NaNoWriMo 2015

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

I have a lot of love for NaNoWriMo. It’s enthusiastic, encouraging, inclusive, and – most wonderfully of all – embraces even a failed attempt as having value. Also, it was how I met up with the York NaNo group, who are genuinely very lovely and were great company while I lived in Yorkshire (and continue to be through the magic of the internet).

So this year I’m going to fail NaNoWriMo.

I’m not even mad about it. Previous winning attempts at 50k have been me buckling down on a WIP and just *getting it done*, because there was nothing between me and the end of the novel other than getting my arse in the chair and just doing it.

This year? I had a title – The Raven and the Red God – and a rough idea of what I wanted to write about, and…that was really about it. I don’t know what it is about my head this time, but I actually needed to start writing before I could decide what I wanted. And what I wrote? Wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was too generically fantasy, too serious in its tone. I liked the beats I was laying down, but everything else failed to fit.

So I stopped writing there, before I went any further. Things had to change.

First, names. The names were just whatever came into my head, a mix of Scots and Scandinavian names. I went hunting for sources and came up with a better list of possibilities. A few careful find and replace commands later (yes, yes, find and replace can be a problem but under 20k? It’s easy to check them all) and I felt much better about how the names matched their characters.

Then, characters. It was a bit thin on the ground with people – essentially turning into a two-hander. I sat and brainstormed some scenes and came up with a new roster of people to add, and how they would be introduced.

Then, the world. I wanted a highland setting, and a little less civilised than most fantasy. I imagined a world a little closer to an ice age, and people who had just started to settle after generations of nomadic movement. I looked at Pictish and Dalriadic settlements, the tribes of Bhutan and Yunnan, their clothes and buildings, their rituals and habits. I started peeling away the standard trappings of a pseudo medieval fantasy world and started down a different path. Some of it will remain – the common language of fantasy writing demands some touchstones, if only so readers can orient themselves – but largely this will be a different world.

Folklore. I’ve always treated magic with a fairly light touch. Here, I decided to take things in the opposite direction, and really go all out with the magic that fills and shapes the world. The characters might not understand how it works, but they know they are living in a universe of strange and often terrible things.

So, with the end of November approaching, I am nowhere near 50,000 words, but I am much happier about what I am writing. Which is more than enough for me to be happy with.


Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t even want it to happen. Just watch what does happen.

Seriously. If you want gifs for writing, "Secret Window" is the business.


So, I haven’t blogged much of late. I’ve wanted to: there have been a few rants brewing in my head that I wanted to hammer out, and some of them have even been relatively coherent in the drafts that I have written. And yet I haven’t posted any of them. It feels like they’d be ineffective, that they’d generate no positive forward motion. Anyone in disagreement would sink their heels in, because who am I to say that they maybe, possibly could be wrong on something, and then anyone in agreement would do likewise. And that’s the best case scenario, where the facsimile of a dialogue exists. More likely are the chances of a dogpile (yay for the internet, where pointing out the desperately problematic behaviour of – let’s just spitball ideas here – a popular author will get you buried in abuse!) or, let’s be honest, resounding silence.

Perhaps a faint echo off the back of the giant, empty internet cavern walls? Anyway, I decided to leave it, and considering the sour-faced “why am I not fully recovered yet? FFS” mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks, I haven’t felt like posting anything.

As you can see, I’m super cheerful at the moment. For some reason, I’ve got weird aches in my feet and ankle (although the ankle I’ve gone over on once, so that goes some way to explaining it) and walking around is really uncomfortable. Sitting down less so, but I’m still hyper aware of my feet, and after two weeks I’m starting to think it is never, ever going away.*

In brighter news, Halloween Shorts are coming back! Yes! The short story adventures that a load of Team Mushens piled into last year (with the excuse of it leading up to World Fantasy Con) will be returning at the latter end of October with even more stories and a surprise twist for 2014! I will definitely have a story up here (when I get round to writing it, naturally) and *whispers* one appearing somewhere else, too. We’ve got a good lineup of authors contributing, even in spite of their collectively busy schedules, and it should be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I am working away on projects. I caught up with my agent, which is always good fun, and got some editing notes back, which is…let’s not say “fun”, because smacking my forehead off the desk going “HOW DO I NOVEL?” doesn’t really count as fun, but still definitely good. The new fantasy book is on hold while I get the edit done, but I’ll be finishing it over NaNoWriMo (or getting as close to done as I can manage).

And that’s things pretty much up to date. The more exciting stuff I write, the more desperately boring I become in real life.

Oh! For anyone that plays DOTA 2, here are my thoughts on the new patch (6.82) – Chen’s ultimate with Aghanim’s Scepter is the BEST. Why bother with the standard objectives when you can run around the map with a dragon AND a Triceratops yelling “LOOKIT DINOSAUR” over and over? It really is a game-changer, and by that I mean “a design feature that will probably get me reported by everyone I play with”.


*madness, of course it will resolve. That doesn’t stop me from moping, though!

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Planning, Prep, and Execution



So, it is almost time for NaNoWriMo. This being the internet, it is only a matter of time before one or more published author misses the point entirely and drops the evergreen observation that “for them, every month is NaNoWriMo”. Yawn.

I’ve only been playing the last two years, and it has been an interesting progression. In 2011 I sat down with zero idea of what I was going to write and 50k of pure fantasy adventure waffle came out. It was a panic-filled month full of “OH GOD WHAT NOW” moments and silly names including one shout out to World of Warcraft in the form of Captain Placeholder. I had enormous fun with trying to escalate the story by refusing to hold off on revelation. This guy is actually working for the bad guys? Revelation at the end of the chapter and then have a betrayal that makes things even worse less than 15 k in.

Not the best way to write a novel, for me at least. I ended up scrapping almost all of it.

2012 I wrote most of the first draft of Gunslinger Symphony, which had a premise, a beginning, some major plot points, and an ending. It made it much easier to write, although I tied myself into knots at points trying to connect up the parts of the story.

So, for 2013 I’m trying to be even more organised. October is planning and outlining month, with all the ideas going into notebooks and a Scrivener research/template file. I picked up a couple of books of writing exercises (hat tip to Anne Lyle for suggesting Rock Your Plot which is both cheap and useful). Ideally by the time November rolls round I’ll have a good idea of where my novel is going and writing it will just be a case of finding the right words to do it with…

…in other words, I’m leaving the hard bit until last.

Predictably, I am registered on the NaNoWriMo site as mygoditsraining and always have time for more buddies.

So what’s the novel about?

The Court of the Dead

Glasgow, 1847. Progress has turned the city into an industrial powerhouse, but the population has swollen close to breaking point. People are dying, and the air is thick with rumours of ghostly followers – damned souls – that dog the heels of those out after dark. The grave-diggers are busy, and the trade in relics – the bones of the dead – is brisk.

Isidore wants nothing more than to ignore all of this. He knows better than to listen to street preachers, that carrying bones in your pocket is the surest sign of a mark. But Isidore van Helmont is a thief and a forger, and to stay clear of the law he must risk his sanity and his life to help the police catch a killer – a killer whose methods and goals are tied deep in the newest industry of all: the spirit world.


They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man.


So, 25 days into NaNoWriMo. I’m a little behind due to two days off during it, but unless something terrible happens between now and the end of the month, I should sail across the line.

One thing I’ve noticed from Twitter is that a small number of people really hate NaNoWriMo. There have been quite a few tweets RT’d into my timeline, especially at the start of the month, that have all had the same flavour to them. “Hey NaNoWriMo peeps! I do what you’re doing every day of the year!” “Oh, look! It’s NaNoWriMo! When everyone decides they can write a novel and then gives up in the third week!”

These tweets seem to raise a chuckle among the genre set, but I find myself at a loss to see why. They are suggesting that by taking part in NaNoWriMo that I am labouring under the misapprehension that writing a novel is easy. I’m not. They are suggesting that the idea that I can use the time to motivate myself to reach a target by a set date – that I can get my arse in the chair and work to a self-imposed deadline – makes me some sort of an idiot. Again, I’m not.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion, these kind of tweets feel like less than that. They feel like a cheap crack, a shot of self-validation at the expense of someone else’s endeavour.

Hey loser, they say, I am published. You are not. Why not just stop kidding yourself? You will never be greater than I.

Here’s my response: whatever. You’ve just lost a customer.

I started getting involved in the genre scene because I was interested in finding books to read – new voices, exciting voices – and even though I am constantly trying to improve my own writing, the fact that I love reading books will never go away. Ever. That said, I don’t care how good a book is, how flat-out brilliant it is – if the author can’t keep from slapping people down in order to validate themselves, I’m not even going to pick it up off the shelf.

And that’s the long and short of it. I could justify at length why I participate in NaNoWriMo and I reckon I could make a very convincing case for the value of the exercise. However, in this case I don’t need to. When someone drops a condescending tweet about another person’s hobby in order to make themselves feel better, then there’s only one thing to say:

Why bother with a tweet when what you really want is a wank? Your hand is right there.


Sir, let me take this moment to compliment you on your fashion sense, particularly your slippers.

So, Halloween has come and gone and we are now on DAY THREE of NaNoWriMo. I’m on target (or will be once I’ve written today’s complement of words) and will be looking to steal a march on things next week so that I can have the weekend of my birthday off.

Things I have learned from NaNoWriMo:

Vomit drafts are harder than they appear. It takes a significant amount of effort for me to just leave it alone when I am writing. I have a horrible tendency to fiddle with sentences while I write them (which is why I prefer word processor over longhand) and more often than not the final version isn’t that far removed from what I originally had in mind.

I am terrible at being social. Maybe it’s just me on this, but the community aspect of NaNoWriMo still eludes me. I’ve tried to take part in the forums and chatrooms and even been to a couple of write-ins, but it feels like I’m walking around the edge of a closed loop. It’s very cliquey, and I have a deep suspicion of internet circle-jerks. Having someone ask, “who is this guy and why is he here?” when you say hello is usually a bad sign, but then maybe I’m just a bit touchy about these things.

In other news, Halloween Shorts seemed to go quite well. It’d be interesting to see how many reads we got in total. I thought that doing a reading of it would be a fun twist and something that might attract a few more readers/listeners, but I was hampered slightly by a cold and a crappy mic that meant the audio wasn’t the best quality. It’s tolerable, but not great.

I’ve been musing on ideas regarding publication. I’m still pursuing the traditional route, but I’ve been thinking about the indie/self route and what sort of things I could do in 2013. I’m close to my target aim of two novels completed for 2012 (despite deciding to re-write a large portion of Gunslinger Symphony) so I need something to aim for over the next twelve months. I’m thinking that maybe one novel and a set of smaller projects (novella or serial) would give me an opportunity to split up my goals into smaller milestones. I’ve got a fair old list of projects all sitting in my notebooks waiting to be picked, so it’s a case of taking the time in December to decide which ones to go for.

The De’il has business on his hand.


And so towards November. Halloween is soon upon us, during which I will undoubtedly buy far too many sweeties and end up having to scoff the lot myself. Last year we had a little girl dressed as a fairy/princess/blancmange knock on the door who took a single tiny roll of parma violets and clutched it to her chest as though it was made of gold. So very cute, but she could’ve given us a little help and taken two.

There’s still space on the roster for a short story during Halloween Shorts too, if anyone’s interested. I’m putting together my story at the moment and I’m not sure if it’ll be spooky enough…but I’ve picked now, so I’ll be damned if I’m changing my mind. Damned, I say!

Also, NaNoWriMo approaches. I wasn’t sure about doing it this year but I do have a novel to finish and if I call what I’ve done “Part 1” and what I’d get done in November “Part 2” it’s almost as if I’m not gaming the system at all. Tarantino would be so proud, and by “proud” I mean, “confused as to why people are asking him about a Scottish guy he’s never met.”

Anyway. This means that I will be on course for my personal target of writing two novels (in draft form, at least) by the end of the year, which is great because I wrote that target down in the front of my notebook and it’d be a kick in the junk not to be able to tick it off. I haven’t quite managed as many short stories as I wanted, but the ones I have done have had an effect, in that they will be read by people other than my girlfriend and my brother.

At some point towards the end of November I’m going to have to pick what I’m going to do in 2013. Ultimately, the plan is to keep writing things that amaze and amuse me in the hope that eventually they’ll be capable of amazing and amusing others. Hopefully, the projects I pick will be another step towards that goal.