Camp NaNoWriMo is back!

It’s that time again! Time to nurture positive habits for 30-odd days then forget all about them for several months until November rolls around.

In the spirit of productivity, I do have a bunch of routines to get back into, lots of stuff to write and read and some things to edit. I’m optimistic about this month. I also have a bunch of Open University stuff to get through and a new module to choose, some volunteering opportunities to explore and more sessions with my psychologist and occupational therapist. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am moving forwards at last.

No longer am I stressing about writing for publication, or writing full time. I know, now, that writing as a career is a long shot and that I need a security net to fall back on. It took me a while, but I found that insight at long last. I’m writing for the right reasons now, despite still struggling with focus and concentration levels. I still get tempted by new ideas but I’m more realistic. I spent weeks and months building characters and worlds and I know that changing to a new idea will just set me back.

Camp NaNo is a good opportunity and it has, once again, come at the right time. I have lots of writing projects underway at the moment, but the main one remains the Japan-inspired fantasy. It gives me headaches. I get so fixated on details, and to do that about details I have no knowledge of… well that’s a pain unlike anything else. I stress about what trees one might expect. I stress about birds, insects, clothes, armour. What are horses used for? Are they different to Western horses? What does a medieval Japanese city sound like? Smell like? Look like? A lot of this can be discovered through research but that doesn’t negate the sheer volume of information I feel like I need to retain.

Alas, I digress. The point is simple: I’m trying to be optimistic and productive. I’m trying to be realistic and efficient. I’m trying to find the courage to take risks. My writing is no longer a central source of stress. I’m just taking it as it comes and writing what inspires me, and I’m enjoying it. Sooner or later, something will click and I’ll produce the story that matters.


NaNoWriMo; a Legacy.

So yeah, I finished NaNo 5 days early, with 50,002 words, reaching a total of around 56k by the month’s close. All in all, a hugely successful month. Now, with the story underway, I can afford to take a day or two to plan out where it’s going, which ought to ease the strain somewhat. I have to say, I’ve seen some people come in with more than 60 and 70k words, no doubt there are others with still more, but those who haven’t completed the word count need not consider the month a failure. If you have written anything with any degree of regularity, developed characters or ideas and concepts, perhaps even just developing your own writing voice, then the month was a success, and kudos to you. With NaNo done, there’s not much more for me to say on the matter, so I’ll close with a little message to any budding authors who stumble across this post today, tomorrow, or five years from now. Writing’s hard, but we’ve all failed before, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Be afraid of never trying again, it’s worked for me.

The First Sentence Is The Hardest

The first sentence is the hardest. Some people might disagree, some of you might swim right through that first challenge, and kudos to you if you do. But I struggle with it. Finding something snappy and concise, something to capture the reader’s attention and draw them in, achieving that with one sentence is difficult. We don’t have the advantage of building amazing posters for our films, or using bright colours, interesting shapes and scenes to catch the eye from afar. At least not right away. Sure, when the book is on the shelf, we have cool covers to grab attention, cool titles emblazoned in bold, stylised fonts upon the spines. But the first thing we need, the absolute very first thing we need to get right, is that first line. And I find myself confronted by that every time I try to start again the next day; but this time, I’m not trying to capture the interest of an agent or a publisher or a book-readerer, no, this time I’m trying to re-capture the energy and the feeling of the scene or the chapter. That, good people, is an altogether different beast.

I’m writing about this because I feel it needs to be said, and it ties in quite nicely with a couple of things Lev Grossman said in today’s NaNo pep talk. He said this – 

I get to a point where I say to myself: let’s admit it, this just isn’t going to happen. Given the number of words I have written, and the number of words I have left to write, and the rate at which I am currently producing words, and the crappiness of said words, it is mathematically and physically impossible that I will ever finish this book.

And this…

So this is point number two: nothing is wrong with you. You’re not different. Everybody feels as bad as you do: this is just what writing a novel feels like. To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people’s published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn’t know.

These words resonated with me. At a time where I am suffering an all time confidence low, and facing struggles daily with regards to the quality of my writing, nothing could have benefited me more. I believe this to such an extent that I had to share it. There’s a good reason I struggle with the first sentence every day; each time I try to gain access to a scene, I’m gaining access to a memory, a physical and emotional memory, the character’s memory, too, I’m reaching deep inside myself, because what he said is true, if you are struggling, it’s because you’re reaching deep inside, looking for the very toughest, most resilient things that not only stand to test you, but stand to test your characters.

Getting back into that place isn’t easy, but when you do, and you find yourself struggling onwards again, it’s not unique, it’s not the first time everyone has ever had those troubles. We only have to get it right once. But that means getting it wrong again, and again, and again. That’s repetitive, consistent failing, and that’s never easy. Then you get it right, you join the ranks of those authors you admire, envy, or are jealous of; for me, that’s Pat Rothfuss, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Scott Lynch and so on. They failed again, and again, and again. Then they simply didn’t. And it paid off. So keep trying. You have to be in it, to win it. 

And another thing that ties in, I think. I always used to hear people say ‘write what you know.’ This was an immediate death sentence to my hopes of being a writer. I always thought it meant you had to see the world to write about different cultures, visit a desert to get an idea of the climate, climb mountains, visit new places. I’ve come to realise that’s not what ‘write what you know,’ means to me. The internet helps, but I’ll see what I see when I see it. No, to me it means the little things, like when you were a kid and accidentally stood on a rusty nail, or at school, having a water fight with a girl you had a crush on, kicking puddles at one another on your way to Craft & Design Tech. Experience. But you don’t need to see the world to have experience, you need only live your life.

Try these, too:

NaNoWriMo, day 10. I think.


Currently I’m sitting just shy of 28k words. 3 days ahead, now, so making solid progress. There are some people with 50k+ already, which isn’t surprising I suppose. It’s about this time that I’d have expected people to start finishing, but I can’t help feeling that some people are taking part for the wrong reasons. There’s one girl I’ve seen, who claims to have written 1,000,000 words a few years ago. Maybe she did. But that’s 33k words a day. Assuming she writes every day. All day. To me, that smells like bullshit. I have a hard enough time believing people can reach 80k by this point, let alone double that by the end of the months.

There’s no reason at all that people couldn’t write 10k in a day, but 10k every day, without fail, for 30 days consecutively? For example. I guess it doesn’t matter all that much. Maybe they’re telling the truth, maybe they’re not, but it seems like they’re missing the point a little bit. Who am I to judge though? NaNoWriMo is about nothing more than getting the words on the page, if they’re getting it down, then nothing else matters. But 1,000,000 words? Really?

Anyway, I’ve lasted longer than I thought I would. Before November 3rd, I’d not written much of anything in the better part of 6 months. It feels good to get back in the swing of things. Now I need to start telling myself my work is good. Get the mantra sorted out and all that.

My NaNoWriMo, day 8. And London Slang.


Okay, so, there’s literally nothing in this post to do with London slang, but I’ve today faced a mammoth task in getting any writing done whilst my lovely lesser half did research for her own NaNo novel. That, good people, was an absolute joy. I’m not fortunate enough to be in a position where I can go and sit in my office, or my study, or even in my bedroom, since, well, I’m a writer, and writers get to be destitute for large portions of their life. Isn’t that a law of nature or something? Truth is though, the slang down Saaf London is immeasurably ridiculous. Alas, I digress.

Almost 2 days ahead of that dang NaNo curve, which I consider a great success. I’ve been losing word wars with worrying consistency, but putting out a good amount of words in between, so I’m managing to stay ahead. Keeping myself aiming for 1600 words a day is proving to be quite a productive little tactic. I generally find it to be quite attainable, and a very reasonable number to set out for. If I can continue this habit once NaNo is done, then that would be pretty fantastic.

I have no doubt that my writing has improved between this novel and Long May Men Have Voices, I think also the characters are significantly improved. I’ve brought back some old characters from that book, too, which I hadn’t really thought of doing until they showed up one day. They do like to surprise you, don’t they? Pesky little things. It’s 35 odd years later, mind you, so it’s kind of interesting to see where they’ve ended up in life.

It’s nice to see some good folks following my blog. Thanks for the interest. /wave