I’ve decided to dive into the deep end and have a crack at this year’s National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t come across it NaNoWriMo is a yearly community event to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.
What Madness is This?
I only started writing fiction in January 2019 and had originally planned to stick to short stories for at least a year to work on basic writing skills. So when I first came across the NaNoWriMo challenge in August I’d dismissed it out of hand. Having only written ~32k words in 8 months, the idea of delivering 50k words in 1 month seemed like utter madness. It still does.
Short stories are a fantastic vehicle for improving vocabulary, grammar, syntax, structure and its distilled a much-needed efficiency to my writing. Short hard word limits particularly force me to focus on editing, i.e. Very Short Stories (280 characters) are the most extreme example, for me, they are more akin to a Sudoku than flowing writing.
Nine months into my journey though, I’m starting to realise that there are many aspects of writing I’m not getting exposure too. The longest stories I’ve written to date weigh in somewhere between 4-8k words (after editing). This doesn’t offer much scope for world-building, character development, story arcs and countless other aspects of writing. The bits I personally enjoy as a reader.
In the few months I’ve been tapping away, my writing skills have undeniably improved. I am in danger of getting a comma in the right place on occasion. Even so, my skills are still far from what I would consider stellar.
a Change of Heart
Why did I change my mind? Really two reasons, firstly the old adage:
It is better to try and fail than fail to try?
William F. O’Brien
I’d actually go further and say you can’t be an expert or master something until you’ve seen all the ways it can fail. My experience in computing is a testament to this mindset. Only when you’ve had to debug/deconstruct something do you really understand how it works. It’s a tedious process, but I believe a necessary one.
The second reason is a question of time and math – 50k / 30 days = 1666 words a day. In January it would have taken me 12-14 hours to write that many words, by September it takes me 2-3 hours. The more I write the quicker I get. Still, it seems a little daunting, but not impossible, especially given my biggest advantage – my time is my own. It’s just a matter of willpower, effort and caffeine beverages!?
Ultimately short stories have become something of a safe harbour at this point. It’s time to rock the boat and steam out into the deep water.
Lost the plot?
It’s probably a little early to start planning what to do with my royalties. Friends and family will not be getting a fresh novel for Christmas 2019. No, they will be getting socks again.
I’m under no illusions of what I might have in hand come the start of the festive season. At best it would be a first draft, more akin to a rough block of clay than a finished sculpture. There’s also the elephant in the room that 50k would be considered halfway for a typical adult scifi/fantasy novel. I could target YA/NA but I haven’t any experience of either, not to mention it might cramp my artistic style – i.e. make me have to think twice about dropping the F word!
So why bother? I refer to my previous point, to try and by trying, learn. If I drop the whole thing into a log fire at the end, I’d still be the wiser for the experience. I will have had to learn new skills as well as develop the habit of writing. Which in turn should accelerate the speed at which I can write.
I’ve also learnt, that I thrive on deadlines and accountability. A useful hangover from a former life that I can employ for a more useful purpose now.
So What is the plot?
Like most people who write, I jot down ideas all the time. I don’t use a notebook or post-it notes, instead, I dump all my midnight machination into Trello. I have a board, just full of crazy ideas. Occasionally I’ll find one that’s twistable into a writing prompt or usable in a competition. Mostly however they sit there gathering digital dust. Amongst them is one idea for an epic novel. Unfortunately, it’s not a story I remotely have the skills to do justice to, so it’ll have to wait.
Instead, I’m going to take the feedback I’ve had from short stories and spin one of them into a novel. Luckily when writing most stories, I envisage far more than what ends up on paper. There were a couple of stories that particularly captured readers imaginations, such that they wanted to know more. It’s a short list, but I’ve decided to go with a story titled Dreadnought which was my entry for round 2 of the NYC Flash Fiction challenge.
I chose this story because it wasn’t’ the story I wanted to write. Given the premise of biological warships, the story I wanted to write involved the MC’s blooding in a huge fleet battle. But that would never have fitted into 1000 words. That is the story I’ve chosen to write in its correct context. My high-level premise is a mash-up of “All creatures great and small” / “It shouldn’t happen to a vet” in space.
Decision made, I can sit back until November, right? Wrong! What I have in my head is a collection of scenes, vague ideas on technology, a handful of semi-transparent characters. I don’t have an end, christ I don’t even a beginning let alone a backdrop to play it all out on. It’s like a dream, a collection of odd disconnected fragments. Unfortunately, unlike a dream, I’m very lucid and it absolutely doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s the research. I’ve read and watched A LOT of sci-fi. When it comes to biological spaceships it’s not exactly a new concept. Having read a lot of Peter F Hamiilton I’m ultra-critical of not copying his staggering vision. Given it’s basically going to be a space opera I don’t want it to be Star Wars or Star Trek, both well-travelled tropes. I want something real, gritty – The Expanse, Battlestar Galactica – damn no. Trying to come up with a world that’s unique, something that doesn’t read like fan-fiction, that is my primary challenge in October.
Is it any wonder that it’s referred to as Preptober in the NaNoWriMo community. Thankfully there’s a lot of great material on the NaNoWriMo website on how to go about preparing. I’ve started working thought it, I suspect I won’t be done in time, but then no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
Bring it on. I have some other commitments to complete in October:
- the fourth part of the Pandemonium trilogy – so much for outlining, I’ve started and I WILL finish it, one way or another.
- a victorian themed horror for an anthology. I’ve had it outlined for months, it has real potential, but it’s an emotional rollercoaster, one I’m struggling to man up for.
- oh and I decided to join in the NYC Micro Fiction Challenge. – 250 words in 24-hours that’s a bit of fun.
I’ll still be doing the various great writing prompts, all good practice, practice, practice. Then come November it will likely be radio silence on the blog. Which will be a good sign, probably, as I’ll be plumbing the depths of a new world – a dream to some, a nightmare to others.
If you’re mad enough to be doing NaNoWriMo this November and let’s be honest you’d have to be a little bit crazy, feel free to send me a buddy invite (user I.Mused).
Image courtesy of: Ash Edmonds