Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I Made It!

I finished "Does Not Compute" !

Everyone wins who crosses the line, so it's not the first person to finish, or the one with the most words...

Congratulations to every one else who shared this journey!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Downhill all the way

And as we come into the final straight - still slightly off the pace, but getting second wind, the writing becomes more reckless as I throw myself towards the line.

Far too late to make it all fit together, ideas tumble out that may have to go get retro-fitted to all that went before.

That edit, that series of edits, happens once I have all the words in the can. The editing suite is a whole other life for a director than the shooting process, of trying to capture stuff on film.

If I had the control-freak approach of having an outline, plot and characters story-boarded, then the edit just tidies up what was visualized initially, and what finally ended up as the raw material.

During the edit we might find we need to re-shoot some stuff, even recall the cast and shoot some newly-scripted bits, but finally we have to compile what we have, and then try it out on someone.

I really don't want this run by a test group in some little suburban cinema in middle America.

I need a crowd who knows its a rough draft, a stab in the dark, just one more attempt to created something which might actually change the way we see things, do things. Over-ambitious, no doubt, and falling far short at this stage, but we can't let that inner critic out just yet (even if we secretly feel that we agree).

The critic, after all, is cruising along in one of the support vehicles, making some sort of documentary about the creative process, while I still slog on - nowhere near as tired as Eddie Izzard on his 40th marathon...

But he remains a role-model of gritted-teeth determination to complete something that he made a commitment to himself to conclude. My ambitions remain far below that kind of target, fairly achievable, after all, but also without a support team. All I have going for me is a swarm of other crazy folk, all over the planet, writing their hearts out to hit that target.

Be lucky, folks, the end is in sight. Why quit now? The time to quit came in the early stages, or maybe halfway, when you could retire having made a serious attempt. Now it would just feel sad to get so close to the line and not make it. Let's just finish this, OK, and I'll see you in the bar in four days, or so (given the time differences around the world).

Go for it! One last push!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I've been writing for 23 days, now...

This year I really thought I might have gotten myself into something I couldn't complete in time.

Stubbornly, in the face of interruptions, this cold that has made me woolly-headed, the usual slump of despair and resistance to the problems such a project entails, and all the usual - that NaNoWriMo contributors know only too well (the inner critic who finds it all boring and tedious and badly-written, the curiosity of people I mention it to - actually using the public declaration as a way to drive myself forward - as to why I should bother, and all that...)

And incomplete sentences, and distractions, and other projects, and the sad eyes of my dog who wonders why I am not walking as much, or why I stare at the screen so often), etc, etc.

I know from previous experience that I learn a lot in this process. Ending up with something that may not entirely make sense (not a lot of time for research, or re-reading) I still find it a very fruitful process, and it feels great to know so many other people enjoy it too.

Each time I face a blank page (if scribbling in a reporter's notebook) or screen, I decide on a different approach or task.

Invent a character, describe something in detail, elaborate on the story so far, spend an evening letting the characters just talk to each other, throwing people together unexpectedly, hinting at secrets that even I don't yet know the answer to, etc. I learn something from each and all of these exercises.

No-one pretends they will end up with a smooth and finished product. Looking back, I feel a bit sheepish that I wanted to follow through to holding a hard copy in my hand, but it led to me learning how to use Lulu, and layout a book, commission a cover, etc.

Learning all the time.

So, I only have a week to go, and have still fallen behind sustaining the right average daily number of words to get through the process smoothly. I have almost clawed my way back to the 'par for the course' word count.

by now I should be at 38k, strictly speaking, and I have only made it to 34k, but I can feel that easing of the tension, too, that can sometimes lead to an increase in pace. The finishing line has become a real possibility, now. I seem to have got through the dreadful 'hitting the wall' phase of such a marathon. I even find time to stop and write a blog post like this.

I have spent some time updating a Wiki we made for one of my favourite books, Illuminatus!

In previous years I made encouraging videos...The creative process has spin-offs like that which make it even more rewarding.

I may even find that the half-understood book from last year, which I never went back to edit, and this year's, may eventually blend, with some savage cutting into something else again.

I quite enjoy not knowing, now, quite what I hope to achieve. Writing forward into the unknown means I sometimes hit passages I actually enjoy writing, transactions that surprise me, and ideas that make me laugh.

All that makes it seem worthwhile, as an adventure, an exercise, a challenge.

One week to go, and more distractions on the horizon, a gig in London, travel (but train journeys do offer an opportunity to write, one good reason for not driving, for instance).

And my worst case scenario? I don't actually complete 50k by next Tuesday. I hope it doesn't happen, but I will still have learned all this...

Wish me luck...just don't pray for me, I don't think it works. On the other hand, why not?

Do as you Will.

[You see? There's 600+ words I'll never see again.
I guess I write half a million words a year, in blogs, emails, FB, etc. So why does fiction seem so hard?]

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Something like that...

"Chandler has also influenced my way of telling stories; all my fiction tends to follow the Chandler mythos of the skeptical Knight seeking Truth in a world of false-fronts and manipulated deceptions. (Of course, this is also my biography, or that of any shaman.) "

Robert Anton Wilson from an interview you can find online

Friday, 19 November 2010


I realise now one of the reasons I have trouble writing this year. When I did Infinite Monkeys I wanted to write something without the gimmicks that often sell books: misery, violence, sex, angst, adrenaline and all that. I deliberately wrote something that pottered and meandered along (although one rude word slipped in, I notice!)

I guess that comes from my previous life as a 'children's entertainer' when I eliminated ambiguity from everything I said and did in public, deciding that (without going Disney) the world was quite full enough of innuendo, prurience and dirty jokes, etc, and I would avoid such stuff.

This year, although it hasn't quite worked as planned, I wanted to write a conspiracy thriller, and this 'tameness' wasn't helping at all. I guess there's the fear of being judged (as ever) but no-one (let's face it) might ever read it. So I decided to let my characters swear, think about (and perhaps even indulge in) sex and violence, etc.

We'll see how it goes, but it gave me a couple of thousand more words, and they all count. What might have to go in the editing remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Blahs and Doldrums

It was great to receive a pep talk email from Chris Baty (founder of NaNoWriMo) this morning. It maybe explains why I do this with the group, and not just any time of year when I think I will have time, etc.

To know that you have hit the same problem as thousands of others seems reassuring, even as people quit and fade for reasons of their own (and no-one sneers at someone who can't run more than ten miles in a marathon...)

That's still ten miles further than most people... I hope he won't mind me quoting chunks:

Bah. Those of us who are grappling with sluggish stories and dwindling mojo? We're having the real NaNoWriMo party---the Struggler's Party! I've been hanging out at this low-energy fiesta for the past week, and I've been hearing some familiar laments around the punch bowl.
"I think I picked the wrong story.""Work ate my word count.""Nothing seems to happen in my book.""My main character is getting on my nerves." The most common refrain at the Struggler's Party, though, is that we're just feeling Blah. Our stories are Blah, our writing is Blah. We've spent the last two weeks mining our creative depths, and many of us have emerged with too few diamonds and way too many lumps of coal. [...]

1) Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey. Change is scary because we have to figure out what comes next. But feeling afraid is ten times better than feeling bored, and your book will benefit from your risk-taking. Go big this week! You won't regret it.
2) Trust the process. If you're doubting yourself or your story, just keep moving forward. It will work itself out in the end. Every year, NaNoWriMo authors who press on to 50K are treated to the equivalent of NaNoWriMo's northern lights. This is the electric moment when the tangle of plots and people we dropped into the first half of our books end up forming unexpected connections with what we write in Weeks Three and Four. Themes develop. Arcs emerge. As we fly out of the 30,000s and into the 40,000s, a current begins to flow through our writing. Things crackle, then hum, and, at the very end of the month, enough circuits connect that the whole story lights up with a charmingly bookish glow.

Thanks Chris!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Our Hero

When I tried to analyse the thrillers [see July post] that I was reading I seem to have missed out the most obvious cliché or stereotype.

The man who can do everything.

Whether he's sexy like James Bond or a paranoid loner (damaged by something in his past) he will have been in the SAS, or some secretive service. He can speak all languages, kill people with his thumb, appear equally at home in an illegal poker game in a warehouse, a Baccarat game in a high-end casino, or a sedate Bridge game in a country house. He can cook, drive fast, fly planes and helicopters, etc. He can hold his liquor, do martial arts, break codes, run fast, etc. You've met him in almost all thrillers aimed at men...

It all sounds a bit like Heinlein's list, which also struck me as odd male fantasy:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

But unlike most of my generation I didn't read Stranger In A Strange Land, because there remained something I didn't like about Heinlein, and I couldn't put my finger on it.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Why Don't I Listen?

Sometimes it feels as though I don't listen to myself!

Only six weeks ago I highlighted a distinction between showing and telling which I thought helpful, and I already fell into the trap.

I wondered why my word count had fallen so low (in spite of visitors, and other distractions) and realised that I had started telling again (which is very compressed, rather than showing all the little details). Doh!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Does Not Compute

A year went by, and NaNoWriMo came around again. Having completed three times I dived in, only to suffer the whole anxiety of the first week again - what am I doing? Why did I start this? Who would care if I quite?

I haven't got quite as far behind as the indicator might imply (I needed to have reached about 11,500 by Sunday night to stay on track) because I have some stuff pencilled into a reporter's notebook on the train (didn't feel like typing).

I will try to get those scribbles digitalized ASAP, so that the thing looks less scarily behind, but I know I need to keep pressing on...

It's currently called "Does Not Compute" though that may change.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Easing the tension

Well, finally I got a couple of characters going, playing scenes, thinking their thoughts, getting on with activities.

That helps.

They haven't started talking to others yet. I haven't even spent a lot of time describing the surroundings for one of them.

I even have a couple of announced others, waiting in the wings.

I've kept the word count up, and now look forward to finding out what these characters do.

That helps a lot. G'night.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I don't get it

No, this year I have really no idea what I have set out to do.
  • Year One: started as semi-auto-biography, only slowly getting brave enough to make stuff up, and end up with more fiction than fact
  • Year Two: deliberately set out to break down into chapters, make everything up, not base characters on friends, or events on my experiences, etc
  • Year Three: began to fall apart (thinking too much) and although I have several sections I enjoyed writing it never totally shaped up, and I have never re-written it (so much of it needs cutting)
  • Script Frenzy: broke the pattern, having to write a 100 page script in a month - and I enjoyed it, plotted it, tried to give it structure and tension, etc.
  • This year's NaNo will not get going. It seems so abstract. If this falls into the category of a 'novel' we might have to stretch the definition in all directions, from Tristram Shandy to Naked Lunch. I could do with, at least, a few 'routines' - and I could certainly attempt to use the self-referential, if it isn't going to go away. (sigh) Just keeping the word count up, and gagging and hoodwinking the inner critic...

Staggering along, but not yet despairing. Maybe this year I will dive into the forums (fora?) and ask for help.