Tag: NaNoWriMo

Writing For Myself

Blogging about NaNoWriMo as though the US election isn’t looming over all of us — yes, even those of us who aren’t American — feels strange. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it’s that there’s absolutely no point waiting for things to be normal again. Because something is always happening, and that something is usually terrible.

(Also, I feel like if we press pause on everything not-terrible while something potentially-terrible is happening, that means everything on the internet is about the potentially-terrible things, and nobody gets a break or a chance to think about anything else. Which doesn’t seem to benefit anybody. I can’t speak for others, but a lot of the time these days I very much want to read about things that don’t matter at all.)

So let’s talk about National Novel Writing Month instead.

My participation in NaNoWriMo every year is beginning to feel like a foregone conclusion. This is my twelfth year, and honestly, if I were going to take a break it should’ve been after the tenth, because at least that was a nice round number, but last year‘s queer werewolf novel crept up on me. Now I feel like I’d be betraying something if I skipped a year, despite the fact that literally nobody cares who isn’t me.

Actually, I did consider not participating this year. I mean, I don’t need NaNo to help me get the words on the page — writing fifty thousand words in a month is, if anything, slightly slower than my normal writing speed for first drafts — and I’ve got an MA demanding my attention, a newly rediscovered interest in blogging to feed, and videos to make. But… well. Here we are. I guess I can’t resist.

It’s a strange year for NaNo, because there are no in-person events, though most regions have terrifyingly active Discord servers (if the Ireland regions are anything to go by), so the community continues to thrive. On the plus side, not having any in-person events means less pressure to explain what my book is about, which is good, because describing this book is essentially a huge spoiler for the ones that went before it.

You see, this year my project’s an unusually self-indulgent one. Not that I’m not always first and foremost writing the books I want to read, but I’m usually aiming them at an audience too. This one, though, this one’s for me, because I have absolutely no idea whether anybody else will ever read it. It’s a sequel, you see. Well, actually, the third book in a trilogy.

The first book is Butterfly of Night, which is, with any luck, due to go on sub soon (‘on submission’ — being sent to editors at publishing houses in the hope that they will love it a lot, give me vast amounts of money, and publish it with great fanfare. Or indeed, give me small amounts of money and publish it at all). Most people don’t recommend writing sequels when the first book hasn’t sold, in case it doesn’t sell and you end up shelving multiple books rather than just one, but… that’s not advice I’ve ever listened to.

The thing about Butterfly of Night is that I never conceived of it as a standalone, as I explained in the post linked above. It works well enough as one (I worked hard to make sure of that), but it’s always been a trilogy in my head. Still, while I drafted the first two books back-to-back in the summer of 2014, book three (working title To A Candle Flame) has always… eluded me.

I’m not sure why it’s always proved so difficult to write. I’ve started it multiple times. At one point I had a bunch of disconnected scenes in Scrivener in the hope that eventually I’d figure out how they joined up. I started writing it again earlier this year, but gave up after 14,000 words because I wasn’t in the right headspace for it.

Is it because it’s the last book? Because I’m trying to follow through on promises I made to myself and brings things to a pleasing conclusion? Maybe it’s just that emotionally, it’s a challenging book: I put my protagonist Isabel through a lot in the first two, and book three is when she really deals with the psychological fall-out of that.

Or maybe it’s just because it’s hard to write the third book in a trilogy when the first book hasn’t sold, the second book needs major edits to make it work, and you don’t know whether it will see the light of day.

So this year, what NaNoWriMo means to me is the permission to write something that might not ever see the light of day. That could end up being just for me. A scruffy first draft written not for publication but because I want to see for myself how this story ends. I want to follow my character through to the end of the line. I want to know what happens. She’s lived in my head for six years: I want to complete this obligation I feel to her story.

Like I said, self-indulgent. But I’m a fast writer, so if it gets shelved, it’s okay. At least I got that closure for myself; I haven’t poured years of my life into polishing the prose of a forgotten Word document. Just a rough draft in search of some answers.

And yes, writing an entire novel for the sake of figuring out how things end — especially when I’ve arguably already done that in the outline — is no small amount of work. But my brain needs something creative to distract me, especially when reality is so anxiety-inducing; a way of letting off steam.

Self-indulgent sadly doesn’t mean easy, and now that I’ve already left behind those early chapters that were reworkings of previous attempts and struck out into the brave new world of actually drafting, I immediately hate everything I’ve written. But at least this time I did make an attempt at plotting the book, refining my ideas, so maybe this time it won’t fizzle out so quickly for want of direction.

Self-indulgent also doesn’t mean happy — but unlike those early attempts at the book from 2015 and 2016, this book is no longer as profoundly depressing as it used to be. It starts out sad (it’s very much a story about grief and recovery), but the aim is that it’s ultimately hopeful. Unlike my younger self, who couldn’t see a way out for this character that felt real, I’ve come to realise that happy endings — or at least, optimistic ones — aren’t childish, but brave. It’s easy to write bleak stories, and I’ve sure done it a lot, but trying to find space in those narratives for hope is far more satisfying, in the long run.

This is a book that hopes to reconcile the violence of the earlier books with my own pacifism. It’s a book about culpability and guilt and choices and the idea of forgiveness as a radical act. It’s asking the same question as several other things I’ve written: is there any such thing as beyond redemption?

And it’s about grief. It is very much about grief.

I think that’s why I couldn’t write it earlier this year. Since last week had me sitting on my sofa sobbing uncontrollably with zero warning at the memory of loss, I was worried when November 1st ticked around that I wouldn’t be able to write it now, either. But… I don’t know. So far I’ve been able to. Who knows, maybe it’ll help. At least I can always tell myself that no matter how bad I am at dealing with my feelings, I can’t be as bad as Isabel.

That bar is low, though.

So that’s what I’m writing this year. Because I want to. Writing for the sheer sake of writing, for the love of the story. Feels like a while since I’ve done that.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? What are you writing? And if not, what are your go-to ways to distract yourself from reality these days?


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Eleven Novembers

November again. It seems to come around so quickly.

I think I’ve forgotten how to blog. I sat down with my lovely, empty site, and the knowledge that I could write whatever I wanted, in whatever style, and not feel like I was breaking with any kind of tradition. A new start! A clean page! And absolutely no ideas as to where to begin!

But hey, that’s kind of in keeping with the whole National Novel Writing Month thing, really. Start a brand new novel. Try and write 50k of it in thirty days. Ignore the inner editor and the self-doubt and the writer’s block and just give in to the sheer joy of creation — that’s what it’s meant to be about. And I’m usually pretty good at that. Writing fast is my entire modus operandi, and the only reason I’ve ever finished anything.

It’s just that apparently that doesn’t work on blog posts.

But in an effort to circumvent that particular kind of block, I borrowed these tag questions from Lorna @ Gin and Lemonade, and I’m going to give them a go.

1. How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo? How many times have you won?

This will be my eleventh year tackling this particular challenge. I’ve done and won NaNoWriMo ten times, as well as a handful of Camp NaNos (a mid-year, set-your-own-goal more flexible NaNo challenge) and, back in the day, I even did Script Frenzy a couple of times. I’ve yet to ‘lose’ NaNo.

2. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I am absolutely a pantser. My first year doing NaNo was also the first time I’d ever written a novel in my life. I sat down on November 7th (having just heard about it, a week late) and began, despite having no characters, no plot, no genre — and no idea how to write a novel. Still hit 50k, with several days to spare. I’m obnoxious like that.

This year, I’m working on a retelling, so much of the plot is already done for me. But I’m winding it back a few years and exploring some of the backstory to the original story before I dive in, which means I still have to figure out some of it for myself. I did a bit of planning on October 31st, mapped out an approximate outline for that part of the novel… and have already deviated from it.

3. What are the titles of the projects that you have attempted/completed for past NaNos?

Oh, man, this is quite a list:

  • A Sky Full Of Stars (2009)
  • Beneath the Branches (2010)
  • Figurehead (2010); I wrote two novels that year
  • The Quiet Ones (2011); later retitled The Knight Shift after substantial edits
  • Weapons of Chaos (2012)
  • Recall (2013)
  • Bloodied Wings (2014); a redraft and the sequel to Butterfly of Night, which I’ve recently been editing
  • Folk Stories (2015); a series of short stories based on folk songs
  • Happy Gay Magical Novel (2016); never got a real title, never got a plot, never got to the end despite hitting 50k
  • Lie Down Below (2017)
  • To Run With The Hound (2018)

There were also a couple of years, like 2012, where I wrote half of a couple of other novels after hitting 50k early, like the overachiever that I am.

4. What are you working on for NaNo this year?

A retelling of ‘Bisclavret’, a lai by Marie de France. It’s a homoerotic werewolf story from an Anglo-Norman writer and I’ve been meaning to do a queer fantasy retelling of it for years, but somehow never got around to it. Since NaNo has apparently become the month where I write queer medieval retellings that I’ve been procrastinating on (or at least, that’s also what I did last year), it seemed like a good one to tackle.

It doesn’t have a title yet, so it’s on the NaNo site as werewolves & gay yearning. That’s more or less a summary, too.

5. What is one tip that you’d give to someone else that is participating in NaNo?

If you have ten minutes to write, write for ten minutes.

Waiting around for a chunk of sacrosanct writing time or the perfect conditions is only going to make things harder. You don’t have to do your day’s 1,667 words in one go if it makes more sense for you to do them in bits and pieces wherever you can squeeze in a minute. Give yourself that flexibility.

This goes for writing at any time, not just during NaNo. If you make it into A Thing that you have to do in big chunks, it becomes intimidating and hard to work into your daily routine. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

6. What was the inspiration for this novel? Do you remember when the inspiration hit you?

I don’t remember exactly when I decided that Bisclavret needed to be a novel, but I do remember getting set an essay on queer readings of Marie de France for a medieval French supervision with Blake Gutt (shoutout to Blake, who is still off doing cool medieval queer theory things), which was my first actual exposure to queer theory, especially in medieval contexts. My essay was over 4,000 words long and got increasingly sarcastic as it went on, as some of the critical articles I was reading were… very frustrating. But it lit some kind of spark.

7. Share the first sentence from your NaNo novel last year.

“He wasn’t a hero when we met.”

And hey, since it’s the second of November already so I’ve started writing, have this year’s first line:

“He isn’t a knight.”

Hmm, I’m sensing a theme…

8. What do you plan to do with your manuscript after NaNo?

Send it to a couple of betas, then leave it to moulder on my hard drive for a few months while I work on other things. I’m meant to be querying Butterfly of Night soon, and I want to edit To Run With The Hound early next year if I can, so those are going to take precedence over editing this one.

9. Are you prepared for NaNo? Are you nervous?

We’ve already started, but no, I’m not particularly prepared. I did a bit of planning on the 31st, as I mentioned, which helped; before that, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and felt like I’d maybe made a mistake to sign up this year. I just finished editing the latest draft of BoN on Monday, so I’m somewhat creatively exhausted. This happened last year as well, though; I finished something else right before NaNo and then dived straight in. Apparently I’ve never heard of taking a break.

Not particularly nervous, though. 50k isn’t an unattainable target for me; it’s actually slightly slower than my average writing speed when first-drafting, as long as I don’t have a lot of external stuff going on. But I feel less prepared than usual this year, and it’s my first time balancing NaNo with a full-time job, so part of me remains slightly nervous that I’ll break that winning streak.

But I need the creative outlet, especially as I’m off dance with an injury and have been for a couple of months, with no change on that front in my immediate future. I’m hoping this will be the distraction my brain needs.


Thanks for helping me past my blogging block, Lorna (and Natalia, with whom I think the questions originated). Blogging is a strange medium these days, when there are so many other forms of social media each with their own unique traits, and I’m still trying to get my head around how to tackle it. But I’ll get there.

In the meantime:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Tell me about a project you’re working on, whether for NaNo or otherwise.