The Bookwyrm's Hoard
50347 words long
whining intensifies but so does determination
Hi. It's been another week. Almost two. And I'm still having trouble keeping the novel on my radar. This certainly has to do with all the time management problems I strategized about last post, but only in part. There's another problem larger than all of those combined.
The self-appointed gurus of writing with their demoralizing pronunciations that pass for "advice" like to say that no real writer would have trouble finding time to write. If you want to write, they say, you darn well make time, and if you don't, well, you must not want to write that badly, huh? And despite the utter toxicity and privilege behind that so-called advice, I must grudgingly admit that in this very particular case, it's applicable. I don't want to work on the novel. When I think about the novel, I do not get excited. I fill with dread and embarrassment instead. So, no, I don't go out of my way to make time for it, and I often forget even to put it on my daily timesheet.
And for once it's not just the usual miasmic avoidance dread that afflicts almost every project I work on at some point or another. No, this is very specific avoidance dread. It comes into play for a very specific reason. That being, this novel sucks.
No, it really does. I'm not just suffering from revision pessimism when I say this. No. This novel draft is really, really terrible. And it's not just because I spat it out during National Novel Writing Month. I've got plenty of NaNoWriMo drafts from over more than a decade of participation, so I've got some basis for comparison here.
The main problem is, the main character is unlikeable. No, this isn't just widespread social misogyny speaking. She's actually kind of horrible. She does and says and thinks horrible things off-hand, and it's got nothing to do with how I envisioned her character or what I was trying to do with her character arc. There are so many places where my margin notes say "Stop that. That's obnoxious." and "Gah, I hate it when people do this in real life, why is Gwen doing it?" I think mainly I was just trying to log my daily 1,667, and I guess I got a bunch of wordcount out of letting her indulge in whatever behavior enraged me the most about certain people I had the misfortune to encounter repeatedly that month? (Note to self and others: Being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison does not oblige you to endure bullying and bigotry at your write-ins in the name of Being a Gracious Host.) So the more I examined the 2006 draft, the more I realized what a jerk my protagonist was, and the less time I wanted to spend in her company. Thus I find myself avoiding the novel now.
So that's the big problem. There are others, none of them particularly daunting on their own. It's set in New York City but the people behave like they live in a stereotypical rural small town. Fine. I can fix that. There are so many ways I can fix that. I have no more idea how the story ends than I did in 2006, but that's fine. That's a story drafting issue, not a revision issue. Story drafting is my favorite part of this writing gig. The motivations driving two of the major side characters are implausible, to say the least. Cool. I'll brainstorm on it. Brainstorming is fun.
These are all fixable things! And they should be fun to fix. But during the read-through, the combination of the plot's aimlessness and the protagonist's horribleness rather dampened my enthusiasm. So I've been avoiding the whole shebang.
I mentioned other drafts. Maybe I just chose the wrong draft to spend time with? Maybe I should pick up one that I'm more excited for, one that's objectively less terrible? Maybe... but revision pessimism is still a thing, even if it isn't the only thing. I'm dreadfully afraid that whatever novel draft I pick up with the intent of Finally Finishing a Novel, time spent examining it will leave me similarly unenthused.
So this is the novel I'm going to work on, despite my misgivings. The Bookwyrm's Hoard. And I'm going to work on it by pretending I'm not revising an existing draft at all. The existing draft is just a 50,000-word outline, a collection of story ideas, a place from which I can start writing a brand new story. A story that happens to share mostly the same characters, setting, and premise, but a new story nonetheless.
And new story ideas are where I'm a superstar!
but i guess temptation was strong and i was weak
So the thing about the novel is, it's a NaNoWriMo novel. As such, it's got certain features that are making it a challenge to edit.
Way back in the day, when I was more active on the NaNoWriMo forums, there was a particular category of "advice" that popped up at the beginning of the month. "When you're reaching for 50,000 words, every word counts," certain contributors would say, "so make sure you spell out every contraction and every acronym! Write 'do not' instead of don't, 'Personal Identification Number,' instead of PIN. Be conscientious about this and you'll hit 50K in no time!"
This would invariably make me *facepalm*. I mean, fine, if you think of NaNoWriMo as a game, there's nothing wrong with wordcount-padding strategies to help you win it. But if you think of NaNoWriMo as the motivation to finally write the first draft of an eventually publishable novel, why in heaven's name would you send your character to use an Automated Teller Machine on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Why would you strew your first draft with litter when you'll only have to clean it up at the revision stage? I mean, yes, first drafts aren't perfect, sure, and sometimes you do babble out any old thing as a placeholder for those names or details you'd rather not break your current flow to research. But that's a different animal than deliberately inserting crap that A. you know is crap, and B. serves no purpose other than to pad your word count!
Look, I compose my drafts on 4thewords. Every day is NaNoWriMo when you've got monsters to battle. The interface counts words as they are typed, rather than words I commit to saving, and yes, I will take all sorts of advantage of that. I will happily babble and keyboard-smash my wordy way into a story idea. But that babble is actually serving a purpose. I think out loud on the page; that's the only way I find out what I'm thinking. If the babble weren't genuinely part of my process, if it weren't serving my art and my career, then I might as well win my monster battles by copy-pasting Wikipedia entries for all the good it would do me.
So. Those are my holier-than-thou thoughts about NaNoWriMo. So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I, too, was playing the game of Wordy For Word Count's Sake back in 2006. And, y'know, I'm pretty sure I knew that's what I was doing at the time. Maybe I wasn't omitting contractions or spelling out acronyms, but I was definitely--just for instance--having my protagonist list the songs on favorite albums, or having her say in quoted dialogue something that she'd already told the reader via first-person narration. I was absolutely padding my wordcount with crap that I knew was crap and that served no purpose in the draft or to my process, except inasmuch as my process was "win NaNoWriMo."
And now it's my job to clean it up.
Thanks, past me. Thanks awfully much.
In other news, the granny square afghan continues apace. Here, pictured above, are the squares I've begun or finished, laid out according to the pattern's directions for assembly. I think there's a metaphor in there for assembling a second draft novel out of first draft scenes, but I don't really feel like going into it. Dealing with the novel itself is hard enough as it is; I don't need to deal with it on the meta level as well.
talk about foreshadowing
About that novel: The easy part is almost over.
I have imported into the new Scrivener project seven chapters comprising in total 13 scenes and 26,455 words. Since the entire novel is just over the NaNoWriMo finishing line of 50,000 words long, that means I've imported half of the existing novel in about a week. Taking it slow, remember. Reading each scene through and jotting down notes along the way.
The problem is, my notes are already saying things like, "You don't know either, do you?" and "Ah, still need to figure this out, I see."
In one of the scenes I imported today, a teenager, Tess, says to the protagonist, Gwen, "Have you found Mrs. Nimbel's quill pen yet? It's important!" and Gwen says that no, sorry, she hasn't even had a chance to look for it, what with trying to save the bookstore from a really nasty and unfounded reputation in the neighborhood, trying to stay alive long enough to do that, and, oh yeah, trying not to miss the deadline on her next book. "Can you tell me why it's so important?"
This is where the reader (who is me) says Yes, please tell us! What is up with the damn quill?! And Tess... does not tell us. She says, "You mean you don't know? You expect me to believe you practically grew up in this bookstore, and now you own the place, and you don't know? You don't know anything, do you?" Whereupon she runs off in a passion and loses herself among the bookstore shelves.
Which is where I say to the author (who was me), "You don't know either, do you? You never figured it out at all. Oh crap. That means I'm going to have to figure it out. Great."
So, yeah. I'm only halfway through the easy part in terms of word count, but I'm very much almost to the hard part in terms of content. I'm very much almost to the part where I have to come up with the answers I failed to come up with fourteen years ago. And then I'll have the harder part still to do, which is to make it all hang together as an actual novel I might consider sending out to agents someday.
See, I remember thinking up the quill. I remember being so damn proud of it. I'd gotten to one of those middle-of-November crisis points where I had no idea what to write next, so I pulled one of my usual tricks: I reread my material so far looking for a throwaway detail that I could make into a plot point. I found a description of Mrs. Nimbel's desk with its permanent inkwell, and how Gwen remembered watching her dip a quill pen in that ink to write special notes and letters and even sign credit card slips. Ah-ha, said I, that quill pen will be the engine that drives the next third of the novel! It's gone missing, and Gwen has to find it in order to save the bookstore! I'll figure out the details later.
I guess later is now.
Amusingly, when Tess comes back out from among the shelves with a book to buy and an apology for her tantrum (which Gwen, not being a total jerk, meets with an apology of her own), she and Gwen exchange email addresses so they can talk about it later. You know what that means, right? Come on. What happens in pretty much any story full of intrigue when a secondary character has vital information but, instead of revealing it right away, tells the protagonist that they will have to tell them later?
Well, no. There will be no underage deaths in this book. But Tess is probably going to have to be the next kid to go missing, isn't she?
If I didn't write that in the first draft, I'm damn well writing it into the second.
one hundred words closer to upgrading my SFWA membership
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
I have happy news today! One of the three stories that sold back in January has now been published--it is online where you can read it and everything! "The Rarest of Prey," what I've been referring to as "that tacky little unicorn drabble," is now live for your reading pleasure at Daily Science Fiction.
Meanwhile, I continue plugging away at all the daily and weekly writing tasks...
This morning's freewriting session resulted in a couple potential poems, one about the pandemic, the other about prejudice, and both depressing as heck. (Sometimes poetry is like that.)
This week's Friday Fictionette is slowly but steadily taking shape. That's particularly reassuring to see, since this one started out more nebulous than most.
Another page of a very overdue Fictionette Artifact got typed up. The very last of the the ribbons I ordered back in January 2017 is on its last legs, so I placed an order for more yesterday with Ribbons Unlimited--and they've already been shipped! Should be here Thursday. They are not just speedy, but solicitous, too. In response to a note I included with my order, the proprieter called me up on the phone to reassure me that, despite a change of verbal description, the part number I had ordered was indeed compatible with my particular typewriter (a Tower "Quiet-Tabulator" from the 1950s that an acquaintance in Oregon sold me for $50 back in, oh, 1998 or so).
The early novel revision efforts are inching along. I wrote The Bookwyrm's Hoard using a very early version of yWriter. Possibly version 2? I installed version 6 and it didn't want to open the novel directly; instead, I had to use one of its Import Earlier Version commands. 2006 was that long ago in software years. In any case, I've created a Scrivener project and have begun importing the draft, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. (I'm up to Chapter 3.) As each scene gets imported, I read it and make notes broadly identifying areas I need to fix or pay special attention to. (There are a lot of problems need fixing. Some of them are very embarrassing. No, I'm not going to list examples.) I'm trying not to judge but rather to observe and acquire data. I'm also getting surprised a lot. I remembered the basics of the plot, such as it was, but there are loads of details I'd forgotten, and some of them are actually a delight.
And of course there was dinner. (Bonus food content!) Native Foods said "Hey, it's Takeout Tuesday! Double points if you order today!" so I was like, OK, fine, let's try your fancy Plant-Based Roast. I scheduled an order for 5 PM delivery. It arrived right on time. My hunger also arrived right on time. Only problem was, the fancy Plant-Based Roast arrives frozen solid and requires an hour and a half in the oven. Whoops. Good thing I had also ordered a 4-pack of their burger patties. Those cook up in about 5 minutes on the stove.
The roast, when it was finally done, was delicious. Also it will feed me for days. (Just me. It's not really John's thing, although the burger patties might be.) A+, would recommend. Just understand that, once it arrives at your door, you aren't going to get to eat it for at least two hours, and schedule your delivery accordingly.
someday never happens but nano comes THREE times a year these days what the hell
- 50,059 words (if poetry, lines) long
April is Camp Nano--basically National Novel Writing Month but in April and with a summer camp theme. I've never really gotten into it. My annual participation sputtered out around the time I decided that twelve years in a row, ten of them as a Municipal Liaison, was a lot and I was ready to set that particular tradition aside for a bit. (My apologies to anyone who's been hanging out in my "[USERNAME] wants to be friends!" queue for the last 5 months--I only just logged in today and saw you there!) Besides, I was tired of how few short stories I had out on submission at any one time, so I decided I'd get back to my novel-writing attempts once I had a more healthy stable of submittable manuscripts.
Thanks to last year's 100 Rejections goal and corresponding Submit Every Day initiative, and the ways in which I've continued those patterns this year, my stable of submittable manuscripts is much healthier, and I think I'm ready to spend a month focusing on novels again.
My Camp Nano goals--and, to be clear, I'm still not really participating in Camp Nano, not in the social aspects of it, anyway--I'm not joining a "cabin" and I don't feel the need to add new virtual write-ins to my life at this time--my goals for April are very modest. They are as follows:
- Review existing novel drafts on my hard drive.
- Pick one to begin completing and revising this month.
- Spend a little time each weekday doing that.
That's it. No end-goal, no X-amount of words written nor even a strict Y-amount of time to accumulate by the end of the month. I'm just folding novel-writing activities into my day-to-day writing life, into the slot on my timesheet reserved for Revising Stuff Destined For Commercial Submission. And the novel is allowed to take priority over short fiction and poetry. The latter two aren't going away, of course; I've got four new poems to revise and submit thanks to the poetry-writing contest on Codex I participated in last month, and this morning's freewriting session gave me hope I might yet get an entry into Escape Pod's Flash Fiction Contest for 2020 after all. But I have plenty of short works ready to submit and resubmit "'til hell won't have 'em," so this year's collection of rejection letters won't stall out just because I take a month to see where I'm at in regards to long-form fiction.
At this time, I've completed the first two items on the above list. I found myself falling in love with the first couple chapters of 2005's NaNoWriMo effort, Right Off the Page, in which a character goes missing from the protagonist's latest work in progress. But that's the second book in a vaguely planned series. Happily, the next year I took a stab at writing the first book, The Bookwyrm's Hoard, in which that same protagonist inherits a hometown bookstore and discovers its unusual quirks. So that's the book on which I'm going to focus the efforts implied by the third listed item. I'll see where that gets me by the end of the month, and whether I'll want to continue with it or with a different novel for the July edition of Camp Nano.
Bonus food content! So one of our old roller derby friends used to host a "Potluck of the Month Club", but then she moved out of state. Inspired by all the virtual hangouts that the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated, she scheduled an online potluck for yesterday. So John and I made cheese enchiladas and refried beans, which we sat down and ate in front of the computer while logged into our club reunion via video conference. There were a lot of smiles and laughter and gossip and also some ranting and commiserating. It was good. A+ would virtual-potluck again.
And right now this minute I am eating french fries that John made for me. John makes very good french fries.
Not, however, the novel. I took my own advice and jumped forward to the Gala Bookstore Grand Opening scene, and didn't even get through that before crossing the mythical 50K line. I did have another one of those plotting breakthroughs, though. I realized I should conflate Charles Welton (father of vanished Sam, fomenter of anti-Bookwyrm sentiment) and the beat cop (also fomenter of anti-Bookwyrm sentiment and an extra rock to throw at Gwen whilst she is up her tree) because 1) they served too similar functions, and 2) that would make things even harder for Gwen. Bad enough when the police officer she should be able to rely on for protection thinks she's guilty, if only by association, of unspeakable things; worse when said police officer has been directly affected by said unspeakable things.
So what's up in December, eh? Well. Wouldn't you like to know. I think I shall continue working on this novel, 2K a day where possible, but I'll make a more concerted effort to also allot time for short story rewrites. You'll notice, for instance, that I haven't blogged about finishing the rewrite on either "Turning the Earth" nor "Seeds of Our Future." There's a reason for that. Maybe I could have done it if I wasn't also one of the Boulder NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons. Maybe I could have done it if I hadn't spent so many Tuesdays and Thursdays sleeping past noon, dammit.
I may begin upping my articles/essays output, as I won't have any immediate paying projects in December. Between Constant-Content (who seem themselves supportive even if I have to get medieval on one of their customers) and a new venture my current non-fiction editor is possibly undertaking, there will be opportunities for such. Also, it's really about time I wrote something to send to a Blessed Bee publication again. It's been far too long since "Faith Based Charity, Pagan Style."
And speaking of RichLifeMedia, blogging at Splendid Gardening will be on hiatus in December. I'll continue blogging here, of course, and also at Denver Metblogs.
Sounds a lot like a New Year's Resolution post, doesn't it? Well, when NaNoWriMo ends, it's like a brand new year dawns on December 1. Try it sometime! You'll see.
Obligatory Fruitcake Post
- 45,925 words (if poetry, lines) long
Every year, around this time, some version of this conversation occurs:
Me: "Oh my Gods! It's November!"
John: "Well, yeah. Hence all this NaNoWriMo stuff."
Me: "No, but, it's November! And I haven't started fruitcake yet!"
John: "Oh. Must you?"
Yes, I must. Preparations have begun. A couple pounds of dried stuff (currants, dates, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, mango) are at this moment reconstituting themselves in brandy. In other bowls, measured and chopped quantities of candied things (papaya, ginger) and nuts (walnuts, almonds) lie in wait. Tomorrow, all these things will go into the oven with just enough cake batter to hold them together. Then, the cake will sit and sit and sit and furthermore get drunk.
John and I plan to spend Christmas and New Year's in New Orleans with my family. The fruitcake will come with us. My family likes fruitcake (I usually mail Mom and Dad a slice) which is why John thinks we're all fruitcakes.
In other news, for all intents and purposes, I'm at 46K. 2K each tomorrow and Thursday, and I shall have a sparkling purple WINNER! bar. But I don't think I'll have THE END. There is loads of character drama betwixt now and then. Not to mention 6 days worth of plot.
Sorry To Disappoint You
Generally it's a good idea to sic your dreams on a plot conundrum. However, I'm afraid that Charles Welton will not be piloting a miniature giant robot in an attempt to assassinate Gwen during her reading/signing/wine-and-cheese reception at the bookstore's Grand Opening.
More Plot Revelations
Dude! I know where the quill is! And I know what it does!
It came to me on the bus Wednesday night--I was using the hour-long bus ride between Boulder and Denver to get my daily 2K written. I was working on the scene with the one sympathetic family in the neighborhood, the one that actually tried to bring abuse charges against one of the missing kids' parents. The family comes to visit and they have a bit of a pow-wow. Well, the mom is more prepared to trust Gwen than the dad is, mainly because she grew up in the neighborhood too (so why doesn't she already know Gwen? Must think about this), but she wants to make sure Gwen really does have a history with The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
So she tells a story about Mrs. Nimbel and the quill, and she gently challenges Gwen to tell one of her own:
"...Anyway, I stormed out the house and came here. Like always. And Mrs. Nimbel said--" I could still hear her voice, surprisingly agile and sly, her voice "--she said, 'Gwen, what's with the glumsickle you're sucking on? Get over here and spit it out.'"Among possibly other things, that quill is an oracle. Or a rorshach test. I'm not exactly sure how it works. It's definitely connected with the Space Between The Stories, though.
Cindy gave a little peal of laughter. "What's with that glumsickle, Mommy?" Dierdre patted her hand and favored her with a cautious smile.
"So I told her. And she did get out that quill, didn't she? A peacock's wing feather fitted with a brass wide-tip nib. And she made me tell her a question, just like you said. 'Do I have to be a doctor?' That's what I asked."
"And then what?"
Ron's voice made me jump. I hadn't been expecting him to get into the story. I looked up at him and said, "Well, I flung myself onto this sofa here, all dramatic-like, and I grabbed a magazine. I paged through it, got caught up in the articles, and after a while I reached the back cover and there was Mrs. Nimbel standing there with the paper in her hands. I read the question out loud back to myself, and what came out of my mouth, immediately, was, 'No. I have other obligations.' And then I just--like this--clapped my hand over my mouth, and said through my fingers, 'What the hell does that mean?'"
And I know where it is. That came to me too. I know where it is, why it got there, and how it's going to get found. It has also occurred to me that the thug's message about the parents wanting the bookstore gone isn't entirely a red herring. At least one parent is connected with the evil corporate mastermind guy, but it's not why I thought. It's much darker than that.
That I'm not going to reach THE END by 50K has nothing to do with plot after the Bookwyrm's grand opening. It has to do with how much plot is required in order to reach the grand opening.
Boring Status-Check Post
- 33,487 words (if poetry, lines) long
Not much to say today other than it was a 3,400 word day, bringing me past the 33K mark. Also, as I've been telling friends, it looks like--unless I'm horrendously overestimating how much plot comes after the climactic scene at the bookstore's grand opening--this may be the first time I don't manage to reach THE END in 50,000 words. I'm not sure whether that means I'll have more to cut, or less to add, during the rewrite. Is my writing getting fluffier, or are my plots getting more complex? I suspect it may be a touch of both.