Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: November, 2011


Closing in on 60k, I am still not feeling the story. Sure, I know where I want the characters to go, but the hows and the whys? Forget it. At the moment, all I’m typing are words and most of the time, most of them don’t register with me. Instead, it’s become a matter of endurance. I have the strong urge to get to the end of this month and this story and then wash my hands of it.

Many people say that when you’re writing a story, you’re too close to it to really view it with any objectivity. To help with editing, it’s a good idea to put the story away for a while and then look at it later with a fresh pair of eyes. The problem is, I don’t feel close to the story at all. It’s as if I’m writing this by remote control and all I’m doing is putting down the words dispassionately, as if I’m just a factory worker doing my job. I don’t feel as if I’m injecting any of my own style or enthusiasm into it.

If it were any other time of the year, I might have scrapped the story many chapters ago and have moved on to something else. But this is Nanowrimo. And I’ve already committed to the idea in October. (Of course, back then, I thought the idea was going to be awesome, but things have a way of turning around once you actually do it.) And even though I’m not particularly happy with the story, I sort of want to use this as a lesson and an example. Things can get less than ideal. But that is no reason, no excuse, to quit.

To me, Nanowrimo is a lot about perseverance and seeing things through. So this experiment in trying different timelines didn’t work so well this year. So what? Maybe I don’t have the literary savvy to turn this around. Most of this will probably end up as first draft dreck that I don’t really want to look at again. But at least I’m giving it a go and pushing my own boundaries.

A Brief Update

I am tired, stressed, and incredibly cranky because I skipped lunch to go to a seminar that wasn’t completely mind blowing.  There’s way too much to do before the holiday.  I wish I could get myself cloned so I could do these things faster.  I envy the students who have already taken off to get a head start on stuffing their faces with turkey.

On a Nanowrimo note: There’s a strong possibility I may hit 50k before the end of this coming weekend.  Why do I think I can do this?  I’m going to an all-night write-in on Friday for a possible total of twelve solid hours of writing.  On Saturday, there’s a three hour write-in.  And on Sunday, there’s another write-in for two hours.  Let’s say I average 1k an hour (even though in reality I can do more than this).  I need 13k to pass 50k.  And there’s a total of 17 hours of write-ins.  This will mean that I would have a 4 hour buffer.

Actually finishing the story is another matter.


I reached 30k some time right before noon today.  Which is great progress.  I’m ahead of schedule, at least.  The only problem is, I still feel like I’m waffling about on the plot line.  And I still don’t particularly like my story even though things are picking up.  I haven’t gone back to read anything, so of course my inner editor doesn’t have anything concrete to rant about, but I have this constant nagging feeling that every word I type isn’t very good.

But those feelings are secondary to cranking this draft out.  I’ve only been writing during write-ins because the rest of my time is taken up with other stuff (lab work, dissertation, editing a scientific paper that needs to go out in the next couple of days, yadda yadda), so I have the added pressure of actually doing Nano during times that I’ve set aside deliberately for Nano.  That’s because doing Nano during other times would just mess with more important stuff.

If I don’t seem particularly chatty during write-ins, that’s why.  (Although I’m not particularly chatty during the best of times, so take that as you will.)

Anyways, the giant talking cockroaches have finally showed up in the original timeline.  I’ve decided to name them all after famous scientists.  There will probably be a couple more scenes set in their home world before three of them decide to join the main characters in jumping off to other parallel universes.  The alternate timeline, which I’ve started writing about again, isn’t quite as action packed, but the main characters are heading in the opposite direction, possibly meeting up with even weirder creatures than giant talking cockroaches.

Turn It Down To Negative Eleven

Today’s my birthday and I guess I should be tickled that it’s also 11/11/11, but of all the things happening today, I’m not sure whether to feel stressed, depressed, or annoyed. Pretty much every “happy birthday” I’ve overheard were for other people. It’s the middle of the term and there’s tons of work to do.  I just got back comments from my advisor on my paper and basically I have to redo all my figures.  I have a strong feeling the only company I will have at the write-in tonight are uneaten cupcakes.  It’s also a holiday, but I don’t get the day off even though the university next door is closed. And the DJs on the radio should stop harping about three-day weekends.  They can just shove it.

However, I suppose things could be worse, so I guess I should be grateful for that.

An ML’s Reply

It was on this day back in 2001 that I started blogging. In some ways, it was probably a crazy idea to start yet another writing endeavor when I was already trying to write 50,000 words in a month. But there is some truth to the idea that you can get more accomplished if you pile on more work. It’s only when you have nothing to do that you don’t have the impetus to finish anything.

I have this sort-of annual tradition of complaining for a blogiversary post. This year is no different. My complaint this year: cynical wrimos on the forums who claim that municipal liaisons are peppy cheerleading enablers for the self-indulgent, snowflake mentality of young people today. Fortunately for the older folks, these cynical wrimos are my age, perhaps a little older. They claim to be more sophisticated Gen X’ers* who know how Nanowrimo should be done. Just write, they say. And stop looking for validation about your silly novel about sparkly vampires.

Personally, I don’t really think they have any grounds for complaining when somebody else in that same age forum started a post about how horny they get when they’re writing.

I have no problem with the notion to “just write.” That, to me, is what Nanowrimo is about. It’s about getting that first draft down. Everything else is just extra. The forums, although now a fixture of the event, is not necessary for having the Nanowrimo experience. It’s definitely not about what you’re writing or how you’re writing it.  The only thing required for a Nanowrimo experience is to write a 50k novel. I’ve been around long enough that I remember Nanowrimo not having any forums or MLs. And I still wrote a novel without any fuss. There’s a lot going on in the current forums that simply don’t interest me any more and most of the time, instead of complaining about it, I ignore it.

Anyways, on to the accusations that MLs are hyperactive wombats sniffing the crazy pants. First of all, MLs are not all the same. Some are super organized. Some are very laid back. Some might seem like they inject themselves with pure sugar every morning. And some are so uber cynical you’ll wonder if they have a stick permanently wedged up their butt**. Perhaps you don’t get along with your ML. That is fine. Some personalities don’t mesh no matter the situation. But that doesn’t give you the leeway to paint all MLs with the same brush. We are not all wombats***. Second of all, they are volunteers. I can’t speak for all MLs, but as an ML myself, I try very hard to make the Nanowrimo experience for participants in my region the best that I can. Nanowrimo has been very good to me and I simply want to pass on the awesomeness. I want everyone to succeed in their goal to finish their novel. And if it takes candy bribes and manic writing sprints to get people to write, then I’ll do it. Maybe even some MLs will go through the trouble of dressing up in a chicken suit to convince people to get writing, but that is their prerogative. MLs aren’t required to do anything, really, except to organize a time and place for write-ins and perhaps give out Nanowrimo stickers if they’ve ordered the kit from HQ (and even then, this might not happen, depending on the vagaries of the post office).

I don’t want to exclude anyone, but I think people have to keep in mind that write-ins are very specific types of events. Depending on the ML and the participants in a region****, they can go from intense writing sessions to social free-for-alls. If you find out that what goes on in a write-in doesn’t jive with you, this absolutely does NOT mean that you are doing Nanowrimo incorrectly. Or, for that matter, that the attendees at the write-in are doing Nanowrimo incorrectly. Keep in mind the main goal of the event: write 50k in a month. Writing is an intensely personal endeavor. And your experience of Nanowrimo is dictated by you and not anyone else. If you want to slave away on your novel in a cold, lonely garret or want to organize your own personal write-in with a different emphasis, then terrific. Go for it.

And if your regional ML is acting all controlling and refusing to let you organize your own write-in, then it’s probably time to send a note to Nano HQ detailing your complaints. Otherwise, if the MLs seem to be catering to all those silly whippersnappers rather than to the older folks simply because there are apparently more of them, then speak up and help make things more inclusive. MLs, on top of writing that novel, are going to school, having jobs, taking care of family and a whole bunch of other things.  They are stressed and may not realize that you are uncomfortable at these events if you don’t actually tell them.  And above all, MLs are not paid to do any of this*****.  Cut the free help some slack.  If you want to make your own experience of Nanowrimo meaningful, then actually do something about it instead of ranting about it into the electronic aether.

*I don’t get it. Why do they consider themselves Gen X’ers when some of them aren’t that much older than Britney Spears?
**I can say these things since I’ve been accused of all of them at one time or another.
***Some MLs might be cyborg ninja monkeys, but that’s another matter.
****If your region is a college town, all I can say is: what do you expect? If you want to attend a write-in without those supposedly hormonally-charged, emotionally insecure, and socially awkward twenty-somethings, organize a write-in yourself. Or at least ask the ML for an additional write-in. If you can’t be bothered to do any of these things, well, sorry.
*****Yeah, I am definitely not paid to do any of this. In fact, I probably spend quite a bit of money trying to make Nano happen in my region. And if any of this helps at least one person to realize their writing dreams, then I’ll say it’s worth it.

The Info Dump

This year, apparently, is the year for self-loathing. I really don’t like chapter three in my current Nanowrimo project. It’s mostly just info dumping, explanation about how the universes in my story works. My characters don’t do anything interesting. And the plot itself isn’t moving forward. In the next chapter, I really will put a catalyst that will get my characters off their butts. I’m not quite sure what the catalyst will be yet, but it will be something that will jolt them from complacency. Something that will give them a deadline.

I have some thoughts about scenes for my alternate timelines. There was a mention in the original timeline about a race that called themselves demons (even though they aren’t) but I wasn’t intending the characters in the original timeline to meet these creatures. The characters in the alternate timeline, however, might have a chance of doing so. I think there will be at least one alternate chapter (separate from the first alternate timeline) where there won’t be any human characters at all. Maybe it will become comic relief. But I probably won’t start writing this one until I get to chapter six on the original timeline, at the earliest.

Confused yet? Heck, I’m starting to get a little confused myself. I think I need to rearrange my novel index page once again to help keep track of things. So in a nutshell there’s: the original timeline, alternate timeline #1 (following the characters in the original timeline but on a different route), and alternate timeline #2 (with non-human characters who are supporting characters in the original timeline). There may be additional timelines as it gets later in the month. Anything can happen.

But first, I need to stop with the info dump and get the plot moving in the original timeline.

The Devil on My Shoulder Has Nothing on the Inner Editor

I think my inner editor escaped from the “jail” I stuck it in during the Nanowrimo kick-off party because after I wrote the first chapter, I was assailed with a multitude of doubts about whether or not I should scrap the entire thing and start over again. This is probably my first Nanowrimo where I’ve been seriously reconsidering my idea right at the start. The point of view is all wrong, the scene is all wrong, the wording–just, ugh.

I could blame it on sleep deprivation or not being prepared, but let’s face it, I can be pretty picky about my own work if I’m in the right frame of mind. And in this case, I’m in the wrong frame of mind. This is no time to be picky. I just need to write. In past years, I’ve seen other participants completely scrap their initial efforts and do a rewrite. I’ve always thought that was kind of silly–for the purposes of Nanowrimo, why erase the words you’ve already written? It’s just going to set you back. You can always cut it later.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. To appease the inner editor, I may cut the first chapter later. But meanwhile, it’s still here, taking up space as an “alternate timeline.” I don’t feel too guilty leaving it in since the novel is about parallel universes anyway. I might as well keep all the “parallel” scenes.

Meanwhile, for the curious and masochistic, I’m posting everything I write for Knots & Anchors here.