So I mentioned back in June that I was taking a break, that there would be no blogging until I had something novel like to release into the wild.
And then I broke that promise in August by lifting my head out of the sand, telling an anecdote about my then WIP, before hiding away once more.
Well, I’m doing it again.
2016 has been a bit of a downer year, both on the personal front, and also with the writing. Though I’ve still to finish a project in anything close to a published manner, in the past I was at least always writing. 2014 saw me stumble into an online group and discover a new form of writing that I took too quickly, while 2015 was all about anthologies and expanding projects.
But this year has been meh. Part of that was the loss of the Flash Fiction contests at the end of 2015 that had sustained me. But I also lost faith in myself and my abilities and slowly began to hide from my stories and ideas, all while other factors in my life assisted becoming the ammunition for this process of closing.
It’s the final quarter of the year which means NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. A few months ago, at my lowest, I’d decided to drop this annual activity like I had most of my other writing. I didn’t feel like I had a good idea anyway, and the motivation to write 50,000 words was stuck in traffic somewhere, ETA unknown.
But on October 1st something happened. The e-mail came through, the one I used to look forward to, the one that announces that the website is set up ready to prep your NaNoWriMo profile for another year. I almost deleted it, my thumb hovering over that negative decision. But then a little voice spoke up from deep inside, a voice I had not heard from for many months. It showed me something from my ideas folder, hidden deep within my imagination, and told me not to give up.
Sounds stupid, right?
Well, maybe it is. But that little voice sounded desperate, like it wouldn’t be around much longer if I kept ignoring it. Like it had better places to be, better minds to encourage. I think this November is my last chance, I really do.
So, NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words. 30 days.
Let's see if I can not only add to my growing collection of first drafts collecting dust (see below), but actually so something about it this time.
2007 - DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB
Back in the summer of 2007 I had a short term fling with my first online writing group, while also taking part in my first SFX Pulp Idol competition, when someone pointed me in the direction of www.nanowrimo.org. I was told that it might just hold the key to dealing with my inner editor.
It seemed simple enough. Sure, 50,000 words looked like a large figure but I didn’t, at the time, have any concept of how much writing that was. I’d never written that much before and I had no idea what the word counts were of books I read.
As I passed through October of that year I signed up to the site (under the now deleted Briman79 profile) and started looking at my ideas folder (my ‘ideas’ for stories greatly outweighs actual written product). I settled on something I’d been toying with for a few months that involved a down on his luck guy who becomes friends with the Grim Reaper. All I had was a pub scene that I'd written while bored in the office one weekend, so decided to take it from there. No other characters, no setting, and no plot.
And then November 1st hit.
It started well. I’d spend the work time just daydreaming ideas before getting home, booting up the PC, and writing whatever my brain felt like ejecting; a little before dinner and then a lot after. My wife loved it because she owned the TV for those first few weeks.
I did hit some road blocks along the way but, instead of stopping, I thought about where I was heading next and just started from there, knowing I could go back later. Of course, this led to some strange happenings, especially when a character was killed off and then returned five chapters later with no explanation. I guess that’s what editing’s for.
So I ploughed on until I hit a much bigger road block in the form of an Xbox 360. It was a stupid time to get one and my word count took a massive hit because of it. As I neared the end of the month it looked like I wouldn’t cross that finish line on my first attempt.
And that made me mad. So the video games stopped and I knuckled down. Three very late nights later and I crossed the finish line on November 29th.
Of all the things I have written or will write, DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB will always be the piece I’m most proud of. While it still lingers in first draft limbo I always have an eye on it and am determined to dust it off one day and release it into the wild.
2008 - THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER
With something now complete, I moved straight onto my next project and began planning a superhero novel. I’d just finished reading Austin Grossman’s ‘Soon, I Will Be Invincible’ and had an urge to novelise a comic book I’d written in college.
Unfortunately when November came around I wasn’t feeling it and instead started a project I felt was more manageable; THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER. This was a YA fantasy that was designed to be built of five different adventures across one single quest. I thought I could write it bite sized and get through it a little easier.
I didn’t make it past day one, and have never really counted it as taking part that year.
2009 - JUSTICE
I was determined to not miss another year and so I went back to my super hero novel called JUSTICE. This went smoother than my previous two attempts with only three days of non-writing across the month. Unlike 2007, I never found myself stumped and went straight from beginning to end in a nice, cohesive manner. Probably the smoothest NaNoWriMo project to date.
2010 - I AM BROKEN
By the time this NaNo rolled around I had received some bad news that inadvertently lead to a very nice silver lining. In September of 2010 I was made redundant and put on Garden Leave. This meant that for three months I was still getting paid but was not allowed to look for another job. With November approaching I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and was determined not to waste it.
With thirty whole days and nothing else much to do, I got on with I AM BROKEN, another of the many, many stories I'd started years before. This was the first NaNo that I began with anything close to a full cast and not much more was added. The plot however exploded thanks in part to the music I was listening to.
I’d been using movie soundtracks as the background to a lot of my writing including all the previous NaNo’s. But 2010 was the first time I picked one specific soundtrack and played it on a loop as I wrote. I think this helped keep things coherent theme wise.
Thirty day later I was done. At 57149 this was the most I’d managed to date and I only had one lull around the two thirds mark. I crossed 50,000 on the 24th and just kept going. Despite the free time I had though, I AM BROKEN still doesn’t have an ending.
2011 - THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER
After 2010 I went into the following NaNo with a lot more confidence. Other than a new job I’d started a few months earlier, I had no other commitments.
I decided to take another stab at my failed 2008 attempt. I planned a lot more this time with character sketches and chapter plans, something I hadn’t really done in previous years. There was a hell of a lot of ‘Pansting’ in the first few effortds but I decided to give ‘Planning’ a try.
Once again this story beat me, although I managed to get further. Still, I knew it wasn’t working and, two weeks and 15,000 words later I gave up.
One day I will finish Maxwell’s story.
2012 - DEAD DOLLARS
If the last year was bad, this one was much worse. I don’t like excuses, but for this one time I think you’ll agree that failing wasn’t much of a choice.
With another idea from the vault, I dived into DEAD DOLLARS, a zombie western inspired by the scene from ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ where Eastwood is shot several times but just won’t die.
I say dived in but, due to the circumstances surrounding November 2012, I’m surprised I even thought about trying to write anything at all.
The wife and I had chosen to move in with her father while she was pregnant, and we looked for a bigger place to live. The space we had in my father-in-laws bungalow was limited as was TalkTalk’s excuse for Broadband. This is in itself would have been a challenge for most NaNoWriMo participants but for me it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Add that to another redundancy, and suddenly writing a zombie western didn’t seem like a priority in life. During the last week of October I decided to skip it and focus on other things but, fickle as I am, I changed my mind back by Hallowe’en. Why not, I thought. It will give me something to focus on during all the crap.
So I began. It was as tough as I thought with limited internet access and nowhere to sit down and write comfortably. But none of that mattered by the middle of the month. Our son was due at Christmas of that year, but he decided that that was too far off and wanted out sooner. Right in the middle of November.
Needless to say, DEAD DOLLARS didn’t get much further.
2013 - MIGHTY GRAY: SEASON ONE
A year into a new job, still stuck in a bungalow with no room to move and now I had a one year old son.
I should have failed.
Instead, my episodic ode to Buffy became my most successful NaNo project to date, breaking all kinds of personal NaNo records on the way.
Somehow, by taking my crappy Samsung NC-10 Netbook to work, and writing a little before shift and a lot during lunch, meant I hit the daily target of 1667 before I even got home in the evenings. Sometimes I was managing up to 3000-4000 words a day which for me is impressive.
I powered on with each ‘episode’, hitting around 17,000 words and finishing on a climax before moving onto the next and the next. These mini endings made it easier to move on instead of aiming for that one finale that was miles off in the distance.
Even now I don’t know how I managed to accomplish what I did that year. Not with so much against me when I struggled on much easier years. The main thing is it became another project under the belt and another NaNoWriMo certificate on the wall.
2014 - FALLEN SWORDS FRACTURED DAWN
During the summer of 2014, while working on my CampNaNoWriMo project TATTOO, I looked at projects I might want to pick up when that year’s November rolled around. Was it worth taking another stab at my 2011 or 2012 failures? What about the planned sequels to several of my projects?
No and no.
I decided, instead, to try a different approach. Inspired by fellow Flash Fiction writer Betsy Streeter’s excellent ‘Neptune Road’, I planned to write a long story that would be released throughout the following year as weekly episodic. Inspired by Game of Thrones, mixed in with the backstabbing and politics of the offices I worked in, I molded the company who employed me into a Fantasy novel continent, and transformed my work colleagues into witches, warriors, monsters, and bandits. The idea was to build up 50,000+ words as a head start, and then release each chapter (roughly 2000-3000 words) once a week, while continuing to write more and more.
So how did this backfire, I hear you ask?
Well, quite simply, things changed too much between December 1st 2014 and February 6th 2015. And not just the name (turns out that Fallen Swords was an online Fantasy RPG). I altered a massive chunk of the pre-story, some characters were expanded upon, the start point was altered. It turned out that by the second episode, I already didn’t like the MNA having amnesia, and the rewrites were so extensive, I was pretty much writing from scratch instead of having a healthy back log to present as I carried on writing.
By the time Episode 11 came around on June 26th 2015, I was switching my attention to starting my CampNaNo project, and the Fractured Dawn project was pissing me off.
And that was all I wrote.
2015 - CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE FOREST OF DEATH
CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM
Last year was a continuation of a huge output of Flash Fiction. It was from one of these story ideas, the 100 word, weekly adventures of CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD, that all of my larger 2015 writing projects were ironically spawned from.
July’s CampNaNo was the expansion of the first Chris and Mike Flash Fiction story. I aimed for novella length with the first book, ‘CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE RISING DEAD’, at around 25,000. So I figured November’s word count allowed me to write two more novellas back-to-back.
While editing the first book through August and September, I had one eye on where things could expand for the future adventures. Everything went smoothly. I finishing book 2 halfway through November, before getting the majority of book 3 complete in the remaining two weeks.
Again; big plans, but nothing to show for it. I spent the end of last year planning the remaining novellas and short stories. But you’ll notice a common theme with me; ideas don’t pop into my head to be born. It’s where they go to die.
2016 - UTOPIA FOR PEARS (working title)
Having over 200 Flash Fiction stories written means I have fertile ground for book ideas. Couple one of my Flash Fiction stories from 2015, with enthusiastically published Author Liz Hedgecock’s placeholder name for her 2015 NaNoWriMo project, Utopia for Ducks, and I now have a Huxley/Bradbury-esque sci-Fi novella ready to get stuck into in less than a weeks’ time.
The Scrivener file is almost ready to go. I have the lunch breaks almost freed up (just have two books to finish reading).
And then who knows, maybe, just maybe, this’ll be the one.
Because you know what they say; 10th time’s the charm.
(This is an updated version of the October 29th 2014 post, “Never Forget Your First NaNo”)
UTOPIA FOR PEARS
Selena is a worker. She spends long days in a factory making stuff she'll never use. All she does is build, eat, and sleep. But she is different than the others; intelligent, inquisitive, rebellious.
Then one day she is moved to a new site to assist with low quotas, a site where her peculiar ways attract the eyes of the staff, and where she finds herself in real danger for the first time in her life.
And so begins a journey as Selena discovers fear, friendship, and the truth behind a world she didn't even know existed.
A world beyond the factories.