Writer’s Block

“Whomsoever lifts this hammer, if he be caffeinated, shall possess the  power of words.”

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Frustrated woman lies next to her laptop

Frustrations and #NaNoWriMo – It’s that time again

Four days. One thousand, one hundred and eighty one words. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very much, coming out at less than three hundred words a day. Unfortunately, that’s all that my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) efforts for 2017 have been able to yield so far, and I think I’m going to have to junk them. So I’m now on day five (Or at least will be after I publish this blog entry and get some sleep) and have to either write a consistent two thousand words a day for the rest of November or somehow write eight thousand, three hundred and thirty-three words tomorrow, as well as a plot or novel outline so that those words have some kind of propulsive direction to them. Then I can return to the accepted NaNoWriMo pace of one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words a day. Since both of those figures are rather  larger than three hundred daily words, I am understandably a little skeptical and nervous about them.

What makes this frustrating is that I’ve hit the dreaded block much earlier than I typically do during NaNoWriMo. It’s usually well into the second week, where I’ve slipped a little behind pace but still have round ten thousand words written. I’ve always had at least one thousand, five hundred written on day one, and frequently more thanks to all the resources at my fingertips, especially word sprints from either the nanowrimo.org forums or the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter feed.

Another frustration is that it feels like I have a genuinely good hook here, even if it is a bit pulpy. The idea started out (almost in fun) as “Knights Templars vs. Vampires,” with the Templars as the good guys, since they so often get pegged into the historical villain slot in fiction and popular culture. Though I can only currently recall that being the case in Raymond Khoury’s novel The Last Templar and of course the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise at the moment, I know it’s a pretty common trope across media. That log line evolved, as these things are wont to do, into the current short synopsis I have for my 2017 NaNoWriMo entry:

“In 14th century France, the Knights Templar stand accused of heresy, treason and demon worship. It’s seen as a ploy by the King of France to discredit them.

In reality, the order’s secret rites are there to bound the demon Baphomet in the catacombs beneath Limassol, Cyprus having moved it there from beneath the Temple at Jerusalem. Whatever the creature was, it now bears the Mark of Cain, making it essentially untouchable by Men of God. The Mark afflicts the creature with an aversion to sunlight and an unquenchable thirst for blood. And if it ever escapes the Templars, it can pass Cain’s Mark to any creature it drinks from.”

Which at least contains the germ of an idea. There’s stakes there, an antagonist and perhaps even a whiff of conspiracy, something that’s never too far away when you invoke the Knight’s Templar. Do you know what’s not there? Any sense of a plot, compelling characters or a reason to want to read the entire boondoggle. It doesn’t even have a protagonist! Since I’ve also found that the most readable and important part of any novel (at least any novel not written by H P Lovecraft) is definitely dialogue (It’s also the fastest to write , and boost word count, never a bad thing considering the insanity that is NaNoWriMo), the lack of any characters to have that dialogue is something of a problem.

What I currently have in my head, and in those ill-fated one thousand, one hundred and eighty one words are a series of cool vignettes, maybe even scenes, but with no connective tissue between them. It’s all visual niceties with incoherence and no underlying skeleton to bind it. That’s less of a novel and more of a lesser Michael Bay movie, and the world definitely doesn’t need more of those.

It probably doesn’t need my latest attempt at a NaNoWriMo novel either, but at lest I’m putting in effort to have something that might be confused for almost being good on a cloudy day.

That said, does anyone have any outlining or structure tips that could turn that skein of a synopsis into something resembling a plot skeleton? Please, please let me know in the comments. You may be my only hope.

Computer Frustration stock photo by channah.

Light bulb

NaNoWriMo Thoughts: Ideas & Inspirations

Inspiration can strike in the strangest ways. This is probably why most authors hate the inevitable “Where do you get your ideas from?” question.

 

This is my attempt to answer that question: I get my ideas from the world around me. I think everyone does to a certain extent, which is why one of the most common mantras is “write what you know,” though I do think that advice is a little misleading. After all, if I’m writing a period piece or so me far-flung space opera epic, then what I know as an English computer dude living in Delaware really isn’t applicable.

 

So what can inspire you? One source is dreams, which is why it’s a good idea to keep a pen and notepad on your bedside table to jot down the ideas as soon as you wake, because you WILL forget if you decide to wait until later, as I’ve learned to my cost. An infamous example of the dream as inspiration is the “Terminator” franchise. It began when James Cameron had a dream that consisted of a metal exoskeleton walking out of flames (Harlan Ellison might disagree on that form of inspiration and there’s legal reasons for Ellison’s credit on the first film, but Harlan is infamously cranky and litigious so who knows?). That dream became the finale of The Terminator and is, in my opinion, one of the best “holy crap” film moments of the 1980s.

 

Another obvious source of inspiration, and one partially alluded to in my Ellison aside above is whatever you might be reading. I know one of my earliest short stories was inspired by me reading Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon and thinking “I could do better than this!”

 

Thankfully, there are no extant copies of that story online as it was typical of a new, young writer in that it was terrible. That’s beside the point though. I read a lot of non-fiction, and listen to a couple of different history podcasts. And one of my most frequent thoughts are generally “what if this happened instead?” which leads to alternate history ideas or cross-pollination between disparate historical events and genres. What would the Roman Year of the Four Emperors look like through the lens of a fantasy world? I don’t know, but I might well find out by the end of National Novel Writing Month as that seems like fertile ground for at least fifty thousand words.

 

My current plan for the 2016 edition of that exercise revolves around an eighteenth century naval battle with a commander who was very much conflicted about whether he was even on the right side, which means I’m going to be hip-deep in geographical and historical research for the next couple of weeks. And that inspiration came from a single line in one of the “…for Dummies” series of books.

 

I also have dumber ideas inspired by mass media such as movies or television. Like most of the residents of the United States right now, I’m drowning in Presidential election coverage. Watching bits and pieces of the debates not long after finally succumbing and watching The Silence of the Lambs has lead me to a short story parody idea which so far involves Donald Trump looking in a mirror and asking “Would you vote me? I’d vote me so hard.” It’s very stupid, and I’m not sure I need the mental image of Donald Trump as Buffalo Bill, but since I inflicted it on myself, I figured I’d inflict it on my loyal readers, as few as you might be.

The last source of inspiration I’m going to consider is people watching. As I type this, I’m sat in a coffee shop facing a large window that opens to the street. This is both because I’m clearly a terrible cliché and because it’s a fantastic spot to observe the small section of the world that is my street. For example, about five minutes ago there was an African-American woman in a purple halter top engaged in an animated discussion with an older gentleman in a wheelchair. I don’t know what they were talking about, but judging by the wild gesticulations, it was clearly something both parties felt passionate about. I created a backstory in my head that it was the first meeting in around fifteen years between a school custodian and an infamous vandal who made his work a living hell. They’ve both long put such things behind them, but were reminiscing about old times in the way that people who aren’t quite friend sometimes do.

 

So, how do you get inspiration for your stories? I submit that the easiest way to do that is simply to keep your eyes and ears open.

 

Lightbulb stock photo by Kyryl Lakishyk

#NaNoWriMo revisited: January is #NowWhat Month

Well, I’m being technically correct in my goal of having at least one blog entry a week on here in 2014, as this is still (just barely) the second week of 2014, being 13 days in and this is my second blog entry of this young year.

And unsurprisingly, like so many of my prior blog entries, it’s about writing, even though i was going to be more generalized in my subject matter this year. Some of that is inevitable, as one of my goals for 2014 was to write 500 words a day on average for writing, (I may be close to that, not actually checked) so it’s an activity that has been occupying my thoughts a lot lately.

And since this started out as a mostly National Novel Writing Month related pursuit, it’s probably not a surprise that my impetus for writing comes from the fine folks at nanowrimo.org and this pledge that they mention for revising the manuscript from this past November.

Of course, because I’m a writer with what I’ve heard called Attention Deficit Creator Disorder and find it impossible to stick to one thing at a time when it comes to writing, I’m immediately breaking the letter, if not the spirit of that pledge by opting to finish and revise my 2012 NaNoWriMo project, a superhero/conspiracy/murder story saddled with the title “Cloaked” rather than the fantasy piece you’ve seen excerpted on earlier entries on this very blog.

Mostly this is because Cloaked has sat long enough that it’s no longer totally familiar to me,so I have the distance to look at it somewhat more dispassionately and strip away a lot of the crap that’s in it. After all, it’s far easier to “kill your darlings” if you can no longer recall why they are your darlings. Other reasons for this piece to get the focus include the fact that when I submitted the second chapter to the wonderful Richmond WriMos monthly critique group meeting for January, it got mostly positive results, other than the typical (for me) first/nano draft problems of sneaky passive voice, too many “to be” verbs, and a little on dialog tag punctuation. I ascribe some of that to translating between British and American and most of it to me being more interested in getting the words down rather than seeing if they make sense. The group also allowed me to get a better handle on one of the protagonist characters,where to trim the ensemble and a little more on just who the antagonist(s) might be.

The other reason is that I’ve been on a bit of a comic reading kick, so superheroes is a genre that’s fun to return to, and that using the Snowflake Method outline strategy that I’ve mentioned before is really much more helpful on second drafts as opposed to first drafts.

Of course, I’m still using it for first drafts on a couple of projects. One of those is provisionally titled “Operation: Pegasus” and is based loosely on expanding this short piece into a more fully rounded project. This may end up being one of my Camp NaNo projects for 2014 depending on how my outlining and brainstorming go. I’m also working out an outline to what I hope to be a series of semi-historical fiction that starts out with Caesar’s invasions of Britain and continues at least until the time of the Jacobite Rebellion. That’s a hugely ambitious time scale,so we’ll see if I can manage it.

I’m also going to try and finish up the 2013 fantasy NaNo, or at least tie it together into something coherent.

An then there’s my back-burnered King Arthur piece…

I have a lot of writing for 2014 to do, so that 500 word goal seems easily attainable right now. Of course there 351 days to see how apt that might be.

Until next time, where I swear the blog entry won’t be writing focused. It might be sports, Star Trek or politics related, or perhaps an update on the job hunt and other goals, I’ll sign off with my traditional question:

What do you want to see on this blog?

#NaNoWriMo: An overview

Well, I kind of got side tracked from keeping up with this blog, unfortunately. All I can offer for that is a mea culpa. I apologize for not keeping my loyal followers abreast of developments in my writing since my NaNoWriMo Day 11 post here.

As you might have gathered from the somewhat pessimistic tone of that entry, my motivation for pursuing further writing, at least as part of the National Novel Writing Month process, had waned considerably. In fact, it would be fair and accurate to say that the loss of those 3,130 words basically destroyed any desire to write I had. Given that, I felt that the inevitable wave of pessimistic “well, yet another 0 word day” posts (all with the “belated posts” tag) for days twelve through thirty of November would be nothing but a drag. Given that, I stopped updating this blog.

However, I forgot to allow for the effects and ego boosts of write-in events hosted by the wonderful Richmond WriMos group. Those people managed to pull me out of the drudgery and despair of NaNo hell most effectively. To prove it, take a look at this chart:

NaNoWriMo 2013 Final Graph

 

If you can’t read it clearly, that little purple bar reads “WINNER!” (Yes, with both capital letters and the exclamation point. It was kind of a big deal.) I managed to claw past the elusive 50,000 word mark (just barely) and make it to 50,258 words. That’s certainly my smallest total in the three years I’ve been attempting NaNoWriMo but it’s still a win, making me three for three.

The most striking thing about the graph for me is the level of inactivity it shows. After my motivation killing word loss on Day 11, I only wrote a grand total of thirty-eight words towards the novel by November 16th. On the 17th though, I managed to summon up the energy to attend a write in (mostly in the hope of wallowing in pity and commiseration, and because one of my fellow Richmond writers owed me a coffee, which I still haven’t redeemed at the time of writing). Of course, as everyone else was also concentrating on getting their word count back on pace, sympathy wasn’t all that available. What was available was a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, and so I suddenly found the motivation to get 1,289 words written. I also managed to “fantasy cast” the character of Erica Inibha thanks to some judicious usage of Google and IMDB. In my mind’s eye, Erica is now played by Galadriel Stineman.

After that brief flurry of activity, I had yet another 0 word week until the next meeting of the Richmond WriMos on the 24th November.

That one went spectacularly well and I suddenly had another 4,031 words written. That put me other the halfway point with just under 6 days to go. Out of sheer bloody-mindedness, I figured that, yes, I was going to do this and so my last week of November was one of frenzied writing and weird midnight typing. It turned out to be enough so that when I arrived at the group’s TGIO party, I was done.

Of course, the quality was terrible even by NaNoWriMo standards (there’s a reason there isn’t an excerpt in this post, I do have some standards…) But it was done.

I then resolved to basically turn my writing brain off for a month (which wasn’t supposed to include this blog, but so it goes) and here I am almost a month later with nothing writing-related going on but some brainstorms for a historical fiction series with a tentative title of “A Dynasty Of Rebellion.” Whether that goes further or not, I don’t yet know. If it does, there’s every chance this blog will delve into the process.

As for this blog, it’s became a writing blog, but that wasn’t ever the intention, it was always envisioned as a general purpose blog, and I’m planning to have a new entry at least weekly in 2014 (Hopefully more frequently than that, but the best laid plans never fully work)

Is there anything you would like to see my cover on here in 2014 and beyond?

#NaNoWriMo day 11

NaNo2013 Day 11

I am an idiot.

Je suis un idiot

Ich bin ein idiot

Soy un idiota.

You get the idea. I am a very foolish writer indeed. I ignored my own advice, and my own blog entry, and did not back up my writing for today. I had left my USB drive home whilst writing in a book store and could not connect to their wireless internet to send copies to Google drive. And then, thanks to the way Toshiba attach their power supply ports to their laptops, my laptop lost power. “No problem,” I think, “at least Word does the AutoSave thing, so I shouldn’t lose much.”

Apparently, the universe decided I was to be punished for such hubris, as Word didn’t AutoSave any of the 3,130 words I had written, leaving Veteran’s Day as a 0-word day, my 2nd of November 2013 even though I wrote plenty. Fortunately, I guess, I’m still just slightly ahead of par at 20,018 words, but it was demoralizing, to say the least. I just didn’t want to write, which is probably why this blog carries the “belated posts” tag and isn’t appearing until close to 9:00PM on the  12th (which is currently also shaping up to be a 0-word day, just can’t get re-energized enough to get the story done.) Still, have an excerpt from a scene I wrote on the 10th. It’s not a particularly happy section, which seems appropriate.

———

When he looked back, the first thing Nikolai would remember about that day was the emptiness. For what was ostensibly a public spectacle, there were very few people in the plaza. In truth, if it hadn’t been for duty, Nikolai wouldn’t have been here either. Anna would have understood his absence. There were more people on the raised dais participating than were there to watch. Nikolai took that to mean that the people had grown tired of such public displays of barbarism in the name of justice.

The chief justice read the charges aloud. Even now, having heard them a dozen times, Nikolai wasn’t sure exactly what Anna had been accused of. Everyone he had asked had told him the same thing. The charges were meaningless. Anna had incurred the wrath of the king by refusing to violate her oath of marriage and bed him. Nikolai loved her more for that one simple act of defiance. Neither one of them had thought that Egbert was as despotic as to order this.

As the justice finished up reading the litany of charges with a final “and conduct unbecoming of a subject of Egbert’s nation,” two guards, their faces hooded in navy shrouds marched Anna around the dais, before leading her to the block and placing her head upon it.

The executioner drew forth the great sword, and in accordance with the protocol of such affairs, brandished it skywards before bringing it across the whetstone three times. Anna did not resist her guards or turn to look upon the executioner’s blade. If anything, Nikolai judged her countenance to be a mixture of weariness and resignation. He would have done anything to rescue Anna from the fate that now befell her. Egbert and his household troops must have known this, for they had chained him to the great stone bench. All he could do was watch, and pray that Anna be reprieved.

Regardless of the reality of his predicament, Nikolai surged forwards as far as the chains would let him. He called out Anna’s name and was rewarded with the general murmur of the small crowd taking an angrier tone and condemning him to the same fate as his wife if it were up to them. Thankfully, Egbert was less bloodthirsty than his subjects nd w no need to add Nikolai’s name to the tally of the condemned.

Anna answered Nikolai’s cry by shouting his name “Nikolai! I will always, always love you.”

Nikolai wept. The executioner raised the great sword and brought it down on Anna’s neck in a single arcing stroke. The blade cut through sinew, flesh and bone and so, Anna’s severed head dropped from the block and bounced on the dais twice, leaving ugly claret blood stains wherever it touched the ground.

#NaNoWriMo Day 10

NaNo2013 Day 10

 

As you can (hopefully) see from the picture above, I achieved the goal I stated yesterday of breaking through the 20,000 word barrier, even if just barely. As you can probably imagine, I am absolutely delighted with that, and despite the lateness of the hour, it’s inspiring me to just keep on writing more this night. that should mean that tomorrow, I will at least have 1,667 words added to tonight’s total.

What surprised me about today’s word count was that it was nearly all based on flash back scenes, two of which I’m including as excerpts below. In the present, one character I had conceived as a lifelong singleton has been reminded of a lost love that I never knew he had. So, he’s taken to reminiscing about this relationship. I’m just writing what the characters tell me, not creating it at this point. Not entirely sure where these’ll fit in the structure of the novel, but that’s what December and editing is for…

—–

Excerpt 1

Nikolai had been young then, barely through his fourteenth summer. He had lived on the family farm with his mother. His father had been drafted into the king’s service as a militia man, and was fighting for an inconsequential strip of grassland that the king’s seers had deemed vital. That was the old king, Cenwalh, who had been the first to spread the Faith of Satiada beyond the great steppes of Harmel.

It had been early in the morning, and Nikolai was sent to the lower field to collect well water for the cook pot. As he drew the bucket from within the deep well , and transferred the pail to carry it forth, he had seen the girl leaning against the well, crying.

“What’s your name?” he asked her.

“Anna,” the girl answered.

“Well, Anna, this well belongs to the Milton farmstead. Why are you here?”

“I wanted to surprise my Momma. She’s very sick. I think she might die.”

“And you think water will help?”

“I don’t know. But she says she’s so thirsty, and I didn’t want to go to the river, that water’s filthy and muddy. The water in the well here is clean, and you can see through it.”

Nikolai knew he’d catch serious trouble from his own mother for what he did next, but he didn’t care. “Well, I can’t let your Momma go thirsty, Anna. Show me the way, and I’ll bring her the water.”

“Thank you, Mr-“

“Nikolai. My name is Nikolai.”

True to his word, Nikolai took the water to Anna’s mother, who lay abed. Her skin was grey and sickly, and her eyes had the glazed look of someone more than halfway into the next world. The woman burned to the touch, and was only able to croak, rather than speak. Still, when she heard Anna’s voice telling her that she had brought water, her mother’s ashen face broke out into a grin.

Nikolai filled a wooden cup by dipping it into the pail of water. He handed it to Anna, who gently poured the liquid between her mother’s lips. The older woman’s face transformed into a mask of tranquility, and she whispered “Thank you,” to Anna.

“Anything for you,” Anna said, softly.

“Who’s your friend?” her mother asked.

“Nikolai’s a boy who works at the Milton farm. He helped me bring you the water.”

“Actually, I’m the Milton’s son; it’ll be my farm one day,” Nikolai said.

“He seems nice,”  Anna’s mother said.

“He does,” Anna said, and flashed Nikolai a smile. Nikolai reddened and looked away.

“No need to start getting shy now, boy,” Anna said.

Nikolai stammered “I, I need to get back to my mother with water for the cook pot.”

“You do that. Oh, and Nikolai?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t be a stranger.”

Excerpt 2

Nikolai never knew how it started. He had snuck off to spend some time with Anna, and the two of them had spent a wonderful afternoon together. They had been doing that more and more lately, and Nikolai had felt a little guilty about neglecting his duties upon the farm. After giving Anna a farewell kiss, he jogged back towards the farmstead when he saw smoke.

It was a lot of smoke, more than would be produced from a fireplace. Nikolai picked up his pace and broke into a run. The thatched roof was aflame, and black smoke was billowing to the spring sky. The fire crackled loudly as Nikolai’s home burned. The fire had spread to the cornfields, and the dry stalks ignited instantly. The few animals that were on the farm were panicking, and running away from the flames. Nikolai ran to the well and quickly filled a bucket of water. He knew it was a futile effort, that his home was now gone, but he had to try and do something.

He threw the water at the fire, and there was a hiss of steam. The water did dampen some of the flame’s ardor, but it was barely enough to matter. All that Nikolai could do know, was pray that the fire burned itself out before spreading to neighboring building and fields. He was grateful that he had spent much of the last summer building stone walls to denote the boundaries of the Milton farm, rather than the dry, flammable bracken hedges that had served that purpose in year’s past.

The commotion and roaring flames had drawn the attention of the community, and a small cluster of townsfolk had watched as Nikolai’s life and livelihood blackened and crumbled to embers. They had half-heartedly started a bucket chain to quench the flames, but it was readily apparent to all present that such measures were not going to work.

One person Nikolai didn’t see in the knot of townsfolk was his mother. Nikolai looked at the smoking ruin that had been his family home, and could not bring himself to look. Fortunately, old Vlad Melburn, who claimed to have served several kings in battle, and had seen towns razed by marauding soldiery went and looked for Nikolai.

“Is she in there?” Nikolai asked Vlad.

The old man nodded.

“Did she suffer?” Nikolai asked.

“I’m sorry, lad,” was all Vlad would say. “So very sorry.”

Nikolai bit his tongue to keep from crying. He was almost a man now, and men did not cry, no matter how much they might want to. He surreptitiously ran a hand across his eyes to wipe away any tears before they had a chance to fall. The only person who seemed to notice was Anna, who came to him and squeezed his shoulders. She leaned in to whisper in his ear, and he felt her hot breath against the side of his neck and face. He never wanted it to go away.

“I’m sorry, Nik,” she said, “but you can stay with mother and me for now.”

“You don’t havea room for me.”

“You can share my room.”

Nikolai liked the sound of that. “Thank you so much,” he said. He embraced Anna and pulled her to him, and then he surprised himself by leaning down to kiss her. She surprised him more by kissing him back, her tongue parting his lips and her arms pulling them closer. Nikolai never wanted the moment to end, but it end it did.

“About bloody time,” Anna said, and flashed him the ever-so-slightly crooked smile that made his heart melt every time.