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>Life, Nanowrimo and Just Doing It

>After all the gremlins and goblins, princesses and pirates go home tonight and the Halloween decorations and candies are put away, NaNoWriMo begins. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo , you agree to try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That sounds like a lot and the first time I tried it, I let my own insecurities psyche me out. About 10 days in, I decided there was no way I could do it. After all, it meant writing — gasp — a novel in just one month. What I didn’t take into account is that the rules say 50,000 words, not 100,000 or more (which is what I write now without batting an eye). So, I became my own worst enemy.

Instead of focusing on the end number of 50,000, look at the daily average you have to write. 1,667 words, give or take. That looks more manageable, right? Now, that might mean you only write a few hundred words a day during the week and then pound out more on weekends. You — and I because I am doing NaNoWriMo as well as taking up Sarah’s challenge. Yes, I’ve lost my mind. But you already knew that — simply have to do what works.

One of the biggest excuses I’ve heard — and I’ve used this more often than I care to admit — about taking part in NaNoWriMo is “I don’t have time”. It’s an easy excuse and, yes, real life does happen. But, if we were to look at our lives with a critical eye, I’d lay odds each one of us could find a few minutes a day when we are doing something — or nothing — that doesn’t have to be done. Some of us are gamers. Some of us are avid TV watchers or sports fans. Some of us don’t get up until we absolutely have to. So, instead of spending an hour or more a day playing Halo 3 or watching Dancing with the Stars or the World Series (oops, strike that. The Rangers are in the Series so we’ll say football) take half of the time you’d normally be gaming or watching TV and write. If you like to sleep in, start getting up half an hour or hour earlier. Give yourself time to write.

The issue really comes down to the question of “Are you a writer?”. It’s not, “Do you want to write?”. There are a lot of people out there who want to write, some who even think they can, but who will never be a writer. A writer is, in my opinion, someone who has to write. That’s right, HAS to write. I’m not talking about having to write to make a living or to please someone else. I mean you have to write because it is a part of you. It truly is something you have to do. For another author’s take on this, check out John Scalzi’s post here.

Another thing to beware of as you take up the challenge of NaNoWriMo or even Sarah’s challenge from a week ago: distractions. It is so easy as we hit that part in the book that seems hard to write to start looking for other things to do. Some of us suddenly need to clean house. Others just have to get that yard work done. There are any number of distractions — including, for me, deciding that it is the PERFECT time to learn something new. Sometimes a distraction is good. it lets your mind take a step back and, when you return to your writing project, you can look at it with fresh eyes. But these distractions are also insidious because they will keep you from writing if you let them. So, just as you set goals with your writing, you need to set limits on the distractions.

All this said, I’ll admit I haven’t written much this past week. But, after everyone left the house after the baseball game last night, I took time to write out the basic outline of a story that attacked me earlier. Then I finished the outline for another project I’ve been working on. Today, after a bit of work I have to do outside and which shouldn’t take more than an hour and after I finish prepping Kate’s prequel to Impaler, Born in Blood, to go up at Naked Reader Press, I’m spending the rest of the day writing. And, tomorrow, I’ll start getting up half an hour earlier than usual to write. That is my commitment to both Sarah’s challenge and nanowrimo. Now, the project for NaNoWriMo will not be complete at 50,000 words, but it will be halfway completed. That’s a good start.

So, how many of you are doing NaNoWriMo? How do you find time to write and, if you’re having trouble finding the time, is there anything you can do to carve out 30 minutes a day for it?

>Guest Blog — Amy Sterling Casil

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Welcome to our guest blogger, Amy Sterling Casil. Amy’s short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines and venues ranging from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy to Zoetrope. You can find her longer fiction works, as well as her non-fiction books, here. For more information about Amy, you can visit her blog here. — Amanda

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Space Travel!

So where does space travel stand? Is Richard Branson the only person making travel to space a reality now, other than the Space Elevator student-scientist teams?

NASA’s approved budget for FY 2010/11 (the current government fiscal year) includes $1.6 billion for development of commercial space opportunities – i.e. similar to Virgin Galactic.

Virgin_enterprise Just about three weeks ago, the Virgin team completed the first piloted flight of SpaceShipTwo, also known as Virgin Enterprise – the planned spaceflight vehicle, for which 340 tickets have already been sold!

This is out at the “international Spaceport” in Mojave, California – which believe it or not is in Los Angeles County. This is the high desert north of Palmdale and Lancaster, which are the towns near Edwards AFB, the west coast landing site for the Space Shuttle. I think this picture shows how gorgeous the “high desert,” also known as the Mojave desert, can be. At its pretty times, it’s big sky country, and spectacular.

I have a charming neighbor who works for a major aerospace contractor (Northrop Grumman) and a while back, he shared with me a few of the amazing technologies just this one, admittedly important, company is working on. Just one among the technologies is a lab-version of “beam me up, Scotty.” That’s right – a matter transporter. One of Northrop’s teams working in Redondo Beach also just received Popular Mechanics’ 2010 “Breakthrough Award” for its work in developing the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) that was successfully launched last year. The award was given because the team developed commercial, affordable components that wouldn’t just be used for the LCROSS, but could also be used in numerous other space operations. Total cost to build and launch the LCROSS? $57 million. As a point of comparison, the Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion to build, and $450 million per launch.

I’m hardly the expert, but I think space science and technology has undergone a genuine revolution in the past two decades. My impression of the former programs is that they were almost 100% government-sponsored, very hierarchical, and once begun, very difficult to adjust or alter in light of changing world- and technology conditions. Now, the diversity of those working on space-related science and technology is staggering. It isn’t just different countries becoming fully-involved and engaged (Europe and Asia), it’s nearly every university around the world with at least a few projects in experimental fields – including community colleges! NASA just selected community college students to begin to work in space/technology centers to work – for real – on many different forms of space technology.

So, the answer is “no, it’s not just Richard Branson.” Check out the agenda for the Space Manufacturing Conference taking place this weekend! This conference deals with real work currently being performed leading to asteroid mining and space settlement – moon or orbiting stations.

Why am I learning all about this? Book, of course . . .

Now, as to why many people don’t hear more about these exciting technological developments occurring worldwide, is it that members of the media don’t understand, or don’t care? Or both?

>Roll Call

>I’m about to run out the door on my way to the local hardware store — don’t ask. It’s the weekend. It’s nice. It must mean repair-time for something, right?

Any way, it’s been more than a week since Sarah issued her challenge to us all so time to report in on how we’re doing. We’ll cheer one another on, give a judicious kick in the rear where needed.

Also, if you have any questions or comments, let us know.

>Don’t Get Mad – Get Therapy

> WARNING: READING THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE MAY IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

Just thinking lately about the things that drive my own writing, I have been wondering how much of my drive actually qualifies as some sort of dysfunction. OK, so you are nodding your heads wondering why it’s taken me so long to figure this out for myself, and it’s just par for the course. Still . . .

How much is enough? The answer, arising from the voice of dysfunction, is of course that no amount is ever enough. And what is the goal? Well, for me it is a complex mix of love of story, the need to bring that thing into creation, to experience that flow of words – and some other elements that are more in the way of demons. There is something under the hood that drives me to reach for some sense of connection to fill a personal void. Is that healthy? Is it like functional drug addiction? I don’t know, who can judge it?

Not all writers are striving the fill the inner void like some crazy Japanese Kitsune armed with a word processor. But for those of us who are, my question is: are there other ways to fill that same need? Wouldn’t writing be a more enjoyable activity, wouldn’t the success that comes (how little or how much), the criticism, all be that much easier to deal with if there was not a desperate need that underpinned all the striving?

Sometimes it is worth stepping back and looking at it all – yourself, your goals, what your expectations are. And maybe, just maybe some therapy might help.

So what do you think? Can artistic achievement fill the psychological void? What drives your passion for writing, and how much of that verges on obsession?

>Alas, poor SF, it suffers from premature mourning

>Yes, yet again SF is on its virtual deathbed, diagnosis terminal – and yet, the shambling corpse keeps staggering on. And on. And… well, you get the idea. This latest case is part of a broader treatise on the nature, life, and death of genres by Daniel Abraham . He’s got some good ideas, although why he feels the need to wrap it all in academicese is something I’m not going to think about.

The basic argument this time is that modern life is so SFnal that there’s no room for the kind of “gosh-wow” optimism that was all over Golden Age and pre-Golden Age SF. Cloning is mainstream lit, vampires are sparkly (speaking of which, just so you can share my nightmares, go take a look at Freefall for today (http://freefall.purrsia.com/default.htm until Friday, then it should be at http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff2000/fc01950.htm), and SF is so dystopian 1984 starts to look positively chipper.

I disagree. Yes, there’s a lot of modern life that looks a lot like SF, but there’s still plenty of places imagination can take us, and they don’t all look darker than the Pit of Despair. Oh, wait. That’s just Fezzik blocking the light. Sorry.

We’re right on the edge of self-replicating gadgetry – and affordable, too – that can make all sorts of useful stuff to spec. We’re not that far from figuring out how to stop age from killing us, or failing that, slow it down even more (and let’s face it, “old age” happens a lot later than it used to even 25 years ago). If we wanted, we probably could get a functional scientific base on the moon, although at current tech levels it wouldn’t be all that comfortable – but it would be there, and be usable for research and as a jump-off point to bigger and better things.

What’s missing? In my view the voices of PC have drowned out everything that doesn’t fit their view – and many of the loudest voices boil down to “all things about humans that aren’t straight from nature are evil”. So, those of us who’ve put a lot more distance between us and our poop are much more evil than those of us who haven’t. This, in the view of certain PC factions, is tied into skin color. Presumably distance from poop causes bleaching (ahem). Um. Sorry.

Anyway – what do you think? Where can SF go, why are people so keen to hold the funeral, and why did Westerns die and Romances get out of the back corner of the bookshop?

>The Spaces Between

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So, in the very first week of throwing the gauntlet and promising to do a lot of writing, I didn’t do any.

I have tons of excuses – there was Mile Hi con which inexplicably tired me more than it should. Then again, it sounded like a consumptive ward, so perhaps there’s some bug going around. Then there was this trip, which I’m dreading because it involves – horrors – flying and I hate flying. Also, we haven’t been to World Fantasy Con in years, and as you know – or perhaps not – there is a “con cloud of acquaintance” (defined as the people you look forward to seeing at each particular con, also those you can count on to run interference for you, etc.) and in the years we’ve been absent, we probably don’t have our acquaintance comfort zone, anymore. So, it’s almost like a brand new con. (And yeah, hard as this is to believe, for those of you who only know me from cons, I’m not comfortable in public. I just put on a good show.)

But beyond the excuses there is something else. Oh, not on the shorts. I’ve been doing revisions on old ones of those, and it will take me a while to get back to the swing of things. At least two weeks. However, there is a reason nothing got written on the novel – I’m in one of my patches of silence. I hit these periodically. And yeah, sometimes it means I took a false step. But most of the time it just means it goes… silent.

Some of you know I can – and have – write a novel in two weeks. So, you ask, why don’t I write twenty novels a year? The answer is these patches of silence. I’ve fought them for years. It’s not that I don’t know what the next chapter is – I do. Or that the novels feels wrong – it doesn’t. It’s more like the next scene/chapter/whatever needs to ripen. Seems to be part of my process, as annoying as it is.

I expect to hit the ground running and after WFC, I want to finish two novels (both started) for NANOWRIMO (what? It surprises anyone I NANOWRIMO?) The Brave And The Free and A Fatal Stain.

Are you NANOWRIMOing? Have you done it before? How did it go? Are there periods of silence in your writing life? If so, what purpose do you think they serve?

For those who picked up the gauntlet and are having trouble coming up with ideas, here are a few suggestions.

1 – write a story with the following: character: gymnast; setting: a siege; problem: a feint

2- three words (feel free to discard one): brush, landmark, spoonful

3- start with: Being dead wasn’t the problem.

>Maps and other things Fantastical

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Here is the map I came up with for the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy.

Making people look at the maps of your invented world is a bit like making them watch slides of your last holiday. Speaking of which, I once went to visit a friend of a friend who made us watch his collection of slides of steam trains. Only he put them in upside down and went through the whole lot, then turned them up the right way and made us sit through them again. My … that was a night I won’t forget in a hurry.

But back to maps. Over on the ROR blog MGC regular Chris Large has done the first part of a two part post on What does a Map bring to a Story. Part 2 will be up next Sunday. Thanks, Chris!

The map for King Rolen’s Kin was inspired by two things. I’d been reading the history of Japan and I was intrigued by the way the string of mountainous islands with little arable land shaped the island’s people. There was pressure to secure the arable land and hold it. And I also watched a documentary on volcanoes and what happens as they erode.

Being a writer, of course I saw how this would shape the people who lived there. And being an SF reader from way back, I thought why not have a planet with no moon, lots of stars, bright as a moon ( minimal tides due to planetary and solar gravitational pull)? Also, I set the islands on the equator so both north and south are cold, depending on where you are. Plus, I made the orbit elliptical, so they have intensely cold winters and hot summers.

All of which is embedded in the text, but I don’t actually spell it out. It’s enough for me to know. For a full explanation of the world building behind the KRK trilogy, see here.

So, tell me, do you like maps in fantasy books?
Do you ignore them until you get the narrative gets you lost and then you refer them to find out where things are?
Do you feel the map should be superfluous, that the narrative should carry enough information for you to make sense of it?
Are you like Chris, annoyed by illogical maps?

Confess now, do you have a map for your latest work-in-progress?