Monthly Archives: July 2012

Campfires, fireflies, novels, oh my!

When Camp NaNoWriMo first began (2011) I was having the time of my life working at an actual summer camp in the USA. This may not be all that impressive for any Americans reading this but as someone from the wet rock that is the UK, it was a whole new world of excitement that we just don’t have the chance to experience here! We have nothing which matches summer camps in the States. And it’s sad, really, ‘cause they’re amazing.

I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t take part in Camp NaNoWriMo the first time it opened. I briefly toyed with the idea of writing a novel whilst at camp but I very quickly learnt that wasn’t going to happen (16 hour working days most days a week with limited access to a computer, there was no way I was writing a novel!) But camp itself made up for it. And I was excited to be part of Camp NaNoWriMo this year because I couldn’t go back to regular camp and figured it would be the next best thing.

With this in mind, I armed myself with rebelling and writing some short stories for June Camp. And I bailed at just over 12K.

What I learnt very quickly, and this was backed up by other veterans who tried camp this year, is that I have subconsciously trained my brain to only write novels in November. I have in fact completely trained it to do certain things with regards to a novel from around June onwards. In June/July I come up with an idea, then spend the summer letting is simmer and around August/September I’ll get a main character’s name and a title. As an experienced pantser, this is my “planning” for November and then I’ll hammer out a novel from November 1st. And because of this training, writing anything of length and at speed in June just didn’t happen. I really and truly struggled for the first time in 10 years. It was a strange experience but I enjoyed trying. Unfortunately, I have no ideas for August and so will not be trying camp again this year. I have some other projects to work on.

In the short time I did Camp NaNoWriMo, I did pick up some things though:
–           If you are a veteran NaNo-er, camp will probably be very hard (see above).
–           Camp is different to NaNo in that the number of participants is considerably lower. Just be aware of that, if you’re used to the bigger event in November.
–           Make friends with your cabin. Check in daily just to update your word count or just to encourage your cabinmates! They are your camp family and your immediate support circle.
–           Use the Camp NaNoWriMo section of the forum for support outside of your cabin. It’s just like the NaNoWriMo forums! Only a smaller and cosier section.
–           Set up virtual write-ins with your cabinmates if you can. Unless you’re lucky, it’s unlikely you’ll find official NaNo write-ins for camp and if you find it difficult keeping up momentum without regular meetings, virtual write-ins are the way to go.
–           Camp word count bar is an archery target! This means the bow edges nearer to the centre with every word count update. As someone who failed to get a real bow anywhere near a real target at real camp last year, I can tell you that watching the virtual arrow move is quite exciting! But to get it to move, you need to be writing.

If you have never tried NaNoWriMo before and this is your first time:
–           Write.
–           Keep writing.
–           Don’t look back. (i.e. Don’t edit. At all. Editing is banned for August.)
–           See the above hints.
–           Above all, enjoy yourself. NaNoWriMo is a lot of fun.

And finally:
–           Camp NaNoWriMo is just a mini version of NaNoWriMo. This means there are NO losers. Whatever you achieve this month is exactly that; an achievement. And it’s something you should be proud of.

Now, who wants s’mores?

The Trials of Editing

I don’t know about you, but I find that whilst I can write anywhere, I need a certain set-up in order to be able to edit. I need a desk. Well, a table of some description, with a chair. It needs to have space for my netbook or laptop, a drink of some sort and a notepad and pen. You may be thinking “well, that’s not particularly a lot to ask for” but it is. You see, I don’t have a desk. I haven’t had a desk in over two years (something which continues to pain me). Before I moved to London I had the box room at my parents’ house. That’s the smallest room in the house, for anyone unfamiliar with the term “box room”. It was seven foot squared (I measured) and had a bed, a bedside table and a wardrobe in it. The TV was mounted to the wall and I had shelves inside the wardrobe for my books and DVDs and boxes under the bed for storage. I sat on my bed with my laptop for writing and Internet. It wasn’t the best, but I made do. I didn’t really edit at all when I was in this room but didn’t think much of it.

I have since discovered that I cannot edit without a proper formal setting. In London I now have a bigger room but still no desk. The infuriating thing is that I have a lovely desk and chair in pieces in my parents’ loft and the room to have it set up. I just can’t get it down here! I’d have to pay to rent a van or something. So, I sit on the floor mostly. My laptop sits on top of my bedside table (which is not next to my bed) where it remains plugged into the mains (it’s old) and I use it for Internet and TV. My netbook is usually on the floor next to me for everything else computer related. I have a mug with writing impliments in it and notebooks scattered around me. I eat sitting on the floor and that’s where I rest my candles when I burn them. I call it my “floor-desk” which as fun as it sounds, is not very practical.

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Before I started paying rent and commute on a temp salary, I could afford to go and sit in Starbucks or somewhere for a while and use one of their chairs and tables. This worked and was fun and I got to people watch and drink hot chocolate. Now, however, I find myself illogically monitoring my money. I say illogical because I’m more than happy to fork out £12.50 to see The Dark Knight Rises (worth it!), and £80 for two Olympic tickets for the swimming but then I question paying £3.25 for a hot chocolate at Starbucks. I don’t understand my own mind sometimes but it does mean that when I have the time to sit in Starbucks, I worry over the £3.25 and end up not bothering.

I’ve tried taking my netbook into work and using the hour I spend 4 days a week covering the reception to edit. But it’s incredibly hard to concentrate when I can’t quite move the computer’s keyboard out of the way to make enough room, have the phone ringing at uneven intervals and staff coming by to pick up post or to chat.

I always viewed editing as something I didn’t enjoy. There was something about poking through the dregs of a novel written at speed which wasn’t really that thrilling. And I always made this the reason I didn’t edit when I was living with my parents. But then in February 2012 I began to edit what was to be the first book in my trilogy. And it was interesting! I enjoyed re-writing the parts that I knew needed re-writing, getting to know the characters again and analysing their relationships with each other, and I loved finding all those little golden parts that are awesomely written but you’ve forgotten about and it’s like you’re reading someone else’s work. I came to believe that in order to edit something, you really have to believe it’s worth editing. I’ve tried editing novels before (with a desk) and just got nowhere. But then, We All Fall Down is something I really want to work with. It kills me that I can’t settle into a good editing session anywhere, it really does.

At the moment, my answer is to buy a cheap desk. I can get one for £12.99 from Argos with has decent reviews for the price. And a cheap chair. My boyfriend says I should trawl second hand stores for a better desk for a similar price ’cause he got lucky wih his desk that way. I’m willing to have a look but if I can’t find anythig, it’ll be Argos. I really want to turn it around and have a proper working space. It might not be the lovely desk I have in my parents loft with spaces to keep folders and space on the desk itself for various things, but it would be a flat surface that will hold my netbook that I can sit at. Right now, I’d be content with that.

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Maybe I could edit for a couple of hours at a time regularly, instead of five minutes every so often.

Meeting the One and Only

On June 2nd 2012, I did something I had never had the chance to do before. I met, spoke to and had a photograph taken with one of my idols:

The one and only Master of the University Mr. Chris Baty.

*salutes*

Chris Baty (for anyone not in the know) is the wonder/madness behind NaNoWriMo. The first ever NaNoWriMo took place amongst Chris and his friends. But it wasn’t long before it spread to the Internet and Chris became Lord and Master of the NaNoWriMo world.

The amazing people of London NaNoWriMo arranged a meet and greet with Chris during his visit to the UK. I had got back from Greece two days earlier and could not be more excited! I even had my mum mail my NaNoWriMo hoodie down from Manchester (which I ended up taking off ’cause it was too warm inside the pub…)

When he walked into the area of the pub we’d hired out, there was a moment of stunned silence from everybody. The party on the table across from us were probably wondering what they were missing! I was a little awestruck and, I’ll admit, I’m pretty sure I was trembling. I think part of me hadn’t accepted I was meeting someone I genuinely admired until he walked into the room.

Chris was absolutely charming. He was so friendly and laid back and genuinely interested in everyone’s story. He made sure he spoke to each person at the meeting individually (and there was a fair few of us, including visitors down from Manchester and Bath!), asking them about their NaNo history, their writing and generally just getting to know everyone. He moved seats each time so he was sat next to the person he was speaking to, giving them his full attention. It was brilliant and not something he had to make the effort to do but it was fully appreciated that he did.

When speaking to me, he pointed out that I had been receiving emails from him for ten years before meeting him in person. I hadn’t really thought about it, but he was right. I probably have a novel in emails from him! (If I could access my old email account, I’d totally check… in fact, can I access my old emails? *checks* No, the account’s been deleted.) He thanked me for being an ML in 2011 and was amazed I was into my tenth year, suggesting I had some sort of celebration for my NaNo-versary. I may treat myself to something exciting when I finish my novel this year! Not sure what yet, though. Something awesome. (Suggestions welcome!) He asked about my writing and editing and we talked about NaNoWriMo over the years. He was so easy to talk to. It was a lovely 10 minutes!

Chris is an absolute star and it meant a lot to me to meet him. I can’t even put it into words but if you’ve ever met someone you’ve admired for a long time, you know how I felt. NaNoWriMo has brought so much into my life and I couldn’t imagine it never being there. Without Chris, NaNoWriMo may never have happened; I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful people, I wouldn’t be in the process of writing a trilogy right now and you guys wouldn’t be reading my blog.

Thank you to the London MLs for organising such a memorable afternoon. I feel privileged to be a part of your team this year.

And thank you, Chris! For everything. Hopefully one day I’ll make it to The Night of Writing Dangerously and meet you again.

I have full plans to fangirl and send a copy of that photograph to Chris for him to sign and return to me. Even two copies! In case he wants to keep one.

 

[Unrelated sidenote alert! Oh, and today I learnt that not only did Patrick Stewart do a speech at my sister’s graduation (he’s the Chancellor of the university) but she friggin’ MET him in a restaurant last night and had a photograph taken with him and her friends! She met Professor X! *jealous*]

Short Stories and Competitions

A lovely member of the NaNoWriMo Manchester group brought the Costa Short Story Award to the group’s attention recently. I have to confess, I’ve only ever entered one short story competition ever. To my credit, I was shortlisted. Which, for my first competition, was kinda awesome! This was a good couple of years ago.

I’ve not written a short story in a while. My mind is full of The Trilogy right now. Luckily, the deadline isn’t for the competition isn’t until September 7th (and I already have a fortnight’s warning written in my diary) so I have time. But, if I can’t come up with a new idea, I have a whole bunch of short stories I’ve written over the years. I know I can pick one to edit/re-write. I may even go with the story which has been shortlisted once before. It must’ve had some sort of potential, right? It could do with a bit of work on it though. I glanced through it recently and some of the punctuation made me cringe. (“I put a comma there?” and other such thoughts.)

It’s strange how your writing mind changes. I used to write tons of short stories. Since I left university, I haven’t written any. (Of course, I used to have to write short stories for my Creative Writing portfolio for my degree…) And I graduated 4 years ago. The fact that I know I haven’t written a short story since then without even looking through my files says everything. I think it takes a different mentality to write a short story than it does to write a novel. You have to set up background, characters and a plot in a much smaller space than when writing a novel. I feel it’s a whole different talent.

Aside from my shortlisted story, I remember being proud of one other short story that I wrote in university. I wrote a quick horror which I set on campus. It involved a power cut and murders. A couple of members of my creative writing seminar expressed their horror at it, announcing I made them nervous when walking across campus at night. (I admit, it was awesome to know I had that sort of power. Mwahahaha! *cough*) My tutor didn’t like it, though. She actually suggested to end it with “it was all a dream.” I nearly threw a book at her.

Writing competitions (I believe the term in the business is “comps”) are something I’d like to go for more often. They tend to be aimed at short stories, though. But if you have the text, go for it! There’s plenty out there. I used to follow a website which listed writing competitions and e-zines and magazines which were looking for submissions. It was awesome! Unfortunately, it seems to have shut down. Well, it’s website says “temporarily unavailable” and I haven’t been on in a while, so they could be doing something technical with it. It’s here http://www.literaturetraining.com/ if you’re interested in keeping an eye on it.

If you do hit the competition scene, make sure you read the terms and conditions for each individual competition carefully (make note of any submission requirements such as font and spacing) and be aware that some competitions charge an entry fee. Set yourself a limit of what you’re willing to pay to enter and stick to it. Be wary of any which charge an excessive entry fee for a little or no prize.

Click here for the official website for the Costa Short Story Award: http://www.costabookawards.com/short-stories.aspx.

Good luck!

My Written Word

This blog isn’t entirely NaNoWriMo centric (although, be warned, it will get more so as we creep towards November). I’m a writer. So, naturally, it’ll also be about writing.

I’ve talked about what NaNoWriMo means to me, and in a few blog posts time, I’ll talk about my first year NaNoing. But right now, I want to talk about what writing means to me.

I don’t remember what caused me to pick up a pen and write my first story. I vaguely remember writing it, but only just. According to the date Mum wrote on it, it was written in 1996, so I would have been 9 or 10. I have a feeling I was in year 4, though, which would make me 9 years old.

It was called The Kitten That Survived and was a heartwarming tale of a family of cats who got lost in the middle of winter. Mum cat was killed when she was hit by a car and the girl kitten was killed when she was hit by a sledge on a hill. The boy kitten made it back to their home and he took his owner to find his mother and sister and their bodies were buried. The whole story took up about two sides of blank A4 paper.

I was really proud of it. I’d written a story! My family read it and said they were proud too. Although, thinking back, it was kind of a disturbing first story for a 9 year old to write! I probably really freaked them out. I should really ask Mum about that some time.

My second story was about a girl who got kidnapped on the way home from school. I think it was actually called ‘Kidnapped’ and I’d entered a stage of writing where I felt I had to introduce all my main characters in the first paragraph, including full name age and a description. I was already learning how to write.

I’ve never looked back. Writing has always been part of who I am and an easy way to escape from the hum-drum-ness of reality. I wrote a lot of short stories growing up. I’d write anywhere if I had a piece of paper and a pen. I had notebooks filled with random bits of text and the beginnings of stories that never got finished but I liked the idea for a random opening paragraph and so wrote it down “just in case”. (Who am I kidding, I still have notebooks like this!) I ventured into teenage angst poetry for a few years, and to be honest, I don’t think I was that bad at poetry. But after I turned 18, I grew out of it. Poetry was definitely a way to vent. But I enjoyed the new creativity and I still have all my poems. I have folders and folders of them somewhere! (Some of them are also up on the Internet. But I’m not telling you where.)

When I discovered I had it in me to write novels, I found I could play with whole worlds of ideas and characters. I could mix stories together and do whatever I wanted to! Whatever world I was writing with was my oyster!

And there is something undescribable your characters being alive and taking over your story. Any writer reading this knows what I’m talking about. That moment when you meant for your story to go in one direction but, without any warning, it suddenly goes in a completely different direction as your characters get bored of following your lead and just take over. Tell that to any non-writer, and they’ll consider having you locked in a padded room. But, being a writer means you’ve always got friends along for the ride. Even if those friends are being written down on paper.

My dream for a long time has been to be published. I even did a joint degree with Creative Writing and got some fantastic tips from my tutor. But, even if I never get published, I hope I never stop writing. My life wouldn’t be the same without it.

(‘The Kitten That Survived’ is at my parents’ house. I’ll bring it down to London when I next visit and type it up for you.)

The All Important First Post

Welcome to Spilt Hot Chocolate! I have a whole page dedicated to who I am and why I decided to do a blog up there *points up to ‘The Author’ tab* so I’m going to try really hard not to repeat that. Essentially, I’ve wanted to blog for a while, but never though I had anything to base a blog on. Now, I do.

But what do you say in the first post of a blog?

Well, it’s a partially NaNoWriMo based blog. Let’s talk about that:

What IS NaNoWriMo? Basically? Well, National Novel Writing Month started out in 1999 between the Master of the University Chris Baty and 20 of his friends. That lazy summer idea quickly spread all over the world and 14 years later is an exercise persued by literally tens of thousands of people. It’s the idea that with a deadline and a whole bunch of people surrounding and supporting you, anyone can get that all important first novel draft down. It doesn’t have to be “amazing” (and, let’s admit it, it probably won’t be) but that’s not what matters. What matters is getting the words down on paper and worrying about the amazing part later. If you do this for enough years, it’s a very fun way to learn how to write a novel.

NaNoWriMo is a huge part of my life and has been for a while. I know there are critics out there who think encouraging people to write a novel in a month is a horrible idea. But NaNoWriMo isn’t just about writing a novel in a month for me anymore. It’s about so much more. The community and support from people who are effectively strangers, but become friends within 30 short days is something which is hard pressed to be matched. It’s a great thing to be able to walk onto an Internet forum and instantly find a 100,000 people who want to help you with your endevour and who share your insanity. (‘Cause, let’s be honest, we’re all kinda nuts.)

I have made good friends through NaNo – both online and people I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person after I met them online. I had the fantastic experience of being the Municipal Liasion for Manchester (England) in 2011 and, after moving to London earlier this year, I have had the good fortune to be asked by the London MLs to join their team for 2012. MLing made NaNo a whole different experience for me and gave me the added challenge of monitoring a whole group of writings, as well as my own work.

I can’t forsee me not doing NaNo. Even if I get my dream and become published, have a family and all that, I’d still like to think I’d do NaNo. Because my year wouldn’t be complete without it.

9 novels, 4 regions, 2 years of MLing.

Bring on year number 10!

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