NaNoWriMo: The best laid plans…

Pinky and The Brain issue 1 cover.
Come on! With a post headed ‘The best laid plans…’ what did you expect?

Previously on the NaNoWriMo theme I gave myself a hearty slap on the back for hitting the 50K mark a couple of days ahead of schedule. Up went the hurrahs, and far-flung were strewn the smileys.

What do they say about pride?

Yes, well. Ahem. Perhaps I should have kept quiet because the supposed easy bit – the final act – hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as the first 50,000 words.

So what went wrong? Basically December happened. I forgot that December is that most wonderful time of the year where time itself disappears into a black hole. (The kind of black hole where the event horizon is helpfully decked in lovely, red-shifting tinsel.) Another major real-life factor that slipped my mind was W-O-R-K, but then most everyone would like to forget about that.

Nil desperandum, though. While there has been a lot of jingle belling and real life-living and other such distractions, December has still seen a fair amount achieved in the world of Lucian Poll, just not a vast amount on the novel.

For example, a fair chunk of time was spent crafting and honing a 5000-word short story called “Flood Warning” to submit to Cemetery Dance magazine. As I type this here post the submissions window is still open, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve got 20 story slots open for 2013 and they’ve already received hundreds of stories for consideration. Here’s a link:

Cemetery Dance magazine open for short story submissions

(For those of you with longer ones, they are also accepting submissions for their eBook line.)

As you may have seen from earlier posts December has seen me continue my quest to become one of those self-publishing author things. As far as blogging goes I admit it does make for a dry read, but I hope my experience helps others, and that it will be a worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Either way, my W-8BEN forms have since been accepted by Amazon, so there’s a nice uplift in royalties of nearly 43%.

(As an aside, I was delighted to find a spike in my blog hits in December. It turns out my guide recently ranked all top three spots in Google searches for “removing US withholding tax”. I’m not sure how long that will last, or how localised the results may be, but I don’t care. Hello, world!)

But now December is out of the way, and with it all recent distractions. The admin stuff is done – I’m now on Uncle Sam’s books. The story for Cemetery Dance is done – whether they like it or not! Christmas is done – and with it most of the skin around my nose thanks to a rotten cold.

What remains is the unfinished novel. It continues to scratch and scald the back of my mind and I need to get it out of there sharpish. Why? Well, the observant among you will have noticed that we’ve hit 2013. (All contrarians flapping their Julian calendars at me can piss off for the moment, thank you.) You may have also sensed that the number 13 features rather prominently in the novel: warnings issued to triskaidekaphobes, for example, or little updates saying how my story is jinxed. Even this blog was started on the 13th of the month. The release date for the novel is therefore very deliberate, and so I must work hard to meet it. To go and release the thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of 2014 would be a bit silly.

So Friday 13th September 2013 it is.

That gives me just over 8 months. The only way I’m going to do this is to keep to a schedule. Having a schedule worked so well during November, even those days when I was at work, and so I must try to repeat that. Therefore here is my challenge:

January: finish first draft, minimum 1500 words per day.
February:put the novel to bed for a month; scope out advertising rates in assorted horror and sci-fi fiction magazines; create artwork for rear cover and promotional material; query respected manuscript editors for lead times on their services.
March:begin second draft
April:complete second draft; final readthrough and edits
May:submit manuscript for professional review and pace the house; start promoting the novel where I can; submit adverts where lead times are long
June – August:more promotion; tighten up novel in line with professional opinion; umpteen readthroughs until I’m sick of the sight of the novel
Friday 13th September 2013: time to release the beast! And then pace the house again.

How close I keep to the schedule remains to be seen, though at least it gives me something to work towards. Do drop by every now and again to see how I’m getting on.

In the meantime I should be writing.

P.S. Comic nerd moment: I’ve actually got that issue (#1) of Pinky & The Brain up there. Terrifyingly I think it is almost old enough to legally drink. Tempus fugit.

P.P.S. Okay, now I should be writing. Laters!

NaNo: Winner! Only another 30K to go! Wait, what?

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner's Badge
Lucian wins the battle, but will he win the war?

So here we are at long last: 50,000 words have been recorded and I am delighted to report that your ever humble servant, Mr Poll, is now officially a NaNoWriMo 2012 winner.

Yeah!!!! How about that, huh?!?!? You want to fire another 50,000 at me? Bring it on!!!! Woo-hoo!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Okay, so much for the humble part. In truth if I attempted to rattle out another 50,000 words (in what turned out to be 27 days) I think my brain would push on the ejector seat button and blow me a kiss as it arcs into next door’s garden.

But look, there it is. The winner’s logo in all of its Venn diagrammy glory. If I’ve gotten the widget right on the main page of this here blog then you should also see something in the sidebar to prove it.

Not wishing to sound too arrogant, pride always coming before a fall and all that, but I had a good feeling I’d hit the 50K mark. I’d fleshed out a story with enough plot to keep the word count ticking over and, crucially, I stockpiled a lengthy spell of holiday at work, giving me a stretch of 19 days’ continuous story-writing at my disposal. Sadly only one day of this holiday remains and then real life swarms in from all sides to stem my horror writerly flow. 😦 So what am I going to do with my spare day?

Yes, that’s right. I’m going to keep on trucking with (Title Withheld), because while I’ve hit the 50,000 word mark I still have plenty of story left to write. By my reckoning I am two-thirds into the novel, so there’s around another 30,000 words to come, and I really don’t want to be typing up the grand finale over Christmas. I’d risk missing the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and clearly that’s poor form.

So it’s looking like I won’t be typing “The End” for a couple of weeks yet, but I don’t mind as I’m gearing up for the big white-knuckle ride finish. I can’t wait!

In the meantime here are some other things that NaNoWriMo 2012 has taught me, continuing from my previous post:

6) All of a sudden I can’t write when there’s music playing
This, to quote the inestimable Eric Cartman, sucks donkey balls! When I wrote my drawer-bound novel years ago I had all sorts of music playing to get me in the mood: Louis Prima, Henry Mancini, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and so on. (It was set a while ago.) Now I find I sing along to whatever song is playing when I ought to be typing (and Dog forbid I subliminally inject lyrics into my prose). It gets even worse when there are no lyrics as my typing fingers magically float up from the keyboard, as if magnetically opposed to the keys, and, somebody help me, they start conducting. I type that with utter, utter shame.
It’s a pity as I had a cool playlist of great angsty, creepy or dark tunes. I’ll keep it handy for when I’m doing the cover art.

7) Aiming to publish this story on Friday 13th September 2013 was simply asking for trouble
Not only did Microsoft Updates snip the neocortex of my laptop, neatly and immediately guaranteeing my no-show from every NaNo write-in since, but then my gas boiler got itself shut down following its annual service. Some such excuse about it “not being safe”, which might explain my blackouts.
I can clear something up for you now: any visions you had of a writer holed up in a cold house tapping words into a lunking great tower PC whilst almost sitting on top of a fan-heater are infinitely more romantic than the real thing. In short: not fun.
You will also see why I’ve been #askingforit when I do the big reveal on the novel next year.

8) I really, really, really like making things up
Going back to work after all this is going to be a massive ball-ache. I think you might have gathered this by now.

9) I can’t wait to get started on NaNo novel #2
One of the replies I made to Eric’s kind comments suggested that I have a novella in mind once (Title Withheld) is done and out the door. After mulling over the story idea some more, however, I strongly suspect this will be my next NaNo novel.

10) Having a very patient Better Half is key
In my situation I have a long-suffering and very understanding Better Half who has given me the encouragement I need whenever I needed it, has re-tweeted my witterings to her followers whenever they have slipped out of me, and hasn’t yet dumped my sorry arse regardless of the enormous timesink writing has become.
Of course, if she ever reads some of the stuff in my first 50,000 words I could be on my Jack Jones in record time, perhaps with a restraining order for good measure.

So with three days of NaNoWriMo left I hope my fellow WriMos have enjoyed it as much as I have and are either well on the way towards their target or basking in the warm, radiant glow of 50K.

Here’s to the next 30,000 words!

NaNo, NaNo, only 30K to go…

An awesome Numskulls figurine from the ComicVine website
Lucian’s head, yesterday. Except with less hair.

…with a laptop and a pint and a story outline, NaNo, NaNo-NaNo-NaNooooo. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “Oscar-winning song-writing there, Lucian. Top hole!”

Yes, yes, yes. First of all I’d like to thank the Academy…

Anyway, hello you! As the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is in full swing I’ve spent rather a lot of time recently hammering the first 20,000 words of my novel into this here laptop and thus keeping abreast of the dreaded daily word count. (Just.) Some of these 20,000 words, I’m happy to report, even form sentences.

My teenage horror fan self seems satisfied with the yucky bits and my (rather pronounced) puerile self has rubberstamped his seal of approval on the industrial-strength language thrown around liberally by my bad guy. Please be warned, however, that my smartarse self, the one that came up with the tagline to this blog, not to mention the lion’s share of the story, is also fairly pleased with himself. You can give him a slap if he gets too annoying. (All this talk of assorted selves reminds me of The Numskulls cartoon that appeared in The Beezer and, later, The Beano. Ah, memories…)

Anyway, so far, so spiffing, and there are only another 30,000 words to get down before I “win”. Or collapse. One or the other.

In my previous post I mentioned how the launch meeting for NaNoWriMo was something of an eye-opener, and the revelations continue now I’m 40% into the word count. For example:

1) A 10,000 word plot outline doesn’t necessarily make NaNoWriMo any easier
I’ve lost count of the times my characters have deviated from the plot outline I feverishly hammered out over the summer. Either way I’m taking this as a positive: either the characters have developed minds of their own, which will hopefully then resonate with the reader, or my characters’ original actions weren’t so well-realised, so the story benefits from a little tightening up as a result. Luckily the structure of my plot is fairly modular, so my characters’ actions should not affect the overall story arc, but I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky when I come to write NaNo novel #2 next year.
What a detailed outline has allowed, however, is for me to plant a smattering of in-jokes and other stuff into the narrative for those having a second read-through of the novel. See, you already want to slap that smartarse self of mine, don’t you?

2) Aiming to writing a chapter a day was naïve
It sounded good at the time but my chapters are turning out to be longer than 1667 words, often double that. As a result I’m unlikely to complete a first draft of Title Withheld by the end of the month, but should be most of the way there, and definitely more than 50,000 words through. I could be looking at 300+ pages, though I hope not many more. That said I’m now off work until the 29th (happy, happy, joy, joy!) so let’s see if I can’t eat up some of these stray chapters.

3) Missing two days’ writing is terrifying
I woke up yesterday with 13,250 words and had to somehow finish today on 20,000. Yikes! I guess I’ll have to move my birthday for next year’s NaNo.
I feel I ought to put this into context, however: 3,375 words per day for two days doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the regime professional novelists place upon themselves. US horror legend Stephen King claims in his book “On Writing” (very much recommended) that he gets down around 2,000 words a day, every day, without fail, however many hours it takes (usually a morning). UK horror legend Shaun Hutson goes nuts if he can’t get down his ten pages each day – by UK book standards that’s around 2,500 words. So for me to bemoan 3,375 is perhaps a little precious.

4) My main character kicks arse!
Now that my main character is walking and talking and getting stuck in I’m growing to like her a lot more than I thought I would. Looking at my plot outline it’s such a shame that she… well, you’ll have to read the story, won’t you?

5) It costs just over £20,000 to buy a full-page advert in The Sunday Times’ Books section.
Ah. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself here…

The important thing is that NaNoWriMo continues to surprise and delight (even if it does sap precious moisture from my eyeballs), because for me that means it also continues to be interesting and worthwhile. If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo then I hope the ideas are flowing from your fingertips, or you are at least engaging with fellow NaNo-ers through the write-ins, forums and Facebook groups.

Finally, if you would like a sneaky preview of Title Withheld I have pasted a short excerpt here:

(10 Lucian Poll points to anyone that spots the goof. Don’t worry, it’ll come out in the second draft.)

Laters ‘taters.

NaNoWriMo: under starter’s orders

The NaNoWriMo coat of arms
It’s NaNoWriMo time! (Ish.)

November is a funny old month. It’s too close to winter to be autumn and too far away from Christmas to be festive. It marks the beginning of Really Crap Weather (as opposed to the government-issue Crap Weather we usually enjoy in the UK), and it marks the end of daylight in general. It’s too early in the football season for it to be interesting and it tends to leave the country twiddling its thumbs and looking for something to do.

But, being them human beans, we are an inventive lot. It’s taken a few million years but in the last decade we’ve finally cracked the big question of What To Do In November?

If you are one of them British gentleman types then November now tends to mean Movember: a tremendous endeavour that has men up and down the country growing silly facial hair in aid of testicular cancer charities. I often refer to it as ‘Bollock Relief’, but sadly it’s not catching on. Either way I’m certain some amazing moustaches have made for interesting passport photos.

I already sport silly facial hair, however, as intimated in my calling card, so for me these follicular festivities are out. Instead I’m taking part in that other marvellous and recent November development: NaNoWriMo a.k.a. the National Novel Writing Month.

Yesterday saw the launch of NaNoWriMo for the Norfolk chapter. The hellish weather would have gotten a passing mention in The Bible and nearly convinced me not to go, but I’m very glad I took the plunge. (My shy side must have been having a lie-in.) The event was friendly, constructive and something of an eye-opener.

Meeting fellow participants revealed a variety of reasons for giving NaNoWriMo a go: not only to scratch a creative itch but also as a means to help with healing and recuperation. The brainstorming exercises revealed angles in my story that I hadn’t previously considered and gave me a taste of the plots and creative processes of other NaNo-ers. The launch event also demonstrated a proportionate popularity of NaNoWriMo among women (around a 75%:25% split), and, perhaps surprisingly, a large penchant for the fantastic: out-and-out fantasy, paranormal entities, mass-contagion, science fiction, horror… basically all of the shelves Waterstones keeps at the back of their shops now that porn is in (and out and in and out and in and out… you get the idea).

This was backed up by a quick scan through NaNoWriMo’s genre forums after the event. Fantasy is very much the big thing by a large margin (perhaps it has always been thus – I am a NaNo noob after all). After that: historical fiction, sci-fi and horror. Past and present literary fads don’t get much of a look-in. There’s not much being written on the clit-lit front post-Fifty Shades – not when people can clog Smashwords with it every day, anyway. Chick-lit? Not a wealthy beau to be seen. Misery-lit? Barely a sniff. Even crime, an erstwhile literary favourite, doesn’t feature. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but it did surprise me.

But I digress. The upshot of this post is to say if you have a story in you and are tempted to give NaNoWriMo a try, DO IT! Sign up now, now, now, and get involved! Go to these get-togethers, knuckle down at the write-ins and chat with fellow NaNo-ers. You’d be amazed how quickly the ice breaks, and to have someone say they like your story idea and would love to read it is incredibly reassuring. And if you can’t make a get-together, hit the forums, get some writing buddies and bounce ideas around.

So now, under starter’s orders, with fingers itching to begin typing, I’ve just got to wait for the gun. And a pair of parangs. (It’s a horror story after all…)