“The Adventures of Harry Marples – Harry Goes To Work” begins with Harry leaving his apartment without feeding his Siberian Forest Cat, Carol. When Harry tries to rush back to keep Carol sweet, he realises he’s also forgotten his keys. It’s not shaping up to be a very good day but Harry has to get to work for a Very Important Meeting. Will he get there in time? Or will a random photographer create havoc with a capital hashtag?
“The Adventures of Harry Marples” is available for free download via Smashwords for reading on your preferred device. It is also available for Kindle but sadly isn’t free over there (yet!). This short story is around 3300 words and takes an average of 7 minutes to read.
Get your copy:
Smashwords (free – for Kobo, Kindle or reading onscreen)
Amazon (not free – for Kindle)
I’ve also introduced “Red Inks” – my 2015 flash fiction collection – to Smashwords. You can find it here.
What they’ve been saying
“Epic! You know it’s a ripping yarn if it includes a reference to a Venn Diagram.”
“The mishaps of poor #hashtag Harry … Very amusing story, I’d be interested in reading a full-length novel about Harry Marples. Livingstone is a very engaging writer and leaves you wanting more.”
Who is Harry and Will He Be Back?
Although I can’t take credit for creating the protagonist’s name, Harry did walk straight into my mind, tweaking his hair and then checking whether his stubble could be considered designer or hipster (he hoped for the former). From there Harry’s efforts to get to work practically wrote themselves.
There’s a possibility that Harry will return for more adventures. I’ve already been working on ideas.
Please take a read and let me know what you think. What scrapes would you like to see Harry find himself in next?
Do you listen to audiobooks? I’ve become hooked. It provides more time to read because I listen while I walk or commute. I only read physical books before going to sleep and since I’m often exhausted when I hit the hay, reading is limited to a couple of pages. That’s partly why it took me over a year to read Dracula.
I started out with Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay, which was free on Audible. No, I said, I won’t be signing up to Audible. One book and I’ll be done.
A month later, I paid for a “one-off” book – Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. But by the time I’d finished that, I signed up with Audible and apart from my 1 book a month, I’ve paid for books that are under $2.
Then someone told me about Librivox (Apple version or Android version), an app with free audiobooks because they’re in the public domain i.e. books published before 1923 – think of the classics – so I’ve used that where I’ve finished my Audible book for the month.
A book that came up on my suggested list was “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When I was planning my walk around France in 2015 – read about it here – I was constantly asked if I’d read Wild or told that I should read Wild. But I didn’t want to read a book about someone who was walking in the bush. And walking in American bush at that. I was annoyed that there was an assumption that I must read about another woman’s solo walk simply because I was a woman solo walking.
This week, I finished listening to Wild on Audible. Then I watched the movie version. Then I read the comments/reviews on Goodreads.
I guess when Wild was published in 2012, a lot of people thought it was a guide to walking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and weren’t prepared to trudge through the author’s personal life. Some of the reviews from 2012 were scathing and focused on “I don’t care about her grief or thoughts, I wanted to hear descriptions of walking the PCT”. I’m not quite sure what I expected. I did know a few dribs and drabs from what others had told me: Her mum died, she took up drugs, had a lot of sex, her backpack was massive, and she threw her boot into the forest.
What I didn’t expect were the parallels between Strayed’s life and mine:
- Strayed and I are the same age
- Our mothers died when we were 22
- We both (effectively in her case) became orphans at 22
- Grief led us to some poor choices
- We took off on solo adventures into unfamiliar regions that helped in overcoming that grief – I wrote about mine here
- We both had strangers offer us extraordinary kindness while on said adventure – like Strayed, this was a constant feature in my trip
I loved the raw, open emotion that drifts through Wild. There were moments where my heart was racing in fear e.g. the frog scene and moments where I laughed out loud – which must have confused people walking near me.
Some of the reviews I read argued that Strayed’s writing was poor. I disagree. To take the story of your life and make it engaging and interesting to a stranger is a particular talent that memoirists struggle with. I felt that Strayed captured her own grief and threaded it into her narrative well. The characters came to life in her descriptions, particularly those she met along the way. I could picture them all.
Another aspect of Wild that I loved was the selection of books that she chose to read along the way – putting a new book in each re-supply box she had sent to her along her walk. A list is here. From James A. Michener’s The Novel to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov with some essays thrown in. With each box, I wanted to know what book she’d packed along with new socks and a fresh tshirt. Curiously, she didn’t pack herself new hiking shorts.
Book reviews are contentious beasts. Because we each read a book differently, I suppose. I loathe a book that my friend adored. I was consumed by a book, which I loaned to a friend who couldn’t get ¼ of the way through it. The experience or expectation of the Wild reviewers probably tainted the early feedback. I liked it a lot. The movie, while including a lot of the detail, missed vast chunks, including 2 encounters with bears, a charging long horn bull, a few rattlesnakes, plenty of the fellow walkers, a sibling and a step-dad. Reece Witherspoon did Cheryl proud though.
Listening to Wild has made me want to strap on a bigger backpack and take off on another adventure though.
Have you ever read a book that resonated strongly for you, or encouraged you to go off on an adventure?
Last week I penned “The End” on my latest manuscript, a book with a working title of “Pursued”. Even though I’m currently editing it, my brain has already set off to figure out the plot for Book 2 of this series. My plan is for it to be a trilogy.
It’s easy to get carried away with ideas and subplots and even dialogue on the next book because I want to continue the story. However, first things first, Book 1 needs editing.
I wrote 50 000 words for Pursued in the NaNoWriMo challenge, which you can catch up on here and here. When I tapped out “The End”, it had reached 71 000 words exactly. So much for my anticipated 5000 words to finish it after NaNoWriMo ended.
I love this story.
Where did the inspiration for this novel come from? Around 5 years ago, I came up with a concept for a character who had been cast out of the family castle and was walking across the lands on a mission for some mystery organisation. I knew the protagonist quite well and I was relatively familiar with her companion but I knew the story would be around 300K words if I told it all and even though I knew the ending, the middle bit was saggy. I gave up. I couldn’t figure out how to make it into a readable novel.
But I couldn’t give up on that protagonist. Marigold was almost alive to me. And yes, she did walk into my head with that name. Marigold floated around, occasionally kicking me, until I sat down to write the stories that make up Red Inks.
As part of a flash fiction collection, I could tell part of Marigold’s story in under 1000 words. Pursued is the first story in Red Inks and is one of my favourites. The feedback I received from quite a few readers of Red Inks was that they also love Pursued. More than one person said that they wanted Pursued to become a novel, including my sister, Elizabeth. She’s a hard task master so I knew I had to re-think Marigold’s book.
At the end of NaNoWriMo, and after I’d re-read those 50K words in March, I sent the manuscript to a couple of trusted readers for feedback. Thankfully, it was mostly positive. There were a couple of suggestions on story direction and characters that I took on board when I nutted out those additional 21K words.
I’ve changed her companion’s name and those of her siblings as well but Marigold insisted she would not be changing her name under any circumstances. Her main companion was re-named after a castle (see below for a hint).
I can’t wait for everyone to read book 1 of the Pursued series.
Sydney Writers’ Festival has wrapped up for another year. Seven days of workshops, interviews, panels and performance. I’ve been attending SWF for a few years and there’s always something to be learnt at the various events, whether it’s a great tip for writing, learning about a new writer or simply being entertained.
My week started with a 3 hour writing workshop run by children’s author R. A. Spratt (Nanny Piggins series, Friday Barnes series). I signed up eagerly to the “Writing Masterclass” only to discover it was aimed at people writing for kids. Oops! We focused on plotting out a murder mystery where, following the untimely death of her boyfriend in a scaffolding accident, an acrophobic stained glass artist arrives in the village to repair the local church windows only to be embroiled in the murder of the church’s priest. Was her boyfriend’s identical twin brother somehow involved or is he the crime solving hero? I’d really love to know how that story ended.
The theme of the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival was “refuge”, with a lot of panels and guests focused around refugees, race and identity. Sticking to the theme, I went to listen to NSW Australian Of The Year, Deng Thiak Adut. He’s published a book, “Songs of a War Boy”, which chronicles his journey from his village at age 6, taken by the army to become a child soldier, to his time with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and finally being rescued by the United Nations. He arrived in Australia as a refugee at the age of 14. He taught himself English, managed to get himself an education and qualified as a lawyer. Amongst all the horror – Deng described himself as “still broken” – the encouragement Deng gave to fellow refugees trying to survive in Australia was: “First, learn to speak Australian. Then learn to speak English.”
I’ve been a fan of Henry Lawson (1867-1922), poet and short story writer, longer than I can remember. His short story, “The Loaded Dog” was outrageously funny to my young mind. Later, I’d discover “The Drover’s Wife”. Of course, his poems are my favourite. I first heard ‘The Water-Lily’ performed in song form as part of a stage production based around Lawson’s life when I was 17. Its beauty and sadness got under my skin and I couldn’t forget it. I can recite that poem almost verbatim. When I booked tickets for a session called ‘Henry Lawson: The Drover’s Wife’, I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was that it was about Henry Lawson. It was a panel discussion featuring Frank Moorhouse, Kerrie Davies and Ryan O’Neill, who have all written books around The Drover’s Wife. The convener had problems keeping Frank from dominating the discussion – clearly he’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable on the topic of Lawson. The Drover’s Wife has been in the news a bit recently. Leah Purcell’s play – a retelling of the short story – won Book of the Year and the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting at the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards announced on 22 May 2017.
The Writing Race panel was bereft of Maxine Beneba Clarke, who had cancelled a day earlier, much to my immense disappointment. However, it was richly filled by Sri Lankan (Tamil) Anuk Arudpragasam, US writer Paul Beatty (2016 Man Booker winner) and Yugambeh woman, Ellen van Neerven. The convenor Roanna Gonsalves added great perspective while the other writers spoke on how race and identity influence their writing (or not).
By far my favourite event of the Festival was listening to Scottish writer, Ian Rankin in conversation with Australian crime/thriller writer, Michael Robotham, who, like me, was born in Casino, NSW. Robotham interviews in a chatty style that makes it feel like you’re sitting opposite him at the dinner table while he’s bantering with his guest rather than sitting in a sold out auditorium. It’s 30 years since Rankin published his first Rebus book and he proved himself a marvellous raconteur. That hour zipped by.
I rounded out my festival listening to Frank Moorhouse discussing the current state of affairs for writers in Australia (it wasn’t a pretty picture). He wrote a dire article for Meanjin to give you a picture of what was discussed. Happily, Frank spoke about his call to writing, the books that influenced him, including Alice in Wonderland, tales of publishing and how it feels to be interviewed for a biography on his life by two of his friends.
A joy of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, for me, is running into friends – writers and readers – however briefly. This year, yet again, I ran into my writers’ festival stalker, Andreas. Last year we found ourselves sitting coincidentally on the same bench at the end of the wharf eating lunch. In previous years we’ve been allocated seats next to each other in a Helen Garner talk and met in the bookshop. This year, we both attended Frank Moorhouse and then stood next to each other in the cafe queue. It was only slightly disturbing when Andreas’s wife said, “oh, when you said it was your stalker, I knew who it was straight away”.
Until next year, Andreas … and Sydney Writers’ Festival.
In my book ‘Red Inks’, I wrote a story titled ‘ON MOSI-OA-TUNYA ROAD’. This was based on actual events from my first overseas trip. That one event had an extraordinary effect on my holiday and my life, for a number of reasons – such as 13 years of being teased about my first trip to France – but its broader impact on my life, how I view the world and my place in it, makes it a story that I wanted to tell in Red Inks. I wrote this piece as a travel article that was never published. In it, I talk about two of the most important people in my life, whose kindness, support and friendship, saved my life. I am grateful to Zohra Aly, who edited it so wonderfully.
Jacarandas were in bloom as I checked the view from my Harare hotel room. The dawn light caught on the mass of purple flowers while a neon sign showed me the way to the ANZ Bank. It was my first morning in a foreign country. It was also the second anniversary of Mum’s death.
Grief had been my constant companion for two years. Dad died within six months of Mum, and six months after that, my Aunty died. Those jacarandas outside the hotel could have been Australian and that neon sign is common in Australia. But I wasn’t at home. I was in a deep hole of self-pity. It’s fair to say that I was angry at the world. I was 24. I didn’t know how else to cope.
Harare, Zimbabwe was a vibrant city at the time. An all pervading smell and taste of dirt served as a constant reminder that this part of Africa was struggling with a drought that had entered its sixth year.
With Livingstone for my surname, I was a curiosity to locals and fellow travellers alike. Was I related to Dr David Livingstone: doctor, missionary, explorer? Wherever I went, people remembered my name. Well, not my first name. I was simply called ‘Livingstone’ – at the bank, hotels, by police.
I flew to Victoria Falls, where a school friend had been teaching when I booked my trip. By the time I arrived, she was long gone, driven out by the drought. I was left alone to wallow in my destructive thoughts.
When I sat down to dinner at my Victoria Falls hotel, I’d already met and been shown friendship and kindness by other travellers, who shared dinner, day trips and the mist from Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). But they’d all moved on and I was eating dinner alone when I was approached by an American man, who introduced himself as Monty. He invited me to join him and his companions for a post-dinner drink.
Lorna and Julian were Brits, who met Monty a few days earlier on a kayaking trip on the Zambezi.
The next morning when I caught up with Lorna and Julian walking the kilometre into the town, I invited myself to join them on a bike ride across the border into Zambia to Livingstone. This was a town I was desperate to visit. The town museum kept Dr Livingstone’s travelling trunk and I wanted to see it. I should have felt ashamed for imposing on Lorna and Julian’s trip. I didn’t. Either they were extraordinarily polite or they took pity on the solo Aussie traveller.
Plans were made for the next day. Bikes were hired and small denominations of Zim dollars were acquired.
Once in Zambia, Julian and I clambered down to the base of Victoria Falls, joking about what we’d do if we were confronted by a lion.
Our adventure in Livingstone began with meeting two bold schoolboys, who chatted to us, not necessarily in English. Inside the museum, I was given permission to photograph Dr Livingstone’s trunk and its contents before my bicycle succumbed to a flat tyre. We found a garage whose employees expertly patched my puncture and sent us on our way. Being blonde, Lorna found herself the centre of unwelcome attention, stared at and her bottom pinched regularly. With my brunette locks, I on the other hand, felt rather ignored.
Zambia’s poverty was confronting. The bustling market was filled with stalls selling tomatoes, the only crop that seemed to be thriving. Unlike Zimbabwe’s fixation with Coca-Cola, the only drink we could find in Livingstone was Fanta. Not my favourite but I drank it anyway. We bought some bread to go with the tomatoes. Julian, however, was allergic to tomatoes, so a diet of Fanta and bread was his lot.
Cycling out of Livingstone, Julian steamed ahead of Lorna and me. When I announced I wanted to take a photo of a green sapling amongst the brown parched landscape, Lorna rode off to catch up to him.
I’d only been riding for a few minutes after taking the photo when three men suddenly appeared at the side of the road ahead. It was a common sight. As usual, I waved and said hello. Unusually, these men did not reply. They continued walking across the road.
‘I’m going to run into them,’ I thought.
As I approached, one of the men grabbed the handlebars and before I had a chance to dismount, another man had taken the bread and bag of tomatoes from the basket at the front, and ran away.
The third man whipped off my hat, sunglasses and waist bag – containing my passport and wallet – and took off too.
The first man’s interest was drawn to my daypack. My bike was on the ground by now and, in my panic, I decided there was no way this man would get my pack. It contained my camera, the most expensive thing I’d brought on my trip. In my family of seven siblings, I was known as the loud one and the biter, habits Mum hated. I screamed loudly as I hit the ground, lying on my pack as the man reefed at the shoulder straps. His arm reached across me, determined to get my pack off. It was in the perfect position for an equally determined bite. Sorry, Mum.
Both actions had the desired effect. He released my pack’s strap.
Events are garbled after that. Julian appeared from nowhere and ran off into the bush after the bite victim. A white woman was talking. A policeman arrived. He had a rifle pointed at my chest. Julian was back. The policeman diverted his rifle to the driver of a passing vehicle, who was told to take me to the police station near the border. Julian and the policeman took the bicycles and disappeared.
We stopped for Lorna, who was on the crest of a hill. Upon seeing me, she burst into tears.
‘I thought you were dead. I thought they’d killed you,’ she cried.
Something about the tears from a woman who barely knew me but cared enough to cry because I was alive made me see things in a different light. Maybe the world didn’t have a vendetta against me after all.
Hours passed before Julian and the policeman returned, unable to find the men who had attacked me. My drama wasn’t quite over. I had no passport and all my belongings apart from my camera were in a hotel room on the other side of the border.
I burst into tears – about the tenth time since the attack. Julian rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth.
“Stop being ridiculous,” he said. “If you saw how these people live, they have nothing and you’re crying about a passport? Stop blubbering and do as I tell you.”
It was like a verbal slap across the face. Until then, I hadn’t given much thought about the desperation of the people who had mugged me. I remembered how the first thing they’d taken was the food. They hadn’t threatened me or used weapons. They wanted to eat; to feed their families. Unlike me, they didn’t have access to a supermarket filled with whatever food they desired.
Julian’s words stung but they were the words I needed to hear. My parents were dead but I was still alive. I was lucky for what I did have. His words weren’t cruel or mean. They were necessary.
A few weeks later, I was back in that same hotel in Harare. Looking out the window, the jacarandas looked different with their flowers gone. I was different too, content with my place in a complex world.
Over the last few days I’ve been reading through the story I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo in November 2016. I honestly hadn’t even read any of it since starting the challenge on 1 November. I realised that the story needed more work before I even thought about finishing it. At the end of November, I didn’t quite reach the end of the story – estimating that I was maybe 5000 words short of the end. My NaNoWriMo buddies both finished their novels before end November.
What surprised me in my read-through were the little story arcs that I didn’t explore later. I guess I forgot all about them. Even though I’d written a rough plot for the novel before I began NaNoWriMo, it didn’t include that level of detail. I’m excited now to go back through and give the story some cohesion. I’m also going to pick out some of these intriguing story arcs to open them up.
Because this story is set somewhere around 800 years ago, I had to get a little creative in naming characters. Usually I don’t have any issues with names. They often introduce themselves as they walk into the story. I did take one protagonist’s name from a sandwich board sign outside a church for a yoga instructor. It meant my protagonist had to take up yoga as some sort of acknowledgment (self-imposed) but that was fine.
For my NaNoWriMo novel, I went to Welsh folk stories, Knights Templar history books, Cathar history books, and even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to inspire character names, place names and snapshots of the era. I also gathered some words from the Bundjalung language because the words were beautiful and their meaning was significant to the story. I wanted to weave the culture of many regions into my story to keep it from having an identifiable location from a map.
Some writers will run competitions to name their characters, or at least to give the competition winner’s name to a character. I quite like that idea. Maybe I’ll do that with some future project.
I have a feeling I’m going to need to do some serious plot planning for my NaNoWriMo book, tentatively named “Pursued” after the flash fiction story that inspired it. I may eventually need to figure out what sub-genre it fits within. It’s probably leaning towards low fantasy given that some form of woo-woo magic may come into play and it’s high on violence. I may need some genre advice once I’ve finished the writing of the novel.
Currently there’s no estimated release date for this novel, but I anticipate that it will be in 2018.
Over the last few months I’ve been thinking more about the act of writing. Where does it all start? I suppose before school when someone, likely Mum, stuck a pencil in my hand and insisted I write my name before I headed off to big school. Having a name that includes a tricky letter like S resulted in the predictable error:
When I was younger, stories were oral as well as written. My grandparents were wonderful oral storytellers. OK, let’s be honest, a lot of Pop’s stories came under the “bullshit” category but they were designed for entertainment. Equally, Dad told stories either in the form of long winded jokes or giving a rendition of some event he’d witnessed.
At school, to teach us to write, we were encouraged to create stories. Sometimes it was a telling of what we got up to on the weekend. And I guess that capturing of events led into letter writing.
If you’re born after 1980, it’s likely you never wrote a letter in your life. What a shame. Writing to friends and family in far flung places, which might be 100km up the road and receiving a letter back was the source of excitement and fun for young Sharon.
I used to write to girls I met on holidays or on school trips to an eisteddfod (well, only 1 girl I met at an eisteddfod – I was in a folk choir). I also wrote to my cousin Jacquii who moved all over Australia as part of an Army family. Our letters were 20 pages of rambling. Stories of school and home and love and humour.
My grandmother had a penpal for 70 years or thereabouts. They turned out to be the best of friends after they met in real life.
Times change though, don’t they? Letters are no more. Unless you exchange a Christmas letter with friends/family of course.
Emails took over. No stamp required and it was relatively instant. The personal nature was also lost. I could no longer see the handwriting of my friends. And the endless p.s, p.p.s, p.p.p.s turned into new emails. Nowhere near as much fun.
But emails, like letters, were still hubs of storytelling. Relating events into a narrative for entertainment and updates.
Along came social media and stories became shorter and shorter. Updates and entertainment has to be contained in a smaller space. Our attention spans aren’t what they used to be in the days of those 20 page letters.
I can’t knock social media too much, or the short stories we tell in that medium. I’ve come to know and meet in person with some wonderful people via Twitter, Facebook groups and Meetup. And when we meet, oral storytelling comes to life again.
And me and cousin Jacquii? Nowadays, we communicate in text messages. Best mates with a friendship that has grown from letter writing and storytelling.
NaNoWriMo is over for 2016. As you can see, I’ve been there, done that, got the certificate.
15.5 million words were penned by writers around the world during November. I contributed 50500 of them through a mixture of determination, encouragement and a shitload of Brazilian coffee beans.
Judging by the NaNoWriMo website, a lot of the 973 writers in Sydney failed their challenge this year with an average of 16000 words/writer logged. But that’s 16000 words that wouldn’t have been otherwise written. That’s something at least. I know one of our crew didn’t finish the challenge but she still wrote more than she would have without NaNoWriMo.
Fellow NaNo’er, Lisa wrote in her blog post that there’s “always time to write”. Isn’t it funny that we’re always so busy – busy, busy, busy – 11 months of the year but for one month, despite how busy we are, we manage to throw 1667 words onto the page every day. This surprised me.
My plan on 1 November was to rise at, ooh, 5.30am each day, breakfast and perform ablutions, go for a run, stretch (OK, these last 2 were never in my plans) and sit at the computer happily tapping out 2000 words before work.
What actually happened was … CHAOS.
November was not kind to me on the chaos front. Between celebrating Lily-May’s first birthday, catching up with a mate in town from interstate, usual work challenges and unusual stresses that I won’t bore you with, I was having some sleep issues (refer to stresses). Oh, and my computer died and had to be replaced (insert more stress) the day before NaNo ended.
Happily, I still managed to squeeze out my 1667 – some days it wasn’t quite that much and on other days it was significantly more. I never fell behind my par word count for the day. I feared that whole “come from behind” in the last 100m thing. I always was a lead-from-the-front runner and my NaNoWriMoing was the same.
There were times when I couldn’t keep my eyes open or they were crossing as I tried to focus on the screen. But still I pushed on. Lisa was right, there always is time to write. If you’re determined enough.
I mentioned that I fell over the finish line a NaNoWriMo winner thanks to encouragement. Encouragement comes from strange places. My work colleagues, clients and friends helped me by asking about my progress, asked for my daily word count, about the plot developments and someone even insisted:
“FFS, take a day off.”
It’s a motivator. Suddenly you’re not only letting yourself down if you quit, but all these lovely, caring people.
There was no way I’d have made it without my fellow NaNoWriMo strugglers. There is something about a shared struggle that forges bonds. I’m not going to draw a comparison between writing a rollicking story to surviving mud and bullets and bombs in war trenches, don’t panic. However, when midnight rolls around and your eyes are closed of their own accord and your email bleeps, it was great to see a few words from Peter or Lisa sharing how their writing day had or hadn’t progressed.
How did the story end up? Well, it isn’t finished. Somewhere in my imagination was a plan that around the 51K mark, I’d be jotting “The End” but that didn’t quite happen. At 50.5K, we’re ramping up to the climax of the story and possibly 5000 words shy of completion. I’ve put it to the side for a few days to cleanse myself of the manic-ness of November. And to catch up on sleep.
Apart from a lack of sleep, where were the struggles?
I hit a plot wall at around 38000 words. The story had slumped and I wasn’t sure how to recover it. In the end, I skipped the story ahead to where I knew it was going to progress. The magical 2nd draft will cure the story slump.
What are my tips for surviving NaNoWriMo?
- Don’t do it on your own. Either join an online community or get your friends or writing group involved.
- Get as much plotting, planning and character development done beforehand.
- Leave the serious research for before 1 November or after 30 November. Lisa went off on a journey to find out about toilets on board canal boats and we lost her for a week. Possibly in a sewage treatment plant.
- Don’t fall behind the daily par word count.
- Even if your words are crap, keep writing. The flow will return. And again, the 2nd draft will be when you sort out the problems.
Would I do NaNoWriMo again? Absolutely, yes.
Every November, writers around the world disappear into a universe called NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo started way back in July 1999 in San Francisco, USA but all writers love a challenge – the crazier the better – and it quickly spread to writers everywhere. I wouldn’t be that surprised if the Mars Writing Group is logging their daily word count too.
What is NaNoWriMo? The challenge is to write a 50000 word novel over the 30 days of November. That’s around 1666 words every day. Roughly.
So far more than 9 million words have been logged by writers around the world, with nearly half a million writers frantically putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Everyone has a strategy about how to get those 1666 words. My writing friend Lisa penned her theory and it’s a worthy read. Read it here.
This is my first NaNoWriMo and I haven’t slipped behind on my daily par word count as yet. It’s a pleasant distraction from other crazy stuff around the world. And by “pleasant”, I obviously mean “excruciating but probably worthwhile, maybe”.
If you’ve read my “Red Inks” collection, my NaNoWriMo manuscript is a continuation of the story “Pursued”. A woman carries a pouch with unknown contents across an unnamed land in an unidentified time. I’ve been having a ball chasing her around the mystery land and meeting up with all sorts of people – good and evil. Developing this short story into a full length novel was suggested by quite a few readers. It was always supposed to be a novel but I couldn’t figure out how to make it one. I had the beginning and the end and bits of the middle but it lacked cohesion. In truth, it made so little sense; it would have been a time-travel pseudo-romance fantasy historical novel. To prepare for NaNoWriMo, I wrote out a rough plot.
I never plot my stories except in my head.
Ahem, it seems as though a written plot was the answer to my problem on this story.
One excellent outcome of the NaNoWriMo phenomenon is that writers gather to discuss their writing – sometimes in person but often online. Four of my own writing group are undertaking the challenge. We email each other daily lamenting our writing patheticness or when we kick a writing goal (essentially getting beyond the 1666 words/day). We have also been entertaining each other with our first sentence and last sentence for the day. These two sentences can either make no sense or be hilarious. For example, I’ll share my last paragraph from yesterday’s word count with the panicked caution that this is a rough first draft (NaNoWriMo discourages editing during November):
“The man ran at me with a sword. Two daggers would have been most helpful at this time. I crossed my blades above my head in time to resist the sword. I used the impact to drive him backwards. He was strong and quickly had me taking three steps in the wrong direction.”
With over 24000 words already clocked up on this manuscript, I’m really looking forward to pressing on to 50000 and potentially publishing this story. And I’m excited to read the final efforts of my fellow writing group members.
As a side note, I will owe a debt to Brazilian coffee growers come 30 November. Their fine beans have seen me through many a creative stumble this month.
A couple of weeks ago I was on a debate panel at the annual conference of my professional association. Speaking in public was a moderate concern, as was articulating my argument. The major worry for me, though, was that I was supposed to be funny. Yes, this wasn’t your regular debate where points and counterpoints are argued with the aim of winning the debate. It was to be light-hearted with the emphasis on entertainment and fun.
The debate was the last item on a full day’s agenda for the conference, giving me all day to over-think my performance. I’d spent a couple of weeks writing my speech and standing in the living room rehearsing it. I wasn’t too worried that I hadn’t memorised it because I’d have my notes before me. I was worried I wasn’t going to be funny. It’s a lot harder to write funny stuff and get instant feedback from an audience than you’d imagine.
My latest manuscript is supposed to be a romantic comedy. I wanted to write something that didn’t take itself too seriously. My characters crept into my life and took over. They made me laugh. The male protagonist is brash and determined without any sense of privacy. The female protagonist is secretive and anally retentive.
A few days after my debate performance, I sent my manuscript off to a couple of people to read. The idea is that they’ll provide me with feedback on whether the story works, whether the characters are likeable and if the minor characters add to/detract from the story. Most importantly, is there any comedy?
I’ve given my readers a decent amount of time to get it back to me. And the anxious wait continues.
Appearing on stage at the conference, I was the second speaker. The first speaker was drawing a lot of laughs. I stared at my notes, hastily re-written and modified over a calming coffee during the lunch break, and again during the final afternoon tea break when I realised my ending was not going to work. My speech was too serious. It’d never get any laughs.
Then I was introduced in the wackiest way possible — with a faux biography. From there I remembered not to wander about the stage or shift my weight repeatedly. I didn’t scratch my face or tug at my hair. Timing in the delivery of the funnier parts of the speech was perfect.
And people laughed.