Nanowrimo Week 3

So it’s Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and I am still plugging away. I’ll be honest, it’s been a lot harder than I expected due to the resurgence of my vertigo. This makes writing on a computer anything but pleasant.

I’ve soldiered on and as of yesterday afternoon I had reached 40657 words. I’ll probably add at least another thousand to that total today so I am still on target to make 50000 words by the end of the month. If things go according to plan,touch wood, I’ll get even further.

I’ve made some discoveries in the last week. When you throw yourself planless and headlong into a new novel, the story can take unexpected twists. Several things about Extinction Event surprised me. One of them came totally out of the blue.

Our hero, Stormtrooper 13, is a sort of cross between Judge Dredd and a starship trooper. He had a chip in his head which records everything so that his memories can be uploaded and stored off-site. They can then downloaded into a clone body in the event of his death. He can also play these memories back in a virtual reality system, experiencing them again if he so chooses.

At one point, he comes across a bookmarked memory of how he met his now permanently dead wife. It was a strange, sad experience quite unlike anything I was expecting to be writing in a military SF novel. It showed the central character in a different light. I don’t know where such scenes come from. They just emerge onto the page.

A second development was the nature of the adversaries. Extinction Event is about the emergence of one of those world-shattering, civilisation-destroying mega-foes. I was expecting something like SkyNet. When our heroes finally encountered the menace, it proved to be something much more Lovecraftian. It turns out that my universe was stranger than I imagined. This will call for some rewriting of the earlier material, of course, but I am happy with it.

I am still finding the sprint is the way to go. I have been setting my timers for between 10 and 15 minutes and then writing as fast as I can.

I broke out the Freewrite at the weekend. There have been a couple of firmware updates that have made it more reliable, and I wanted to put the machine to work. In one way, the excellent keyboard combined with an e-ink screen is a disadvantage. I type faster than the words appear and I often don’t notice mistakes until I am long past them. I find in such cases the best thing to do is just ignore the errors and push on. I can clean up my typos later on something else.

The automatic syncing to Dropbox is a joy for this. It just works. I found with the Freewrite that I didn’t get any more written during my sprints than I would on a normal computer. I did get more words written in a shorter space of time because there were no distractions. I could not check my email or look at a website, so instead I wrote. In this respect, the Freewrite does its job.

On the worst days, when sitting at a computer was not an option, I dictated into my phone. I sat in my flat, spoke in short bursts then watched as my words were uploaded to Dropbox and automatically transcribed by Dragon Naturally Speaking. Once this was done, I cut and pasted the text into Scrivener.

Often for Nanowrimo, the key to progress is just to keep going. I did hit a point where I was stuck. I knew what my ending was, but I could not see how to get from where I was to there. So I did a reverse outline.

I wrote a brief description of the final scene, then asked myself what would be the logical step leading up to this. I wrote that scene and then repeated the process until I had gotten all the way back to where I was stuck. Once I had the outline done it was easy to start making progress again.

There were also times when I did not feel like writing the next scene in my outline. I gave myself permission to skip that scene for now and picked a different one from my reverse outline. I found myself skipping backward and forwards through it adding scenes here and there. This is not something I usually do. Normally I go for linear progress from start to finish with no shortcuts between. Still, needs must when the devil drives.

This did have the advantage of giving me clues as to what needed to happen earlier. Characters would refer to events that had already happened and clue me in on their outcomes. I don’t know why my subconscious found it easier to feed me information in this way, but it did. I could also see who survived the earlier battles by noting who was present in the later scenes.

Looking back at what I wrote last week, I can see that I coped with being stuck then in a similar way. I wrote a mini-outline that moved me forward and interpolated new scenes with old ones. It seems that even when I don’t do detailed outlines for a book and decide to wing it, I end up doing them later. I am sure there is a lesson here somewhere.

So, anyway, the end is in sight now. I have 10K more to do and a week to do it in. I should be able to manage to complete this book in time for the next blog post. That has the sound of famous last words. I guess we will find out.

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Nanowrimo: Halfway Mark

So it’s the 16th of November, and we’ve passed the halfway mark for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). On the 15th I hit 25079 words on Extinction Event, thus keeping me on target. I had hoped to be further along but as they say no plan survives contact with the enemy. In my case, the enemy happens to be a particularly pernicious case of vertigo. It leaves me dizzy a lot of the time and low-level nauseous for most of it. Not the best circumstances to be writing a novel under.

That said, I have soldiered on, relying on that old Nanowrimo standby, the sprint. By this I mean I set a timer for as long as I think I can stand it, sit down and just write my story. There have been times when the timer has been set for as low as two minutes, but here’s the thing– I can still write 100 words or more in two minutes.

According to Writeometer, my last two-minute sprint was for 107 words. If your goal is to hit 1666 words per day, you can do this with 16 two minute sprints. I don’t recommend this for purposes of getting into the flow, but it helps build the word counts.

Perhaps it is the illness, but I slammed into the wall with this book quite hard at the end of last week. I just felt like what I was writing was dull and not worth reading, and I had my doubts about keeping going. Today, looking at it, I can see it is no worse than my usual stuff, but back then I was cursing myself as useless.

It’s a reminder of how much of writing is a mind game. Just keeping yourself going can be a chore sometimes. To be fair to my critical faculties, I can see reasons why I had my doubts. While the individual scenes were readable, the cumulative effect was not achieving the effect I had hoped.

My original outline called for a chaotic multi-sided battle between a number of factions. It was a fight both epic and anarchic, with corporate mercenaries slugging it out with state-sponsored cyborg ninjas, an intervention from an alien hivemind, and our heroes caught in the middle. When I wrote it out scene by scene, it became schematic. I was so busy laying things out so they would be clearly understandable for the reader that I lost the sense of chaos you get in a real battle.

I eventually took myself aside, did a breakdown of what I had written and asked myself what had gone wrong. I then rewrote the sequence starting with an anarchic space drop and progressing to a much more exciting combination of the old scenes and new. I’m not saying it’s the best solution but it was a solution and it got things flowing again. Now the story is racing along again. Complications are piling up nicely, and I think I can see a way forward to the ending I had planned.

When I was younger, there was a good chance I would simply have given up when I started to feel like things were going astray. I had a nasty habit of doing that back then. These days, with a bit more experience under my belt, I know that there’s very little that can’t be fixed if the underlying story is strong. Things can seem hopelessly tangled, but they can pretty much always be untangled if you are prepared to put in the work.

Any other lessons? Yep, as the Bond title goes Never say never again. I swore after my experience stacking up five Kormak novels without releasing them that I would never do that again. Yet here I am working on the second military SF novel in a series without having released the first one.

I did this because I thought I was going to be editing the first one as I wrote the second one. It turns out that for the past week I haven’t had the energy to do both. The momentum of Nanowrimo pushed me to finish what I started in order to avoid the embarrassment of public failure. I have learned some interesting stuff from writing this book that I can feed back into the first book. I can also foreshadow some of the events of the second book in the first one. It’s all useful when you’re building a new universe, as I am with this series.

I am enjoying writing in this Judge Dredd meets Starship Troopers setting. It’s pretty grimdark, but I think it’s also very funny in places. Well, it makes me laugh anyway, and that’s half the battle.

Right, enough of this blogging, it’s time to get back to the actual writing. And that’s another secret of writing success, from the great Stephen King, it’s all about application. The application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Books don’t write themselves, no matter what some people might have you believe.

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NaNoWriMo Again

Right now I am roughly 5000 words into my project for National Novel Writing Month. It’s only the second day of this 30-day effort to get a 50,000-word book written, but I feel like I’m making decent progress. In theory, I only have to write just over 1660 words per day to hit the target. I am trying to build some margin for error into my word counts as well as allow myself to take the weekends off.

Why am I doing this? I’m not sure that I can give a decent answer to that. I did National Novel Writing Month two years ago and enjoyed it. I skipped it last year because I was busy editing Illidan. I was quite keen to get back into the swing of things this year.

I like the discipline of it. I like having a definite goal. To be honest, I doubt that 50,000 words will be enough to finish the book that I am currently planning but it will be a good start.

I have some advantages this year over my attempt two years ago. I have something that resembles an outline. It’s pretty sketchy, only about a page but that should be enough.

The book is called Extinction Event. It’s a sequel to Armageddon Protocol, my upcoming military science fiction novel. Being the second book in a series it has a number of advantages when it comes to getting a swift first draft written.

I don’t have to come up with all of the background because it already exists in the first book. I don’t have to come up with a complete cast of characters because a whole group of them were introduced in Armageddon Protocol. There were some loose ends left in that book. Tieing these up gives me a lead into the plot of the current book. In general, if you’re interested in completing a book in National Novel Writing Month I can highly recommend doing the second book in the series.

It’s something of a strange writing process at the moment. The repetitive strain injuries to my hands are very bad at the moment. This makes typing quite painful, so I am dictating the book on my phone.

This is not quite as insane as it sounds. I have a very good voice recording program called Hi-Q MP3 Recorder. This not only allows very high-quality speech recording, but it also automatically uploads the file to Dropbox.

For transcription, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows. The Mac version is just as accurate when it comes to transcribing the files, but it lacks the batch processing functions that the Windows version has. Dragon Naturally Speaking has a transcription agent which scans a prearranged Dropbox folder and automatically transcribes any MP3 files that it finds there. It does this automatically. I don’t have to do anything. It’s just about the easiest way of transcribing text that I can think of. It’s also approximately 99% accurate.

Transcribing in this fashion has other advantages. For one thing, it looks as if you’re simply making a phone call as you dictate your latest masterwork. This can be useful if you’re out walking in a public place.

Another thing is that I am never stuck without a speech recorder if I feel the urge to dictate some text.

On top of this, I find transcription faster and more efficient in dictating into my computer. The reason for this is very simple. I can’t go back and make corrections.

This is an essential process that part of the process when you are using speech recognition software, but it hugely interrupts you if you’re trying to write. You’ll be in the middle of dictating a scene, notice a mistake and go back and make the correction. This might only take a minute or less but it gets you out of the flow, and you have to get yourself back into the writing mindset.

When you’re dictating you just tell the story. It’s that simple. You’re never out of the flow state, and it’s quite easy to get into it. I find telling the story a bit like being a gamemaster in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s something I enjoy.

In case you are wondering whether I am missing out on Dragon learning how I speak, don’t worry. The other great advantage that the Windows version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has over its Mac cousin is that you can go back and make corrections inside your recordings.

This takes just as much time as making corrections during a dictation session on a computer but has the great advantage of separating the two parts of the process. I can tell my story, make sure it’s written and then go back and do the fiddly administrative task of teaching my speech recognition software.

The other software I use during this part of the process will come as no surprise. Once my text is transcribed, I cut and paste it into Scrivener. I can then go through and edit it by hand.

It used to be that I could tell a huge difference between text I had typed in and text that I had dictated. The transcribed speech was usually much more discursive and far less smooth.This is no longer the case since I switched to transcription. I think interrupting the flow of my writing to make corrections also caused the quality of my prose to deteriorate. Nowadays I find it hard to tell the difference between speech I have dictated until recorder and speech I have typed.

A lot of people get very excited about the possibility of dictating text because you can speak a lot faster than you type unless you happen to be a trained typist. I still find that I don’t get the huge gains that many people report because I count the time I spend correcting my text as part of my writing time.

I definitely see some improvement in word counts, but I am not getting anything like the 4000 words per hour that many people report. I can hit 2500 to 3000 words using this method. On the other hand, on a good day, I can type 2000-2400 words per hour. So as you can see you’re looking at a gain of approximately 20% in my case. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, I appear to have drifted away from my subject matter and onto the subject of tech. Next time, I’ll try and write more about the process of composing and writing at speed.

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Portents of Doom Released


Portents of Doom, the tenth Kormak book, has just gone live. In it, our monster-hunting hero finds himself hunting his most dangerous foe yet the sinister Shadow-worshipping sorcerer Balthazar and his shapeshifting allies. Here’s the blurb.


Led by their lycanthropic shaman, mutated tribesmen emerge from the jungles of Terra Nova, slaying in the name of their demon god. Kormak must thread his way through the murderous wilderness as he attempts to solve a mystery that could lead to the end of the world.

The ebook is now available at the special introductory price of $2.99 or the equivalent in local currency. This will rise to $4.99 in a few days.

Portents of Doom is available at your favourite ebook retailer now.





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The Burning Legion Returns

I’ve spent the last month in the country with very limited access to internet so I missed most of the build-up to the release of Legion. No dread lord invasions of Ogrimmar for me.

Last night though, after attending a Legion launch party at Geekarna, a splendid local cafe, I hit the beaches of the Broken Islands and began to do my part in rolling back the demonic invasion of Azeroth.

Blizzard has done an excellent job in making this feel suitably epic. I was with Sylvanas during the doomed attempt to close the demon gates and witnessed Vol’jin’s last stand. My rogue’s Outlaw spec helped me keep a suitable distance from the big monsters and not die. Then it was back to Ogrimmar to see Sylvanas take up the position of warchief and swear to avenge her predecessor. Stirring stuff.

I watched Dalaran being teleported to its new location. This was a real nostalgia-fest for me. I have always loved the flying city though I shudder to think how much time I spent there back during Wrath of the Lich King. After that, it was down into the underbelly of the city to assume my new position in the Hall of Shadows.

I decided to level Legion as an outlaw, so I took up the quest for the Dreadblades. I died a lot on the beach before I got my brain out of easy mode and I started thinking about things again.

I can’t remember how long its been since I died while questing. I’m not saying this to show how leet I am. It’s just that all of my levelling over the past few years has been done with alts in artefact gear or with a main completely empurpled from the previous expansion. This levelling has usually been done in the company of my son Dan’s similarly well-geared characters. Getting killed is not easy under those circumstances.

Anyway, once I decided to swim to the boat and climb the cliffs rather than detecting mines on the beach path by standing on them, things started to swing my way, and I was soon the proud possessor of a pair of artefact weapons.

It feels suitably epic, all the more so as Dan wields the Doomhammer but I can’t help but feel its going to start to seem a little ridiculous when Dalaran is overflowing with Doomhammer-brandishing shaman and a hundred paladins waving the Ashbringer. We’ll see soon enough.

I like the class-based Order Halls. I like running into my fellow rogues as I stalk through the tunnels. It feels like a step-up from the instancing of garrisons which I’ve always thought atomised the world a little too much.

After being inducted as a new Shadow, it was off to Stormheim for some adventuring proper. The opening questline saw me at the throat of the Alliance, which does not bode well for any sort of united front being presented by the people of Azeroth to the threat of the Burning Legion.

It was fun though to ride bats and commit acts of airborn atrocity on flying ships. When landfall was finally made on the BrokenIsles, we were off to find Sylvanas, who rather irresponsibly for a warchief had taken herself off on some sort of solo quest.

Stormheim itself has a Northrend feel to it. Lots of giant wooden elevators leading to astonishing views, huge mountains and Vyrkhul. It made me quite nostalgic triggering the holograms for the assorted Test of quests. I was up past midnight exploring the zone and I feel like I am only scratching the surface.

It was nice to see lots of people out there as I quested but things never felt too overcrowded as the opening of many previous expansions have. It took me hours to get off the beach in Northrend because I was competing with hundreds of others for every kill. Kudos to Blizzard for letting players choose their starting zone in Legion. This helps contain the overcrowding problem.

So far then Legion has been great. The presence of the Legion and the deaths of some well-known NPCs has given it a suitably epic doomy feel. It reminds me of Lich King and in a good way. I’m keen to see more. Always a good sign.

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Interview About Writing Kormak

A quick post. There’s an interview with me on the subject of writing the Kormak series over at the Dark Heroic Fantasy Blogspot. I’d like to thank Peter Welmerink for giving me the chance to ramble.

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