NaNoWriMo Update 2: Derailed!

November 14, 2014 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

goku

It’s been about a week since my last update.

I’m not going to lie. As you can probably already tell from the headline, my plans have been derailed — somewhat.

It has not happened due to a lack of effort, that’s for sure. I tried getting back into it at the start of the week, but work was such a bitch (I sometimes have those days, and they just happened to be in succession) that I could barely get anything done. That and the fact that I was stuck on trying to figure out how to resolve a plot point had me on stall for the first couple of days.

Then something else happened. I was trawling through the hard drive of my old laptop and found my other project, Without Prejudice: Almost Entirely True Stories of Life, Death and Scandal in a Top-tier Law Firm. This was my master’s project, one I had done about 4 or 5 very polished chapters for and completed rough drafts of another 4 or 5 chapters. The remaining 4 or 5 chapters of the book were already planned out.

I started reading through it. I don’t like to brag, but since you brought it up, Without Prejudice is an awesome read. It’s probably the best unpublished thing I’ve ever written because most of it comes straight from my bleeding, twisted heart. My supervisor at the time — this was 3 or 4 years ago — gave me the top grade and advised that I complete it for publication.

Then life happened and I forgot all about it. I don’t regret having put the project on hold for stuff like moving overseas, having kids, doing freelance gigs to survive and then starting a new job. That shit happens. But man, I do regret not having picked it back up sooner because I had such great momentum back then and all the horrible memories were still so fresh. And with so much already completed, I was pretty damn close to completing it.

Anyway, I’ve decided to park my fantasy novel for the time being and focus on completing Without Prejudice. It took me a couple of days to sort through all the stuff I’ve done so far and rearrange and cut and paste the files until I had a master document with all my drafts and ideas — old and new — in them. It’s about 85 pages in Microsoft Word.

To my surprise a lot of the anecdotes are still etched firmly into my brain, though some others have already faded or are fading fast. I’m hoping planned visits with old friends and colleagues in a few weeks will help bring back those memories. Maybe some of the dysfunction in my new workplace can also help create some new ones.

In the meantime, I’m dedicating my NaNoWriMo to finishing this project. I only managed to do about half an hour before my working week finished for this week, but it was a great rush and I’m itching to get back into it soon. It’s a fantastic feeling to have that fire burning again.

NaNoWriMo Update 1: That’s Rough, Buddy

November 7, 2014 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

rough

So here’s my first NaNoWriMo update, and it’s not pretty. Better than nothing, I suppose, but the progress has been admittedly slow. I have so far had two days to write and I have barely broken 2000 words, a far cry from the overly optimistic and fairly ridiculous 3000-a-day target I had set for myself.

What I have realized from this process is that writing anything at work is really really hard. There are distractions galore, and I don’t just mean actual work-related stuff that needs to get done. And all it takes is one shithouse article — just one — to screw up my entire schedule and rhythm for the day. Lately, unfortunately, I’ve gotten a few.

As for the writing itself, I’ve decided to tackle my oldest project, the classic fantasy novel that has been rewriting itself in my brain on and off for the last dozen or so years. It’s probably the most ambitious of my projects, but also the one that requires the least amount of planning and thinking through.

I have started again right from the beginning with a new intro that will introduce the protagonist in a more exciting manner so that the story hits the ground running. I’ve since gone back to work on a prologue, though I think it probably works better as a backdated chapter 2. I guess I’ll see how it goes.

The biggest take away from these last couple of days is that I still have not figured out how to just write and not self edit along the way. They always say, when writing first drafts, that you should not think too much and just let the words flow. Sure, it will probably be crap, but it is more important at this stage to just get the words down. You can always fix things up later.

On day one I started off relatively well, getting about 1500 words down, but on the way home at night I kept thinking of things I should have added. So on day two instead of continuing with the writing I spent much of my time putting in those changes, and all the other things I kept thinking would improve the narrative. Due to some of these changes, I have had to stop and think of ways to make the story logical and fit together, which took up a huge chunk of my time as well. In the end, I only had about 500 words down on the second day. And the truth is, it is still crap, so I more or less wasted my time trying to fix it now.

Still hopeful that I will be able to get into some kind of groove so that the words will come more easily. At this stage, unless I catch fire, so to speak, it seems unlikely that I will get close to reaching my goal. We’ll see.

Unofficial, modified NaNoWiMo starts now!

November 5, 2014 in Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

NaNoWriMo

The excuses have finally run out. After “strongly suggesting” that I will take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for at least a couple of years, I have decided to put my foot down and join in the fun –unofficially — for the first time.

This is more a kick up the backside for myself than anything else. My writing projects have lay dormant for way too long and the months and years have been slipping by right in front of my eyes notwithstanding multiple self-promises to get them moving again.

So from today, I am going to commence an unofficial (in that I have not signed up for NaNoWriMo) writing spree that will be tweaked to suit my unique situation. I’m starting a few days late because I was busy polishing off my basket of outstanding movie reviews (pun intended), and I will be gradually releasing them over the next few weeks so that this blog does not become inactive.

However, as I am usually completely tied up by kids and family over the weekends, I’m basically restricted to writing five times a week during work hours, which means I just need to be super efficient. Moreover, I’m heading overseas for a three-week holiday that will run from the end of this month to mid-December, and I doubt I’ll be able to do any real writing during that time.

To account for all these issues, I’m going to be stretching NaNoWriMo over November and December. If my calculations are correct, I’ll have about 15 writing days this month before I go on vacation, and about 12 writing days from my return to the end of the year. The goal is to get to about 100,000 words, which is insane for someone who already writes for a living, so I’m going to temper expectations down to about 80,000 words.

If everything goes according to plan I should have a shitty first draft of something or at least a part of something done by the end of the year, like I promised myself during my optimistic “New Years resolution” period. It’s going to be hard as I still need to update my Pacers blog on occasion and I just can’t refrain from watching more movies and TV series, plus I’m on a special diet and exercise regiment this month. But frankly, I’m sick of being an unmotivated bum while everyone else is reaching for the stars.

So here goes. I’ll be providing weekly updates right here.

No more excuses

October 16, 2013 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

no excuses

I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.

The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.

Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.

Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.

Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.

Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.

Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.

Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.

So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.

A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.

It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.

I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!

This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.

Writing fiction after all that non-fiction is really really hard

August 1, 2013 in Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

once upon a time

I have recently developed a very real fear that I may never be able to write fiction again.

They say writers need to write, and over the past year all I’ve been doing is reading and writing non-fiction, almost exclusively. At work every day I write news, and in my spare time I write on this blog, which essentially comprises film, restaurant and book reviews these days, or my sports blog, which is, well, all about sports.

My reading habits have also veered towards non-fiction. Browsing through my book reviews this year I see (chronologically from the start of the year):

- Fifty Shades Freed by EL James (fiction) — the final book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy and probably the worst book I have ever read, fiction or otherwise. I think it barely counts as a book, let alone fiction.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction) — the legendary writing book, part memoir and part writers’ guide.

Tokyo Sketches by Peter Hamill (fiction) — a collection of short stories about Japan.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (non-fiction) — another seminal writers’ book about staying out of the rejection pile.

Inferno by Dan Brown (fiction) — no introduction necessary, though again, some would argue whether Brown’s writing classifies as fiction given that it is dominated by Wikipedia-like entries about history, architecture and artworks. And the quality of the fiction writing is, let’s just say, somewhat lacking.

Dream Team by Jack McCallum (non-fiction) — a riveting account of the one and only 1992 Dream Team.

The War for Late Night by Bill Carter (non-fiction) — the fascinating account into the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno late night television feud of 2010.

Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty (non-fiction) — Phil Jackson’s account of how he won his 11 NBA championship rings as a coach and 2 as a player.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (non-fiction) — the writing bible.

The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith (non-fiction) — the controversial book about Michael Jordan and the tumultuous 1990-91 season of the NBA champions Chicago Bulls.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (fiction) — the classic novel about a man whose youth and beauty was preserved by a magical painting.

Justice by Michael J Sandel (non-fiction) — an engrossing philosophy book about morality and the right thing to do.

By my count that’s 8 non-fiction books and 4 fiction books. But one of the fiction books is Fifty Shades and another is Dan Brown, so they don’t really count. And of the other two, one is a short story collection and the other is a classic novel written in the 19th century (which can be helpful but not that helpful).

It’s not that you can’t be creative with non-fiction writing, it’s just that the parameters are defined and confined by the facts you have to convey. With fiction writing it has to all come from your imagination, and that’s where I feel as though my brain has been reprogrammed and all that creativity I once had (however little it may have been) has been sucked out of me completely.

If I had to sit down and write a short story or screenplay right now I wouldn’t know where to start. In fact, just the thought of the possibility of getting back to working on my novels or screenplay makes me nervous, and scared — which probably explains why I have set myself the long-term target of completing all my backlogged blog posts before commencing any “proper” fiction writing. It’s pathetic, I know, but at least I am clearing out my backlog.

To lubricate my ride back into fiction, I am going to try and re-enter the land of fiction. Classics are good, but right now I’m thinking something less challenging, like commercial fiction. I’ve started reading Gillian Flynn’s acclaimed Gone Girl. I’m only about a fifth of the way through but it’s already shaping up to be one heck of a cracking read. It’s one of those books that grips onto you with characters that ring so true you feel like you know them. Apparently Ben Affleck has signed on for the film version, to be directed by David Fincher, so his head keeps popping up in my mind. (And Rosamund Pike has reportedly been cast as the other lead).

I still have some other non-fiction books I must get through, including parenting books on baby sleep (it’s gotta be done) and a couple of book reviews for publication. But my focus for the rest of the year will hopefully be on fiction. I have lined up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Anna Funder’s All That I Am, and I intend to get through them all before December 31. I don’t know how, since having a job with two kids under two means I pretty much only have time to read while travelling to and from work and just before bed — but I’m still going to try to reach my New Year’s Resolution goal of 20 books for the year.

And before you start being a dick, give me a break; that’s very good for me already.

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