Monday, October 31st – 0 words – I really shouldn’t be doing this.
It’s Halloween, the scariest day of the year… in part because I’m about to start writing a novel and really, really shouldn’t be doing this. Last year, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project nearly killed me: writing at 95,000-words novel through a cold, a case of strep throat, a flash visit to Montréal, a convention in Toronto and a wedding in Mexico wasn’t the easiest of assignments. I’m not planning on any overseas trip this year, nor being terribly sick –but since last year I got married and launched an ambitious home renovation program that should see contractors descend upon the house by the end of November. (Plus the expected trips to Montréal and Toronto.) So, am I insane or just driven? We’ll see by the end of the month.
But I have to do it. I’ve been writing novels every November since 2001 at one disastrous exception that proved that I’m happier being miserable writing a novel than being happy not doing it. It’s hard to explain the creative impulse to non-creative people, but the net sum of happiness from creating something that didn’t exist before is its own reward. I don’t even write to be published or to be read any more: I write because I can’t not write, and the sheer unadulterated joy of creating an entertaining narrative in thirty days is the writing nerd’s equivalent of winning unconditionally. So; I’m kind of stuck: I know it’ll be a terrible experience and I can’t even consider not doing it. (Fortunately, my wife understands… and will be reading over my shoulder the entire time.)
Fortunately, I’ve done this eight times before and I’m planning ahead. Since I don’t expect to have a lot of time on my hands this year, I’m aiming low (60,000 words), easy (contemporary setting, with topics I know) and simple (first-person narrator). Nick Mamatas once wrote that amateur writers tended toward stories in which someone with their same career (albeit thinner) ended up fighting crime. In my case, the elevator pitch is “laid-off computer geek does tech support for the mob” and I’m intending to have fun with that. (I’ve had the idea for years and rejected it as being “too on-the-nose. I don’t have as many scruples this year.) I have the first third of the story mapped out, and a pretty good idea of where I’m going with the rest. Tone and genre will be “sarcastic thriller”, fulfilling a year-long promise to THE BEST commercial assistant-director ever.
If it all goes well, it will begins tomorrow. 2,000 words per day, a bit more on weekends. Stay tuned.
If you want to read the novel as it gets written, resolve the following riddle:
[transfer protocol]://[web site featuring terrible writing]/[second-largest city in Canada, without accent]/[romanX where X is the Xth novel I'm writing].[ridiculously popular word-processing file extension (new version)]
Tuesday, November 1st – 2,092 words (+2,092) – First scenes
21:02 – Well, that’s not too bad: The day’s quota is done without too much trouble, and I’m feeling my way through the usual unrusting process. This is a voice-driven novel, and it will take me a few days to find a voice and to get to something interesting in the story. Right now, it’s all about establishing the character, his initial situation and his attitude. Let’s see where this goes.
Wednesday, November 2nd – 3,031 words (+900) – Movies, my old enemy.
22:25 – It’s not easy to keep up with the movies and still maintain a NaNoWriMo schedule. The Three Musketeers isn’t good, but I enjoyed it. What I don’t enjoy as much is today’s substandard performance… but it’s still nearly a thousand words, and it gets me to the next plot point. I’ll do better tomorrow. Right now, though, it’s better to get to sleep and be somewhat refreshed by tomorrow.
Thursday, November 3rd – 4,231 words (+1200) – Movies, Groceries, no time
22:16 – Well, not bad, I suppose: A thousand words and a bit more outlining for the next few days in addition to a movie (In Time; not bad) and groceries. I’m falling behind, but not by too much.
Friday, November 4th – 6,252 (+2000) – Friday evening is for writing!
21:45 – I’m not catching up on the 2,000-words-per-day pacing, but I haven’t fallen behind today either. As I get get of the throat-clearing and get into meatier plot developments, however, this should clear up. Today’s been a bit of a holding pattern, and I hope to be able to start advancing tomorrow.
Saturday, November 5th – 9,262 (+3000) – Saturday Writing Fever
21:56 – Not bad: I wish I could have written just a bit more, but I’m making some progress, I’m catching up on the accumulated word-deficit and I’m writing my way into more thrilling things. The voice of the narration is settling (not exactly where I intended, but at least it’s progressing.) and I’m this close to the really interesting stuff. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow.
Sunday, November 6th – 12,024 (+3000) – Comfortably on-track
20:47 – Things are going pretty well, even discounting the extra hours that daylight change has brought: I’ve been able to comfortably work my way back into the 2,000-words-per-day pace, and if I wasn’t able to build an advance reserve of words, I’m also working over the rough plot points until we get to the really exciting stuff. It’s been a good weekend, and I’m already one-fifth done.
Monday, November 7th – 14,044 (+2000) – Suddenly; home renovations!
22:43 – Gaak, what a day: I went, in fifteen minutes, from “we accept your estimate to rebuild our bathroom and kitchen” to “What? No, please start demolitions Wednesday rather than tomorrow!”. Those promised home renovations are about to roll, and the next few days will be chaotic. Still, that’s no excuse not to take a break at the end of the day and write the day’s quota, even though it may mean ending a bit later than usual. Fortunately, I had two expository back-stories to rely upon today, and the writing went well. Stay tuned for further difficulties, though…
Tuesday, November 8th, 16,011 (+2000) – Home Renovation prep work.
21:51 – Today has been hectic, in-between trying to prepare the house for tomorrow’s work and trying to get the components we need to provide to the contractors. Many mistakes were made. The novel’s worth was reassessed. Stuff got done. I finally carved two hours at the end of the day (when I should be sleeping) to write two thousand uninspired words that get me a bit further along the plot-line. It’s not genius (and it’s probably unreadable to anyone who’s not a computer expert) but it’s 2,000 words closer to the end.
Wednesday, November 9th: 17,511 (+1500) – Home Renovation: Day One
22:10 – “Only” 1500 words, but they’re the hour-long cap to a wild day that saw a good proportion of my house gutted. The main bathroom is now a place where insulation and plywood is showing (there’s a tub, and nothing else, not even walls) while the kitchen has been stripped to the walls. The house has been divided, through plastic sheets hung from the ceiling, into four distinct zones and it’s not obvious to go from one to the other. I have no shower left in the house, nor anything more cooking-friendly than a microwave. My wife has been evacuated to a safe location while I hold the fort. Much of the day has been spend driving around from one home renovation store to another, trying to get the missing pieces. So, if at the end of the day, I was able to take 90 minutes to write a few hundred words, I’m pretty happy. They weren’t the best-chosen words, but the story has advanced a little bit and that’s good enough.
Thursday, November 10th, 17,511 (0 words) – Crash
(Written the next day) – Sometimes, it’s not the direct shot that gets you, but the ricochet. So it is that, house in shambles, renovations well underway, wife back home, I came back from work with a debilitating headache, crashed hard at about 18:00 and slept nearly 12 hours. No novels were updated in the process, as amusing as that would have been.
Friday, November 11th, 20,542 words (+3,000) – Back, but not yet on track
21:47 – After a full day of final purchases regarding the home renovation project, (which are going ahead surprisingly quickly, although we’re still days away from having a working shower) we came back home for supper… and this time my wife went to sleep at 18:00(ish), leaving me with a few hours of novel-writing time. I’m not exactly happy with today’s words (nor, overall, the limp dramatic qualities of the novel so far), but it goes a long way toward catching up from yesterday’s non-writing.
Saturday, November 12th, 22,648 words (+2,000) – I’m having doubts about this.
20:38 – This is the first day in nearly a week that we haven’t been fully-involved in the home renovation circus, and that was a nice excuse to laze around the livable two-thirds of our house, “Camping” in our own home. Novel-writing took a back seat to other domestic chores. When I finally sat down to write, I found myself burning through plot points, and seriously wondering whether I’ll run out of story before the end of the planned 60,000 words. My chatty narrator likes summarizing more than describing, and no amount of trying to tease individual scenes out of his patter seems to be succeeding. I now have serious concerns as to whether this novel will top 40,000 words. Whether this would be a failure or not will depend; The last week has been crazy, and simply coming out of this with a (badly-told but) complete story may be satisfaction enough. I’m voluntarily stopping writing before nine, with the intention to plot my next steps a bit before calling it a night.
Sunday, November 13rd – 26,012 words (+3,500) – Back on track in more ways than one.
19:45 – First good news: I have caught up with last week’s accumulated word-deficit and am once more on target. Second good news: After writing yesterday’s entry, I sat down and outlined thirty further plot points on the way to the ending of the novel. This makes me feel a bit better about finishing the thing. All the other news are bad: I’m not convinced that I’ll crack the 60,000-words objective (although 50,000 seems achievable now that I’m halfway through), or that the result will be worth anything more than a trip to the garbage. But that seems to be the nature of this year’s NaNoWriMo: Badly conceived, hazily plotted in insufficient detail and hatched in highly adverse, near-desperate circumstances. My only objective at the moment is to get it done and move on. I think I’m going to learn a lot from this debacle, though.
Monday, November 14th – 29,592 words (+3,500) – Stunt Writing
12:00 – I don’t usually write 3,000 words before lunch on a Monday, but give me a lengthy and uninteresting corporate event, a net-book and plenty of motivation and I can work wonders. It’s quite a thing to write surrounded by a thousand other people, “typing blind” (the screen being pulled back so that other people can’t see what’s being typed) and having the feeling that I’m getting away with something. I can sort-of-take the day off… and I’m nearly at my original plan’s half-way mark. (And probably way over the halfway point of the final total.)
Tuesday, November 15th – 31,663 words (+2,000) – Good days and bad
21:00 – Days go by and don’t necessarily look like each other. Today was a good, good day in many ways: renovations on track, everyone feeling good and the writing finally unclogging to a better, more interesting rhythm. I had my protagonist punch a Klingon in the face while avoiding a hit-man today –I don’t expect things to become any better than this. I even expect to top 50,000 words now.
Wednesday, November 16th – 33,749 words (+2,000) – Plowing forward
22:03 – Not a bad day despite starting a bit late. I’m feeling pretty good about a crackling dialogue-driven confrontation that had been on my list of upcoming plot points for a while. I would have liked to push to 34,000 words today, but I’m at a crucial plot junction and I already had my daily 2,000 words in the bag. Renovations are going so well that a temporary end is now in sight.
Thursday, November 17th – 34,715 (+1,000) – A Thousand Words Closer…
22:07 – After another hectic day on the home renovation front (…although that’s coming to an end soon), I sort of ran out of time and could only work on the novel for an hour. Since I’m still feeling my way through the plot mechanics of the next section, a thousand words for the day is more than good enough as I consider plotting opportunities.
Friday, November 18th – 35,610 (+1,000) – No time for more
21:00 – Another hectic day on the home renovation front. (At least we’re seeing the end of it.) I thought I could find time to turn out 2,000 more words tonight, but sometimes, life happens and the computer has to be shut down. Still, 1,000 words isn’t too bad.
Saturday, November 19th – 40,011 (+4,500) – I love weekends.
22:25 – I didn’t work on the novel for most of the day, but add a few hundred words here, and a few hundred words there, and suddenly you end up with a chunk of writing. I’m steadily moving into the last act; I figured something cool about my unreliable narrator (who blatantly lied in one of today’s scene, setting up a delicious confrontation later on) and I have about 10,000 words in order to hit my last action-packed plot points. Let’s see what I can do tomorrow…
Sunday, November 20th – 42,103 words (+2,000) -The end is here, and in sight.
21:37 – A very good day on the home renovation front, as we once again took a shower in our own house, saw most of the last details being implemented in the kitchen, and signed the check for much of the bill. There’s still a bit more to do tomorrow, and once more in three weeks once the counter-top is installed, but that’s pretty much it for the Home Renovation Event of 2011. Count’em: 12 days from tear-down to final install. Didn’t we pick the best contractors? (Psst: Job Doctor General Contractors. Not cheap, but worth every penny.) What about the novel, you ask? Well, it’s pretty much the same old sad story, now 2,000 words closer to the end. The best part is that I pretty much plotted out the main beats until the end of the novel, so that’s very encouraging. Unless something dramatic happens (and in this novel, nothing dramatic is happening!), I don’t think it’s going to go much past next Saturday, and 50,000-some words.
Monday, November 21st – 44,586 words (+2,500) – Rolling downhill
21:39 – I’m taking advantage of this renovation slow-down to hit the writing a bit harder, and today’s been fairly smooth sailing as events accelerate toward a conclusion. I know, generally, speaking, how the next few days will go, but there is still a bit of detail to work out; hence my early finish as I’ll go on to nail down further details of the ending. This is almost fun at this point.
Tuesday, November 22nd – 47,051 words (+2,500) – Speeding toward a conclusion.
22:05 – It’s a good thing that my action sequences are all at the end of the novel, because I have little trouble writing those. The story is slowly concluding itself, and I still have six or eight thousand words to go before I’m done. I’m not sure if I’ll break the 50,000-word threshold tomorrow (I suspect so), but I expect the main narrative of the novel to be completed by the weekend. Tangentially, a significant development today regarding our kitchen counter-top lead us to believe (optimistically) that the last remaining details of our home renovations could be done by the ninth of December, which would be a month to the day after demolition began.
Wednesday, November 23rd – 49,201 words (+2,000) – That day.
22:12 – I should be used to it. Every November novel I’ve done so far has included that day, being an unholy combination of bad weather, numerous errands, tight scheduling and other assorted headaches. Today was that day: First snowstorm of the season; bi-annual car maintenance appointment; and further home-renovation errands. There was a lot of walking, driving around and fitting things in a schedule that couldn’t get busier. A a result, I started late and couldn’t get to 50,000 words today. (Which would have been appropriate, given that I received my NaNoWriMo donation goodies through the mail today.) I’m close, though, and the last few pieces of the last chapter are falling into place. The sequence I wrote today was pretty good in showing action (part of this novel’s intention was to feature a car chase on Montréal’s Descarie boulevard at night) and wrapping an important character thread. Tomorrow, things kick in high gear. I’m still thinking 55,000 words total. For now, though: sleep.
Thursday, November 24th – 51,282 (+2,000) – Over 50K!
21:48 – Another hectic day. Spent most of it in training, and got stuck in terrible traffic coming back, and had a few things to do at home, but still went above the magical 50,000 objective today. I was also able to have at least one decent payoff for one character arc. I’m pretty much set to write the last set-piece of the novel before calling it done, and if that doesn’t happen tomorrow, it should be done by Saturday at about 55,000 words. (I still have a few things to figure out about that lat set-piece; mostly, who dies and in which order.) But let’s not celebrate just yet; this month has been full of the unexpected so far.
Friday, November 25th – 53,253 (+2,000) – Nearly done…
22:05 – A second and final day in training; not bad except for the murderously frustrating hour-and-three-quarter spend in traffic coming back. (There’s a reason I take the bus.) At least the novel went well this evening, with the daily quota done before I even knew it. All the pieces have been set up for the final showdown. Now all that’s left is a decent execution. I estimate another 2,000 words of action, and another thousand words of coda / epilogue for a total around 57,000 words. I should be done in 24 hours, but of course, let’s see what tomorrow has in reserve.
Satuday, November 26th – 57,131 words (+4,000) – And this is is the end.
19:47 – Took much of the day to sort out my final sequence, and tagged on an epilogue after supper. The novel is now done insofar as it’s been written from beginning to end. It’s probably my worst novel so far (which, after the experience two years ago, is saying something) and I’ll spend a few more entries explaining why. In the meantime, though, I’m basking in the ever-rewarding glow of a completed novel. (This feeling never gets old.) I’ll have a complete read-through tomorrow to sort out some of the most vexing issues, just so that I don’t feel completely wrong in sending out the novel to people who have asked, despite their better judgement, to have a look at it. For the rest of the day, though, I’m a ninth-time complete novelist!
Sunday, November 27th – 57,224 words (+90) – Thoughts upon revising (1).
21:59 – I only had time to revise the first chapter today and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to re-read everything before the 30th (the pile of things to do now that the novel is done is enormous, and I barely made a dent in it today), but while the iron is still hot, here are a few reflections on why the novel was such a disaster this year.
Well, let’s quality “disaster”: A real disaster would have been to abandon the novel altogether, or to have something without a discernible beginning, development or ending. My novel has that. It’s disjointed, dull, verbose, badly written and clearly not as tight as even a simple novel of that kind should be, but it’s at least a novel. Chapter 1, after a re-read, has a certain sarcastic fluidity to it, and the last third of the novel has a certain narrative momentum helped along by a few more conventional action sequences. It’s not a complete disaster… but it’s certainly the least-satisfying novel I’ve written so far.
The single biggest problem I had this year was lack of time, both before and during November. After several rapid lifestyle changes this year, I find myself even more chronically out of time than before. (I used to think I had many competing priorities, but now I know what real priorities are.) As a result, much of the preparation time that I traditionally used to plot the novel wasn’t available. But that problem was seriously compounded by my lack of time during the month of November. My outline was pretty well mapped-out for the first act of the novel, (better mapped-out than at least two previous novels) but the home renovations struck at a bad time for daydreaming about the book’s next few steps, and I don’t even think I have mentioned much of the other things I’m juggling these days. So: no daydreaming time during the month equals panic and improvisation while writing. This, in turns, leads to flat narration, lack of cool details and a loose structure that really could use some tightening up.
The bad news is that next year, if I write a novel at all, won’t be any better in terms of available time: There will be a baby to take care of, and I’m seriously considering opting out of NaNoWriMo altogether. Let’s just say that I’m not taking a decision just yet. Should I decide to do NaNoWriMo anyway, I see no other way through than to draft a fairly complete synopsis during the next eleven months. It’s actually achievable: Taking advantage of lunch breaks, I could outline the novel in sufficient detail, and then spend the month (or two) writing it. My first novel ended up with a 24,000-words outline, and wasn’t hard to write when all I had to do was to look up the day’s planned scenes and start typing. We’ll see. If not, at least I’ll have a good outline to develop in two or three years.
(Next year’s novel premise, briefly stated: A fantasy of urbanism, considering cities as semi-conscious organisms. Takes place in 2018 Ottawa. Potential for a lot of cool references to Ottawa’s checkered history, much contemporary magic and some thematic exploration of what makes the soul of a city. A return to the more conventional multi-character epic narrative voice, without the straightjacket of contemporary thrillers. If successful, this one’s going to be big.)
Monday, November 28th – 57,703 words (+500) – Thoughts upon revising (2)
22:07 – Today was about revising the first half of the novel (a quick read-through, typo-correction and some quick fixes of various sorts), and fortunately it seems to hold up a bit better than I remembered. It’s still the worst novel I’ve written, but it reads reasonably well to me (albeit I expect other readers won’t agree) and if there’s far too much exposition compared to scene-setting, it’s still not terrible.
Which leads me to a few words about what actually went well this month. The first and most important would be that despite everything, I still managed to complete a novel. It’s been a hard month, as anyone who undergoes major home renovations would agree, and writing the novel was occasionally the sanest part of my day. I count my blessings that, from the onset, I aimed low and fast by picking a “write what you know” story and didn’t even try to go for 100,000 words. The first-person narration was infuriatingly limited at times, but it allowed for a great deal of flexibility in tone, pacing and effect. This may be my least-cinematic novel yet, and that’s not entirely a bad thing given how some chapters blend a lot of exposition with bits of dialogues without scenes. Not necessarily good, but different. Also interesting: writing a novel with a conscious comic intent.
There are a few scenes in the novel that I am really glad to have written. The first meeting between the protagonist and the police officer investigating his case has some funny and crackling dialogue, whereas the big car chase on Montréal’s busy highways has a few really funny moments that were essentially what I was aiming for in writing the novel. (I also got to laugh at a Science-Fiction convention, which you don’t usually get to do in more serious pieces.) The ending isn’t too bad in bringing together a bunch of plot threads, even though I really wish I would have had time to tighten it up.
After last year’s mindbogglingly complex multi-character universe-spanning story, this year’s contemporary thriller felt like a palate-cleanser and a welcome change of pace. I’m also happy, despite my disappointment at how the novel executed my first intentions, that I was finally able to get this story down on paper: As I may have mentioned before, I’ve been thinking about the “tech support for the mob” idea for a long time, and I’m glad that, having it been expressed at length, I can let it go away. I can now look forward to the next big idea, whether I’ll write it next year or later, depending on how life goes over the next tumultuous year.
Tomorrow: One last look at the novel, and thoughts on how to make it better.
Tuesday, November 28th – 58,486 words (+700) – Thoughts upon revising (3)
21:40 – Well, that’s it: This novel has been written and re-read, and I’m done with it. I’m not happy with the result, but I’m content with everything given the constraints of the month. Notes for a largely-hypothetical revision include the following: Beef up the main female character, as she isn’t much more than a stock girlfriend at the moment; show more scenes rather than telling; develop “Miguel”, who emerged as one of the leading characters even though he wasn’t anywhere in the outline. Also beef up the antagonist and some of the supporting characters; make the narrator somehow more sympathetic; smooth out the style of the novel and try reading it aloud for editing.
Unfortunately, I’m bound by past promises to send the result to a few people. Wow, are they going to suffer…