Wednesday 31 October 2018

(vol 5) CHAPTER 05: "NaNoWriMo - A Personal Story"

Well, hasn't this year been a crappy one. 

This blog isn't normally for that kind of talk, but the lack of posting and writing, especially off that back of the release of BRISK WORLDS last year (a wave I'd hoped I would continue to ride) shows that being an author has dropped way down my list of priorities.

But, like a dependable friend who is there for you even if it's in the face of abuse, NaNoWriMo has come around again. Even the crap I'm going through right now won't stop me from getting 50,000 words on paper during the month of November.

And to keep things interesting, in a departure from my previous work which is normally guaranteed to contain superheros, aliens, zombies, and/or talking gorillas, I'm going for a more real life feel. And I'm using the shit year of 2018 to help.


So, if you followed me before I dropped off the face of the Earth, you'll know that I've been big on NaNoWriMo for a while.

I started way back in 2007, and have only 'failed' three times since then. Much to my own disgust, I still haven't put a single project out there from what I've completed each November. I say every year that "this novel is the one", but it never happens. 

So I won't say it this time.

But my project for 2018 is definitely someone different to what I normally try.So, as I step up once more, I'm equal parts excited and scared. I'm aiming for a more Douglas Coupland feel (the early stuff like Microserfs). None of the usual genre stuff that I fall back on. It's real life.

It's my life.

Sort of.

It's been a bad year, as I said before, and this blog isn't a 'Dear Journal' kinda place where I jot down my feelings, draw little hearts with the initials of my current crush, and ask a piece of paper where things went wrong for me. This is a writing blog. At least it is when I'm actually doing some writing.

But lets just say that my personal life has been through the wringer in the last 18 months and I feel like parts of it could be twisted into a pretty decent story. And, as a friend said when I mentioned my plan to step out of my comfort zone, I don't have to publish, and it might be therapeutic.

Who knows what will become of it. Only time will tell.

And speaking of time . . . lets take another annual look back at my NaNo history.


Back in the summer of 2007 someone pointed me in the direction of I was told that it was something that might hold the key to dealing with my inner editor.

It seemed simple enough; 50,000 words in thirty days. Of course at the time I didn't have any concept of how much writing that was. I’d never written that much before and had no idea what the word counts were of books I read. But I was feeling brave, so to hell with it.

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. 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 I'd written while bored in the office one weekend. 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.

I 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.

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.


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.

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. 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 days later I was done. At 57,149 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.


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 efforts 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 the result was UTOPIA FOR PEARS.

An ode to classic sci-fi like BRAVE NEW WORLD, 1984, and FAHRENHEIT 451, this entry into my NaNo catalogue was one of the smoothest projects I've ever written. 

I never missed a day. The final word count smashed anything I'd managed before. I beat my previous finish line date by one day, and the story wrapped up nicely on the 30th.

I've revisited the novel several times since then, and it's probably the closest I've gotten to publishing one of my works outside of BRISK WORLDS.


I started a story close to SUPERGOD many years ago and felt like it had legs. So I planned the hell out of it in the build up to NaNo and then let it loose to see what would come out of my head.

I didn't expect much, and certain didn't think I could match, let alone beat, the previous years numbers.

So I was more surprised than anyone when SUPERGOD became a juggernaut that I couldn't stop. Without stopping time or defying the rules of the universe, I manage to find minutes to write all over the place. I finished early, beat all of my personal records and came out of it on December 1st with a truly epic story.

And for the first time ever, I haven't gone back to see what I can edit out of a NaNo project. SUPERGOD is a story that really does reflect who I am and contains almost everything I would love in a great book. But it's got a lot going on and the editing on this would be harder than anything I've ever done. 

I'm not the writer I need to be, yet. 


Which brings us to this year, where I take my personal life, twist it up, wring it's neck, and chuck out a story about a man wondering where his life has gone and why everything suddenly seems so difficult. And meanwhile his friends wonder why he won't let them help him.

Lost love, broken hearts, the struggle of fatherhood, and board games galore, all surround the tale of one guy just wanting to be loved.

I think I could be really proud of this one.


And that's it. My NaNo backcatalogue grows as another year passes.

What are you all up to. I know a fair few people who participate ni this awesome annual event. 

Is this you first and your nervous? Is this your second and you scared that last year was a fluke? Or are you like me, where this is an annual treat you look forward to more than Christsmas?

Let me know in the comments below, and add me as a buddy over on the NaNoWriMo website.

30 days to go people. Lets go write some stories.

See you in seven

(This is an rewritten version of the October 29th 2014 post, “Never Forget Your First NaNo”)

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