Nanowrimo Diary

As I do with every book these days, I kept a journal while I was writing my imaginatively titled Nanowrimo 17. Here, as promised last week, are some extracts from it along with my commentary. Before I go into details, it might be worth giving some background.

This year, I decided to depart from my usual practice of having an outline and used instead Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing Into the Dark method or as close an approximation as I could manage. I began with just some images and a vague idea and decided to run with it. More about this appears in the entries themselves so I’ll skip talking about it here.

I worked exclusively in Google Docs, mainly because it was the easiest way of getting access to my stuff wherever and whenever I wanted to write or edit. My plan was to write a few pomodoros a day, spend some time editing what I had written at the end of the day and then again at the start of the next. I soon abandoned this in favour of a method recommended by the indie writer Wayne Stinnett. I basically edited the previous two days work at the start of each day. I found this was a good way to keep my hand in and it suited my energy levels better. At the end of each day in a month plagued by illness, I was usually just too tired to bother with editing.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to the book journal.


Wrote 2743 words or so. On my way home I realised that the Slaver ship probably belongs to the Quan.

That’s a pretty sparse entry. In my defence, I was tired and not only had I written almost 3000 words, I had written a blog post as well. To expand on it a little, I had started with an image in mind. Two men standing on the deck of a junk looking out at the harbour of a tropical city which is descending into madness and dark sorcery.

One of the men, the wizard, was a stoner. In my mind, he looked like 60’s era Donald Sutherland circa Kelly’s Heroes or MASH. I even used the name Sutherland as a placeholder. It let me see the character as I wrote him.

I wanted the setting to be tropical just because I had not done it before. I had an idea for a sort of Apocalypse Now plot set in a mutated jungle, part Chaos Waste, part Maguuma Jungle from Heart of Thorns and full of zombies and all sorts of Apocalyptic fallout from a magical version of the Vietnam war. Just as I was casting around for an idea for the story, a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that every Halloween he rereads Roger Zelazny’s A Night in Lonesome October. It struck me that the Maguffin in this story should be something to do with the opening and closing of forbidden gates that let eldritch things into the world. Whatever bad thing had gone down these guys were there to stop it. So what if they looked totally incompetent for the task.

As I was writing little bits of background business infiltrated the scene. An ebon galley appeared in the harbour. I am not sure why. I had in mind the black ships in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories. I think they belonged to the Men of Leng. No idea why these were there. They’re just something that has stuck with me since I was a teenager. In any case, there was some connection between our heroes and the sailors on the ship.

There was mention of blight and wraithstone, both elements of the background of the Kormak series. Maybe this was part of the same world. It certainly took place in the same universe.

Walking home from the co-working space it came to me that the cloaked floating figure on the deck of the ebon galley might be a Quan. They fitted the description; they were aquatic, and they had acquired a fair bit of background in my Kormak and Terrarch books. It would be as easy to adapt them as make up something new. Given the fact that I was operating so much in the dark here, my mind was reaching out for things that would give me a structure of some sort.

Part of this day’s writing can be found here.


Day 2 was very hard because I was tired after another low sleep night. Our five-year-old was on antibiotics for scarlet fever and we had been getting up in the middle of the night to give him one of the doses. Much worry and disruption of sleep ensued.

I changed Sutherland’s name to Silverhand which scans the same and looks cool and also suggests something about his physical appearance. This was a bit of serendipity. It meant Silverhand ended up having a sort of magical prosthetic hand. This told me something about the nature of magic in this world. I rewrote the opening scene to include it.

Our heroes wandered through the city seeking an Inn where they were supposed to make contact with someone who would help them with their mission. Nagapore was quite clearly a composite of Bangkok before they filled in the canals and Saigon. Many refugees fleeing terrible events in the North. En route to the inn, they passed through an area very similar to Khao San road as it was when I first saw it nearly 30 years ago. Only this time instead of being full of backpackers, it was full of mercenaries, adventurers and carpetbaggers, all here to exploit the chaos in the city. I used the sights, sounds and smells of the scene pretty much as I remembered them.

On my way home I realised that this could be part of my long thought about wuxia setting. The Imperial Chinese setup fits well. Also in terms of an Order versus Chaos plot, it slots right in. We have a bureaucratic Lawful Imperial Empire and rebellious Chaos cults and demons. As above, so below and so on.

One thing is immediately obvious. I do a lot of thinking about my work when walking home. Lacking any other structure, I was doing the magpie thing, running with half-baked ideas. Anything was grist for the mill, including my own travel experiences. For years I have thought about doing a sword and sorcery novel influenced by The Water Margin and my love of wuxia movies. Why not now? The South East Asian setting was on my mind because in the past I have often travelled there at this time of year. With the cold weather arriving, this was a way of revisiting the place.

In the evening I found out why Gdocs is useful. I did some light editing on my phone while waiting to watch Westworld with the family.

1803 words in total. Current total now: 4574


Managed a pomodoro. Hands a bit numb. I really need to investigate using speech recognition next week. 448 words.

Pomodoro two 5684. That’s 662 words this pomodoro. 1110 total.

Pomodoro three 6506. 822 1932 total.

My curse this year has been RSI combined with complications from diabetic neuropathy. As you can probably tell from the terseness of the entry. I was not in the mood or the position to write much about the work itself. Under the circumstances, I focused on getting the writing itself done.

It’s unfortunate because the book itself was starting to take on a very distinctive shape and tone. Our heroes failed to meet up with their local contact and instead found themselves engaged in a polite but sinister conversation cum interrogation with a corrupt local magistrate. This gave me the opportunity to explore the setting and the reasons why our heroes were there. The conversation itself was fun, one of those Jack Vance-like ones where everybody is elaborately polite but with very different meanings being implied to what is actually said.

Anyway, I am now well over 1000 words on this blog post and I have only reached day three. I can see this write-up is going to be a long-term project. More of this as and when I find the time and if there is any interest.

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  1. I see this like a sort of “Making of”. Is always interesting know how a wordsmith works. from what you tell i can already see that harbour and think must be a really crowded, dangerous place. looks a interesting story 🙂

    • Thanks Deka! What is a bit weird about this is that I don’t normally work this way at all. I am analysing this process as much for my own benefit as anything else.

  2. Gordan Jovanovski says:

    Always interesting reading these kinds of posts along with your author’s notes and the like. Glad to see things went well. I definitely liked the way things were shaping up in the bit you shared, and can definitely see how it’d either fit into an established world like Kormak’s or be part of the greater multiverse. Interesting that the Quan may be involved. I enjoyed their part in Kormak’s series and the strangeness they brought to things, very alien beings in a world already populated with things not quite normal. Looking forward to hearing more about this and seeing what our favorite aquatic space faring sorcerers may be up to.

    • Thanks, Gordan. Unsurprisingly, the Quan are their usual nasty vampiric selves. Perhaps more surprisingly they show up with an offer to help. OK, it goes something along the lines of: yes we still want to conquer the planet and eat your brains but we can’t do that if the world is destroyed so we’re here to do something about it. Our heroes find this suspiciously plausible.

  3. Definitely interested to hear more of the process (and read the book). And I hope that Scarlet Fever cleared up ok – definitely not a nice thing to have to deal with for any of you.

    And I’m now rereading Lord of Light, just because…

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