In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, 27 October 2014

Do Your Own Thing

 Well, NaNoWriMo is nearly here again. For those who don't know, NaNo is National Novel Writing Month - the challenge is to write a manuscript of 50,000 words or more in the 30 days of November.

 I did it last year, for the first time. I said then that it was impossible, really; nobody can write 50,000 words of publishable material that fast. It works out at 1,667 words a day, a huge number. But what we can do is produce 50K words of a first draft. On that level NaNo is great, because it motivates people who are struggling to find time, and helps those who tend to start a story and then lose their way as they progress. It gives a big obvious target and anything else but word count can be thrown cheerfully over the side.

 Still, some people do get silly. I won't mention names, but there's a woman in the US who has hit the 50k word target on the first day seven years in a row. Last year another entrant said her intention was to beat the first one, to finish faster than she did. I don't see the point of that. I could write blah blah blah 50,000 times and win NaNo, but what have I got to show for it?

 Novel writing is not a competition. I'm not up against you, and it's not a knockout between Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. We're all doing our own thing, that's all. There's no need to worry that someone else is faster, or knocks out words more consistently. So what?

 For myself, I fit NaNo into whatever I'm doing at the time. Last year I did volume 1 of Troy, which was published in April after several months of rewrite and edit. By then I had Troy II well under way. With it published in September, I can now use NaNo 2014 to do volume 3. The whole novel is blocked out already, I know what will happen and who will be there to see it, and in honesty some sections of the text are already written. In a trilogy that happens. I thought they'd go in volume 2, they didn't and since I'm not going to delete them, they'll slot into volume 3 at some point.

 I go into NaNo happy with my work and my life. The former, because I hosted an author event at Bideford Library yesterday (Saturday 25th) and sold a few copies, which is always good. The latter, because my lady Caz and I are engaged and planning a wedding for September 2015. The world is sunny right now.

 Nice when that happens, isn't it?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Telling Stories

 Isaac Asimov once said that when he read a sci-fi novel that was very bad, he threw it across the room in disgust. When he read one that was very good, he threw it across the room in frustration that he hadn't written it first.

 I like Stephen King, and own about 20 of his books - but until recently, I'd never read The Shining. Weird, eh? Anyway, I recently began it, and I feel like throwing it across the room. I will never be as good as that man has been. Give me a thousand years to learn and I'd still fall short. King has an eerie feel for people, and tremendous skill in expressing that. I wish I could be angry but he's just too damn good.

 The same goes for Sheri S Tepper, author of The Awakeners and A Plague of Angels, among others. I'm now reading the sequel to that last, called The Waters Rising - yes, while also reading King. Even more weird. After 80 pages I'm gnashing my teeth in envy while also captivated. She's so good it's unsettling. Often her work has feminist themes, but they're so subtly done that at first I didn't notice. I think that's refreshing, because a lot of feminist authors use writing as a club. Tepper uses it as a fine paintbrush.

 This is depressing. If I can never be as good as these people, why should I bother?

 Well, there are other authors who I can match, I think - or even surpass. Tepper makes the ordinary seem magical; by contrast, Harry Turtledove takes extraordinary events and makes them mundane and uninteresting. Terry Brooks copied Tolkien for the first Shannara book, and has told the same story over again two dozen times since in more turgid prose. There are others, but I don't want to name them all. I'll offend too many people (and inflate my own ego besides, hehe).

 Even this isn't the point, though. I tell the stories I do because that's what I've got. I can't match the highbrow novels of Jane Austen, or follow the flights of fancy of Neil Gaiman. And no, I can't match the psychological insight of Stephen King. But I think I can tell decent stories that have a bit of excitement, which feel somewhat fresh, and which hopefully give people enjoyment.

 I suspect, when you strip away all the interpretations made by critics, that most authors were doing only that. Telling stories. It's a pretty good life.