NaNoWriMo, Week Four.

I did it. I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Plus five extra words because sentence.


For NaNoWriMo 2015, I set out to write a bare first draft of Bandits of Celadon, without sub-plots and with minimal description. I finished that two days early, as I closed in on 47,000 words. To qualify for NaNo, I then wrote an extra chapter from one of the sub-plots. That got me to within 200 words of the goalpost with one day to go, so I  wedged in a few sentences where I thought the narrative was jumpy.

Bandits is not a finished product. If I was building a china cabinet, I’d say we haven’t done the glass, the stain or the fancy handles yet. But you can see the overall shape of the piece, and get an idea of how the wood will look. I’d say it’s coming along nicely.

As you can see on the ramp graph above, I stuck very close to the par value of 1667 words per day. That’s an unprecedented amount of writing for me. My first novel, Avians of Celadon, didn’t hit 50,000 words until at least seven months in.

During the month, I uncovered some plot problems and found ways through them. I got help with metal-free barrel construction from a master cooper I met recently, and my trusty volcano expert came through for me as well. I still have some tweaking to do on the time-line; in this version, things tend to happen too fast.

The bad guy is a bandit chieftan on horseback, and the main character is a girl who hears voices from a higher (technological) power. I was struck by a sudden notion for a pitch: Genghis Khan meets Joan of Arc. I’m fighting the temptation to put an arrow through her shoulder.

Thanks to an Odyssey course, I was able to show more and tell less. I’m also pleased that I included smell, sound and touch and occasionally taste as I went along, rather than leaving the senses for separate pass through the manuscript. Now I’m going to let Bandits ferment for a while before returning with my angry red pencil.

I also began to develop ideas for Caravans of Celadon. In particular, Raven and Denver are going to find ways for the Avians and Caravanners to work together. I’m looking forward to that.

I had better pick up the pace on submitting short stories and querying agents; I got neither of those things done in November. One of the few stories I still have out in the market was rejected last week after a pro publication took a very long look at it. It was a nice rejection letter, one of my longest yet. Sigh.

In December, I’ll be revising the opening scenes of Avians in preparation for a submission opportunity in January. My critique group gave me some great ideas for that, and I’ll be meeting them again in just two weeks.

Let’s see if the work ethic I found for NaNo can be maintained.

NaNoWriMo, Week One.

I have survived my first week of Nano. More than survived, actually, I am far enough ahead that I can take an hour off to blog.

I’d like to start by pointing out that while some successful authors pitch in for NaNo with pep talks, there are others who decry the process. As one put it to me on Twitter, “I hate it with the power of ten thousand suns.” I didn’t ask why, it seemed to be a sore point. But I can imagine lots of reasons to disapprove, many of them valid. Now that I’ve begun to try it, I’m prepared to offer my take on it.

Plus: I can do it. After months of procrastination, I am writing every morning. I usually start at around four AM. Kids, don’t try this at home, it’s not for everyone. I am by nature an extremely early riser, and after I feed the cat, who is also an early riser, this is my quiet time. I have somehow written over twelve thousand words this week. If I were to look back at my first novel, I imagine it would have taken months to reach a similar word count.

Minus: It’s awful. I am churning out drivel by the bushel. For almost everyone, NaNo is about quantity, not quality. It is faster to tell than to show. MiniPlus: Showing uses more words than telling, if my brain comes out to play.

Plus: I am habitually lazy about quantity, and in the usual course of things, I often stop when I get stuck. I walk away from the keyboard to mull things over. I’m good at mulling. I can mull for days. NaNo puts an end to that. I have learned a new technique. If I get stuck on something that I need to check, like the name of a minor character from the first novel (I’m writing a sequel this year) I just bracket it in dollar signs $Antonio$ and keep going. Man, that is liberating. No more losing the scene while I look stuff up. Yesterday, I cheated by emailing my volcano guy, but I kept writing anyway, throwing in whatever pre-eruption signs worked best for the plot. When he replied, I found I had done quite well.

Minus: After three days of peckering away on my keyboard, and some five thousand words into the story, I realized I had been mostly writing backstory. Sure, it had character, setting and conflict. It had world-building details left over from book one, and the characters were building new relationships based on the outcome of the first book. But it lacked action relevant to the plot. Very little of these first five thousand words will be in later versions of the story.  Ouch.

Plus: but I had an AHA! moment when I typed this sentence:

It wouldn’t save her, but Raven tightened her harness anyway.

There’s a good chance that will be the opening line of the novel. I had another AHA moment today. I need my main character to get fired and re-instated. This morning, I realized this could happen if a crisis cranks up the workload for her colleagues. Her transgressions can be overlooked in an emergency. The first novel, Avians of Celadon, ends with my young heroine catalyzing a rescue after a volcanic eruption. No good deed goes unpunished, so the second novel, Bandits of Celadon, looks at the ensuing refugee crisis: a descent into lawlessness and um, banditry.

Conclusions, if we can call them that one quarter of the way in. What I have written, and much of what I will write in the next three weeks, will not be art. The best parts will serve as a rough draft to build a real novel on. The worst parts will go into the virtual shredder of shame. But it’s writing that wouldn’t have happened without National Novel Writing Month. For me, it’s worthwhile.

That’s all the time I can spare for blogging today. I have a novel to write.

Can-Con, mostly.

I had a pretty full schedule at Can-Con on Saturday. Normally, I would have written it up on Sunday Morning, but that was November First, and I sacrificed my blogging hours at the altar of National Novel Writing Month.

More on NaNoWriMo later, but first Can-Con 2015, for anyone who is interested.

Remember, during any hour, there are half a dozen things going on, and I’m only going to write about the ones I attended.

Ten AM: Ask a Doctor Anything for Your Writing. Okay, none of the four had much experience with victims of vacuum trauma or oxygen toxicity. I got some useful information on hyperthermia and heat-stroke before the horror writers took us into their dark and scary basements.

Eleven AM: played hooky to fit in my morning walk on the Rideau Canal.

Noon: NaNoWriMo Strategies. I got two good take-homes from this. One: don’t stop. If you get stuck, jump ahead to something else, but keep writing. Two: if you make a mistake, or need to check something out, don’t stop. Mark the bad passage with dollar signs or square brackets and keep typing.

One PM: would have gone to The Role of Editorial Voice in Acquiring Stories, but I had a Blue Pencil with Dr. Robert Runte. As an acquisition editor, I wanted his take on the opening pages of Avians. If there’s stuff in there that’s likely to turn agents, editors or publishers off, I figured he’d be a good guy to spot it and explain how it could be fixed. This notion took a slightly deeper turn since I had basically pitched him the novel at the Bundoran Press party, but I figured it was still fair to run it by him for any signs of trouble. Overall, he liked it. He spotted two things. Vagueness in the opening paragraph, and some awkward dialogue on the third page. The first was no surprise, I have never got those opening lines to do what I want. I will have to find a way to have my main character look at something she would normally take for granted, and really think about it so the reader gets what it is. The dialogue thing was a surprise. Robert pointed out that a mother and daughter who have been at loggerheads over something for weeks would not outline the issue. He suggested leaving that for a later conversation with someone else. I was happy with his suggestions, and he was happy with my willingness to listen and brainstorm changes, so that was a good meeting.

Bought some books on the way through the Dealer’s Room. Notably, Second Contacts from Bundoran Press, because I liked Blood & Water so much. Also Brave New Girls, an anthology aimed at empowering girls and aiming them at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Because, see previous sentence.

Two PM: played hooky for lunch. Sat with Brandon, Gabrielle, Fanny and Leah. Gabrielle amazed us with a reading from her slush pile. It would have been a pretty good effort from a nine-year-old, but not a nine-year-old with a future as a writer. It would make a marvelous teaching tool, because it had bad action, inane dialogue, tired tropes and more gaping holes than actual plot. It was uproariously funny, entirely by accident. I had to take small bites so that I would not choke. If I gained nothing else from this conference, I got this: I will never again fear my work being the worst thing an editor has seen.

Three PM: I had been torn between Writing… for Analog and The Frontiers of Young Adult Fiction. Both are relevant to me. Chose the latter, no regrets.

Four PM: Authors and Editors in Dialog. Two writers with two of their editors, and I knew three out of the four. A fascinating look at when the relationship works well.

Five PM: Naming Exoworlds. I love learning about Exoplanets, and it was very timely because the International Astronomical Union was letting people vote on names for some forty planets during October. Also some fun discussion on naming planets in fiction.

Six PM: Advice to Aspiring Writers on the Craft. Beautifully moderated by Robin Riopelle, and Amal El-Mohtar turned out to be the life of the party.

Seven PM: Would have gone to Getting Noticed in the… Slush Pile, but I needed dinner and I went to the similar panel last year.

Went for dinner with Caroline at The Buzz, and we’re going back. Combined Dinner Debriefing to follow.

Nine PM: the Chi-Zine Press Halloween Party. Brett and Sandra, the Chi-Zine team, were sick and could not attend, but the party went on with help from the Can-Con folks. I mixed. I told true stories about playing with dynamite, a long time ago. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere, for that matter. These disclaimers usually go on to point out that these people are trained professionals, etc. etc. Pfff. Not!

Sunday: Got up before dawn on November First and wrote the first 1837 words of Bandits of Celadon. This scene went well, as I have rehearsed it a couple of times. Not stopping to fix an out of character mistake was incredibly liberating. As was not opening the previous novel to refresh my memory as to whether Corby has a desk or a table. Marked both passages with $signs$ and wrote on, not losing the scene in my head. If I can do that for a whole month, I believe I really can write a draft in thirty days.

Ten AM: How to Get Traditionally Published. Liked this panel, because all the authors had gone about it in rather different ways, and achieved rather different things.

Eleven AM: Would have gone to Writer-Editor-Publisher etiquette, but I had a Pitch to Elizabeth Hirst from Pop Seagull. She listened all the way through, and said Avians sounded interesting, but not right for them.

Noon: Had to choose between How to Build a Sustainable Critique Group and Contracts, Contracts, Contracts. I’m the new kid at my critique group, so although I thought it might be nice to gain some insights, I wasn’t sure if I should be taking that advice home. The contracts panel was interesting, and I did get an answer to one of my naive questions. If I let a publisher have the movie rights, do I have any defense against my book being made into a cheap, bad, or horribly different movie. Short answer, no. Slightly longer answer, a bad movie doesn’t really hurt the author, and many writers accept that a movie will be intrinsically different. Dissenting opinion from someone I repeated this answer to, not always.

One PM: Might have gone to Reviewers and Reviewing, but I had a Blue Pencil with Marie Bilodeau. By the way, I filled in first through fourth choices for Blue Pencils, in the hope of getting one or maybe two. I got three of the four. I’m glad Marie came last, because a) contagious manic energy and b) she writes Space Opera. Showed her a short story along those lines that was narrowly rejected by a pro publisher, to see if she could spot why. I think she did- it needs more insight into the main character and the MC’s motivation and desires. I can see that this would bring it to life.

Two PM: Two Academics Talk the History of Canadian SF. Actually there were three, and they got a late start due to technical difficulties. Did you know that Canadian SF can trace its roots all the way back to the 1800’s? Me either. Also, an examination of what makes Canadian SF distinct.

Three PM: desperate for lunch, I missed the feedback session, but I did catch up to Marie as they wrapped it up. Backpats all around to the terrific crew of Ottawa writers and volunteers who work hard to make Can-Con fun. I renewed and strengthened some friendships, and made a bunch of new ones. I hope to be back.