NaNoWriMo 2016 – update.

It’s been just over a week since NaNoWriMo ended and I did it – I wrote 50,000 words of my work in progress despite a falling a long way behind at one point but I pulled it back. It took some days with target word counts that I doubted were possible for me, so again NaNo took what I thought I was capable of and showed me I’d underestimated myself.

So why did I fall behind so badly? Mostly it was complacency. Last year I won’t say it was easy but I was surprised that I won and it felt like I did it without the expected difficulty. It was like when you win a notorious boss fight first try. I still had to take a few health potions and pulled out the wrong weapon at one point but still, the big boss turned out not to be quite the liver eating monster I expected. So this year I didn’t plan quite enough, I didn’t clear my calender of enough distractions and I didn’t set up the surrounding support systems as carefully. Lessons learnt. Bring on NaNo 2017!

 

A retreat, a new idea and fifty thousand words.

A Retreat

A week on Monday I’ll be on a train, humming towards a writer’s retreat with the Arvon Foundation. I’ll have a week buried in the Penines to write and to improve my writing. The course is on writing gothic fiction since my writing always seems to veer in that direction even when I think I’m writing something else. I’m anticipating a really valuable and enjoyable retreat; the Arvon Foundation’s courses have a great reputation.

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A New Idea

I have an idea for a Victorian gothic mystery which could make for a good series and my fantasy crime novel (now at the rewrite/editing stage) has been put aside while I investigate this idea further. The new idea feels good, it feels like it will have a wider appeal than the fantasy crime novel. Not only that but there are lessons I’ve learnt writing the fantasy crime novel which I will be able to apply to the gothic mystery novel and presumably there’ll be more to learn while I write the gothic mystery which I’ll be able to apply when I return to the earlier idea. I’ve had a rummage in my brain to check this isn’t a manifestation of the fear of finishing and, insofar as I can ever be sure of anything with my mind, I’m pretty sure it’s not.

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Fifty Thousand Words

I’m planning on going full steam ahead with this new idea by writing the first 50,000 words of it for NaNoWriMo2016. However, I’m going to be starting this while on my writer’s retreat and it may not be possible to work on it there; if that’s the case I’ll reduce my target word count to 40,000. If you’re NaNoing this year then feel free to add me as a buddy – I’m Maytheweed. I don’t use the forums there much and I do most of my NaNo chatting on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums. Having said that, I won’t have internet on the retreat so I won’t be doing any chatting or registering word counts anywhere for the first week.

To those of you who are also taking part in NaNo – good luck!

Killer Women Festival

On Saturday the 15th of October there was a sinister gathering in Shoreditch Town Hall. Groups of women stood huddled discussing blood splatter patterns, weapon characteristics and publishing schedules. Also, whether the basement tea stand had run out of hot water.

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This was the first Killer Women Festival, a crime writing festival aimed at supporting women crime writers and as a newbie writer I found it interesting, helpful and fun. Chatting to other attendees it was clear that both readers and more experienced writers also found the programme enjoyable and useful. There were workshops on writing and publishing, panel discussions on interesting topics like historical crime and getting into the mind of a killer, there was a debate on mysogyny in crime fiction, both Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid were interviewed on stage…It’s exhausting just thinking about the programme (you can see the whole programme here) and I’d have needed to clone myself twice to attend all the sessions that were of interest to me.

In the end I made the difficult choice to miss seeing the giants of crime writing in favour of focusing on things I thought would help my own writing. I’ve come away with some new perspectives and ideas, some new writing acquaintances, a goodie bag full of delightful snippets of killer women’s writing which will no doubt lure me into buying their books (oh the horror) and also a smidgen more confidence in my own ideas (of which more soon). I will definitely be going back next year and would recommend it to anyone who reads or writes crime fiction.

(Image copyright Killer Women)

So how did NaNo go?

Well. Despite my expectations to the contrary I did it; I wrote over 50,000 words in a month. Huzzah! Jolly good show and all that.

The deadline was over a week ago now and, having reached a little over 2/3 of the way through the novel, in that week I’ve forgotten everything about it because I haven’t touched it.

So what did I learn?

  • By supporting other people going through it I realised that what I said to them applied to me too. Things like ‘all progress is good, you don’t fail by only writing 20,000 words’, ‘one bad day doesn’t mean tomorrow has to be bad too’ etc etc, it all seems rather obvious stuff but it’s the stuff my brain usually insists is only true for other people.
  • I can write about 1.7k words in an hour and a half. 3.5k on a weekend day is doable even with quite a lot of Fallout 4 in between times.
  • I can write even if I’m not really feeling it. Yeah the stuff will need even more beating with a stick than the stuff written when the juices were flowing freely but it’ll largely make sense. It might be a totally irrelevant scene which will be edited down to a sentence. A sentence fragment, even. But it can be done, forward momentum can be maintained, even if it does feel like my little 1.3 litre car on a steep hill stuck in 3rd gear.
  • Planning is essential. If I know what I’m going to write when I sit down, then I can bloody well write it. The problems come when I’m unsure about what’s going to happen and then it’s like my car, on a hill, in 3rd gear in ice, and fog so bad I can’t see the road. And it’s dark and there might be rabid mole-rats in my back seat. This meant I needed periodic ‘plot reset’ sessions because I’d written my way out of my plan, usually only by a little but it was enough to make things feel like icy, foggy, mole-rat driving.
  • Fallout 4 is not a particularly good break. Usually it’s best to do something that doesn’t involve a screen or reading like knitting or even (oh ye gods) housework.
  • I’m not half as shit as I thought I was. Maybe only 33.33% as shit as I thought I was.

Right. I’d better bugger off and write the last 1/3 of the book and then spend six years editing it. See you in 2021.

No NaNo? Yes NaNo!

Oh shit what am I thinking?

So I’m going to give NaNoWriMo a try this year. Everything I wrote in my No NaNo post last year still applies; I’m still working hard at the day job, I still don’t have much time and I’m still hyper critical of myself so what changed?

Well, I happen to have a story ready to go. I’ve got the world, the characters and the plot and I’m just filling in the holes in those things at the moment. I was planning on starting writing in December and then the thought dawned, like Cthulhu emerging from the mists over a city skyline, ‘well, if you get moving on the prep you could be ready to start for NaNo.’ So it’s as good a time as any to give it a try. I may well fail, but every word I write that I wouldn’t have otherwise written is still progress.

This is a quick and dirty blurb for the story I plan on writing:

Cria is Truthseeker of Blackstone City. She is intelligent, principled and more than a little rigid and, alongside her bodyguard and assistant Lana, she investigates crimes and puzzles in the city. When a young peasant dies at the Great Temple, apparently while stealing some of the famous inlaid stonework, she isn’t satisfied. A thief girl with a strange tattoo is apprehended by the guards and then disappears back into the Lower City streets. The stories of these two young people lead Cria and her friends into the darkest corners of the high society of Blackstone City.

It’s set in the same world as my short story The Hanged Man and ultimately I’m aiming to write a series in this world with these characters. Wish me luck!

So are you NaNo-ing?

Why do I write?

I write because I can’t paint for shit. Creativity is fundamental to my well-being; I don’t just write I also knit, draw, sew, take photos, make jewellery and I’m a gardener (as in, gardening is my job 8 till 4.30 every week day). I do these things with varying frequency and level of skill, mostly at a mediocre level (except the gardening – I’m pretty ok at that) and writing is the one I think I’m best at and if you think my writing’s mediocre you should see my drawing.

I write because I enjoy the feeling of words in my brain. When the words are right they give me a shiver; I don’t often manage to create this effect with my own writing but I want to dammit. Does that make this a kind of mental masturbation? Oh. Ick. I think I need to go and have a lie down. Not that kind of lie down you perv.

I write because I want to be a writer. Can’t be a writer if you don’t write now can you? In what way do I want to ‘be a writer’? I’d like to be published and supplement my income with a few word pennies. Or I’d like people to read my writing and enjoy it and if I can give them that little right-words shiver? Even better. Or I’d like to be a world-famous bestselling author. Maybe not the last one since book tours and public speaking seem like they’d be my own personal hell so let’s change that to ‘moderately successful full-time author’.

I write because I like the ‘snick’ sound you get when the plot clicks together in your head.

I write because I want to be better at writing. Simple. Get better by doing. It’s frustrating to have a glorious picture in your head, something that really sings, but when you get it down on paper it’s slightly skew-whiff and a bit grubby and out of focus. It’s as if the process of squeezing the thoughts out of my brain makes them crap – I think this is why writers sometimes spend a lot of time thinking and talking about their process because what works for one writer for cleanly getting the shit from brain to paper doesn’t seem to work for everyone. It’s like our brain orifices are different shapes and so the exudation process is different for everyone.

I write because there’s this goddamn story in my head. And that other story and that other one, and the one about the octopus.

I write because I hate editing. By god I hate editing. I might be ok(ish) at writing but I suck at editing. And so I’d rather write something new than work on the old thing, even though the old thing will never be more than crap if I don’t polish it.

I write because I enjoy it when people are complimentary about my writing. This doesn’t happen very often and if I want it to happen more often I need to write more, get better and get it out there.

I write because having finished a story or poem is a great feeling. There’s that shiny ‘I did that and it’s mostly good’ feeling that I also get from planting up a new flower border or finishing a difficult knitted shawl. Even better is finding a story or poem you wrote a while ago and had mostly forgotten, rereading it and going ‘hey, that’s pretty good.’ It’s so easy to get bogged down in the feeling of nothing ever being good enough; not knowing when to stop editing, feeling depressed because everyone and their dog is a better writer than you, hating your own work that actually going ‘I’m done! And it’s ok!’ is refreshing.

I write because not writing would be to give in to the self-doubt.

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This post was written in response to the prompt on Chuck Wendig’s blog last week.

Exit Only

She wrenched awake. Blinding sun streamed through a crack in the curtains. The sheets coiled damply and she struggled to escape them. Her mouth stuck to itself and she grimaced and poked her tongue into the crevices in her lips. The smell of bacon hung slack in the air.

‘Hey!’ A voice lifted from the kitchen. ‘Want breakfast?’

She felt her stomach curl and twist, ‘Nah,’ she said. She pulled her clothes on over her sticky skin. ‘Thanks,’ she added, walking past the kitchen door.

The front door slammed behind her, cutting off a question. Another morning, another exit.

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Copyright © Elizabeth Cutts March 2015

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Written for the 100 word flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog. Definitely a bit quick and dirty. But fun!