Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nanowrimo 2014

Oh boy. It's been two years since I updated this blog and it's a good one. Just to catch you up, I had some financial issues that led to some health issues and logistic problems. I live in San Francisco on a limited SSI income in an SRO - Single Room Occupancy residence hotel. I love this place and the rent is affordable. It's tight though, so rising food costs and other expenses ground me down and I had serious trouble eating till I got onto a hot meals program from the local Salvation Army. Five days a week, minus holidays, I get a good organic hot lunch from them and that closed the gap.

I also used to see a therapist every week on Mondays. From going out maybe once or twice a year in harsher climates, I went up to six times a month on necessary medical appointments with others thrown in as needed - usually by bureaucrats or doctor's demand. In my first six months I had to go to many more because of various things I was doing. I wore myself down. IT takes years to completely deplete my body energy but when I'm living on a cumulative net loss and overexerting myself, it will eventually catch up with me. I wound up shutting down more and more aspects of my life because I didn't have the energy for it. I slept like my cat.

Part of that was a change of therapist. My first one did me a lot of good and helped me like a case manager. Julie even hooked me up with the food program. However, the second one, a good therapist, relied much more on methods that don't work well with my physical disabilities. I gave it a good long try and we explored every possible solution within his skills but had to quit.

The program changed its rules so that long term therapy wasn't supported so we couldn't go on with the method that does work. Talk therapy unraveling past traumas with full understanding of their causes and scars helps and always seems to point to the same thing.

Either my physical disabilities, especially when untreated and undiagnosed, distorted my relationships or the necessary adaptations I made to be able to function at all made me very hard to live with. Many things most people enjoy are difficult or impossible. I limp to a different drummer. I'm not a loner by personality. I'm a sociable, gregarious person who enjoys being around people in any positive situation, but only when I'm physically up to socializing.

In person past a certain level of pain or loss of energy, I'm not fun to be around. I get foggy and confused. Fibromyalgia can reduce me to unintelligible so fast if I get an emotional shock. I had to give up debate in person and eventually altogether.

Now I post my views online just to air them and don't read the discussion that comes after unless some positive comment gets to my inbox. I will be one of those authors who has to pre-filter his reviews or just not read them because it's not worth getting sick over it when my book isn't to someone's eloquently expressed taste.

Crowds are right out of it. I literally can't keep up moving with the crowd. I'm not afraid if I'm up on the podium doing public speaking, because they're not running right at me. I can open up there at my pace and get entertaining. But I will not be in time if I try to sing with a chorus or be able to stay on my feet throughout the song.

I can't live on the clock. I thought I could live on the calendar but if I get sick, a long slow recovery time knocks me off that. I thought I could do deadlines. The only way that works is if I'm already done and that's just a matter of when to release it. There is no way my body will allow me to behave in a professional manner. I am not and never will be business class.

That doesn't mean I won't write or publish. It means that has to come on my schedule and I live on Indian time. It's done when it's done. When it hits print it's done and there will be no more changes unless I decide for my own reasons to make some years later.

Raven Dance is slated for a tightening rewrite, an afterword about real life inspiration and most of all the natural break into two volumes that comes when the timeline has about a year gap from the end of the previous chapter to start of the next. I just sailed into the sequel without realizing it was another book and the structures are complete. If all I did was come up with a book one title and break it, that's the kind of change that can work.

All the rest, old or new, are still unpublished and thus Not Done. I'm working on a rewrite of Chazho, which is book one of my Piarra series. It has a mountain of backstory and over thirty other volumes in that setting.

I still participate in Nanowrimo and I won again this year. For several years I've been doing stand alone books for Nanowrimo with an eye to more varied fare for readers when I start releasing all of them. I still love those, especially Sabertooth. They're cooling for rewrite and what I need to for a successful career is hone my editng process till it's as smooth and familiar as my drafting process.

One problem with this is San Francisco weather. November is one of my worst months here. The start of winter gets rainy and cold. Not snow like the rest of the culture but a bone-aching chill that sucks down my energy into pain and kicks fibromyalgia up into a huge continual flare at every pressure change. I sleep like my cat and can't concentrate in November.

So what I did last year was try a difficult genre I'd never done before - steampunk. I like Victoriana. I like some steampunk novels. The clothes and stuff are cool. I cannot figure out what I don't like about it since it's a style that lends itself to Dickens Revival! I could even tackle economic issues in it well, focusing on the echoes of the Gilded Age in our times. Yet I didn't exactly do that and the book barely got to 50k. I'm not sure if I even wrote the ending or halted in exhaustion on making it past the winner line. It needs more work and hard work to get it right.

This year I thought "Hey, why not Horror?" Wonderful title: Fear This. I picked a classic subject, Serial Killers and then my protagonist became a wonderful antihero who's basically a traditional Female Serial Killer: Vigilante... then the supernatural came in. Whoohoo! Awesome, it's genuinely going to surprise readers, it's myth gone wild, it's true to source as I can get it but breaks some ugly stereotypes. It's a good book.

I also had three to five day gaps between scenes or chapters staying on track. I got to 21,210 at a point I was supposed to be getting close to 30,000 and the freeze set in. I wasn't going to make the numbers on Fear This. 

NaNoWriMo was a cakewalk most years. I've done Three Day Novel Contest officially three times and unofficially most years. I've written a 75,000 word Three Day Novel, a comedy with kids and bed monsters, that came out as a good stand alone book. That's my natural process and speed.

When I tackle a difficult subject during bad weather the result isn't guaranteed. So I realized I should just take Wrimo for what it is and write a bad book that could give me some good ideas or a workable rough draft. I dropped all the pressure that was choking me on Fear This and titled my goof-off project Pure Self Indulgent Tripe just to remind myself what Nanowrimo is for.

You don't get a good book on the first draft. You get a first draft that can become a good book once you polish it and throw out what isn't needed - in my case, sometimes that's one in three sentences to cut it to size. I write like an Impressionist painter. Get an idea, then throw it out there into a file working fast and intuitive. Try to get it down really fast while the idea is hot. Tell the story to myself first and then see how it looks when it's done.

From the first chapter's goofy reminiscing in first person to the second chapter introduction of a character from the old series - or rather from its backstory, he wasn't who he said he was - I was back on Piarra with my Byzantine royal intrigues, complex multi level plots, character driven stories and huge cast. Not all of them got on stage. Enough of them did that I now have a good idea what the characters are actually doing now rather than what they were doing in 2000 on and around Contact Earth.

Whether I retitle, rewrite and publish Tripe as its own book isn't relevant. I could easily treat the whole thing as a character study and world building exercise to get a better look at my series as a whole. But I won Nanowrimo a couple of days ago doing it and that brought back my mojo.

I have to have fun. I can't work on it like I'm trying to do a commission of something I'm not very good at yet. I can let the wordstream flow if I'm sick but only if I am so engaged in the story that I'm lost in it feeling the endorphins of process. If it's hard work, it may come out well but it has to be done more like photorealism - carefully look at this story and pick it out, get it precise, get almost perfectionist about its details to make it work.

That's not a reason not to do it. It's a reason not to do it for Nanowrimo. Wrimo is supposed to be a break, an annual vacation of the mind. Lose myself in a good book by one of my favorite authors, me. I like horror but my daughter brought up something telling about Horror and Fibromyalgia.

"Dad, if you scare yourself you're going to flare and get sick."

Duh. She made sense. So the Horror novel is now a slow back burner project. I might even outline it because writing it was so much less intuitive. It came out just as well outlining as "pantsing" so that may help me complete it. Get the gist of the plot down while I still know it, so I can pick it up later. Sketch and trust the sketch to be reasonably well balanced.

In art, sometimes I just sketch fast and layer color and work before the light changes in pastels. Sometimes I measure carefully and sketch in erasable colored pencils and do a watercolor underpainting neatly setting under layers to each area of tone and color, then layer Prismacolors 20 to 30 times to get a rich glowing realism painting achievable in no other medium. They are different processes, one fast and one slow. If I look at difficult books that way and difficult genres that way, I may succeed in those ambitious projects.

Just as long as there is no deadline for their completion, I'm good.

If you're doing Nanowrimo, don't forget to have fun. That's the moral of the story and what I learned in this year's marathon. Every year I do it, I become a better writer. If you hate the trash you wrote when you got the Winner's Certificate, stuff it in a folder to look at the idea again later or edit when you cool down and see what made it worth doing. My advice on that: don't throw it out. You don't know what your best work is until it's in print and other people say it is. You can't tell what worked or not till you master a skill consciously that you might have been using intuitively. Learning in the arts is lifelong.

What comes out best sometimes hurts most getting it down or takes the most effort because that's challenging your deepest self. Or it comes spilling out casually when you're not thinking about it because you're not choking on fear of failure or fear of success or fear of yourself.

I faced my killer instinct in Fear This and backed off to give that a slow nuanced long look. I have to look back very young to remember what it was like to think killing someone would be cool. I came a long way on nonviolence. Because I did, I looked at the cripple in the mirror at the top of Tripe and blew past that fear fast because he wasn't as ugly as the serial killer I would've been if I took the wrong turn as a child or had a slightly different brain chemistry or just sheer luck of the situation.

A good dose of something I couldn't handle made the other fear an easier leap, coming up with the No Brainer: I hate being sick and I would be very glad if I could get cured of it, especially the fibromyalgia that knocked me from Marginally Functional self employment down to Cannot Work. It may become a very nuanced look at that if I rewrite it and so I'm letting it get long to let that plotline expand, that character growth.

Truth is, a good chiropractor would do me as much good as a good therapist right now. Massage therapy works wonders and chiropracty is a Reset on my skeletal problems. It's palliative but efficient, twice a month getting that when I can afford it is likely to double my working time at everything. I grew up believing every symptom was psychological and in the last couple of good therapists came to understand how much my mind is shaped by my body.

Foods I don't like turn out to be allergies or sensitivities. Activities I hate turn out to have been real dangers or overexertion and injury every time. Even the way I feel about churches boils down to hard pews and ritual calisthenics standing and kneeling and doing things in unison - something that most human beings find spiritually uplifting causes me nothing but pain and grief. I limp to a different drummer. To be a good author I have to also get into the head of people who can get something out of church, run in marathons for fun, feel safe enough to seek thrills to break the boredom.

So I'm getting something out of Nanowrimo and if you haven't tried it, go join and find out what it is. There are other events later in the year, a summer Camp Nanowrimo is an early run that might be very good for me to catch up on difficult projects. April has a script writer thing. There's plenty of ways to participate. If you are doing it, no matter what you got is more writing and more practice than you had. If ou didn't finish your novel you still have some days to do more of it or finish, if you don't win you migt finish later - or just be one step closer to finishing with that much more practice to make you better next year.

It took 20 years to finish Raven Dance's rough draft. After I finished a much shorter comedy I did on the spur of the moment, I was able to go back and finish it right despite terrors it was the worst thing I'd ever created. The highs and lows were both true. It was the best thing I'd ever done. It was also the worst thing I'd ever done, for the same reason, it was the first big novel I ever wrote even if the little quickie hit The End faster.

I'll stop here because I'd go on into technical advice about pantsing, how to write rough drafts fast and easily without looking down. That's an article in its own right and a good topic for my next essay. Thanks for your patience. I'm back now on my feet or at least my wheels and ready to type.

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