NaNoWriMo Day 29: Wait, what?

So here I am, on Day 29 of NaNoWriMo, sitting at barely over a third of my word count. This means in order to complete NaNoWriMo I merely need to write 32,875 words tomorrow. Time to stock up on coffee!

Seriously, though, I’m not going to finish this year (duh). And to be honest, it doesn’t bother me. It’s been a crazy, hectic month, full of change and apartment-shopping and moving and exploring a new city and meeting people, and I figure moving to a new city and completely upending your entire life is as good as reason as any not to write 50,000 words in a month.

But that’s not really the reason. If I’m honest with myself, I could have made time to do the writing. No, the real issue was the story.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a time of carefree writing, when quality takes a back seat to word count, when you’re willing to put all sorts of crazy stuff in your story, because hey, why not? You’re writing a novel basically for the sake of writing a novel. And I was able to start strong with that mindset, but once I had written a few scenes I began to get a much better picture of how my new writing fit with the first part of the novel– the part I had done last year.

After that I didn’t want to just bang another 50,000 words in isolation. I wanted to slot the scenes in with the already-written ones, add some more scenes to the earlier part, and really try to piece together the overall form of the first draft of the novel. But that’s not really NaNoWriMo anymore. As soon as I combine the pieces, I don’t have an isolated word count, and I certainly can’t claim (even facetiously) that I’m writing a sequel.

When I went to NaNoWriMo write-ins and tried to bang out the word count, my heart wasn’t in it, and that was when I mentally quit. Since then I’ve taken a step back, and done some of the things I’ve wanted to do– combining the two pieces into an 85,000-word manuscript, revising the outline, and trying to get a grip on the overall structure of the plot. I’ve also dabbled in some short stories (one of which still needs to be revised in time to submit for the Writers of the Future contest in December), and of course moved into a new apartment. One with a much nicer writing space than the old extended-stay hotel/apartment I was staying in, where the only space for a desk was basically a two-foot extension of the kitchen counter. (If you missed it, see it here).

I never got a single word of the novel written there. Maybe I’m just too picky. But at my new place I have a desk, with elbow room, and a window, and hopefully at some point a whiteboard on which I sketch out ideas without being restricted by a computer screen. I hope I can finally finish it, or at least the first draft.

Then next year I can start from scratch on NaNoWriMo– if it seems like the right thing to do. Who knows, I may be in the midst of my second novel by then.

Orycon Report: Portland, Panels, and Puns

This weekend I drove about 3 hours south to Portland to attend Orycon, a small-ish science fiction con of around 2,000 people. It felt like a good-sized con, although I’ve come to realize that what makes a con feel “big” or “small” is not so much the number of attendees, but the ratio between the size of the crowd and the size of the space in which it’s held. ConCarolinas was small, but felt crowded and cramped. NASFIC was small, but felt empty. Orycon was small(ish), and felt just right. It was dense enough that you always felt like you were at a con, with people in costumed finery wandering by at almost all hours of the day and night, but was still spread out enough that you could usually find somewhere to sit if you needed it.

Orycon was also my first introduction to the fandom and convention scene in the Pacific Northwest. I did notice a few differences with East Coast cons– although some of this may just be my own experience. But I felt like the crowd at Orycon was, on average, several years older than the crowd at the East Coast conventions I’ve been to. It is because Orycon’s focus is more on literature and less on media? I’m not sure. But it’s quite clear that fandom spans all age groups, and that was an impression I got more strongly at Orycon than I have at any other convention. It’s kind of reassuring, actually, to know I won’t have to turn in my geek card in my later years.

I also felt like there was more of a celebration of “the other”, of “the weird”, than there was at the East Coast cons. I wrote about this aspect of conventions in my Dragon*Con write-up, and I felt it even more strongly at Orycon. The atmosphere at conventions is incredibly, marvelously, accepting. On panels, someone might casually mention that they were gay, or bisexual, or polyamorous, or pagan, or various adjectives that might get you a raised eyebrow if you were overheard on the street. But at Orycon, no one so much as batted an eye. It was all taken in stride, and even though I’m a straight white male, it felt good to be around such an accepting crowd. We all have our differences, after all, our ways which make us “weird”– and being nerds and geeks, we pretty much fall into the “weird” category by default.

But first and foremost, Orycon is a convention to celebrate sci-fi and fantasy, and as I mentioned earlier, its biggest focus is on the literature side of things. There were a lot of great writing panels, lots of readings (the zombie erotica reading was particularly interesting– I honestly wasn’t sure how that would work, but it did… some stories were even romantic), and lots of panels that were just generally fun. In fact, I’d say that Orycon had the best selection of panels of any con I’ve been to– Dragon*Con had a wider selection, of course, but Dragon*Con panels are usually gigantic. The Orycon panels were nicely sized, and usually small enough that it was easy to ask questions. I got to meet some of the panelists, and chat with a few who I already knew (notably Mary Robinette Kowal, who I have now talked to at conventions on both sides of the country), and even chip in a few puns at the “Pun-ishment” panel… which went exactly as the title implies. 4 panelists and a good chunk of the audience doing nothing but coming up with horrible puns for an entire hour. As I mentioned on Twitter, I left with a headache.

Now it’s back to Seattle, and back to the NaNoWriMo novel I’ve been putting off and falling behind on. See you next year, Orycon.

NaNoWriMo Day 10: Apartment-Hunter’s Block

I’m no longer ahead of where I need to be in word count– mainly because I’ve devoted almost all of my free time over the last few days to finding a Seattle apartment. I only have about two and a half weeks left in the place I’m currently staying, so needless to say, this has to get done. The good news is, I put in an application today and it was accepted, so it looks like I have a place to live for the next six months! Yay!

Trying to find a place to live in an unfamiliar city has not been exactly the most stress-free activity in the world, especially on a limited budget. Even when I was supposed to be working on other things, my mind kept drifting back to my living arrangements. This has been somewhat detrimental to accomplishing anything in NaNoWriMo.

To make matters worse, I’ve hit a case of Writer’s Block. Well, not “Writer’s Block” so much as “Story Block.” Two of the main characters in my fantasy novel are supposed to fall in love, but they’re both emotionally damaged, have stubborn personalities, and started out hating each other. Not exactly the easiest start for what’s supposed to become a romantic relationship, I suppose. And I do think it can work, but I’m having problems writing it in a way that’s convincing. I want to write their relationship in a way that feels right, and I’m having problems with that.

I suppose I could skip those parts and come back to them later– but I’m still not sure what these characters are going to look like after they fall in love. I mean, one’s an assassin, one’s a super-powerful mage, and both have serious issues. Maybe they won’t really fall in love, just develop a fondness for each other that never really turns into a romantic relationship. I won’t know until I write it, which means… I have to write it.

I suppose I’m not really adhering to the carefree writing spirit of NaNoWriMo by worrying about all this. I should really just be writing. Oh, well.

To add another complicating factor, I’m trying to wrap things up at work ahead of time this week so I can go down to Portland this week and attend Orycon, a local sci-fi convention. So, in addition to having less writing time this week, I’m going to lose out on a lot of writing time this weekend. At this point, I’ve pretty much accepted that I’m going to be way behind when I get back from Orycon, and will have to put in some serious writing time to catch up.

No worries. Yet.

NaNoWriMo Day 2: Starting from Not-Quite-Scratch

I haven’t even gotten a chance to blog about this, what with the chaos of moving to Seattle, but it’s November again, which means we’re in the midst of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. The goal is simple: write 50,000 words during the month of November, which should hopefully form the first draft of a novel.

Of course, there’s no requirement that it be a good first draft. In fact, December has come to be known as NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), when writers attempt to fashion something reasonable from the chicken scratch they wrote during November. When I did NaNoWriMo last year, I found it exceptionally liberating to turn off my internal editor and just write— I wrote a longer story than I ever had before. And lo and behold, when the dust had settled, I found that a good chunk of what I had written was actually not bad.

However, the novel was far from complete, even at 60,000 words. To make matters worse, after November was over, my internal editor turned back on and progress stalled. Then I got distracted by various short stories, and of course by the whole moving thing, so over the past 11 months, I’ve only added about 7,000 words to the novel. I’ve done a great deal of editing of parts I had already written, but editing will not finish your book for you… you have to actually write it first.

So this year, I had a dilemma. Did I want to start a new novel, with new characters, new concept, new plot? Or continue the old one? The “rules” of NaNoWriMo state that you have to start something new, but then again, rules are made to be broken, particularly when the real purpose of NaNoWriMo is simply to get you writing.

In the end, I compromised. I didn’t want to start a new story (the ending of the current one is still very much stuck in my head), but nor did I want to try and pick up where I had been stalled for eleven months. So I collected all the finished scenes from my novel, set them aside, and called it the first book in the series. Now, for this NaNoWriMo, I’m writing the second book. I even started from a totally blank document. In December, during NaNoEdMo, if the two books happened to get combined into one, well, heck, that’s just an editing decision, right? *wink*

It’s actually been quite liberating to do this. The main characters of the book series are two sisters, and whereas last year’s writings focused almost entirely on the first sister, this year’s writing is starting off from the perspective of the second sister, and then will lead into what happens when the two are reunited. So far things are going well: I’m at 7500 words, well ahead of schedule. In fact, I’ve written more on the book series in the past two days than in the previous eleven months.

NaNoWriMo is a benefit in other ways, too, besides just the writing: it’s also helping me settle in to Seattle. I’m attending writing groups and write-ins around the city, which not only introduces me to new people, it also helps me learn my way around the area. NaNoWriMo multitasking for the win!