Tag Archives: Writing

NaNoWriMo 2016

When I was 12, I got into an argument with my brother. See, I had showed him my “book” I was writing. And I said I wanted to be a writer. My brother was an artist, in that he drew, sculpted, and painted. He told me “Don’t be an artist, you don’t want to end up like me.” We argued because I insisted being a writer wasn’t the same as being an artist. To me, it wasn’t.

I see now what he meant, but even so, I still think I am right. It’s not the same. It is, in some ways, you have to be creative, determined, and dedicated. You have to practice and work at it to improve. But at the same time, his art required a dexterity of hand I did not have. My work required finding words fascinating and enjoying finding the right one.

In college I took all the English classes, including the one creative writing class. I wrote a 40 page story for my Humanities semester project. I loved writing stories, often writing down my own little head fantasies. I was in high school before I found out other people didn’t do that – have little plays in their heads.

I went off to Video Game school, determined to learn a skill that could be leveraged into a career. But I never stopped writing.

I never finished writing though. I would write for a few days, then not do it for a month, come back and the story in my head had changed. So I would write and rewrite. I would get distracted by games or tv shows. Work and side projects. There was always something.

A few times, I managed to press forward and get a hundred or so pages on some story, but it would always have flaws that kept me from FINISHING something I was writing.

This was about the time I saw NaNoWriMo for the first time. That was it. That was what I needed. A tight deadline. It needed to be a constant pressure on me to keep.writing. So I tried it for the first time 2009.

Except my job went into crunch and I had barely enough time to sleep much less write. I tried writing on the ferry and commute, but at the end of a long day of work, I was spent. There wasn’t anymore *juice*. I got about 10k words written.

It was weird – how much I felt like a failure. I hadn’t even signed up on the site. There was no one who KNEW I was a failure, but I felt like – that was it. I wasn’t a writer.

The next year, not crunching, in a much better place, I decided to try again. I planned my novel, got all my characters ready. I was good to go. I was unemployed too. PERFECT FOR WRITING. Then I literally got a job, and won a trip to BlizzCon. In November. I ended that one at around 5k words.

Even more of a failure.

The next year I just ignored it. I wasn’t a writer. And I was going to BlizzCon again.

The year after that – I had just had a kid, are you kidding me?

Then in 2013 I thought, okay, surely I can do it this time. I even had a different plan of attack. I would write it in tweets. It would take about 100 tweets a day, but it was so doable. I loved tweeting!

I managed to make about 200 tweets. Wah wahh. BlizzCon again. Man, was that convention a real killer. I would end up 5 days behind without even TRYING.

2014 I had the worst year ever and just completely ignored it.

2015 I decided to write about 2014. Turn my pain into art. I got 2 days in and realized, nope, there wasn’t enough distance yet. Just thinking about it made me sad and depressed. So I killed that one too.

Then it was October this year. I still really wanted to give it a legit go. This year though, I needed to do something different. The planning it out and trying to write it thing wasn’t working for me. So instead of doing one long novel, I would write short stories. But more than that, if I got bored with one I would just BAIL on it. Even if it wasn’t complete. Just keep writing. Write the 50k words and be done with it.

So day one, I started with a writing prompt from pinterest. I had a little plan in my head for what I was going to write this short story for, then get on it.

4 days later, I was still writing on the same story, and it was going places I TOTALLY didn’t expect. A week after that (the 11th) I hadn’t written on it in a week. WELL.CRAP. But I had a free night, and I didn’t feel like playing WoW so I started hammering on it. By the end of the night, I was only a day behind.

That was the moment. Realizing I could write over 10k words in an evening? Oh yeah, I could do it. And even better, it was fun. I felt energized and happy. Like I had accomplished something.

I was more consistent for the rest of the month, writing every few days for long blocks of time. And I finished early. Nov 27th, at 4am, I finished the book and the 50k words. I hadn’t meant to stay up to 4am, it just kind of happened. (Gamers – it was 100% a 1 more turn thing.) And even funnier, I had written one long story. I never moved off the first prompt. It had gotten interesting and I was enjoying watching it unfold. I was entertaining MYSELF by writing.

I had done it. And it was like – my brain went – Oh right, no, I can do this. This is easy. This is fun. And it’s something I like.

I took the next day off writing. But by Monday evening, I was antsy again. I decided that while my first draft was “settling” over December – I would do it again. 50k more words in 30 days. And it doesn’t seem insurmountable. It seems easy. Totally doable.

So here are the things I learned from finally succeeding:

  • Sometimes you can over plan.
  • It’s more about staying the course of writing every day than writing the right thing.
  • Writing the right thing comes in the revision stage. That will take longer.
  • Sometimes you have to just write – [Ugh – explain this later] and move on.
  • Sometimes you just have to write [And things happened – but they end up here.]
  • DO NOT RESEARCH. It will kill your progress.
  • Give characters stupid names. It’s fine. Replace them later.
  • I write better in long blocks. I will get more done in a 4 hour writing session than 4 1 hour sessions.
  • It’s possible to not know the answer to a question a character asks – and as you are writing their response you write out the answer. Without having known it. It’s super weird.

I decided to trust Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and let my work sit for a bit before the first revision. I am actually very excited about going back and rewriting parts and reviewing it. I also found my brain expects me to write. I can do it faster and easier now. Like this whole blog post took 30 min.

Maybe I am a writer after all.

Games I Played This Week

I really should have considered prior to deciding that I wanted to do a weekly post about games I played that it does happen I get stuck in playing several games that are very enjoyable.

I am still cracking away on DQ9. I now have multiple grottos available and am clearing out at least 2 every day. Sadly, my characters don’t seem to be leveling very fast. In other DQ9 news, I convinced my mother to purchase the game and she is *quite* addicted at this point. She keeps calling me and asking me questions so I am able to track her progress quite well. This game is definitely going on my list of games to suggest for people who have parents that play DS.

I will likely be grinding on the multiplayer while at home with her in May.

I am also still playing a game or two of the Pokemon TCG trainer every day. I finished with the Fire Deck and I am now halfway through with the Water Deck. I am also noticing that they keep having “overloaded” messages, so clearly I am not the only one who is loving it.

I have been playing quite a bit with my 3DS, mostly showing stuff off at work. Also I am loving the Street Pass, though it makes me long for PAX where there are more people to encounter.

In WoW both my Priest and Shaman are now getting in on Alt runs for Tol Barad. My server has reached critical mass for being able to field successful pugs for TB which is a huge help for my alts. Our guild has also started some TB alt runs. I managed to down Atramedes on two different toons this week, thanks to needing a healer for our 10 man run on Saturday and then needing a DPS for our OTHER 10 man run on Sunday. My guild is actively recruiting.

Joyia finally got bracers from BoT trash and exceptionally luckily managed to get the +spirit wand off Chimareon. Two upgrades in one week! We made some fairly serious attempts on 25 man Elemental Monstrosity, the RNG fight of doom. (Not from Hell, that’s Al’Akir.)

I also volunteered to get a new guild website set up for OLN. I decided to use WoWStead and it took me all of 45 minutes to get everything up and running. Bonus points for WoWStead’s usability.

Finally, I have taken some time this week to start re-reading some Julia Quinn, to inspire me to work on some of my writing. I had a fairly dramatic plot break through on Wasteland, which I hope wraps up the inconsistencies and allows the story to have a conclusion that isn’t completely depressing.

What’s in a Name?

Writing for video games is one of the hardest mediums to write for. Bypassing entirely the fact that development teams think they don’t need a writer, the writers being brought in exceptionally late, and/or assuming that anyone on the team who can put words on paper counts as a writer, there are a ton of minor issues with traditional writing that make writing for a game difficult.

One major issue that is very common is the assumption that story can only be told in text blocks. Bioshock has proven this to be completely untrue. Story can be told using models, textures, sounds, and even enemy set ups. This is part of an idea that when making a story the designer is also making a world. Everything in the game has to be a part of the world and a part of the story. Nothing should be put in the game that doesn’t support the world and the fiction.

If the design of the game requires something like zone or area names, then it logically follows that each of these names should be selected to support the fiction. Brand names, character names, place names… every single proper name in the game should be carefully considered and chosen to support the fiction. Nuka Cola in Fallout 3? Perfect. Pokeball to put Pokemon in? Perfect. Sinclare Solutions? Spot on. Each name supports the world.

That means the person on the team who knows the world best (hopefully an evil overlord of design), if not a writer, should at least be working with the writer to generate proper names for every single thing within the game. From characters to unique items. From places to technical terms that need to be renamed for the players (eg spawners). These molecules of flavor are just as important as a good footstep sound effect and a well placed combat area for making the world feel real, consistent and coherent.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Recently I decided to start reading more books that fell outside my “normal” reading patterns. The first book I picked was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery book by Stieg Larsson. I chose it, as the main character, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker, and earns her living working for a security firm by finding out people’s darkest secrets.

Overall I think the book was a good book. Worthy of a spot on my shelf, and it has lead to me acquiring the second in the series. (I will buy the third when it is released in paperback.)  If you like mysteries, I can suggest it as one of the best I have ever read. If not, perhaps a look, but maybe with a bit of a check first.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. (Or if you don’t mind being spoiled.)

First off, I love the character Lisbeth. She is a wildly intelligent hacker, that clearly has had a very rough life. Her social skills are painfully absent. She trusts no one and has very odd sense of right and wrong. Through the course of the first book, we see her sense of fair play that borders on psychotic. She always does what she feels is right, regardless of whether it is legal.

She seems completely unable to understand people’s intentions or responses towards her. Her antisocial and standoffish behavior seems to draw others in the book to her. I find it interesting that unlike most authors, who will give their characters “abilities” beyond the norm to assist them, Larsson realizes that her ability makes her that much more incapable of handling things. He makes her exceptionally strong, while giving her extremely profound weaknesses. He also doesn’t seem to mind heaping misfortune on her. One of my favorite qualities is her inability to have compassion for a victim. She is furious at a character for fleeing. Even going to far as to blame the victim for not doing something about the crimes sooner. But then in the very same scenes, proceeds to cover up a serial killer! She also scoffs at the notion that society or upbringing can be blamed for anyone’s crimes.

The book is very dark and is far more along the lines of a Law and Order Special Victims Unit than a standard mystery. The author is not one to shy away from detailed gruesome details. It makes for uneasy sections, but then, it really solidifies the reader to Lisbeth’s side.

I also really liked the fact that the book is very Swedish. They didn’t change or edit it (at least not as much as some others) to make it more “American”. The constant issue with characters not owning cars and having to rent them. The fact that square footage is generally included in a place description (how many Americans can even tell you how much square footage their home is?). They always speak of money in kronor, although I think they converted the numbers to the American equivalent without taking into account the exchange rates now…  Otherwise the numbers all appear to be shockingly low. $20k driving a company into the ground?  Regardless, it’s nice to read a story that is allowed to be told from a different culture and viewpoint.

The ending, while “happy” does not feel satisfying. Much the way that I dislike Law and Order Episodes where the outcome is unclear or the guilty party is not punished for their crime, this book leave the reader with a hollow victory. Yes, the serial killer is dead. But was he brought to justice? Were his crimes brought to light? Was he forced to suffer the atrocities he committed on others? The grand cover up just annoys me more. As I pondered why, especially since the characters give such convincing reasons why it should be covered up, I realized that my biggest issue is none of the characters grew as people from their experience.

Harriet was no more able to face the truth of her childhood than when she ran away. She was just as irresponsible and weak willed as she was at 16. Mikael is just as flaky as he has always been, and just as self centered. He ignores Lisbeth’s feelings to the extend he might as well be just as oblivious as her! Does he consider the women who have died? Does he lose sleep over the person he was friends with that turned out to be a serial killer? Do ANY of them stop to wonder about the man’s girlfriend?!? No, he is far more concerned with his vendetta against the guy he libeled.

After reading the first part of the second book in the series I discover that Lisbeth is in fact the *only* character that grew as a person!

All in all, it was a good book. I am reading the others in the series, but I am wary of suggesting it to others, as it could be a bit squeamish.

Novel November – Once More, With FEELING

Last year I took part in Novel November in that I worked diligently on attempting to just write a novel, regardless of how close to done it got. I tried to ignore things like factual representation and just tried to get the gist of the story down

I failed miserably on all counts. I didn’t finish it. The story ended up in totally the wrong place. I lost the feel about halfway through. I lost the feel of the characters and they morphed into totally different people. Writing is not easy. I would say it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. And I make video games for a living.

So my plan is to try again. Once more, with feeling! and this time with a few minor adjustments.

Novel November will be proceeded with Prep-October. No actual writing will be done, but rather character profiles, outlines, and research. Then on Day 1, I will have a slightly more focused goal and attempt something better than just failing about typing the story as it comes to me.

A Memory

I have recently been reading a great deal of books on writing. One of the most interesting things that struck me was the advice to read books that are similar to what you are writing. And even beyond that, read voraciously. The ever snarky part of my brain piped up with, “No sh*t Sherlock.” It is perfectly obvious that as a writer, one should always be reading. But then I suppose the writer of this book intended to cover all his bases and make sure that everyone knew this as well. I read to excess and exceptionally fast. It is easy for me to blast through a 300 page book in 3 or 4 hours. People are always amazed at how fast I read and yet manage to comprehend and remember everything I read. This is always the point where I look at them and tell them “Well, to be honest, I have had a great deal of practice.”

As a kid, I lived in a house where TV was not considered an important thing. Not to mention we lived so far out in the country we had a grand total of 6 channels, and 2 of them were frequently static-y or down if it was cloudy. My parents didn’t see the value in buying movies, so I probably had about 10-12 VHS tapes of various kinds, mostly Star Wars and Disney. But books were a different story. $6 for a paperback book that I could read over and over again was considered a frugal bargain and as such I quickly discovered that while I could never convince my mother to buy a movie or toy, I could always convince her to buy a book. Add this mentality to the fact that as a high school student I often stayed after school for drill team practice or band practice, after which I would walk to the public library, to have somewhere safe to do my homework, and they sold old books for 10 cents a piece and you have all the makings for a girl with her nose in a book most of the time.

The real point at which I became so enamored of reading and by it’s extension writing my own stories down was in the 4th grade. I remember the event quite well because it was one of the first points in my life I felt real frustration and excitement. Every week or so our well meaning teacher would take us to the library in our elementary school. Here she would attempt to teach us about research, decimal systems, and the value of reading. We would do our best to ignore her and hope to get on to the end of the day. In an attempt to convert us, she required us to check out a book every time we went to the library. The first day she instituted this policy many of us were quite annoyed, but dutifully searched the shelves for anything we might want to check out. Several students took the easy route and checked out something they had read. We were, after all, mildly intelligent and it was easy to see this spawning book report assignments.

I wandered down a shelf of books reading titles, not really interested in anything. I didn’t particularly like reading “grown-up” books, i.e. books not written by Seuss. Near the end of the row I sat down and started pulling out books to look at their covers. My mother always said “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But I had nothing else to judge it by, so I judged away. I found one book with this rather nifty looking image of a wolf on the front. The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Sounded good enough for me to check out and tote around with me until we had to return it.

Ever the normal child I carried the book around, but didn’t actually read a word of it. To avoid the search for a new book, I continued to check it out over and over again. I can only assume the teacher believed me to be a slow reader, or the book to be a bit out of my vocabulary range. Then the unthinkable happened. For whatever reason we had downtime, despite trying I cannot remember what is was we were doing. We weren’t allowed to get up, or even to doodle or whatever. All we could do was read a book in between the something or other. So I pulled out my library book and read it pages for something to do other than stare at the same walls.

Imagine my surprise when the book was quite interesting. I became immersed in the world and deeply interested in what happened. However, before I could finish the book we were back in the library. With a far more suspicious teacher. She insisted that if we had checked out a book 2 or more times we could not check it out again. I was only a part of the way through The Grey King and had checked it out 6 times. It never occurred to me at the time to lie or even to go home and ask my mom to buy the book for me. All I knew was I *had* to keep the book and take it home that day. So I went up to the teacher and told her the truth. Yes, I had just picked a book randomly from the shelf. No, I had not been reading it. But I had started and it was pretty good so far. I wasn’t done and couldn’t I please just have it for one more week so I could finish it. I promise I will turn it in next week. Perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realize that this was indeed a turning point for me. Perhaps she hoped maybe even one good book would make a difference. Maybe she was so surprised I told the complete truth. If she remembered the event, I would certainly ask her now. Regardless, she acquiesced and let me check the book out one more time.

The Grey King was exceptional. At least to me. I thought it was the most wonderful book with a fascinating story, characters, and ending. I returned the book the next week, having finished it over the weekend. I immediately went back to that section of the shelves and touched the spine of what was now my favorite book. Though to be fair, it had no competition. In my childish mind, this was the section to pick another book from for the next week because clearly the shelves had given me such a wondrous treasure before. Next to it on the shelf was a book called The Dark is Rising. Sounds good to me, I thought and checked it out.

I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the author’s name was the same. I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the small print on the cover of The Grey King that plainly marked it as a series. But I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when the new book I had checked out was about the same characters! But it told the story of what happened before! How exciting for a 9 year old! It took less than a week for me to finish The Dark is Rising. Far wiser, I returned to the section and with a bit of assistance figured out it was a series of five books. Suddenly the librarian had to deal with a girl who previously had checked out the same book for 6 weeks just for show wanting to check out THREE books at once. The limit on checkouts was 2 at time. Bless her reading heart, she bent said rules and let me take home Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.

This was my snowflake. This was the tipping point. It lead to Coville, Keene, Lewis, Alexander, Raskin, Bradbury, and so many more. A snowflake that became a snowball that became an avalanche. For years I known for reading books every chance I got. At the dinner table, in the car, sitting at home, in class… In fact, by sixth grade I was so known for reading when I should have been paying attention I was the only person *not* allowed to have books at my desk.

Novel November

Personally I have never heard of Novel November before this year. It is a new concept for me. Writing a Novel in a month. Of course the definition of novel in this instance is 50,000 words. People have asked if I am participating.

Currently my life revolves around work and the crunch period we are in, but even so, should I participate in an arbitrary contest and line? Does 50,000 words make a novel?

An article discussing the spirit of the exercise said it was about quantity, not quality. Don’t edit, don’t research just write. In retrospect one of the things that hangs me up most often when writing is dealing with simple things that I have to research and determine the “correct” answer for. It bogs me down and slowly I lose focus until the story is lost. In that respect it seems to me that Novel November is perfect for me. Perhaps I should, just to force myself to write differently. I write this blog after all to flex my creative muscle and write things down. Is this not the same?

But does quantity, even in this instance trump quality? Is a sentence a collection of words? Is a novel a collection of 50,000 words that have some reason for being together? Or is a novel an experience better planned and organized? Perhaps it should be called Novel Rough Draft November, then Editing December.