I lost November, this time I have an excuse and next year will you be joining me? I hope so and I will be pestering!
NaNWriMo 2016 was the first time I’ve tried writing with such intensity. One that caused social media to get entirely put on hold. Granted, I’ve dipped into here now and then to react to messages, but interaction with bloggers has been pretty scarce. Facebook has suffered too, with my author page looking like a case of early retirement. Twitter was maintained because, well, it’s Twitter and Pinterest was all but forgotten. Not hard because I only set it up just before NaNo!
NaNoWriMo finished, in principle, at the end of November unless, like me, the novel is not quite finished. For those not aware of it (if, as a blogger, that’s possible) it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Simply sign up and write 50,000 words in a month. Easy yes?
Errr, not really. But even that answer could be a yes, if you are fortunate to set off with a project that doesn’t end up losing its will to live after around 10,000 words. For me, that’s about the benchmark telling me the story has enough potential. It means my narrative voice is engaged and the schizophrenic mind is possessed by half a dozen characters at the same time. Altered realities and all that. If you write fiction, then you will probably get what I mean, if you don’t, then you’re probably saner than I am. In which case I am most envious!
A question often cropping up here, and on Twitter, is how do I plan my writing for something like NaNo? In answer, I have a badge; its this one.
The description with it reads; “Outlines? Who needs ’em? You’re a pantser!”
In other words, I make it up as I go along and let the characters lead me through events. If I don’t, then invariably they tell me off. I see things visually and let them unfold like a movie I’ve never seen. Not really a conventional approach if courses I’ve been on are to be believed.
The things I need most in a first draft are an idea, some characters to drift with that idea and one, or a few, antagonist(s) to throw spanners in the works. In general that’s about it. The narrative voice kicks in and the first draft gets underway. If it’s working the characters dictate the pace, and if it’s not they stop speaking.
I worry about continuity and the minutia after getting that first draft down. Even character sheets are left until then, simply because I don’really know who they are until I’ve worked with them. I tried planning once, and figured by the time I’d done it I could have written a first draft. So, for me it’s the pantser approach every time.
Second drafts are where things get ironed out, shaped and changed. I need to concentrate more here because many of my tales are interlinked, so chronology and consistency become important; not only in the book being written, but also between different novels.
I say novels with a pinch of salt. I have a few, but they sit in a pile waiting for some epiphany that says, “Yes, that’s the route I will take to publish.” #procrastinate and all that.
I digress, returning to NaNo. Some interesting stats, if you like that sort of thing. According to an e-mail from the site admin the numbers are as follows;
Nano participants 312,074
Young writers programme participants 71,229
Using the top two figures gives 11% of those enrolling actually achieving the 50,000 word goal. If you are amongst those the kudos to you on a job well done. It’s not easy.
My thoughts on labelling winners against participants are two fold;
One is that not everybody has time to write with the intensity required to hit the prescribed target; real life has a way of saying “Can’t sit and write, there’s other stuff to do.”
The other is, as I hinted at above, a project that runs out of juice, well, runs out of juice. One stares at a page and it just stares right on back. The problem with NaNo is that if the staring goes on too long, your daily word count keeps rising. There comes a point where you just cannot claw it back. You can either over stress about failing, or accept that this year it’s a hurdle too far. Dose it up with mindfulness.
Before November I had an idea, well it was an idea from the previous November. A project that got sidelined as another Rose ascended. Which, is a bad pun given that was entitled “The Ascent of Rose Marie Gray.”
I therefore entered this November knowing what I was going to write about. Along with a few names and characters to work with. Alas being over a year meant, like old friends, they had to be reacquainted with. More like starting anew as it turned out and hijacked from posts made here ages ago.
For my method that is about as much planning as I can conceive of. A few test pieces to see if they resonate with me.
For NaNo, I then set a daily target of 2,000 words. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It took me a week to find a sustainable rhythm.
I also set, what I thought, was an achievable target of 30,000 words. That was my personal success criteria, the win win scenario. If I did not meet the NaNo winners post and I hit my goal, then I have, in fact, won by having a solid start to a novel that would not be there if I hadn’t participated.
As it turned out the narrative voice did wake up and I actually hit 59,378 words at a daily average of 1,979. Not bad, in my humble opinion, considering my initial daily target was 2,000.
Having said that, I was inspired by dubious word counts at base camp. I work from an iPad most of the time as it’s portable and can sit on school runs, coffee shops, sofa, armchair and, well you get the picture. I write, on average, 5,000 words per chapter before uploading to DropBox ready to download onto my PC and paste into my manuscript template. Alas the compiling part got left behind and I was using a poor word counter, a calculator and a text file with counts per chapter to keep on track. To my knowledge I was entering numbers into the NaNo site thinking I was miles behind, and scraping to get to the target. When I actually submitted the text into their validator things hit a DOH moment.
Lesson one; next year compile as I go and use a proper word counter to avoid unnecessary panic. I know I said goal one was 30,000 words, but when you find yourself at 45,000 with three days left, it becomes a must do this obsession. Had I known at that point I’d already hit 50,000 then life would have been more peaceful and calm! I may even have blogged this last week.
Lesson two; buddies. NaNo has a buddy up system that lets you see where other people are in their novels, send messages and so on. It’s a support structure. If you are flagging you will see some better off, some worse off and some the same. It doesn’t leave you feeling isolated and wondering if you are on track. There are also word sprints, local forums, NaNo camps and local groups in your area that link up and work together for inspiration.
Lesson three; this was my first ever NaNo. Next year I’m open to doing Lesson two as early as possible. It also grows networks. In fact over 400 writers this year joined together in a blog hop thanks to Raimey Gallant
I say blog hop, more a “you name it social media platform and we will hop onto it” type of thing. I’ve already met some unbelievably talented people.
To sum up
Almost a new book written, a few chapters left yes, but it was no words at the end of October.
Excellent way to kick start a project or writing that’s stalled.
Good way to increase your networks by linking up with fellow bloggers and writers.
If you set a personal target then winning is not defined by statistics based on 50,000, but by achieving your own target
It’s fun, until it stops. Had a week of jelly head post event.
Social media hibernation. Write or that. The two cannot coexist unless you are a hermit, living in a room and have no dependants living with you!
Actually, the negatives are pants ones really…a week of mental exhaustion means you have a novel and dropping social media for a month is probably not a bad thing as it shows you where writing time exists. Make use of it!
Lastly, and because someone (you know who you are) asked, here is an extract.
Unedited, raw first draft. I’ve not even had chance to read back the whole project yet.
If you wish to read it, be warned, though nothing disturbing happens, its genre is HORROR.
THE BEQUEST – EXTRACT CHAPTER SIX
Conrad Carmichael sat with his brothers, Allan and Joseph, around a coffee table. On another night they would be chewing the fat about amateur paranormal activity scheduling. Not much different from professional scheduling except they were lacking in Compton, so to all intents and purposes amateur it was. Tonight, Conrad was the odd one out. While the other two were of normal complexion, he was a shade off colour and shaking rather nervously. After all, it’s not often a man of large girth sits in a pub whilst telling you that Death is, in fact, stalking you.
It wasn’t that such statements, or potential life threatening encounters, were not hazards of the hobby. Paranormal entities had, according to myth and legend, been the cause of many a dour thing. The old Hamilton place being one. Burnt down in 1875 amidst cries of foul play and something else about a room that swallowed people. Research into that was ongoing and, at some point in the future there were plans afoot to do a deeper investigation.
That was not now. Now was Joe Stringer. The man of overgenerous girth with a convincing power of foresight that chose to declare the end game was in sight.
“Are you absolutely certain he was not having you on?” asked Allan.
“An excellent question Al, we are, after all, one step up from the norm in that we require solid evidence before concluding something odd is happening.”
Conrad looked from one to the other. Granted in the cool light of day, here and now, the idea seemed somewhat far fetched. However, Stringers eyes had no sign of deceit and a great deal of haunted fear. All his instincts said this chap was the real deal.
“All I’m saying is I believe he believes what he is saying. And that scared the hell out of me.”
“Then,” said Joseph, “we should perhaps interview this man again, with all of us present and glean more from his vision in an effort to avert disaster.”
The other two nodded in agreement.
Conrad reached for the phone.
Joe Stringer sat at home. He did that a lot these days. Takeaway cartons littered the immediacy of his armchair. Cleaning was not high up on his agenda, but then again not much was. He ate, watched TV and kept himself to himself. Safer that way, nobody could point fingers if you stayed indoors. Kids, teens in particular, pointing fingers and staring or laughing. Heart attack walking big man, drop the food and start the exercise. Hey look, there’s an eclipse waiting to happen.Oh yes, Joe knew them all. Staying home was best. After all they all looked down on him.
Nobody really got inside his head though. As a kid he was quite athletic, not uber thin but run of the mill fine by normal standards. Good diet, plenty of exercise and friends. That was before his hidden talent showed up. Not that he considered it a talent back then. Just some scary shit that turned him into himself and forced his game to go all wrong. Nightmares and sleep disruption. He’d seen doctors of all descriptions, pumped meds, dropped caffeine and quite a few not so traditional methods too.
Nuts and bolts remained the same though; nightmares. Proper in your face ones. Not all the time, most days, or nights were OK. But every now and then the demons came in. Screaming and showing him things that left his waking mind in shock. It got to the point where going to sleep was an event he wished to miss. Freddy Kreuger eat your heart out.
That was when life got out of control. Food became comfort in the depths of night. He made University and left with a solid degree in computer science. Programming was easy. It gave him a nocturnal distraction. It also dropped the will to socialise. App development and network troubleshooting were out of hours and the day job turned to front end software development; graphic user interface. The job nobody wanted. Suited him fine for a while. The insomnia became normal and his weight grew.
Then it started in the day too.
Vision flashes. “Where you been Joe? We’ve been looking for you a while now, stopped dreaming have you?”
That was the opening gambit, the introduction. The big hello, guess what, I’m back.
Joe felt sweat dripping from his forehead, moistening the bald patch growing on the top of his head. The voice was the same as it always had been. Dripping emptiness, insanity and filled with vitriol.
“What the fuck do you want?” he’d shouted.
That had got security in the local supermarket escorting him outside. One minute he was pushing a shopping trolley, the next, zone out with the demon inside. He empathised with the guy escorting him out though. What was he to do? Big bloke going off on one inside, scaring kids and parents alike. No doubt some cam boy saw it on the CCT and buzzed down saying “Get rid.”
It wasn’t that though. Granted he couldn’t blame the chap for doing his job and truth be told, Joe needed air and getting outside was a good move. The thing that struck a chord was Joe knew the man was dead. Not right now, but in a few hours he was going to pull out of a junction and get swallowed by an articulated frozen goods truck.
Bit like the cyclist in the paper except there he’d never met the guy. That was a vision, a dream, the power of foresight. The point where he realised there were things in the world that defied logic. The demons were back and they were telling him things.
That was why he’d asked to see Conrad Carmichael. The man who, if he were not about to die, might have been able to help. But how do you explain to someone that you just had your last ever weekend? Chances were they’d see the fat bloke and laugh. Yup, once again they’d all look down on him.
Except Conrad had gone white and started shaking before just walking out of the Royal Oak. Of course that had not phased Joe because he’d already seen the happen. Just like he knew his phone was about to ring. Which it did.
“Hello Mr Carmichael.”
“How did you know it was me?” The voice on the other end was, as expected, quiet and full of apprehension.
“I told you, I have the…”
“Yes, the power of foresight, I know. I expect you…”
“Know why you are calling, yes. To arrange a further interview.”
“Quite,” said Conrad, “but this time with my brothers Allan and Joseph.”
“Oh dear, I didn’t know you had family.” Joe could now see grief and frustration in the future too. Not by foresight, but by knowing an event was going to occur and not being able to stop it.
“I thought you had the power of foresight though?”
“Yes, but it’s not them that feature in your particular vision.”
“I suppose not.” Conrad sounded disappointed. But then again, thought Joe, who really wants to die alone?
“Where is it you wish to meet?”
“How about the pub? We book a table for lunch and have an informal discussion there?”
Joe, mused this for a moment. The first meeting had been an effort in social interaction. His eyes scanned his room again. A cycle of ill mannered mental health. His home was quite disgusting. Then again, so was his head. Full of bad shit and that screaming demon. The one that was buried alive and trying to get out. That was his own personal nemesis if, and it was a big if, his cardiovascular system held out long enough.
“Very good, shall we say eleven o’clock on Thursday?”
“Can you not do Saturday?”
“Mr Carmichael, Saturday will be too late.”
With that Joe hung up. He exhaled deeply into a wheeze. Three brothers, that was unexpected. Might be they could help him though. Make some sense of this. If, of course, they were also paranormal investigators.
Conrad put his mobile carefully onto the coffee table.
“Well,” said Allan, “how did it go?”
“He’s frightened Al,” Conrad stared at his phone. “Thats what disturbs me most. I have no doubt Mr Stringer knows far more then he lets on.”
Joseph looked on. Thursday 11 a.m. Royal Oak was scrawled in pencil on the notepad before his distressed brother. “Why not Saturday?” he ventured.
Conrad looked at him. “Apparently I will be dead by then so an earlier booking was more favourable.”
Each looked at the other.
“And we are taking this seriously yes?” enquired Allan trying not to mention the levitating cat and general hilarity foisted at them in the aftermath.
Conrad so wanted not to, but something didn’t fit. Joe Stringer didn’t fit. They met mediums and people allegedly touched by the spirit world before and thus far none had convinced them of any particular trait that might prove genuine. Apart from those a good psychiatrist might resolve. Stringer was way off that zone. Overweight yes, but if Conrad read it right, that was caused by a dread of going out. A realisation that his gift was a curse and he was trying to hide from it. Either that or he was a new type of nutter. How he hoped that was true.
“I am,” he said, “and tonight I’m going out to get reasonably drunk.”
“Is that a wise move Con?” asked Joseph.
“If it were your last Tuesday night and you just found out, what would you suggest?”
“That we go for a few beers and formulate a line of questioning that will find out if Mr Stringer is a fraud or…” Allan paused not liking what he was thinking, “…the real deal.”
“And if it’s the latter?” asked Joseph.
“Then we have to decide what is the best course of action to alter the future.”
“Al,” said Conrad, “do you realise how ridiculous that last bit sounds?”
Across town, the same afternoon, Emmie Monks was staring into the carpark through a Costa window. Part time work as a school receptionist was good in some ways and bad in others. Good in that she had employ, something to occupy her mind. Keep it from straying into the dark side where she was vulnerable. Trucks, potholes and a dead husband were still haunting her dreams. She, like Joe Stringer, found sleeping haunted by nightmares. Her existence held little joy once night settled. The bad was it gave her a whole day to match up with the after-hours.
Soon it would be full time though. The old biddy overseeing her induction was due to retire next Easter, after which she would be able to take up the role proper. A case of brave face for the social demands and entirely the opposite alone. It was little Callum that kept her from doing something real stupid.
A caramel latte sat cooling in front of her. The rain outside was drifting sideways with a wind that swirled. It held her fascination while deeper in she contemplated murder. You can’t just take a life by accident. Least ways not her husband. Nothing would make her believe otherwise. In her coat pocket her left hand idly turned two shotgun cartridges over and over. Practice on Saturday at the gun club. Regional finals shortly after. That seemed an infinite time away.
She stood up, unable to finish what used to be her favourite coffee. Saturday, she would get by to Saturday and shoot a few clays; or something like that.
Outside she felt the full force of the rain. Not that it bothered her, being distracted and distant left the external facade tolerant of most things. The real storm was within. Her mind seemed engulfed in a tornado, out of control and under some directive steering her at the rocks. It had started slow after the police informed her of an accident. Once shock ran its course her insides began their path to here. A pressure cooker waiting for release. She needed help. Maybe call Dr Whitaker again next week.
Elsewhere, at the bottom of Emma Strickland’s stairs a ghostly figure rested in the mirror, waiting for Archibald Cleethorpes. Saturday was going to be a ball.
At Draycott’s Autos, Jack was swinging. Tuesday afternoon was half day and the mechanics were gone by one o’clock. Made sense really, if you work them weekends then there has to be give elsewhere. It also suited him fine too; ever since it was clear coping at home was not working. His ex-wife, as he considered things now, had no option but to go into a more specialised establishment.
Weekends he worked to avoid that blasted nursing home. He could go now, but there was another six pack with his name on it and the fan heater in his office had just about cut through the damp. He figured he should go home at some point, but that was crap too. A house full of happy times and memorabilia, when things were all smiles and Jennifer was the light that kept him on the path. Love was a powerful weapon when the safety catch was on. Take it off and boom, a stroke shoots you down leaving a wake of memories and a vegetable sat in a nursing home. He didn’t blame her, just every God he could call up. Cut the crap, no excuses, just why?
He kind of knew why, it was getting old. You come into the world under a death sentence. When and how long is the lottery. Sure as there was beer in his bottle you were coming to the end at some point or another. Thing that ticked him right off was the end came in a variety pack. Just turned up one day out of the blue and sent everything into free fall. Day before all good, awesome, under appreciated; day after and fuck up. Regret, nostalgia, guilt and anger. All in one pot bubbling like some slow cook meal.
Jack just didn’t get it. If you were going to have a stroke why couldn’t it just be quick? Get it over, c’est la vie, the end and thanks for the memories. Why were there so many naff paths to the door at the end? Jennifer couldn’t remember who he was half the time and needed constant care. He doubted she even knew who she was for most of it either. In fact it would be better if she didn’t. Waking up and realising you were in the home of the living dead waiting for whatever came after must, at best, send you careering back into whatever fantasy world existed when lucidity failed. Not only would it be better for all concerned if the end just dropped in and took you away, it wouldn’t cost your life savings to drain away at the same time.
Beer was morbid, he knew deep inside that his coping strategy was screwed. Avoiding the crap and wallowing with the nectar. He pulled another ring pull and took another gulp of ale. What he should be doing and what he was doing were two entirely different things. Staring at his invoice board wasn’t doing much either. Not that he actually saw the board as such. Not now. His stare was into a window in the past where a young Jack was slow dancing with the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.
Now, if you’ve got this far and have thoughts on the extract feel free to comment. Please keep in mind, it’s not Chapter one. I’ve taken a part of a later chapter just for the hell of it. If things don’t make sense then you’d need to see the previous chapters first.
To wit, shortly I will be needing beta readers to see if the unedited version has enough merit to spend time and energy to rectify the flaws that are present.
© G Jefferies and Fictionisfood, 2016. All rights reserved.