Tuesday, October 31 – 0 words (+0) – Is it this time of the year already?
20:48 – Halloween is over, kids are in bed and thoughts now turn to something not quite sane — writing an entire novel in a month. This is going to be my twelfth ride on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) roller-coaster, through the pre-boarding jitters, exhilaration of the first days, creative despair of week two, constant time crunch and (hopefully) exhilaration of the final words. Last year was a return to NaNoWriMo after a decade’s eclipse, and it went better than I thought.
So this year, we crank up the difficulty — rather than the carefree comic romp of last year, this is going to be a more ambitious project. No, not the opening volume of the century-long Hollywood saga announced in the closing days of last November: that’s still too ambitious for me.
Instead, I started out with the intention of writing something easy — a long-deferred urban fantasy about the fine folks at Library and Archives Canada’s Special Operations Division. After being an early-hour fan of Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series and playing Control earlier this year (tssk-tssk-ing at some of its worldbuilding), I thought this was the year to go wild on the concept of paranormal librarians. That, however, was back in May — since then, I’ve tweaked and twisted my premise far enough that what started up as urban fantasy somehow led me to re-inventing cosmology just so that I could transform it into Science Fiction. (This year’s first lesson: I can’t write urban fantasy.)
The result is still fan-fictiony (and impossible to sell) enough that I’ll be making it available on this web site as I write it, so serial readers can have a fresh serving of prose every morning. Unlike last year, I’m aiming higher in terms of word-count: there should be enough plot, world-building ambition, and narrative twists to carry me to somewhere between 75 and 100,000 words, with four viewpoint characters and a multi-year narrative scope.
That should be enough of a goal by itself, but there are a few further complications that crank up the difficulty even higher. I am, to shorten a long story, moving houses at the middle of the month, while handling a few added responsibilities at work and penciling in a one day-trip to Montréal in-between other various chores. To put it in another way: there isn’t a lot of margin for error in the next thirty days: it has to be three thousand words every day, or failure.
The rise of Generative AI over the past year was an opportunity to find out what it could do to help struggling novelists and my results playing around with the technology have been mixed so far: attempts to use ChatGPT soon turned into adversarial brainstorming as I found its output simplistic and unusable — I spent more time re-twisting its suggestions than making use of it — and that’s without taking in account that the writing is the fun part: I’m not going to outsource that. I’m still allowing for some potential AI assistance this month, though — I’ve got a local LLM instance ready to roll if ever I get stuck on ideas and need quick suggestions to twist and improve. On the other hand, I had markedly more success using Stable Diffusion XL to illustrate various scenes in my synopsis, using the visuals to further inform my planning. I spent yesterday evening naming and generating pictures of my protagonists, which helps more than you’d think. I’ll be posting some of those images in the visual overview of the novel.
So, with only a few hours to go, I’m reasonably prepared: I have a rough outline that combines both a stuffed narrative, a good grasp on the overarching plot and some good ideas to reveal along the way. My outline gets less detailed as it goes on, leaving me plenty of breathing room for improvisation and improvements along the way. I could sure use another week to add further details (I spent a chunk of my Halloween supervisory walk developing my second-half antagonists based on last evening’s Stable Diffusion renders), but really it’s just time to write and go.
One last thing: If you want the strongest possible idea of the tone I’m aiming for this year, listen to the Read or Die OAV Theme Song.
Wednesday, November 1st – 2,744 words (+2,744) – Throat-Clearing
23:59 – I didn’t quite meet my 3,000 word personal daily objective today, but I’m still happy about the results. The first day of NaNoWriMo is about stretching, getting into the swing of writing, perhaps being too wordy in a first-draft kind of way, and proving to myself that I’m back on the fiction-writing horse and ready to ride it for thirty days.
My wildest objective today would have been to complete my prologue. I only got halfway-there, which is good news in a sense — I wouldn’t want to burn through too much plot at once. I found myself a nice little cliffhanger and called it a night right as the action was heating up. I should complete the prologue tomorrow, and then move on to the real start of the novel. (But fear not, serial readers: The prologue already has hints about later revelations, and will become an important plot piece later on.)
I’m not completely happy about today’s writing, and some of it is due to a bit of accumulated rust since last November — today’s chunk of prose probably reads well once you’re past the typos, but presents far too much exposition too quickly. I will have to review, lop off a few hundred words and rearrange the rest into some kind of ongoing action. But for a first day, it’s not too bad. And it’s a great feeling to be back on the creative rush of writing fiction — look, I like ChatGPT more than most, but the adrenaline high of writing fiction is why Generative AI won’t replace novelists any time soon: we’ll do it even if no one reads what we write.
A few housekeeping notes: Unlike last year, I’m writing in Word and copy-pasting the text into WordPress for publication at the end of the evening. While writing directly in WordPress last year had its own cool-factor (it’s workable enough that I will be writing these writing log updates directly in WordPress still), it just had too many small annoyances to be the best choice for a professional-length manuscript. The slight delays between typing and seeing the words appear on-screen in near-imperceptible, but increasingly annoying as the size of the novel grew. I like Word/Antidote’s grammar-checking more than WordPress/Firefox. And moving through the manuscript is much easier in Word. (WordPress’ copy-and-paste has improved since last year, though.) Ah well — it won’t hurt to have separate backups.
My end-of-evening routine is going to have a few more steps, though — updating my NaNoWriMo word-count at 23:45 no matter if I’m done (I have an alarm for that purpose!), finishing writing, copy-and-pasting from Word to WordPress, updating my writing log, uploading new images to the Visual Overview if necessary. Routine is good, though: I’m BACK WRITING FICTION, BUDDY!
Thursday, November 2nd – 6,178 words (+3,434) – Now we’re writing
23:59 – Finished the prologue, started Chapter 1 — and matched the three-thousand-words-per-day pace I expect to keep all month long. Things were rather well today: I lightly edited yesterday’s prose for typos, then kept going through the prologue’s action/horror sequence and wrapped up the first section of Chapter 1. Nothing spectacular in terms of writing, but we’re going forward and that’s the point. I’ve had strong hints (to be confirmed tomorrow) that I may be moving earlier than I expected, so let’s watch that as a potentially spicy threat next week. If I can do like today and carve out a regular nine-to-midnight writing time, things should go well.
Otherwise — I sent out my “accountability” emails last evening and today, telling many people about this ongoing challenge in the hope that this will keep me going through the month. The point is not to have people read what I write — it’s the potential that they may be reading along.
Friday, November 3rd – 9,027 words (+2,849) – Still on the opening roll
23:59 – Wrote more of Chapter 1, which may conclude tomorrow. I had a late start, but a rather smooth writing session as I’m still going through a lot of long-refined material. Things should get a bit harder over the next few days as my highly rehearsed opening scenes give way to less-predefined material. I’m not overly happy with the quality of today’s writing, which was very exposition-heavy but still worked fairly well. Despite a bit of a hectic day, my nine-to-midnight writing session held firm. Things may be more complicated tomorrow: I usually try to write double the amount of words on weekends and holidays, but tomorrow is going to be a busy one and I may have to settle for just one regular writing session. Close readers of this writing logs will note that my house move is now planned for somewhere between November 13 and 15 — things will get quite a bit more complicated around that time, although if everything goes well I should have roughly half of the novel in the can by then.
Saturday, November 4th – 12,049 words (+3,022) – Getting into the less-defined fun of it
23:59 – It would be easy to become a hermit during November and just type, type, type away. That would be my ideal month, anyway. But it’s not a bad idea to have a day for social interactions and outings, and that might as well be Saturdays. Today’s menu: A craft fair, saying hi to my parents, attending the famous Rockliffe Park book sale, having lunch with the rest of the family, going to a shopping mall (not for me!) and getting back home early enough to write. Which I didn’t do immediately, leading to a ten-to-one writing session rather than the more sustainable nine-to-twelve. Today’s writing had something to do with it, as I left my strongly-plotted initial scenes behind for fuzzier plotting. It’s going to be like that for the rest of the month, though — I might as well get used to it. So: Today’s writing snippet was exposition-heavy, but hopefully readable and with a few twists to make it interesting. I also renamed a character — I had a good idea for a name, changed it because it visually looked like the name of another protagonist, kept referring to them by their original name, heard an radio interview with a terrible person with the new name, then found something closer but not quite like the first name. So: Change, and it works better. I’m nearly but not completely done with chapter 1 — I should get into Chapter 2 (and showcasing my two other viewpoint characters) by tomorrow. If everything goes right, I should be able to clock in two three-thousand words sessions. If it doesn’t… well, we’ll see tomorrow. Hey, I have an extra hour to sleep!
Sunday, November 5th – 18,081 words (+6,032 words) – Decorating Chekhov’s Wall
23:59 – Had you asked me how things were looking at 18:00 today, you would not have liked the answer. I had far too many errands to do today, and I procrastinated the rest of the way (although I performed some of that procrastination through housework, so it’s not all that bad.) Suffice to say that my word-count was pitiful by the time the evening began. But I sat down and sweated through it and six hours later I have six more thousand words. Chapter 1 is over, and Chapter 2 is on its way out in roughly three scenes.
I haven’t written the most dynamic six thousand words, though. At this stage of the novel, I have a truckload of exposition to set up, and much of it consists in putting things up on Chekhov’s Wall (or Mantelpiece). The reference will go over the head of those not used to writer’s jargon, but to quote Wikipedia…
Chekhov’s gun is a narrative principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. For example, if a writer features a gun in a story, there must be a reason for it, such as it being fired some time later in the plot.
This takes another significance in NaNoWriMo mode, as writers such as myself don’t always fully plot the later beats of the novel. Decorating Chekhov’s Wall, in this case, means putting up as many guns as the load-bearing wall will sustain, essentially giving me options to use later during the story. Accordingly, I’m using this point in the writing of the novel to multiply potential conflict points, personality flaws, rules to be broken, cool tools left unused and other plotting strands that I may or may not use later on. I have plans for most of them — but they are open to change if I get better ideas. It’s easier to remove these strands if they go nowhere than to add them at the end of the month. So if you’re reading this thicket of exposition (and unlike me, don’t like exposition), rest assured that we’ll be moving toward some more action soon enough. Hey, I even ended today’s writing with a big honking cliffhanger for all of you serial Monday-morning readers.
I even had time to add a few more illustrative images to the Visual Overview, and add a common header to all three pages about this year’s novel. Tomorrow looks like it should be a more ordinary day, pulled along with a good idea of what the end of Chapter 2 should looks like, but you never know…
Monday, November 6th – 21,099 words (+3,018) – Revision and putting things into motion
23:59 – I was late in starting and procrastinated far too much, but at least I got the words out tonight, my writing speed building up to a satisfying rhythm as I was advancing. After briefly fixing typos in the accumulated material so far, I finished Chapter 2, started on Chapter 3 and I have the feeling that much of the initial exposition and throat-clearing is done — my four main characters are introduced, we’re getting into their heads, and the plot is slowly revving up. I’m also, nearly a week into the groove, settling into a big of a rhythm — I’m limiting my movie intake to one per evening (which is a noticeable slow-down for me but essential if I have to focus my attention and not overload my review backlog while I’m writing something else) and shifting to music once I start writing. (Today’s soundtrack was largely Hamilton, the Musical.) Today’s creative writing felt particularly rewarding after having an unexpected workload at the office today: a rush-job of a highly technical 5,000 words document to translate, even if I’m not supposed to be a translator. Drudgery all the way through, but it got done, just as my 3,000 words of fiction are now done and up. Serial readers should be rewarded with a nice little cliffhanger that portends much down the line. (It’s not even the end of the scene — more to come!) Things get a bit more tricky from now on — while getting the exposition done is nice, it also means that the rest of the novel is more free-form. I know where I’m going, but I still have to make my way there, scene by scene.
Tuesday, November 7th, 24,172 words (+3,073) – Pantsing the evening away
23:47 – At first glance, now that it’s all over, today looks like a good day — I got my three thousand words in, even a few minutes before midnight. I’m still in Chapter 3 (but closer to the end than the beginning) and much of today’s writing is a nice self-enclosed thriller sequence that provides supernatural thrills, character development, a different atmosphere, additional world-building material and a nice demonstration of the novel’s upbeat attitude. But the way to get there… wasn’t so much fun.
Had you asked me how it was going at 21:00, you would have gotten a thumbs-up: I had already socked in five hundred words as a follow-up to yesterday’s cliffhanger, and I was confident that today would be an evening like most of the others since the past week. By 21:30, however, I was in trouble — the fuzziness of what to do next hadn’t clarified, and there was a gap between what I was doing and where i needed to go next.
In accepted NaNoWriMo lingo, there are three kinds of writers: the planners (who draw a detailed outline describing the entire novel before November rolls by), the pantsers who write by the seat of their pants — purely improvising along the way, sometimes with a vague idea of where they’re going. And then there are the plantsers, who combine both methods in various ways. I would argue that we’re all plantsers at heart, but having done NaNoWriMos on both sides of the spectrum (with a 24,000-words outline on the planner end for my second novel, with only a vague idea and a strong character on the pantser end for my eighth novel), I’m becoming a deliberate plantser as I go along: I like to have the world-building comfortably defined before beginning, I like to have an overall structure, and I usually know where this is going — but the fun of writing is discovering many of the details along the way, visiting where it’s interesting, adding details you never would have imagined beforehand, and generally letting the prose guide you to the next few steps.
Today was as clear an example of that as I can imagine. Novel writing is problem-solving — I knew I had to get somewhere but I was missing the bridge. So I started building. First, the setting, then the situation, then the problem, then how to solve the problem, grabbing what was available to me at the moment. It all reads pretty well — but it was pure improvisation developed from a one-liner.
So, anyway — this scene has now provided the motivation for the plot point in the next scene I’m writing, which is a turn in one of the characters’ evolution though the novel. A few days ago, I got rid of three chapters in my structure (it doesn’t change much, but it focuses the pacing a bit) and this is playing to that decision. I’m somewhere around a quarter to a third of the novel done — the “fun and games” section, but also where the plot has to get moving. That’s going to be my focus over the next few days — there’s an investigation to push forward, a few pieces to move around.
Wednesday, November 8 – 27,124 words (+2,952) – Easy blabla, but just blabla.
23:59 – Chapter 3 is done, and we’re well into Chapter 4. There were two components to today’s writing session. The first chunk was doing a mid-level outline for the next chapter and a half, detailing some of my high-level outline in scene breakdowns that I could use as a guide to avoid yesterday’s seat-of-the-pants improvisation. It took a few minutes, but it was worth it — the rest of today’s writing session flowed well, although I have a feeling that I wrote three thousand words of exposition with very little physical action or narrative developments. It’s easy, for me, to add thousands of words by getting lost in confabulating explanations and dialogue, and I fear that’s what happened today. Or at least that’s what happens when I blink after three thousand words and think “hmm, this was too easy.” Oh well — I suppose I deserved a better day today compared to yesterday. I have two back-to-back action sequences planned for the next two days, so that should get me back into more interesting writing.
Thursday, November 9 – 30,608 words (+3,484) – Another solid day
23:59 – Ah, week two of NaNoWriMo — the Sargasso sea of unprepared writers. The thrill of a brand-new project is gone, the drudgery sets in, the plotting issues pop up, real life does no one any favours and woe is yours if you don’t have a plan yet. Fortunately, I was expecting all of this — and while an early-morning snowstorm had me really wanting to be back home, my novel still trudges along. I started an hour later than expected and am now ending later than expected, but still managed to pump another three thousand words into the novel. I did shuffle a few things around — an action sequence planned for this chapter makes more sense in next chapter and I had to detail the other action sequence in a hurry, but things generally hang together better now. My desire to leave my possibly-imaginary serial readers with an intriguing cliffhanger had me writing five hundred more words than I expected, which I’ll either use an excuse to write less tomorrow, or an excuse to write five hundred more to build myself a thousand-word cushion in case of emergencies. Now I’ve got twenty hours to think about how I’m going to wrap up the current sequence and how to end Chapter 4 tomorrow with a bit of emotional drama.
Friday, November 10 – 33,517 words (+2,909) – On the virtues of going to bed
23:59 – I don’t lie to you, dear reader, but occasionally I don’t tell the entire story. Reading yesterday’s log entry, you could have presumed that everything was fine — but it wasn’t. I had set up a lot of things without quite understanding how they were going to be resolved, and was worrying that the entire sequence would be irrelevant when completed. Then I went to bed and, as is usually the case this month, started plotting extraordinary deeds. One thing popped up as an element, then another, and then it all quickly cascaded in a crystal-clear scene resolution that, interestingly enough, did not need any significant re-write of what was already there. Along the way, the scene actually became an essential building-block for the rest of the novel — character development, atmosphere, invention, homage, thematic relevance, a twist on a familiar formula and some foreshadowing — maybe even, we’ll see, another gun on the mantelpiece just waiting to go off during the third act. I even renamed the chapter with a better double-meaning title. So let’s hear it for going to bed and figuring stuff out. After a relatively easy three thousand words concluding yesterday’s sequence and starting the wrap-up to Chapter 4, I’m wrapping up earlier than I expected. I need some time to figure out the best way to pull off the next few scenes, so I’m off to bed, to dream but maybe not to sleep.
Saturday, November 11 – 36,230 words (+2,713) – Solid day; revving up for more
23:55 – After a day of running various errands and starting my Christmas shopping (yes, really), I capped the day with a solid-but-unspectacular writing session. Chapter 4 is complete, and I’ll have to think a bit about how to wrap up Chapter 5, which is the last before a very deliberate time-skip before Section 2 (of 3). There’s a difference between knowing what events the narrative is heading toward next, and knowing in what sequence to present these events for maximal impact. So that’s why I’m not pushing for too many more words tonight — I’ll head to bed next and figure out tomorrow’s double-sized writing session. (Well, let’s hope it’s double-sized — I do have a lot of things to do in anticipate of my imminent move. The best-case scenario is starting to write early, and take thinking breaks to pack up.)
Sunday, November 12 – 43,081 words (+6,851) – On the eve of interesting days
23:59 – In full NaNoWriMo mode, Sundays are fun! My errands outside the house were yesterday’s news, so I had all the time I wanted to do housework, and then sit down for a double-sized writing session. What made today even better is that I was working myself up to the first-act climax, meaning that I ended up writing an extra thousand words just to bring the action sequence to a clear and exciting conclusion. I’m nearly done with Chapter 5 (and Section 1) — a bit of mopping up to do and setting up the next section. I’m really happy at how the climax turned out — some of the guns on the mantelpiece went off a bit earlier than expected, but they were right there ready for use, and the result is the kind of action set-piece that only makes sense in this specific novel. Everything came together rather well, so I’m happy with the result. Whew.
Tomorrow… well, tomorrow may or may not be a similar story. While most NaNoWriMo participants use “housework” as shorthand for “virtuous, unimpeachable procrastination”, I had some very specific motivations to do a lot of it today. Sometimes during the next three days, I will get a call telling me that I can move back into my own house after months of disaster demolition/renovation. What will follow will be a frantic day of moving, another day of cleaning, and a few weeks of unpacking, re-arranging, adjusting, fixing and culling. In other words — it’s a good thing I got this double-dose word count today, because that’s part of my cushion for the rest of the month. As for all of you following this at home — stay tuned, because things are about to go wild. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not. If not — time for another double-sized word count.
Monday, November 13 – 47,248 words (+4,167) – Skating on uncertainty
23:28 – It’s weird to wake in a house not quite knowing if that’s where you’re going to go to sleep. Faithful readers will be reassured that the move-in phase for the house began today, with the contractors bringing back roughly a third of my “material” back into the house. Sadly, that’s not enough for me to begin my move back: I have to wait until everything is there. So I spent quite a bit of today (which was a day off) doing housework — boxing, cleaning, rearranging in anticipation of the rush of activity that will follow the go-ahead to move, either tomorrow or Wednesday.
As for the novel — I’ll be the first to admit that the word-count today is underwhelming for a day off. But there were mitigating circumstances: I did spend some time going through a spell-check of the entire book so far (time spent on that today means time saved in the last few days of the month), and today was the transition between the first and second section of the novel — with quite a bit of dull exposition to wrap up the first part, and explain what happened during the year-long time-skip between both sections. I was also, worryingly, running out of set-pieces through which to dramatize the plotting. So I took a step back this evening, did a bit of research to come up with some possibilities, and started structuring the second section at a slightly more detailed level. Some interesting things coming up during the next few days… if I have the time to sit down and write. If all goes well, tomorrow is the day we shatter through 50,000 words.
Tuesday, November 14 – 50,142 words (+2,894) – FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS
22:09 – Started early, ended early. It was a good day on the writing front: I left the manuscript yesterday with a vague idea of where to go next, and came back to it with a solid-enough plan. After 1,500 words of exposition and scene-setting, I finally made my way to another action sequence that made the rest of the writing a bit faster. I’m amazed at the number of weapons on the wall I’m able to use (literally, in today’s case) and how neatly it all appears to be part of a plan. Today’s action sequence, for instance, has supporting characters working out a dangerous sequence without the help of the three most combat-tested characters in the novel, and it will reveal how one of them is really not what he seems to be, which sets up further character development.
I’m ending tonight’s writing on a deliberate cliffhanger, not just for my serial readers but also for myself, as it will get me back into the novel faster tomorrow. Why would that be important? Well, because tomorrow is probably Moving Day. The contractors brought back another third of my earthly possession into my house (What’s missing? Mostly books.) and it looks good for completion tomorrow. If that’s the case, I expect to get a phone call sometime during the day telling me I’m free to move back, and that will trigger a family-wide plan to get as much done tomorrow evening, however long that will take. Pizza will follow. Novel-writing? Not so sure. Although I can probably take a day off — After all, I have reached the mythical and much-lusted-after fifty thousand words NaNoWriMo goal.
Not that this is the end of my journey — NaNoWriMo picked fifty thousands as a goal for its participants because that’s the lowest technical threshold for novel-length fiction… but most adult novels you will purchase these days are substantially longer — in the 70,000-110,000 words range. (Young-Adult fiction is around 50,000-80,000.) So my goal is somewhere around 100,000 words, which gives me 16 days (one of them in Montréal) to write another fifty thousand words. Sounds doable, but to ensure that all the chances are on my side I’m stopping early today, and going to bed to rest in preparation of tomorrow and figure out the next few steps along the way. I’m already pretty sure of the setting of next chapter’s big action sequence, so let’s develop that gets us there.
Late addenda: When did I reach the 50K threshold in earlier years? Nov.20, Nov.15, Nov.17, Nov.13, Nov.13, Nov.16, Nov.?? (it was a weird year), Nov.16, Nov.24 and Nov.24. (Those last two were planned to be 50K novels.)
Wednesday, November 15 – 54,009 words (+3,867) – No moving, yes writing
23:55 – I’m still stuck in the wrong house: the contractors brought back most of my book collection today, but a few more things are missing, and I clearly underestimated the unpacking work that goes into re-assembling some of the furniture and removing the protective wrap around the bigger pieces. As a result — still waiting to move. Tomorrow should be it!
Given that this is becoming a frustrating comedy of exasperation, I did what sensible writers do in those cases: they throw a few thousand more words on the pile. I closed Chapter 6 with a big action sequence and a few dramatic moments, then started Chapter 7 with the aftermath of it all. I’m still amazed at how everything came together today — weaving past threads in and out of the action, setting up a few new things and making good use of previous ideas. I stopped writing at the beginning of another complex sequence in the hope that I can distract myself by thinking about what’s coming up next.
But again, and hopefully for the last time: There’s an even bigger chance that tomorrow may be disrupted by moving houses. At least I’ve got a comfortable cushion if that happens and I end up crashing to bed early tomorrow evening.
Thursday, November 16 – 57,058 words (+3,049) – Still not moving, still writing
23:59 – I’m still in the same house. No move today — in fact, no evidence whatsoever of moving work done by the contractors at the destination house, nor any communications from the contractors. If it doesn’t get done tomorrow (I’m doubtful!), we’re pushing the entire thing to next Monday… ugh. So while I’m dismantling all the plans I had made for an orchestrated move this week, I’m left with… writing. Although given the headaches I had today (both metaphorical and literal), it was a more laborious session than most. Still, I got those three thousand words in (I’ll have more to day in a few days about the ethics and rewards of pulp writing), and I am even slowly building a really interesting sequence based on nothing more than a one-liner whim. I’m stopping right at the three-thousand-words threshold because I’m tired, but also because I need a bit of time to think about what’s coming next — There’s a really good sequence in my grasp if I can just do it justice. And that requires thinking time.
Friday, November 17 – 60,133 words (+3,075) – There is only one thing to do.
23:52 – So, I finally got a call from the contractors today — to tell me that the move wasn’t going to happen before Monday. (Notice the lack of certainty in not saying that it will happen on Monday.) They also asked if I needed any help unpacking the boxes or moving the furniture — my curt “no”s meant a very short subsequent conversation. So, I’m back to writing with a vengeance as I will live among boxes and uncertainty for a few more days.
At least the writing went moderately well today. Not spectacularly so — I spent a loong time staring in space and trying to figure out the best way to advance my sequence, split as it was between three characters and trying to find something semi-original to do with conventional elements. I knew I had found my answer when I started chuckling at the absurdity of what I finally imagined. I also had another moment of satisfaction as a a lengthy set-up finally paid off in ways that I had not imagined when I put that specific sub-plot in place. (Once again: Stocking up Chekhov’s Wall produces results in unexpected ways.) I will probably be able to tighten up all of this later, for for the moment I have pretty much everything I wanted from this sequence: Character moments, nice ideas, some thematic resonance (indeed, some of my better ideas today came from inverting my setting’s qualities and looking at Canadian values for inspiration), a few good one-liners and further set-ups for later events.
Once I’ll wrap up this sequence and Chapter 7 tomorrow, I’m seriously considering racing through the rest of my outline: at sixty percent of my word-count goal, it’s time to shift the narrative engine in overdrive and roar through my remaining set-pieces. I have roughly three big 10,000-word set-pieces left, plus the stitching around them — in other words, it’s time to head for the conclusion.
In other news, this month’s slow-motion NaNoWriMo controversy finally reached my mailbox today. In a few words: Bad people did bad things on the NaNoWriMo forums, NaNoWriMo management was slow to respond and now the forums are closed and a corporate-apology kind of cryptic email was sent to all members to assure everyone that the situation is under control, which is more opinion than fact. What happens next is anyone’s guess — my ideal scenario would be NaNoWriMo going back to its early-2000s roots of simply offering rules and a word-counter, not delving into the messy business of forums. But many, many people are very annoyed at NaNoWriMo management right now and it remains to be seen how it can reclaim its image as a wholesome event.
Saturday, November 18 – 63,006 words (+2,873) – The revolt of the unmoved
23:59 – My plan for the weekend was to stay home and seethe patiently, waiting for moving activities to restart on Monday. My sister had other plans, though, and through an intervention gradually convinced me that today was actually a good day to get a head-start on the move — by shuttling boxes right away (six carloads by the end of the day) and then by unboxing, assembling, rearranging a few things in the house. It started very tentatively (“Okay, maybe we can move that piece of furniture in the other room without disturbing what the contractors are doing”) and ended up with significant progress unpacking bathroom and kitchen stuff, and reassembling furniture around the living room. So: progress (maybe three or four hours of stuff that would need to be done over the next week.). Now we wait for the contractors to figure out that we mean business with the move.
As for writing: Not a bad day. Chapter 7 is over, now we’re on to Chapter 8. I started late, but had a pretty solid plan to wrap up the ongoing action sequence, add a few scenes of narrative progress, and even add a pair of scenes earlier in the book to establish some characterization. Part of the fun today was discovering a way to have two of my protagonists share an action sequence, which is the kind of thing that makes the episode part of a continuity rather than remain a standalone capsule. I also had some cheeky fun pushing my word-count over the 63K mark and ending on a bit of a wink to serial readers. Tomorrow, hopefully a double-words day, should see us set up and execute another action sequence on the way to the big three sequences that are meant to conclude the novel.
Sunday, November 19 – 66,100 words (+3,094) – On the seventh day, he dawdled
23:59 – While three thousand words is a perfectly respectable daily addition, it’s not so good considering that today was Sunday and I usually try to write twice as many. But I did advanced amounts of nothing today — spinning my wheels on the move, re-doing some of the housework that I thought I had done for the last time last week, fighting against a mild headache, watching a few movies. As for the novel, the three thousands words increased noted above is slightly misleading: In addition to those new words, I did some spell-checking, and more importantly spent a good chunk of the day thinking about the next few days of mid-level plotting. The problem is not that I don’t know where I’m going, because my outline is still valid. But as most writers will tell you, there’s a bit of a difference between an outline planned before the novel took on a logic of its own, and where you are at the moment. It’s about refining the current approach to reach those goals in the outline, and the question that comes with it all is: Can I maximize the opportunities I have at my disposal? Can I really deliver something that goes beyond expectations, that delivers fun and thrills to the readers? I’m not really happy about today’s result — I did bring readers a bit father along and in a way that will get me to my last three main sequences, but it felt workman-like. Not necessarily a terrible thing (and still preferable to not writing the three thousand words), but a come-down after some days of great writing. At least now I have a few hours to think about the next few steps.
Monday, November 20 – 69,091 words (+2,991) – Back on track, still not moving.
23:59 – Still no word from the movers regarding when I’ll be able to go back home — and when I dropped by to check, no one had worked there today. This is going on long enough that I care about a tenth as much about it than last week, even if every day spent not moving is leading to more changed plans. At least things were rosier on the writing front, with three thousand rather easy words spent inserting a scene earlier in the chapter, and a few more hundred words pushing the needle forward. At least I got to think about the next few steps yesterday before sleep, and I’ve got some direction for the next few days.
Tuesday, November 21 – 72,142 words (+3,051) – HERE WE GO
23:59++ – It’s very, very late, I’ve been awake for nineteen hours, I’m hyper-caffeinated from four Mountain Dews (three of them back-to-back-to-back — I knew what I was doing) and one Dr. Pepper, and it’s been one heck of a day.
Never mind the emergency dentist’s appointment early in the morning, the work meetings, the lunchtime parent/teacher chat — At 16:00, I got the green light from the movers: everything was in my house, and I could handle the rest of the unpacking. This, in turn, activated other plans — me taking two days “off work” (except meetings), my family roaring to help me move from the rental property to my house. In 90 minutes, I had the essentials (computer, cat) packed and moved back to my real house in two car trips. In three hours, with some help from my family, we had moved everything I owned from the rental house to my real house in a total of six car trips. In six hours, again with help from my family despite my ineffectual protests, we had set up the house’s main areas for sustained living and unboxed roughly thirty boxes. In seven hours, I was back at my usual computer spot writing the novel, while watching my beloved Turner Classic Movie channel after months away from the good old stuff.
As for the writing — well, today’s word-count speaks for itself: one regular batch of words, written regardless of the circumstances. I ended up going back and designating an earlier moment as the start of Chapter 9. Qualitatively, however, today’s sequence far far looser than the rest of the novel. We’ll see if it survives editing, but it was about our protagonist attending an upper-scale party and loosening up a bit — something of a break considering the roller-coaster action sequences of the rest of the novel. But I thought that the characters deserved a break (partying in fancy clothes), and so did I — it was smooth easy writing with a few funny moments, tons of character development and an intentional breather in anticipation of three hard-hitting action sequences that are going to carry us to the end of the novel.
If I could write today despite moving houses at a moment’s notice, I think the rest of the month is going to be all downhill from here. I will be spending the next few days unboxing, rearranging, relearning how to live in my own house, but I feel as a massive months-long weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Wednesday, November 22 – 75,145 words (+3,003) – At home
23:59 – Today was the first day in over seven months that I woke up at home. Not that I spent the entire day at home despite taking a day off work: Much of it was still at the rental location, taking care of the final few things left behind, and cleaning up the house in anticipation of the next occupants. Then, it was back home to unbox more things. I took care of restocking half the kitchen today in the time I had left — more tomorrow.
As for the writing: it started late, but went on at a steady clip as the sequence I had initially planned become more unpredictable (but better). I decided to cross over to chapter 10 at some point, and delve into the first of the last three remaining sequences. I may complete it tomorrow — it depends on how complicated I will allow it to get, because there are a few ongoing subplots and possibilities all going at once. Today’s snippet gets a strong R rating for gore and violence, so you’ve been warned.
Thursday, November 23 – 79,308 words (+4,163) – Unboxing day
23:59 – I started late and ended far too late, but Chapter 10 and Section 2 are done. If it’s so late (and I wrote an extra thousand-words on top of the daily average) it’s because the climactic action of this last chapter of the novel’s middle act had me too revved up to stop. Some very gory material once again today, maybe tempered by some more-comic-than-expected narration. At least an elaborate action scene is done, and I can move to the concluding section. That worries me a bit, because the outline for that last act is very thin and I feel as if there’s a limit to the number of rabbits I can pull out of a hat for this novel. At least I have eight days to think about it.
In other non-writing news: Spent much of the day (off from work) unboxing stuff in the house. Kitchen largely done, living room well on its way to completion. I’m re-learning all of my domestic habits, and making a few improvements when possible. It’s good to be home!
Friday, November 24 – 82,204 words (+2,896) – Last Act
As NaNoWriMo moves into its last week, I’m now building the last act, picking up after a months-long time-skip and reestablishing the characters. I did add one final scene to the chapter completed yesterday, as it worked rather well as an echo to the end of the first section and an ominous framing of the last act. A very mild action sequence was the bulk of today’s writing session: an opportunity to explore another aspect of the Canadian landscape, show our protagonists coming down to routine from a peak (don’t worry — worse is yet to come), and play with ideas that normally wouldn’t be in this kind of novel.
There wasn’t much unboxing today — instead, I dropped by two housewares/hardware stores on my way back from work and purchased a few essentials — new locks, drapes, and assorted odds-and-ends for the kind of home improvement work that usually follows a move.
Tomorrow is going to be a rough day for meeting my word-count target: I’ll be visiting the Salon du Livre de Montréal, which is usually a full day that doesn’t leave much time for writing. We’ll see — it all depend on how late we come back, how much thinking I do during the day (although I have five hours of driving…) and how late I’m willing to go to sleep considering that the next day is a day off.
Saturday, November 25 – 85,000 words (+2,796) – Ooof, and Salon du Livre
23:59 – I am finishing “today’s” daily words far too late for my own good, especially after a wild day in Montréal for the Salon du Livre. Historically, these are usually the worst days for writing: I leave early, do many things, come back late, and try to focus on the day-trip rather than thinking about the novel.
Today was no exception: National-news-level traffic jams, weird just-in-Montréal incidents, new-to-me layout for the Salon, multiple overlapping objectives, many conversations with friends and acquaintances, plus the required five hours of driving made this a full day.
What followed, on the other hand, was pure craziness: After coming back home before midnight, hyper-caffeinated, I sat down and hammered the daily word quota, the last five hundred words though occasional pauses to rest my eyes. All done now. Still undefeated. I’ll have more to say about the iron regimen of pulp fiction writing in a few days. The only rationale for writing until 2AM tonight is that I get to rest tomorrow. Perhaps even crash and burn.
Sunday, November 26 – 88,034 words (+3,034) – And on the seventh day, he rested.
23:59 – I didn’t do much today but write and rest, and rested a lot more than I wrote. After the week that was, I was in sore need of a reset — weaning myself off the caffeine regiment that had kept me up for a few days, and simply sleeping when I felt like it (which was most of the afternoon). I didn’t do much around the house either, although the living room now looks almost completely box-less.
The writing, on the other hand, was harder than I thought. Part of the problem is that I’m now at the beginning of the penultimate large sequence of the book, and so I have to think carefully about the sequencing of some events: I want a maximum return on my plotting investment, and that means more preparation than in the earlier freewheeling moments of the novel. There are a few targets to hit, and some possible sequences have bigger impact than others. Writing only three thousand words today feels like a defeat, but at least it’s three thousand more words, I’m not finishing as late as the past few days, and I get to prepare some more until tomorrow. Let’s be frank: There’s only four days left, and I would very much like to hit 100,000 and The End by Thursday.
Monday, November 27 – 92,159 words (+4,125) – Let’s wrap this up.
23:01 – I often get great ideas under the shower, and this morning’s flash of insight was a doozy — with only four days to go until the end of the month, I realized that it was time to wrap up the novel. The only way to do it was to jettison much of what I had planned for the last three chapters — including an entirely different antagonist and a complex action sequence leading to an assault on a government compound. Tonight, I executed my revised plan… and don’t regret it. Save for an epilogue to be written tomorrow, the novel is now complete.
A few things explain this change of direction. The biggest is the looming end of the month. I like to finish my NaNoWriMo novels a few days before December 1st so that I have time to read them over, fix the biggest typos and make sure they’re superficially coherent. I wouldn’t have the time to do that had I stuck to the original plan, maybe even ending a few days into December. The other factor is a combination of creative exhaustion and the feeling that I have raised the narrative bar too high to continue. The end of Chapter 10 was a very hard act to follow, and while I did my best in Chapters 11-12 by going into another direction, it was clear to me that it wasn’t possible to go back to milder material and still give a strong ending to the novel. So I took all of what was left of my best ideas and crammed them into today’s writing. Not a lot is left on the cutting-room floor, though: the biggest is an idea about the antagonists that wouldn’t have worked very well considering the rest of the novel’s theme of praise for the public service. Otherwise, I’m happy with the rest at the moment.
A good chunk of this change of plan was refined while unboxing more material throughout the day. Having taken the day off, I was free to get my tires changed and to prepare my home office for tomorrow. Obviously, I ruminated about the content of the novel along the way, and starting to write early tonight gave me enough time to bring the entire sequence to its conclusion.
I’m looking forward to be done with this novel — I had fun writing it and it arguably kept me sane during a particularly frustrating period, but other projects are piling up, and I’m craving a change of pace. Before then, however, I still have an epilogue to write, one massive spell-check, and one read-through before I send this one to the printers.
Tuesday, November 28 – 92,201 words (+42) – Crash
22:30 – Well, it had to happen at some point: I woke up with a cold this morning, and it only grew worse as the day advanced. After the excitement of the past few weeks, it’s not that big of a surprise to fall sick (especially with my daughter coughing and insisting she’s fine) — but it means no significant writing today as I couldn’t muster any cognitive energy beyond doing a spell-check.
Wednesday, November 29 – 93,839 words (+1,638) – …and we’re done.
23:00 – Much of today wasn’t any better than yesterday as I rested, tried to sleep, ambled from my bedroom to my living room and waited for the worst of my cold to pass. By this evening, however, I was feeling marginally better — enough to wrap up the novel’s epilogue and make a few minor changes earlier in the novel. (There’s a major piece of surgery I need to do in moving a major action sequence from one chapter to another, but that may wait until the proper editing phase.)
So that’s it! One more novel completed! It was a wilder ride than most, what with the mid-month move and other shenanigans. But it’s completed and while there’s still a lot of work to do to shape it into something good, I’m relatively happy with the results. The ending could be improved and there’s some tinkering to so with the characterization, but there are a few fine passages in there.
I’ll have a few more words tomorrow about pulp fiction writing to wrap this up.