoni and practice writing their voices.

I’m feeling rather lost with my writing at the moment, but it’s about time I got back on track so I’ll be working hard in the near future to move forward. Funny, I always seem more motivated with hobbies when I have less time for them, and the same is true now – I’ve got a temp job that just started which is full time, in addition to my existing part time job, and of course with Christmas fast approaching I’ve got a lot to sort out in the way of gifts and cards and decorations. So we’ll see how that goes.

I’m attempting NaNoWriMo

Yes, I get it, Halloween is a bit late to decide this. It’s fine, I decided weeks ago. I even planned out a few “leading up to” blog posts I would post over the last two weeks. It’s just things have been pretty busy lately and unfortunately that has meant blogging has taken the hit as being pretty far down the priorities list. Job hunting, dealing with a car that keeps breaking down, feeding my parents’ cat while they’ve been away, and various other pressing issues have taken precedence.

Anyway, I will be attempting NaNoWriMo. I will be writing a story based on last year’s NaNoWriMo, but with some significant changes. Here’s a blurb:

Since the great city of Caer burned and Kell did not in spite of being in the middle of it, and subsequently being saved from a mob by a man magically bound to the Brown River and somehow part of it, she’s been looking for others like her, others touched by magic. Leaving Shen to search along the banks of his river, Kell has crossed an immense plain to reach the White River, hoping to find another like Shen there, or at least someone who has heard of others like her.

Atoni is a princess, one of many nieces and nephews of the king of Porroa, and like all her siblings and cousins, she has a role in the structure of the family and government of Porroa: the Deputy Minister for Architecture and Construction. Her uncle the King wants to build the greatest monument the world has ever seen, but with the arrival of a lone traveller from the Brown River it’s clear that the world is a great deal bigger than anyone in Porroa ever realised. Atoni is sent on a mission to record the greatest monuments of the Brown River cultures, and establish initial diplomatic relations with any she feels Porroa could trade with, so that her uncle’s ambitions can be fulfilled and her own legend can begin.

When Kell and Atoni team up, they are ready for the adventures and travels that await them.

Progress Report: One Million Words, August 2016

Another late one; I’m slipping. I apologise. I have lots of excuses (it’s been a tough month) but I won’t bother relating them. Suffice it to say things aren’t working lately. Excuses aside, I need to keep better track of things, or I find I’ve got weeks worth of writing log to catch up on and have to work out what day I wrote what through a combination of dates in file names, dates on pieces of paper, and where dates don’t exist, a process of elimination. Not the best approach, I admit.

So for August I wrote 17,315 words. That brings me to 259,899 words in total, or 26%. August’s output was a modest improvement upon July’s, but it’s still below where I really want to be. I have continued to write daily and my total as of the end of August is 410 consecutive days.

I finished Horrible Monster at the start of August and then proceeded to write some short stories of various lengths, as planned. Some were related to my next project and others were based on prompts I found online or other ideas.

Kell & Atoni

My next project has the working title of Kell & Atoni. It builds upon my plans from last year for Kell’s Adventures, using the protagonist from that as one of my protagonists in the new project, but I wanted to take it in a different direction. Anyone who has been following my reading updates might have noticed I’ve been working my way through the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, and it is from that series that I draw upon in attempting, with Kell & Atoni, to tell a series of stories in which two characters become firm friends and travel together as they seek to achieve their own goals which are compatible with one other.

So far I’ve done a little worldbuilding and worked on a few short stories set before these two characters meet. I’m not yet ready to begin with the story proper, but with November approaching I feel that this is a project to tackle for NaNoWriMo, which gives me a few more weeks to prepare.

The plan for Kell & Atoni is for novella-length stories exploring their goals, their world, the directions their obligations, fears and ambitions take them in, and the human and magical obstacles they face. In preparation, I have begun workign on, and will continue to write, short stories exploring points of the protagonists’ lives before they meet, elements of the world and the cultures they are part of or encounter.

Progress Report: One Million Words, July 2016

I didn’t quite finish Horrible Monster in July. I still haven’t a week into August, but I am close. In total, I wrote 14,084 words in July – somewhat less than previous months, showing a slowdown.

My total as of the end of July was 242,584/100,000, or 24.3% – very nearly a quarter of the way to the million words. On July 18th I reached another milestone: I had written every single day for one year. Not one day missed, not Christmas Day, not New Year’s Day, not my birthday, not the days I worked 16 hours or drive 200 miles. So I’m pretty damn proud of that.

The Story

Horrible Monster is so close to the ending now. I struggled for a week or two exactly how I would get there and which direction I would take that ending, and I have finally made a decision; now it’s only a matter of writing it, and it shouldn’t take long. A few thousand words only.

So what happens to Horrible Monster after I finish the first draft? I don’t know. Recently I’ve been in the “oh god, it’s awful, I hate it” part. I’m not sure if it can stand up. It certainly can’t in its unedited state, and if there is something there worth keeping it is going to take an awful lot of work to get it up to that level. And editing work being the kind I tend to put off doesn’t bode well. I think it’s a “we’ll see” scenario. I’ll give it a few months and see if I feel the core story is worth the editing and rewriting that would be required.

I’ve got a new project lined up. It’s a new version of Kell’s Adventures, with some major changes, the introduction of a second protagonist, Atoni, moving the location of where I will begin, and much more. But it isn’t ready to begin yet. I’ve got a lot of character work and worldbuilding to sort out before it goes anywhere. My approach for this project will be to know the characters and know the world – and then let the plot take me where it will.

In the meantime, I think I’ll work on shorter projects. Prompt-inspired short stories, perhaps a rewrite of Mountain Story, and episodes from the lives of Kell and Atoni from before the start of their story together.

Progress Report: One Million Words, June 2016

A bit of a slow down this month, thanks to a number of factors, from catching a cold (in June! Damn weather.) to being very busy and being stressed about what I am now calling The Event (and doing my darnedest to ignore now).

I managed 16,159 words in June, for an average of 538.6 words per day.

This brings my total to 228,500/1,000,000, or 22.9%.

If I can hit 25%, or 250,000 words, by mid July, I’ll be on track to complete the entire million words within four years. It’s a bit of a stretch as there’s more to go to reach that than I have written in most entire months, but it does show just how much I have done – and how much there is to go.

The Story

I’m still working on Horrible Monster, working through towards completion of the novel. I had thought, this time last month, that I was on the home straight, but the story has taken a little bit of a turn and I’m uncertain about whether I like the new character, whether the story is best served by his inclusion, and how his presence is going to affect the ending.

I am seriously wondering if I’ve muddied the waters with some of the plot lines and whether it is quite how I want to tell this story, but I can’t quite see how the “extra” plot lines could be cut without significant impact on the rest of it. On some levels I worry that the story is too simplistic, too serendipitous even.

But at the same time I wonder if I am just worrying over nothing, letting the self-doubt creep in, and if I just need to finish the novel before I can make a true assessment of its merits and weaknesses. After all, when I took part in long distance hikes – a local charity walk of 22 miles – it was always around mile 16-17 that the pain was worst, my pace at its slowest, but once I got to mile 21 and the end was in sight I always had more energy and better pace, and the pain seemed to fade into irrelevance.

Looking forward into July

I don’t know if I will finish Horrible Monster in July. It is possible, especially if I speed up in the final mile. I’m nearly at 70,000 words, and with the amount of plot that’s left it might end up around 85-95,000 words total, so it is entirely likely I will finish it.

I will shortly have a lot more time on my hands. Today was my last day at one of my two part time jobs, and I haven’t got another lined up to replace it yet. By about the end of next week a huge number of outstanding tasks that haven’t yet been completed, or in some cases started, will be done. If it takes me a while to sort another job, I’ll have a lot more time to write and to engage in the kinds of activities that assist writing, like going for walks, reading, and taking the time to appreciate the moment – which, I’ll admit, I haven’t done much of lately. Then there’s researching, learning and blogging too, all of which I’ll have more time for.

So it may well be that July ends up a particularly productive month regarding writing fiction, blog posts and poetry; reading, researching and studying; and maintaining my flat to a standard that would pass a landlord inspection.

Poem: Shush, the morning whispers, pulsing

Shush, the morning whispers, pulsing.

Water on the window tracing.

Down through foliage rain hissing,

Earthy petrichor releasing.

 

To the ground the raindrops racing,

Stream abrimming with water coursing

Around the rock and branches, sluicing

Into hollows, swirling, massing.

 

Hush to hear the flowers dancing

And beside them, saplings waltzing.

Droplets pocking, leaping, glancing

On fat leaves, jumping, prancing.

 

All that’s past, the rain’s erasing –

Stuffy air, pollution, cleansing.

Its task complete, downpour ceasing –

Silence,

stillness,

now increasing.

 

Progress Report: One Million Words, May 2016

I just can’t break this rate I’ve been working at all year so far. My May total is 18,123 words, for an average of 584.6 words per day.

That puts my total at 212,341/1,000,000, or 21.2% towards my goal. In the middle of May I also passed the 300th consecutive day of writing.

The Story

I’m well into Horrible Monster at the moment, but I’m struggling. The story is nearly at 55,000 words now – though some of that has been struck through, discarded. What’s being kept (at least for now) is probably closer to 50,000 words. Still, that’s quite a sizable length. I’m on the cusp of the major setback now, so things are about to get very difficult for my protagonists. I think once I get past that turning point I’ll write a bit faster, because from there it’s got some more momentum, more action.

I think part of the reason I’m struggling at the moment is some of the themes I’ve been exploring, including anxiety and depression. I’m not sure if it works within the story, to be honest, but I’ve got to try it to find out. They do say write what you know, and there are some very personal elements going into this side of the story. Set in the context of fighting for justice, I’m not sure if it’s too much. But then I can’t help but feel that one of the storylines is too much in the fight for justice side of thing. I’ll have to see when it’s all done.

I do know that there will be a lot more work to be done on this after I finish. Cutting, adding, rewriting, slimming down, speeding up. But what I have so far I’m reasonably pleased with, as a starting point to build upon.

Progress Report: One Million Words, April 2016

In spite of Camp NaNoWriMo, my wordcounts did not go up during April. I wrote a total of 19,060 words, for an average of 635.3 words per day – slightly below March’s average. Still, it was nice to have others to chat to about writing.

At the end of April my total stood at 194,218/1,000,000 – 19.4%. I’m not far now from my next hundred thousand words.

Horrible Monster

I have continued to work on Horrible Monster every single day in April. I am becoming more focused on this now, particularly in the last week. Although some days it feels a bit like I’m writing filler, stalling while I work out where I’m going, for the main part things are moving forward at a good pace. I’m getting more deeply into the various plot lines now.

A problem I am consistently coming across is rushing ahead where I know answers but where it does not fit the plot to get to that point just yet. A few times in April I wrote scenes in which I revealed more or advanced the plot further than I was happy with, so ended up striking out paragraphs or even pages at a time and starting from an earlier point. (Though the words are still counted, for the purposes of my challenge – after all I did write them.)

I think I’m getting better at that now, though. It happened more earlier in the month.

On looming peaks

The only other thing I have written this month is the poem I posted a little over a week ago, plus a couple of haiku. I’ve been sharing the poem widely, reading it out to my friends (in particular those who went with me to Builth Wells for the wool festival). I’ll definitely be looking out for other opportunities to write more poetry.

I found that imitating the meter and other aspects of an already published poem – On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman – was helpful in giving me a framework to then insert the words and story of my own poem, so in the near future I anticipate taking a similar approach. Learning to walk before I try to run.

May’s plans

Going forward into May, I will continue writing Horrible Monster. I intend to keep going until I finish it. I definitely feel like I have momentum on this novel right now, even if my daily wordcounts aren’t all that great. I don’t really want to interrupt it at this stage, in case a short interruption proves fatal to that momentum and I stop working on it. But that would mean, at the rate I’m going, it might be several months before I finish it. And that will mean it’ll be months before I write anything else in prose, since I’ve never done well working on two different stories on the same day. Still, there’s nothing stopping me from writing more poetry. And perhaps as I approach the end my daily wordcount output will increase.

There are a lot of other projects I’ve talked about on my blog which have made no further progress for a long time. The Mountain Story, for example, still largely exists only in a handwritten notebook; Kell’s Adventures have seen no further notes or planning. I am very much focused on Horrible Monster at the moment, but perhaps once I finish it I should take some time to work on other projects – and relax my rules a little to count editing, typing up and making notes as writing activity that doesn’t break my streak – even if it doesn’t add to my wordcount total.