Friends and readers, it’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo, a.k.a National Novel Writing Month. All over the world, lunatics dedicated writers are setting off on a one-month journey toward a 50,000 word novel.
My first year out, I wrote and completed my first novel, Not to the Swift. Prior to that, I had written over 100,000 words on a single fantasy book, but I never quite reached the point of typing “The End.” NaNoWriMo helped me complete a novel from start to finish, which in some strange way felt liberating when it came to my pet projects. I was able to finish and release Diffraction a few months later.
My second year, I had the thrill of serving as a Municipal Liaison. Basically, that’s a person committed to facilitating meetings, handing out swag, posting encouraging notes, and representing NaNoWriMo in the local area. I plowed through 50,000 words of a sci-fi military novel very loosely based on my job experience… Which eventually led to a required review of the draft to make sure I didn’t say something or release information I shouldn’t. So that year’s project is on hold for an unknown length of time.
In between, I’ve put some effort into the sequel to Diffraction, and completed a novella on WattPad called Echoes. I’ve started a few projects I hope to turn into books or novellas down the line, and I’ve had a blast writing BlogBattle entries using a recurring duo of characters.
But all that goes out the window for a month, in the hopes of cracking 50K once more.
Got a story to tell? It’s not too late to jump in and catch up.
I wrote this at a lovely Creative Writing workshop I attended this past weekend. The facilitator sang a series of haiku he had written years ago, accompanied on his acoustic guitar with something like a Spanish sound. I pictured a carousing and carefree pursuit during a fiesta through dusty, packed-earth streets in a Mexican town. He invited us to write our own haiku to show the variety of meanings and thoughts that could still fit the same rhythm and song.
I debated whether to go in the first place. My dance with my writing muse has been far from a cat-and-mouse, let alone something so intimate as a tango. More like “go sleep on the couch while I make an appointment with the divorce lawyer to draft the necessary paperwork.”
About a month’s worth of word count entries read ‘0’ and the status of my current projects remains unchanged. Scheduling a writers’ group has been problematic, and the pace of work only seems likely to increase.
But the Muse crooks that painted nail at me and flashes that smile, and like it or not, here I go again.
I’ve been listening to Brandon Sanderson’s recorded lectures on YouTube during down-time, and Stephen King’s On Writing audiobook in my car. Though the base library version is scratched up a bit–“theme is what unifies a novel into a plea- plea- plea- plea- pleasing whole”–there’s still so much down-to-earth insight that I can’t help but enjoy it.
He talks a lot about writer’s block while at the same time talking about–in his own life–putting his nose to the grindstone and pumping out several pages a day, every day, seven days a week, all year ’round, Christmas and the 4th of July included.
He and his muse must get along a lot better than mine. (Actually he also talks about that, and his muse sounds like quite a jerk.)
The end result of the weekend is my little group of three or four writers can connect with a larger community in the initial forming stages on island. And I wrote a snippet of dialogue for Fantasy Series Book 3 (when book 2 is barely started). And there’s that poem.
But the word count didn’t show zero that day, so I’ll take it.
I saw this political image making the rounds on my Facebook feed this week, and it got me thinking. Or rather some of the responses did.
One pastor seemed quite incensed that “under God” wasn’t in this version. To that individual, this image shouldn’t be shared as a result… despite the image caption making clear the intent of showing the Pledge as originally written.
In fact, the original Pledge by Francis Bellamy is even more different: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I thought about the power of those two words, “under God.”
In Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the Chief Justice argued that “under God” is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the nation but is at this point essentially a secular declaration.
The ‘God’ referred to is generic and devoid of any religious context. You can say it’s a monotheistic God, so it’s probably tied to an Abrahamic religion. But I don’t think that’s the Court’s intent or point.
I think they recognize, like we should, that two words in a pledge do absolutely nothing to impose any religious standard of behavior or belief upon anyone. No one draws nearer to God in a spiritual experience by reciting the Pledge. It’s not a hymn or worship song, it’s not a prayer to say by rote like Our Father Who art in Heaven or Hail Mary.
Yet the Righr, ever fearing that War on Christianity, focuses attention on those two words in the pledge, as though they constitute some magic cute to social ills that concern us.
Maybe if kids say “under God” then it’ll show what a good, Christian nation we are–regardless of the immorality we approve, condone, or even actively participate in.
I don’t think it works that way. Not on a national level, where we claim some divine favored status–spiritual immunity perhaps?
I’m positive it doesn’t work this way on an individual level, where so long as I say the right words now and then, all my faults and failures get a wink and an understanding grin before being brushed aside.
After all, I’m part of the good Christian club, right? I ‘liked’ that image that 93% wouldn’t, and shared that poem about footprints in the sand. I voted for the guy who quoted the Bible in his speeches. And I totally got behind defending “under God” from those atheist social justice warriors.
To paraphrase Jesus, perhaps today He’d tell us, “On that day, many will say, ‘Lord, did we not post in Your Name? And did we not block the atheists on social media, and fight against the growth of Islam in Your favorite nation? Did we not defend the Christ in Christmas, and stand up for the massive cross monuments on public property?’
And I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.'”
It’s easy for me to sit and criticize. So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m just as in danger of missing the whole point as those whose opinions I decry here. I just don’t want to be content flailing about in a cloud of religious / cultural chaff and controversy.
If I really believe what I claim, then it’s too important to get hung up quibbling and griping over minor details, caught under some illusion that I’m fighting the good fight for the faith.
My writing word count spreadsheet mocks me. So many zero entries in the last week! I just finished a 6-week Mandarin Chinese refresher course, which might explain some of the lack of effort–except there was hardly any homework to occupy my off-duty time.
No problem, I told myself. I’ll do amazing writing things over the 4-day weekend for Memorial Day.
Yeah, not so much.
Problem-but-not-really 1) Overwatch is amazing and I want to play it just about every waking moment even though it’s basically run into battle, use whichever character’s amazing powers, then die and do it again.
Seriously, it’s fun. Evil fun. Like “lock up the PlayStation 4 so I will maybe write a word in the near future” fun.
Problem-but-not-really 2) I did some other creative things instead. A couple weeks ago, I picked up the handy talnts app (which I keep reading as ‘taints’ and I really don’t like that mental image but there you have it). It’s basically LinkedIn for creative people. The app has an option to share YouTube videos of which I had none. But a family friend asked me to record a worship song for her, and I marked “pianist” as one of my talents in the app… kill two birds with one stone? Sure why not!
While my Christian friends might appreciate the rendition of Indescribable, I have a lot of other friends who won’t care. But I know there’s a special fondness in the heart of many gamers for the music of Final Fantasy VI, particularly the Opera Song. So here’s that one too.
Final Fantasy VI Opera Song
All in all, my word count is shameful to behold over the last week, but it was a nice break. I’d already written more words in May than in any previous month this year, so I don’t feel too bad.
May is off to a good start on the ol’ word count tracker.
Roughly a thousand words a day, on various projects, for the first half of May. I can live with this.
Additionally, I enjoyed some opportunities to hone my craft and improve my understanding of all things writing. I picked up Sol Stein’s much-lauded classic, Stein on Writing, and I attended a workshop on story structure led by an award winning sci-fi author who for various reasons retired and decided to teach on Okinawa, Japan.
Not only that, but my local writer friends and I finally held the first full-fledged, in-person critique group that we’ve been talking about off and on for over a year. Getting fresh eyes on a segment of Diffusion chapter 1 helped me identify what’s working well and what I should clarify.
Also I discovered–to my chagrin–as far as readers are concerned, I named a character “G-Mail.” One of the things I love to do in crit groups is read portions of everyone’s submissions out loud. Your ear catches things your eye glosses over when reading silently… like the fact that Gemail (pronounced in my head as guh-mail) turned into Gmail.com for everyone else.
This morning, I’ve been working on the overall outline. I’m a planner with sci-fi and fantasy… and pretty much everything I write, now that I think about it. Planning means I need to know Point A and Point Z, along with several landmarks and stops in between. There’s room for some creativity between these points, so characters can still surprise me as I write. But conflicts and character developments have to lead to certain key events–especially if I want the reader to get to the end and look back, thinking, “Oh, there it was all along, how did I miss that?”
I’m definitely not doing the “seat of the pants” method of “write whatever comes to you.” My multiple Grant & Teagan posts for BlogBattle entries are the closest I can get to that, since it starts with a word prompt that gives me an idea for a scene.
So one of the unrealistic things about fantasy and YA fiction is how the main character just so happens to be the linchpin of the entire world, connected to and holding everything together. And there’s room for that in the genre–it’s kind of expected.
Sure, you have stuff like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones),where riveting, beloved characters are killed with extreme prejudice. And as a result, certain fans look down on books that don’t have a double-digit death count of potential fan-favorite characters. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
Still, even if the hero/heroine is the center of that novel’s universe, there has to be a reason for all this attention. And in fantasy, one favorite way to get there is prophecy–partly because it fits the genre, partly because it ties current events to the past, and partly because the myriad ways characters misinterpret it can lead to wonderful conflicts (spoilers for my book 2 and beyond, haha).
Also you get to dabble in poetry, because as TheLego Movie taught us, “all this is true, because it rhymes.”
So, in first draft form, here’s a part of the “Daughters” prophecy that helps explain the motivations of and manipulations by characters in positions of power. It also plays a big part in the growing conflict between Lyllithe and Josephine:
In centuries yet far beyond I see four years of blight
When ev’ry soul is shaken and their hateful foes delight
As all the pow’r of Hell breaks forth with endless appetite
For blood and death and chaos plunging nations into night
In centuries yet far beyond, behold the Naurchoth’s rise
Whose rifts shall tear asunder and darkness blot the skies
Whose wrath—though slowly kindled—shall break forth as a flood
Let mankind’s candle dwindle, drowned in a sea of blood
Daughter of Puremight, hold back no more
On the one hand, that’s more than any of the previous months since I’ve started tracking my effort.
On the other hand, it feels like so little progress being made on any of the various projects outlined in my head or my OneDrive files. Plus I totally failed at my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of 30K on a particular project. (I think I got about 9K done on that draft.)
I thoroughly enjoy the little games we play to get ourselves writing. My NaNo writers’ group tried doing word sprints a few times this month, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. The weekly (now bi-weekly) Blog Battle is another such activity, especially since the misadventures of Grant and Teagan is like a brief vacation for my writing brain.
Great interpersonal interaction helped out this month. I had the privilege of meeting a Japan NaNoWriMo member who lives on the northern part of the nation–she came down to Okinawa for a vacation and was able to attend a write-in. I caught up with an old friend who happens to be in town–a guy who read my fantasy novel back when it was a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in story form. We chatted about character arcs and came up with some better ideas for where all the threads are headed and how they interact with each other. Then I sold a couple books and created a personalized art version of a signed copy.
And it looks like we might get a local critique group going finally.
I left my WattPad novella Echoes pretty much dead all month. I’ve got the last third of it outlined, just need to sit down and write it. I also have the last bits of PERDITION outlined (my NaNo sci-fi project about psychic reconnaissance). Same thing, I need to sit down and write. And I haven’t touched Diffusion (the fantasy sequel to Diffraction), since this month was supposed to be all about finishing off the NaNo draft.
Lots of ups and downs, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” moments, and a general sense of I could have done more.
But April is over and done, no changing that word count. I guess I have to go with my Mom’s old suggestion of “Why don’t you make this activity into a game? See how many (fill in the blank) you can do in an hour, then try to beat it!”
Alright, May. I raise my tasty Jack and Coke Zero to greet you. Challenge accepted. Out of sheer fairness, May, since you have an extra day, I wrote nothing on the 1st of the month. 30 days to do better than 21K. Let’s do this!
What’s your goal this month? Do you have one? If not, why not? Let me know in a comment.
I started logging my daily word count this year in an effort to 1) see how much I am or am not accomplishing, and 2) push myself to do more.
Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off in April and I thought I had a good guesstimate of how many words I could knock out on my April project. And last week I logged the most words of any week this year.
7,442? That’s my best effort this year?!
I got a few word sprints in with my virtual cabin-mates. I spent a couple hours at Starbucks on Sunday, cranking out words. And Thursday I took it easy to spend some time off with my kids and to get over a headache.
Still, it feels like a weaksauce effort. I can only guess how much time I spend browsing Facebook (then closing it, then reopening it a minute later as if everyone may have just updated). I don’t know how many YouTube videos I watched of Gordon Ramsay swearing at people (it’s a terrible but addictive vice). And when I “need to veg” for a bit, I make time to level up yet another toon on World of Warcraft.
I’m sure I did better in November during the actual NaNoWriMo event, or December when I finished up my book revisions and got Diffraction onto Amazon and Kindle Unlimited (hint hint).
But I’m nowhere near the goal I set for the month on my Camp NaNo novel… not even if I count all the words written on other projects.
I know these things take time and effort. And I’m happy that I have 7400+ words more than I had the week before.
But good Lord this is not an easy discipline to master.
Maybe I should take up cooking. Gordon has some great “how to” videos…
Since the start of this year, in an effort to spur myself toward action, I’ve been updating a word count tracking all my writing.
A bunch of coworkers and friends bought my fantasy novel and gave me generally positive feedback in person (as polite people are likely to do), and several asked, “When is the next book going to be out?”
I set a goal of Christmas–a lofty goal that I don’t think I can make.
March didn’t help. I didn’t even hit 10K, and far too many days (or streaks of days) had the total of 0.
Sure, I had a heap of work and flying, followed by a bout of flu that lasted over a week and had me pretty wiped out. I slept about 16 hours on the worst day, and then the next day, the military docs ordered me to 48 hours of bed rest.
It worked as a nice, short-term diet at least. I lost 7 pounds in 3 days, and had to tighten my belt another notch–a good problem for a pudgy guy like me.
Excuses, excuses. I managed to watch Daredevil season 2 during bed rest, so I could have managed to fit in more words.
So what does April hold in store?
Well, it’s Camp NaNoWriMo time, and I set a reasonable (I think) goal of 30K words.
I aim to finish the draft of PERDITION, my NaNo project from the 50K novel challenge in November. It needs several scenes, followed by extensive review and revision.
(For example, EMPs don’t work the way I originally thought they did. Oops. Yay for research and science! Boo for not doing it before creating several plot problems.)
I also have my WattPad project Echoes going, or more accurately, being frequently ignored by me. I plotted out how many scenes or chapters I need to close it out, and it’s in the single digits. I’d like to mark that one completed.
And there’s always the weekly Blog Battle, submissions for which comprise the majority of my recent posts. I really enjoy writing silly with Grant and Teagan, and my oldest son is a huge fan of those two. So I expect I’ll fit that in.
So where does that leave the sequel to Diffraction? On the back burner for this month. And that’s okay, because honestly I haven’t been connecting with it when I tried the last few times. There are some character and plot questions I need to get clear in my head before I can write what I hope is something compelling and entertaining with Lyllithe, Josephine, and the rest.
I plan to hit it hard when Camp NaNo is done, but I think April is a great month to re-focus and get a fresh perspective.
Onward and upward, in any event. Thanks for joining me on the journey.
One of my goals for writing is to reach 20K words / month, preferably on the sequel to Diffraction. Between that, finishing my NaNoWriMo book, continuing Echoes on WattPad, participating in occasional Blog Battles, and maintaining a somewhat frequent blog, I have plenty of writing options.
Brandon Sanderson posts his word counts and percentages complete for various projects. That struck me as a great way to inject a little discipline or intentionality into my own writing–something I lack. I’m used to winging it, writing when I feel like it, for however long the mood strikes. But like many disciplines (dieting, exercise, learning an instrument, studying for school), a little organization and tracking can show you how much (or little) you’ve done.
I finished 50K in a month for NaNo. I chose 20K a month as a sustainable pace (given I have a full time job). And I thought, “This will be easy.”
Yet my word count tracker tells me otherwise:
I flew twice for work over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). I spent Monday thinking “I’ll write some in a bit.” Then I spent pretty much all of Tuesday confined to bed with a terrible nauseating headache sinus combination of death. Still, the excuses don’t make me feel much better when I have to hit ‘0’ for that field.
Looks like I have some catching up to do.