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.

a goal

Of goals made and goals missed.

As 2016 winds down, I guess it’s a good time to review my 2016 resolutions and see just how well I did with keeping them and meeting the goals I set myself. (Spoiler: Not very well at all). After reviewing those, I’m going to touch on another few goals and challenges that I had set for myself and my progress therein. First, let’s take a look at each of the individual resolutions and how I did with four days to go.

New Diet

I feel like the main aim of this one (to eat out less) was certainly achieved, as I’ve definitely cooked far more often at home, and my wife and I have documented that on our food blog. Though we did go for a while without updating the blog until we kind of dropped an archive of some of the year’s recipes towards the end of November and December. The minor downside is that things became less collaborative between my wife and I due to health issues on both of our parts at various times, so it became more individual efforts with occasional contributions, which is a pity because cooking together was one of our bigger couples activities. Hopefully we can get back on track to working together in 2017 as our health issues start to resolve.

2017 Goal: Continue in the same vein, with less delays on the food blog.

New Weight

Still working on this. I’ve maintained my weight at around 220 lbs. I’m still shooting for 200 lbs, and I’ve remained committed to the gym for cardio exercise. It had been a lot of treadmill work and stationary bike work, but the treadmill work has fallen off in the last month thanks to my having a broken wrist. You wouldn’t think that would affect treadmill running that much, and it probably doesn’t, but because I’m paranoid, it means I can’t grip the treadmill handles or hit the emergency stop button in the rare cases where that might be needed. Soon I’ll be out of the cast and able to rededicate myself to treadmill running, which I enjoy greatly as a kind of zen way to clear my head. I also use the Zombies, Run! app on my phone to make things a little competitive because I enjoy the idea of metrics and leveling up with any challenge I face.

2017 Goal: Still shooting for 200 lbs, and I have a jacker picked out as a reward if I get there.

Communicate Better

Yeah, I’ve pretty much completely failed at this one. I need to reach out to my parents and sister more throughout 2017 to try and re-connect with them instead of just kind of ignoring the contact details I do have with an “I’ll get around to it eventually,” which is the utterly horrible approach I’m currently taking.

On the plus side, I feel like I’ve done better by my son communication wise. In additional to seeing him in person on a regular basis (at least until this past month where, once gain, the broken wrist has interfered and made driving exponentially more difficult), I’m able to reach out to him between visits thanks to some social media interactions. Notably, he’s became a big fan of Snapchat, so it’s been great to send him a quick picture or video message through that. I need to do it more frequently still, but there have definitely been strides made in that direction.

2017 Goal: Maintain & improve communication with my son. Establish regular communication with my parents & sister.

Blog More

 

Let’s see, my initial target was to add an entry to this blog at least once a week throughout 2016, and this is the 52nd week of the year. If I’ve counted correctly, this is my eleventh entry of 2016, which means that i only missed this goal by forty-one entries, so I made it a whole 21% of the way towards my target. Amusingly, one of the projects I called out was my Supernatural blogwatch project, to which I managed to add a grand total of ZERO entries in 2016.

2017 Goal: Attempt to hit that once per week target. Have at least one season of Supernatural blog watch finished.

Read More

At last, a goal that I was able to achieve! I’ve been keeping track of my reading thanks to the Goodreads app. One of the things i like about that app is that you can set yourself a reading challenge target for the year. again, big fan of numerical metrics and competitive goals to meet. I’ve been increasing my targets by five books each year. In 2014, that was fifty books, in 2015 it was fifty-five. Fans of pattern recognition will realize that means that my target for 2016 was sixty books. And per that very same GoodReads app, I finished my sixtieth book of the year (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) on December 21st. this is in a bit of contrast to 2015 where I was cramming a couple of short books in early on New Year’s Eve.

2017 Goal: Ready sixty-five books. More non-fiction and less graphic novels. join a book club to read titles outside my comfort zone.

Write More

This started with the best of intentions and fell by the wayside as different life things piled up (the aforementioned health issues, moving to a larger apartment). For the second year in a row, I failed to complete the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I was actually close to getting back on track with that with a solid four day writing binge planned over Thanksgiving weekend. Then I broke my wrist and was basically unable to type or write properly for the rest of November. That means my 2017 NaNoWriMo attempt is going to have a lot of making up to do (see the goal below). On the plus side, I’m revisiting the historical fiction idea I had, and now have most of a year to gather and read the research materials to keep it a little more organized.

Outside of NaNoWriMo, I did get some more things written, even if they were mostly flash fiction pieces (a few of which made up those eleven posts for 2016…) and I also got more disciplined at outlining and planning out my story ideas. Hopefully, I’ll be able to translate that into more output for 2017.

Another thing that helped here was the establishment of a weekly writing thread on the Fark.com new aggregator website that I’ve been a member of forever. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get a story into the Start of Farkness fiction anthology that arose from those threads though.

2017 Goal: Complete at least 150,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (Equivalent to the 50,000 for 2015, 2016 & 2017) as 1-3 stories. Successfully submit a short story for a hypothetical 2017 Fark.com fiction anthology. Also, write more short stories/flash fiction and potentially draft one novel outside of November. Possibly invest in a copy of Scrivener software.

Game More

Well, I did game more than I had in 2015, but I didn’t come close to completing the “12 video games in 12 months” challenge, unless someone can recommend 10 ultra-short games I can finish in the next four days. I managed to finish two games in 2016, mostly because I’m not a big gamer, so it’s seldom been a priority for me. I was able to finish Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the original Secret of Monkey Island. I’m also very close to finishing off the original Portal, so I might be able to claim 25% of the goal by year’s end. I have taken advantage of some Steam sales to buy/download a few games for next year. As someone who’s not been a computer/video gamer, I haven’t played a lot of these older games, so I can catch up now without having to buy a new system by playing new-to-me games which have been published since around 1999…

I’m also going to some more tabletop gaming. My wife and I did play quite a bit of Magic: The Gathering, a couple of games of Munchkin and a lot of the DC Comics Deck-Building Game when it came to card-based tabletop entertainment. I’ve also purchased some actual tabletop role-playing games in order to run some games in 2017. You’ve probably seen the fruits of these purchases as part of the It Builds Character sub-series on this very blog (A new entry of which should be coming before year’s end.)

I’ve also finally given up on Games Workshop’s miniature war games as they’ve finally priced themselves out of my comfort zone. Of course, I haven’t abandoned miniature wargaming completely and am switching over to the World War II miniatures game Flames of War. So far, I’ve purchased but not painted or assembled my first few British forces for an Airlanding Company.

2017 Goals: Attempt the 12 in 12 video game challenge again, run at least one tabletop gaming campaign (probably Pendragon) either in person or online. Purchase and assemble enough Flames of War miniatures for two forces so that I can play a few games. Start a small Star Wars: Armada force.

Goal stock photo by Sander van der Veen.

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.