National Novel Writing Month 2008!

Emotional anguish on a daily basis, just for you.

A daily writing journal for the month of November 2008.

2008-10-31 (21:45): Friday, Day -1 – 0 words – Again

I’m in Calgary for a convention and I’ve got no time to spare, but the short version of the story is this: I’m going to write another novel during the month of November. It starts tomorrow, during the convention. I have a quarter of an outline so far.

2008-11-01 (22:30): Saturday, Day 1 – 3,189 words – Unrusting

Well, here we go: Another November, another novel-in-a-month exercise. My, it’s been a long time (23 months!), and these are hardly the best conditions to get back in fiction-writing shape: I’m currently in Calgary, attending the World Fantasy Convention. But working on Ottawa time in Calgary has the added advantage of being early to rise (1,657 words before 9:00) and taking advantage of Daylight Saving Time and a loose no-parties policy means some extra time before bedtime (another 1,500-odd words between 21:30 and 23:00) I’m definitely out of practice, but the evening session was markedly better than the morning one. It’s still not very good (and typing on the undersized EeePC keyboard is introducing far many more mistakes than are preferable, especially with the accented international keyboard), but at least I’m getting back into the spirit of things. Tomorrow promises to be even more fun as I fly across the country back to Ottawa, starting really early in the morning.

2008-11-02 (20:43): Sunday, Day 2 – 6,162 words – Cross-country writing

  • First thousand words: Sitting in the domestic departure lounge at the Calgary Airport, surrounded by many, many travelers.
  • Second thousand words: Over Saskachewan and Manitoba, sitting in the middle seat of a typical 737 right row, flanked by a charming older woman and a not-so-charming not-so-old woman.
  • Third thousand words: Back at home in Rockland, midway between unpacking and taking care of four days’ worth of accumulated email, dirty laundry, groceries, digital pictures and the rest.

All three thousand words suck, but I feel as if I’m getting back into the swing of things.

So, what did you do today?

2008-11-03 (21:55): Monday, Day 3 – 8,033 words – Shortfall but an outline

Yes, i know, I’m 1,000 words behind today’s objective. But it’s been both a good and a tough day, so cut me a bit of slack.

On the tough side, I was stuck at a work-related function at a far-flung location for much longer than I expected, with the result that I didn’t get home until fairly late, with the usual consequences.

On the other hand, I spent a good chunk of my time at said work-related function typing on my portable EeePC, churning out 2,600 words of outlining for the last three-quarters of the novel. It’s a thin thread, but at least I can see a way through the story rather than an assortment of ideas. I’m pretty happy with one of the two scenes I wrote today: at the very least, it breaks free of the exposition-heavy voice I’ve been clinging to thus far, and features some encouraging dialogue. It’s certainly helping me think about putting the novel online as I go along, although I will need some time to go over what I’ve done so far and correct the spelling.

Tomorrow: Oh, boy, oh boy, American elections! I’m so excited I may not make my entire word count either.

2008-11-04 (21:52): Tuesday, Day 4 – 9,135 words – Lousy word-count, great news!

A thousand words isn’t much, but given that I managed to do that while frantically refreshing six different political web sites while watching the great news come in, that’s not bad at all. Now I’m off to watch TV coverage.

About 51% of Americans so far seem to be having an even better evening. Well done, y’all. What a difference from four years ago!

2008-11-05 (22:54): Wednesday, Day 5 – 12,012 words – Yes, we can.

I’m still catching up from not being here last weekend; I still have two chunks of work to do, and today’s stretch of the novel was dull and uninspired. In other, non-novel-writing circumstances, I would have been somewhere else this evening. But nooo, had to do at least three thousand words… which was done, barely and late, but at least I haven’t fallen back even further.

2008-11-06 (23:03): Thursday, Day 6 – 15,133 words – Plowing forward

Still not quite out of the woods yet. Chapter 3 is done, and I’m getting out of the cheap secrets section of the book. But it’s still a tough slog, and the way I’m diverging from the outline isn’t helping much. I will have to sit down and repair the holes at some point. But not tonight, and tomorrow’s unlikely to be more generous in terms of time. But, hey, the weekend is almost here and I’m still only one day behind best-case schedule.

2008-11-07 (23:58): Friday, Day 7 – 18,087 words – First Friday

Fridays may be fun, but they’re tough in NaNoland: I may be able to indulge in a movie (RocknRolla, a partial return to form for Guy Richie) and shift my writing schedule later, but the price to pay is severe. I squeaked by my 3,000 words just under midnight, but at least Chapter 4 is done (it’s a niftier exposition scene than I would have thought possible) and I’m practically done with the book’s first quarter. But I now need sleep, and a lot of it.

2008-11-08 (14:55): Saturday, Day 8 – 21,024 words – Hey, it’s the weekend!

Saturdays have the advantage of offering either two writing sessions, or one writing session and the rest of the day available for personal miscellany. I’m taking advantage of the second option, but in the meantime I’ve got an extra 3,000 words in the bag to fill the day’s minimum quota. Tomorrow, if things go well, we’ll be able to claw back the deficits of the first week. Since there’s an important plot juncture tomorrow, I’ll be happy to be able to think about it at length.

2008-11-09 (21:58): Sunday, Day 9 – 24,265 words – Not the best day

3000 words isn’t a bad daily total, but it pales in comparison to what I wanted to do today, which was catch up my 3000 word deficit and maybe plan ahead a little. But it was harder to get to work than I expected. For one thing, this was the first complete day I spent at home since late October: a few things needed to be done. For another, my days started far too late. Depending on how you count, my day either started at 00:45 when I closed the lights and went to bed after a long eventful Saturday; at 5:50 when the neighbor’s car alarm started randomly going off (seeing him ineptly kick the car before riding away in a huff wasn’t much of a compensation from being awakened too early) or at 11:21 when I finally got up after going back to bed and disabling my alarm clock. Oh well; at least today saw me complete the first section of the novel, going over a troublesome plot hump. Alas, what follows is hastily sketched, and I may have a few problems later this week in trying to plan what’s going ahead. (I wish I could do more daydreaming-plotting at work, but work is busy from start to end these days, with little down-time to play.) We’ll how the rest of this week goes.

2008-11-10 (23:13): Monday, Day 10 – 27,013 words – So… very… tired…

Not a good day. Pick your poison: Too-short night (don’t mix oversleeping with a shot of pure sugar before bedtime: it’s a recipe for a bad, bad night), busy-but-feeling-useless day at work, malware infestation on my computer, frustrating groceries in a not-quite-renovated store, cold temperatures and maybe even an incipient cold. It just wasn’t a very good day, okay? I made it to three thousands on the understanding that I’m not working tomorrow and may (may) try to claw back some of the deficit so far. Oh, and the writing for the day? Sucked.

2008-11-11 (22:12): Tuesday, Day 11 – 33,059 words – Now that’s better (Plus: an announcement)

A good night’s sleep, plus a day spent at home and voilà: 6,000 words, clawing back to where I should be so far. I’m still nominally behind where I would be if I had been doing double-shots every day off, but given the circumstances that’s not too bad. I even caught up over some other work along the way, which is even better. The quality of the writing wasn’t earth-shattering, but things crawled along a bit further plot-wise, and there are a few good ideas in the mix.

In other news, I have abandoned my plans to put up my draft of my novel on the web as I go. While this will be a soul-crushing disappointment to the handful of readers following this, I thought I’d do my part to maximize global happiness by cutting down on the number of rotten NaNoWriMo novels exposed to the world. On the other hand, here’s a very special offer for friends and family: If you’re curious, contact me like you usually do and I’ll send a draft of the entire thing once it’ll be done, no earlier than December 1st and no later than December 31st of this year. The small print: Novel will suck, novel may be provided electronically or on paper, comments will be solicited, don’t bother asking if I don’t already know you or if you don’t know how to contact me “like you usually do”.

2008-11-12 (23:16): Wednesday, Day 12 – 36,039 words – Writerly Considerations

Not a fantastic day by any means, but at least things are moving. Here’s something I have discovered over the past two days: It’s not obvious at all to write scenes between two characters who are the same person. (Maybe that’s why I decided to kill one of them.) But the rewards can be surprising. Also, more evidence that I don’t get out much: I had to go to the dictionary to find the translation for “promiscuous” (as it turns out, “promiscuity” is promiscuité, but “promiscuous” doesn’t seem to have any direct translation, hence me going for the upscale libertine) I also spent about a page writing in an unusual smart-alexy, omniscient-exposition mode just to leaven the mood, and that part went by quickly. (It may not survive intact during the next round of revisions.) Finally, in anticipation of the end of the novel, I wrote a medical professional friend of mine to ask about a particularly gruesome death and what would happen to the victim as s/he expires. All in a writer’s day’s work.

2008-11-13 (22:59): Thursday, Day 13 – 39,047 words – Stop, go, go!

Uneven day: slow start, then a rapid increase in speed as I finally got the story back on track. Things are hopping once more as I just committed to a significant shift in the plot-line. (Now I have to review my outline and figure out if I’ve been too hasty.) I’m relatively happy at the way some characters are coming to life (sometimes more than once) and where I see my plot threads going. I also notice that I’m generally ending my days much later than the past years. I hope it doesn’t continue like this, but we’ll see.

2008-11-14 (23:40): Friday, Day 14 – 42,011 words – Late go-and-stop

Late start (allowed myself to see PASSCHENDAELE: could it have possibly been more melodramatic?), and got stuck in a peculiar go-and-stop pattern where the three thousand words got written pretty quickly, but in-between lengthy periods of noodling as I tried to fit the pieces scattered by yesterday’s abrupt plot turn. Today’s writing was mostly character pieces and snappy cut-cut-cut scenes of ominous import. Tomorrow may be particularly difficult for the same reasons. Fortunately… it’s a weekend.

2008-11-15 (23:21): Saturday, Day 15 – 48,023 words – Oh no, I’m slow!

The good news are many: I did my daily 6,000 words, I’m more or less at the halfway point of the entire thing (structurally and plot-wise) and I find myself breaking out in silly smiles at how good it is to be back in the heavy-duty creative work of drafting a novel. The quality of the day’s writing is so-so, but I thought that parts of it had a snappy, go-for-broke intensity. My favourite aspect, however, is in juggling five (soon to be six, then seven) viewpoint characters and having their stories intersect in meaningful ways. I’m now pretty much out of sync with the details of my outline, though the general arc is still firmly on-track. On the other hand, I’m frustrated at how undisciplined I am this year: It’s taking me far too long to write my 3,000-word blocks given how I’m hopping between the novel and web sites and rearranging files and cleaning up house and taking care of useless details. Twice early today, I found myself writing a scene in flat prose with a character staring into space at what it all meant, before rewriting the scene by presenting the same information with slightly-more interesting dialogue and staging between two characters. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to rewrite. No, it doesn’t magically improve the writing by any appreciable measure. But it does help me feel better about the entire thing.

2008-11-16 (21:35): Sunday, Day 16 – 54,007 words – Above 50k!

The official goal of NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, and I’ve got that as of today. Alas, I’m after a 90,000-100,000 word-count, so that only means I’m slightly above the half-way mark. I’m still writing slowly, but at least I had the cleverness to start early, which means that I won’t get to sleep at an indecent hour tonight. Otherwise, well, not much to say: The day’s writing was a blur of well-delivered exposition as I stripped bare the ideas that I’m going to tackle until the rest of the novel, and introduced the last major character I’m going to need. As the novel progressively shifts from mystery/exposition to development/action, things may get more complex in the next few days.

2008-11-17 (21:59): Monday, Day 17 – 57,140 words – Twists and turns

What a strange day, writing wise. After a spirited beginning early on, I banged my head against a plot point for a while until I decided to go for broke and do something a bit crazy. Unsurprisingly, that went well, and led to a pretty pleasant rush of words up to and slightly above the day’s quota. Along the way, I may even have found another element of my conclusion. Things are moving again, and tomorrow should move a bit more, although moving fast has the added disadvantage of making it harder not to crash into something. 80,000-words total, anyone?

2008-11-18 (22:20): Tuesday, Day 18 – 60,150 words – Adapt; attack

Ok, Novel-writing hotshot, here’s a pop quiz: You’re at the end of your work day, looking at the prospect of a dull novel-writing night at home eating leftovers. Then you get an invitation to supper from a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?

The proper answer, novel-writing wise, is that you immediately switch plans, pull up your word processor, mentally shut out the rest of the office and tear through the next section of the novel (Grrr!) as other colleagues leave for the day, churning out three thousand words in a bit less than two hours, then save everything and go out. This had the added benefit of a pretty good three-thousand words (featuring the best action scene of the book so far) and a welcome change of emotional pace in the middle of a month where isolation is a too-familiar emotion. Tomorrow, things
get a bit craaazy plot-wise.

2008-11-19 (23:38): Wednesday, Day 19 – 63,190 words – Nightmares and problems

I may have laughingly mentioned for pleasant it is to be in the headspace of an unfolding novel, but last night was the nightmare version of that experience: I went to sleep thinking of the novel’s next few scenes and, after drifting in and out of sleep for a while eventually woke up at about 2:30 from a lucid nightmare in which the conceptual horror of my premise had been unleashed in the real world. Not fun.

Spent the rest of the day suitably battered, then came back to a novel that stubbornly refused to advance until it was far too late. The day’s words are awful (and disappointing, given that one scene was supposed to be a showcase and most definitely isn’t), but at least I’m a little bit farther ahead. Tomorrow, well, I try to pull together a few threads to set up the next big plot avalanche.

2008-11-20 (23:08): Thursday, Day 20 – 66,107 words – Doubts

This was a terrible day. NaNoWriMos are a roller-coaster of confidence and self-doubt, and today was an express ride down, down, down. 1,500 words into today’s quota, I stopped for quite a while. Witness my internal monologue then: Stuck; Frustrated at the lack of character depth; I’ll never be able to do justice to the concept; my writing is bad enough to make readers scoop their eyeballs out; my future feels flat; my scenes are lame; my plot has no narrative drive anymore; I may have made a wrong plot turn somewhere ten thousand words ago. In short, I’ve run out of inspiration, and the few notes I have guiding me to the end aren’t much comfort.

Whatever narrative momentum I had was gone. And yet, and yet… at the depth of my despair, midway through today’s quota, I started thinking about ways to kick-start the plot and came up with a scheme that dug into both what I had done so far and what I planned to do, and that revived the day’s writing through the latter half of the day’s word-count. I’m still feeling stuck, but still moving nonetheless.

2008-11-21 (23:44): Friday, Day 21 – 69,004 words – Thank goodness, Friday is over

Another Friday, another tough day. Saw Quantum of Solace (disappointing, badly-directed and duller than it ought to be), came back home late, did a solid thousand words, dawdled around in search of inspiration and eventually spilled out the last remaining two thousand words. This weekend will be difficult.

2008-11-22 (14:00): Saturday, Day 22 – 72,292 words – On the road.

Another strange writing day. The first 1,500 words were written at home, and the second 1,500 words were written in a car (I wasn’t driving) from Rockland to Montréal, on two laptops since I (correctly) suspected that the first one’s batteries wouldn’t last the entire trip. The plot, at least, is moving forward, and I had a minor lunchtime epiphany that will guide the rest of the weekend’s writing on our way to a conclusion.

2008-11-23 (21:35): Sunday, Day 23 – 78,061 words – No-drama day

Finally, for once, a good steady writing day. I started out late, but kept writing steadily until I hit my target, and left myself a few notes for tomorrow. Thanks to yesterday’s flash of insight, I was able to work my way through the plot without too much trouble (though one seat-of-the-pants innovation tightened up everything nicely) It struck me (again) that this first draft is a plot monstrosity, leaving little time for anything else. First readers are going to find the entire thing painful. Tomorrow: we plot major destruction and watch the fallout on our characters.

2008-11-24 (22:12): Monday, Day 24 – 81,011 words – The joy of destruction

Much death and catastrophe in my novel today, but not much trouble writing it. So it goes.

2008-11-25 (23:24): Tuesday, Day 25 – 84,008 words – First Snow Down

It technically snowed in Ottawa last month, but the eleven centimeters of it today aren’t supposed to go away soon, and the rest of the week promises more of the same. Joy. At least I can stay inside and bash out more words toward that elusive 100,000. And bashing was the case: Today was a hard, hard slog as I dealt with the characters and their reaction to the previous day’s devastation. There’s one better-than-average scene that I’m not completely ashamed about, but otherwise it was pretty routine stuff: even a long-awaited speech came out flat and dull. I don’t expect tomorrow to be much better.

2008-11-26 (23:15): Wednesday, Day 26 – 87,034 words – This should be getting easier.

Where’s my big final boost? Where’s my final burst of finishing energy? Why am I still slogging through it? Why is it still taking me forever to write those three thousand words? Why aren’t any of my plot threads converging? Gaaah.

2008-11-27 (23:00): Thursday, Day 27 – 90,053 words – The only way out is forward.

Again, tough slogging today. The only upside is that I’m finally puzzling a way out of the maze. I may have to write extra-fast (or extra-long) in order to wrap up that draft by Sunday. But mostly, I just want this to be over, and plenty of sleep afterward.

2008-11-28 (23:01): Friday, Day 28 – 91,033 words – Slipped

One bad movie (Transporter 3), three different errands, late, stuck, tired. We’ll do better tomorrow.

2008-11-29 (23:11): Saturday, Day 29 – 99,137 words – Back on track

Today’s 8,000 words made up for yesterday’s hiccup and set us back firmly on track for the conclusion. I’ve begun a global war today: now I have to wrap it up tomorrow. I still think it’s a pretty underwhelming climax to the entire book (and that’s one of the reasons why the last few days have been so difficult), but I don’t feel quite as awful about it now that I’m writing it. I’m really, really looking forward to the time, twenty-four hours from now, when I’ll write The End on the whole thing.

2008-11-30 (20:49): Sunday, Day 30 – 107,006 words – …aaand we’re done.

Yup; another 8,000 words in a day. I have deep and critical reservations about the quality of my ending, but it doesn’t really matter at this point: I’m done. I’ll have more to say about the whole thing in the next few days, but for now I’m off to spend a rare evening hour not doing The Novel Thing.

2008-11-01 (20:58): Monday, Day -364 – 107,006 words – Early wrap-up.

Having spent an evening basking in the rare luxury of Going To a Movie (Bolt, good but not great) And Doing Nothing, I might as well take the time to write a few words about the novel and what’s wrong with it.

A quick look through the above will show that it’s been a hard month, and a surprisingly eventful one when, in theory, I spent most of my free time banging on a keyboard. If my writing generally got better throughout the month, I had a really hard time kicking myself into gear during the entire month. I wrote more slowly than usual (I usually do 1,100 word per hour, but it was closer to 750 words per hour this year, although I did spend some time goofing off in the middle of scenes) and had some real plotting trouble toward the end. I’ll blame my sketchy written-at-the-last-minute outline, but the ambitious subject matter didn’t help either. (“Are you sure you can write this?” asked a moderately-famous author when I told him the bare bones of the outline, and he had a point.)

But on the other hand, this month reminded me of how good and righteous it feels once I’m in the middle of writing a novel, how everything can click into place, how the characters become real, how the best way to experience a cool story is to write it, to create something that didn’t exist before. I’m finding that as novels accumulate, I’m not deriving as much satisfaction from saying “I wrote a novel” to others (In fact, I didn’t even do that today) than thinking back about the experience and the creative satisfaction of having written a story. At the same time, publication has slipped back a few notches as a motivation factor. (It’s also true that I have a more realistic view of my own writing skills than before.)

Still, the whole thing has taken its toll, and I look forward to longer sleeping schedules, being able to see more than one movie per week, go shopping or do any of the dozen things that have accumulated in my to-do list over the past month. This includes 5,500+ words of paid criticism before December 15, 10,000 words of unpaid criticism, revising the novel so that I can send it to for a private print run, GRAND THEFT AUTO IV, holiday shopping, a new toilet to install, DVDs to watch, a few blog posts and a reading binge.

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