NaNoWriMo posts

2016 Retrospective: the year of struggle

‘Nuff said.
(Picture by Nicholas Javed Photography)

2016 is in the rear-view mirror now, so it’s time to see how I lined up with the things I aimed to achieve in that year. As you may guess from the title, the tl:dr version is: not well.

Editing

Goal: edit Carnifex.
Result: done and done! It’s a great book and available to buy right now! So happy I could be a part of this project.

Goal: get Everyday Heroes moving.
Result: partial success. The editing on my plate moved on a ways, but the anthology as a whole has languished. This needs a huge kick up the arse.

Goal: finish off the new editions of the Apocalypse Blog.
Result: got through Book 2; Book 3 is still outstanding.

Writing

Goal: finish small projects. Specifically: Boomflowers and the Vampire Victim Support Group.
Result: progress made but not published. Boomflowers is coming along nicely, and only needs a few more pieces written to get to the end. I haven’t released any updates to this, as I’m waiting for it to be finished before I do that. VVSG is languishing, mostly due to a couple of troublesome pieces that I need to beat with a stick (ie: rejig until they work).

Goal: more Detachable Penis fun.
Result: I got a cover for Part 2! But managed to drag my feet in actually releasing the next book, so it’s not out yet. This is one of those things where I just need to get my head down and sort it out.

Goal: get Starwalker Book 5 moving.
Result: no movement yet. That’s hard to write, but it’s the truth.

Writing was hard for me in 2016. I tried a few different things, but the truth was, I was burnt out and needed the break. Recognising that was an important step, because sometimes you’ve got to stop pushing, start listening to yourself, and try to figure out the best way forward. Sometimes, that means taking a step back.

Clearing the mental decks was essential for me. I’ve had to assess and reassess my capabilities a few times in the past year, try to work out what’s achievable, and then push forward with some new plans. Taking that step back and taking a break was important, and so was figuring out how and when to start moving again.

The good news is that I’ve come out of that ‘break’ now. I put my NaNoWriMo time to good use (see below) and revitalised a languishing project: Vampire Electric. It’s in its second draft, up to the final stages (well past where the first draft got to), and galloping on towards the approximate 200k I think it’ll be before I get to the end of the story. I’m getting back into the habit of writing every day, and enjoying it!

So, I’m happy to report that the year ended on a positive note. Despite not getting to all the things I meant to, after some readjustment of plans, I’m finally making progress.

Writers’ Asylum

Goal: plan it, write it, do it.
Result: done, done, and done! This one was loads of fun, and I had lots of good reactions from those who took part. Some good learnings to carry forward to the next one.

NaNoWriMo

Goal: plan it, do it, achieve wordcount.
Result: done, done, and done!

I had a great NaNo this year, and it was a turning-point for me in the struggle that has been my writing life. I’ve written about how it was actually pretty easy for me to hit the big 50k this year, and the good news is that I’m still writing. Even the break I took over the Christmas/New Year period hasn’t interrupted it much: this week, I’m back writing again, and feeling enthused for the story. It’s a great feeling.

As far as the events go, I’ve written about it here on the blog, but I think we can chalk it up as a success. I had a couple of awesome co-MLs to work with, we tried some new stuff (which I hadn’t originally intended to do, but was so worth it!), learned a few things, and had a great time.

Other Stuff

Goal: streamline home stuff.
Result: same old same old. I had planned to move house, downsize, and simplify things, but that hasn’t happened yet. I won’t go into details, but some other things came up and staying where I was turned out to be the easiest and least costly option. It’s all a work in progress, I guess.

 

Overall, 2016 was a struggle for me. Most of it didn’t go how I’d hoped, I learned a few things, and managed to pull myself out of the bog of uninspiration. By the end, I managed to get myself back to writing again, so the year ended on a high note, which is something to be grateful for.

Now is the time to look forward. To tuck those learnings under my cap, adjust expectations, and try to come up with goals that are realistic but also challenging. And then: get shit done.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

The easy 50

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winnerWriting 50,000 words in one month is always a challenge. Every year presents different hurdles, and I have to say that this year’s ones have been smaller than usual.

This year, I didn’t want to only achieve the 50k goal; I wanted to get back in touch with my writing, re-settle the habits, and get back into the rhythm of writing.

After such a long break from regular writing, I knew that the choice of project would be important if I was going to do any of what I wanted to achieve. So I agonised a lot about what project I should write for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

On the one hand, I have a whole book of Starwalker to write (#5, for those keeping count). I promised to get back to it, and I will; I know I have readers waiting for it. On the other, my head is still not in the right place to write it.

I have other projects that have also been languishing. The one that has been nudging me most insistently lately has been Vampire Electric, the steampunk story that started off as a foray into the realms of paranormal romance and became… something else.

This particular story has been the main project for two previous NaNos. It’s currently in its second draft, as I got far enough through the first draft to know how I really wanted to write it and started again. What that means is that I have a solid base and a clear idea of where it’s going. The characters have been living in my head for years, and the ideas around the plot and its progression have been percolating for longer.

The second draft of VE had around 100,000 words at the start of November, and was about halfway through the story (it’s going to need some severe paring or splitting when I’m finally done with this draft). In many ways, VE is easy mode for me, because I’ve got so much to build on.

And it itches. It’s the one story that has been bugging me to write it. I’ve been neglecting it for far too long, sidelining it for other projects.

For all of those reasons, I decided that that would be my NaNo project for this year. Knock out another 50,000 words of it, get back into the groove of writing, get back into the habit of writing on the train: all of it.

I’m pleased to say that it has gone well. I’ve managed to write at least a little every day, and enough most days to get ahead. I finished the goal word count almost a week ahead of time. The story is still moving along well enough that I think I can keep it going; I’m not feeling burnt out or like I’ve been overstretching myself at all.

Part of it is that I’ve managed to be very productive on my train journeys. I have an hour’s commute, and that used to mean about a thousand words. This NaNo, I’ve been doing between 1,200 and 1,800 per trip (most often just once in a day, because I often nap on the way to work in the mornings). This story just seems to flow so well: like I said, easy mode!

This is also the first NaNo in a while where I haven’t needed to have a break in the latter half of the challenge. In the last few years, I’ve switched to a different project or written something short in the middle of NaNoWriMo, because I’ve needed to take a break from whatever the main project was. This year, that hasn’t been the case at all: it has been all VE, all the time, in one continuous flow. I haven’t even dipped into the historical flashbacks that I need to write for this story.

Right now, I’m loving it. I’m reaching the end of the material I wrote for the first draft and about to foray into the last sequence of the novel (which will not be short; I fully think that 100,000 was only half of what this draft will end up being, so I have another 50,000 words to go). I mean to keep going until I reach the end.

One of the dangers with NaNo is that once the goal is reached, it’s time to take a break. Put the project down for a while. That’s a good thing! But it can be very hard to pick it up again. This year, I got to the goal on the first day of my break from the day job. I have over a week off, some things I want to achieve, and a break of a different kind. I mean to keep writing through it all though.

The truth is that I don’t feel like I need to have a break. I’m at an awkward part of the story, in that I’m trying to coordinate a few factors in the plot, but I know exactly what’s coming just after this phase so it’s not like I’m groping in the dark. I’m looking forward to getting to scenes that I’ve had in my head for years. I’m looking forward to the pay-offs to elements I set up 100,000 words ago.

And I’m really looking forward to having a completed draft that I can start showing to people (for feedback, so I can fix it up).

I’m feeling more positive about my writing than I have for a while. Enthused. Optimistic. Hopeful.

On I write, to finish this novel and get this story out. I can’t wait to get it into a state where I can share it with you all. Don’t hold your breath, but do watch this space!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

NaNoWriMo 2016: Digital Goodie Bag

This year, as part of my usual ‘let’s do something new for this year’s NaNoWriMo’ campaign, I decided to create a Digital Goodie Bag.

I came across the idea on another region’s forum on the NaNoWriMo site when I happened to be in the middle of creating the sheets for the Pre-NaNoWriMo Planning Day. It resonated with me because I’m often thinking about how to help those who can’t make it to our in-person events, and how the resources can be shared for maximum awesome (this is why the Writers’ Asylum challenges always go up on this blog).

It’s a great idea and way to share resources, and so simple: create a folder in a shared location like Google Drive, fill it with goodies, and share the link to that folder with everyone. People can then download whichever documents they want, or grab the zip file to get the whole lot at once.

Once I’d latched onto that idea, I began thinking about all the handy things that could go in such a ‘goodie bag’.

Note: all of the following were created by me, unless otherwise noted.

Planning Resources

This all started because I wanted a way to provide the planning resources to those who couldn’t make it to the in-person meetup. So, naturally, I included all of the sheets I put together.

There are sheets for:

  • Characters. For building major characters, as it’s very detailed. This is based on old RP sheets I used to use, adapted and developed over many years and different applications to fiction writing.
  • Plotting. For the overall plot of your novel.
  • Scenes. For outlining specific scenes.
  • Scene settings. For designing specific locations where scenes might be set.
  • World setting. For building your story’s world.
  • The Snowflake Method. I paraphrased the original method (mostly to boil it down so it would fit on just one page).

To make them easy to access, I prefixed all of the filenames with ‘Planning’, and provided both RTF and Word versions of the files intended to be filled in.

Initially, I only put up the RTF versions, but apparently they are not as universal as I had hoped. So, I added the Word versions in the hopes that everyone could get a version they can use.

The sheets are pretty detailed, with guidance about what each section is intended for. The guidance is designed to ask questions and prompt consideration, potentially of elements that the writer might not have considered. Even if some questions may be irrelevant due to the setting or story, hopefully they help by making it a conscious choice to exclude them. They are not intended to be prescriptive, and they are not checklists. It’s all about thinking through different elements and angles of whatever it is you’re planning.

For myself, I seldom use formal versions of these sheets. I don’t do this type of detailed, written-down planning any more. These sheets do reflect the thought processes I go through when I consider something like plot, setting, or character, however; the principles hold true whether you’re a pantser or not.

I hope they inspire good and useful things!

NaNoWriMo-focussed Resources

Some things are very specific to NaNoWriMo use, and only really applicable in that context, while some are of most use within November but can be helpful at other times as well. I hope they’re helpful nonetheless.

To start us off, we’ve got:

  • Calendar of events. Because it might be handy to have something to print out.
  • Tips for increasing your wordcount.* It’s not that we encourage cheating; we facilitate winners.
  • Tips for how to get unstuck.* This is useful anytime, really, though it’s focussed on those working to a very tight timeframe like NaNoWriMo. Great if you hit a wall or any other kind of writer’s block-like barrier.
  • Plot bunny storage. Plot bunnies are those ideas that pop up while you’re working on a project, but don’t fit with what you’re currently doing. You can’t use it, but you don’t want it to escape, so put it into storage (write it down) for future use. Can also be handy outside of NaNo.

Other Handy Stuff

Things that don’t fit into either of those categories include:

  • A quiz for your characters.* This is handy when considering minor characters or simply those you don’t know so well.
  • A scene list This can be used to plan the story, if you’re that kind of planner, or to analyse it afterwards when you’re looking at structure, flow, and pace. (Many writers use this sort of tool when they have a complete novel draft, to help them decide what needs to be done in the next draft to improve the story; that’s why it’s not in the planning section.) Includes some automated aspects to tag scenes for things like POV and importance, because I was having fun in Excel and had to stop myself before I got all carried away. It’s entirely possible that I didn’t stop myself soon enough.

* (Gleaned from other tips sheets that my co-MLs and I have put together over the years.)

That’s what we’ve got in there so far. I’ve had comments that people have found it useful, and I hope you do too, even if you’re not part of NaNoWriMo. Always happy to share.

So click on through to the Goodie Bag and take a look! Any feedback happily received, along with suggestions about other handy things that might be useful. Want to see something in there? Let me know.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

NaNoWriMo 2016: Pre-NaNo Planning Day

Every year, I try to do at least one new thing for NaNoWriMo. It’d get boring if we did the exact same thing year after year, right? I strive to keep what works and what people like, and throw in new stuff just to see what happens.

This year, we (my co-MLs and I) have a few things we’re trying out. The first of these was the Planning Day. Held two weeks before the kick-off, the idea was that it’s an opportunity for Wrimos to get together and prepare for this year’s NaNo adventure.

Now, the challenge with doing something like a ‘planning day’ is that not everyone plans. Many writers prefer to be pantsers: write by the seat of their pants with no formal plan at all. Others plan out in great, painstaking detail. The most, I venture to guess, lie somewhere in the middle (that’s where I live, closer to the pantsing end of the scale these days).

So, I have a group of people of an unknown size, with different levels of planning to cater for, who are all at different stages of their preparation for NaNo.

One of my main goals with my events is to be as inclusive as possible (across a whole range of criteria!), and that’s always one of the hardest elements to balance. So I had to think about how to get pantsers to come along (or at least feel welcome if they did), how to make it useful no matter where people were in their process, and how to make it feel like a fun, group activity.

Luckily, I like a challenge.

I considered a bunch of approaches, including doing workshops or brainstorming sessions on things like character creation, scene settings, etc. Ultimately, that sort of thing isn’t going to appeal – or be useful – to everyone. Every time I thought of something structured we could do, it all seemed too narrow.

In the end, I went for a looser, more casual approach, opting for breadth rather than a narrow focus. It was up to the writers, then, to choose how best to use the time.

So we put together a bunch of handouts, and gave each attendee a copy when they arrived. (We talked a bit about how and when to do this: do we hand out sheet A at a specific point, and talk about it? Stagger things? In the end, we decided that the attendance was likely to be so uneven across the day that people would miss out on stuff if we timeboxed it, so we just provided the whole pack on arrival to get people started.)

The pack included sheets for characters, plots, settings, etc, among other tidbits. These are now all available in our Digital Goodie Bag (more on this soon!).

That was our approach. Because we’d never done this before, and I’m never sure how these things will go, I was incredibly nervous in the lead-up to the event. We’d made 30 copies of the handout packs, thinking that would be plenty.

One of the busiest parts of the day!  (Picture by one of our Wrimos)

One of the busiest parts of the day! Everyone you see is a writer.
(Picture by one of our Wrimos)

We were wrong. The event started at 11am; I got to the restaurant where we hold these things at 10am to set up; people started arriving around 10:20am. By 12:30pm, we had run out of handouts and were scrounging copies off our regulars to give to new arrivals. An hour or so later, I released the Digital Goodie Bag, so people could at least get to digital copies of the sheets! (Always part of the plan, but I hadn’t planned on releasing it that day. Luckily it was all in place and ready to go!)

We were floored by the response to the event. We lost count due to people’s various comings and goings, but there was at least 40 people at one point. We took over the entire back section of the restaurant and stole tables from other sections to have enough space for everyone to sit down with their laptops/writing implements of choice. (The Coffee Club at Milton is very accommodating to us, and larger than any other one I’ve been into. They made heaps off us that day!)

On top of all that, many of the faces were new to us, so we got to meet loads of new writers as well. We wound up with a bunch of tables, and conversations happened about stories (and other stuff), with people swapping ideas and suggestions and so forth.

We ran a bunch of little, fun exercises across the day, for those who wished to join in, and those were well-received. Small things to spark ideas and get us thinking in different ways about our stories.

On the day and since, I’ve had a lot of positive comments on the handouts and sheets, which also made me happy. Not just because I created the sheets, but because I like to know that what we’re doing for our writers works, that they’re useful, that we can inspire and support writers.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better day. It makes me hope that this year’s NaNo is going to continue to be so chock-full of people, and I can’t wait to find out if it is.

Our NaNo got off to a roaring starting this year, even before 1st November. This is definitely something I’ll do again!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

NaNoWriMo 2016: Decascriptum

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

(Decascriptum is a totally made-up word, meaning roughly ‘ten writing’.)

I meant to post here long before today. For months, posts and parts of posts have been on the tip of my brain, or even my fingers, but they’ve never made it all the way through to the ‘publish’ button.

But here I am, trying again.

This year hasn’t gone the way I’d hoped. Writing continues to be a struggle, though I’ve managed some fits and starts along the way. I’ve chipped away at some small things, flexed some weary writer’s muscles, limbered up for something bigger, longer, more ambitious. But I haven’t quit managed to click back into that stride and really write.

It’s nearly November, which means that it’s almost National Novel Writing Month again, which means that my life is being increasingly eaten up by the novelling phenomenon. This, right here, is a kick I need. Is it the kick I need? A good question that I can’t answer yet.

I’ve got two lovely, new co-MLs (Municipal Liaisons) to help me with the organisation side of things, as well as wonderfully supportive friends who offer their hands in a less official capacity. I am utterly blessed by all of them!

We’ve tried a couple of new things already this year: a Pre-NaNo Planning Day, and a Digital Goodie Bag. Both of them went so amazingly well that I can’t wait to build on them next year. (More on them soon! Also, I created a bunch of writing prompts for the Planning Day, and I’ll be sharing them here soon, too.)

Our Kick-off Party is tomorrow, back in its usual home of being a BBQ in the park. It’s going to be nuts and totally exhausting, and I can’t wait. So many people to meet and so many awesome things to give away.

And next week, the writing begins. I’ve decided to return to my steampunk novel, Vampire Electric, in what will be my third NaNoWriMo focussed on it. My goal this year will be to drive on towards the end of the story (it’s 100,000 words already and only about halfway through, so no promises!). I’ve got a clear idea of where it needs to go and the rough path it should take, and I’ve read the existing material to get back up to speed and in the mood.

My fingers are itching to get started. But no, I’ve created the ‘NaNo 2016’ folder in my Scrivener project, and it will remain virginal until the 1st November.

In the meantime, I’m getting my other writing muscles loosened up. Posting here, and starting a new, writing-centric blog over on Inkspired that I’m calling (at least for now) The Right Write. It’s not going to replace this blog; rather, it’s going to wind up being something of an echo, and for the more writing advice-centric posts, I’ll be cross-posting between them. Blogging on Inkspired is a new thing and I’m looking forward to helping test it out! So far, all I’ve done is introduce myself. Lots more to come.

Don’t worry, I won’t let all that distract me from Actual Fiction Writing(tm). It’s NaNoWriMo, after all: wordcount is all.

Way back in 2008, my second attempt at NaNo inspired me to start a web serial, because I fell in love with the enthusiasm and momentum of it. Now, in 2016, I’m hoping that my tenth (!!) NaNo can help return me to that momentum and creative excitement.

Wish me luck and, most of all, words!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

Looking forward: 2016

It's time to step out into new light! (Picture from Dark Beauty Magazine: “The Journey” — Producer: Miss Aniela Photographer: Mercia Moseley Photography Stylist/Designer/Headpiece/Jewelry: Minna Attala Hair/Makeup: Grace Gray - Model Model: Carmen O. Model)

It’s time to step out into new light!
(Picture from Dark Beauty Magazine: “The Journey”)

Okay, so I’ve gone over how 2015 went. I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my plate and a whole new year spread out before me. While yearly boundaries are arbitrary, they do afford us an opportunity to reflect, to plan, to redirect, and to attack things with renewed commitment and energy.

That’s the hope anyway. Let’s lay out what I have in store this year and see where we get to. For something different, let’s attempt this in possible chronological order.

This is because I’m aiming to have more focus this year. With my health and energy levels in their current state, juggling multiple things at the same time (as I have tended to in the past) is not a great idea right now. So instead, I’m going to try lining them up and knocking them down.

My goal is for 2016 to be the year of Getting Things Finished.

Editing

I’ve got a pile of editing work on my plate, and my plan right now is to work through it before I turn my attention to anything else.

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

Why am I putting this ahead of my own writing, I hear you ask? Because other writers are waiting on me to do things, and that matters to me. Also, editing other people’s work is a shorter job than writing something new, so best to tackle it first.

First up is the editing for Carnifex under the Blade Editing banner. The first edit is almost complete and ready to be sent back to its author. The first edit is the heaviest; subsequent edit rounds will be much quicker to turn around.

Next is the editing for the Everyday Heroes anthology. This is a project that has languished over the holidays, and will be kicked back into action shortly. There’s still a way to go on this, but I’m hoping to get it released by the middle of the year. My first focus will be to get the ball rolling on the editing side again; after that, I’ll mix it in with other stuff.

Once that is off and running, I’ll be finishing off the new editions of The Apocalypse Blog ebooks. This isn’t a huge job: mostly requires some time and concentration (it’s hard to do piecemeal; or at least, hard to do well that way). Two books have been done (one of them the short prequel); two to go. Looking forward to launching the new covers, editions, and pricing!

I have a few other editing bits coming my way over the course of this year, and will fit them in accordingly. Looking forward to getting into the swing of this!

Writing: Small Fry

Cover by the wonderful Willsin Rowe

Cover by the wonderful Willsin Rowe

With Starwalker Book 5 stuck in what the movie industry refers to as ‘development hell’, I’m going to turn my attention to smaller projects to start with. Again: line ’em up, knock ’em down, and compulsively tick them off my list.

Once the bulk of the editing work is done (or at least significantly shoved in the right direction), I’ll be looking at some smaller projects first. I’m thinking particularly of Boomflowers and Vampire Victim Support Group. My goal is to finish the first one completely and get the entries scheduled up and posted, as it’s the shorter of the two, and to get phase 1 of VVSG completed (phase 1 is the first entry from each of the characters; I have 2-3 phases planned).

I’m also hoping to get more of the comedy erotica (The Adventures of the Detachable Penis) written and released. Part 1 is out, Part 2 is written and getting ready for release, and there are 6 parts planned in total. It’s a fun departure from my usual stuff, so makes a nice break. Plus, they’re short (5-7 thousand words each) and pretty quick to turn around.

Writing: Big Stuff

Starry

Starry: she go ‘zoom!’
(Picture: mine)

While all this is happening, Starwalker will be bubbling away in the background. I’d like to get some test-writing done for some of the new material, and pull together a coherent plan for the next book. It was outlined before NaNoWriMo 2015, but given the changes that I want to make, that’ll need to be updated.

I’m aiming to pull together the test-written stuff into an actual backlog of posts, so I can start with a buffer this time around. It should help in those times when I’m having a bad week and am struggling to put a post together, smoothing over the rough patches. (Of course, this is a nice theory; maintaining a buffer isn’t one of my best skills.)

At this stage, it’s hard to know timescales, but I’m hoping to restart Starwalker by the start of the second quarter of 2016. My intention is not to rush this, because I’d like to get it off to a good start.

It’s also entirely possible that the buffer I build up ends up being half or more of Book 5. With the desire to focus this year, writing in my usual serial fashion might not be a good idea, and this could be a chance to change how I approach my writing time. I will still post it serially, but how it’s constructed on the back end is going to be different. That might delay the start of the posting but I hope not!

However, I do have a list of Starwalker shorts that I intend to look over and attempt to revitalise. At least one of the yet-to-be-published ones has been drafted! So one/some of these might pop up in the meantime.

Writers’ Asylum

This tends to be an event that requires some attention from me in the early part of the year, because setting up a day of writing challenges for a bunch of writers can be a tricky beast. However, good news! The bulk of the work for this has already been done.

When setting up my calendar of events for the year, I sorted out a suitable weekend in April in which to host it (working around other events that tend to attract my writer peeps). And thanks to my skittering attention in NaNoWriMo 2015, the challenges for this year’s day of madness have already been drafted. The page has been updated and everything.

All that’s left is to polish the challenges, get them scheduled to go up on the blog so online people can join in, and then run it. Easy.

(I know, I know: famous last words. Shh.)

NaNoWriMo

Skipping towards the end of the year, it’s hard to predict what my project will be for NaNoWriMo this time around. It might be focussing on pushing Starwalker forward and building up that buffer. It might be returning to Vampire Electric to continue the second draft.

Right now, given that the theme of this year will be focus, I’d like to say that it would be Starwalker. I won’t make a decision now, though; I might need a break from the serial by then and take the opportunity to do something different.

As far as NaNo events and organisation goes, this year looks like it’s going to be a tricky one. My co-ML (Municipal Liaison, the fancy title they give those of us who organise the local events) is gaining a baby this year, so it’s possible that we’ll both be pretty time-poor when it comes to NaNo stuff. On the other hand, we might gain a third pair of hands to help out with the ML side of things, so you never know.

At this stage, I’m intending to keep NaNo stuff fairly simple and straightforward. No big Retreat or Overnight to organise takes a lot of the pressure off, as well as a lot of the time and stress in the lead-up to November. This year, changes and experiments are likely to be small in scope (which in itself will be a change!).

Other Stuff

As part of my push to streamline things, I’m also making some changes in my home life to ease various burdens, including financial and housekeeping effort. I’m planning to downsize my home situation, which means going through all the stuff I have in storage and ruthlessly cleaning it out, paring it back, and, ideally, shrinking the raft of stuff that I have to move to a new, smaller house.

I’m not planning to move soon. Given all those things that I’ve mentioned above, from health, to commitments, to all the things I really want to get to, plus the fact that I’m a pack-rat and keep everything, I knew that I’d need time to get something as ambitious as downsizing and packing done. So the plan is to spread it out, chip away at it regularly, and be done around the end of the year.

Honestly, just making this decision and forming a plan to make it happen has lifted a bunch of stress off me. This is mostly a preventative measure, so there’s no pressure to get it done soon, which means I can do it my way. So I shall.

 

And that’s it! That’s my set of goals and ambitions for the year.

Laid out like that, it looks like a lot. But a year is a long time and a lot will probably change in that span. There are a few factors that might pop up and spoil this, but that’s okay: we adjust and move on.

Fingers crossed, 2016 will be a better year than the last. I’m already feeling more positive about things than I have in a while. Let’s get to it!

Onwards, my friends, into the breach, heads up and hearts strong.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (1)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

2015 in retrospect

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking (Picture: credit unknown)

Sometimes when the tide is rising, you just gotta keep walking
(Picture: credit unknown)

2015 was, in all, a pretty low year for me. It involved a lot of struggling, fighting with my health, stress with the day job, and trying to get back to a project that wasn’t playing ball.

But is that all that is worth talking about?

Thinking back over what I had hoped to achieve this year, let’s see how the tally really goes.

Life Stuff

I had aimed to mostly stay in my job and keep my head above water. I wound up changing my job, but I’m in the lucky position of still having one, and continuing to be able to support me and my family. While it’s a struggle and a source of stress (though less now than it was in the middle of the year), I am immensely grateful for it.

I didn’t get to all of the house reorganisation that I wanted to, but I have some plans around that, which I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post.

My health continues to suck, much of which is related to the aforementioned work stress. I also wound up having to have a root canal this year (yay!), which sucked up much of my medical needs budget. More saving (and dental work) required. Joy.

Writing

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

The new-look Apocalypse Blog Book 1

So, with all that going on, how did the writing thing go?

First of all, and most importantly, Starwalker Book 4 is complete. This, of everything, was the biggest achievement of 2015, and I can’t be delighted enough with it.

Book 4 was a rocky ride, took a wrong turn or two, but I got it back on track and to the end I wanted it to have. It is the culmination of 5 years of work, which produced over 400,000 words that I shared with the world. I have a wonderful readership, for whom I am eternally grateful. Even now, months into a hiatus that I hadn’t intended to take this long, they offer me support. I am a lucky writer.

I’ve talked at length on this blog about my struggles and ponderings around Starwalker, so I won’t go over it again. Let’s just say that the hiatus lasted longer than expected and didn’t quite go to plan. That’s okay. Plans must change when they meet reality.

As for other projects, there has been limited movement:

  • Vampire Electric was put on the back burner this year when I decided to dedicate this year’s NaNoWriMo to Starwalker instead.
  • Work has started on the new editions of the Apocalypse Blog ebooks. I’m about a third of the way through.
  • Vampire Victim Support Group got a short boost when I was investigating Inkspired, a serial-friendly publishing forum. It languished a bit in the latter part of the year.
  • Boomflowers is a new project, also on Inkspired, which suffered the same languishing fate.
  • Splinter Soul poked its head up during NaNoWriMo and is starting to take shape in the shadows.
  • I experimented with writing and releasing a comedy erotica story. It isn’t selling great yet, but I’m working towards the next installment and hope to bulk up the numbers once I can call it a series. This was great fun to write and something of a departure for me. Always nice to try something different!
  • Other projects fell by the wayside and remain on my list.

In less fictional realms, I’ve been better with updating this blog and keeping it going. I’ve been expanding the scope by adding author interviews and book reviews, and I hope to do more of the same going forward.

The other big thing I did in 2015 was to get an anthology project in motion (with some friends and colleagues; it wasn’t all me). We’re in the depths of editing at the moment, after stalling over the NaNoWriMo/holiday period.

Writing Events and Community

Look! It's a tiny writing dragon! (Picture by jrrhack)

Look! It’s a tiny writing dragon!
(Picture by jrrhack)

In 2015, I organised and ran the usual events. The Creative Writing Group is still going strong, and recently I have started to record our meetings (these will go up online as soon as I figure out how and where). Attendance continues to be healthy to all of the events, with the usual tides of newcomers joining and others drifting away.

I am ever grateful for the lack of drama in my writing community.

I spread my monthly events out in 2015, instead of having them on the same weekend, and that is working well. It spreads the cost and effort, which helps everyone out, I think.

The Writers’ Asylum went well and I tried a slightly different format that turned out to work well. Learnings will be carried forward to this year’s, which is mostly written already (I’m so organised! Hey, it happens sometimes.).

We tried some new stuff with the NaNoWriMo events this year, with some mixed results. They all went well on the whole, though, and I’m happy that we’re continuing to head in the right direction. I have awesome people around me, so it’s all worth it.

So, all in all, it wasn’t a terrible year. Things were achieved. Other things weren’t. It’s hard to see the positive when the fatigue is heavy (like it is right now), but laying it all out like this helps.

I have some ideas for 2016 and how to make it better than what has come before. More on that coming soon. In the meantime, hope your reflections and resolutions are going well.

Goodbye, 2015. I don’t think I’ll miss you!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

The future of Starwalker

After the struggle and ultimate disappointment of writing Starwalker for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, I’ve been giving some serious thought to how I get back on the web serial  horse.

I don’t give up on things easily. I have stories left to tell in Starwalker: there is one, probably two books in her yet. I miss the weekly posting and checking up for comments to see what people think and how they’re reacting. I’m frustrated that I’m not making the progress that I should be on a project – any project, but particularly my central one – right now.

So I’ve been giving some serious thought to why it’s proving so difficult this time around. If I’m going to fix it, I need to understand it.

Part of it is that I’m struggling to do anything terribly creative right now. I’m not only having trouble getting down to write Starwalker; I’m having trouble focussing my attention on any project at the moment, certainly for long enough to make real inroads into it.

The creative drain is something I put largely down to the mental and emotional exhaustion that I’m suffering lately. It has been a stressful year and that has impact my chronic fatigue in ways that I’m still coming to understand. It’s more than physical. I’ve got ideas and still love my stories, but just don’t have the creative energy to sit down and turn them into words. Not with any longevity, anyway.

Starwalker, in particular, seems difficult to get back to. In comparison, I wrote sections of newer projects much more easily (beginnings of things have always come pretty easily to me). I’ve been mulling over why this is, and it has taken a while for me to admit to myself that I’m finding Starwalker a bit boring.

I still love the story. I still adore the characters and their voices. I am still keen to see what happens with Starry and her crew, and the challenges they have ahead of them.

But after four books, it is all a bit rote now. When we return to the story, the ship is travelling (limping a bit) on its way to somewhere else. Because of the damage, this takes a while, which is usually an opportunity for some musing on the parts of the characters to soak up the downtime.

It’s not really anything new, though the characters are in slightly different places now. And if I’m feeling a bit bored with the routine of it all, surely my readers are feeling it, too? Or are they looking forward to more of the same? (I haven’t asked, or maybe this is me asking: is the pattern of Starwalker getting stale?)

I think what I want to do is shake things up. Shift focus, try a new approach. I’ve been pondering different points of view, different ways of telling the story, though I’m reluctant to diverge from the ‘ship’s log’ approach. That, in particular, is part of what makes Starwalker stand out from the crowd, and I don’t want to break the format. Shake it up, yes, but not shatter it entirely.

What does that mean? I’m not sure yet. I’m pondering options and different ways to tell the story, including more points of view, skipping the long, dull tracts of space travel, and maybe including some log entries from outside of the ship and her crew. I’m trying to think of other new things I can try out, just to see what happens.

It all requires more thought and planning, which will take a bit of time. I don’t want Book 5 to be simply ‘more of the same’, for my own sake as a writer as well as for my audience, I want the start of this next phase in Starry’s journey to be fresh and different to what has come before. I want to break free of the bogged-down feeling that the end of Book 4 had (for me, anyway) and start something both familiar and new. I want to get truly excited about this story again, so it can be the fun, dangerous ride that the first books were.

I’m back at the drawing board for Starwalker. It’s going to take a little time to get it straight and good to go. I beg for patience and perseverance, I’m determined to do this right, and I’m hoping to get myself in a better emotional and energetic state so that Book 5 sings along merrily.

In the meantime, I’ll be shifting the Starwalker site to a new host to cut down on my costs. Wish me luck! More coming on this soon.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (1)
  • More pls (0)
Share

Why NNWM: Proof positive

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge that is run on an honour system. That means that it isn’t policed, and sure, there are a huge amount of ways to cheat if that’s what you want to do.

Ultimately, I don’t think that NaNoWriMo is about proving anything to anyone but yourself. That’s why its honour system works, and why that honour system is enough to make NaNo meaningful: at the end of the day, if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself. Anyone can mock up a winner’s certificate easily enough; it only means something if you’ve actually earned it. And if you have? Great job!

A lot of people say that they want to write a novel one day. NaNo is the chance to make ‘one day’ be today, and it’s a chance to realise that yes, you can actually do it.

When you get to the end of the month, if you’ve hit the target and completed the challenge, you’ve written a novel. Sure, it’s the first draft of a novel and needs work, but you’ve done it. Even if you haven’t reached the end of the story, that’s okay, because you’ve just proven that you’re capable of writing 50,000 words in only a month. If you can do that, you can get to the end of the story, however many more words that means. Then you’ve got the first draft of a whole novel, and that’s pretty damned awesome.

You’ve proven to yourself that this writing thing isn’t so far out of reach. It isn’t some unicorn you say you want to tame like it’s a fantastical dream that lives on the other side of the rainbow. No, you’re Dorothy fucking Gale, riding the whirlwind over the rainbow, and you’re squashing that unicorn like its a stripey-stockinged witch. You went forth and made your way through every twist and turn of your own personal yellow brick road. You collected characters along the way and saw them changed by the end. You looked behind the curtain. And you came home in one piece, but different. Broader, more accomplished, like you just saved a whole multi-coloured world.

You know now that you can do something amazing. You managed to put your self-doubt aside, sat on your inner editor and all those other voices that tell you you can’t do it, and proved them wrong. You are capable of doing more than you thought you could.

And if you didn’t reach the 50,000 words? Either way, you’ve learned something. Maybe it’s how to fit writing into your life, or the best way to plan a novel. Maybe it’s the opposite: you’ve learned what doesn’t work for you. That’s all good: it’s all a step forward. And, chances are, you’ve now got 35,000 or 20,000 words of a novel under your belt.

Let me tell you: that’s still damn amazing. It’s still something. That’s still 35,000 or 20,000 more words than you had at the beginning of November. It’s still an adventure and an experience.

For many writers, NaNoWriMo is a way to realise that writing a novel is possible, and plausible, and achievable. Particularly for those who don’t have their own personal cheering squad, or whose self confidence can be unkind and unhelpful, this can be the kind of lift that they need. It can give them the impetus and confidence to continue forward, to keep writing and maybe finish that novel. Or maybe just that warm, fuzzy feeling of a goal achieved, a win they can call their own.

We all need that bit of validation every now and then. Some, more than others. Never underestimate the value of a sticker, or a cheer, or a PDF certificate to say hey, you did this awesome thing, you wonderful writer you.

Good for you.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share

Retrospective: Overnight write-in 2015

Every year, I try to do something a little different for our NaNoWriMo events. It has led to fun like:

  • The roving write-in, riding the trains around Brisbane with our laptops. (Sadly killed when they removed the daily train passes and it became horribly expensive to achieve.)
  • The Writer’s Retreat, a weekend away on a tropical island at the beach.
  • The evening Kick-off Party with the midnight writing start at 00:00 1st November. (Only feasible when Halloween and 1st Nov are on a weekend.)

Some of the changes have been small. Others have been larger, like those above. Some we’ve kept; some have come and gone for various reasons. This year, the Retreat wasn’t going to work (the cost was proving to be prohibitive), so I thought I’d try something a bit different: an overnight write-in.

The idea was that it would be similar to the Retreat, in that people would go away for a night, and have an extended ‘write-in’ to focus on writing. I’m lucky enough to have a generous-sized house right now, with room that could accommodate a good number of people, so I volunteered my house as the venue.

The idea was also to keep the cost down as much as possible. It being held at my house meant that there were no accommodation costs to worry about; it’s summer, so people could bring a pillow and crash out on couches or cushions easily enough.

The main challenge was the consumables. Knowing that there would be a lot of people, and knowing that we have one fridge in the house, I had to approach it as simply as possible: we would provide all the food and drink, and then we wouldn’t have to contend with people trying to squeeze food and drinks into my fridge. It meant there was a cover charge for the event ($60 AUD), but I figured that was pretty reasonable, all things considered.

It’s not cheap to feed and water a bunch of people. It being summer here, I had to make sure there was plenty of liquid refreshment available. That was fine, though I think I over-estimated how much we would need: there’s a load of soft drink left over. That’s okay, though; at least we didn’t run out.

For snacks, we got in loads and again have some left over. Not a problem; they’ll cover some of our other events as well. These are all good things to know, though.

The overnight was one night (Saturday), which meant one dinner to be catered. That was easy: pizza. That went well, and there were enough leftovers to provide breakfast the next morning, too. Definitely a win!

The Sunday lunch was a challenge, though. Again, I didn’t want to prepare/cook myself (the effort would have been too much, and there’s a certain level of liability that I’m not quite prepared to shoulder). So, I looked at caterers and getting a finger-food buffet lunch delivered.

This was, perhaps, the most contentious part for me. It required organisation well in advance, confirmation a week in advance, and payment several days in advance. It meant that I had to order for how many I thought would come, and predict the dietary requirements, or constrain the bookings to those who made it by our deadline. It was also a little more expensive than I had hoped it would be.

As it happened, the bookings were sluggish coming in, and I wound up getting a bunch of requests on the day it started from people who wanted to come along. I didn’t mind, but it did complicate things. So, with the caterers, I wound up making a judgement call and booking for how many people I thought would come, and hoped it worked out.

As it happened, the numbers weren’t that far off (we had about 15, rather than the 20 I was aiming for), and we had a gluten-free platter when no gluten-free people were coming. But it was all very tasty and went down well, and it all pretty much disappeared. So I’m glad for that!

The other surprise was when people started showing up. I had planned for a 10am start on Saturday, but it was 3pm before most people started to turn up. The last attendee arrived about ten minutes before the pizza arrived. I suspect it’s why we had over-estimated the drinks and snacks required; people simply weren’t around as long as we were expecting. Perhaps the emphasis on it being an overnight write-in caused it? Is making something cover the whole weekend too much? I’m not sure – more investigation required here.

Overall, I’d say it went well. People came, they spread out around the house and deck, and they wrote words. We met new faces. We took breaks and played some games. We ate and talked and hung out a bit, then wrote some more. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

I will say that the numbers weren’t what I was hoping for. There were many who said they were interested but didn’t come (for varying reasons). There were others who, I’m sure, didn’t come because it wouldn’t be their kind of thing (sleeping on couches, for example).

It’s also worth pointing out that this required a lot of preparation. All the public areas of the house had to be tidied and cleaned, and that was a lot of work (not that it’s normally disgusting, but it’s different when a heap of people are coming over, many of whom had never been to my house before). Getting everything ready wound up being a lot of work.

On the flip side, the aftermath was actually not too bad: we used plastic cups and plates, which meant the cleanup was actually fairly minimal. That was a relief.

All the same, it took me two days to recover afterwards. I think I underestimated how much work and stress was involved. Thank goodness I had taken time off work around this! I was pretty useless for a couple of days. And this was even with help! (I didn’t do it all on my own.)

This all means that future expectations should be adjusted. If we were to do the same thing again, I think I’d approach it differently.

It’s far too early to think about planning next year’s NaNo (this year’s has barely finished), but I wanted to capture this while it’s fresh. Also, I’ve been thinking about doing a winter overnight write-in, because the notion of doing it when it’s cold out is very appealing.

So what would I do differently? Let’s see. For the winter one:

  • Pyjamas. For the whole weekend. Blankies are encouraged.
  • Have activities for people to do. This won’t be during NaNo, so a load of free writing time would get boring. So, something like holding writing games, or a character creation workshop, might be fun.
  • Focus on having a smaller group for it. With it being colder, it might be less fun to sit outside for hours at a time. The house is only so big. Smaller and cozier would be good.
  • Call it a weekend pyjama writing extravaganza (or similar). Staying the night entirely optional. Some beds and couches and beanbags available for those who wish to stay.
  • Think differently about the catering. Try to find a better/cheaper/more flexible option for the lunch.

For next NaNoWriMo, I might try:

  • Call it a Weekend Write-in. Hold it for the whole weekend, but less emphasis on the overnight portion.
  • Loosen up the catering and costing. Have people pay on the days, so they can come for only one day if they wish.
  • Look for alternatives for the Sunday lunch. The catering was great but ultimately too awkward and expensive.

So, a few things to work on. I’ll do a poll and get some feedback, and see what others thought of the weekend, too; there may be more to add to this list.

I enjoy these experiments. I like to try things out! I’d really love to try a floating write-in on the river, but I don’t think the ferries are conducive to writing here.

Always on the lookout for something new to try. What will next year’s big try be? Watch this space, I suppose. Suggestions are, as always, welcome.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)
Share