Thursday, 27 November 2008

The grass is always greener ...

Whenever I’m writing I feel an almost overwhelming urge to quilt instead. When I finally get around to quilting all I can think of is the books I’m longing to read. In the middle of reading I’ll be wishing I wasn’t so tired so I could get off the couch and do some scrapbooking, and when I’m scrapbooking …

You get the idea. Whatever I’m doing, something else always looks more inviting. When God was handing out attention spans I must have been in the nose line.

About a week ago, it was nearly killing me that I hadn’t read a book since the beginning of November. The only book I wanted in my head was my own and besides, I know how weak I am. If I started to read a book, I’d just read till I was finished and let the writing fall by the wayside. So I was being strong, despite there being several books I was itching to get my hands on.

But then my husband suggested a trip to our favourite book store, Infinitas. Did I say, “no, I couldn’t possibly, I’m too busy writing”? Did I say “get thee behind me, Satan Husband”?

Of course not. I leapt in the car like a golden retriever being offered a ride to the park (although I didn’t stick my head out the window or pant and get drool all over the seat).

My husband promised to hide the books when we got home so I wouldn’t be able to read them till Nano was over, but unfortunately he had to go out straight away and forgot. So there went a large chunk of the next two days, while I devoured The Painted Man by Peter V Brett. (A brilliant read, but more on that in another post.)

But at least it got the reading bug out of my system for a while. I picked myself up, promised to do better, and got back into writing. Only … I started to have lustful thoughts about fabric. Buying it, cutting it into little pieces and sewing it back together. I bought half a dozen patchwork magazines in an effort to get my cravings under control. But by 45,000 words the urge to sew was so strong I could hardly bear to sit down to write. My story was crap, the writing was wooden, my characters bored me senseless. I couldn’t stand it.

The loathing was so strong it took me till about 4 o’clock this afternoon to actually start writing today. It even crossed my mind to give up the whole thing, which would be pretty ridiculous this close to the finishing line. But why was I was doing it, if I hated writing this much? I know plenty of writers say that they go through stages in every novel where they hate the whole thing, but is it really as bad as this?

After it took a couple of hours to write the first 200 words today I gave up on writing full scenes. I just wanted to get it over with, so I started writing down whatever disconnected junk came into my head for the next scene, thinking, I can always come back later and fill it out properly. Just get “the good bits” down. And after I’d done that for a couple of scenes it started to flow again, thank goodness, and I got over my whole I-hate-writing tantrum.

So now I’m at 48,000 words. Hallelujah! By this time tomorrow I should have my life back. On the weekend I can sew!

And by Monday I’ll be saying “I hate sewing! I am never going to finish this quilt!”


Monday, 17 November 2008

Nano progress

What do maps, water sprites, miners’ tokens, flamestones and the tides between worlds have in common?

You don’t know? Well, that makes two of us. But I think they’re important – even connected – in my story. I just have to figure out how.

They’re what Holly Lisle calls “muse bombs” in her How to Think Sideways course: those little details that fall on to the page direct from the subconscious. You didn’t intend to put them in your story, they just appear, and then they catch your attention and insist on meaning something, making the story richer in the process than you consciously planned.

I’m having a lot of fun, though still regularly stricken by those panicked “but what comes next??” moments (just about every time I have to start a new scene, in fact). I realised today that I have about 6,000 more words written than I did this time last year, which pleases me. Still slightly ahead of the game at just over 31,000 words today. Once you make it into the 30,000s you start to feel you’ve broken the back of it, though in fact I know that story-wise I’m only about a quarter of the way through.

So I’ll end up having to do what I did last year, and write the end of the book as scene outlines instead of fully fleshed scenes. Chris Baty, the founder of Nano, recommends this approach, saying that it’s easier to come back later and fill out notes than have to dream up what happens next once you’ve lost touch with the characters and the narrative impetus. It certainly sounded logical to me and I was close enough to the end at 50,000 words last year that there were only about half a dozen scenes to outline.

The funny thing was that, by the time I got back to the novel to finish the first draft, I took one look at the notes I’d written and thought, “well, that’s not going to work!” and chucked it all. So it’s true what they say: you should put your manuscript away for a few months after you finish it and come back to it later with fresh eyes. You can view it a lot more objectively that way. I’ll be going back to that revision when I finish the current Nano project. Hopefully I don’t see by then that the whole thing needs to go!

Drama Duck’s caught the Nano bug and is trying to work out how she can do it too next year. Even Baby Duck is into novelling at the moment. His latest magnum opus is entitled Chickens From Space. He draws the pictures, we staple them together, then he dictates the text to me. In a world first, I give you a thrilling excerpt from this literary masterpiece:

Flapsy [one of the space chickens] laid an egg. POP! Out of the egg came a little chicken head and Stretchy [name-obsessed space chicken] asked what his name was too.

The chicken replied, “Bork!”

Stretchy said to Flapsy, “Is that his name? ‘Bork’?”

Flapsy said, “No, his name is John.”
Deathless prose! And he’s only five. Just think what he’ll be doing in another twenty years. Look out, Christopher Paolini!

Good luck to all the other Nanoers out there. Only thirteen more days till you can have your life back!

Monday, 10 November 2008

You know you're doing Nano when ...

1. … you’re at school listening to your child’s classmates read and you can hardly concentrate because one of the characters in the book is called “Great Aunt Desdemona” and all you can think is hey, that’d be great for Nano – that’s three whole words every time you mention the character’s name.

2. … you hardly hear the kids’ chatter on the way home from school because you left your heroine literally hanging off a cliff with a venom-spitting dragon just above her head and you need to get home and save her.

3. … your husband wanders past about 5:30, sees you still pounding away on the keyboard and says “So, I guess it’s takeaway again tonight?”

This last was a base and unjust accusation, I might add. In fact I made him his favourite dinner tonight, just to prove I can do Domestic Goddess and Creative Genius simultaneously.

Not that I’m getting cocky. As usual, I no sooner started crowing about how well the words were flowing the other day than it all came unstuck. I struggled through a couple of horrible days where getting the words to come at all was like pulling teeth. Yesterday I decided to have a life. Nice day, but unproductive wordcount-wise.

It was about this time last year that things got ugly. The first enthusiasm peters out and you’re left staring down the barrel of this huge dog’s breakfast, full of half-baked ideas and mind-numbing dialogue (and hideous mixed metaphors like that one). I wrote very little a couple of days, and even missed altogether on another couple, and before I knew it 50,000 words was receding into the distance faster than you could say “holy diabolical plot twist, Batman”.

So this year I’ve resolved not to miss any days, even if I only write a little. Now I’m closing in on 20,000, which is a good feeling. Finished on 19,390 today – before dinner even! So I get to watch a DVD and relax tonight, for the first time since October. And no, it won’t be Harry and the Honey. I’ll be laughing my head off at Pierce Brosnan all over again in the wonderful Mamma Mia.

One of my Nano buddies, the fleet-fingered Jaye Patrick, has already passed 50,000. Last Friday, in fact, which is a truly astonishing effort. It’s so far beyond my abilities I can’t even be jealous. I’m just awed. She’s now streaking off into the distance, and will probably arrive at the finish line with around 200,000 words under her belt.

I definitely need to find some one-fingered typists to buddy up with next year.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Harry and the Honey

Baby Duck and I were discussing a treat for him yesterday. The girls are doing something on the weekend without him, so a consolation prize seemed in order. He’s always asking to hire a DVD from the shop, and the DVD shop is right next to school so we walk past it all the time, but we don’t often say yes. The kid would be a complete zombie if we let him watch as much TV as he would like.

He was pleased with the idea and announced that he wanted to see “Harry and the Honey”. Now, it might not be obvious to everyone, but I speak fluent Baby Babble, so I knew he meant the Bee Movie. (If you haven’t seen it, the main character’s name is Barry, so he was reasonably close.) I agreed to get it for him and put it on my mental “to do” list for today some time.

This morning my darling husband offered to take the kids to school and preschool so I could get an earlier start on the day’s Nano wordcount. He’s thoughtful like that. I think I’ll keep him.

So here I am, typing away merrily, when the phone rings.

Confused husband: “Do you have any idea what this movie “Harry and the Honey” is? The guy at the DVD shop’s never heard of it.”

I could hardly stop laughing. Baby Duck had propped at the door to the shop and announced that “Mum said you have to get me a movie”. The kid has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to remembering promises. My poor husband. Luckily he doesn’t embarrass easily.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Emergency: Send more chocolate!

That munching sound you hear? That’s the sound of my brain being eaten alive by the Nanomonster living inside my skull.

Ye gods! Send more chocolate. I don’t know if I can keep this up. I’ve been writing with a splitting headache all afternoon. It wasn’t until I’d nearly finished that I realised I’d been writing all about my heroine’s splitting headache. Is it just me, or is that a bit Twilight Zone? Is art imitating life or vice versa? I’d better be careful I don’t make her pregnant or something. Maybe she should win the lottery?

My brain is in total meltdown. This novel-writing caper is taking up all the room in my head. You wouldn’t believe what I did tonight.

I was making a cheese sauce. Usual procedure: melt butter in microwave, add flour, mix, add milk and microwave till sauce thickens then add cheese. Easy. So I get a full tub of butter out of the fridge, scoop a bit into the microwave jug and put the jug in the microwave for a minute on high. Only when the microwave beeps and I go to remove the jug, I discover that the jug’s still sitting on the bench. It’s the brand-new tub of butter that’s just turned to goop in the microwave.

Someone please remind me why I thought doing Nano again would be a good idea?!

My head feels like the tardis – bigger on the inside than the outside. The pressure of all those words in there fighting to get out is killing me. Or maybe it’s just the headache. I’m too stuffed to be able to tell. I’ve done 11,000-odd words in the last five days, which is a new record for me. Sadly most of it is probably crap. I know at least half what I wrote today was. It was even boring me to write it, so I don’t think I’ll be letting anyone read it any time soon. Fortunately for my sanity I eventually wrote my way through this suckfest and once or twice even achieved a zen-like state where words seemed to tumble out almost, well – easily. And they were good.

Maybe that’s why I wanted to do it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


That’s how many words I’ve written on my Nano novel this weekend. Not a bad start, though as usual it took me much longer than I would like, plus a fair bit of snarling at children to go away and leave me alone. I wish I could write faster. I suspect if I were better prepared it might not take as long. A distressing amount of time is spent staring into space wondering what on earth is going to happen next.

There’s also the issue of the computer I am using this year. I love my computer. It has many wonderful features, including a large monitor, a lovely soft keyboard, lots of memory, cordless mouse and an internet connection. Its bad points are that it is located in the family room and it has an internet connection. Last year I was mainly working on an old machine with a clunky keyboard, tucked away downstairs – and no internet connection. Amazing how much easier it was to concentrate when the internet was not available as a distraction.

Still, I am such a master of the noble art of procrastination I’m sure I could come up with something even without the internet. Yesterday was comical. It took all the self-discipline I possess (yes, all two drops) to sit down at the computer and start. “But it’s so big and scary!” said my inner panicker. “50,000 words. I can’t do it! And there’s so many other things I could be doing. How about scrubbing the shower recess with a toothbrush instead? That should kill a few hours.”

It took me over an hour, but after making cups of tea, getting (and drinking) several glasses of water, visiting the bathroom because of all the water, finding my favourite pen (because, you know, when you’re typing your novel on a computer you really need a pen), gathering all my notes, rereading them, re-rereading them in case I missed something the first time that was so crucial to the (as-yet-miniscule) plot that I couldn’t possibly start without it – after all that, I managed to get started.

So far so good. How is everybody else going?