Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No no Nano

Stop the presses – it’s November and I’m not doing Nano. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last four Novembers in a row, so not to be pounding out 1700+ words a day in a panicked scramble feels weird. Like December without Christmas.

I have all this time on my hands. Ha! I wish. Those pesky renovations. There’s always another wall to scrub or a ceiling to paint. That was one reason I decided not to participate this year. Another was that those last four manuscripts haven’t got any further. As with quilting projects, I’m great at starting new novels. Not so hot on the revising and finishing thing. Character flaw, I’m looking at you.

NaNoWriMo, in case you don’t know, is a group madness that overcomes tens of thousands of people all over the world every November. They agree to write a 50,000 word novel in a mere 30 days. There are no prizes; nobody sees your novel, or checks your wordcount. It’s purely a motivational thing. There are forums where you can chat with other like-minded novelists, finding answers or inspiration. How far can a horse travel in a day? Someone will know. What’s a good name for an alien artefact? There’ll be lots of suggestions.

There are also local groups which hold writing get-togethers if you’d like to meet writers in your area. Parties too, when it’s all over! You can become online “buddies” with others and send encouraging mail, or just chat. Your wordcount and your buddies’ will be displayed in your own little corner of the Nano website, which is a feature I really like. Watching those wordcounts creep up is very motivating. I hate getting left behind! (Who, me? Competitive??) Updating your wordcount at the end of every day and seeing the little bar edge along is very satisfying.

The girls are both doing the young writers’ version. It’s basically the same thing, but on a separate minors-only website where they get to choose their own wordcount goal. Obviously most kids go for something a leeetle smaller than 50,000. Drama Duck’s goal this year is 8,500 words, and she’s already reached it. Demon Duck is shooting for 3,500.

So at least there is some nanoing going on here, just not by me. I miss the excitement and the buzz of doing it alongside so many others, but reason had to prevail. As a kind of non-Nano consolation, I’m trying to outline a novel this month instead. I’ll still have to write it later, but outlining doesn’t take as much time as writing, and can be done while painting or cleaning, so it’s a more viable option this month. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as just making stuff up on the fly, but I figure it’s worth trying at least once. Doesn’t mean I’m permanently converting to the dark side!

It’s hard, though. Not as hard as writing coherent scenes while desperately improvising the plot, but answering the “what happens next?” question for a whole book-sized plot even in outline is brain-straining stuff. The “big idea” that makes you want to write the thing in the first place has to be broken down into hundreds of smaller ideas that all link together in a meaningful and apparently inevitable progression.

People are always asking authors the dreaded “where do you get your ideas from?” question. I think they assume the whole book falls into your head fully formed, so when they ask “where do you get your ideas from?” what they really mean is “how do I get the complete plot of a bestseller to fall into my head so I can simply transcribe it on to paper and wait for the money to roll in?”

Get the idea and the book writes itself. If only it were that simple! That bit about 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration should be in giant flashing letters. Only the people who sit down and actually try to turn their idea into a book realise that getting the initial idea is the easy part.

Everything else requires effort. And, pants it or plan it, it’s still work!

Monday, 14 November 2011

The most valuable thing in the world

I have a desk calendar that gives a quote per day. [Note to self: This year, don’t be such a tightwad. Buy yourself a calendar before the January sales so you have a decent selection to choose from.] Are they inspirational sayings? inscrutableness? philosophical platitudes? Not sure what you’d call them. Some of them state the obvious, while others make meaningful comments on the human condition. Today’s Zen saying was not one of the latter.

It asked the question, “what is the most valuable thing in the world?” Time, you might think? Good health? Love? Family?

Ah, no, grasshopper. You are too predictable.

“A student asked his teacher, ‘What is the most valuable thing in the world?’ ‘The head of a dead cat,’ the teacher replied. ‘Why?’ the student asked. ‘Because no one can name its price,’ was the teacher’s reply.”
Isn’t that awesome?? Once I stopped laughing I spent a happy five minutes dreaming up all sorts of other gross and gruesome things whose price could not be named.

It also brought to mind the book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat by Simon Bond.

Remember that? It was all the rage 20 or 30 years ago (ooh, now I’m showing my age). Cartoons of cats being used as toilet brushes, footstools, so many silly things. Can’t remember them now but I was highly amused at the time. I know I bought a few copies for my cat-loving friends.

I’m sure the Carnivore had a copy. Despite not having a vicious bone in his body, he likes to cultivate a reputation as a cat-hater. For many years he had a bumper sticker on his car that read: “Missing your cat? Check under my tyres”.

Come to think of it, a sense of humour – while not the most valuable thing in the world – is a pretty handy thing to have. Especially if you live in this house!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Tales from the building site, Part Deux

Does this face look stressed?

No? I assure you it is.

Poor Two Planks is not enjoying the whole building experience. She can see and hear all these men who would surely love to pat her and be slurped upon, but she just can’t get to them. Some bastard has put up the old baby gate at the top of the stairs so she can’t run downstairs and tromple gaily through the mud and concrete to get to the builders.

Then there’s the problem of all the loud and often worrisome noises coming from outside. Brick saws (ye gods, what a racket!), nail guns, bobcats, trucks, tiny baby bulldozers and motorised wheelbarrows, men shouting – it never stops. How’s a dog meant to protect her people from all these monsters?

And the final indignity: since she can’t be trusted not to gallop off into the sunset whenever she sees an open door or gate, she has to go outside for toilet breaks on a leash. Bad enough not being allowed free rein in your own backyard, but the worst part is that every time the leash is produced she thinks she’s going for a walk. Talk about ripped off!

This is where we’re up to now. Still on track to finish before Christmas, fingers crossed. Just hope we don’t get any more rain. No rain dances, please!