So! The first takeaway I have from the grand experiment that was me actually planning the project I worked on this past November is: I must be a planner after all. My friends. I cannot overstate just how much easier it was for me to write throughout the month. I didn’t get stuck. I didn’t waste time wondering where I needed to take the story next. It just didn’t happen, and that was weird and wonderful and I’m never going back.
That being said, it wasn’t without its hitches, which is why I’m not actually sitting here with a complete first draft of my new novel. In fact, if I’d had to go past 50k this past month, I almost certainly would have gotten stuck. And despite the wordcount I reached, I didn’t get all that far into the story. (That, at least, is normal: my first runs through new stories always run long as I figure out what I’m doing.) The difference being that I know why I got stuck. I didn’t have a clear vision of the weird, wacky world I was throwing my poor character into, which, naturally, made it difficult to write about.
And the other half of knowing why is knowing how to fix it. Roughly speaking. It’s meant that I made the decision to step back and return to the structuring/outlining phase, and I may or may not be able to repurpose the stuff I wrote during November, so in some ways I’m sure it doesn’t look all that different from previous years with regards to what I actually managed to take away from the event. But instead of having a huge mess of words and no clear idea of where to go with it, I have a huge mess of words and a much stronger idea of where my planning went wrong and what I need to do to fix it. If nothing else, I’d call that progress.
Additionally, it’s made it clear that all my other projects could benefit from the same treatment. Specifically, Tanner and Miranda. I’m not gonna like, I’m currently in the thrall of this shiny new plotting/planning thing, so there’s absolutely a huge part of me that wants to say that this is exactly what I needed in order to finally finish the darn thing. And who knows– maybe it is going to make all the difference, and I’m not just making like James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff (I refuse to let this story become my own personal Australia).
In short, I’m excited. So excited. I write better when I plan like this, and reaching the “end” of a project seems like it’s within reach as opposed to just being some mystical, theoretical state of existence that my projects have no real hope of ever reaching. I suspect I’m going to have to learn how to balance some elements of both– half of the excitement of writing comes from the times the characters take over and decide to do their own thing (this November his name was Locksley and my sister got all kinds of texts of me complaining about his hijacking of the story)– but I think this is another one of those “you have to know the rules in order to know how to break them” cases. And it’s really, really cool to be getting a better handle on the rules of my craft.
Hey guys! Apparently it’s December now. 2021 is all but over. Weird.
Anyway! So, NaNo is over and I hit the 50k goal on the day before Thanksgiving (yay!) despite work busyness and such. The whole planning thing went remarkably well, to the point where I’m pretty sure it’s going to affect how I write novel-length things from here on out. More on that next week!
I hope all of you are well as we head into the holidays, and that you get to spend good time with friends and family. Merry Christmas!
((Technically, this is not something I wrote last month. However! It’s currently the first three paragraphs from that project, so I thought I’d share them here with you.))
Complexity Jones must have slept, because the soft green numbers on the bedside clock read 6:12 AM. It had been just after three-thirty the last time she had looked and given up hope of getting any rest, but maybe that had been what did it. Besides, these days two and a half hours was the best she could hope to get. Even so, her body ached. Whether that was because of the physical work she had thrown herself into the day before or just the wages of however many months of lost sleep she couldn’t say. And it didn’t matter. Either way, the result was the same.
On the other side of the bed, Kemp still slept, his breathing slow and even, a comfort in the quiet morning. She’d given up envying him for it. Better that one of them get a little rest than for both of them to exist in this miserable, exhausted haze. And she was used to it. The nightmares had started shortly after the Distortion had first appeared, and she hadn’t slept well since then. Five years, give or take. No wonder the dark circles under her eyes made it look like she’d lost a fist fight. No wonder her body rebelled when she had a day off and she spent twelve hours in dreamless blackout.
But this wasn’t her day off. And there was no reason to try to beg and borrow and steal another useless moment with her eyes shut and her mind spinning and awake when it wouldn’t do her any good. Better to start the process of coaxing her body back to something functional.
Last blog before NaNo! Now, if I was really organized and professional and all that, I would have built up a buffer to get through November so that I didn’t have to worry about it while aggressively noveling.
I am not. And so I didn’t.
And if I’m honest, even this one is more me rambling than writing anything structured enough that I could generously describe as an essay. Which, to be clear, is fine by me. Mostly, I’m really excited for next month. Which I think I’ve been saying on and off for the last two. Oh well. It’s still the truth.
This will be my twelfth time participating in NaNoWriMo. (Get a hobby, you say. I already have one, I reply.) I’ve reached fifty thousand words eleven times. The one time I didn’t, it was the year my college campus got hit by one of those infamous California wildfires, so I’d argue that I had a good excuse. Now, here’s where the numbers get a little less ideal: of those eleven manuscripts, I have… one that qualifies as a proper draft. Three if you count the two that gave me the skeletons for the various Tanner and Miranda stories.
Like I said: less ideal.
That’s not to say I consider those other eight (or nine, counting the unfinished one) to be failures. If nothing else, they greased the gears and got me writing. So what if none of it is much good? You can’t edit words that never made it to the page, and you don’t get better without practice. And considering that I participated in my first NaNo when I was sixteen, that counts as a lot of practice. And a lot of encouragement from an exuberant writing community. And a lot of exposure to all kinds of different writing advice and methods. Enough that I had a lot to work with when figuring out my own.
So here I am. 2021. Doing it again and trying to take it a step further. We’ll see how it goes.
What about the rest of you? Anyone doing NaNo this November? How are you feeling here, standing on the brink? Ha!
When we discovered Redfall Gap, hope and excitement ran high, and while most paid lip service to caution and cold wisdom, it was hard to lend too much focus to the dangers and unknowns. And when the probes sent back their first readings, confirming that this glittering, undulating anomaly was just as much a passage to another galaxy as we had imagined, wariness seemed like an unnecessary precaution.
We knew better, of course. Every one of us had seen enough things go wrong when they should have gone right that thoroughness and triple checking were worked into our bones. And we also knew that no matter how much care you put into anything, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. Not really.
So when my best friend volunteered to pilot the ship for the first manned expedition, I met the announcement with mingled envy and dread as well as giddy exultation. If I couldn’t go myself, this was at least the next best thing.
And she deserved it. She, who’d been a pilot longer than I’d been a scientist. She, who’d dreamed of taking the best ships to the strangest places since we were both kids. She, who knew the risks and laughed at them while I followed a more careful path.
If anyone had the skills and experience to be prepared for this, it was her. And her handpicked crew of three.
Preparations took a month. More tests. More readings. More specialized equipment for the Distant Horizon, the vessel that would take them through. More training. More time for this mad venture to become normal. More time to deafen us to the nervous mutterings in the backs of all our minds.
Launch Day came. The Horizon detached from its dock on Platform One, our tiny station home. She brought up power and glided towards the Gap and all the unknown beyond it. Away from us.
And then they entered and were gone.
We received one message, reporting safe passage and transmitting their initial scans from the other side. We received a second six hours later, and a third six hours after that.
The next scheduled check-in passed in silence. And the one after that. And every one following.
Our optimism faded like a dream, replaced by sickened knots in the pits of our stomachs. I told myself that she knew what she was doing, that there were a thousand ultimately harmless reasons they might have missed their check-ins. We checked our arrays and our systems. We tested our sensors and our communications rigs.
We geared up another probe and sent it through the Gap, just in case. It went through safe and sound, its connection never faltered. But it found no trace of the Horizon.
Some talked about outfitting a second ship, though we knew it would never happen. You don’t throw good money after bad. You don’t send a second ship when you don’t know what silenced the first. So all we could do was to find some way to make it safe enough to try again.
But that was easier said than done. We’d done everything we could think of before we sent the Horizon through—now we had to find new things, new holes, new possibilities when we had already exhausted every obvious avenue. And we had to do it with grief hanging over us instead of thrilled excitement.
We tried. Hard. But the exploration corps that funded our project lost interest once the Horizon vanished. After three weeks, they informed us apologetically that they were not in a position to continue paying for a dormant expedition. We were welcome to keep the platform and the equipment; it was ours. They just couldn’t justify the cost of additional supplies and living stipends.
After that, everything shut down. The support staff left. The techs left. Physicists, astronomers, engineers—everyone went in a steady stream that turned into a flood, until finally only four of us remained. We crept around the emptied platform like ghosts, stretching our rations, funding ourselves out of our own savings, scraping all we could from what we had and dragging it out until there was nothing left.
Then we gave up too, with nothing gained for all our begged and borrowed time.
We’d boosted all our sensors, all our comms, cobbling them together from bits and pieces we stole from things we counted less important. We accomplished technological feats. Our station’s eyes and ears reached farther then they ever had before with fewer needs. Maybe it wasn’t an elegant system or the most resilient, but the vast distances its signals crossed was something we could be proud of.
For all the good it did. We found nothing. No stray transmissions. No sensor ghosts. No drifting hulls. Nothing that gave us the slightest indication that the Horizon was there at all, or ever had been. If we hadn’t had the logs from those three precious check-ins, we might have convinced ourselves that they’d never happened at all. And I might have found some other way to explain the loss of my best friend.
After that, we abandoned the station too, out of hope and out of ideas, sixteen weeks, four days, and three hours from the time the Horizon went missing. We left a comm buoy behind on the far side of the Gap, programmed to broadcast its message on repeat: Platform One to research vessel Distant Horizon, all attempts to contact you have failed. We have run out of supplies and are forced to abandon station. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll be back in one year to come looking for you again. Message recorded 2619.04.13.14.30. End of recording.
And that was that. The best we could do, useless as it was. And no matter how I tried to avoid it, I knew our project had collapsed with a sigh and a whimper. I knew my best friend was gone forever.
We loaded the few supplies we still had on the one remaining jumpship. We checked the sensors one last time, more out of habit than hope. Then, finding nothing, we left.
Afterwards, we didn’t stay in contact. Or I didn’t. The others might have, but I, in my sorrow, kept to myself. I found some job on some station and used it to feed myself and put a bed beneath my bones. I made acquaintances, never friends. I let my pain grow dull. Numb. I forced myself to heal, or maybe just to scar. Either way the bleeding stopped.
And all the while I kept track of the days, the weeks, the months.
The year passed. I shook myself from my fog of unmanaged grief long enough to hire a jumpship and to contact the others. One I couldn’t find. Another couldn’t take the time to make the trip. The third promised to meet me at the same station we had all set out from together so long ago, and we could go the final leg together.
In the end, we reached the silent, abandoned station two days before the time we’d promised. But that was alright. We could wait. And while we waited, we took comfort in each other’s presence. We barely spoke; there was nothing to say. Instead, we spent the time restarting all the platform’s systems. To our mild surprise, only the link to the probe had gone down, battered by some stray asteroid and unnoticed by the cannibalized systems. It took less than a day to complete the handful of repairs.
I was the one to bring them back online. My hand hesitated above the command-board, wavering as buried emotions came hurtling back, ripping through the cloud I’d wrapped myself in. For a moment, my fears spun all around me. I knew better than to hope. This was more for closure than for rescue. More for us than them.
Something like shame washed over me. We’d spent all this time and all these resources on something that couldn’t be. It was idiotic.
But we’d promised.
And so my hand keyed the commands and started all the systems. They came up, one by one, humming, chirping, reaching out to see the universe. And there it was, the probe we’d left behind with our message for the Horizon. Now the message was for us.
Distant Horizon to Platform One: we ran into a little trouble, but we’re alright. Took some damage and had to find a place to land. Found a way to get your message from the ground. Coordinates are 152.777.459 from point of entry. Watch that gravity well a few hours in. That’s what got us. Looking forward to coming home. Message recorded 2619.07.21.19.37. End of recording.
I sat for a second, stunned. My cheeks went numb. My hands tingled. My heart beat faster than it should have, and I couldn’t breathe. But only for a moment. Then I ran for my companion. We had work to do.
The Santa Anas have returned to Southern California. At the moment, they’re not particularly warm. Or they aren’t where I am. I’m grateful for that; it’s still eerily windy, but it isn’t miserably hot at the same time. Maybe that means that fire danger is a hair lower, too. Maybe.
Despite the potential trouble they bring with them, I’ve always loved these windy days. They make me restless, as if I need to join them. As if I need to leap and climb and run. Sometimes, the feeling would come even before I consciously realized it was windy, and everything would make a sort of sudden sense as soon as I saw the flailing tree branches through the window. In college, I spent a lot of those nights running all over campus.
It makes sense, then, that winds in literature are harbingers of change. Mary Poppins arrives when “the wind’s in the east”. In Greek myth, the Anemoi were the four gods of the four winds: north, south, east, and west, and they brought the change of seasons. And then there’s that whole phrase: the winds of change.
Maybe that’s why I like those windy days so much. Ironic, given how uncomfortable I am with change in general. But when the winds are high and the breezes playful, it makes one imagine that something is about to happen. A story is about to begin. Someone is about to go on an adventure. Maybe it’s you or me.
Sometimes, you find a story that lodges itself somewhere deep in your soul. Maybe you know why, or maybe you just can’t figure it out. Either way, whether it’s something you watch or something you read, something about it resonates with you and grips you and won’t let go. And then, if you’re like me, you want to figure out what it is so that you can make your own stories do the same thing. Which then leads to the fear that you’re going to accidentally just rewrite the thing that inspired you in the first place.
Now, first. I know. There’s nothing new under the sun. So-called “originality” is an impossible dream. But that’s not what I’m talking about here; there’s a huge difference between writing a story that involves elves and halflings and an evil world, and writing one about a halfling called Fauxdo and his loyal friend Hamwise saving the world by throwing an amulet of power into a river lava. And unfortunately, when trying to capture the same sort of excitement that is caused by a specific work of fiction, it can be far too easy to fall back on the specific scenes that were your favorites. Or the specific characters who captured your imagination.
Then again, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So maybe there’s a middle ground.
At the moment, my best answer is this: try to figure out what it is that captured your imagination in the first place, and why it is that this particular story seems to resonate with you the way it does. I know. That’s hard. REALLY hard. Because to do that, you have to get through to the heart of the story, past all the shiny stuff on the outside that you might also really like. But if you can do that, if you can figure what the story is actually about, at its core, then it becomes easier to tell a story about that same theme. For example: Fringe. Fundamentally, it’s a story about family, and how a family has to face truly terrible odds and dangers together. Yes, I’m still talking about Fringe. Because that’s the latest thing that’s lodged itself in my mind.
So if, to continue the example, you enjoy a particular story because it’s about a family and how they have to survive insurmountable odds, if you were to write a story about a different family and their own insurmountable odds, then perhaps it will create the same sort of soul-nourishing yearning that the other story created. And yet, it won’t be the other story. It will be your own, because you are answer the same question in your own words, colored by your own experiences and knowledge. And unless I miss my guess, that’s what writing is all about.
Writers are scavengers. We ought to be, at any rate. We pick out pieces of the world we live in and leave them in the words we put on the page like a magpie stealing shiny trinkets. Maybe it’s a word we like, one that means the same thing as two or three others but has the perfect connotation– such as exasperated; it’s like annoyed, and even more like vexed, but if your character is exasperated there’s a lighter note to it that’s missing from the others.
Or maybe it’s the emotions that well up inside us when we are reunited with a dear friend we haven’t seen in years. I imagine they’re the same feelings that surge in our characters’ bellies when they finally, finally return to their loved ones after the chaos of their story.
Or it’s the cold gust of autumn wind that chills a warm day, reminding us that summer is over and winter is coming, and it’s the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves beckoning us homeward before the early darkness shrouds our way.
Or it’s the aching exhaustion that clings to your bones after a long day of hard work.
Or the way you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can trust your closest friends.
Or maybe it’s just the last story you read, or watched, or listened to. The one that wrapped the vines of its tale around your heart, sharing with you some truth about being human in a broken world that resonated like a rung bell.
In some ways, even the best writers are anything but original, and the best pieces of their stories are made up of truth, and not whole cloth. Because that’s why we can connect with them the way we do. And that’s what makes them so important.
Hey guys! So, my schedule at work has me working 24 hour shifts on the ambulance. It’s “just” interfacility transports, but I still find it pretty awesome. That being said, the hours do get funky. So maybe we can blame the following on a late night, sleep deprived brainstorm. Because I think that’s actually pretty accurate. I hope you find it as amusing as I do!
Look. Just hear me out. Because if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Werewolves would make fantastic EMTs.
Wait! Stop! Quit backing away slowly and just listen! Ah, shoot– and put down that little silver figurine you keep on your desk! You don’t need it! What are you…? Yip! Quit throwing things! That’s completely uncalled for.
Alright, look. I’ll stay here on this side of the room, you stay there on that side of the room, and we can talk about this like civilized people. At least one of us is? Now that’s just mean. You’ll give me two minutes? Great! That’s all I need.
So! Werewolves as EMTs. First, the obvious. Ambulances run all night long. Werewolves are great at night! We– ah– they do their best work when the moon is up and the sun is not, so no need to worry about them not being awake.
Second, werewolves are strong. Great for lifting gurneys and moving patients. Also great for general emergency situations. Need something moved out of the way so you can get to someone who might be injured? They got you! Can’t find a jack to help change that flat tire? Just have your friendly neighborhood werewolf lift the car for you! Need an imposing presence so that no one gets in your way while you’re patching someone together long enough to get them to the hospital? No one wants to fight a werewolf.
Okay, so that last one may have more to do with teeth and claws than strength, but the point stands.
Third, rumor has it that the weirdest stuff happens when the full moon is out. So why not harness the weirdness (look, even I’ll admit werewolves are a little weird) and have it work in your favor? If your partner’s a werewolf, you’ll get that fuzzy advantage any night, but especially when the moon is full– when you just might happen to need it the most.
Fourth, ‘wolves are naturally familiar with using something like a siren to communicate with their surroundings. Because basically, a siren is just a howl that tells everyone where you are and to get out of the way.
Fifth, werewolves are great team players. Comes with being the sort of creature that thrives in a pack. Plus, all those scary stories you hear about werewolves being “bloodthirsty monsters” are from the ones that aren’t socialized and don’t have a pack. I can already guarantee that any ‘wolf that wants to be an EMT is going to be the type that is well socialized, and they’ll form a pack with their partner anyway. Problem solved!
And– what’s that? My two minutes are up? Okay, cool. That’s all I needed to say. Will you at least think about it? Great!
Wait, who are you calling? The local paranormal detectives? Ah, heck, those guys are mean. Fine! I’m leaving! I’m going! Just think about it?
Three days left! And after a quick writing session this morning, my current wordcount for this Camp NaNo event is sitting just above 42k. My sister and I have exchanged fourteen different prompts, so I have fourteen different stories in various stages of being written, and while most of them are terrifyingly rough, I really, really like the ideas, and I can’t wait to start polishing.
At the risk of jinxing myself, I think I might actually be making this goal, and I’m very excited. I am also looking forward to the time next month to start working on Tanner and Miranda in earnest again, this time with the rust knocked off and a writing habit formed again!
How about you guys? Anyone reading who’s also doing Camp NaNo? How are you feeling about your projects?
Well. It’s here again. Camp NaNo. My nemesis. My white whale. The one that got away. The one that consistently defeats me. The one I can’t seem to best. And I, being too stubborn for my own good, am picking up my harpoon and going after it one more time. And my long-suffering sister has agreed to do it with me once again.
That being said, we are trying something different this time. For me, I’m hoping that shaking things up a little might actually help me motivate the way I want to, and I might actually end up hitting my goals (yay!) and I dragged my sister along in it because I don’t like doing things alone. Specifically, we’re going to be giving each other writing prompts every other day and writing a series of short stories– or whatever comes to mind. And the prompts can be anything! Traditional writing prompts… songs… pictures… anything we find.
I’m so excited! And here we are, June 30… the first prompts have been exchanged… let Camp NaNo commence!