NaNoWriMo (2015) – My Experience

nanowrimoThe month of November is not only known as the month that kicks off the holiday season but it is also National Novel Writing Month. What does that mean? In short it is a month where writers sit down with their ideas and try to produce 50,000 new words for their novel. 50K words in 1 month is not an easy task, or at least it isn’t for me. The whole exercise is a challenge for me because I can not self edit during the writing process. I tend to write the same sentence over and over until I “get it right”, this is a slow a aggravating process that burns me out before I have written two or three chapters. I am not really sure why I fall into that style of writing, it clearly doesn’t work for me. NaNoWriMo forces me to just keep writing over the speed bumps.
This year was my third year taking on the challenge. My first year I completed the first draft of a 51k word novel, to be honest it wasn’t the best work I have ever done but it was a novel with a beginning, middle and end. It even had a pretty good story. It needs a second draft and I am remiss to admit that I have not gone back to it. The second year I was all gun-ho, I had an idea that was pretty good and was ready for November 1st to roll around. I admit I was over confidant. After all the previous year I finished with a handful of days to spare. Within three days the wheels flew off the car and I was completely stymied. I couldn’t write a sentence, it was more than just writer’s block it was as if the ability to write was stripped away from me. I gave up before week one was even over.
I was so discouraged that I wasn’t interested in trying again and it wasn’t until my wife stepped in that I settled myself in to try again. This year I was able to blow it out of the water, I finished the month with over 60k words! Here are things that I did different this year that really made a difference.

  • I spent the month of October getting my Scrivener project set up. That means more than just creating a new project. I explored the application tips and tricks to find out what really worked for me and set up the project to reflect what allowed me to get the most out of the tool.
  • I also created (in Scrivener) an outline of the entire story from beginning to end, and allowed myself the room to change that outline during the challenge.
  • I spent time writing character sketches for all the major characters and one sentence summaries for most of the minor ones.
  • Then on October 31st I looked at a calendar and based on work and family commitments I scheduled time allotments for each day. I was realistic with each day, some days I was able to set aside a few hours and there were days where I could only set aside 30 minutes. But every day had some writing time. My wife was great and understanding when it came to my writing time, she even allowed me to squeeze in a few extra hours here and there.
  • Because I am a bit of an analytics geek (day job influence) I created an Excel Spreadsheet to track writing session rates and metrics that actually made it a bit of a game for me, I even built in rewards for every 5k words written.
  • Each day when I wrote, I found a quiet place to write where I could stay focused.

That looks all fine and good but at the end the reason I was able to write so much in such a short amount of time was that I really became attached to story and the characters. I spent a lot of time getting to know them during preparation, I knew where I needed the story to go and was invested in the journey.

Now for the sad part. While I finished the challenge with a rate of just over 2k words per day, I was unable to keep up the pace and when November ended I fell off the writing train. My manuscript has sat for a month and a half almost untouched. I am now trying to set up a new calendar (just like I did going into the challenge) and a new spreadsheet that can keep the game going. I am kicking off in February with a goal of another 30k words (estimated to complete the first draft), I just need to get a rate of just over 1k words a day.

 

If you are interested in learning more please check out the official NaNoWriMo site

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New Kingdom Crisis Story (delayed)

As it happens life gets in the way from time to time and this week’s new story was delayed. Why?

Well as it happens I have been wrapped up in the day job mostly; also my daughter is not officially off her training wheels (some practice still needed).

Anyway, this week’s story is another Kingdom Crisis tale inspired by a poem I read in college, The Pearl. It reminds me of faith, fatherhood and loss. In college it was a hit to the gut now that I am a father, I cannot read it without weeping.

Kingdom Crisis: A Father’s Tears is a pale imitation, but it was a fun write for me.

I hope you enjoy it.

– Brian

 

 

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What was she thinking…

I love stories; I always have. In 1977 I was 4 years old and my mother took me to see Star Wars (not referred to as Star Wars: A New Hope) and it was like my imagination had been set on fire. For months my favorite activity was coloring pictures inspired by the movie. My mother tried to get me to draw pictures of “real things” like houses, dogs, cats and airplanes but I was more interested in X-Wings, Tie Fighters and thousands of Jedi stick figures with multi-colored light sabers clashing in imagined conflict.

Before my 5th birthday I handed my mother a spiral notebook and asked her to write a Star Wars story, she told me that she didn’t have one to tell. I further explained to her that I wanted her to write down my story. I sat on the edge of the bed and dictated an adventure story to my mother. My mother filled 4 notebooks with my stories, usually little tales that went with my crayon drawings or the latest adventure my action figures went on.

One could say that those were my very first attempts at writing.

My eagerness to write slipped into the shadows as life became filled with school, friends, the constant moving and well normal (for me) existence. I developed a deep love for books, Roald Dalh’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first chapter book I read from cover to cover without assistance, I had just turned 6.

After that I was off to the races and read everything I could get me hands on. I devoured every Roald Dalh book at the library, then moved on to Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, Robert C. O’Brien, Astrid Lindgren and then there were the series Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (I was an equal opportunity reader). When I was 9 I discovered Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin and a young boy named Taran who was an Assistant Pig-Keeper. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander was the the first group of books that I didn’t just read but I reread them over and over again.

By 11 I was so hungry for stories that I would pester anyone I saw with a book in their hands to tell me about what they were reading; my mother was usually caught the brunt of this. My mother was a avid reader too and there was always a paperback in her hands. She loved mysteries, Agatha Christie was a constant favorite; but she was also a fan of Frank Herbert and Stephen King. My mother had a ready at hand answer for my “What are you reading? And what is it about?” questions.

She would show me the cover of the book and then say, “If you want to know what it is about you can read it when I am done.”.

Oddly enough I don’t see much of a problem with an 11 year old reading Agatha Christie. But looking back I don’t know what my mother was thinking when she handed a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand to a a kid a month away from his 12th birthday. It was a tough read and I can honestly say at the time I didn’t understand all of it (that was probably a good thing) but I was hooked. Before my 13th birthday I had blazed through ‘Salem’s Lot, Cycle of the Werewolf, Cujo, The Talisman, The Gunslinger and Firestarter… again I will say that I don’t know what my mother was thinking letting me read all of those. I also tried to read Dune, I say tried because that book defeated me 3 times before I was able to read it through and “get it”.

All of these books, authors and questionable parenting brought me to a tiny local bookstore, I rode my bike there at least once a week with my chore dollars, during a warm (it was Texas so let’s call it hot) September day in the year 1986. The owner of the shop had just gotten a delivery and was unboxing these monstrously thick hardcovers. The dust jacket was embossed, I still remember the feel of the slight bumps, and displayed a newspaper boat in a gutter with a clawed three fingered “hand” gripping a sewer grate, in gray bold letters on the top was the author’s name, Stephen King (of course) and the title just below in a red ragged typeface the title, IT.

I had the first copy out of the box and spent every dime I had, including the 5 dollars I kept stuffed in the toe of my left shoe, school had started and I was usually a victim of stolen lunch money so I learned to sock away (sorry but true and funny) a few dollars just in case. I could barely wait to get home to start reading it.

Outside of the Bible it was the longest book I had ever read and boy did I read that book. Every waking moment not committed to school, eating (sometimes), football practice (cause I did live in Texas) and sleep (even that time was co-opted on occasion) I spent laying on my stomach with the book propped on a pillow in front of me. I couldn’t wait to read just a few pages, I thought about it all day, wondering what would happen next.

I also realized that the characters in the book started feeling like friends to me. Perhaps it was the fact that half the book was written about them as children within spitting distance of my own age, maybe because it was just so bloody detailed. Either way it was the first book that when I got to those last few pages I had a hard time reading the words because my eyes were filled with tears. In part because of what was happening in the story but mostly because when it was done it was going to be done. There would be no more Bill, Ed, Ben, Stan, Richie and Bev; we I got to the end it was THE END.

I was sad with the loss but I was also angry at Stephen King for introducing these neat kids to me and then taking them away from me with those ugly two words. I moped around for days then I experienced an epiphany. If Stephen King could think up a bunch of kids, reach out to me (readers) through the page and have the kind that kind of power/control why couldn’t I?

That day I sat down at my Smith Corona typewriter and loaded a sheet of onion skin paper (it was all I had) and hammered out the first 20 pages (single spaced, with next to no margin) of a story called The Dreamers. It was about a group of friends, inspired by people I had been friends with, who were reincarnated heroes from a Middle Earth like world. I would flip and flop between “Real World” chapters and “Fantasy” chapters. That first day 20 pages had just burst out of me and the days that followed added to the pile. I had to buy more paper and learned how to replace the ink ribbons of the typewriter and the purpose of liquid paper. I ignored the world when I was sitting in front of that typewriter.

The Dreamers was the first story, book, novel I ever wrote. It finished up at 322 pages and was a real painful thing to read. But it was mine and I loved it. I loved the process. I loved the way I lost myself in the writing. Since then I have always written stories, sometimes life creeps up and demands attention but I still find joy in plopping down in front of my laptop and hammering out a few hundred words of some story. Every once and again I wonder if someday another reader will come across one of my stories, maybe Ocean House, and say “Hey, I can do that!”

I don’t know what my mother was thinking let me read those books at such a young age. But, I thank her for it.

– Brian

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Introducing Kingdom Crisis

This week I am introducing the Kingdom Crisis Collection. Kingdom Crisis is the title I give a series of fantasy genre stories all in the same setting. Some of the stories are set very close to each other in time and space; some not so much.

The world of Kingdom Crisis is medieval in nature, pre-gun powder European society, I know pretty cliche but sometimes you have to stick with a familiar foundation. There is both divine and arcane magic; in most of the stories both forms of magic are old (myth) and new (rediscovered after a fashion).

The first story is called Duty Calls and came about with the idea of writing a fantasy story that was about a normal everyman, with a normal every day job, with normal every day problems without going the Farm Boy saves the universe route. I wanted to see how something like over sleeping could lead to an eventful day.

The story has been asking for a rewrite and I am thinking that if I hit a block on the novel I might spend a few hours giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Enjoy — Kingdom Crisis: Duty Calls

— Brian

 

 

 

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Defining a First Draft

Writing is a very personal endeavor; there are no short cuts, no apps that will fill in the blanks your imagination runs up against and very few helpful “tricks” to make it easier. Nowhere is it more apparent that in the first draft of a short story, novella or novel. It is also here where a beginning writer runs to the most daunting realization that there are more than 1 draft of their master piece.

Now I am sure folks will point out that many very famous writers claim to get it right the first time. On the whole it is unrealistic to hold yourself to the expectations of a writer that has been practicing their craft for decades. Let you be you when approaching a new piece of fiction (or your first).

A First Draft is a big pile of words that tells a story, it is okay to have grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, plot holes and rough character development. IT IS OKAY, because remember this is the first draft. During the writing process of that draft you need to allow your story to go where it wants, let it explore and find itself. Be silly with it, let the voice become clear to you. By the time you reach the end you will have decided what kind of story you are writing and the voice should be clear (or becoming clear).

Read through your first draft with a red pen and if you are lucky enough to have a trusted reader someone that is willing to look past the potholes to see the story then have them read it too. I am lucky that my wife is willing to read a first draft and cut through it with a red pen AND add some very constructive notes on the story itself.

After the red pen is set down you are ready to get down to business with the: Second Draft.

 

– Brian

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