About Writing

The Novemberist

This blog is now 20 years old. I know, because there‚Äôs a version of this post every few years, and the first of them appeared late in October 2001. I went and checked. You should not read your old writing. Doubly so, your old blog posts, but my excuse was research, and an anniversary, so […]

Wagons & Saddles


As usual, I was supposed to write this days ago. Writing always takes the back-burner, is the first to be sent to the back of the queue, behind client work, videogames, and doing nothing. Tweeting scratches the itch to write just enough to make you think you’re doing something, and in three years my persona on twitter has spread to a number of accounts covering everything from myself, to movies, games, books, comics, and even RANTING.

Blogging once held this position.

“I’ll write, but first let me blog about how I haven’t written, my writer’s block, and how I’m going to write.”

Which is basically what this is now.

I don’t think I can classify what I have as writer’s block anymore. Ten years is a long time to have been off the wagon (Why is it that you fall off the wagon, but get back in the saddle?). In the last ten years I have never stopped writing, but I have stopped finishing things. And like the proverbial falling tree in the empty forest, if it isn’t finished, then it may as well not exist. Some of you, kind souls that you are, will point to the short story I wrote years ago as a finished piece of work. And I will grant you that, short as it was, it does qualify. But I also know that it was supposed to be the start of a large number of semi-interconnected stories, and so in my head at least it remains unfinished.

(Excuse me, I just went away to tweet about this post I’m writing)

The strict form on your words that twitter imposes is enticing. Sometimes I consider writing a story in tweets. It’s a gimmick, but then, so is writing an action ‘novel’ in 500 words. Things of great beauty can emerge from that 140 character box, but so can they from the vast, bottomless window of Notepad as well, and I like to remind myself that all novels, great and small, started with no back cover to assure the author of a safe landing.

(Excuse me, I just went away to tweet about this post on the ranty account because the term ‘blogging’ seems funny. It’s 2001 again.)

NaNoWriMo has tried to remedy this to an extent, with the 50,000 word goal. I have participated in most NaNos over the last decade, but have yet to even best my first, NaNo 2001 achievement of 35,000 words. I’m sure that, on average, I wrote about that much fiction per year over the decade, but never into anything finished. Hundreds of thousands of words sitting there like so much risen dough, waiting for a loaf pan (baking is another thing writing has taken a back seat to. I sometimes catch myself thinking of baking like one might think of all their unfinished novels suddenly being ready & successful). But even all that goal-oriented writing doesn’t spur me into finishing things. It only ever gets me to start new things. Like Don Draper (according to Dr. Faye Miller), I only ever seem to love the Beginning of things.

Mad Men, and stories of its quality, loom large over me as well. They are at once beacons to follow & aspire to, and seemingly unattainable masterpieces, hurdles insurmountable by someone who can’t even get to THE END of a first draft. Take the last season (number five), and the way it ended. It’s definitely not the end of the series, but if it did have to end, I can’t think of a better way than employing the theme song from You Only Live Twice, followed by an innocuously-posed question, and Don’s profoundly enigmatic response.

Or lack of one. Because it cuts to the credits before he says anything. Those people know how and when to end something. I’m a little afraid of this post going off the rails (and a wagon and a saddle) into non-stop gushing about Mad Men — which it still could — but the point is that fear is as present in an writer as it is the audience, and often ending something sooner than you think is better than never at all.

I’ve had my share of frustrating, absurd anticlimaxes to things in my personal & professional life, and while that isn’t what we enjoy in fiction, prolonging and postponing things for the sake of word counts or writing traditions only delivers an ending that is nothing but absurd and anticlimactic.

I thought that this blog post would end differently, with some grand proclamation of getting back on that saddle, of promising — as I have many times before — a valiant return to writing, to producing, to meeting word counts and doing heroic feats of typing & first-draftery. But really, all I’m looking for is an ending.

And I’m going to go see if can find it.


About NaNoWriMo…

I have never really finished anything I’ve started on that thing. I’ve never taken part in the community aspect. I’ve never really written anything I’d consider stellar (except for my first one, and that was more through sheer momentum of having reached the 30K mark on a story for the first time rather than anything inherent to the event).

Nanowrimo is a good motivational tool to set youself the goal of writing 50K in a month, but it isn’t going to write those 50K words for you, if you know what I mean. I think I may do another ‘meta-nano’ like I did (or attempted to do) last year.

To explain: last year I decided to dust off my very first — circa 2001! — nanowrimo project, The Tale of a Thousand Savants, and try and finish it. For the first week I directly continued from where I left off, and the writing was okay but the story was colossally boring (There was the excerpt posted here). I scrapped the chapter and spent a while mulling over where exactly the story had gone off the rails. Deciding that what was needed was a good kick in the plot, I took the advice that when you’re stuck have two men with guns burst into the room. I backed up the plot a bit, took a different fork and continued along happily down this new and more exciting road.

Funny things happened. I started asking all sorts of questions I hadn’t asked five years before. “Who are these people?” “Why are they all acting so stupid?” “Why am I writing them so stupid?” The plot I had so carefully constructed unravelled before me, a million strings and no logical way to put them back together. So, next I went back over the 1/3rd of the novel that was written, took down notes as if I hadn’t written it myself, and began to poke holes in it. Believe me, this was easier than I thought it would be. What followed was weeks of decontructing and reconstructing things, changing things, tweaking things, keeping things from the old and laying down groundwork for the new.

None of this was actual text, mind-you; only notes in longhand in a diary, something I find works better than on a computer (I still type the story on a ‘puter). I took a lot of notes that month. Not 50,000 words worth of notes, but certainly a lot more than I usually do. Blame it on an upbringing as a comic book geek, and attempting to write a story ‘in-canon’ when the canon has changed and evolved over time. TOATS, like the Legion of Super-Heroes, really gets the short end of the lollypop most times the multiverse goes through a crossover restructuring.

Oh, don’t look so sad: I still kept ‘Research‘. And Park. And Chef.

All in all, I don’t consider that nanowrimo a failure. Sure, I didn’t write 50K words of a novel in a month. But, I’ve started to reconsider November as a month of trying things out, just like I did back in 2001 by attempting to write a novel. Hey, I didn’t for one second think I would have a completed novel by the end, especially not a 50K one. The nanowrimo people have their rules — and I don’t begrudge them that — but I’m just not particularly interested in the athletic display of fictional prowess anymore. I don’t feel particularly sorry if I can’t get a “Winner!” GIF at the end.

So this November, I’m just going to write 50K words of fiction, period.

I already have halfway done stories to finish. You guys have read a bit of Fishbowl. Jamie hasn’t even read that much, as I’d promised him (last March!) that I would deliver a finished story for him to read. Sundari, my Script Frenzy project, is barely off the ground despite being over 20K words–success!–but, um, not really because it’s not in proper Hollywood script format. I’d really like to tackle that, not as a movie script but as a graphic novel script. Part of the reason why I’m no longer enchanted by nanowrimo proper was winning Script Frenzy. At the end of it, I just felt a tired and asked myself, “Am I done? Is that satisfactory?”

I enjoyed writing it immensely, but there was no payoff. I enjoyed not finishing nanowrimo for several years much, much more.

Speaking of comics, Spyder mentioned the idea of working on a comic idea for a whole month. I say: Go for it! If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 50 panel comic (that’s 8 pages if you go 6-panel) is a worthy challenge to take on in 30 days.

There are also a few short story ideas I’ve had floating around in my head recently, and I’d like to try them because that’s really where I started writing, and that’s really the only place I can claim to have successfully written (but not published, which is a whole ‘nother matter). Aishwarya is also doing a bit of a non-standard nano by writing a short story collection. She’s signed up officially and I assume she’s going to be plugging her word count into the site. Does the counting program care that it’s not all one narrative? No it doesn’t. Do I? Hell no. I think it’s as much of a task as writing a novel; anybody who told you writing short stories — good short stories — is easy, obviously never wrote one.

Anybody who tells you that writing a short story is less of a buzz than a novel is similarly mistaken. They’re just different kinds of buzzes, that’s all.

(There’s a whole debate here about what actually constitutes a ‘novel’ or what even constitutes a single narrative or story, but that’s a matter for another time or, if you are so inclined, this post’s comment thread.)

So onward, brave nano–no! Onward, brave storytellers. I hope this November is as fruitful and enjoyable for me and you as it has been for me in the past.


Madness Averted

script frenzy 2007 winner graphicWhew!

Just under the wire, but I made it! I have now officially reached the target on one of these internet writing marathon thingummies. While there were weeks of inactivity and times when I was forced to work on other things, I was able to put some good — but mostly crap — words to a page, and reach the 20,000 goal.

I’m still not satisfied, however, because the story isn’t finished. No, try as I did, the words ‘FADE OUT. THE END’ were not in my script; in fact, there is a really long way to go.

I could have, of course, rushed it and tried to stick to the 20K goal like a good trooper. Probably I would have been able to tell my story — a bare-bones version of it, anyway. As it stands now I seem to have grossly underestimated the size of the story. It’s not the simple little fantasy fairy tale as I had imagined it, but it sort of still is (who knew that two people in a room would need more description than a massive battle between armies?). It’s taken me 20,000 words to get to the point that I would imagine as being 15 minutes into a two-and-a-half hour movie.

I’ve also discovered that the story doesn’t quite work as a movie anyway. Some of you may shout ‘Trilogy!’ at this point, and I’ve mulled that over too, but there just aren’t any good break points to make it into such a beast.

I suppose the best thing it could be is a miniseries of some sort, but all of this speculation is useless at this juncture, because it’s a barely complete less-than-first draft version of a story that has many, many holes in it. I will continue writing it, if only because I’ve set it up as a project with which I have no expectations of showing it to anyone for, like, ever, so I can be as messy and incoherent with it as I want to be (lots of descriptions that go, “she has teh big boobz hehe” and “whoa, its all ‘splosionz!”).

If it ever shows up, then it will be in some kind of visual form. A graphic novel, perhaps, seeing as I have no access to a studio (animation or otherwise) who would be foolish enough to produce my work.

Not yet, anyway (evil laugh).

More stuff about writing soon, including the inside story of a Savant tale I’ve been putting off for a month in order to write this Script Frenzy thing. Hope you’re all being creative. I miss youse guys.