For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. — Alfred D’Souza
I like this quote. That’s not the whole quote; the rest of it is a preachy thing of the kind of sap that we may well expect from the guy who coined “sing like no one is listening” and the rest of those phrases. Yes, yes, freeing ourselves from fear of judgment is a good thing, but I have never thought ‘You know, I really like this song on the radio, but it would be way better if someone in my immediate vicinity with vastly less training and little ability to hold a tone were drowning it out like it’s 3am on karaoke night’. So there are limits and I think it’s okay if we’re aware of them. And this quote is good as it is already. It should be two reminders: one, that we can’t wait for the perfect moment free of distractions, but also that sometimes we do the distractions a disservice by thinking they’re just getting in the way. They are our lives too.
The next couple of months are going to be hectic. There is work and international travel and I am writing a book again. That last one is what I’m focusing on here. November is of course National Novel Writing Month, with its usual challenge to write a 50,000-word work of fiction in 30 days (averaging to 1666.6~ words every day; my record is about 3800 on a really good Saturday; I have met others who can do that in an hour or two). I have won this challenge twice so far – last November, and this past June. Given that the simple rules are obviously not beyond me, I’ve trying to make sure I actually develop new skills each time, too. The first time, NaNo 2011, I was just trying to seriously write again for the first time in about four years. (Apparently I could, but I was using an idea that I had been working over in my head for about five years.) In June, I was starting with a much vaguer plot, to see if I could improvise something based on little more than some core characters, and while I really enjoyed that, it meandered and lacked a core direction. Some of those scenes were deeply dull. (Others, especially those involving the superpowered heroine and her nonpowered girlfriend, were a font of delight, so I’m sure I’ll come back to them someday.)
This time, I flipflopped between a bunch of ideas before settling again on one that I first tried, in a very rough form, about a decade ago. To sum up, it starts out looking like a time-travel murder mystery set in a wizard convention before rapidly transforming into something more like Groundhog Day set in the Cthulhu Mythos.
The goal this time is to finish the story. I have substantial evidence indicating that I am terrible at knowing how far through a story I am – I have known this since I wrote on fanfiction.net, where the chapter I would set out to write as the finale would usually end up being the penultimate, and the actual final chapter would also be two or three times as long as the others. In my previous June novel, around the point when I hit 15 000 words, I determined that I wanted to get to a specific plot event around 25 000, and so should start nudging the action that way. Said event actually began around 40 000 by the time I got there. In my November 2011 novel, I worried a bit that the story wouldn’t fill up the whole 50K, only to discover that in fact when I reached 50K I had just hit what could reasonably be called the end of the second act and it was time for the last third of the story to start. At least, I think it’s a third. I haven’t actually finished that one yet, despite it being 11 full months since I hit the winning word*, which is why the goal this time, as I said, is to actually finish the story.
As with last November, I worry that what I’ve got won’t be enough to fill 50K, but no doubt by the end of the month I will find that is the opposite of the problem. What concerns me more is that I know about specific plot events that I want to happen and I am less sure about how to proceed between them, and I’ve never written a time-passing days-blurring-together montage before, so managing to express both the sheer length and repetition and not bore readers to death with grinding plot will be a trick. I am worried that I won’t make it, for one reason or another, and if I were going to pick a month to try to write a novel without NaNo, this wouldn’t be it, but like the quote at the top says: this is life. I want writing to also be part of my life. It’s best we all learn to get along now.
*With minor effort I managed to make the 50 000th word (according to Word) be ‘hooking’, which, in the context of my story and the local culture within, is a curse that pretty exactly lines up with our own venerable ‘fucking’. I don’t think anyone ever uses ‘hook’ in a sexual sense, though; it’s a relatively recent curse that dates back to the anti-magic inquisition a couple of centuries earlier, during which hooks were the approved weapon of execution. For the upcoming novel, ‘shuck’ will be used to similar effect—I got the sound as a portmanteau of two words (one starts ‘sh**’ and the other ends ‘*uck’) and I was delighted by the idea that, to them, someone saying ‘aw, shucks’ would be exceptionally obscene. For in-universe justification, ‘shuck’ is used as a synonym for ‘flay’ (like shucking corn!), making it clear why ‘oh, shuck me’ would be a negative. Worldbuilding is fun.