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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Writing about Writing (Instead of Writing?)--2007 NaNoWriMo Progress

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet




"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Writing about Writing (Instead of Writing?)--2007 NaNoWriMo Progress

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Well, I've survived (again) the first week of NaNoWriMo. And instead of writing, here I am writing about writing because, I find, more than even a great excuse to make mad progress on a single piece, NaNoWriMo has taught me a lot about myself as a writer.

This year, instead of writing a carefully nurtured idea as I'd intended--and as I'd done in years past--I embarked on a story barely conceptualized that I dreamed up while watching a family fantasy movie one afternoon. Aside from a month spent visualizing scenes to the music of Celtic Legend and Pan's Labyrinth, I did no pre-writing, no characterization exercises, and didn't even sketch a map until Day One. I suppose this is NaNo in its rawest--and perhaps intended--form, and in the past, I've been very much a spontaneous writer who'd sooner just do it then waste my time (and impetus) on a lot of that other crap.

It's been going ... okay. I've been getting a steady word count each day with a mean average of 2263 words per day. But at the same time, the story isn't coming as easily or as quickly as usual. Every word feels very deliberate; every scene carefully contrived. And I didn't do any pre-writing?!

I've noticed that I tend to write in three styles. There are the stories created with reckless abandon: When I start them, I have no idea where they will end or how they will get there. These usually start with characters rather than plots; personalities that stand out boldly in my mind so that tossing them together in a scenario feels more like getting to sit back and watch what happens than doing any work. Not surprisingly, Another Man's Cage was one such story. The characters of AMC were clearer in my mind than any other aspect of the story upon starting it.

Then there are the stories that center on a mood, theme, or feeling of some sort. Cirque Sanguine (flocked) was one of these; Return to Me is a fanfic example of the same. I had in mind the feeling I wanted to create in my readers. Usually, writing these sorts of stories requires very deep concentration from me and absolute immersion into the story. Usually, these stories are written in one or two sittings in manic bursts of word count. It's quite an intense experience. (But not one particularly conducive to novel-writing.)

Finally, there are those that are more carefully planned plot-wise, where I know what is going to happen even if in a vague sense. Last year, I described this as  "feeling like I am crossing a river by leaping rock to rock. Though I do still occasionally stop to play in the water," and I think this conveys the experience well. And whereas the character- and mood-driven stories often feel like they just happen, these more careful, plotted stories happen very deliberately and take a lot of thought. I'm often reluctant to indulge in too many flights because I don't know how this will affect where I end up or how it might mar the pacing.

I think I'm safe in saying that the last kind of stories tend to be the most draining for me. I won't even say "the least fun" because the Green Knight Story (flocked) certainly fit this bill, and I had a great time with it. (Of course, a lot of this was because of the style and the language, which a wordsmith like me can't help but love. An excuse to put together complex, archaic sentences without worry about being labeled overwrought or purplish? That doesn't happen every day!)

And the current story--despite being largely unplanned--is proceeding in a similar manner as well. It's probably been the toughest story I've written as of yet. And I keep asking: why? This idea seized me from the start and I still love it, but it's not coming as naturally as most of my stories have in the past.

(And part of me always wonders: can readers feel the difference in my writing? I worry that they can. But at the same time, writing in a flight has its problems too--authorial indulgence, if you will--and tends to result in long non sequiturs that delight me as an author while totally destroying the pacing (or utterly boring) the reader. Perhaps, then, this method of writing--while more difficult and, yes, largely less fun for me as an author--results in better stories for my readers.)

I have my theories on why this one is so difficult. First of all, to recap the summary: Once upon a time, William lost himself in the joys of writing fantasy ... and nearly lost everything else due to his obsession. With reluctance, he abandoned his world. But, sixteen years later, the world has come back to him in the form of two characters who deliver the message that their world is in peril, and they have been sent to William to devise a solution. As he becomes immersed again in fantasy, the messengers find themselves struggling in a modern world that they cannot understand, where conflicts take a vastly different shape than those that can be solved at the point of a sword.

This story, then, involves half a modern-life component and half a fantasy world component. The fantasy world component has been great fun for me so far. It's the modern-life that's difficult. I am reminded of why I stopped writing mainstream fiction in favor of speculative fiction. For me, writing is an escape from beltway traffic and political headlines and all that rot ... and this story embraces these aspects of modern life, to a degree, from the point-of-view of characters for whom our world is a fantasy land. It's not that I feel challenged as a writer to describe our world but just that I have very little motivation to do so. Of course, it's essential to the storyline that I do so.

Secondly, because the two stories occur simultaneously, side-by-side, I do have to be careful not to go on any lengthy flights that would cause one half to become very far ahead of the other. And since I lack an outline, I'm pacing this in my mind and weighing each chapter against the other as to what has happened, what needs to happen, and how the story will evolve in parallel from there. It's an experiment of sorts: outline-writing without the outline!

Lastly--and perhaps silliest of all--I prefer to write in present-tense first person. This story is in past-tense third-person limited. And I find this challenging, to get into the minds of my characters the way I can when the story feels immediate, like a scene unfolding before me (versus a scene unfolded, remembered, and now written down as an outside observer).

But all of these things are challenges. And while I've gotten comfortable with experimenting with different voices over the last year, I need to get more comfortable with different tenses and PoVs as well. I've long recognized my weakness as a writer that I tend to write only in present-tense first person. And this works fine for most of my stories, but won't work for all. So I count this as an experiment that--even if not successful--will at least serve as a good opportunity to practice.

Here's the graph for Week One (words written per day) with the pink line representing the mean average for the week:

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Week Two is going to look more jagged since I didn't get any words Saturday or Sunday on account of social engagements.

Last year's graph for Weeks One and Two is here.
  • That's a stable word count, so I think you are around 30k? All I had was an idea and an outline, no pre-writing in that time period or anything. So then Maglor gave the bunnies some red bulls and I am still writing the outline that I had planned for chapter 1. I have no idea where this ends though... LOL

    As a newbie to Nano, I am happy to experience it and I am surprising myself every day with what I type away.
    • At the moment, I am at ... 22688. :)

      I didn't write at all on Saturday because I worked at the Aquarium in the morning and played D&D in the afternoon/evening. I didn't write yesterday because I was over my parents' and went shopping with my mom, then was too tired to turn down a rented DVD in the evening. :)

      But it's coming along ...

      NaNo has been an interesting experience for me for three seasons now. I do enjoy it--though I get annoyed with it regularly as well and swear that I won't do it again next year (which I always do)--but it's been more valuable as a meta experience than anything else. Since I haven't actually finished any of the novels I've started. :^/
      • okay almost 23k :) Yay! I thought I could be halfway today, but its been quite a day and I am just 232 words along... so tired.

        I didn't write yesterday because I was over my parents' and went shopping with my mom, then was too tired to turn down a rented DVD in the evening. :)

        That sounds utterly relaxing, we played swiffer-ball mostly of the evening.. hehe

        Since I haven't actually finished any of the novels I've started. :^/

        Well I fear for my project as well, although if I will work by books... who knows.
        • I know that when I charted my progress last year, I observed that when I had a really good writing streak, I usually followed it up with a couple 232-word days. This year, because I'm generally holding myself to lower word counts, I find myself able to manage a steadier pace.

          I've learned that it's good to try to write every day ... but if I reach the 232nd word and am exhausted and can't write anymore, I don't push it. I'll only end up rewriting what I force out.

          Which I suppose is against the purpose of NaNo, but I'm a lazy reviser. I'll admit it. ;)
  • I don't know what to say. That chart blew everything else you had written before it right out of my mind. I started "A New Day" in February and I just now hit 40,000 words. I don't work fulltime; I am absolutely obsessed with it; and it is not even like it has been all that carefully crafted (I can see hundreds of instances where the writing should and could be stronger, if I were not so lazy). I guess I should ask myself why I love writing so much?
    • I've asked myself without getting any good answers. :) It's more like a compulsion than anything else. An itch feels good to scratch. Stories festering in my head feel good to put onto paper/pixels. Then they stop bothering me so much.

      I've often thought that a writer can't just stop writing. I've tried. Several times. And you see where it's gotten me.

      On the less-than-perfect sections you are finding in "A New Day" ... is it possible too that you're simply becoming better and so these sections that were once a good example of your abilities aren't any longer? I see this happening in my own work, where I'll look back on what I thought was good a year before and be horrified.

      Also, I don't think it's lazy if you don't continually revise stories to keep them up to par with your current abilities. There's this impression I get from some in fandom that fanfic stories should always be under revision and the author should always be willing to make corrections that readers suggest. Not the case, imho. Sometimes, a person has to reach a point and say, "I'm done with it. It's not perfect, no, but it's done for me." And move on, write something new and better, more in line with her current abilities ... that she will hate in a year's time, of course. ;)
      • Oh, forgive my whining. I just feel like I spend so much time either writing or thinking about my writing and am still soooo sloooow.

        I do agree with you that one cannot keep revising stories forever. I do find that one technique I have that forces me to move forward is to tell myself I will revise later. On reaching a higher skill level: I do see that happening with my writing and I will not go back and re-write everything I ever wrote to bring it up to where I am now. I guess I'm not exactly horrified, but I think "Oh, [deep sigh] that's not so great, is it? [shrug]" I guess that is what I mean by lazy! LOL
        • Whine away! In fact, here, have some cheese to go with it. I'm sure enjoying mine.

          Because wasn't part of this post one big piss-and-moan session? "Oh, dear, I just can't get into this story like past stories!! *piss piss piss moan moan moan*" Disguised as something deeper, of course. ;)

          Also, I definitely fit your bill for "lazy" as well. Though I prefer to think of it as moving on with new projects rather than dwelling on the old. Or that's what I tell myself!
  • I suppose this is NaNo in its rawest--and perhaps intended--form, and in the past, I've been very much a spontaneous writer who'd sooner just do it then waste my time (and impetus) on a lot of that other crap.

    pretty much, yeah, although there are folks who will plot and plan and outline until they are good to go when Nov. 1 hits. I tend to get the idea, let it percolate a bit, and then go, and that usually happens about a week in advance, but I don't plot/plan/outline anything. Well, not much anyway, and that doesn't account for the muses who say *snort* we're doing it differntly. And they do say differntly. ;-)

    I must admit that writing in NaNo '05 got me to 50k quicker than last year and this year. But I'm holding steady at 18485 right now, and writing the bare minimum of 1667 words a day. Maybe more. :-)
    • NaNo '05 was breezier for me as well. Actually, I seem to recall that we were both pretty neck-and-neck with regards to word count; we both finished in about two weeks.

      Last year, we'd just gotten Alex; this year, I'm working on this story that is more challenging somehow, so I'm happy with my current average of about 2200 per day.

      I don't tend to outline but I do have an outline for the '05/'06 story simply because the plot is rather complex and I was terrified of forgetting a section. I have a bad memory for plots, so I wrote an outline to hopefully prevent this from happening.
      • Actually, I seem to recall that we were both pretty neck-and-neck with regards to word count; we both finished in about two weeks.

        Yeah, I remember that because every time you shot ahead, I was determined to catch-up, if not pass you! It was never really a contest, but my competitive side came out determined to get to 50k first. Didn't happen, but it was fun! ;-)

        Last year, I had to cope with moving near NaNo (well, August, but that's still kinda close) and trying to get used to the longer travel times to work and back, not to mention getting a new routine going after said move. So last year, I think I only made it to 35k and I was working on trying to finish the '05 NaNo, which is still unfinished...

        I plotted out my '05 NaNo. Had an outline (sorta) and everything. My muses went with it for a while, but then decided to hang a left off the planned path. So this year, I got the idea, wrote out my suggestion for what I'd like to happen, but I'm letting the muses decide where to go with it. So far, they haven't veered much. They aren't going very fast (story-pacing-wise), but they haven't veered much... so that's good enough for me. ;-)
        • I seem to think that it was something work-related that kept you from getting the word count on the fourteenth day to keep you even with me. I was lucky (and still am) that my job gives me time for writing ... and doesn't require odd hours or weekends.

          I got a burst today when the story actually wanted to happen. I've been looking forward to this scene for a while now, so it was nice to really enjoy working towards my 2500 daily goal. :)

          Good luck to you!
  • I think those three styles sound much better than my three: Drabble, Scientific Thesis, and Complete & Utter Bull^$@t. ;) (I will be doing an exercise in Number 3 tonight...)

    And I find this challenging, to get into the minds of my characters the way I can when the story feels immediate, like a scene unfolding before me

    I like first-person a lot (generally first person past), but I read a lot of 3rd person stories, so sometimes feel like that is the "right" way. It's not, necessarily, but it has become somewhat natural to write that way, especially with anything longer than 300 words. Sometimes though, I fall into this bind where I am writing in 1st person and my character becomes a little too astute regarding his/her companion(s), as if I'm writing from the 1st person POV of ALL characters at once. So I have to step back and ask, "Does that make sense or am is that just being my omniscient authorial self?"

    Of course, "omniscient authorial self" is quite misleading, because often my muses are completely out of my control. ;)
    • There are some, certainly, who think that third person is the "right way." I've seen magazines that will only accept third-person stories. I've never seen a magazine that will only accept first-person stories. (Though I'm sure one does--or has--exist[ed].)

      I'd be most curious to see one that accepts only second-person stories, however.

      Personally, PoV is one of the few things where I have absolutely no problems. Everything else is fair game for struggling with. And I'll admit ... I'm a bit intrigued at the notion of first-person omniscient PoV. ;)
      • I've never seen a magazine that will only accept first-person stories. (Though I'm sure one does--or has--exist[ed].)

        Hmm, do I sense a business opportunity? ;D

        And I'll admit ... I'm a bit intrigued at the notion of first-person omniscient PoV. ;)

        Hahaha. I don't struggle with PoV per se - whatever PoV I pick generally feels pretty natural, I just occasionally get carried away. Especially when retroactively adding descriptors. Or I subconsciously change my mind as to whose voice I want to show through more. Just chalk it all up to my incredible indecisiveness when writing. ;)

        If my muses would cooperate and I could set myself to it, I realize (I should not admit that I realize this) that I probably could write a fair few words in a relatively short amount of time, because I finished my five page exercise in Complete & Utter Bull%#!t last night in approximately 2.5 - 3 hours.

        And of course when doing such exercises is exactly when my muses want to play! If not then, then at late hours, when I tell them that I really should go to bed, because I'm only going to get 6.5 hours of sleep as it is, and I have a horse to ride, and probably should be as close to 100% energized as possible. But they don't care so much about that. Even Tyelkormo, and he should know better!

        Tangents much? No...
  • It´s really interesting what you do here, analysing your writing from an outsider POV. I should sit down one of those days and try to do the same about mine, because it´s really fascinating how our writing tendencies diverge. For example, I have decided that NaNoWriMo is simply not for me- my brain does not work like that. I need to set the perfect hour for writing, with nothing else to do, nowhere to go, no eventualities in sight, no one around, and a clear head. This happens around twice a week. For the rest of the week I just cannot write -end of story.
    Also, if I do not mature the story on my head, I feel I´m writing only 1/4 of what I could have written if I had been decent enough as to plan it first, so... :(
    • Very interesting! It seems like you have a good start on analyzing your writing methods. ;)

      I find it fascinating the different ways people do (or can't) write. For example, so many people love to listen to music while writing. It's even a blank on the NaNoWriMo bio form! I can't listen to music. It creates interference with the words in my head, especially music with words. (I've never tried instrumental music; that would probably work.)

      Much of the analysis here comes from the fact that I rarely write anything these days that isn't a little bit of an experiment for me in some regard: style, voice, PoV, form, or even my method in writing it.

      NaNo is more a motivational thing for me than anything else. And I totally understand why it's not everyone's thing (and sometimes feel guilty that the online writing world stops for NaNo and seems to make those who choose not to participate feel like spoilsports or something).
      • I can't listen to music. It creates interference with the words in my head, especially music with words. (I've never tried instrumental music; that would probably work.)

        I can´t listen to music, either. I can´t listen to anything or anyone, in fact. If I only had the money to buy an insonorized capsule...

        Much of the analysis here comes from the fact that I rarely write anything these days that isn't a little bit of an experiment for me in some regard: style, voice, PoV, form, or even my method in writing it.

        I have phases. Right now, for example, I´m in a phase where I do not feel at all like experimenting. I feel like writing without any kind of artifice, and I´m not even researching anything just for the story. I´m just writing along conversations and family situations between certain people who lived very far away from us in time and space.

        That´s probably my brain´s idea of a holiday- if there only was a way to say this without demeaning what I´m doing now.

        NaNo is more a motivational thing for me than anything else. And I totally understand why it's not everyone's thing (and sometimes feel guilty that the online writing world stops for NaNo and seems to make those who choose not to participate feel like spoilsports or something).

        I´m counting my words, and so far I´ve realised that I just cannot worry for quantity and quality at the same time. I wonder for how many people does this motivation have a double edge...

        But I have to say that NaNoWriMo looks so attractive because of the fun that comes with it. And it´s quite... appealing to see how people try to reach the deadlines, curse when they don´t, joke about it among themselves and show each other what they´ve done. If I ever, at some point of my life, decide to participate on it, it will be for that reason.

  • I'm really badly stuck. This is my first year, & I'm only a bit over 1,000 words. I'm bored with my story already. :( Argh.

    And is the whole Annapolis BS pissing you off as much as me? (Please say yes. :P) Cause I am pissed off. Like this family didn't have enough money already. Like I didn't just have to take out $100 to get my teeth fixed tomorrow. Like I don't need to get a boot fixed because a seam ripped. These goddamn politicians & their cushy jobs! I hate them all. On top of having to go to school with stuck up spoiled brats with their stupid rhinestone-encrusted cell phones that fold out twelve different ways, don't ay "excuse me" if they bump into you, make YOU swerve to avoid THEM in the halls, & apparently, my stupid worthless generation just wants to bum at Mommy & Daddy's house for the rest of their lives, so fuck the people like me who don't!

    Am I the only one here who wishes someone would just nuke us? Seriously. Life is such total bullshit, it's not even funny.

    I'm seriously wondering how this family's supposed to keep everything together, thanks to the asses in Annapolis, & really have no goddamned clue how I'm supposed to move out & get something like a life.

    Sorry, I just ranted here when I should've done that in my journal. But seriously, this is the reason I am Independent. I don't care what political party anybody's from: I don't trust them, they've all got an agenda, they only care about votes & keeping their cushy little jobs, & honestly, I am pretty damned sure I genuinely hate them. It's horrible, but true.

    ....Should start a revolution. 666: the Number of the Tax Increase. :P (Admit the wit!)
    • I totally agree with you. I haven't been following the Annapolis situation much personally because when I go through my occasional phases of intense political interest, I usually become depressed immediately after.

      But I can completely back up what you said about it being so hard to make ends meet these days. Unless you're a billionaire who owns an oil company.

      Three years ago, Bobby and I moved out of our parents' houses and rented our first apartment. We were a year-and-a-half out of college and both had government employment with decent entry-level salaries. And for that first year, we pinched poor Abe till he screamed, and without the help of our families, I doubt we would have been able to do it at all.

      I remember, for example, the number of fees we had to pay just to move into an apartment. Every utility or service charged us $30-50 so some dumbass could type our information into a computer.

      Then, last year, living in a one-bedroom apartment, driving two Suzukis, and thinking a fifty-dollar meal at P.F. Chang's was a real treat, we owed $2000 in taxes in addition to what was taken from our checks, both of us being taxed at the highest rate allowable. Because, you know, with all those luxuries we were enjoying and all that massive income from two government employees, we deserved to be taxed so that Dick Cheney could get a tax cut and Bush could go play soldier in Iraq.

      The other night, over my parents' house, I saw an episode of 60 Minutes where one interviewee talked about how lazy our generation is because we stay at home into our mid-20s when this used to be taboo. Bobby and I both started to rant nearly simultaneously. With prices the way they are now, we said, and salaries as low as they are, how can anyone afford to move out right after graduation? The only reason we managed it was because 1) we were a couple and hence had two incomes to contribute, 2) both had stable employment and decent income, and 3) had a lot of help from our families, who gave us secondhand furniture or took us shopping for kitchen implements. We were lucky. Most people starting out aren't that lucky.

      Of course the fucking politicians do shit. (Pardon the profanity.) Why? Because we don't give them thousands in campaign contributions. Nope, we just represent the majority of their constituents, but it's not valuable to stick up for us when lending a helping hand to a billionaire gets lots of campaign contributions.

      Why was shit done when BGE raised our gas and electric 70%? (Oh, they deferred it over a year. Big whoop. We're paying 70% more now.)

      Why is shit being done about the fact that gas prices are over $3 a gallon in Maryland? When I started driving eight years ago, gas was $1.04 in Belair. My mom got mad at me once because I got gas in Perry Hall and paid $1.24. Six years later, it had tripled.

      Why is shit being done to protect our rights as consumers, when we have to fight with banks and cell phone companies and credit card companies just to keep our own money?

      If we were millionaires and lost in profits what the middle class has lost, they'd all be falling over themselves to give us tax breaks and bail us out. But we're just people and families trying to make ends meet.

      So yes, I agree with you, and you're always welcome to come to my LJ and rant about whatever you'd like. ;)
      • Oh, & apparently, if you try to conserve your electric, BGE raises the prices to make up for it. So screw trying to save money or be environmentally friendly (though I think most are thinking on the former), cause you're gonna get fucked over anyway!

        I know I should be grateful we don't have a dictatorship-- we just watched Missing anthropology class, about the coup in Chile in the '70s, where they shot people for voicing their beliefs-- but come on. Politics are a necessary evil, & they just piss me off & depress me to no end. I seriously have no faith in the human race. It's impossible to. (Damn, that sounds emo.)

        So I guess I'm screwed over if I want to try & move out.

        On top of everything else, NaNo looms over me like a bad metaphor. Or something. (God, that was lame.) My story is total & utter crap, & I just find that I don't care anymore. About it or anything else. I'd almost have somebody nuke us, cause that'd end all our problems real quick, wouldn't it?

        Ack, I sound angsty. Shutting up now. (We should meet somewhere. XD lolz)
        • I'm game for meeting up whenever you'd like! :)

          I do consider as well the conditions in other places in the world and feel lucky for the paltry problems that we face. For example, I'm sure citizens in Sudan would love to worry most about their gas and electric bill.

          But I also don't think that saying, "Things suck everywhere else even more," is an excuse to let our own country go to the dogs. Which is exactly where it is going.

          Also, I didn't mean to depress you all the more about how difficult it is to start life after college. I was more intending to point out that people who claim that any twenty-something who isn't living on her own must be lazy and dependent is an asshat who doesn't understand the way the world works these days. Because it seemed to me, when I was in college, so many "grown-ups" enjoyed taking every opportunity to tell me how easy I had it as a college student and how wonderful it is to be young and poor and living at home with no time and no freedom. And as an insecure college kid, I believed them, that I was deficient somehow for not being able to enjoy menial (or unpaid) work and piles of schoolwork and next to no income. I've since learned how wrong these people were, that they were idealizing what they thought college life must be like. "Oh, it's lounging on the quad in a bikini and partying and getting to do interesting things like edit the literary magazine and having nothing more pressing to worry about than a paper on the ethics of using animals in research!" Riiiiight.

          Anyway, if we were to get nuked, I guarantee all the cockroaches politicians would survive, only they'd have more of an excuse to install more security cameras and insist on more invasive searches at every turn ("What, a cavity check to cross the street??") and be frowning at our LJ conversation right now ... in short, everything would turn to their advantage, in the end, so be careful what you wish for. ;)

          /depressing alarmism
          • OH EM GEE, ALARMISM.

            I'm not alarmist. Just a pessimist. :P "We're screwed" is a common phrase of mine.

            ...Damn politicians. I don't discriminate; I hate them all! :D:D:D

            I have to go to class & am tired. Remind me again how I'm learning anything? :P ugh.
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