Monday, 16 November 2009

nanowrimo roundup: tastes like victory

So - I finished Nanowrimo.

November is known and feared by writers as National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words during the thirty days of November. It's the month your caffeine and/or sugar intake spikes as you stay up until 4am every night cranking out wordcount: a month in which your life is ruled by the inexorable march of the target line on your wordcount graph.

Some smart friends of mine introduced me to Nanowrimo back in 2004. Nothing is more useful to a beginning writer than a track record of finishing novels, and I finished my first one on the 21st of November 2004, less than a week after I turned sixteen. Had to trunk that novel (and the next), and I crashed out of most of the following Nanowrimos, but I've had a ton of fun and met a truckload of people through Nanowrimo - starting with my dearly beloved writing group. So I scrambled to finish and send out my beta draft of THE INFERNAL FAMILY, dug out my stalled-at-30k epic fantasy IRONBANE, and hit the trail on the 1st of November.

On the fourteenth night I finished Nanowrimo, and on the fifteenth I finished my novel. So I'm distressingly smug right now, and also grateful to:
  • All the friends who cheered me on, especially the Bristol and Bath Nanowrimo team who kindly tolerated my gloating at the write-ins.
  • Auburn, who kicked my ass with her massive wordcounts, taunted me when I fell behind and took my eleventh-hour victory with grace.
  • My wonderful betas, such as Amy Bai, who sent me brilliant feedback during the most insanely busy month of the year for writers.
And a final roundup with lots of lovely numbers:
  • Hit 50,000 words on day 14.
  • Total wordcount on day 15 = 53166 ...
  • ... of which 27294 words were written between day 11 and day 15.
  • Total wordcount for the entire novel = 86680.
  • Daily average = 3544.
I've pictured my wordcount graph here for your amusement. Blue line is daily wordcount, yellow line is cumulative target, red line is running total.

The pretty colours in my wordcount graph are suggesting to me that I've built up a lot of momentum that it would be a shame if I wasted. So I plan to start a project that's been waiting patiently for over a year for me to find time and confidence - my YA urban fantasy, DREAD MACHINE. I have time, I have confidence, and I also have a secret weapon: the twifties. I know I'll be in good hands as I flail around with my first YA novel.

I can only hope that my fifth novel will be as easy as my fourth. :)

Monday, 9 November 2009


Congratulations to the amazing Kody Keplinger, teenage novelist and twiftie, who just sold film rights to her YA debut novel The Duff! :D

Saturday, 7 November 2009

robert jordan and brandon sanderson - the gathering storm

The Gathering Storm is the twelfth in the Wheel of Time series, part written by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson after his death.

Let me preface this review by saying that I'm a Wheel of Time hater of the vitriolic kind. Back in the day, when I was young and uncritical, I burned through the entire series and loved it from the beginning. Unfortunately, I started to develop critical reading skills right around the time that the series took a dive into terribleness. I was seriously burned on the tenth book, Crossroads of Twilight, and became an outright hater. I hated the padding, the repetition, the ridiculous excess of minor characters. Hated the plotlines that took four books to resolve. Hated having to use the Wheel of Time Concordance to keep up. Most of all, I hated the disappointment - I hated that a series I'd loved so much had become a travesty.

I had moderate hopes that Brandon Sanderson would turn it around with The Gathering Storm, but when I read the first chapter, Tears from Steel (available to members of, I was horrified. It was exactly as I'd feared: Nothing happened. Six thousand words of throat-clearing, incorporating only (a) scenery description, (b) recap of the previous novels, and (c) the protagonist doing nothing. So I promised myself I was done with The Wheel of Time.

Well, I take it back.

The Gathering Storm is not perfect. The opening chapters in particular suffer from the classic Wheel of Time problems. Several storylines seem completely unnecessary, although Mat "where did my plot go" Cauthon has the benefit of being hilarious. (I don't remember him being this funny.)

as the book progresses you get more and more crowning moments of awesome. There are scenes I've been waiting forever to read, which were every bit as badass as I expected, and scenes that hit me totally out of the blue. A huge amount of ground is covered plot-wise, especially focusing on Rand and Egwene. If you were to say, "All this time, I've really been looking forward to ..." odds are that scene is in The Gathering Storm.

Some moments made me laugh. A lot made me wince. A few made me go "Holy sh**!" This is a really freaking dark book, and Rand in particular hits the rockiest of rock bottoms, kicking the dog with such enthusiasm that he crosses the moral event horizon. He's armed with damn near absolute power, and he's not even trying to control it any more: he blows people and entire settlements away with breathtaking callousness, and his endgame plan is horrific, leading to many heart-stopping scenes of win.

Stuff happens. And it's awesome.

Verdict = 4 out of 5 stars. Against all the odds, The Gathering Storm is a genuinely good novel - good enough that I'm planning to buy the hardcover for my mother. I'm back on board the Wheel of Time train, ready to pull into Last Battle station. :D

Friday, 6 November 2009

the sunk cost dilemma, the concorde effect and the economics of trunking novels

Let's say, hypothetically, that you wrote a novel.

And let's also say that hypothetical you is a slow writer and took about two years to write and edit the novel. Unfortunately, your hypothetical novel is an unreadable pile of garbage which you may or may not be able to fix, and even more unfortunately, you don't realise that until now.

Should you trunk the novel?

Welcome to the sunk cost dilemma. If you trunk the novel, you write off all your time and effort. If you keep working on it, hoping to somehow turn it around, you're pouring yet more resources into the project which may also have to be written off.

People are naturally loss-averse. That is, they value not making a loss of £100 more than they value gaining £100. This leads to the sunk cost fallacy, wherein people commit ever more resources to a failing project in the futile hope of saving their initial investment. (See also: Concorde.)

That's why my gut instinct tells me not to trunk the hypothetical novel: I think of all the hours of work, and I hate to write them off as a bad investment. Perhaps if I just put in more hours of work, I can rescue the project. But thanks to the sunk cost fallacy, I realise that that's irrational - just a stupid instinct interfering with logic.

The hypothetical investment is a writeoff. It's time to move on.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win, but those who never quit and never win are idiots.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

meeting new beta readers

Stages of meeting new beta readers:

1. Elation! Somebody's read my first chapter and wants to read on! I am God!
2. Excitement! Thank you so much for volunteering. I want to build statues to your awesomeness.
3. Nervousness. You're such a nice person, I don't want to disappoint you. I'm worried the rest of my novel might not be any good.
4. Panic. Oh my God, I can't send you this piece of trash, do I have time to rewrite from scratch?
5. Resignation. I am a fraud. Everyone will find out: it is inevitable. The quicker I hit the send button, the quicker I can end my inevitable humiliation.
6. Attempt to drown self in alcohol and After Eights.

I think I need to reread what I told myself when I sent my beta draft to readers for the first time.