November is, as usual, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The concept is simple: Write a novel in a month. Or part of one, whatever’s your goal. I guess “beating” NaNoWriMo means that you wrote a novel during the month of November, but there’s a big difference between 60,000 words and 240,000 words, in case you hadn’t noticed.
It matters little, because NaNoWriMo brings writers, prospective ones in particular, together. There’s cheering and helpful pats on the back, because everyone’s suffering. Some are giving this organized and disciplined novel writing thing a go for the first time, and they realize how hard it is. Others are seasoned, with several drafts or even published books behind them, and they know how hard it is.
One of the most searched upon posts here on TDH.me is my e-ink typewriter piece. There are people visiting it every day, which speaks volumes about what weird creatures writers are. Yes, I think they’re writers, who else would find use of a typewriter in this day and age?
These people would probably like the Hemingwrite, a typewriter for the, well, I’m not sure what century. First things first: This is a prototype, you can’t buy it. The images seen in this post are renders, aside from the one where the prototype’s actually being used. Despite this, and the lack of the inevitable Kickstarter campaign, the tech press has been all over the Hemingwrite.
Quartz has a piece with tips on handwriting, where exercising your hand and lower arm is mentioned:
Typing doesn’t build the hand and finger strength necessary to hand-write for long periods, Blain points out. Squeezing a stress ball can help with that. So can stretching out your writing hand to avoid arm injuries. An 80,000 word hand-writing binge last November landed Blain at a physical therapist for an elbow injury, because she hadn’t stretched out her arms or taken enough breaks.
Useful advice if you’ve a mind to write a longer piece, a book perhaps, by hand.
I’ve written about outlining before, but I’ve left out how I do my outlining. While the basic premises are the same no matter what, and the whole there are no rules thing still stands, I do have some thoughts to share on the matter.
For me, outlining is help along the way, something that keeps me focused on the task at hand. It’s the guiding light that makes sure I don’t delve into some dark cave where brain fungus live, forcing me to tell you about the time I found an enchanted ring of cheese, which of course was a metaphor for the Moon High And Bright, and… Yeah. Outlining’s a good idea no matter how you do it.
Ian Fleming, in an essay on writing thrillers, published in 1963:
We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.
A bit of self-promotion follows. If you need more inspiration and helpful emails to reach your writing goals (you have goals, right?), do request a beta to BlankPage, an online writing app I’m a part of. Ping me on Twitter and I’ll fast-track your beta invite.
Screens are interesting. I’ve got a lot of screens that I interact with. It’s obviously the actual device behind the screen that makes a difference, but I’s still fascinated by screens.
I’ve got a HDTV (several, in fact). I watch and play stuff on it, but other than that it’s not much of an interaction.
There’s the retina MacBook Pro too. This screen is gorgeous, a truly impressive piece of technology right there. Having switched to retina iOS devices a long time ago, I now have a hard time using an operating system on a non-retina screen, or equivalent. I love the retina MacBook Pro screen, and I can’t wait to see it on other devices.
I fancy myself a writer, with several books published. Most of the stuff you can buy written by me these days are technical literature. I’m doing alright with that, although I write (and wrote) a lot of other stuff too. Like fiction, which I’m focusing on at the moment (alongside the revision of The Writer’s iPad of course). I’m mostly writing short stories and novellas at the moment, but I’ve got larger things in mind too. There’s a novel that I need to revisit, rewrite, and then ship off to an editor and/or agent. Then there’s all of those ideas, the thrillers and the quirky stuff, the horror and the love stories. The things I write.
But I have a confession to make. The thing I write best, or at least the thing that’s easiest for me to write, is fantasy. You know, swords and magic and dragons and stuff like that, although not necessarily in the straight-forward flippant way I just said it. Fantasy can be quirky and dark and weird and mature and sad too. I’ve been so engrossed in fantasy literature and pen and paper role-playing games as a kid that it’s made such an impression on me. I get ideas constantly, I have no problems whatsoever building worlds or creating creatures and outlandish characters. It’s a bit weird, because science fiction is further off, although I think I’m pretty good at that too. At least if I take a step from the scifi cradled in today’s science, into the abstract, weird and twisted. Science fantasy if you will, although that’s another beast altogether, come to think of it.
Let’s leave it at that, because I have another confession to make. This one’s stupid, I know, but I can’t shake it. I feel silly writing fantasy. It’s kids stuff, not proper literature, too easy, too far from social commentary and real people’s lives, too far from important things. When I told people about my projects, years ago, they just wouldn’t take them seriously because it was rooted in fantasy. ”I just don’t get into that stuff,” they’d say, and I would feel even more silly.
How stupid of me, right?
Today fantasy is mainstream. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies made it so, big time, and the Game of Thrones TV series underlined it. Suddenly fantasy’s not just for nerds, everyone watches it, albeit perhaps not reading typical fantasy books. Yet I still feel silly telling people about this world and series of books and short story arcs that I’ve got planned, that I’ve been writing. It just feels weird talking about that stuff.
The whole thing’s stupid, and it’s all in my head. I shouldn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about what I’m writing, I should only care about the story. If someone reads it then that’s great, and if not I’ll be sad and move on. But letting people who apparently have no interest in the genre nor in my fantasy writing get to me’s just not fair.
Yet here I am, with over a thousand downloads of my most recent fantasy short story, as well as a previous (no longer available) short story collection in the same world that people seemed to dig, and I’m still struggling with wether I should be writing fantasy. I can honestly say that I’m not sure how much of that struggle is me letting myself be limited by the outside world and my notion of what they might be thinking, and the fact that I’ve already written so much fantasy already and it might be time to try something new. I don’t like the feeling I get when people want to talk to me about my writing, and we all get uncomfortable when it’s not something the talkative people are even remotely interested in, nor capable of talking about.
Yeah, still stupid, I know, I know.
I’m not a person uncertain of myself. I run successful companies and give talks. I regularly put myself in harms way, not caring the slightest what people think of me should the situation warrant it. But my writing, and the idea I have of my writing, that’s fragile.
I’ve got the next couple of months pretty laid out in terms of writing projects. Mostly it’s short stories and novellas, but come summer, when my Primary Novel Project is rewritten, I’ll have to face the music again. Because I have this outline you see, this storyline that I think would turn out pretty well. To make that happen I need to finish the short story arc planned when I first released the Estam short story for free, and then I’ve got two more of those arcs. Then there’s the prologue book, which is halfway done already, and the culmination of all that in a book or two, possibly some short stories, I’m not sure yet. Anyway, there’s that, and the book that comes after, which I really, really, really, want to write… It’s an extensive project, one that’ll take years to work my way through, not counting whatever Hell actual publication might bring. I can honestly say that this mammoth project is enticing, and I think it’d turn out great. And it’s fantasy, in case you couldn’t tell.
I’m so torn by this. Things would obviously be a lot simpler if I didn’t have any other ideas, but I do. Plentiful in fact, I could just decide I don’t ”do” fantasy anymore and be done with it. No more doubt, no more silly feelings of being inadequate or whatever it is. I’m afraid that’d pose other questions though, perhaps doubt even. And I don’t like trying to fool myself either.
So there you have it, my fantasy confession. If I lost you along the way, it’s because I feel silly just writing this, which probably means I should man up and not give a shit. I’ll write what I’ll write, and that’s the end of it.
What cannot be denied is that the first Macintosh changed my life completely. It made me want to write, I couldn’t wait to get to it every morning. If you compare computers to offices, the Mac was the equivalent of the most beautifully designed colourful space, with jazzy carpets on shiny oak floors, a pool table, wooden beams, a cappuccino machine, posters and great music playing. The rest of the world trudged into Microsoft’s operating system: a grey, soulless partitioned office, with nylon carpets, flickering fluorescent lamps and a faintly damp smell.
Whatever tool you choose, the one that you’re happy with is the one that’ll let you perform best. I Stephen Fry’s case, back in the day, the Macintosh was empowering him, making him want to write. Today lots of writers dream of MacBook Airs because it just seems like a sexier way to churn out words than the black fat plastic Windows laptops they’re stuck with. It’s nothing special really, we all want better tools.
Every now and then the following advice in regards to writing floats up through the sewage. Beware, this is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you have someone dear standing by. Alright, here goes:
Write what you know.
I think that’s utter nonsense. I have to think that, otherwise the world’s a lot darker than I thought. Think about it, if every thriller and horror writer out there wrote what they knew, then they’ve committed more crimes against humanity than your least favorite dictator. I can’t believe that, Stephen King has to be a nice guy, so the only conclusion I can draw is that these fellows didn’t write what they knew.
If we writer types just wrote what we knew, fiction would be awfully boring. There’d be almost no crime or horror stories, nor any particularly interesting erotica for that matter. Let’s not even consider where fantasy and science fiction would fit in here.
“Write what you know” is bad advice, but there’s a grain of truth to it. Let’s twist it a bit, into “research what you write”, and we’ve got something useful.
Write whatever you want. Don’t be constrained by silly facts like you’ve never fine-dined in Venice, traveled in time, seen two-headed giants, or driven a golf club through the eye socket of somebody. Do research these things though. Where can you dine in Venice, what’s time travel really, how would a two-headed giant look and move, and what’s the terminal velocity of a golf club? Those are valid things to consider.
Tomorrow is November 1st, and although most of us call that iPad Air Day, some have more reasonable goals. Like writing a novel in a month, as a part of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.
The target word count is 50,000 words. That’s 1,667 words per day in November.
Or as I like to call it: Quite possible to pull off.
I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo myself, I’ve got enough writing project on my table as it is. Although I must confess I’m weirdly tempted each year, despite averaging a word count higher than the necessary one to complete NaNoWriMo in style. It’s nice to belong, I guess.
While working on your NaNoWriMo project, I urge you to do the following:
Turn off Twitter, Facebook and whatever you’re addicted to, at least until you’ve reached your daily word count.
Pick a writing tool and stick to it.
Speaking of writing tools, I’ve got two links for you there too. First is my ebook, The Writer’s iPad, which is all about helping you write on your iPad. The second is a new focused writing service called BlankPage.io, which is free to use during November. The latter isn’t built by me, but it is part of the same Odd Alice satellite program as Shrtnws, so give it a shot.