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NaNoWriMo Webly Wednesday and a checklist

October 19, 2011

Official NaNoWriMo badge

With less than two weeks to go before NaNoWriMo starts, here are some useful links and a checklist of things I’d like to have done in advance.

“What is NaNoWriMo?” you ask. No, you probably don’t. I have a feeling that at least half of my readers either participate in, have participated in or have heard of it. – So I’ll keep the what and the how of it short: NationalNovelWritingMonth (though international by now) is an event taking place in November every year. Thousands of people sign up to attempt to write the first draft of a novel of 50,000 words (or more) in 30 days. I wrote a more detailed post about it last year. And there are plenty of other blogs where you can read more about NaNoWriMo and get some great pieces of advice:

Now, for the checklist:

  • Get together with the main characters.
    Not physically, unfortunately. But I want to get to know them a bit better. What makes them tick, what are they doing when they aren’t in my novel, and so on.
  • Have a rough idea of the plot and the settings.
    This year I’ll have the starting point and a “mission”, but I have no idea what will happen on the way or how things will end, and that’s just fine. I’ll let the players loose and see what happens.
  • Stock up on easily cooked food, coffee and healthy snacks.
    I just know that there will be days in November when cooking doesn’t seem as important as finishing a chapter. So I will have things in the cupboard that can be cooked quickly, some healthy snacks like nuts and fruit, and coffee.
  • Compile a soundtrack.
    The right music helps me get into the right mood for what I am writing, so each year I make a list on my iPod for NaNoWriMo with appropriate music.
  • Make a designated NaNoWriMo 2011 notebook.
    I bought a Moleskine for this purpose and put a NaNoWriMo sticker on it. It is now split up into sections such as “Characters” and “Maps” and “Technology” so that I can put notes in for later use now as well as through November.
  • Find a “magical” NaNoWriMo object.
    Last year I had a hat that I wore when I needed to concentrate on my writing in November (no, I didn’t wear it every time I sat down to write). A magical item helps signal “I’m writing” to other people, and it’s also a little trick to make you feel more focused. This year I think I’m going for a pendant since I found one appropriately shaped as a pencil.

Have  you come across some great articles or blog posts about NaNoWriMo? What is on your list of things to do before November starts? Or are you fed up with reading about NaNoWriMo all the time?

In-jokes and why everything is so much more interesting when you’re a writer

October 15, 2011

Organised crime, the Dutch language, the Roman empire, Paris, the occult ... A selection of topics relevant to my stories.

Recently I went to a used book sale. The books were just around $4 and most of them were non-fiction books. It was research heaven. And it’s in such a place that I realise just how much my interests are influenced by my stories and the people in them.

I overheard one of the people who worked there asking a customer what they were looking for. The answer was quite simple. A certain historical period, a geographic region, a type of psychology – that sort of answer. One single thing. “Wow,” I thought, “that must be cheap and easy.” And also not nearly as interesting as I find having a diversity of interests.
I do enjoy the feeling of leafing through a book for information and inspiration, but I’m not the kind of writer who reads a newspaper article or the like and get an idea for a novel. I’m the sort who has an idea and then I get excited when I find a newspaper article that relates to it.
Since I work on a number of stories at the same time and have a quite a few characters who have starred in short fiction and are waiting for me to write their novels (or at least give them a prominent role in someone else’s story), there is a lot to research to be done. Writing historical fiction and having people in some of the stories who have been around for literally a couple of thousand years obviously doesn’t make it more simple.
I still need to find good resources on daily life in the Persian Empire around 500 BC, if anyone out there just so happens to know any books on the subject.

So that was the useful research part. Are you wondering about the in-jokes? Well, the thing is, I don’t just stop at research and books. I find myself relating all sorts of things that I encounter to my writing. A cafe having the name of one of my main characters? That is funny. Having the sort of beverage that another protagonist likes while I’m writing their story? That is nice and cosy. Seeing someone in the street who looks remarkably like one of my guys? I’ve yet to ask someone if I can take their picture because they look like this person that I’m writing a novel about, but I have been close.

A camera from around 1950 that may be part of a collection belonging to one of my protagonists.

I have come onto possession of a few things that have something to do with my stories. One of my protagonists wears a trilby and he made me appreciate the look so much that I got one very much like it. Silly? Maybe, but in addition to being a funny in-joke and a really nice hat, if I need to get into the spirit of his story, then wearing it will work wonders.
Last year, right after the last NaNoWriMo, a friend gave me the camera on the left because my main character collected old and antique cameras. Another friend knitted a bat for me with pinstriped wings. Why? Well, one of my guys (a vampire) jokingly introduced himself as “a fruitbat” in the first story he ever appeared in. And he likes to wear a pinstriped suit.
It’s not just that my friends indulge me. These people happen to be writers as well and have the same sense of humour that I have when it comes to these things.
I find all these in-jokes entertaining, but often they’re more than that. Like the hat, they can help fuel creativity. I bond with the people in my stories through these things and can get some interesting little insights into them.

Do you find that being a writer gives you a wider range of interests? Are you on constant lookout for research material? Do you have in-jokes with yourself or other writers? Do you own something that (and because) your main character does?

“Focal Point” on Every Day Fiction

October 1, 2011

A few months ago, I sent another piece of flash fiction to Every Day Fiction. Yesterday I received a letter of acceptance yesterday and now it is published.

The first draft of the story, Focal Point, originated during a writing group meeting last autumn. We do writing prompts, and this challenge was called, “Out of one’s comfort zone”. I chose the subject because it related to my NaNoWriMo project last year and I wanted to practise writing a protagonist of that particular occupation.

I found the story again some months ago and decided that I liked it enough to put some more work into it. So I rewrote it and submitted it to Every Day Fiction. And now … Well, now I am very excited and pleased with the acceptance, and I can’t wait to see what the readers make of it.

I have to cut down on using the computer right now because I’ve strained my elbow/wrist using said computer too much, so currently I’m spending a lot of time on a notebook with hand written notes about the characters and the settings for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s very cosy and fun. I’ve even managed to draw a world map which is something I haven’t done since my teenage years. I have a lot of framework for the project, but I’m sticking to the idea of not planning the plot out this year and just see where it takes me.

I read banned books

September 24, 2011

September 24th – October 1st is Banned Books Week. In a nutshell, this event is about intellectual and artistic freedom and promotes challenged and banned books.

From the Banned Books Week website

When I look at my book shelves, I find that several of the inhabitants have been frowned upon, prosecuted, challenged or banned at some point. Lewis Carroll, D.H. Lawrence, Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Chopin, J.D. Salinger, J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston – and the list goes on.

There is a number of reasons for banning and challenging books. They use offensive words. There is violence in them. There is gore. They deal with homosexuality. They deal with sexual offenders. They deal with sex. Sexism. Nudity. Abortion. Racism. They display a religious point of view. They display a non-religious point of view. Or a political view. You get the point.

I don’t advocate explicit or offending content just for the sake of provoking. Generally speaking, my opinion on sex in literature exemplifies how I feel about most controversial issues in literature. I don’t think it’s a good idea to read adult books to small children. But I do believe in freedom, and I do believe that literature, like other kinds of art, is important. Writing about rape isn’t the same as committing rape. That a novel is seen through the eyes of a murderer doesn’t mean that the author thinks that killing is all right or that the reader should. People can, and should, think for themselves. Much good can come out of controversial books. They can examine the human condition. And crudely put, we can’t talk about what is wrong with the word “nigger” if it is eradicated from Huckleberry Finn – and I recommend CM Stewart’s blog for a discussion of censorship that takes its point of departure there.

Personally I want to be able to write what I do. Far from everything I do is frownuponable (yes, that is a word now), but I will continue to deal with the topics that I do in my fiction to the best of my ability.

Literature can be controversial. Literature can be honest. Art sometimes does mimic life, and life isn’t always pretty.

How do you feel about controversial and banned books? Do you write stories that provoke or deal with “unsuitable” topics? – If you want to share, Out Of Print would like to hear it too.

“Hi, guys. How would you like to spend a month together?”

September 4, 2011

What do you get if you import a young European with a university degree in religion and philosophy and a famous, powerful wizard who owes Death a huge favour into a world that has ended a long time ago and yet is still there?
- No, I don’t have the answer. Not yet at least.

57 days until that NaNoWriMo thing starts again. Some participants have been planning all year round. Some wait and see what happens when the fingers touch the keyboard on November 1st. Others have a vague outline of a story or an idea of writing another installment of a story in progress.
A few months ago, I wrote about searching for the perfect story for this year. I think I found it. For me, NaNoWriMo is partly about challenging myself to do something I haven’t previously tried. Having completed NaNoWriMo twice before, I have a list of those things. I’m not just writing for the sake of doing them, of course, but I think November is a playground, a place to see what works for me as a writer and what doesn’t.

This year (unless I change my mind or chicken out), I will be surprised by the story far more than I have previously been during NaNoWriMo. I am not going to plan any details. I have a stage, and I have actors, and I have a few props and a vague idea of a plot, but the actors will have to take it from there on their own.
- Which brings me to the title of this entry. I know two of the protagonists already. Years back, I ran an online comic (no, it is not out there anymore). I was about 250 pages into it before I stopped. I always wanted to finish the story and have more to do with the main character. More recently (in 2006), I was writing a fantasy story. I’m not sure why I never finished it, but I do know that even though I moved on to other genres, I have considered returning to it and its protagonist several times.

So I rounded up those two main characters and explained the matter to them. At first it seemed farfetched, but it turned out that there were very good reasons why they ought to be in a story together and indeed this particular story that I’m setting out to write. I managed to convince them of this. During the last few weeks, I have worked on their respective prequels (they are never going to make it into the story, but I wanted to get into the mood of them) and a short “test run” scene with both of them in it.
I am a little bit nervous about this project, but it feels right, and I am looking so much forward to seeing how it turns out.

Have you ever imported or recycled characters? Do you have beginnings of stories in the desk drawer (or on the hard disk) that you want to return to one day? And if you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, how is planning (or not-planning) going?

“Creative points” and dividing your time between creative outlets

August 6, 2011

I seem to have an internal creative points system. To function properly, I need to be creative. I have an inner creative-o-meter that needs to be filled up, and there are several ways to do it. – But one is more efficient than the others.

While this blog is focused on writing, and I think of myself mainly as a story writer, I do a number of other creative things. I take pictures, draw, paint a certain kind of hobby dolls, and I sew and used to make elaborate costumes. And I write non-fiction (like blogging).
Is it a blessing or a curse to have several kinds of creative outlets? I tend to think of it as a blessing. If I get stuck with one thing, I can always turn to another and still enjoy creativity. They are all connected somehow, though some more closely than others. Many of them are based on the same stories, or the same people in the stories. I like to draw the characters I write about. I like to take pictures of locations in the stories, and so on. But I must admit that there are days when I think how much I could be doing in one area if I never did anything else.

However, there is an internal hierarchy of how many creative points I get doing various things. It’s a metaphor for how it feels. I don’t actually think in points, but it’s the best way I can think of to explain the feeling.
I drew comics once, but they were slow at getting anywhere, and I wasn’t as good at conveying emotions and development visually as I was in writing. So, in other words, I do get something out of drawing, but not nearly as much as I do out of writing a story.
Say I need ten creative points in a day to feel good (the points are arbitrary, and the following are just examples). I can spend one hour working on a story and get those ten points, or I can spend four hours drawing. If I sew for half an hour, I get one point, but if I write for those 30 minutes, I get five. I get two points for going on a trip to take photos, but I get the same amount from scribbling a few lines in a notebook.

Writing is the one thing I have to get back to quickly. I can go for weeks or even months without one of my other creative outlets. Some of them I will miss, but it will be more of a melancholy feeling or wanting to have fun doing that thing again than a powerful urge or need to do it. But I feel writing tugging at me if I don’t do it even for a few days.
Most of my creative outlets are hobbies that I spend time on because I want to. Writing I do because I need to. – Not that I don’t enjoy it because I certainly do, but it is a passion or a love affair, a fulfilling compulsion, more than a sparetime hobby.

Is it odd that I gave blogging a category of its own in the beginning of this entry? I know blogging is writing, but the kind of writing that I need is fiction writing, story writing. I enjoy blogging, I really do. But if I had to choose between writing stories and non-fiction, the stories would win without hesitation.

I imagine that it is the same for people who have an other creative main outlet. If I were actually a photographer, the perspective would be different. Taking pictures would be the most satisfying thing to me, and I would like dabbling in writing or knitting or putting together miniature racing cars or something else once in a while as a hobby.

Do you have more than one creative hobby? How do you divide your time between them? And do you feel that one is more fulfilling or important than others?

Webly Wednesday: Online collaboration

July 13, 2011

This time, the theme of Webly Wednesday is online tools for doing collaborative writing.

  • BabelStory
    Science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery stories. Members can add 100 words to the end of a selected story.
  • Chainbooks
    This site won’t launch until September, but apparently you can start a novel and let others continue it – or vice versa.
  • Plotbot
    Free screenwriting software. Sign up and form a group with others to work on scripts together.
  • Protagonize
    Create or continue stories and discuss writing with other members. I found this link (as well as the one for Chainbooks) on Maggie’s blog.
I’m not a member of all these, but they seem to be different and have some nice features, so if you’re looking for writing partners or collaboration groups, you may find something that suits your needs.
Do you know any collaboration sites? Please share them with us if you do.
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