Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Still Writing

NaNoWriMo has come and gone and I’ve got around 6,000 words of the 50K, but really I stopped writing after the first few days. It wasn’t some gradual fade either. It was a full on, dead stop, right in mid-sentence.

Not only didn’t I make it, I hardly tried.

The easiest reason to give is work. It’s the reason most people give and I would certainly be within my rights to do so. After all, it’s not like we’re lollygagging. Still, I think that’s the easy out for me. Over the years, I’ve worked lots of crazy jobs under tight deadlines and still managed to get my writing time in.

Writing is about showing up, and I haven’t been showing up.

If I added up all the words I’ve written in the last year, it wouldn’t amount to much more than a week’s output of my former writing self. Still, even though I’m not putting down words, it doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’ve had ideas for stories and books. I still get excited when I think about getting to the keyboard. I still haunt the bookstores and hear the tales calling to me from the stacks.

I’m still writing.

There are some people who will say that I’m kidding myself, that I’m not really writing. I don’t really care about that. Frankly, those people are the same people who are likely to tell you that story X, Y, or Z is awful or that you’ll never be a writer or that even if you are a writer you’ll never make a living at it. These are the same people who will push you down in the gutter and tell you to get back up again too.

Fuck those people.

Writing is about showing up every day. This is true. Writing is also about looking at the world a little differently than most people. It’s about looking into the deep “why’s” of the world. It’s about ancient patterns that persist across the whole of human history. Writing is about a single moment and what it means to one very particular person. Writing is about song and tears and the red hot passions that lead people to love and kill each other. Writing is about humanity, and I haven’t stopped being human just yet.

I’m still writing. How about you?

Frankenstein's Finches: My 2010 NaNoWrimo Project


It’s November 1st and I’m writing a novel.

As I’ve done for the last two years, I’m taking on the challenge of writing a novel during November, which is one of the busiest months of the year for me. Still, even though NaNoWriMo is a challenge for me personally this time of year, the last two events produced rough drafts that I am particularly proud of (even if I haven’t finished them yet).

My story this year is tentatively called, Frankenstein’s Finches and it asks the question: What if Charles Darwin wasn’t the only Naturalist onboard during the famous voyage of the HMS Beagle? What if that other Naturalist was Victor Frankenstein?

It is generally assumed that the events in Frankenstein take place in the mid to late 1790s. This would put Victor Frankenstein somewhere shy of 30 at his death. However, if he had managed to survive his pneumonia in the arctic, he would have been in his early 60s by the time the HMS Beagle left Plymouth in 1832. This would be a considerable age for the time, but Victor Frankenstein is not an average man.

The story follows the style of Darwin’s narrative in Voyage of the Beagle, interwoven with journal entries and notes by other members of the trip, including Captain FitzRoy and Darwin’s assistant, Syms Covington. Together, these men learn of the past of Victor Frankenstein and why he has joined them on a journey that will take them to the other side of the world.

Yes, I suppose the pitch needs more work but I’ve got some real writing to do.

If you’re looking for more stuff to read about NaNoWrimo, I recommend checking out the archives. I’ve got close to 30 posts here on the site about NaNo’s of years past. Best of luck, Wrimos!

This Is How It Works

Image credit: Flickr :: stillframe

I finished my NaNoWriMo book last night.

Well, I finished the 50,000 word bit. There’s still lots of writing left to do, or undo in this particular case.

I’m lucky to have a job that keeps me really busy in December otherwise I might slip into the all-to-familiar realm of post-novel depression. As it is, I’m just relieved to have the damn thing behind me.

This year, the going was especially rough. The One Name kept me going for a long time, but not even that could help me when the story failed… when the plot became so thin and contrived that I felt compelled to burn an extra 2,000 words writing an apology to myself for coming up with the idea in the first place.

Oh, the story is fine, as a story. As a book, well, maybe it just isn’t a large enough canvas or perhaps I’m not that sort of painter…

Bla, bla, bla…

You might be feeling the same way right now. Even if you didn’t participate in the madness of NaNoWriMo, perhaps you have a work in progress that is flagging, a flaccid photocopy of a brilliant idea reduced to rubble by your ineffectual skills as a novelist…

This is how it works.

Every story starts out like this. Even a book like Kip Frazier, which is taking me forever and a day to write, started out this way. Kip didn’t even come along until I’d written the the first story from five different vantage points. Kip didn’t even come along until I was deep, deep, deep into my worrying about the viability of the concept behind the story.

Don’t beat yourself up. Or if you do, don’t do it for very long. Make it quick and get it out of your system.

I finished this year in a blaze of wordcount. I got behind and I had to make up ground fast. At times, I was writing so fast I really have no idea what I was writing. I knew that the characters were there, but at times they changed. Sometimes they were younger, sometimes older. Sometimes they changed races. Whatever I needed to keep pushing forward at a crushing pace.

The last push was a monster of over 5,000 words. At the start of the month, a 5,000 word may not seem like much, but at the end of the project it’s like removing your eye with a pair of tweezers.

When I finally uploaded my text for verification, I stared at the screen for a few minutes. I thought that perhaps I’d never write again. That this was it. It was too much.

And then, something new came knocking…

The vampire lived at Number 7, a tidy brownstone with a little wrought iron fence running along the front. I stood at the fence. I was a little wary, but I’d been invited for tea and it would be so very rude to decline.

This is how it works.

You write and then you write some more. After you think you’re done, you write some more. Even when you think you’ve got nothing, you write some more. Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing. The stories come whether you want them to or not. They are insistent. They are demanding…

and it would be so very rude to decline.

That last line implies violence and that’s exactly what you’re in for if you decline.

Stories eat at your mind until you shut them away, and then they eat at your heart. Eventually, if you continue to ignore them, they force their way out or grow still and heavy in your soul. They crush you.

A story can kill you if you refuse to write it.

This is how it works.

You are a writer and it is your job to write. Get used to the pain and get back to the keyboard.

It is the length that kills…

Is it presumptuous of me to be editing an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson? Of course! But what’s the point of being a writer if you’re not going to be presumptuous?

I decided to do this little project tonight because my NaNoWriMo project is at a standstill. I had it going yesterday but today I’m all thumbs. I figure there’s plenty of people out there doing the same thing, and wouldn’t you know it… The same thing happened to RLS!


By Robert Louis Stevenson
First Published in the Idler, August, 1894
This version, edited by Jamie Grove November, 2009 (with apologies to RLS)

Treasure Island was far indeed from being my first book, for I am not a novelist alone. But I am well aware that my paymaster, the Great Public, regards what else I have written with indifference, if not aversion. So, when I am asked to talk of my first book, there’s no question that what is meant is my first novel.

Anyhow, I was bound to write a novel. It seems vain to ask why. Men are born with various manias: mine to make a plaything of imaginary series of events.

By that time, I was thirty-one I had written little books and little essays and short stories; and had got patted on the back and paid for them – though not enough to live upon. I had quite a reputation, I was the successful man. But still there shone ahead of me an unattained ideal: I had not yet written a novel (although I had attempted the thing with vigour not less than ten or twelve times).

All my attempts, my pretty ones, had gone for a little, and then stopped inexorably like a schoolboy’s watch. I might be compared to a cricketer of many years’ standing who should never have made a run. Anybody can write a short story – a bad one, I mean; but not every one may hope to write even a bad novel.

It is the length that kills.

The accepted novelist may take his novel up and put it down, spend days upon it in vain, and write not any more than he makes haste to blot. Not so the beginner. Human nature has certain instincts that forbids that any person should endure the miseries of unsuccessful literary toil beyond a period to be measured in weeks. There must be something for hope to feed upon.

The beginner must have a slant of wind, a lucky vein must be running. He must be in one of those hours when the words come and the phrases balance of themselves – even to begin. And having begun, what a dread looking forward is that until the book shall be finished!

For so long a time, the slant is to continue unchanged, the vein to keep running, for so long a time you must keep at command the same quality of style: for so long a time your puppets are to be always vital, always consistent, always vigorous!

I remember I used to look, in those days, upon every three-volume novel with a sort of veneration, as a feat – not possibly of literature – but at least of physical and moral endurance and the courage of Ajax.

In the fated year I came to live with my father and mother at Kinnaird. I walked on the red moors and by the side of the golden burn. My wife and I created a joint volume of logic stories, for which she wrote ‘The Shadow on the Bed,’ and I turned out ‘Thrawn Janet,’ and a first draft of ‘The Merry Men.’ I love my native air, but it does not love me. The end of this delightful period was a cold, a fly-blister, and a migration to the Castleton of Braemar.

There it blew a good deal and rained in a proportion; my native air was more unkind than man’s ingratitude, and I must consent to pass a good deal of my time between four walls in a house known as the Late Miss McGregor’s Cottage. There was a schoolboy in the Late Miss McGregor’s Cottage, home from the holidays, and much in want of ‘something craggy to break his mind upon.’ He had no thought of literature; it was the art of Raphael that received his fleeting suffrages; and with the aid of pen and ink and a shilling box of water colours, he had soon turned one of the rooms into a picture gallery.

My more immediate duty towards the gallery was to be showman; but I would sometimes unbend a little, join the artist (so to speak) at the easel, and pass the afternoon with him in a generous emulation, making coloured drawings. On one of these occasions, I made the map of an island; it was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully coloured; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance ‘Treasure Island.’

I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and find it hard to believe. The names, the shapes of the woodlands, the courses of the roads and rivers, the prehistoric footsteps of man still distinctly traceable up hill and down dale, the mills and the ruins, the ponds and the ferries, perhaps the Standing Stone or the Druidic Circle on the heath; here is an inexhaustible fund of interest for any man with eyes to see or twopence-worth of imagination to understand with! No child but must remember laying his head in the grass, staring into the infinitesimal forest and seeing it grow populous with fairy armies.

Somewhat in this way, as I paused upon my map of ‘Treasure Island,’ the future character of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection. The next thing I knew I had some papers before me and was writing out a list of chapters.

How often have I done so, and the thing gone no further!

But there seemed elements of success about this enterprise. It was to be a story for boys; no need of psychology or fine writing; and I had a boy at hand to be a touchstone. Women were excluded. And then I had an idea for John Silver from which I promised myself funds of entertainment; to take an admired friend of mine, to deprive him of all his finer qualities and higher graces of temperament, to leave him with nothing but his strength, his courage, his quickness, and his magnificent geniality, and to try to express these in terms of the culture of a raw tarpaulin.

Such psychical surgery is, I think, a common way of ‘making character’; perhaps it is, indeed, the only way. We can put in the quaint figure that spoke a hundred words with us yesterday by the wayside; but do we know him? Our friend, with his infinite variety and flexibility, we know – but can we put him in? Upon the first, we must engraft secondary and imaginary qualities, possibly all wrong; from the second, knife in hand, we must cut away and deduct the needless arborescence of his nature, but the trunk and the few branches that remain we may at least be fairly sure of.

On a chill September morning, by the cheek of a brisk fire, and the rain drumming on the window, I began The Sea Cook, for that was the original title. I have begun (and finished) a number of other books, but I cannot remember to have sat down to one of them with more complacency. It is not to be wondered at, for stolen waters are proverbially sweet.

I am now upon a painful chapter.

No doubt the parrot in my tale once belonged to Robinson Crusoe. No doubt the skeleton is conveyed from Poe. I think little of these, they are trifles and details; and no man can hope to have a monopoly of skeletons or make a corner in talking birds. The stockade, I am told, is from Masterman Ready. It may be, I care not a jot. These useful writers had fulfilled the poet’s saying: departing, they had left behind them Footprints on the sands of time.

Here, then, was everything to keep me up, sympathy, help, and now a positive engagement. I had chosen besides a very easy style. It seems as though a full-grown experienced man of letters might engage to turn out Treasure Island at so many pages a day, and keep his pipe alight. But alas this was not my case!

Fifteen days I stuck to it, and turned out fifteen chapters; and then, in the early paragraphs of the sixteenth, ignominiously lost hold. My mouth was empty; there was not one word of Treasure Island in my bosom; and here were the proofs of the beginning already waiting me at the ‘Hand and Spear’!

I was indeed very close on despair; but I shut my mouth hard, and during the journey to Davos, where I was to pass the winter, had the resolution to think of other things and bury myself in the novels of M. de Boisgobey. Arrived at my destination, down I sat one morning to the unfinished tale; and behold! it flowed from me like small talk; and again at a rate of a chapter a day, I finished Treasure Island.

But the adventures of Treasure Island are not yet quite at an end.

I had written it up to the map. The map was the chief part of my plot. I sent in my manuscript, and the map along with it, to Messrs. Cassell. The proofs came, they were corrected, but I heard nothing of the map. I wrote and asked; was told it had never been received, and sat aghast.

It is one thing to draw a map at random, set a scale in one corner of it at a venture, and write up a story to the measurements. It is quite another to have to examine a whole book, make an inventory of all the allusions contained in it, and with a pair of compasses, painfully design a map to suit the data. I did it; and the map was drawn again in my father’s office, with embellishments of blowing whales and sailing ships, and my father himself brought into service a knack he had of various writing, and elaborately forged the signature of Captain Flint, and the sailing directions of Billy Bones. But somehow it was never Treasure Island to me.

It is, perhaps, not often that a map figures so largely in a tale, yet it is always important. The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand; the distances, the points of the compass, the place of the sun’s rising, the behaviour of the moon, should all be beyond cavil. But it is my contention – my superstition, if you like – that who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support, and not mere negative immunity from accident.

The tale has a root there; it grows in that soil; it has a spine of its own behind the words. Better if the country be real, and he has walked every foot of it and knows every milestone. But even with imaginary places, he will do well in the beginning to provide a map. As he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon. He will discover obvious, though unsuspected, short-cuts and footprints for his messengers.

And yet, even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in Treasure Island, it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.

The original essay comes from Project Gutenberg. If you like, you can read it there, but I’ll warn you that it’s dreadfully dull. Maybe this isn’t any better, but it is shorter. 🙂

The One Name

My Patron Saint? Probably.

NaNoWriMo is coming…

In just a few days, thousands of passionate writers will start down the path to writing a novel in 30 days. The goal is 50,000 words. Most will falter around 10,000 (or less). The reason?

With Passion, anyone can write 10,000 words… Anyone. To get past the 20% mark, you need something else.

Some people fall back on organization: outlines, meticulous planning, character sheets, etc. They spend hours thinking about the structure of their stories, running mental what-if scenarios. I know this because I’ve done it too, and for sheer volume it does wonders. On occasion, it even helps finish books.

That said, I’m going to tell you my secret. My secret is obsession. Obsession is how I get things done.

How Obsession Worked Last Year

While working on Kip Frazier last year, my passion wavered around 20K words. I’d been there before, and I knew that some time spent working on structure would get me energized again. So I set about doing what I might have done at the beginning, which is to plan and outline.

It didn’t help.

The more I planned, the more I hated what the story was becoming. The more I outlined, the more trite and predictable things became. The more structured I tried to make the story, the more Kip complained.

“Quit yer nibbin’, Mister Writer!” Kip said.

Eventually, he just took over.

“Listen,” Kip said. “Nobody’s payin’ you to look pretty or be clever! They’re paying to see what I’m gonna do. You just scribble down what I tell you and it’ll come along just fine.”

And he was right of course. Kip is always right. So, I listened to Kip instead of trying to tell him what to do and the rest of the 50K came off without a hitch. I’ve since gone on to add another 50K to the stack and there’s more to come.

You might think that Kip Frazier should’ve been done a long time ago, but this is a project that will take years to complete. Years because I’m obsessed with getting it just right. Obsessed with keeping my nose out of Kip’s business and just letting him do the work.

Am I Obsessed This Year?

This year’s story is one I just couldn’t get out of my head. In fact, I was so passionate about it, I wrote a short story (which has not appeared anywhere yet). I just couldn’t let the idea go.

But passion is only going to get me 10,000 words, maybe 20K. I need to be obsessed. Am I obsessed?

I was worried about this. In fact, last Saturday I wrote a post questioning the entire premise for my planned NaNoWriMo novel. That post is still sitting on my computer, a dead thing that withered away before it could be finished. It was a half-hearted attempt by my inner critic to try and silence the work before it even got started, but it didn’t work. I’m still thinking about that story.

Thursday night I woke up at 3:38AM. Wide awake. My head was clear but my thoughts were buzzing. I could have solved any equation put before me, crunched massive data sets in an instant. Hell, I was so plugged in I might have gone on to write a full page of text without a single typo.

But out of all that might have happened, one thing slammed into my brain: a name.

The One Name

You see, when I was working on the story version of this tale, I had an idea. The idea fueled the passion to create a fun and exciting bit of action. It helped knock out a few laughs and some quirky dialogue. However, it wasn’t going to get a novel written. I knew that. I needed something I just couldn’t lay hands on, not even when I was working on the story.

If I go back and look at my notes, I see no less than a dozen names scribbled in the margins but not one is right. Not one name is the One Name.

Then Thursday, when I was sound asleep the middle of a chilly October night, the One Name came and pushed me out of my sleep. It stood me up against the wall and slapped me across the face.

I’m awake of course and terrified. I feel like I’ll never sleep again, which is both exhilarating and nauseating.

The One Name is nose to nose with me in the dark. It brushes against my cheek and teases my ear with a slow intake of breath. I know what is coming. I know the One Name is going to reveal itself and tell me what I thought I might have lost. I know that I’m about to receive the gift of Obsession and that once I have it there will be no stopping the story.

And then I have it. And it is perfect. And I feel myself go limp and spiral back down to the bed where I find myself lost to sleep.

Yeah, I’m ready. Obsession will not be an issue. 🙂

Do you have plans for NaNoWriMo this year? Are you going to write from passion? Obsession? Organization? Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Are you ready? Are you afraid? Is the answer to all of these questions “yes”?