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Back home (part 30)

I'm back, and somewhat relaxed. (There's nothing like a weekend at a beer festival in a foreign country, drinking Bokbier, to force you to take your hands off the keyboard, step away from the computer, and stop obsessing. Well, mostly.)

My game plan for the next few days is to fix some minor snags in "The Fuller Memorandum". Then it's November 1st, and NaNoWriMo kicks off. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month — a somewhat mad competition, international in scope these days, to write 50,000 words of fiction from a cold start in the month of November; a motivational crutch for folks with creative ambitions, the idea is to hold your feet to the fire of an actual word count and grind out the prose (which is the hurdle at which most would-be novelists stumble). I've got a novel to write (in the shape of "The Trade of Queens", the sixth book of the Merchant Princes series — and the final one, in the current sequence). It's going to run to a good bit more than 50,000 words (somewhere between two and three times that length), but getting 50Kwords down in November would be a good start, so I'm going to do that. If I seem somewhat optimistic, that's because I managed to write a 102,000 word first draft in 33 days last month; NaNoWriMo should be a comfortable, achievable target despite certain domestic interruptions that are sure to take me out of the competition for 5-10 days.

I will confess that part of the reason I've been holding off on starting TToQ is because of its sensitivity to current affairs. It's set in a very close, just slightly dissimilar, version of our own reality — at least, up until 2003: this novel kicks off in mid-2003 with an act of terrorism that dwarfs 9/11, and the politicians who get to deal with the outcome are modeled closely on those who we remember dealing with the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and Hurricane Katrina in our own history. In some respects, this alternate-recent-history novel holds up a mirror to my problem with near-future SF: "what if," the personal Imp of contrarianism is whispering in my ear, "some time between October 28th, 2008 and January 30th, 2009, Dick Cheney and/or George W. Bush do something utterly unexpected that breaks your mental model of their likely actions?" I live in fear that I might have to go right back to the drawing board if they turn unpredictable after election day. Come January 30th, I can rest easy — the Bush-Cheney executive will be part of history, and I can fictionalize whatever I like around them. But until then, there's always the remote chance that they'll upset my confabulation of their likely response to a certain type of major incident in 2003. In some ways, writing alternate history is safer than near-future SF; but not if you blunder across the uneasy frontier between history and current affairs.




More amazing than the word count: You managed to fit 33 days into a 30-day month. May I please borrow your time machine to deal with my own deadlines?


Oops. I hit post too soon...

I think you mean 20 January 2009, not 30 January 2009; the changeover is on 20 January of the year after election for the Presidency, and 03 January of the year after election for Congress.


Is Bush still president?
Seriously though, Bush & Cheney will be too busy packing and getting their mail forwarded and disconnecting the electricity and gas to worry about much else.


Jaws: I wrote that word count from mid-September to mid-October. Hint: that isn't a month in any calendar I use, but it's close enough to a month in wall-clock time to pass as a yardstick for measuring work output.

As for the dating minutiae on the US presidency: quick, can you tell me the precise role of Black Rod in the Opening of Parliament (without looking it up)?

Shane @3: I wish I shared your optimism. From November 6th to January 20th, however, Bush is still president and the brakes are off -- he doesn't have to answer to anyone, least of all the electorate.


McCain could win the election. I think there's a better than 50% chance he'll be dead in less than four years, especially if he takes on a high-stress job like the Presidency. After all, he's a 70+-year-old cancer survivor who won't release his medical records to the public. If he dies, we have President Palin. I expect that would make us look back fondly on Bush/Cheney.

Not to depress anyone or anything.

Charlie, I'm thinking about doing a blog post on NaNoWriMo for InformationWeek or my personal blog. I've always been skeptical of it -- my rationale is this: 1,000 words a day is a good output for a veteran writer whose full-time job is writing novels. Asking a beginner to write 1,000 words a day is just setting that beginner up for burnout and disappointment. But it sounds to me like you're a fan of NaNoWriMo. Is my analysis off?


True Charlie. That reminds me. Didn't GW's incoming staff accuse the exiting Bill Clinton crew of all kinds of sabotage - removing the keys from keyboards etc. We may be in for some shenanigans after all.


Mitch: far as I can tell, your analysis is off. I know pros who routinely motor along at 3500-6000 words per day, and in some cases over 10,000 words/day -- I'm a slowpoke. 1000/day is eminently achievable, and the NaNo goal of 1600/day is one that a lot of newbies manage to get to -- not always on the first attempt, but NaNo is a recurring one, and folks keep going back to it.

(Now, pumping out 1000 words/day over an entire year, of commercially publishable fiction, is another matter: think of it as 1000 pages in book form. But most writers work in bursts, on a project basis.)


I miss Huber Bock.


Thanks, Charlie. Mind if I quote you? (assuming I do the post at all, which I'm still noodling about).


I'm writing a "near future" novel for NaNoWriMo, so your earlier article on that subgenre was very useful to my thinking. My setting is about 40 years in the future and predicated on continued global warming. Now we seem to be looking at the possiblity of a cooling period. Sigh.


My wife participated in NaNoWriMo last year and she completed the 'challenge.' She had a good time doing it, and she is getting me to participate this year as well. I think it sounds fun.

@5: The goal isn't really to write a novel, it's just to encourage people to write their ideas down. As Charlie noted, this doesn't generate a publishable manuscript or anything of the sort (well, unless your Charlie).


Mitch: quote away.


Welcome back from Amsterdam, Charlie!

I just got back from vacationing there, myself (although I missed the festival, drat it). I love Amsterdam. It's such a beautiful city and the Dutch are just so damned nice. Me and my SO plan on going back as often as our budget allows.

I wouldn't worry too much about climate cooling, Catana (well, "worry" is the wrong word since it would be a rather nice counter trend, but you know what I mean).

The "cooling" evidence is pretty weak and mainly being amplified by the usual suspects. The bulk of the evidence is that the climate is continuing to warm and will do so for the foreseeable future, more the pity.




If you are worried about near term sensitivity to current affairs then I'd suggest you need to take note of what this article is saying - almost from an official source (will be 12th Nov). 9-6% decline rates in the near term are going to be massively important anytime the world attempts to climb out of the recession we are entering. Forget the possibility of Cheney growing a heart before January; this has a probability in the high 90%s and has a global impact.



So few people's mental models of Bush-Cheney are based on reality that no one would notice yours was broken.

Note: I don't mean this in the normal partisan sense in which it is usually leveled. I just think that many people blame them for choices that there were few good options for, and give passes for choices where there were many viable less worse options. I'd argue strongly that happenings in Britain and the US over the past decade indicate that constraining domestic freedoms is not a problem dependent on the Bush-Cheney worldview, for example. Perfecting the panopticon is always going to be in the interest of bureaucrats of the type who usually get their souls eaten by Angleton in the Atrocity Archives universe.


Regarding the difficulty of writing 1,667 words a day:

I've been doing a lot of appearances at high schools and colleges talking about NaNoWriMo, and the number one thing I tell them is that it doesn't have to be good, it doesn't have to be polished, it just has to be 50,000 words long (minimum.) The other truth is that most people blog, email, text, chat, and comment AT LEAST a thousand words a day.

To a certain extent, it's an excercise in writing what Terry Pratchett calls a 'zero draft,' the draft that precedes even the first draft where you're just getting it all out in sequence on the paper to find out what you got and how it fits together.


Catana @ 14

At the speed with which things are changing now, and assuming that can only increase with time, 40 years doesn't seem like the "near future" to me. 10 or 15, OK, but much more and you're going to be tripping over the event horizon. Just as an example, it's a reasonable bet that interface to computing and the Web will look like a mobile phone in the next 10 years, but how about 40?


No criticism was intended -- just a minor correction and addition to your store of trivia on the Useless Gummint (even most Americans don't realize that Congress and the Presidency change on different dates).

But I spent enough time in the UK to remember that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is an officer of the House of Lords who, if I recall correctly, is sent to summon the members of the House of Commons to hear the monarch open Parliament. I do not, however, recall from where he is sent, to where, or any of the other details... except that something in my brain says that it's always at high noon, but that might merely be an implant from the NSA.


Charlie, I'm surprised you're still capable of surprise by anything Bushco can do. The sky is the limit as far as I'm concerned. Brin has some speculation about the coming pardon tsunami over at his blog.

I'm going to give NaNoWriMo a try for the first time. I've got an idea about an experimental drug that makes this retarded guy super smart. But then it wears off. It's a comedy...


Greg B @16: Interesting. "Zero draft" is a good phrase. I've been working on a zero draft for about a year and a half now, which I completed this past weekend. I call it a "rough draft." I've been following a rule of doing 250 words a day, every day, weekends and holidays included. I don't have a 100% record, of course, but I've come very close. And of course, usually it's not 250 words a day, usually I overshoot, and it's more like 300-40 words.

I follow the rule you describe: It doesn't have to be any good. It just has to make some sense, or come as close to making sense as I'm capable of at the moment. I'll worry about internal consistency, storylines, background, and so forth ... well, starting this week.

Overcoming the internal critic has been the toughest thing. After I managed that, it's just something to do. Indeed, I was perversely proud to write an ending to the novel that I think is probably awful, because it was a sign that I've slain the internal belittling critic good 'n dead. And I'm also thinking that maybe it's not awful -- maybe it's good -- one of the points of this exercise is that I don't really know until I get some distance.


Charlie, I don't think you should worry about what Bush/Cheney might do in the next few months. If the book is set in 2003, then writing them as they were in 2003 is entirely appropriate. Unless you're throwing in large economic problems on top of terrorism (which would be likely if, for example, a nuke blows up Wall Street). Then looking at their responses to economic problems right now would be a good guide.

Regardless, the trend since 2001 as been for ill thought out expansion of government power and deficit spending without concrete goals. Just have them overreact by demanding (and getting) lots of money and sweeping powers from Congress. :)


Charlie, why would you worry about what Bush/Cheney do now? You're writing an alternate world book. Just like everyone else (even "mainstream" writers), you're writing on an Alternate Branch. (Mainstream writers write about a branch of the world in which their books don't exist, after all.) You're just doing it explicitly. :-)

Good luck!


> I know pros who routinely motor along at 3500-6000
> words per day, and in some cases over 10,000 words/day

As if I wasn't depressed enough already.


I'm not sure you have to worry about being Jossed by history's twin black swans, not least because whatever Bush and Cheney might pull, we will only know part of the official story. Doubtless you'll be covering whatever your vision is in greater depth, so that whatever surface similarities the situations may share, the mechanisms behind each might be wildly different. What'll be truly creepy is when documents unsealed thirty years from now start mirroring what you've written.

Then again, I doubt that the Imp can be silenced by any kind of advice, platitude, or wisdom. It's an Imp, after all.


One of our American Sci Fi writers, David Brin has already predicted a Bush Resignation. followed by a Presidential Pardon from Cheney. ok putting on the imagination hat and going FAR out on a limb..
-- Wait That's what I pay YOU to do!!!
One way or another it'll be over soon!


The joker in the deck right now is January 1st, when the the American mandate in Iraq expires. I doubt that the current administration will declare war on our ostensible puppet government in Iraq, particularly if the likely election result occurs (fingers crossed), but it will be the first big mess winding up on the new administration's desk.


> I know pros who routinely motor along at 3500-6000
> words per day, and in some cases over 10,000 words/day
Those kind of levels are certainly regularly achieved by many journalists, who are also doing the research/interviewing/whatever. Of course, they have the wonderful focussing power of the regular, firm deadline to meet.
I'm toying with NaNoWriMo this year - managed about 15,000 words last year when I had more time - but I think I've got a better outline in my head this year and maybe less time to dither will help rather than hinder. After all, if you want something done, give the job to a busy person.
On the Bush/Cheney stuff.. anyone expecting all-out war with Syria by Christmas? Get out of that one, Barack...


I sat at dinner yesterday[1] with a climate editor from Nature (we have the UK Meteorological Office down the road, with a well-regarded climate modelling unit.

The conversation didn't turn to a cooling period.

Actually, we managed not to discuss Bush, Cheney or religion in the USA either, but we would have been interested in new ideas in climate science.

[1] We have a good pub up the road, with a good quality of random encounter.


Nonfiction writing is astoundingly different. I can feel a great sense of accomplishment after completing 40 words (and getting some numbers right), or I can have a lazy day in which I vomit up 4,000.

Just saying hello, Charlie. Back from North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida before heading off to North Carolina. Yes, that stuff. Want a field report? Or not.


Different? Sure. Easier? Maybe, maybe not. There are different boundaries for fiction and non-fiction, indeed those boundaries vary for different types of non-fiction.


Partly it's what's happening around me, but I think I'd struggle to do 50,000 words in a month. I've run out a first draft at that rate, but nothing for that long.

One piece of advice: don't delete. You've wasted words on a dead end? Mark it off, maybe a different colour, and keep writing. It can be a big chunk of your daily word count, and it still counts.

Oh, I shall give it a try. I have some ideas. And you don't have to emulate Lionel Fanthorpe's prose.


Andrew G @ 21 There are those who would argue that nuking Wall Street would be a solution to economic problems . . .

50k a month on a blitz first draft? Seems feasible.


I have a full time, non-writing, job and recently wrote a 10,000 word short story in 10 days. Pretty much I was up till 3 am every night, and hammering away like crazy for one weekend.

When I finished that, I was in a daze for a month.

It's currently in someone's slush pile. Been there for about three months. all queries go unanswered. Argh.


Interesting idea, I've decided to sign up to it. Not sure how easy it will be to do it concurrently with my degree, but hell, I've been wanting to write a book for .... ever. This is the time, and, if not, at least I can say I gave it an honest shot. I managed to write 2269 words (minus LaTeX mark-up) about something incredibly boring (international private law) so writing 2k words a day on something cool and interesting should (I repeat, should) be easier.


I bet we air attack Iran. We don't care if they cut us off from oil by mining the Gulf because we can't afford to buy it anyway, and we don't care if Saudi Arabia goes bankrupt because the Infidel Moslems don't tolerate Christian missionaries.
Will Obama abandon the troops in Iraq when the Iranian army comes across the border? Let's see him back out of our war then!



November is ALSO National Solo Album Month, the musician's answer to NaNoWriMo ... a few more details here, http://nasoalmo.org/ .

Do check it out while you are scribbling madly ... something to listen to while you write!


usr/sbin @36 - for those of us who find it too difficult to write a novel *and* record an album in the same month, there's http://fawm.org/ as a fallback...


David @34 I know exactly what you mean. I did my final year law thesis (12,000 words, y'know the one I was meant to be writing over the course of a year rather than waiting until the week before it was due to even start) in a day and a bit...

Of course it was a loooong day, but I was writing about the application of law to and legal considerations raised by the the then (back in '98) still relatively new medium of the Internet, which was actually quite interesting and that helped a lot. Personally "blitzing" is the only way I can approach such a big project, as I get bored and my mind wanders incredibly easy, or I begin to criticise what I'm working on and end up hating it too much to continue.

I've had a couple of stories I really want to tell hanging around for years now, but every time I start, real life gets in the way and I lose focus and they go back in the queue. I think the only way I'll get either of these out the door is by taking a month out, going somewhere remote, remaining incommunicado and just writing solidly - maybe I'll do it one November...


Hope all is going well with your NaNoWriMo book! I was excited to hear that you are participating. I'm up to 13K right now myself. :)