The last post of 2016

So.  That was some year we just had, huh?  I launched SamTWillis.com at the beginning of 2016, because when you write books you’re supposed to have a website, and I intended to publish a book called With No Head some time that summer.  Summer came and went, the title came and went, a cover came and went, and the website is still here.  I haven’t been terribly responsible with it, I’ve put a bunch of half-formed thoughts up here and regretted them almost immediately, but in the archives they remain, never to be seen by any but the most interested of parties.

I expect 2017 to be different in some ways and the same in many others.  The website will remain.  The book, whatever it’s called, will be published.  A short story of mine is going to be published in an anthology, and I’ll be sure to link the crap out of that when it comes out.  “The Night Dragon” will come to an end (probably in January), and I’ll start writing some other silly idea instead.  There will be jokes, there will be anxiety, and there will be posts that are much later than they are supposed to be (like this one!).  People will continue to find my website with fantastic search terms like “peed in his pants.”  I will continue to be amused by the links that get people here.  I will probably make a point of mentioning the free copy of Break that comes with signing up for my newsletter a few more times.

The world, which doesn’t even get a mention until the third paragraph because this is my website and I get to be all self-important all over everything, will continue to be a place wherein numerous bad things happen all the time.  There will be lots of good things, too, and it will probably be more important than it usually is to fight for the good things.  We will learn from 2016, collectively, and we will find better ways to share and consume information.  Better ways to determine what information is valuable.  This is going to be very important, because the amount of information available is never going to decrease, not unless the Internet explodes or zombies eat our power plants (possible story idea?) or something like that.

Donald Trump is going to be the important job guy, and I’m going to continue to dislike that.  I’ll probably complain about it more because it’s probably going to be terrible.  I have no illusions about my complaints actually changing the way things will be going forward, but complaining is cathartic and helps me gather my thoughts.  I believe a clear understanding of our problems and obstacles is key when trying to identify and fight for the things we value.

Thanks for reading in 2016.  Thanks for Googling “lunch place new orleans turkey and the wolf” and clicking on the weird short story you found instead of the restaurant you were looking for. Thanks for signing up (told you I was going to mention it again) and thanks for commenting.  Thanks for tolerating me, which as far as I know is not mandatory.  See you in 2017.

-Sam

Nano Retrospective

Last one for the year, I promise.

I started doing National Novel Writing Month in 2005, during my Senior year in college.  I’d learned it existed the year before and thought I’d give it a shot for the following reasons:

  • I liked writing stories
  • I liked novels
  • I had delusions of grandeur
  • I was operating under the assumption that I would be writing great, novel-length, works of literature in the distant, nebulous future.

I was not prepared to write a great, novel-length work of literature at that point in my life, because I had classes to take a Busch Light to drink.  My plan consisted entirely of the main character’s name, a vague concept of a parody of The Matrix, and a weird joke about ice cream cones that I thought was really funny, even if I’d never been able to get anyone to agree with me on that point.  I’d written a (terrible) story that was around 50,000 words before, but that had taken about three years of on-again, off-again effort.  I didn’t think I had much of a chance.  Writing a story of that length–actually finding a way to get from the beginning, all the way to the end–seemed like an impossible task to wrap my head around.

I wasn’t worried about the story I was writing.  I, who worry about literally everything (earlier today I was unable to make my contribution to the office Holiday Party fund for hours because I was too worried about not having correct change) wasn’t afraid of writing something dumb, because I knew it was going to be dumb.  I wasn’t afraid of it being stylistically sloppy, because the voice I settled into was defined by its sloppiness.  I wasn’t concerned about literary merit because I knew coming in that I was going to fail, I wasn’t going to wind up with a real book and no one was ever going to read what I wrote.  Maybe I was a little worried.  My first paragraph was a disclaimer dedicated to the idea that the reader probably wasn’t going to like what they read, and that they should give up while they still had the chance.
Thirty days later I had just over 50,000 words of pure, unadulterated garbage.  I still love that manuscript for sentimental reasons, but it reads like I was smashing my face on the keyboard over and over.  I’m keeping the story and the characters, because they’re awesome, and I’m rewriting the thing to make it something worth reading, but there’s something special about the original that edits will never be able to match.  I wrote it, a semi-coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, that was approximately novel-length.  Writing actual novels was no longer a vague plan that I had in some distant, nebulous future that I wasn’t even really sure existed.  I’d written a novel, and I was going to do it again, because I knew I could do it.  And I could do it fast.
These days when November rolls around I come in with a detailed outline, chapter-by-chapter plans on where I want the story to go, and I generally follow my plan.  I’m still working on the same story, even if it’s not the same story any more.  50,000 words is no longer the goal, but a step towards completion.  Writing a novel is no longer this huge, almost unimaginable task.  I know the whole story fits in my head.  I’m 105,000 words into last month’s project, and I’ll be writing it through the end of next week (at least).  The fear of failure and the seat-of-my-pants madness that I brought to Nanowrimo my first couple times through are long gone, but I have a blast just the same.
If you’re on the fence about trying it, if you’re thinking about writing a novel but you feel like the job is just too big, my advice would be to try it.  Come in with low expectations, with a story you don’t necessarily love (this is key–if that story you want to write has to be perfect or it’ll break your heart try something else first.  It’ll take so much of the pressure off.) and just write.  Use filler where you have to.  If a scene just won’t come out right write “This scene just won’t work.  We’re assuming it’s over now and everything went just the way I planned.  Onward!” or something.  There are no rules and you can take all the shortcuts you want.  It can be more terrible than you ever imagined.  You can write yourself into a corner, only to have an army of zombies eat the walls.  The important thing it teaching your brain how to make the words flow.  Once you find that there won’t be any stopping you.

#Nanowrimo 2016: The End

nanowrimo_2016_upside

96,771 words written in 30 days.  The goal was 121,000.

I didn’t make it.

Did you make it?

And now the NaNo hangover sets in.

There’s something about hitting an end date, even an arbitrary one like this, that just allows the exhaustion to set in.  This month has been a particularly exhausting one, and the difference between today’s progress and yesterday’s is dramatic.  I remember why it took until February for me to finish last year, but this time will be different.  Of that I am confident.

We’re going to be switching gears here starting next week, back to the regularly scheduled program that’s likely to include the return of The Night Dragon(s), up to and including it’s thrilling conclusion.  There’s also something about a book that’s just about done.

I’m cheating this week, on account of the hangover, and just leaving this brief little post here.  Better one next week, I promise.

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