MOPNoWriMo Day 2: Planning And Wordcounts (31/1/2012)

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Day two: Target wordcount: 5700 (making up for yesterday). Words written: 5800

Actually a bit surprised to catch up today, but when the muse is in the zone, the muse is in the zone. I take these days when they come and am grateful for them, since there are also days when the muse is all hungover and surly from staying up too late and drinking too much at some all-night muse party and no amount of being flogged with a dead haddock will make her get of her lazy ass and inspire anything more than an intense need for chocolate.

Two full chapters today, a half-chapter and the start of yet another. Less talking, more fighting. Maybe that’s why. Also I like the bit where I threw someone off a cliff.

A bit about wordcounts then. Being a slave to wordcounts is a dangerous thing. It’s like being on a diet and then being a slave to the scales and waking up in the morning every single day and getting on the scales and seeing that OH MY GOD I PUT ON ANOTHER SIX GRAMS OVERNIGHT HOW IS THIS HAPPINING OH MY GOD MY LIFE IS AT AN END I AM SUCH A TOTAL FAILURE I MIGHT AS WELL EAT ENOUGH CHOCOLATE TO KILL AN ELEPHANT AND… er, I mean it’s easy to get disappointed and depressed and lose motivation. And stuff. Because like what the scales say each morning, the muse can be cultivated and directed but also fluctuates from day to day in a way that is completely out of your control and you might as well get used to it.

However, if you’re going to try and write a novel in a month or do the NaNoWriMo thing then you have a deadline and as soon as you have that, you have a wordcount target whether you like it or not, and as soon as you have that, seems to me you might as well pay some attention to how feasible it is. Especially when that count’s a big one. If you don’t know how fast you can write, it’s probably a good idea to find out. If it takes you six hours to write a thousand words, that’s how long it takes and there’s no point imagining you’re going to write five thousand in a day unless you have some very advanced ideas about space-time. Be realistic about how much time you actually have in a day for writing too. You might have thought I’ve done this sort of thing enough times not to cock up, but I’ve given myself five hours a day for Chromium which it turns out I don’t quite actually have, because there were various basic things like eating food and staring vacantly into space that I forgot to consider. I could, on a really good day, get done in three. On bad day, I’d need a time machine. I’m going for something that experience tells me I ought to manage, most days, to hit. Note also Mark’s comment on the yesterday’s entry. Write words at a rate that suits you, not the one that someone else said might be a good idea or the one that’s necessary to meet some ephemeral target in the three minutes of free time you have every day. If you don’t know what rate that is and you want to set yourself targets, I suggest finding out. Targets are there to help, to motivate, maybe for a bit of goading and definitely for a bit of feelgood when they get hit, not to stress, taunt and demoralise because they’re always out of reach. Choose them with care. Give yourself a day off now and then, too. These are important. They are for playing Skyrim (none today. I was good).

This really is shockingly like diet advice.

MOPNoWriMo Day 1: In the Beginning (30/1/2012)

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a.k.a. My Own Personal Novel Writing Month.

While (a tiny fraction of) the rest of the world observed national Novel Writing Month back in November, I was in the middle of a stack of rewrites for Dragon Queen. It was pretty cool watching lots of people racking up their wordcounts and a bit sad watching the agony for others as they found they simply couldn’t do what they’d hoped they could.

My situation is probably a little different to most of yours. Over the next month, I am aiming to write the first draft of a novel I shall call Chromium for now (working title). This is my day-job, my profession. I have about four weeks to knock up a usable first draft of a 100k word novel (bit of a packed schedule in the first half of this year). To be honest, I expect to fail and be content if it takes six weeks rather than four. Over the next month, I plan to give a day-by-day progress report along with hints, tips and the occasional rant and pulling-out of hair. I hope this might be either vaguely useful, informative or amusing, but I guess I won’t know that until I can look back on it from the other end. So here goes:

Some entries may be rather terse, as there might not be much time left in the day for the blog! Also, checking for typos and other errors may be, ah… minimal.

Day one: Target wordcount: 5000. Words written: 4300

Failure on the first day. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve seen people get despondent about this, when they get behind their wordcount target. Don’t let the wordcount rule your life. Yes, maybe you need one as a guide if you aim to write x-thousand words in Y days. But the muse comes as the muse comes and so does all sorts of other shit. You need to allow for that. I’ll say some more tomorrow about planning and knowing how much time you have in the day and how that translates into words. I had a bad night last night, felt grotty all day and spent an hour playing Skyrim when I could have been writing, and that probably made the different. And I don’t feel bad about it at all :-p

Today’s output: One full chapter and two half-chapters in which the principle characters talk at each other about what’s going on, what happened in the last book and some more about what’s going on. This was a really dialogue heavy day and it’s all pretty bland stuff. Today’s scenes have a fair amount of recapping of the previous book in the series (this being the second of three), too much talking and about as much atmosphere as the inside of a synthetic duvet. In short, they’re a bit crap and if I read this aloud, I’d be bored. I’ll say more about what a first draft is and isn’t and how extensive rewrites can be as this progresses; for now, for the early stages of a first draft, I’m OK with this – more than anything, what I want is for the characters to start having clear voices of their own, and for that a lot of talking is good. When the rewrites come along, I expect the dialogue to be pruned heavily and a great deal more atmosphere to be added to the locations.

Year of the Dragon (23/1/2012)

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The year of the Yang Water Dragon is upon us. Dragon years are lucky years to be born, to be married, to be, well, anything. Fingers crossed, it’s a good year to publish books with dragons in. We shall see.

Celebrating the year of the dragon, I’m offering readers of my Memory of Flames series a chance to be a dragon themselves. For the next fifteen days, I’ll take suggestions for names for dragons in the comments section to this post. The name I like best will appear in The Black Mausoleum alongside Blackscar.

Dragons have two names, as anyone who’s read the series will know. They have their “common” given to them by the dragon-riders who fly them – names such as Snow, Ash, Onyx, Unmaker, B’Thannan, Silence, Diamond Eye, Vengeance and so forth. Customs and traditions around naming vary from eyrie to eyrie.

Dragons also have the names that were given to them by the Silver Kings, long ago, names that they have forgotten but remember as the awaken from the alchemy of the eyrie masters. These tend to be names intended to capture a feeling or a sensation: Beloved Memory of a Lover Distant and Lost, Crisp Cold Shaft of Winter Sunlight, Black Scar of Sorrow Left Upon the Earth.

I’ll take either. Or even both :-)

Russian Problem Solving Technique and the Art of Writing (17/1/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

A long time ago in galaxy far far away, or so it feels, I once learned about a Russian methodology for solving technical problems. Genrich Altshuller’s Teoriya Resheniya Izobreatatelskikh Zadach, or the Theory of Inventive Problem solving. At the time I found much that appealed to me in this, and rather rated it. As a means to solve purely engineering problems, I still do, but it’s been an increasingly long time since I’ve had much call for it. Odd, then, that after reading that Strange Horizons review and the comments that followed it, I should find myself thinking of poor old Altshuller.

I’m not saying anything about the review itself. I’ve had worse, although perhaps not so coherent in its condemnation. The ensuing debate in the comments got me thinking, though. See the foundation of Russian Problem Solving Technique was an immense statistical analysis of Russian patent applications, and the thing I got reminded of was this:

  • About 1% of patents had breakthrough science at their core – i.e. they were based on something fundamentally new.
  • About 10% of patents were new applications of existing science – i.e. the technology was original but the underlying principles were not.
  • The remaining patents were modifications and refinements of existing patented technologies. I.e. they contained nothing really functionally new.

The Strange Horizon comments got me thinking how this applied to books. Now and then something startlingly different comes along, but its actually not all that often, and most books, really don’t push any boundaries. Same epic fantasy tropes, different magic system. Same space opera, different tech dressing. And if they tell their stories well, I think that’s OK, isn’t it?

I say poor old Altshuller, by the way, because he spent a good chunk of his time in the Gulag for his troublesome theories and later wrote a few science fiction novels, some of which doubtless received 1-star Amazon reviews.

Gemmell Awards 2012

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So here’s an excerpt of something of a work in progress.  Dragons are noticably lacking, it’s not something my editor has seen yet, and possibly he might never see it, since this is an as-yet-unfinished manuscript. I have quite a lot of those. It feels a bit more heroic than epic, this one, more swords-and-a-little-bit-of-sorcery-but-actually-mostly-axes and was sort of spawned by a visit to last year’s Jorvik festival.

Speaking of axes, the polls for the David Gemmell Legend Award for the best fantasy books of 2011 are now open. And I want an axe. No, really, I do want an axe, so vote for me, damn your eyes, ME! For I think The Order of the Scales really, really deserves it for the best fantasy cover art of 2011

(OK, yes, you’re actually voting for Dominic Harman).

For the best epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011. And yes, I did mean it about wanting an axe, thanks. I mean, it’s not like there’s anything else of any significance with dragons in on the list…


For the best debut epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Grumpy Jonnic is for someone who indirectly helped with various efforts to burn down Wales years ago. Hello Jon!

Grumpy Jonnic (10/1/2012)

Posted in Excerpts

Some days it seemed that every other Marroc in Andhun was called Jonnic. The harbour was full of them. There was Angry Jonnic and Laughing Jonnic and Fat Jonnic and Thin Jonnic and about a dozen others. Now and then, Grumpy Jonnic wished he’d been bald or red-headed or something else more obvious, but fate [...]

Happy New Year (3/1/2012)

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Uh, so here we are in 2012 and Santa was kind enough to land a copy of Skyrim on my desk and now I’m quietly watching all my delivery deadlines sail off into the wild blue yonder. Or white and snowy yonder, as the case may be. Ah well.

So what’s up for this year:

February 7th: The Order of the Scales comes out in the US and (I think) in France. The dragons made it to a couple of best-of lists again this year – over at the Ranting Dragon and an honourable mention at the bottom of the Wertzone Awards. You read these two pages, you realise what a lot of great fantasy we had last year.

April: The Warlock’s Shadow comes out in small form. I feel kind of sorry for the thief-taker and his boy – they haven’t taken off quite like the dragons did, but I love them just the same. The third book, The King’s Assassin,has been delivered but there won’t be any more in this series, not directly. However, as the Enormous Crocodile would say, I have secret plans and clever tricks…

May: Not sure of the dates, exactly, but The Black Mausoleum comes out around this time and I’m supposed to be delivering Dragon Queen. Dragon Queen is is going to be a bit different. And a bit bigger. Most of it is set in the world of the Taiytakei, but currently there are parts set in the dragon-realms, a part in Deepwater and some parts in Tethis, the centre of the action in The King’s Assassin. I say currently because it’s still in work, but Skyrim or otherwise, I shall make it my resolutino this year to deliver this one on time. Much more character-focussed than the first three books, this one. I hope.

Summer: Allegedly, all three volumes of the Memory of Flames come out in Germany, one each month. More news on that when I actually know.

The project-about-which-I-shall-not-speak is also supposed to be delivered. That’s more of a self-imposed deadline than anything else. More, er… Skyrim prone, that one. Three Sodium Hydride manuscripts before the summer holidays and I’ll be happy.

It’s also possible that The King’s Assassin will come out in August. Or maybe October. It’s delivered, that’s all I can say for sure so far.

Something might happen in Poland at some point. Chances are I’ll heart about it long after the event. In fact, all sorts of things might happen in the last third of the year. I’m hoping for some rather more exciting (for me at least) news for the back end of the year, but it’s an unceratin world and an uncertain profession, this authoring lark. Appearances at conventions and so forth might be a bit thin on the ground this year due to circumstances beyond my control (and not Skyrim, really really) but I’ll do as much as I can.

Anyway, happy new year, and I raise a glass to all you dragon-lovers! Cheers!