NaNoWriMo – 15 days to go.

ImageWell, we are half-way through November already. Time just seems to fly by, doesn’t it? This is my first NaNoWriMo and to tell the truth I wasn’t sure if I could make it. But as of today I am at 30k words and about one chapter way from finishing Part 1 in my novel. And I still have 15 days to write another 20k words. That looks a lot less daunting than the big 50k from November 1. So I start getting more hopeful about the fact that I can make it to then end and win.

I would like to use this half-way point to go over some of the observations I made so far about my writing process. Hopefully, someone else will find them useful too.

1. Discipline helps. I haven’t missed  single day of writing so far. I made sure that I would find time to sit down and work on my novel every day, rain, snow or storm. It doesn’t matter how much time I have, even a five minute coffee break spent scribbling in a notepad can produce 100-200 words. A lunch date with a pen and paper adds another 400-500 words. And in the end, it all adds up.

2. Setting goals and working towards reaching them is essential. When I decided to do NaNo, I set myself  a daily goal of 1700 words. And I made a vow not to go to bed until I reach that goal. So it doesn’t matter if my pen is flying so fast that makes the paper smoke or if my muse packed up and went on vacation, I will sit and put one word after another until I get that goal done. And most of the days I end up with 200-300 words over that goal.

3. Celebrating small and big achievements is a sure way of boost motivation. I had a piece of chocolate cake and a fresh cup of tea when I reached my first 10k. I pored myself a glass of wine at the 20k marker. I sneak attacked my husband in the bedroom after I flew by the 25k :). Those little celebrations really make you want to go on writing, and thinking about your next reward helps when the fatigue sets in and you start getting discouraged with your writing.

4. Word wars and prompts help. No, seriously, they really do! There are days when words are just not coming, no matter how much you stare at the blank screen. I found that picking up a prompt or joining a word war either on the site or on twitter @NaNoWordsprints helps me get the ideas on the page. I tend to procrastinate less when I have a deadline.

5. Do not get discouraged. Whether you are 5k ahead or 10k behind, keep writing. You still have 15 days to go, don’t abandon you novel now. Every word you add to it is more than you had before. Word by word, the novel will get from “Once upon a time” to “The end”.

So how is everyone else doing at his half-way point? What are you guys happy about or struggling with?

Mike Carey – Felix Castor series

Image  Image

Rating: 3/5 stars.

***SPOILER ALERT***

There might be possible spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk!

I only read the first two books of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series so far – The Devil you know and the Vicious Circle, so that’s what my review will be based on.

All in all,  I liked the world that Mike Carey created – modern day London with a twist. And the twist is that the dead are coming back for some inexplicable reason. Some come back as mere ghosts, some manage to possess human bodies becoming zombies (not the “Braaaaains” kind, just the slowly rotting but mostly harmless kind), and some possess animals, twisting them into human-like forms and become loup-garous. Some of those revenants are peaceful, some not so much, but all of them raise questions that modern society is not prepared to answer: Do the dead have rights? Is exorcising them considered murder?

While the authorities are struggling with the answers and working on new laws, people who possess the particular talent of exorcising the dead make a good living for themselves. Our protagonist Felix Castor is one such exorcist. And while he is not entirely sure where the ghosts he destroys go (or if they are just snuffed out of existence), his way of making peace with his conscience is to persuade himself that those ghosts are not actual dead people, just memories of dead people, an imprint they left on the fabric of the world before they died. So he is not destroying people, but erasing that memory, which, by all accounts, is just stuck in a repetition of a particular pattern and unable to evolve, think or feel.

But this belief is put to test when a ghost he is sent to exorcise deviates from her pattern and actually saves his life. Now Felix must reconsider his approach and also face the fact that he had been destroying actual souls who could feel and be afraid, not mere memories.

This inner turmoil is explored further in the next book of the series, where Felix is hired by a family to rescue the ghost of their daughter who had been kidnapped by another exorcist. Of course, it turns out there is a lot more to that story then first meets the eye…

And as if ghosts were not enough, the other inhabitants of the underworld are eager to squeeze through the opening and invade our reality as well, like the demon who possesses Felix’s friend Rafi or the succubus summoned to kill him in the first book.

All in all, the world building is great. Mike Carey does a fabulous job describing a London that is and isn’t the city we know and populating it with engaging characters. I particularly loved Nikki, the conspiracy theory geek whom even death couldn’t slow down for long.

Where the book falls short of its mark for me is the main protagonist, Felix Castor. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like the “let’s spit in the face of danger and never give up” protagonists, but in Castor’s case it is taken to the extremes. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief in book one, it got harder and harder to do as book two progressed. I mean, this guy just doesn’t know when to shut up and sit quietly instead of mouthing off and provoking conflict that could have been avoided. I’m sorry, but the chances of survival of a normal man once he managed to alienate several werewolves and make enemies of at least two powerful organizations are next to nil. Going all alone into a church full of Satanists armed only with a gun would also fall into that category. Yet Felix Castor emerges from the wreckage alive and relatively unscarred. This is when I put the book down and say, “I do not believe.”

I know every author likes his protagonists (heck, I love my darlings too), but make them believable! They can rush into the thick of it without thinking or mouth off once, but chances are they will get hurt for doing that, and hopefully that would make them think and change their behavior. It would make them evolve. I think that’s what bothered me the most in those two books, that Castor doesn’t change and doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

I might give this series another chance and try to read book three. Who knows, maybe Felix is just a slow learner? But if that’s not the case, I think I will have to find something else to read.

NaNoWrimo – second week blues

ImageSo remember how a few days ago I said that I had gagged and tied my inner editor in the basement? Well, she escaped and returned with a vengeance. Or maybe it’s just the dreaded second week of NaNo blues.

I woke up yesterday absolutely hating my novel. The plot was not progressing fast enough, the characters were wandering all over the place, but most of all I had the feeling that every single word I had written up until now was absolute tripe. I sad down in front of my screen, opened Scrivener and couldn’t force myself to write. I worked through it, forced myself to put in my usual daily 1700 words, but I hated every single one of them.

So I thought I would use today’s Writing Marathon to power through this block. I even signed up for twitter to participate at the sprints at #NaNoWordSprints… It worked. Well, kinda sorta in a sideways kinda way. I manged to write 2500 words, but instead of progressing with the plot, my Main Character decided that now was the time to sit down and bare his soul and tell his back-story to the enraptured audience of one aka yours truly. I tried to nudge him towards action and getting on with the case on hand, but he just ignored me.

So I now have 2500 words of back story that might or might not make it into the final draft. But on the plus side, I think I managed to lock my inner editor in the bathroom, so onward with the story!

How is everyone doing with their novels so far?

NaNoWriMo – half way through week one.

ImageThe first week of NaNoWriMo is not over yet but I have broken the 10k words mark today. That’s one fifth of the goal done. I think I will allow myself a glass of wine tonight to celebrate.

Between bouts of frantic writing this weekend, I have noticed several things.

First of all, tying and gaging my inner editor and shoving her in a dark closet for the duration of NaNo had been strangely liberating. I didn’t realize how much fun it would be to just put words on paper (or on the computer screen in my case) without worrying about bad grammar, spelling or lack of style. Yes, it might look like a smoking pile of manure, but it moves the story forward, and anything is better than a blank page. Manure I can work with later and grow beautiful polished prose with, blank – not so much.

Another thing that I learned about my writing – having a pretty good idea of where your story goes and outlining it works wonders. All the other (unsuccessful) attempts at writing a novel started with me having a wonderful idea and a vague picture of the main characters. And I would sit down and happily punch words in for a week or two. Then I would get lost with no idea where my story is supposed to go, or hit a roadblock, or just lose interest and move on to a new shiny idea.

In this case I spent the entire month of October thinking about my story. I wrote the main idea, I thought about the beginning and the ending, I even sat down and wrote a more or less detailed outline. I dived into my world and tried to figure out as much about it as I could. I cornered my characters in tights spaces and interrogated them. So when November 1 arrived, I knew my world and my characters and I had a pretty good idea where my story was going. And guess what – I am still very much in love with the story.

So lesson learned – do not jump right into writing, let the idea sit and mature, poke at it for a week or two and see if what hatches is worth writing about.

Oh and I also found an excellent book by Timothy Hallinan called Finish Your Novel, there is a lot of very good advice and encouragement here, so I definitely recommend it to all aspiring novelists.

NaNoWriMo – on your mark, ready, go!!!!

Image

So November 1 is officially here and NaNo madness has began. All the brave (and some would say crazy) souls participating this year will have exactly 30 days to produce 50 000 words of text in order to win. And I need to point out that 50k is not the limit, if our novel will be over that amount, feel free to write more (if you can). You also don’t need to have finished your novel by end of November in order to win. But still… 50 000 words is a lot, it really is. In fact it’s like a very scary mountain of words looming in front of me.

But no need to panic, there is a way to accomplish that without a psychotic break at the end (I hope) – eat the elephant in small bites. 50 000 words is 1667 words per day if you write every day in November. That doesn’t look as scary anymore, does it? Well, to me it still kinda does, since my usual daily production is more in the 500 – 800 words range. So I devised this plan that would help me reach my goals – I took a critical look at my usual work day and found out that I have three possibilities to write through the day: in the morning before I go to work, during lunch and late at night before bed (I am lucky to have a laptop and a convenient plug next to my bed). If I write 600 words in each of those sessions, I will get 1800 words per day – that is plenty enough to reach 50k! Now I just need to stick to the plan…

As far as day one is concerned, I think I am doing pretty well. I have 1700 words so far and that’s only after two sessions. I was so scared that I would stare at a blank page and just freeze, but words just kinds spilled out. Planning on using the weekend to up my world count. The goal is to be at 7000 total by Monday. We will see, we will see.

Any other Wrimos out there? How did your first day go?

Book review – Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

Image

I absolutely love all of Iain M. Banks’s books in the Culture series and I eagerly await each new installment. But Look to Windward is my absolute favorite – it has a particular place in my heart. I think that’s because this story touches some subjects that I can relate to.

The story is set on Masaq’ Orbital, one of the Culture’s ring-shaped artificial worlds ran by an AI. It’s been 800 years since the Twin Novae battle which ended with the explosion of two suns, the destruction of countless planets and artificial habitats and loss of billions of lives. But the light of this explosion has reached Masaq’ Orbital only now, eight centuries later. So did an unlikely ambassador from another war-torn world, Major Quilan. Quilan’s official mission is to bring a renegade composer back to his home world of Chel. His true mission, kept secret even from him and implanted deep in the recesses of his brain, is to kill the Orbital’s AI. Why kill an AI would you ask? For revenge. Oh, not on this particular AI, but on the Culture in general. See, the Culture tried to intervene in the affairs of the Chelgrian society and, even though they meant well, the result was a civil war that cost their lives to five billion people. And now Chel is sending Quilan with the mission to assassinate Masaq’s AI who is also caring for five billion people placed in suspended animation. To the Chelgrians their death would balance the books. And all this happens when the light of a battle fought so long ago finally reaches the Orbital. In that battle too Culture played a role that, some say, precipitated the disaster.

This is the intrigue (or part of it, because, as in all Banks’s books, there are layers upon layers of intrigue). But what made me love this book so much is the story behind the story, the hidden meanings and hidden feelings of all the characters. Quilan, Zeller and even Masaq’, the AI in charge of the Orbital, are surprisingly human, with their own baggage and skeletons in their closets, with their own nightmares and dreams and feelings of guilt and helplessness. And that makes them particularly endearing to the reader.

In this book, Ian M Banks wanted to explore the consequences of our actions on us and other people and to see how different human beings cope with feelings such as rage, guilt, grief, etc. I think it rings very close to home right now with all that has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan – both those conflicts scared a lot of people, be it the local population of the soldiers that have fought there. How do you continue living when you know that you are partly responsible for billions of deaths? Is anything you do good enough to counterbalance that? How far would you go for revenge?

Masaq’ Orbital AI is a perfect example of that – 800 years ago he was the AI of one of the warships that participated in the battle and he witnessed firsthand the explosion of the two suns. The guilt had been haunting him ever since, and now, when the echoes of this battle finally reached the Orbital, he wants to make amends. How? By asking composer Zeller to create a beautiful symphony that would honor the souls lost in that battle, but also by not stopping Quilan from fulfilling his secret mission… And these are all the spoilers I am going to give.

I love the world of Culture – it is incredibly complex and so well-detailed that it feels real. Every book in the series just adds a new piece to the puzzle, slowly building a beautiful picture of a star-dwelling civilization. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, pass it on.

Two days to NaNoWriMo – panic attack.

Image

It is officially two days till NaNoWriMo starts. I have been ready for at least a week  and oh so excited to dive into my novel. But now that November 1st is almost around the corner, the doubt is setting in. Will I be able to pull it off? After all, 50k words in one month is a lot of ink to put on paper – it’s 1667 words per day, every day in November. Or what if I get stuck in my story and I hate what I write, or if the characters stop speaking to me half way through? This is stuff nightmares are made of!

It’s funny, but this situation brings me back to my college days (darn, am I that old already?) and my pre-exam jitters. This is absolutely ridiculous because this time my grade doesn’t depend on the result, I don’t owe anyone anything, and the world will not stop turning if I don’t reach my goal. But the fact still remains – I am scared. I think it’s because this is important to me – I need to prove to myself that I can write consistently for a prolonged period of time. I also want to prove to myself that I can actually finish a manuscript, go through the whole first draft from “Once upon a time” to “The End”. So yes, there is a lot of pressure on my shoulders and this wait is absolutely killing me!

Come on November, get here already, let’s stop waiting and start finally writing…

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

%d bloggers like this: