January 04, 2009

Now it’s New Year’s. It’s been two months instead of one, and this little place has been empty of new content. Even more drafts sit in situ waiting patiently for substance, but by and large this front has been quiet.

I’ve not been idle.


First, I finished NaNoWriMo. The official word count was 50,721. The official page count was 227 according to Scrivener, my new favorite writing program. That really was a wild month, with far more ups and downs than I expected. The word count doesn’t nearly tell the whole story.

50,000 words is a lot. It’s kind of an absurd thing and I’m awfully surprised I was able to do it. I never had much belief in being able to accomplish a very substantive task because, well, I have never had the discipline to finish a substantive task. I feel, if nothing else, that I’ve absolved myself of that particular crutch. I had it in my mind to do something and it was completed. Without getting too Oprah book-of-the-week, that’s a really nice feeling.

Next, I didn’t actually finish the book. It has no ending and I found myself purposely avoiding key scenes because I was too scared to write them. I felt fine with building up the story, getting into the characters, describing setting. But the actual meat of the plot was too scary. The general outline of the plot is complete and I know exactly where the characters are going and how it will end. But getting there is still ahead of me. The main scenes for all the subplots, as well as the conclusion that settles the main character are simply ideas in my head with maybe a few brief sentences as chapter filler to remind me of key themes.

I definitely cheated. There’s a lot of cruft. A lot of filler. There are sentences that stop dead and end with “what the fuck am I talking about?” Realistically, I think I’ve written maybe 38,000 words that I might actually keep after rewriting through several more drafts. I think when the story is completed it will be maybe 75K words before cutting, hopefully at least 60k after edits.

I was pleased to find that many of the ideas that drove the story came about in the course of writing. In other words, I started with an idea, a main character, and some various characteristics. As I wrote, new scenarios entered the text, different characters did different things, new ideas melded with old ones. The process was far more organic than I expected. I’ve become so used to organizing ideas in the context of code or nonfiction, that I fully expected to be lacking in my ability to “improvise”. But that came soon enough.

Writing fiction is harder than writing nonfiction. I don’t have a completely fair comparison here as I’ve never written anything nonfiction that comes close to the length of a book. But it seems as if the process would be similar on a larger scale. Organizing thoughts and writing out blocks of text would be the same.

Writing fiction is also harder than writing code, largely for the same reason. I touched on this a bit in an earlier post. Where code often has some set of structures to understand or accomplish elegance, fiction often does not.


By December 1, I was exhausted from writing and quite tired of it, so I took a large break and focused on other things. I’ve setup a Github account and have been acquainting myself with git and some simple projects. I’ve also moved some little snippets of code to Github.

The biggest change has been moving all of my blogging onto github all stuffed in one repository. This has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve been looking for something to get away from Wordpress for awhile, but all the other options seemed to be more of the same overgrown and cumbersome blogging engines. Reading elsewhere, my problem was not scarce. One of the github founders, Tom Preston-Warner, described the same problem recently as well as his home grown solution for it. I’ve been playing with Jekyll for several weeks now and it fits the bill. There’s lots of potential here too for a more generic site generator with user-denoted page hierarchies and links, headers and footers.

Github has adopted Jekyll for Github Pages. So now, in addition to, I’m also hosting on for free. While I’m still using the Jekyll gem, I have a great testbed for making sure new content is created appropriately. A simple ‘git pull’ on my domain updates the main site automatically.

It’s been a really nice change. Everything is simple but it still handles the things I need. And it’s all revisioned! Who could ask for more?

So now it’s January of 09 and there’s lots of work to do. As usual I’ve been doing too much thinking and not enough writing. Hopefully I’ll continue this trend of recording some of it for my later self.

The Big Questions

The two really big questions I get asked after my November experience are “So is it done?” and “When can I read it?“. It’s definitely not done and won’t be for at least several months. I’m hoping to have a solid first draft complete by the end of February. Then it will be more months of editing before I’m willing to show it to anyone besides a very small few. So when can you read it? Maybe never. At the earliest, this summer.

One last interesting thing happened at Christmas. Ever since I started trying to do a bit of writing, I’ve been compelled to get my family to write more too. All of them are voracious readers and, from what little I’ve had the privilege to read, they are very solid writers too. My grandmother wrote a long notebook containing recollections from her time in England along with history and travel tips. I read that during my trip there last Spring.

Apparently during lunch this fall I said to her, “you should write more.” She took it to heart and gave me an incredible Christmas present: an “anecdotal genealogy” of my mother’s side of my family. When completed, it will chronicle my various family trees as far back as is known. The writing is wonderful and the subject matter is obviously of high interest to me. It’s been wonderful to read thus far. Not only I, but my children, and their children will be richer because she decided to write more.

You should write more.

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