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The End of a Year

On my birthday in 2011, I got an idea in my head – to write fiction every day for 365 days. It was based on the many 365 projects that I had seen around the web. Some people documented their meals or took pictures of their feet or whatever. I decided to use this idea to get back into something that I really knew I was good at and that I enjoyed doing – writing stories.

For a while, that worked out brilliantly. I think I got all the way to February of 2012 before everything collapsed, but more on that in a bit. During the year, I created worlds – hundreds of people, companies, small towns. I made new histories, societies, and hinted at things that even I wasn’t sure about. I saw the beginnings of new societies and the last throes of the universe, and it was really good fun.

Every night I would come home and start writing. The Boyfriend didn’t really get what I was trying to do – I would try to explain what I was writing, and usually after a few sentences he’d had enough and just wished me Good Luck. Sometimes he suggested I take a day off, or maybe even a weekend. I said no – if I took a day off then I’d take another, and then another. I didn’t want that to happen. In retrospect, all I can say is that I hate when I prove myself right.

I posted everything I came up with, even the ones that imploded halfway through. A few of them were long, multi-day epics and others were flashes of barely half a thousand words. I wrote things for #fridayflash and for the fine people at Worth1000 (who must think I’ve died or something). I blasted my way through NaNoWriMo, something I hadn’t even attempted since 2004 or so. All in all, I probably wrote about 250 entries over the course of the year.

And then the end of the school year approached, with the finely-tuned mental and organizational chaos that only comes in that time and that place. And I was dumb enough to start playing Skyrim, even though I knew – I knew – what it would do to my attention span. February 12th pretty much marks the last regular day of posting. 263 days. A few interruptions due to vacation or illness, but still.

263 days of fiction.

So in the end, how do I judge this experiment? Did I succeed or did I fail?

Well… Yes.

Believe me, when I started, I didn’t think I would last nearly as long as I did. I figured a few weeks, at best, before I either got distracted or disheartened. Making it as long as I did is a feat unto itself. It helped that kept meticulous records of my progress, filling up several spreadsheets with data. There was one that kept track of the dates and titles and word counts, another for the characters, and a third for world-building. I used mind-mapping software to see how my stories fit together, and even tried drawing some of the characters.

I showed that I could not only build a world, but I could build those connections within the world. I could make a place varied and interesting enough that characters could not only have their own stories, but they could have new and interesting stories with each other. I could examine their backstories and motivations and work out some sense of a future for these people and places. I wrote in a variety of genres and made conscious attempts to write outside my boundaries, both in terms of style, genre, and character.

I did more writing during this year than I have at any time in my life. So in that way, it was a success.

On the other hand, I didn’t make my goal of a full 365 days. The title of the blog proved to be highly inaccurate, and I let my weaknesses overcome me. I know that one of the biggest requirements of a writer is that doing this needs to be the most important thing in his or her life, and I dropped the ball there. I let life get in the way of writing, and even though I’m sure any writer will tell me that these things happen, I still feel a bit bad about it. I made a plan and I failed to follow through with it. That sucks no matter how it happens.

In addition, I gained a small following of readers, people who subscribed to the blog and left very kind comments and feedback, and I feel like I let them down. Not on a George R.R. Martin level of let-down, mind you, but still – I made a promise to these readers, and I did not fulfill it. For that, I sincerely apologize.

On balance, though, I’ll call this a success. I proved that I can dedicate myself to a goal, as long as I am realistic about both its limits and mine. I found where my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and worked to improve them. And, most importantly, I built up a body of work that will serve as a foundation for future writing. I think there’s a lot more gold in there than I ever planned on finding, and I’ll mine it as best I can.

If you’ve stuck with me through this year, you have my deepest appreciation. I’ll keep this blog here, and as I pick myself up and dust myself off [1] I’ll use it as a place to try out new stories and new ideas.

The project isn’t over. It has only changed.

And as any writer will tell you, without change there is no story.

Thanks, all.

– Chris

—-
[1] Perhaps after I’ve removed Skyrim from my computer. With a crowbar if necessary.

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Categories: Reportage Tags: ,

I used to be a writer like you, but then I got Skyrim in my brain

March 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Seriously, don’t start playing this game.

I feel like it’s just planted itself in my brain and taken over. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a lot of fun, and definitely a lot of game for your money. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see, and no two games will be alike. I’ve made two characters so far – a high-elf battle-mage and a Khajiit sneak-thief/assassin/werewolf – and I’ve had a lot of fun playing. Sitting in the shadows and picking people off with a blazing arrows will NEVER get old, especially when they step over the bodies of their friends and say, “Huh. I guess it was my imagination.”

But it will take you over. I was so happy today when a story idea unfolded in my head that was good enough that I actually wanted to write it more than I wanted to go back to Skyrim and kill dragons. So it looks like I may be close to burning myself out on that game.

Thank. God.

I’m not sure exactly what it is the game is tapping into, other than the dopamine reward system of the brain. That is, of course, an intensely powerful neurochemical system – the same one responsible for many serious addictions as well as everyday feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Where Skyrim wins out over, say, writing a short story is that Skyrim never ends. So you’re always expecting that next level-up, or a new dungeon to crawl through, or to see how many Forsworn you can hit in the head with arrows before one of those damned Briarhearts realizes you’re there. That anticipation is powerful, and it’s hard to ignore.

Fortunately, I’ve played through most of the major quest lines by now, which means there isn’t a lot more to do other than random side quests and fetch-quests. Soon, I hope to be able to let the game go for a long while before whipping up a new character and doing it again.

But you never know…

Anyway, thanks for not sending me death threats.

– C.

Categories: Reportage Tags: ,

A Very Quick Update…

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In case you were wondering – no, I’m not dead. Nor have I been abducted by circus hoboes, aliens, or a highly secretive government agency that has threatened to destroy everything I love if I tell you exactly where they are in Northern Virginia and how much I would appreciate an A-Team intervention right now.

The truth is that the end of the school year is fast approaching, and we’re all scrambling to get done the things we need to do to make sure the students are ready for finals and to move on up to the next grad – or, Gods forbid, graduate. This involves a prolonged stripping of mental gears, which leaves me with about enough energy when I come home to eat dinner, play with my cat and kill zombies, not necessarily in that order.

So, I’ll put up new things when I can find the extra nugget of mental energy, and I expect things will go back to normal after we’re done with finals in the beginning of March.

Thanks for hanging in there…

– Chris

Categories: Reportage

NaNo was a Triumph!

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Let me make a note here, hold on: huge success.

Seriously, folks – not only did I make the 50,000 word mark, but I blew right through it – the official final total was 73,176 words. Which makes me, as they say, a winner!

Before we get into a review of the whole experience, let’s just take a look at the last section, which was broadly based on the aether – a fifth element that, for reasons unknown to me, does not usually appear as a quirky redhead. It was, instead, the substance through which light waves were thought to propagate. A rather clever and simple experiment managed to prove that the aether didn’t exist, however, which makes it perfect for telling stories about other things that don’t exist – ghosts, ESP, spirits of every shape and size.

  • Houseguests is a tale of a haunted house, where fourteen boys were tortured and killed. The house is bought by a pair of dedicated skeptics. Because after all – there’s no such thing as ghosts, right? Except for the ones that really do live there…
  • The Bad News tells more of Carly Siminsky’s story. Carly is a telekinetic girl, held by the Department of National Security for – allegedly – her own safety. She’s doing well in her training, until she hears something that she cannot endure.
  • Spirit Guide, in which a young man is having problems with his date. Mainly because his spirit guide, a floating blue panda bear, is trying to help him get lucky.
  • Finders Keepers, a story that may or may not reflect some writers’ bias, is about a woman, a telepath who uses her powers to steal the seeds of ideas from famous authors to build a writing career of her own. The latest author, however, might be harder to get into than she thought.
  • Hotline is about a psychic, but not a real one. A young woman acting as a telephone psychic to make money for college. Her last call of the night, however, turns out to be one she couldn’t have forseen.
  • Dream Intervention is the monthly revisitation of a story I wrote last month. A man with the power to enter the dreams of others is trying to help a young man with a problem that even he doesn’t understand.

It was a good section, with some fun ideas that popped into my head, and others that actively resisted being drawn out into reality. But I suppose the aether is like that – indefinable, and unreliable. At 12,453 words, it was the second shortest section – probably due to the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure anymore.

Most important, though, was that I finished NaNoWriMo with plenty of time to spare, and managed to get a very respectable number of words in before the month ended. How did I do it, you might ask? Very simple:

  • I planned. I made sure that I knew what I was going to do for the month, and had keywords set up to give me something to think about while I put the stories together. Aside from providing a seed for the story to grow from (which is pretty much where Finders Keepers is all about), it allowed me to think about the stories during time when I normally wouldn’t write.
  • I was regular in my writing. My regular writing time is at night – usually after eight or so, given my schedule, and I need to finish by eleven. That’s not a whole lot of time, but I made damn sure I used it. If I couldn’t – for example, on Wednesdays, when the podcast is due – I would do as much as I could during the day.
  • I used all the time I had on my hands. The effect of this, of course, what that I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything else. I didn’t read a book all month, or write a review or anything, which seems really out of character and weird for me.

What this means for the future, of course, is that now I have an excellent month to point to and say, “I did that.” Over 70,000 words, and if I print out the whole month, single-spaced, it’s just over 160 pages.

A triumph indeed.

For December, though, I’m going to ramp things down a little. Do some world-building and exploring, look at some of the people and places I’ve created over the last six months and 279,000 words. It should be an interesting little vacation.

Here’s how October worked out….

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

For the most part: Not bad. I had another three-parter, with Special Agent Khrys Ferro, which was intended to be a kind of male Mary-Sue story and then turned into something… different. But it was entertaining in its way, and I’ll keep him around for future use. I’ve also been doing well over on Worth1000.com, with all my entries thus far winning medals. That, as they say, ain’t half bad.

On the downside, I missed three days due to illness, the details of which I will not bore and / or disgust you with. Suffice it to say that I think I made the right decision. Even though it does set a precedent for allowing myself to take breaks from writing, it’s still a pretty high bar to clear. So to speak.

Anyway, here are the numbers for October: I wrote 36,524 words this month, which is lower than most. Part of it is losing a few days, and part of it is writing some really short stories. Won’t be able to get away with that next month, though – but more on that later. The word total thus far is 167,631 words, which looks awesome when I write it up like that. Gods willing, I’ll break 200,000 by the end of November.

Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month. I outlined my thoughts pretty clearly over on my blog, but to summarize: I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, but with a wee bit of a twist. Instead of writing a novel, I’ll be doing an anthology of 30 short stories. The plan is to use the classical elements as a theme – air, water, fire, earth, and aether. Each element will get six days and six stories. That’s it. If everything goes well, then I’ll hit that 50,000 word mark and everyone will be happy.

If not, then it’s shame and ignominy all around, I suppose.

So, wish me luck!

Categories: Reportage

I think this is the last one….

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Not as bad as I was, but still not as well as I should be. Cthulhu willing, I’ll be more or less back to normal tomorrow.

Intelligent design.

Bah.

Categories: Reportage

SICK DAY: The Revenge!

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Didn’t go to work today, spent most of the day sleeping and answering to bodily functions too horrible to describe here. So, another day lost to the future.

Thanks for your patience.

Categories: Reportage