Nanowrimo and the risks of research

nanowrimo‘Stretch goals’ we used to call them, when was that? The 90s maybe, then ‘audacious’ goals and then goals somewhere along the line morphed into either challenges or indicators – depending on if you get paid for delivering them. Nanowrimo is a challenge that stretches what you think might be possible for you to achieve within the arbitrary timeframe set for your challenge by the rules of the game . There are lots like it (Inktober for example) and nearly all of them hold their traps and risks. In Nanowrimo, one of the demoralising traps is ‘comparisonitis’ and a risk is ‘research paralysis’.

Nanowrimo and ‘Write what you know’

You’ve probably heard the advice to ‘write what you know’ and during the NANOWRIMO challenge it makes sense because you probably don’t have time to research the thing you want to set your story in or around. If it is fantasy, no worries, make that stuff up and move on (this can be tiring, but there are heaps of tricks to this). You might think you’re off the hook with Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) but oops, not so. Readers are wonderful, clever people with all their attention on your world.

You better have a decent excuse for how that spaceship got to where it is if you expect any of your other technological excuses to fly too. ‘Continuity of world’ is so very important. Readers don’t mind suspending disbelief in one or two areas in the name of entertainment, but you cannot afford to jolt them away from your narrative with broken edges or logical gaps they fall into and cannot get out of.

Nanowrimo can feel like a sprint when you’re trying to get down dialogue between your characters or descriptions of their world, but the moment you come to a real world detail that you know is going to matter, unless you already know it, you stop and check. If you’re experienced at this particular game you do not do this, you simply put in your own code for ‘check this detail later’ (BARNACLE for example – anything you can do a ‘find’ command with) and keep moving because you know that to stop now for research is a terrible risk to run. A risk you probably can’t afford to take.

Research is not writing

Oh it feels so good to be learning something and you just know your characters and plot are going to explode with this fantastic detail you’re getting! Trouble is, oops, where did that hour go? And that one? You’ve only got a limited amount of time for writing and every time you hit up Dr Google to help you with a name for someone or a town or any detail you know you need, you’re going to be distracted. There’s 20 fantastic search results in less time than it took you to hit enter. Even skim reading those is taking your mind away from building what you were going to say next. Research is awesome and one of my favourite parts of writing, but honestly, when you’re up against the clock, indulging in it is a bit of a rick. Type in your best guess, whack a BARANCLE to it, and move on.

Happy story telling everyone.

Buried stories – digging in nanowrimo

Ready to writeCreative writing is an act of faith. It is, of course, also a process and work and I will be taking my own advice in those regards but none of that can happen without the trust that inspiration will come. Do you believe in your muse? Do you have a creative faith that you can form something with your mind or hands that didn’t exist yesterday?

Turning up ready to be inspired, making the time and the space for it to happen, listening closely for those soft but magical words “what if…” those are all the ways that stories begin to edge their way into the world. By the time I’m inside that story, I don’t feel that I’m creating it but rather that I’m digging up something my muse buried for me.

That’s when it is going well. It doesn’t always go well.

Last week I was so sick that I didn’t feel like writing. Actually it was worse than that. I wanted to and couldn’t. I wanted to draw some meaning from being ill, to find some message we could all tuck into our hearts and feel positive about. There was nothing. It wasn’t ‘writer’s block’ so much as ‘writer is empty’. Obviously, if one is not writing, one is not a writer. It is with great anticipation then that I look forward to the culmination of my course of antibiotics and of October with the deeply held hope that November will fill me up again to overflowing with words.

November is the annual National Write a Novel Month (Nanowrimo for short) and you’ve heard me be a fangirl about it before. It is a challenge that gives some extra purpose and pleasure to my life, even though it has never yet resulted in a published story (although for hundreds of participants each year it does exactly that). Every year I try and dig up some tasty fiction. It is a choice I make knowing that I might fail (and knowing that I will feel like a failure anyway), that I will have to give up other things in order to do it, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter.  I do it because I love it. It makes me happy to try.

It is uncomfortable to admit that I don’t know what might come (or not come). I have my ideas and themes, my egoic attachment to producing a single, 50 000 word chunk of fiction during November. I have faith that something will come along. I am here in my chair at the keyboard typing that prayer out to you right now.

Hear me Muse! Lead me to a buried treasure!

Rough seas leave me stormwrecked

stormwreckedEvans used to say “Rough seas make for seasoned sailors” and give a little whistle when the new crew went that grey-green and ran for the head. He was forever telling others to look on the bright side of scurvy, no rum and being stormwrecked a long way out to sea. I almost wish he’d made it through just so I  could see how he’d whistle now.

But Evans is long gone, he went in the first days, back when our world became stillness. Those weeks of glazed water and silent sails that weakened us all. Nothing has gone right since we took on the new cargo. Clouds hang low on the horizon even now that we’re on our knees, clinging onto what’s left of the mast and muttering a prayer to anyone we think will listen.

Once we cheered when the first breeze returned. By the time we realised the breeze was a wind sent from the depths of never and would build into a storm beyond reckoning it was too late to attempt reason. My map was torn away in the very beginnings of that tempest two, was it three days ago? We’ve since drifted, flung, catapulted far from any course even an albatross might remember. The cargo moans. Low in the water we hang, and slosh in the heavy weather and low in bowels of each us we feel rough water coming, rough water churning.

Even my first mate, ever stalwart and steady, this week deserted his post and wouldn’t meet my eye. Dry rations, silence where there should be warmth and nothing but the cold cold comforts of frail hope in long dark.

Then came the depths of the storm and even our shadows fled.

All was elemental. Screams and silence merged. The promise of the sun was a myth to tortured, stormwrecked souls. Was it eternal, that storm? Are we in it, even now, as a feeble sunrise denies the horror? Is it death and we will live forever in the tides of destruction and despair visited upon us by the impersonal wrath of an unleashed ocean? The cargo is reclaimed.

The depths have their own harmony that cannot be gainsaid by any Queen or Emperor yet they insist on the hubristic attempts, leaving ants like soaking in rough seas stormwrecked, broken and lost. Remember me, if you can, I am lost at sea.

(image credit)