National Novel Writing Month 2018: A mean mind or something else?

On finishing The Mean Mind

The Mean Mind probably has more notes, outlines and various errata on it than any other novel I’ve written.

And yet it still remains unfinished.

While I hit 50,000 words while working on it in NaNoWriMo 2012, I didn’t actually finish the story and the outline I had was vague, especially around the middle (or second act) of the story. I also made a late game change to a major aspect of the plot, bringing in time travel of all things, then expanded the scope to saving an entire world and doing so meant the good guys first had to defeat the bad guys. Maybe I thought I’d have a sequel in which the world was actually saved. The Green Mind.

Hmm, now it actually sounds kind of appealing. :P

The reality, though, is I’d only retain parts of what I’d written, no more than a few scenes, and the rest would be started over from scratch, using a new, more complete outline. So while it seems like this novel already had a lot of the work done, it really doesn’t.

But I like the basic idea and the antagonist (not the villain) was a fun character to write, because he really didn’t care what anyone else thought, and acted accordingly.

If I decide not to pursue a revised The Mean Mind, what else is there?

Journal ideas

I have my journal of ideas. It mostly lives in the Drafts iOS app and when an idea hits me, I tap the complication for the app on my watch and dictate the idea. If I’m in a place where talking into my watch would be socially unacceptable, I type out the idea on the phone version of the same app.

Looking over what I have, if I prune out ideas for blog posts, dream fragments and other miscellany, what I’m left with is the following:

  • People who have died have learned how to breach the gulf between the living and the dead and the living must stop their [plot] somehow, even though the dead obviously can’t be killed.

This is kind of intriguing, because how *would* you stop an evil dead (person)? The twist was they would be more like ghosts and less like zombies, so shotguns and chainsaws would not work. But thinking over it now, I still have no clue what the actual conflict would be, so this is probably best left as a neat idea, better-suited for a short story, perhaps.

  • Only see someone in the window reflection on train, never in the actual seat. Tries to make eye contact through reflection.

Another idea that smacks of multiple dimensions/realities, this neat premise also seems better-suited to a short story. It feels like a Twilight Zone thing, possibly building up to a terrible twist at the end.

  • Time travel. Sent back 20-30 years but with all memories intact. What do you charge? How do you live knowing what may or may not happen?

Oh lord, more time travel. When will I learn? The answer is never. This is the best of the three in terms of an idea that could be fleshed out to novel length, because it has so many possibilities, once you establish the rules of the time travel. One thing not mentioned here is the original idea I had was the person would not just go back 20-30 years, they would also go back in age, so the 40-50 year old protagonist would become 20ish again, but with the 20-30 years of memories still intact. How would you deal with that, even apart from the question of trying to enact big picture changes (stop a disaster/assassination, etc.)

This one is good enough to go on The Short List. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Brainstorming -or- The Delicate Sound of Blunder

I don’t have anything to add here, as I’ve not done any official or even unofficial brainstorming. I’ve mulled from time to time, but not enough to have anything stick. I may devote some time to this soon™ and revisit with what comes of it (if anything).

The Short List are the stories I think stand the best chance of getting spun into a workable NaNoWriMo effort.

The Short List

The Mean Mind – unfinished 2012 NaNoWriMo novel
Time Travel Idea – a person in their 40s or 50s travels back 20-30 years in time, regressing back to their younger age, but still retaining all of the memories they had accumulated

As you can see, the short list is currently living up to its name.

My next task will be to do some brainstorming and to look through other various notes and bits for any other ideas, add them to The Short List, then winnow out all but the final few deemed the most worthy. At that point I’ll outline the remaining stories and see which one sings and which one just lip-syncs.

National Novel Writing Month: Unfinished novels rated

Here are my unfinished NaNoWriMo novels, as reported yesterday, and how I’d rank them on a scale of 1 to 10 pounds of James Patterson novels, with 1 being “Don’t bother” and 10 being “Get James Patterson to co-author this ASAP.”

  • Low Desert. Not much meat on this one. I envisioned a literal interpretation of the Rapture, or something like it, with characters meeting in the desert at the end for some undefined purpose. Rating: 3 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Dream of the Buckford Church. Other than the hook of “weird shit happening in a creepy old mountain church” and the main character being drawn to it in a dream, there was little else here. Some sort of ritual stuff that needed to be stopped, maybe? Still, I liked the dreamy/terror vibe it had going in the short story version. Rating: 4 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Mean Mind. The most complete of all of the unfinished novels, the overall story was actually outlined (even if it got vague toward the end), but was maybe a bit too grand in scope. Scaling it back might make it work better. Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Start of the World. Ignoring the unintended riffing off The Dark Tower, this had a good hook, a sense of doom/world collapse, but the specifics were mostly ignored. Rating: 6 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • Weirdsmith. Sort of a latter-day The Dead Zone, except this car accident survivor finds a blank journal that lets him write things that actually happen. I had nothing more than this to go on, so there’s much work to do here. Rating: 3 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • Last Exit. The initial premise was worked out, but the overall outline was never completed. The character finds himself slipping through portals into a desert, among other places, before always returning back to his bed/waking, while someone or something acts as a guide of sorts. For what purpose? you got me! Rating: 2 pounds of James Patterson novels.

The clear standout here in The Mean Mind, which has the bonus of also having a cool title with multiple meanings. In my next post I discuss how viable reviving it is, and talk about some of the other story ideas I have kicking around.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Unfinished stories that could be finished

A story begins with an idea. It might be something as simple as an image, a “What if?” scenario, a certain type of character demanding to speak. But all stories start somewhere and it’s not usually via a helpful muse bringing the story down from the heavens on a velvet pillow, fully-formed and only needing the writer to simply record its magnificence via keyboard, typewriter or legal pad (R.I.P. Harlan Ellison).

Sometimes brainstorming can yield worthy nuggets. Other times it’s better for its entertainment value. Or attempts at entertainment value.

Keeping a journal of ideas (or the modern tech equivalent, like a note-taking app) can work.

Occasionally you can reach into the past, to unfinished or unsatisfying projects and either finish or rework them. For NaNoWriMo this would be cheating, but you’re in no danger of having a NaNo police officer arrest you for breaking the writing law.

I’ve drawn on all of these things to write stories, both for NaNo and otherwise. My success has been inconsistent and when a story dies, it is usually a long, drawn-out process. Usually it’s because the story loses direction–through lack of planning. The lack of planning is often rooted in a fear that plotting things out will kill both spontaneity and interest. This isn’t true, but like most fears, it’s hard to shake off.

Last year’s effort, which yielded a record zero words, was based on two things: a title and a vague, one-line elevator pitch. This is not enough. There’s no way this would ever be enough, unless some kind of writing miracle followed on November 1. And on the next 29 days. That did not happen.

The option that gives me the most to work with from the outset is to revive a stalled or incomplete story. My NaNo history is littered with these:

  • 2010: Low Desert. This was originally a short story called “Hello?” about a man who returns from a camping trip to find the city–and presumably the world–empty of all people. I wrote very little on this for NaNo and the short story ending wouldn’t work for a novel-length treatment. I had loosely planned out the rest of the story, but ran out of gas before getting very far.
  • 2011: The Dream of the Buckford Church. Also originally a short story. This really didn’t go anywhere and my ideas for the expanded version were as vague and mysterious as the short story (not a good thing).
  • 2012: The Mean Mind (winner) I wrote 50,000 words on this so yay me. But I didn’t actually finish the story. This one I outlined to a certain extent, but I had some doubts about some big plot elements and the ending was still ill-defined (do you see a trend here?)
  • 2013: The Start of the World. A guy who can see glimpses of a parallel version of our world is told by a mysterious truck driver that he is going to “restart the world.” There will be three signs, then off he goes! As a high concept, it worked and I wrote several chapters, but I had on idea where it would go, other than somehow he would keep the different worlds from intersecting, which would be really bad. I wrote this while reading The Dark Tower series and it definitely shows.
  • 2015: Weirdsmith. This has a somewhat convoluted history. It started as an (unfinished) play and the title character was a psychotic killer insinuating himself into the lives of a couple who “rescue” him when they find him injured in the woods. Somehow it evolved into a story about a man who nearly dies in a car crash and after a long recovery finds a blank journal and when he writes in it, things happen. What things? Details, details. It’s like the first half of a really exciting elevator pitch and then the person giving the pitch gets out of the elevator and you never see them again.
  • 2016: Last Exit (or Last Stop). I love altered reality stories. This one had a guy in tech support start noticing lots of small details in his daily life seeming a bit off. Eventually, he starts following a strange cat that leads him to a weird buzzing blue portal that leads him into a desert. He always seems to end up waking up in bed, so he becomes convinced he’s just having a weird dream or dreams, but eventually things start to happen that blur the lines between the waking world and what he thinks are dreams. And then who knows, because I never got past the first few scenes.

As you can see, this list has a recurring theme of “What the hell happens next/how does this all end?” Trying to tease out which one would be the “easiest” to finish won’t be easy, but I will try…tomorrow.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The theoretical plan for success

I am not ready to commit to NaNoWriMo 2018 just yet, but I do have a plan to follow, should I decide to do so. Here it is:

  • Have a plan
  • This is to say, not only have an idea, but have a story ready and planned out in advance
  • Planning means outlining. Outlining the whole thing. Even the ending.
  • Choose the writing program to be used
    • Current candidates: WriteMonkey, Scrivener, Atomic Scribbler, iA Writer
  • Develop a proper save/backup scheme that won’t result in corrupted files and a sad author
  • Do more testing of dictation to help speed up the first draft process
  • Write 50,000 words in 30 days between November 1-30, 2018

This concludes my plan.

I’ve highlighted the most important part in bold.

Winging in–called pantsing by NaNoWriMo folks–has not just failed for me in past attempts, it’s failed spectacularly. See my 2017 summary for an example. This year I am going to outline my story in advance. If I don’t have this done by November 1, I will not take part. Instead I will post an amusing cat picture on this blog that is somehow writing-related. Maybe I’ll do that, anyway.

Tomorrow I’ll post some of the story ideas I’m mulling.

NaNoWriMo 2017, Day 30: LOL

Yep, with today being the last day of the month, it’s time to summarize my National Novel Writing Month effort this year and LOL is a pretty good summary.

I wrote 2557 words a few days in…for a different novel. Then my keyboard was stilled as I was overwhelmed by events, ennui, personal drama and The Rains (I read today that this November is the fourth-wettest since they started keeping records. The forecast is for sun to return next month. Then probably blizzards for the next three months).

In all, my effort was so minimal it’s difficult to feel disappointed. It’s like scolding yourself for how you placed in a race you never actually participated in.

Apart from this blog, my writing in general has stalled, which is not good. I’ll be returning to The Other 11 Months writing group on Sunday and seeing how it goes there, but if I am to write more I need to do it more often than just on Sundays. It’s not like writing is a religious experience for me.

But perhaps I should pray to the spirit of Harlan Ellison. Except he’s still alive and would tell me to stop writing nonsense on a blog and start writing a ripping good yarn by grabbing legal pad and fountain pen.

Tomorrow I’ll unveil my newest and bestest writing plan.

NaNoWriMo 2017: A loud deflating sound

There are two weeks left before the end of the month. As of today to be on track with my NaNoWriMo novel progress, I would need to have written:

26,672 words

As of today, I have actually written:

2,557 words

This gives me a word deficit of:

24,115 words

In order to successfully complete NaNoWriMo 2017, I would need to increase my daily input of words from 1,667 words to:

3,388 words

This is actually not an impossible goal. It would require several hours of intense writing every day, though putting in extra time during the remaining four weekend days would help offset that a bit.

The reality is that’s not going to happen. NaNoWriMo has often been the tonic to cure my writing blahs but this year–even with the regular writing group I’ve been going to–it just hasn’t happened. November has been a busy and stressful month, I’ve exercised less, eaten more, and I now seem to have some kind of official fall/winter sinusitis thing going which is making me seriously consider one of those horrible “nasal irrigation” devices because thirty seconds of shoving this weird thing up my nose in exchange for being able to breathe normally has real appeal.

I’d prefer to just be able to breathe normally.

I’m still hoping to kickstart my writing before the end of the month, but I know the only secret is to just make myself do it and the fact that I haven’t is maybe underlining the fact that I just don’t care enough anymore. Maybe all the future holds is blog ramblings and funny cat pictures.

I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

NaNoWriMo Day 4 and 5: Signs of life

On Day 4 of NaNoWriMo I wrote zero words, going 0-4 for the first four days and leaving me with a deficit of 6,668 words–a positively devilish amount to catch up on (ho ho).

My plan today was to go to the usual write-in at Waves in sunny downtown New Westminster (where during the other 11 months of the year it’s known as, well, The Other 11 Months) and do a good bit of catching up by reviving my unfinished 2013 novel, Start of the World (definitely a working title).

Good news: I did indeed write, putting together 2557 words. This gives me a deficit after five days of 5778 words. If you divide that over the remaining 25 days, I would need to write an additional 231 words per day, which seems pretty easy when looked at this way. So I should be good as long as I keep up a slightly above average pace from here on out.

But here’s the surprise twist: I didn’t work on Start of the World. Instead, I continued work on my 2014 NaNo novel, Road Closed. I added 50,000 words to the current word count total, bringing it to 120,242 words, then started back on it.

I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do, a good thing to do or something else. It is clearly a thing to do because I’m doing it. Tomorrow I’ll decide if I want to keep doing it. I’m not sure there’s 50,000 more words in this novel but you never know. I could channel my inner Stephen King and just not leave out anything at all, writing a kind of complete and uncut edition right from the start. Smothering my inner editor with a pillow. Not killing my darlings, but nurturing them and encouraging them to procreate. And other assorted weird analogies.

Anyway, it was nice to write again.

We had twelve people in attendance, but the table (which mysteriously moves every week) only seats eight, so multiple people had to sit on the floor. I’m betting some of them will arrive earlier next week to indulge in the luxury of writing while sitting in a chair.

NaNoWriMo 2017, Day 3: Still wordless in New Westminster

I still haven’t written anything but the weekend beckons and it’s my chance to get the proverbial ball rolling on this year’s novel attempt. One might say actually getting some words down at this point would be novel, ho ho.

I kind of wish weekends were three days long, though. It would help. Also helping would be if the goal of NaNoWriMo was, say, 10,000 words. I could churn that out in desperation on the final weekend if I had to.

Not that I’ll need to, mind you. No sir. This weekend (the first weekend) I’m going to catch up on word count (from zero to greater than zero) then keep flying through to victory by the end of the month.


NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 2: Word count still zero!

Yes, another day of non-writing. Hooray.

But I’ve settled on an alternate plan, which is to rewrite my failed 2013 novel, which had the awkward working title of Start of the World. I’ll spend time tomorrow mulling and then tomorrow evening I’m going to start writing. I have some ideas.

I can’t say I’m confident in how this will turn out, but I am genuinely interested in tackling this particular unfinished project again, so I have that in my favor.

Also, while I’m not yet changing the description of the novel, I am probably not going to keep the title of Cosmic Tingles. That might work better…elsewhere.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Day 1: Zero words!

It’s just after 10 p.m. as I type these words and my story progress stands at zero. I have written nothing. The previous two sentences are two more than I’ve written for my NaNoWriMo 2017 project.

If the evening ends with me writing nothing–and that seems rather likely at this point–I will need to double my effort to 3,334 words tomorrow to stay on track. Am I already doomed? Perhaps.

But perhaps not. Maybe in desperation I will find inspiration. Maybe I’ll dig out some old unfinished work and pick up where I left off, the words gushing forth like blood from a skewered artery.

It’s funny how something that only happens once a year can sneak up on you. Or how when you try to think of ideas your brain just seizes up and refuses to even offer up anything, even objectively terrible stuff.

But I will ponder tonight, evaluate my back-up plan and make a decision tomorrow on how to proceed.

National Novel Writing Month 2017, Update 3: I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m doing it

I’ve created a novel called Cosmic Tingles with this description:

When the world starts to get subtly stranger, a little weirder, is it all in your mind or is reality actually changing? Or maybe both?

I just need characters, plot and a story and I’m done. Easy peasy.

NaNoWriMo 2017: The absence of planning once again pays off

Pays off in the sense that I have no idea what I’m doing. Which isn’t much of a payoff. The irony is I just finished a book a few weeks ago (Story Genius) that specifically lays out, in great detail, how to plan out a novel.

For NaNoWriMo 2017 I have made it as far as the “I think I may write a novel” stage.

I have gotten no further.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve set up Scrivener again so I’m ready to go with that if need be. But as far as what I’ll write…no clue. My success rate when going in and latching onto some plot device at the last minute is not terribly good. It is more terribly terrible. This means my effort will likely crash and burn.

Perhaps, though, something fantastic will come to me in a dream tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or maybe the first night of NaNo. After that it probably won’t matter.

Maybe for the eve of NaNoWriMo (tomorrow) I’ll try to inspire myself with another patented* list of lovingly handmade writing prompts.

* reasonably certain you can’t patent these