NaNoWriMo: Done, Dusted and Over For Another Year

NaNoWriMo

It’s all over!

NaNoWriMo is complete, at an end, finished, over, caput, at an end, over and done with. It is no more. Fin.

And I completed the challenge!

Tired and just a little surprised with the monumental effort it took to get myself over the 50k line, I’ve found that I still have the burning desire to get to the end of the story that often dissipates once the ultimate goal of NaNo disappears. I was worried that without the drive that comes from Nano, I might struggle to get over the end-of-story line but that’s proved not to be the case.

NaNoWriMo can do that to you. You spend so much time and effort working towards to the goal of 50k by Nov 30th it’s easy to lose sight of the real goal which is the end of the actual novel you’re writing — assuming your novel doesn’t end at 50k words. The way I’m going just now, I expect the first draft of ON THE ROCKS to be complete in the next 10 to 14 days.

How did I get there this year given such a terrible first two weeks? It was a basic strategy really. I obviously had to increase my daily minimum target and force a few 5k days into the equation over a couple of weekends. Not easy going, but the closer I got to the end of this story, the easier it seemed to become. Quite often I hit a middle sag or struggle towards the end but in the case of this particular novel, it was a real slow burner that has spread like a bush fire in July.

In the end, the last Sunday of November saw me write almost 7k in a single day, which for me is a big day and pulled me so far up toward the goal line that I actually made the 50k mark two days early. Nov 28th saw me cross the line when all along I thought I’d be struggling to make it at all by the 30th.

It just goes to show what hard work and determination can do.

Did I enjoy it? Aye, without a doubt. This was a real challenge this year and despite the bad start, I came racing through. I’ve found there’s actually been a little bit of regret now it’s all over and that I’m missing it. I guess I’ll just have to keep on churning out the novels then.

But is the story any good? It’s only a first draft but it has real potential. I know where it has to change, which characters need to be moulded further, where the plot needs to be tightened, where the holes are, etc. The bottom line is, look out for DI Lennox’s first full novel with him as the main character later in 2018.

So what next now that December is here?

As I already mentioned, the first half is to be dedicated to actually completing this first draft of ON THE ROCKS. If you’re interested, the wee tracker on the top right of this page will continue to be updated with my progress as I strive for what I’ve estimated to be a first draft target of 80,000 words.

Then it’s into analysis mode as I look back and compare all my 2017 goals with what I ended up achieving. Then I can build a plan for next year, which based on this year’s successes, I already know is going to be busy and very exciting.

Onwards and upwards.

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NaNoWriMo: The Half Way Mark

NaNoWriMo

It’s half way through November and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is at its outward most point. We’ve reached the turn and already I’m heading back to the clubhouse with only one aim in mind: to reach the 50,000 word mark.

By this point I should be on 25k or more, averaging just under 2k per day and be sailing through my manuscript. Not so, for it has not been quite so easy as I’d first hoped. Not yet, anyway.

To date, my stats make for some pretty miserable reading. Although progress has been made, and what is down on paper is not altogether a total pile of shite, as of last night (15th) I have only managed to get down 10,468 words, which is approximately 15k short of where I should be. It also means I’ll only be at around 34k by the time midnight on November 30th arrives if I keep going at this rate. Since the kick-off, there’s only been 3 days that I breached the daily minimum required, 7 days when I fell short, and a full 5 days when absolutely zilch got written.

How has this happened with a plot that was devised well in advance and a healthy pattern of working?

Two things have hampered my progress:

  1. The main reason is that my working pattern was forced into an unforeseen change. I’m a morning writer – always have been, always will be – I’m more creative nearer dawn, clear in my mind, and as a result, the prose I write is concise, natural and offers the story in the right way. Thanks to over-zealous project managers in my day job, however, I suddenly had to start attending regular early meetings. This meant my working day was brought forward an hour and thus encroached on my writing time. I struggle to write at night because I’m tired and nowhere near as motivated to be creative as in those crucial early hours, so it was a real hit to my schedule.
  2. The second reason has had far less a bearing because it only involved having to re-think things in the story. As is normally the case when you set out on a new novel, things happen during the writing that you simply did not plan for. Maybe a character does or says something unexpected; perhaps a new character bursts onto the scene; or maybe holes in the plot are discovered that require a re-think in the direction of the story. It could be anything, and basically, in my case, this is what’s happened. A new character arrived at the front door (literally) that then required a total re-think of most of the story. This knocked me back because it would have been stupid to continue without considering the implications, but as I already mentioned, it wasn’t too big a thing to happen. The net effect was that I lost a couple of days writing entirely due to the mind mess it created, but on the up-side, the book will have ore depth and be more multi-dimentional because of it. If I’d been winging it from the start, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but seeing as I’d decided to plan ahead this year, it was a pain.

So that’s my half-time report. Progress made but the play has gone against me resulting in a couple of dodgy decisions and a change in my game plan. I’m down, but definitely not out. In my opinion, 40k in 15 days is still achievable if I can get some dedicated writing time and stick to it.

That’s why this weekend I intend to take part in a writing sprint. If I can somehow make up the missing 15k between now and the end of the weekend I will be back on track, but if I can do it AND get a few more words down too, then I’ll suddenly be ahead of the game.

This has the potential to be a game of two halves and the whole thing could change with the kick of a ball. Okay, so enough puns, but you get the drift.

Back to the page. See you in two weeks.

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National Novel Writing Month: The Debate

NaNoWriMo

This November will see the 19th annual National Novel Writing Month take place. Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, the basic idea — if you haven’t heard of it — is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.

It sounds easier than it is, and in fact, requires a fair amount of commitment to hit the 50k in the space of one month. You need to write a very basic minimum of 1700 words each day, which when you balance everything up against all of life’s other commitments — a day job, kids, family, social time, etc. — you can start to get an idea of the amount of time that’s required.

My good pal Devon Ellington wrote an interesting blog a few days ago called Reasons I Should Not Do Nano, about her internal debate on whether or not to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. In it, she balances up all of her life and work commitments against the pros for taking part, and her article made me think about my own situation.

The pros for taking part are strong. You kick off on day one with an idea for a grand new novel — it may be plotted out or you may decide to wing it — but the goal is to start a fresh and exciting new project, and push through it until you have 50k words down on paper. It’s hard work and it can be a lot of fun.

I first took part in 2006, armed with only a basic idea for a story, a laptop and no planning whatsoever. I started writing at 5am on the 1st November, and by the end of the month, I had 70,000 words and the core of a decent novel. Months later the book was completed, edited and produced, and it hit the shelves known as Slick.

The following year was pretty much the same (basic idea, no planning), except this time I only just crawled across the line. And because I hadn’t planned for it and struggled to make it to the 50k, I let the novel go, only picking it up sporadically in several half-hearted attempts to complete it. That novel never saw the light of day until July this year and it was called Gatecrash.

Back in 2006/07 though, I was working full-time both in my day job and as a freelance writer and website designer. My time was fully occupied and I had begun to lose sight of the writing priorities that meant more to me. Since then, there has been a five-year spell where I never wrote a single word and used much of the time to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. The end result was to focus on thriller fiction as well as punk poetry under a pseudonym; two work-streams instead of the multiples I had running all at once ten years previous.

So this year I approach November in a good place and with a good life balance already in existence, and this includes plenty of time to commit to writing new novels. Moving into late September, my plan had been to take a pause in the novel planning that was already underway for my holiday in Greece, and use that two weeks to work on a new chapbook. This would then give me two weeks to finish up the new novel planning when I returned home in October, and I would use NaNoWriMo as the spur to write it.

What I hadn’t counted on was the sudden flash of inspiration I had for another novel I never saw coming, which has since taken over everything. It’s to be my first novel with Bob Lennox as the protagonist as opposed to the supporting role he played in Slick, and it’s actually pissing me off having to wait until 1st November before starting to write it.

But that’s the whole point. I’m excited about it and itching to get underway. I’ve got a burning idea with some great characters in a great location with some great thrilling twist points. In short, it is perfect for NaNoWriMo and will be the next novel to come after the next one already lined up to be published around the turn of the year. So you can probably expect to see it sometime in 2018.

Some people use NaNoWriMo to finish existing projects, some to continue other forms of manuscript, and others to test out other writing forms as an alternative. But I believe the spirit of the whole thing is what gives it the biggest pull of all, and that is that you start a new novel on day one and see it through to the end. It means all other projects sit aside (possible in my case; not if you’re a working writer for example) leaving you to focus solely on that one story.

For me, NaNoWriMo gives me the chance to fully dedicate to a novel and this year the timing is simply perfect. I’d be writing the new Lennox novel regardless, but with NaNoWriMo being just around the corner, I have the chance to be involved and give it a really good shot at completing it.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t just an online project, it has a physical form too. There’s a community of writers all over the world taking part, and in cafes and bookshops and other spaces, local writers come together and support each other in their individual projects, all in the name of the 50k goal. I’ve met a lot of people through NaNoWriMo, and some I still know to this day, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually be as involved this year as much as I was ten years ago.

If you’re interested in tracking my progress, I’ll likely post a few blog posts as the journey progresses (time allowing). I’ve also added a wee word tracker to the blog (top-right menu) and there’s always Twitter and Facebook too.

So here we go. The novel is plotted (to an extent), the laptop is charged, I’m in first gear and the engine is revving waiting for the green light on 1st November. Bring it on!

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What Makes You Think You’re Any Good at Writing?

There’s a common misconception that if you’re a writer, it logically follows that you must be loaded because you obviously sell a lot of books. It also seems to be the common perception that if you’re a well-known writer you must be a millionaire because all your books are likely being turned into TV or film adaptions. Subsequently, if you’re a lesser-known writer who has a full-time job and writes in his or her spare time, then you’re not a serious writer at all — you’re merely playing at being a writer.

I find this to be of extreme frustration.

Among the first questions people always ask me when they discover I’m a writer is:

  • “how many books have you sold?”
  • “do you make a lot of money?”

They don’t actually get that I don’t write to make serious amounts of money (and by that I mean tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds). Sure, I make money from all my books; I make enough to put back into promoting my work or a damn good meal in a nice restaurant. I don’t make enough to buy Lamborghinis or yachts and nor am I trying to.

The reason I write is simple, unbelievable and unremarkable: I enjoy it. I don’t consider it a hobby. For me, it’s a second career (the one I really enjoy) sustained by the earning of money from another source. Going fishing is a hobby; writing is a serious compulsion.

In an ideal world, yes, I would be a full-time writer. I would be sat by my private pool somewhere sunny, churning out thrillers and travelling the world while raking in royalties and selling my book rights to Hollywood. But that’s not realistic because if I wasn’t enjoying it, it would just become another crappy job and therefore a chore I would rather avoid. The only way, therefore, is to continue writing while I do enjoy it; anything that happens thereafter is merely by chance.

Ian Rankin once told me over coffee that the only difference between me and him was that he’d been writing longer, had gotten good at it, and had sold more books than me. He didn’t set out to be a world-famous writer; he just wrote. And that’s why every book he writes must be better than the last, at least in his eyes, for when that burn to create disappears, so too will the book sales and so too will the royalties.

It’s the same for me. Each novel I put out simply has to be better than the one before. I have a desire to learn from each book and develop as a writer. It’s something I take so seriously, I’m actually prepared to devote months of time and effort into learning my craft and improving how I construct a story, then writing it down.

When people don’t see this because they think it’s a game I play in my spare time and not something to be taken seriously, or assume that I simply fart around with all those words and therefore cannot possibly be any good at writing, the frustration grows further and further.

So I’ll keep writing while that creative fire is there. For it’s not being a good writer that makes you rich it is merely luck. To be truly rich one must be true to oneself, and for that to remain true I must do one thing: write the books I want to write and appreciate those moments when some unknown person approaches me and says: “hey, I really liked your last book…”

It’s not a game, it’s quite serious. And with each book I write, I get better and better which results in more and more enjoyment. Whether I get “lucky” by other peoples’ perceptions is not up to me — in my opinion, I already am.

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Greece Provides the Inspiration Yet Again

We arrived back from the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes in the early hours of Sunday morning, after a wonderfully relaxing (lazy) and productive holiday. It’s the first two-week vacation we’ve had since we visited Sri Lanka in 2015, and with all the recent change and upheaval that 2017 has seen — new jobs and a new home — it was a most welcome time away for me and my wife on the largest of the Dodecanese Islands.

The plan for the holiday was simple: chill out and get some serious sun and relaxation. This was achieved to a great level of success as we enjoyed an average daily temperature of 29 C (84 F) along with unbroken blue skies, a high sun, and an ever higher moon. The full moon on the 5th turned out to be a Harvest Moon, and the sight of it hanging large and golden above the bay outside our balcony was a true sight to behold.

We hired a car and toured the island in depth, covering all corners of the island from medieval Rhodes Town to the windy west coast where I revisited the sight of my first ‘lads holiday’ back in 1992, the easy-going east coast with its luscious beaches and fishing coastline, and the beach at Prasonisi where the two seas (Aegean and Mediterranean) meet for some serious surfing.

To cover the inaccessible areas inland, we took a safari trip through the hills and valleys, followed dried out river beds and experienced all kinds of honey delights, strawberry liqueur, and firewater. We experienced the hard-worn areas of the island; Greece at its rawest under the blazing sun.

The food was amazing. The hotel we’d booked threw up some great stuff including fruits of all kind, fresh fish including sea bass, Greek salads, tzatziki, souvlaki, moussaka, the smoothest feta, and the freshest olives grown on the grounds of the hotel itself.

The food in the small cafes and restaurants that we stopped on our travels topped the lot though. I had the most amazing grilled octopus in a food hut on Prasonisi beach. It was also my birthday while we were away, and to celebrate it, my wife had booked a meal for us in one of the top restaurants on the island: Melenos. The food combined with the views across Lindos bay made it an amazing experience — the grilled Sea Bream providing the exquisite taste to go with the memory. This restaurant was so good in fact, we returned on the final night of the holiday to have another go at the menu, and noted just how good it was when noted Rick Stein and his wife walked in to dine at the next table — kudos enough for me!

But it was on the creative writing front that Rhodes yet again proved to be as unexpected as it always has been inspirational. In the past, it has provided the inspiration for some of the poems in Poolside Poetry 2, and of course, Greener is the Grass was written as a direct result of experiences I had when I last visited in 2011.

My plan had been to put the planning of my next novel to one side and pick it up again during the two of weeks prior to NaNoWriMo in November. I would then use the two weeks on holiday to write a new chapbook on Rhodes going back over my visits there spanning the last 25 years. This was largely accomplished, and I returned home with a notebook of new poems and ideas for work a new chapbook, Rhodes: Then and Now to be published under my poetry pseudonym, Chas Stramash.

However, on the 1st day of October, the very day after my birthday, while sleeping off a hangover on the beach, an idea — or rather a character and an idea — popped into my head and would not clear out to give me peace. The idea was too strong, the visualizations too clear, and the desire to write it down too powerful. Around three hours later I had the outline of a new novel down in my notepad. It was as simple as that: all the characters, the high-level synopsis, the twists, the themes, and the title. All done.

This new novel will now be the one I shall write for NaNoWriMo, and I’ll put back the one I was already working one until this one is completed — it really is a must-write story.

The character that has caused so much unrest in my mind and that demanded the new story takes precedence, is DI Bobby Lennox, a supporting character from my first novel, Slick, who received a lot of good feedback. I’ve often thought about doing a new novel with him as the main character but wasn’t sure the direction I was going to take it. For some reason, while lying on Vlycha Beach, he barged his way into my mind and threw a story at me set in Rhodes that I just could not resist.

Planning shall continue, therefore, until the end of the month, and the writing will commence on 1st November. I’m aching to begin…

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If it weren’t for Paul Auster…

“Paul

If you’ve read the biography page on my website, you’ll have come across the mention of a writer called Paul Auster.

And if you’ve known me long enough, you’ll recognise that same writer as one who is regularly mentioned or highlighted as being a great source of inspiration for me. In fact, if it weren’t for the influence of his writing, in particular the impact his book, Hand To Mouth, had on me when I read it in the 90s, then I simply would not be where I am today.

To put it simply, if it weren’t for Paul Auster, I wouldn’t be a writer.

When I read that book back in the late 90s, it made me realise that I could actually do it. I could (and would need) to have a regular job to pay bills etc., but it was that book and the words in it that opened the door to the realisation that I could also be a writer, and follow the long-forgotten desires I’d held to be a writer.

With that renewed self belief, I began down that very road. I enrolled in a creative writing course, joined forums, and started to write. I wrote a lot of things in a wide variety of form, eventually finding my voice (years later) and deciding where I wanted to focus my energies.

I have also met a lot of great people, whom I would not have if — and I’m aware I’m repeating myself here — if it weren’t for that book and Paul Auster.

Why am I telling you this? Because tonight, Monday 14th August 2017, I will finally be in the same room as Paul Auster.

He is due to give the first of two talks in Edinburgh, the first a keynote event as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s 70th Anniversary, Spirit of ’47, at the Kings Theatre (Paul was 70 in February this year). The second a more traditional book festival event in Charlotte Square as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival itself.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’ve often wondered what it would take to get this man over to Scotland for the book festival, and on more than one occasion I’ve pitched the idea to the organisers. Thankfully, this dream is about to become true.

With my last novel receiving the best feedback of all my produced work, I’m already on a little bit of a high. By the time tonight and this week is over, I expected to be motivated and packed with self-belief and awe to a height never felt. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway. At the very least, I can say I met him (hopefully).

They say one should never meet their heroes as they will always let you down. That didn’t happen when I met the band Madness and it sure didn’t happen when I met William McIlvanney.

I’m hoping for nice neat run of three and that tonight, a dream will come true.

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Colin Galbraith & GATECRASH

My first coverage about Gatecrash is out today! Click on over to Devon Ellington’s ‘A Biblio Paradise’ blog to read the interview. Thanks again Devon!

A Biblio Paradise

Gatecrash-Colin-Galbraith-240x360The Inspiration and Process

Gatecrash has been a while in the making; 10 years in fact. Readers of the old version of my blog back in the day will remember me talking about it a lot while it was being written, and then on and off over the next few years as it ebbed in and out of my writing priorities. It’s safe to say that it is definitely the hardest novel I’ve ever written, certainly the most complicated, but also the most rewarding.

I feel more fulfilled by Gatecrash than any of my other novels, purely because I didn’t give up on it when it would have been far easier to forget about it altogether. Too long did I procrastinate over it, although much of that meant the birth of other works, it always remained as the most irritating unfinished project I had. And I hate unfinished projects. For…

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