National Novel Writing Month 2005!

Emotional anguish on a daily basis, just for you.

The following log is now final; no new entries will be added.

2005-10-10: Monday, Day -21 – 0 words – Here we go again

Thanks to the National Novel Writing Month, I will sacrifice nearly a hundred hours in November 2005 to write a 100,000-words novel in thirty days, along with 40,000 other apprentice writers around the globe.

Yes, it’s a crazy thing to do. Worse yet; it won’t be my first time. I successfully wrote full-length novels in thirty days in 2004, 2003 and 2002, and apparently think nothing of undergoing that particular kind of abuse again this year.

Normal people would ask why, but then again normal people don’t write novels, and in fact regard any non-sports-or-TV obsession as suspicious. So let’s let them stew in their schedules and proceed forward. I could justify it through various ways (NaNoWriMo kept me sane during dire professional developments in November 2003, and helped me deal with the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election) but the truth is that while I may loathe the time taken by NaNoWriMo, I’m reasonnably happy at the keyboard. See Christian maximize his happiness; see Christian write!

Today, I re-registered on the NaNoWriMo web site (look for "slorz" in the Ottawa, Ontario area. The link points back to this page) and started thinking in terms of game plan. Over the next three weeks, I will develop an outline from the reasonably sound idea I’ve got kicking around.

Watch this space for further details!

Rockland, ON – 2005-10-10 20:06

2005-10-29 – Saturday, Day -3 – 0 words – Locked up, plotted out

Writers often have this fantasy of being locked up in a hotel room, without any other distractions, with the specific objective of completing a writing project before being allowed out of the room. I now understand how that feels: Taking advantage of my sister’s professional development conference, I went to Montréal, abandoned earthly distractions (especially Internet access), sat down and banged out a fifteen-pages, nine-thousand-words outline for the novel.

It’s not fabulous, but it does the trick in planning out the required plot beats, essential characters, structure and main sequences of the book. The ending is rougher than the beginning, both by design and lack of energy: If the past three years are any indication, the novel will pick up steam and almost write itself once past the half-way point. I’m not convinced there’s a full 100,000 pages of plot in the outline, but it should be at least 75,000: If I can’t get to 100,000, then I’ll end around the 25th of November.

Montréal, QC – 2005-10-29 21:26

2005-10-30 – Sunday, Day -2 – 0 words – Readying the House

NaNoWriMo preparations are more than simply knowing what to write about. If at all possible, it’s preferable to make sure that outside distractions are minimized. Hence the past day running around, cleaning up, winterproofing and making sure that the house is in reasonable enough shape to withstand thirty days of divided attention. It’s not all done yet… but it’s better.

Rockland, ON – 2005-10-30 19:54

2005-10-31 – Monday, Day -1 – 0 words – Let’s remind ourselves what lurks ahead.

Just how insane do you have to be in order to write a novel in thirty days? Very. Look at the numbers: Your average office worker (that’s me) will take a twenty-four hours day, sleep off eight hours, work for eight, commute for two and take another hour to shower, eat and brush his teeth. What’s left is five daily hours in which one is expected to live and write thousands of words. It’s a good thing I don’t watch TV.

In any case, I’m as ready as I can be: The outline has been revised, the house has been cleaned, more food has been prepared, groceries have been purchased (those are my rations for the next fourteen days: hunker down!) and I’m psyching myself for the world of sleep deprivation that awaits.

It begins tomorrow. Whee!

Rockland, ON – 2005-10-31 20:31

2005-11-01 – Tuesday, Day 1 – 2,136 words – Go! Go! Go!

Slow and difficult start, but we’re finally moving. Prologue done, and part of Chapter One is over. One main viewpoint character introduced; the other one will have to wait a day or two. I’m having a hard time getting back in the easy flow of words. (also known as writing stuff for no reason.)

A few numbers, for comparison at the end of the exercise:

  • Weight, in pounds: 190 (ouch)
  • Books in "to read" pile: 400
  • Yesterday’s maximum temperature: 13.7C
  • Yesterday’s minimum temperature: 5.0C
  • Today’s sunrise: 6:42
  • Today’s sunset: 18:14
  • Snow on the ground: None.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-01 22:14

2005-11-02 – Wednesday, Day 2 – 5,520 words – Progress

Uneventful writing session: Finally met my second viewpoint character, had a few surprisingly easy moments, fixed a blooper before even saving the file (international flights from Washington go through Dulles, not Reagan airport) and even beat today’s quota, almost writing back my word-debt at this point so far. (Reminder: I’m aiming for 100,000 words, which means roughly 3,000 words per day. I write at about a thousand words per hour, so you do the math.) Page two of my outline is done. If all days can go like today, this will be a smooth month.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-02 22:04

2005-11-03 – Thursday, Day 3 – 8,644 words – Eh, not too bad.

Late start, uninspired beginning, but steadily heating up toward the end of the three thousand words quota. Didn’t quite catch up to the pace, but didn’t fall back either, which seemed like a likely possibility even as late as 21:00.

Interesting concidence: CBC-Ottawa news had an item about how a mysterious new communication antenna on top of the American Embassy is causing garage door opener failures across the Ottawa area. This, of course, plays straight into the plotline of my novel…

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-03 22:27

2005-11-04 – Friday, Day 4 – 11,554 words – Just call me JARHEAD.

(Insert requisite dig about how my head isn’t screwed up right.) Combining a month’s worth of novel-writing with the demands of movie reviewing is not a recipe for happy co-existence: Even an afternoon matinee can suck enough free hours out of a day to make any writing difficult to sustain. But I did it. JARHEAD isn’t great, but it’s not bad either, and I was still able to meet the three thousand words quota by starting late and -hear this- staying at the computer until it was done. Uneventful writing, but at least two of my characters are actively disliking each other, and as you know –more drama, more words!

Tomorrow: We try catching up to where we ought to be… but no promises given a used book sale to attend.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-04 23:12

2005-11-05 – Saturday, Day 5 – 16,105 words – Disappointing week-end day.

Not a bad day, but not one that lived up to the promise of a full day passed at home. Did go to the used book sale (blowing a full three hours right there) and puttered around the house, and so didn’t do a double-s
ized writing gulp like I intended to. On the other hand, I caught up with my word-debt and even piled up another thousand words on top of that. Plot-wise, things are heating up with our first modest action scene coming up tomorrow. Interesting character dynamics are emerging as planned. Aspects of my intellectual pack-rat habits proved useful today, as I was able to integrate odd bits of knowledge from family members and random web reading into the plotline.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-05 23:11

2005-11-06 – Sunday, Day 6 – 22,013 words – That’ll do for a weekend.

My lofty weekend ambitions weren’t fulfilled, but I’m reasonably pleased at the progress accomplished today. Broke a leg (a character’s leg), advanced the plot, put a number of pieces together and had some fluid dialog running. Best of all: I’m not consciously trying to pad the story so far (like I usually do in order to reach the 100,000 words mark) and the result is flowing along nicely. Heck, I even finished a bit early tonight.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-06 21:44

2005-11-07 – Monday, Day 7 – 25,008 words – Late, but accomplished.

It’s amazing how an extra hour at work can snowball in a rampaging late start and an even tardier finish. But I digress and I really want to go to sleep now. Suffice to say that a steady muttered refrain of Don’t you want to write your 3000 words today!? was enough to sustain me until the bitter finish. And so we end Week One… a quarter of the objective down.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-07 22:58

2005-11-08 – Tuesday, Day 8 – 28,042 words – I got shot!

With a flu shot, that is. (Free; the joys of being Canadian.) It was a weird day filled with tricks of light, counter-intuitive technical troubleshooting, the same burning bus blocking my way home twice (twenty kilometers apart; wacky story), but the writing session itself went smoothly despite a late start and a Google-detour learning all I could about Ontario diplomatic license plates. (Which isn’t much given the lack of information about them on the web.) Milestone-wise, I’m up to 60 pages and the end of my first day of action out of four. I’ve spent six pages of my initial outline, with eight remaining –but the first day of action was more tightly-plotted than the rest, so it’s still looking good for the 80-100,000 words objective by November’s end.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-08 22:17

2005-11-09 – Wednesday, Day 9 – 31,038 words – Diplomatic detour

Spend three thousand words on the Ottawa diplomatic milieu, which is a great deal more interesting than even I was anticipating. Otherwise, not much to to say: Rick Mercer made me start late, but the three thousand words were still written. (Better late than, er, tomorrow.) Discovered a nice full back-story to a character where I’d originally planned just a vague incident, and by doing so, got the chance to use an anecdote that’s been stuck in my mind for at least a decade. Also pushed the evolving character dynamics between my two protagonists, in which one seemingly-bubbleheaded characters gets more and more in her element as the story advances. Tomorrow, we hopefully nail down the first third of the story.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-09 22:28

2005-11-10 – Thursday, Day 10 – 31,038 words – Hey, lazy CHICKEN, LITTLE work done today?!

Well, it had to happen at some point. Did the movie thing, which predictably wrecked the entire evening schedule. Tried to nap, then write: that really didn’t work out, resulting in both no writing and a few hours trying to actually get to sleep. Fortunately, tomorrow is the first day of a long weekend.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-11 23:09

2005-11-11 – Friday, Day 11 – 37,510 words – Honour preserved

Didn’t do as much as I’d hoped for, but at least I managed to fill yesterday’s word-debt, do today’s quota and even add an extra five hundred words. Currently stopped in order to resolve a minor plot problem, and an unexpected change of tone.

Comparing today’s word total with past years’ Rememberance Days, I’m +13K over 2002, -5K under 2003 and +11K over 2004 (and +4K over the quota). Things are still going rather well after all, and there’s still two more days to this weekend…

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-11 23:14

2005-11-12 – Saturday, Day 12 – 44,042 words – It’s Hockey Night in Canada!

Whew! I really wanted to take advantage of the late-evening hockey game to finish Chapter 10 and push beyond 45K words, but this will have to do. (Tired now, and I know better than to screw up my sleep schedule.) Ironically enough, I ended writing most of the pre-outlined hockey game section of my novel even as the CBC’s "Hockey Night in Canada" played on TV. Tomorrow, we smash 50K.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-12 23:54

2005-11-13 – Sunday, Day 13 – 50,039 words – Officially a winner!

Nanowrimo is all about writing a 50K novel in less than thirty days. Officially, my 50K is done. But just as officially, my novel is humming along its second act, en route to an 80K-100K total. So we continue. Today’s writing was divided in an averagely difficult first half and a rather easy second half. It’s almost a shame to stop so early… but sleep is important these days. Comparatively speaking, I hit the 50K mark seven days before the 2002 point, two days before 2003 and four days before 2004. Somehow, I think the end of the month won’t be terribly rushed, especially if the story runs out of plot before 100K.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-13 21:18

2005-11-14 – Monday, Day 14 – 53,210 words – A good Monday?!

As hard as it may be to believe, today went extremely well: Some plot was unrolled, one protagonist finally started kicking ass (it was about time!) and some sweet exposition was inserted at exactly the right spot. Plus I got a chance to quote BLADE RUNNER and the Declaration of Independence within lines of each other, and that did wonders both for my morale and my word count.

I kid, but I’m really rolling now, up to the point where I’m worried about finishing too soon. Oh well; there will be no padding on this novel!

My spirits were certainly helped along by reading a perfectly awful novel on the bus, the kind of stuff that makes you incredulous, then angry, then amused, then quite sure you’re able to do better.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-14 22:28

2005-11-15 – Tuesday, Day 15 – 56,237 words – On the therapeutic virtues of NaNoWriMo

Started late with a lingering headache; ended later (but no later than three hours later) in perfectly good health. Ph33r the healing p0w3r of NaNoWriMo! Writing went well, with the power shift complete from one protagonist to the other (an idea so good I wish I would have included it in my outline).

A note about food: All things considered, I’m eating exceedingly well this month. Mindful of lack of time, I cook one big meal per weekend day, keeping leftovers for re-heating during the week. This allows me to limit portions and minimize downtime. It’s working well so far, with a mixture of curry, butter-chicken, chili, pad thai, poutine, rice, mixed vegetables, macaroni and lasagna sustaining me through the week. If nothing else, I may be eating a bit too well, if you get what I’m saying…

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-15 22:49

2005-11-16 – Wednesday, Day 16 – 59,036 words – Mixed feelings

On the upside, I did the three thousand words in little more than two hours, moved the plot forward and rejigged the order of two upcoming sequences for better impact. I also had a flash of inspiration regarding the heroine’s look: In movie-casting terms, I just switched from a Jennifer-Aniston to an Aishwarya-Rai, and it fits a lot better. On the downside, today was the long-awaited reveal of a character’s real identity, and that just went splat, mostly because only the dumbest readers will have any doubts at that point in the novel. Also; the way all was revealed is seriously pedestrian. But, hey, we’ll fix that in post. For now, it’s another three thousand words done and closer to the end. Speaking of which, a quick look at the remnants of my outline suggests that I have ten three-thousand chunks of plot left to write, which takes us to a commercially-viable 90,000 words and an estimated completion date of November 24th. And, hey, guess what: While writing this, my plot hamster just found a way to juice up today’s lacklustre reveal. (Cryptic note to self: "Team B" can be revealed later.)

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-16 22:10

2005-11-17 – Thursday, Day 17 – 62,037 words – Adequate day

Wrote a bit. Did all right, despite a bit of scientific hand-waving. Was surprised by an authentic character moment. Estimated Time of Completion now revised upward to November 26th and 95,000 words, although all bets are off once the action sequences start. Tomorrow will be a bit difficult given the whole movie thing.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-17 22:14

2005-11-18 – Friday, Day 18 – 64,237 words – I don’t do KISS KISS. BANG BANG, on the other hand…

I know, I know: Movie thing begat late start begat pitiful word-count begat guilty feelings. On the other hand, the last chunk of patter for a while is gone, and I’ve left the story as our two protagonists started running for someone else’s life. Tomorrow (hurray for weekends): Running, shooting, brawling, driving, crashing, sliding, smashing and more brawling –oh, my!

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-18 23:29

2005-11-19 – Saturday, Day 19 – 70,451 words – Sweet Action Scenes

I so love action scenes. Today was to be a monstrous doozy of a fight followed by a car chase through icy Ottawa. And when the snow settled — it was done! Not bad for a first draft, and I got to ride the adrenaline rush for a good six hours. In the meantime, I found half a dozen great websites (did you know there’s one solely dedicated to police driving?), followed the car chase along with Google Maps, managed to fit some character moments (including a high-adrenaline argument) and hit all the expected plot points. Tomorrow promises to be an easy series of blah-blah-what-do-we-do-now? scenes. Oh, and an amusing scene in which today’s mayhem results in a SUPERCOP! headline tomorrow.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-19 23:30

2005-11-20 – Sunday, Day 20 – 77,030 words – Busted!

Even though I’m a faithful subscriber to the NaNoWriMo web site, I don’t usually participate in discussions taking place on their forums: Too much of a time-waster, and I often get the sense that I’m playing a different game than most of the participants. (I don’t do seat-of-the-pants improv, fan-fiction, dares, epic fantasy or Mary Sues, and I’m not a bored student either.) Due to my commuting requirements, I usually can’t make it to the scheduled meetings for the Ottawa area group either. I just read the boards when I’ve got time and update my word count. So imagine my surprise earlier today when someone found and outed me though the location search. So, er: Hello, fellow Ottawan Nanowrimos! Write on! (Sorry about the "bored student" wisecrack.)

Writing-wise, today went well, what with the last string of exposition scenes: 6,500 words and change (including three delicious supporting characters), taking us well into the third act. A generous look at my outline suggests I’ve got 15,000 words of plot left, taking us to Friday for a big finish at slightly over 90,000 words. I’m having a hard time resisting the impulse to pad the word count up to 100K. I’m also a bit worried that the ending lacks juice after yesterday’s action sequence: We’ll see.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-20 23:10

2005-11-21 – Monday, Day 21 – 80,220 words – Not sure I wanted to go there…

Slow start, thrilling ending, but I feel a bit guilty for resorting to cheap thrills in the form of a gory firefight to juice up the action. Oh well; shame will have to wait until the re-write. In the meantime, I’m three thousand words closer to the end (which is still planned for Friday) and if the last hour may have been a cheap rush, it was still a rush.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-21 22:31

2005-11-22 – Tuesday, Day 22 – 83,101 words – Fitting pieces together

Another slow-start-fast-ending day, with the added bonus that I’m now fitting together the remaining pieces of the conclusion. (And it’s good stuff; I’ve been wondering how to tie the personal with the geopolitical for a while, and I have just now found the key.) Didn’t cover as much ground, plot-wise, than I’d expected, but that will only heighten the pacing of tomorrow’s fast-and-furious sequence (and maybe add a few sweet thousand words to the novel). I even discovered something new (and appropriate) about a military research facility in Ottawa thanks to Just-In-Time Research. (JITR™) Tomorrow promises to be a barn-scorching, plane-stopping, pulse-pounding, confidence-voting, Parliament-saving, circuit-blowing sequence! (And that, by the way, wasn’t a string of random exciting expressions as much as a Total Spoiler for the end of the novel.)

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-22 22:32

2005-11-23 – Wednesday, Day 23 – 86,056 words – Bigger. Longer. Harder.

Well, those were three thousand easy words, packed with revelations, tension and action. (I need to re-watch the opening sequence of FACE/OFF. For research.) Plot-wise, though, I’m where I thought I’d be yesterday. (Conclusions can be weird things in terms of estimated pacing versus real word-count.) This means both good and bad things: The bad thing is that I’ll probably end on Saturday rather than Friday. The good is that my estimated finale word-count is going to be closer to 95,000 rather than 92,000 words. Yay, plot! I briefly thought about writing another thousand words today… then settled for going to sleep early. Hmm, it’s been so long since I last did that: I wonder what it’s like?

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-23 21:37

2005-11-24 – Thursday, Day 24 – 88,400 words – The effect of frozen water on novel-writing…

Ottawa awoke to its first full-fledged snow storm of the season today, with entirely expected results on regional productivity. I wasted an extra hour in transit today, and only the conscious decision not to shovel my driveway (a decision I’ll regret sooner or later) limited the damage to my writing time in an otherwise pretty challenging day. (I’m not getting into the whole Windshield Wiper Incident, otherwise I’d spend more words describing my day than actually adding to the novel.) One unexpected benefit: I got to do some photo-reconnaissance of a snowy Parliament Hill. You see, my novel takes place in Ottawa, in February…

And yet the writing went relatively smoothly, moving all pieces in place toward the final confrontation. I stopped six hundred words short of my daily quota for two reasons: One, I’m going to end this on Saturday no matter what, so what’s an extra six hundred words? ("Half an hour", that’s what.) Second,
I just ran into a thorny tactical execution problem ("How can they do this…"), and it wouldn’t hurt to think about it for a few hours. Hey, that means I get a second early bedtime in a row…

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-24 21:50

2005-11-25 – Friday, Day 25 – 90,312 words – I can be slowed, but not DERAILED

Whew. It’s about time this thing is over. No, the movie thing didn’t slow me down as much as the complexity of the conclusion, where I managed to set up a terrorist plan so intricate even I had problems solving it. I’m not entirely happy with the way things turned out, but on the other hand it’s now written down. The last bullet has been fired, and once that happens in a thriller, you know that things can only wrap up from that point onward. Tomorrow: The conclusion, and maybe even the epilogue if I feel like it.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-25 22:47

2005-11-26 – Saturday, Day 26 – 93,693 words – All done!

W00t! It’s all over but the spell-checking and a quick read-through for emergency editing. (When the action heats up and the words start flying, I often start writing paragraphs before the previous ones are completed, leaving unfinished sentences here and there.) This isn’t a signal that my writing pace will slacken, though: I’ve got 5,500 words of paid criticism to write before the end of the month, plus another 10,000 words of miscellaneous personnal projects I’d like to put up on the the web site within a week. Time to get back to real life…

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-26 14:14

2005-11-27 – Sunday, Day 27 – 94,315 words – Locked file

Spell-check all done. Emergency editing performed. A small crucial detail forgotten in the rush to the ending is now settled. The file is now officially locked and done. (…and printing as I type this.)

I also validated my word-count at the NaNoWriMo site official word-counter, and ended up with two thousand more words than the Word counter indicated. (An excess quickly corrected.) B00y4h – I’m a certified purple w1nn3r!

Here are a few statistics about the finished thing:

  • Pages: 205
  • Paragraphs: 4,460
  • Lines: 9,241
  • Words: 94,315
  • Characters: 487,089
  • Characters (with Spaces): 586,866
  • Editing time: 5,107 minutes (85.11 hours)
    • Words per hour: 1,106

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-27 15:54

2005-11-28 – Monday, Day 28 – 94,315 words – Things to fix

Re-reading the printed version of the novel is a surprising experience: While I certainly don’t have the necessary distance to properly judge the result, it seems all right so far. Hardly perfect, but probably the most achieved first draft of my four NaNoWriMo efforts. Contrarily to the first three, I don’t see any need for a major structural overhaul: the structure is fine, the pacing is fine and if the characters are a bit fuzzy, that’s nothing a second-pass edit can’t fix.

Nevertheless, here are the top ten things I intend to fix during the editing phase:

  • Main Characterization: I believe in letting characters define themselves through actions, but I also believe in retroactively fixing character traits in later drafts. My male protagonist remained more or less as I envisioned him throughout the novel (though with a bigger anger problem than I set out to write), but my female protagonist proved a lot more interesting than I first thought: Beyond the simple change in appearance mentioned above, she also proved to be a lot more vicious than I thought, snapping at relatively odd moments and relishing the chance to bust some heads.
  • Spear-carrier definition: I tend to invent throwaway characters as needed. Someone needs to answer the phone? Hello Stewart: You’ll be handling phone-answering duties from now on. But now that I know that Stewart will be around for the duration of the novel, I can improve his part, think about his motivations and make him a bit more interesting. Similarly, some useless characters can be merged and so on.
  • Fix the character names! As with inventing characters, I often reach in very weird areas to name my characters. This copy of the manuscript won’t be passed around to friends and family in part because characters have been given entirely unsuitable names: Bloggers, teachers and work acquaintances all make name-only cameos in the first draft. This, obviously, has to be fixed.
  • Research: Given that the novel sticks close to real-world Ottawa, I think I’m going to enjoy going around doing research for some of the fuzzier areas (RCMP procedures, federal crisis management, etc.) One problem with this is that this type of "riding in the police car" research is a lot easier with a proven track record as an author. Compare and contrast your reaction to "Here’s a copy of my latest novel. Would you mind telling me about your work?" with "Hey, I’m an author: How about the security measures around here…?"
  • Wider political context: Even if the novel is strictly told from the point of view of two police officers, it all takes place in a bigger politically-charged context that simply wasn’t properly presented in the novel. (In a stroke of awful coincidence, my novel reaches its climax during a non-confidence motion vote… and as it happens, today was the first time in Canadian history that the sitting minority government was defeated by a straight non-confidence motion. I took notes.)
  • Punch up some action scenes: While most of the novel works as-is, I’m going to scrutinize my action scenes very carefully to see if there isn’t a way to make them more exciting and more believable. Parts of the car chase could be tightened. I have my doubts about elements of the climax.
  • The prose: Well, that almost goes without saying: A first draft written at 1,100 words an hour can’t be particularly polished. I already know that style is one of my biggest problem as a writer, so a huge chunk of the editing will be spent upgrading the sentence-per-sentence flow of the story.
  • The French/English issue : One of the hidden objectives of this novel is that, much later, I want to be able to publish a "writer’s cut" of the novel in "natural language": Our French-Canadian viewpoint character would have scenes written in French, whereas his American counterpart would have viewpoint scenes written in English and the dialogues would be transcribed in the language in which they take place: Only a billingual reader would be able to enjoy that version of the novel. There are elements of this in the current draft: The Canadian segments are in Metric while the American ones are in Imperial, and the American can’t understand other characters whenever they speak in French. Still, I think there’s something to improve with this concept, including a greater emphasis on Ottawa’s bilingualism issues, especially from the American’s viewpoint.
  • Levels of Language: One related issue I struggled with throughout the entire first draft was the level of language used by the characters, a question that quickly becomes very, very complicated in French: Colloquial French-Canadian is an astonishingly poor way of expressing anything complicated, and so the shift between spoken and written French-Canadian is jarring. (Far more so than in English: Imagine a world where all English-speakers would naturally express themselves in ghetto-speak and you’ve got an idea of the issues facing French-Canadian writers who want to write gramatically-correct dialogue. But that’s quite a digression already.) This is a problem in a genre where characters are supposed to exchange very complic
    ated information rapidly. I ended up writing essentially a translation of the English they would be naturally speaking to one another… and this isn’t really a very satisfying solution. To be fixed, then.
  • Finally, try not to kill the fun of the first draft: We’ll discuss this in the next few entries, but this novel was actually a lot of fun to write, and I expect that Ottawa-area readers, if no one else, will get quite a kick out of seeing familiar places being used as settings for car chases and gunfights. While the goal of editing is to make a better novel, let’s not lose track of the fun-factor in this first draft.

While earlier entries lusted after a 100,000-words total count, the truth is that I’m not terribly concerned to miss that objective by a good 6,000 words. For one thing, I know that I tend to write short: for me, editing usually means adding non-plot material rather than cutting away. For another, thrillers tend to be snappy, and one thing I did relatively well this year was to avoid padding the narrative with tangents: the plot moves steadily from beginning to end. Finally, 94,000 words is well within commercially acceptable bounds… which matters, you know.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-28 23:03

2005-11-29 – Tuesday, Day 29 – 94,315 words – Lessons learned: What didn’t work

As the previous entry suggests, most things went right this month. Still, a number of failed habits and experiments come to mind, such as…

  • trying to beat the post-movie rush by napping and then writing. Doesn’t work. Useless. Even doubly unhelpful given that it does not result in a late writing session and it screws up my sleeping rhythm.
  • late outlining. Yes, the outline was helpful. Yes, it was mostly followed. Still, it was written too late in October, wasn’t proofed by another reader and degenerated in generalities as it went on. While this kind of freedom is empowering, it also led to a number of late-month blank stares as I was trying to come up with the next bit of plotting required to get from R to S. Earlier outlining might also have helped in doing more pre-writing research.
  • keeping a jar of M&Ms next to the computer. That’s an extra pound of sugar right there. To think that I was doing so well in the diet department until then!
  • peeking at the CBC schedule. I should just tape Rick Mercer, 22 Minutes and Canadian Air Farce. Otherwise, I lose most of thirty minutes and have to scramble to recover in time for bedtime.

…and that’s pretty much it, sadly enough. After four years, my NaNoWriMo writing technique is unstoppable!

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-29 22:12

2005-11-30 – Wednesday, Day 30 – 94,315 words – Lessons learned: What worked

As the clock strikes twelve on the NaNoWriMo clock, let’s see what did work. (Or, what objectives were attained.)

  • NaNoWriMo works for me. There’s a pleasant purity of purpose in basically making time, once a year, to write, write, write at the exclusion of everything else. To create a story that didn’t quite exist before. To dive deep in the world of a bunch of characters and see what happens to them. Fun stuff.
  • Outlining and preparation are neat things. Thoughout the month, I clutched my outline like it was printed on gold. No inspiration? No problem: The outline told me most of what I needed to know. Not bad for something that was patched together in two days in a Montréal hotel room. Also vital: preparation, pre-November cleanup and weekend cooking.
  • I expoited Ottawa like I wanted to. Most Canadians see Ottawa as a source of taxes and boredom, but proud Ottawans know that this isn’t so, that the capital has a unique mixture of worlds all operating at the same time: Political, Diplomatic, Technical, Judicial, Bureaucratic, Commercial and so on. I tried doing justice to as many facets of Ottawa as I could: I’m still not satisfied with the way I covered the political and public service aspects of the city, but I still have plenty of novels to write about those areas.
  • The focus on two characters worked. One man, one woman. One American, one Canadian. One street-smart, one book-smart. After last year’s huge cast of viewpoint characters, it was almost a relief (and a fun constraint) to alternate back and forth between only those two characters. There’s still work to do in defining them (I particularly did not play on the whole "one’s conservative, one’s liberal" shtick, mostly because when criminals get involved, everyone’s a conservative) but that’s part of the rewriting assignment.
  • I avoided cheap anti-americanism. It would have been tempting to use the "Canadians rock, har-har!" card, but it would also have been a pretty dumb thing to do. As things now stand, I’m happy that there isn’t any cheap grandstanding about health care, politeness and weak beer. I did fine in not embodying national stereotypes in the characters, and I intend to keep it that way.
  • The action scenes worked. It remains to see whether they’ll work on readers, but they felt fine to me.
  • Quotas work. Most people tend to think about quotas as "at least this much", but in the real world of, say, milk production, they as very much also "at most this much". As usual, this daily journal featured a lot of emphasis on meeting quotas, but during the weekends, I started seeing how not exceeding quotas may be useful: Saving energy, going to sleap early, and so on.
  • No padding! Well, not much. It was about time I stopped trying to pad the novel in order to reach those all-important 100,000 words. I certainly obsessed about it (proof; all of the above), but at least tried not to let that obession seep into the writing. Result? A tight novel with few dull moments. If I may say so myself at this point.
  • Hurray for Google: How did writers ever research their stories before the Internet came along?
  • Looks like this daily journal reached an audience. Out of curiosity, I just checked the monthly page requests for the site, and this journal reached more than 150 page requests for the month. This is more of an unexpected success than anything else given how I completely gave up on publicizing it after the last few years’ lacklustre success. (I also didn’t artificially inflate the word count by peeking at it now and then during the month.) Congratulations to everyone who made it down here, and sorry for the mess: I thought I was writing to myself.

Rockland, ON – 2005-11-30 22:47

2005-12-01 – Thursday, Day -334 – 0 words – Next Year’s Novel

Every year so far, I have ended NaNoWriMo with a vague inkling of what I wanted to do next, eleven months later. This year is no exception, as a number of potential inspirations coalesced during November. To the best of my knowledge (things may change until next November first), here’s a preview of what I want to write about next year.

My four novels have alternated between futuristic/SF and contemporary/thriller settings, (despite never completely evacuating a techno-scientific component) so next year is due to be a return to science-fiction. I may also return to a multiplicity of viewpoint characters, but we’ll see how the story goes.

As far as inspiration is concerned, my mind has been returning to two particular topics recently. The first one is my old bugaboo, the Technological Singularity that awaits us if progress keeps following an exponential curve. The Singularity is a hot topic of discussion within the SF community because, when considered to its fullest extent, it somewh
at limits SF’s extrapolative horizon: This far (this side of the Singularity), no further. For various reasons, I think that’s not exactly true. But then again, I also think that the Singularity has already happened, is happening right now and won’t happen to everyone. By the same token, if you think along the same lines as I do, you probably realize that the Singularity is a wonderful conceptual tool to study the problematic of first-world / third-world exploitation. (Much like Alien Invasions served H.G. Wells so well on the same subject…) So there’s a novel to be written on this subject, maybe even a pretty satirical, cynical, action-packed one.

But wait! My second area of interest these days stems from experiencing many Jane Austen pastiches, from the Bollywood-remix BRIDE AND PREJUDICE to Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. By transposing Austen’s Victorian social conventions in other contexts, these romances ended up saying something worthwhile about their chosen milieu and today’s attitudes. Plus, it may be a fun change of pace to do comedy rather than action from time to time.

Mix those two notions together, and you end up with a comedy of manners in a partially transhuman society. Can it still be "boy meets girl" if all three keywords of the plot can be infinitely variable? If you thought your mother-in-law was bad, just wait until she’s a shard of humanity’s all-knowing, most-powerful collective consciousness.

I even have the perfect title: Sense and Singularity.

There are, of course, many problems with the whole notion. Can satire and romantic comedy mix well together? Can I actually contemplate a novel without action scenes? Isn’t comedy a lot harder to write on a deadline? Aren’t romances usually limited to 70-80,000 words? Is it possible to write a thirty-day novel and still reach deep in the idea bag? Will I have to read all of Jane Austen, and then a sampler of today’s romance shelf?

Delicious suspense, dear reader. Send me your suggestions, and check back here again on November 1st to see the whole circus begin again.

Rockland, ON – 2005-12-01 22:31

2005-12-02 – Thursday, Day -333 – 0 words – A Conclusion of Sorts

A few numbers and factoids to close it all:

  • My NaNoWriMo wordcount rank in Ottawa: 1st
  • My NaNoWriMo wordcount rank in Ontario: 1st
  • My NaNoWriMo wordcount rank in Canada: 11th
  • My NaNoWriMo wordcount rank, total: 164th
  • Total number of Nanowrimoes in 2005: 59,706
  • Total number of "winners" in 2005: 9,765
  • Total number of words written by Nanowrimoes: 714,227,354
  • Personal weight, in pounds: 190 (Stable. Stable is good.)
  • Books in "to read" pile: 383 (down 17)
  • Movies seen in theaters while writing novel: 4
  • Movies seen in theaters since writing novel: 5
  • Yesterday’s maximum temperature: 3.0C
  • Yesterday’s minimum temperature: -3.3C
  • Today’s sunrise: 7:23
  • Today’s sunset: 16:22
  • Snow on the ground: A frosty dusting.

Rockland, ON – 2005-12-01 20:30


Last Updated:
November 2005

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