Wednesday, 29 October 2014

It's That Scary Time of Year Again

As October wanes there is a terrible, daunting and spine chilling event on the horizon. If you're thinking Halloween, you're not thinking scary enough. No, I'm referring to Nanowrimo.

Not a greeting from an alien being, but an event that occurs every year in November, where thousands of would-be-writers lock themselves in their fortress of solitude and attempt to hammer out 50,000 words before December 1st. That might be a whole story, it might be a couple of stories or it might even just be the first quarter of an epic fantasy with a dark lord and mysterious strangers appearing at opportune moments. The important thing is getting 50,000 words written on your story(s) before November ends.

I've done Nanowrimo once and it was really, really hard. I don't actually remember if I managed it or not (which suggests I didn't) but it was a great experience for a few reasons;

  • It made me sit and write almost every day.
  • It forced me to write over 2000 words in every sitting. Well, actually it made me write 500 words one day and then 3500 on another.
  • I realised by the end of the process what an incredible ball-ache writing a novel is.

That last may sound like I didn't enjoy it; I did in fact and would highly recommend it. But it is still an indescribably painful, frustrating and emotional process to actually get 50,000 words on screen in such a short time. Even more painful when you read your manuscript and see you've created a monster that should be locked away in the darkest trunk you can find, and then sunk to the bottom of the sea. But that bit doesn't actually matter (another thing I learned). What matters is actually getting those words down and realising that you are capable of doing it. One of the biggest hurdles to writing is the fear factor, and a big fear is that you just can't hack it. But actually, you probably can. It may make you white haired and gibbering in a corner of the room by the end, but you can do it.

I won't be doing Nanowrimo this year, though I am using the month as an incentive to write at least 500 words of something everyday. I have a spreadsheet and everything:

DateMonthWord Count GoalWord Count ActualDifferenceAccrual GoalAccrual ActualDifference
10/27/2014October50010645645001064564
10/28/2014October500-5001000106464
10/29/2014October500-50015001064-436
10/30/2014October500-50020001064-936
10/31/2014October50025001064
11/1/2014November50030001064
11/2/2014November50035001064
11/3/2014November50040001064
11/4/2014November50045001064
11/5/2014November50050001064
11/6/2014November50055001064
11/7/2014November50060001064
11/8/2014November50065001064
11/9/2014November50070001064
11/10/2014November50075001064
11/11/2014November50080001064
11/12/2014November50085001064
11/13/2014November50090001064

As you can see I doubled my goal yesterday. This blog post will get me today's target. Geeky? Yes. Useful? Definitely. I am a master at procrastinating, even though I really enjoy writing once I'm sitting down and actually doing it. But it's a game me and my subconscious have to play; I'll tell myself to do something, and the other me will say "okay, in a minute". Five hours later and I'm practically screaming at myself to do the thing I want to do. But I still find distractions and shiny things. In fact to understand just how bad this can get go to Hyperbole and a Half to read the post that I think may have been stolen from my own head.

So, in the face of my own never-ending ability to not do the thing I need to do, I need to come up with ways to trick or force myself into it. The above spreadsheet is my whip with which I will hit myself to get shit done. It has worked before, but I think I made the goal too high, so I soon just threw the whip away and played Plants vs Zombies instead. This time I've kept it low; I know I can clear 500 words in under thirty minutes, if the wind blows right, so it's not as daunting as setting 1000 words as the target instead. Hell, this 'ere blog post is already 790 words so I'm totally on target for today.

If you do decide to take on the Nanowrimo challenge - I highly suggest you do if you want to write novels or short stories for a living - then I can only offer the following advice.

  • Do play the numbers game: you will not always be able to hit your daily word goal, so there will be some days you can allow yourself to write very little, as long as you write a lot on another day.
  • Schedule days off. Seriously, it will stop your brain from dribbling out your ears and down your neck. No one wants brain matter on their clothes.
  • Try to get some sort of story plan together before you start. Even if you only plan each day as it happens, it really helps to have thought about what you're going to write before you sit in your writing chair. Otherwise you'll end up staring at the screen as though you're looking into the great empty eyes of Cthulhu before it devours you.
  • Do not beat yourself up if you don't actually write 50,000 words in the time frame; the point of this challenge is to get into the habit of writing, and prove to yourself you can churn out the words when you need to. Think of it like exercise: you may not be able to run the whole marathon and get to the end drawing on your hands and knees, but just getting over that finish line is proof that you are a super-amazing wonder-person who may not be able to fly, but it is not through a want of trying. And you have the broken bones to prove it.

If you want to be as geeky as me I really recommend some kind of spreadsheet too. Not only does it allow you to track how you're doing it also means you can make really nifty graphs and stuff to show your good and bad days, or if you add it, your best times of day to write. And then, when you see the fruits of your labours in those pretty charts you can give yourself a pat on the back, and proudly say, "I am a geeky writer".

Victory hedgehog believes in you!



Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Feelings

Feelings are weird. They rarely behave how you expect them to and when they do it's more puzzling than reassuring. The last two months have been a strange ride, and a big part of me can't believe my dad's been gone for that long; yet it's no time at all. By and large it's been an odd mixture of feeling not a lot before either crashing into a pile of tears or laughing so hard I am yet again crying. But in a good way. I think.

One weird thing I've noticed is anything can set me off laughing or sobbing. I was standing waiting for a tube train at a station I've used a gazillion times. It is also the station my dad used for the 37 odd years he worked in London. This tiny thought barely passed through my squidgy brain and it left behind an emotional storm akin to Hurricane Bawbag. Only a sheer force of stubbornness stopped me from sobbing on that platform.

Two days later I read a tumblr post about a guy playing the Sims while drunk, and it made me laugh so hard I couldn't see or breathe. It's not even that funny. Well, it is, if you're a gamer who also tortured poor little sims in a variety of fucked-up-this-is-what-hell-is-like ways. But it cracked me up to the point my sides hurt.

The rest of the time is even stranger. I can have perfectly normal conversations, I enjoy people's company, I am genuinely emotionally engaged with what's going on. But afterwards it seems like someone turned the volume down or forgot to paint the colours in. It's all just a bit "meh".

Essentially this grief business is a complete and utter mind-fuck; just when you think you're maybe getting a grip on it all, a page from a newspaper will drift past on the wind and remind you of that time your loved one did a thing or said a thing. There's absolutely no frickin similarity between that damned bit of paper and the memory but nevertheless your brain goes, "huh, that reminds me of this time you probably don't want to think about right now, but I'm going to make you think about it anyway, because I'm a sadistic prick who is going to make you have feels - whether you want to or not."

The one thing I can say about all this is I am definitely getting a much better understanding of how to write more rounded characters with major emotional issues. In an odd way keeping a part of myself as an observer is helping, as it provides a distance when all of these feelings get a bit too much. Writing what you know has never rung more true for me than right now.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Book Review: The Name of the Wind - The King Killer Chronicle: Day One

The Name of the Wind - The King Killer Chronicle: Day One
Patrick Rothfuss
2007
Kindle Edition, 2010

I was recommended The Name of the Wind by a friend of mine from work after my dad passed away - she's been through that loss and said it was a great escapist fantasy. She also warned me that people died in it, just in case that might trigger me, but I guessed that might feature; it wouldn't be much of a fantasy story without someone close to the protagonist kicking the bucket. She was also desperate to find someone else to talk to about it, and what better way then to force a friend to read the same thing so you can chat. No forcing was necessary as it turned out; The Name of the Wind is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn. While not original in the slightest, the way it brings the elements together largely works and is extremely easy to read. It's also perfect for those less familiar with fantasy, or younger readers who are looking for their next "boy wizard" fix.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Someone Needs to Call the Doctor

When the news broke that Peter Capaldi was to be the next Doctor Who I was thrilled; he's a great actor, he has the crazy eyed look and he's Scottish. All of these things made me really look forward to seeing him in full Who mode; confusing silly humans while saving them and just generally being incredibly cool. Sadly this is not what I have got so far from the eighth season of the Doctor. So far I've found the stories to be largely dull and predictable; Doctor Who by numbers. There hasn't really been any cool new creatures for the Doctor to face off against. And worst of all the companion, Clara Oswald, has continued to annoy me; seriously, what does she actually do now that her "puzzle" was solved by the last Doctor?

I should say at this point that if you haven't seen any of Season 8 that there are spoilers ahead. Read on at your own risk.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Finding Comfort in TV Shows

Two weeks have passed since my last post and my life is settling back into a routine again, albeit one with a massive missing piece. It's an odd experience, trying to create a new normal. All you can do is take it all one day at a time and try not to think too much about times to come and who's going to be missing from those future events. I've made plans already to be with Mum over Christmas for a full two weeks; we both know it's going to be hard but hopefully being together will soften the ache the vacant chair is going to evoke. I'm also keeping myself busy with work, and with my at home activities. But I'm still making sure I take time to feel and mourn as needed; it's surprising how sneaky grief can be.

Over the weekend I watched the entire first season of Transparent on Amazon Prime. It is without a doubt one of the best TV shows I have seen in a long while. It was created and directed by Jill Soloway, probably best known for writing episodes of Six Feet Under. Challenging, funny, bittersweet, Transparent genuinely has it all. Sadly I know a lot of people will be put off or otherwise not give it a chance purely because of the subject matter and the mature nature of the programme. This is a show not embarrassed by the human body, and explores the nature of gender, being true to yourself and living your life for others sake, regardless of your own desires. It stars Jeffrey Tambor in career defining form as Mort Pfefferman, who has finally decided to live how he always wanted to; as a she. The impact this has on the family, along with flashbacks on his road to discovery, make up the first season.

With each episode only lasting for half an hour, quick-fire dialogue and outstanding performances from all, Transparent is a rare TV gem. It also made me cry horrendously. Not because of the content (though the whole family storyline did bring up feels) but due to the musical choices. A lot of it is the kind of music Dad always listened to. And then at the end of the ninth episode, they played one of the songs we had for Dad's funeral, Leonard Cohen's "That's No Way to Say Goodbye". I am not ashamed to admit I bawled like a baby. It was unexpected, but oddly was a great relief to get so much of the pain out. Because this is the thing about grief; it doesn't come when you want it to or in the way you expect. It builds up inside you without you being aware of it, like poison waiting to be drained. Then it hits you sideways and you just hope it won't be when you're in a room full of people.

If it weren't for TV box sets and streaming services I can guarantee all of this would be harder to deal with. So far I've finished Transparent, two Seasons of the Borgias (also amazing), Arrow Season 1 and a number of films. I've also been making time for writing every day and am finding that this too is a great cathartic experience. Not just getting words down and exploring a story, but feeling like even in the middle of this hurricane I'm in right now, that I'm still moving toward something. Watching inspiring things like Transparent only encourages me to keep going, in the hope that the something I'm moving toward is a story of my own that's half as good.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Observations on Grief

There are times when life tests us, when just getting through the day is a goal in and of itself. Trying not to block emotion, but at the same time trying to not let the tidal wave of feeling engulf us. I'm in that place right now and it is a strange, frustrating, educational and, at times, painful place to be. I'm making goals for myself, taking time to enjoy things, and giving myself permission to just feel what I need to feel without embarrassment or self-consciousness. This is what's been going on since my dad died two and half weeks ago from a heart attack.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Day I Saw George and Robin


For once I have a good excuse to be late with my blog post; I've got a lot of deadlines for stories and one of them is the 31st August. Cue much furious typing and trying to get the thing finished to submit. For only a 3000 word story it's been hard to make the time to write. I of course blame the day job (and not my own inclination to watch TV episode marathons) but things are looking good. I'm on track to have it finished, rewritten and edited before the due date.

The other thing that ate into my time, but was welcome to, was an event I went to last Tuesday evening; HarperVoyager UK presenting George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb in conversation. As these are two of my favourite authors, and the event was happening about ten minutes walk from where I work, I couldn't say no. Tickets weren't cheap, at £45 each, but then again how often are you likely to see not one but two of your beloved authors in the same place, talking about their own work and asking each other questions? I can safely say it was worth the price of admission.