Before/After the Hump

Wednesday was the Hump Day — not just of the week, but of the month, the first day of the second half. Writing’s going well. I like the stuff that’s coming out, better than the “first shitty draft” I expected though it will certainly need some polish time and elbow grease (er, brain grease? ew.). Haven’t quite gotten into the right rhythm for style or dialog or even balancing description and action, but as they say, you’re never really qualified to do a thing until after you’ve done it.

Right now, I’m running almost exactly 60% of what I should be; this means every day for the first half of the month I was behind by 40%, so every day for the second half I’ll need to be 100% plus that 40% make-up. So during the second half of the month I’ll need to more than double my average per day to hit the finish line of 50,000 words by November 30.

I think it’s possible. I think I’m still in this race. Francesca wants to remind me that if I don’t make it I’m still at nearly 20,000 words of a novel that didn’t exist a month ago. Yes. True, dat.

It’s important to me, though. Not because if I miss the 50,000 I’ll feel like a failure, because my happiness is not tied to the end result. And not because it will be worthless if I don’t reach the deadline. This ain’t a cake. If I get 80% of the ingredients in there, things will be just fine.

But 50,000 is audacious. There is value in striving toward an audacious goal. And hitting that goal makes it even more powerful. So I’m reaching for that power. I think it’s worth it.

I spent yesterday and today researching, plotting, filling my head with images and conflicts. I know more about the correlation between latitude, dark days, degrees of twilight, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Solipsism Syndrome than I ever felt necessary. (BTW: the tendency toward Solipsism Syndrome in isolated Antarctic stations is a main reason my tough-as-nails detective cares for a greenhouse. That’s also the source of this great “See Also” pic.) Today or tomorrow I plan to watch two years’ worth of webcam footage from above the arctic circle to get a real sense of what “Night At Noon” is all about.

That set me a little behind, but in order to get a running start sometimes you need to start a little behind. Thanksgiving is coming up, I’ve set those days aside and the boss won’t wonder where I’ve disappeared to. Also, I’m counting on a little last-minute panic and over-the-hump momentum to build me up to a few 3000-word days near the end.

Go go go!

Power of images

I spent some time last week making pictures that didn’t exist before for stuff that used to only exist in my mind. I found it motivational, but given that I hadn’t published them I figure I was also embarrassed — I was supposed to be plotting the novel. Much like I’m supposed to be doing now.

Which is why I’m here, publishing this, instead. Procrastination!

Oh, crap. I just did it. Procrasterpated. Watched three Ze Frank videos, just cuz I was looking for that one. Dammit.

First week in stats: 4045 words, just about half what I need to keep on target. And on the downside, I was completely unable to do much writing this weekend — work intrusions, etc. Also, procrastination. But, some good things:

  1. I think I’m still on target, because I’ve got it all plotted out. That is, after I stop writing in this blog I’ll have it all plotted out. At least for tomorrow. Right!
  2. I’ve shown that so long as I have a plan when I wake up, I can get out of bed at 6 and write for 3 hours and generate about 2,000 words. That doesn’t suck as bad as it sounds.
  3. The guys at work never even suspect. Shh.
  4. Peet’s chocolate covered espresso beans are far superior to Trader Joes’ version.
  5. The chapters thus far are good. Enough that I think after a rewrite or two they may be real good. I hope.
  6. The story is translating to novel format well. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

Ok, so the unix script I had running in the background while I wrote this is wrapping up, so I probably should too. Here are the pics:

Dark Month, the current book cover. The city of Frankfurt stands in for Antipodes City; the aurora was from NASA and is the borealis not australis; and the guy is just a guy.

The Right of Rule RPG has some modern-esque technology, like daguerrotypes. This is a picture of a gypsy woman and her baby; I made it all daguerro-like, slapped some tattoos on there and gave Souchart his trademark vitiligo.

Another faux daguerrotype, showing a yurt made from modern-ish materials but otherwise low-tech.

NaNo Eve

Spooky goblins. Ethereal ghosts. The undead, and not that crazy glittery Twilight stuff, but the real soulless, emotionless dead come back to life to consume all you hold dear.

All Hallows’ Eve.

My knees are knocking, but not from the ooky-spookies. We turned out the porch lights and I almost made a “Go Away” sign to ward off those costumed merry-makers. No, tonight is a different terror. NaNoWriMo has come for my soul.

50,000 words in 30 days? I accept that challenge, sir!

Holy crap.

I may beat it. I may succumb. I may let out a world-shaking “meh.” But for the next 30 days I’m going to be doing a lot of math in between breaths.

At 1666 words per day, given 30 days and a 20% rewrite or correction rate, then that means 2000 words per day to achieve 50,000 words which is a 200-page novel with generous margins and the most recent novel I read was 674 pages of cramped type but that was a long novel and the next most recent was 378 pages oh crap oh crap, but that’s ok because I often inflate by 28% percent on each rewrite so after 3 or 4 rewrites, which likely means March, plus or minus 2.4 weeks…


Tomorrow begins National Novel Writing Month. I have, helpfully, already decided that I am unlikely to survive. This gives me nothing to lose. Except the house, my wife, my job, sanity, and all this nicely stockpiled booze…

Enough. I’ll fake it. Those things, except for the booze, are pretty forgiving. My boss tolerates me because he doesn’t understand what I do and his partner thinks I’m the cat’s whiskers and luckily he doesn’t look at my invoices. My wife is awesome, and has let me explore all sorts of crazy shit recently. The house is unlikely to burn down, so long as I remember to call that guy for the furnace thing on Thursday. The booze may not forgive me, but it also may not survive the month depending on how things go. Never care about the booze’s feelings.

So, onward, I say! Bringest thou storms and deadlines, tangled plots and bit characters, collapse of home and demands of employ! I shall bear this burden joyfully, for it is in microcosm my life. It is a critical and irreplaceable bit of the puzzle of life that I am assembling, the plot to a biography I hope to be worth reading. For that is it. We are, in essence, requested by the universe to justify the energy we expend, the molecules we consume, to “write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

This month, it’s the writing.

We Are Tools

When I was 13, I had a crush on a girl. I also played Dungeons & Dragons. These things are not completely oil and water, but in general there are not too many emulsifiers that work in this recipe. So when I say “crush,” do not suppose that it was anything except wild swings of imagination kept jealously to myself — until now. Allow me to elaborate.

I bought an Exacto knife so I could trim the D&D lead figurines of mystical elves and durable dwarves that I painted for more realistic role playing games. You needed those figures to map out the battles. You needed the figures to look right, so that people understood what was in your mind as you described it. You needed a sharp knife so you could clip that halberd into a spear, scrape away that pathetic bandolier of throwing daggers, or add the gash of a flowing wound so you can show just how badass your ranger was.

I stared at that knife. I had owned a pocket knife before, but this blade was different. Evocative. It was a wondrous tool, and it told stories. I held it in my hand and figured that, should civilization end due to the inevitiable accidental nuclear exchange, and should the roving bands of mutant Mad Maxians get a lucky shot off before my clever booby traps exploded their vehicles, and should that lucky shot lodge a single bullet into some quasi-expendable organ of the object of my affection, then never fear. Her family would be distraught; her father, reluctant to let me take charge. But I am convincing, of course. I have an Exacto knife. Therefore, I am a surgeon.

Naturally I remove the bullet without bloodying her up too much, she fully recovers and realizes how super I was — and always have been, she realizes next — and I go on to lead the now tight-knit band of survivors on a journey of about 300 feet over the next hill, which is gloriously free of mutant raiders and just exactly right for settling down to repopulate the planet. Oh, and due to a freak accident, the female-male ration was about 5 to 1.

True story. I fantasized imagined that scenario many times, often with critical variations such as the exact male-to-female ratio. I was the hero. I was a surgeon. I owned an Exacto knife.

I think it’s built into our DNA to instinctively react as if a tool imparts a skill. I think we’re just built that way, probably because for evolutionary millennia good tools were hard to come by. Now you can’t avoid them, with capitalism-driven marketing portraying a seductive life of accomplishment if only you buy this or that tool. Don’t you see this in your life?

Buy some enamel-coated cast iron pots. You’re a chef.

Buy running shoes. You’re fit.

Buy a filing cabinet. You’re organized.

Buy an easel and canvas. You’re a painter.

Buy an election. You’re a leader.

Buy Photoshop and a tablet. You’re a web comic publisher.

Buy a camera. You’re a photographer.

Buy some writing software. You’re a writer.

That’s how it works. Right?

This is what I did today, instead of writing. I bought the software made for writers, and for 90 minutes I configured the preferences, read the tutorials, added bits of “research” to my virtual binder. All the while, I felt productive. I was moving ahead, doing things. I felt like I was really setting the stage, really getting to a good starting point.

But I could have been starting. Actually starting.

Lesson learned. Again. I’ll do better tomorrow. And I’ll probably need to learn it again the day after. Starting is hard. Maybe I need better tools.

I have discovered that the 2000-word target is good, and reasonable, but much more difficult than expected for one reason: I had been thinking about disconnected short stories. If a short story veers off path, you let it veer. You let it careen off the road and into the brush and mud, and then you dust yourself off and say, “What an interesting experiment!” You walk away and start the next one already on the road. But in trying to write the second part of Souchart’s story, I realized a new block I hadn’t anticipated: when things stitch together, you need to spend time stitching instead of writing. If you left it while you were off the road, you start tomorrow off the road.

This is why I wanted to start my practice a month before NaNoWriMo. Because there are a lot of unknowns to discover, and a lot of demons to exorcise. I hope I’ve properly drawn this pentagram and lit the candles. Tomorrow’s demons won’t know what hit them.

Go go go!

Volume first.

“Perfect is the enemy of done.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Fail faster.”

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

“If there are nine rabbits on the ground and you need to catch a rabbit, you need to focus on just one.”

Go Go Go!

I used to write.

I still consider myself a writer, one of those writerly types, a storyteller, a guy who fibs for entertainment’s sake, or education’s sake, or just to win an argument in my own mind. (Trying to cut down on the latter.) But I haven’t actually strung very many fictive words together — much less sentences or paragraphs — in quite a while.

I used to be good.

Not published. None of my screenplays got filmed. I had some actors actually say lines I wrote while on stage nearly twenty years ago, but that was back in school and they needed to do it in order to get their passing grade and move on to things more interesting. Some marginal success in writing competitions — won some local-only awards and placed more than a couple of times in national Big Timecontests — but I haven’t won, and the producers who called to inquire never really called back. But I enjoyed writing, and I imagine that some few others enjoyed reading those strings of words I made.

I want to recapture that.

This blog is just so that I can exert myself in public. Or what I imagine might be public, despite my day job as an internet professional telling me that most blogs are abandoned in the first 30 days, and most that survive rarely achieve a readership beyond Mom, bless her heart. So, Mom, this blog is so that when I write, it is published in the etymological sense of the word — the Latin publicare, “to make public.”

I want to publicly challenge myself.

In November of every year there is a little-known event called “The National Novel Writing Month,” or NaNoWriMo. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, from November 1 to the end of the month. That’s about 1700 words per day — eminently doable, but rarely done. I like round numbers and I tend to use two words when one will do, so I’m shooting for 2000 words per day, for 30 days. That should give me something like the first draft of a 200 page novel. I know I can do it. I have written an entire 92-page screenplay over one weekend. It’s a typical romantic comedy, but the plot hinges on the Y2K bug so it’ll never get made — and it has some of my best scenes and lines. I’ve never once rewritten any of that screenplay after that weekend.

I want to learn to rewrite.

For almost everything I do — programming, homemade ice cream, bad jokes — the first draft is the final draft. I suck at rewriting, because I like creating new things from nothing. I’m pitiful at motivating myself to perfect good things that already exist. I need to be better. Writing a novel in such a way that I’ll need to rewrite it for me to tolerate reading it… that might just be the recipe.

I’m rusty.

I figure I need to stretch these writing muscles. To rebuild what has atrophied, to reinvigorate what has stagnated, and to focus what has been redirected. I can’t run a marathon tomorrow, but I could certainly run a marathon at some point. It’s not beyond me. NaNoWriMo is going to take some practice. Here’s what I plan to publish here:

  1. By Sep 26, a 2000-word story. Just to see if I still can form a sentence or two.
  2. By Sep 30, another 2000-word story. Because the first story was probably something I had already thought out.
  3. Oct 1-7: two 2000-word stories. Good grief. I suppose I need to do more of this.
  4. Oct 10 & 14: each day, one 2000-word story. Cuz schedules are important.
  5. Oct 16, 18, & 21: each day, a 2000-word story. All of this writing will occur before I start work for the day, but I can take multiple days. Note to self: figure out how to not fall behind on work.
  6. Oct 23, 25, & 28: each day, a 2000-word story written that morning only. Still before I start work; still without falling behind on work. Can I do it? I need to answer that question.
  7. Oct 28-31: nuttin’. You ain’t gonna see nothing here. I’ll be holed up, plotting and characterizing and generally panicking.
  8. Nov 1-30: Novelizing, bee-yotch. I’ll post updates. Sample bits. Whimpering and cries for help. Desperate requests for caffeine. Etc.
  9. Dec 1: I will post Cake. Downloadable, delicious Cake. It is not a lie.

Deadlines. Love ’em.

I might find that I cannot do this. I might find that my clients and co-workers who depend on me are being short-changed, and I can’t allow that sort of selfishness so I must re-adjust my aspirations. It won’t be the first time reality won.

But it’s worth challenging. Reality, on occasion, does back down.

And now, I need to go.