How NanoWrimo is changing my writing

Posted on Wed 08 November 2017 in Journal • 4 min read

It's the eighth of November and for just over a week I've been diligently beavering away on my new romantic-thriller, First Byte. So far, I've managed a decent pace and after today's session, I crossed the twenty-thousand word threshold. That's almost half-way to Nanowrimo's 50k and a quarter of my planned 85-thousand word manuscript. If I keep this pace up, then in theory I should have a workable first draft by the end of the month.

So in all, it's fair to say I'm quite pleased with the progress.

I haven't had this much fun writing since my 2014 project, The Florentine Conspiracy.

Part of my success so far, I must acknowledge is due to the fact I'm having a bloody good time. I haven't had this much fun writing since my 2014 project, The Florentine Conspiracy. As with that book, First Byte is new ground for me. Neither project belongs to the fantasy genre, although The Florentine Conspiracy had its origins in a fantasy short story and follow-up novella I wrote more than twenty years ago.

Naturally as a self-styled fantasist, this has given me considerable pause for thought. Since 2015, I've been rewriting my novel, Weaver of Dreams, a fantasy story I began way back in 2002. To say it's been a struggle is an understatement. Maybe it was a mistake; maybe I should have left it as a mild YA fantasy and be done with it, instead of adding more scope, more characters and more sub-plots. I've already decided to scale back my re-write, turning one of the side-plots into a standalone novella.

Maybe, I'm simply barking up the wrong tree.

Today I'm much more likely to read contemporary, historical or science fiction

Twenty years ago, 85% of the novels I read were fantasy. Today I'm much more likely to read contemporary, historical or science fiction. My tastes have broadened. I don't like Grim Dark and I lost interest in Game of Thrones years ago.

I have also changed as a writer too, shifting away from descriptive world-building and plots built on the genre's set-piece tropes to writing stories that are driven by characters and their conflicts.

The cracks with my relationship with fantasy began to widen when I wrote The Florentine Conspiracy. As I noted above, it was based on a couple of fantasy stories I wrote more than twenty years ago. The original stories are best described as a hard-nosed adventure. There was no magic and the setting was a pastiche of pseudo Renaissance and Medieval Europe. What was important was the characters and to a lesser extent the plot. So I took a punt and relocated the characters to 17th century Europe.

One thing that many fantasy writers say is that writing fantasy helps them overcome the limitations and sheer amount of research involved in historical fiction. Readers of historical fiction, they feel are stickers for historical fact, and while that's somewhat true I think it's overstated and there's a lot of scope for exploring history's grey areas that are less well-known.

I found the transition to historical fiction enormously satisfying and empowering.

Intriguingly, for me the opposite happened. I found the transition to historical fiction enormously satisfying and empowering. It gave me a ready-made world, rich beyond anything I could ever be arsed creating myself. A world, I might add, in which I was already familiar, having spent four-and-a-half years studying history at university as well as several years living in United Kingdom and travelling in Europe.

With magic, elves, dwarfs and dragons out of the picture, I could solve real-world problems with real-world solutions. Out with deus ex machina and in with muskets, cannon and three-masted caravels.

I smashed Nanowrimo that year, finishing well ahead of schedule and had a blast in the process. What prevented me from finishing was my resolution to return to, and finish Weaver of Dreams once and for all.

As a side note, following my 2014 success, I contemplated rewriting Weaver as work of historical fiction -- and not for the first time, either. I've often thought it would fit quite well in post-Roman or early Medieval Britain -- similar to the world Marion Zimmer Bradley portrayed in the Mists of Avalon. I haven't, because even though I'm crap at writing magic, the plot as it stands is premised on it.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the same thing is happening. As a work of contemporary fiction, First Byte deals with themes and realities that are pertinent to our complex, post-Snowden world. I have a ready made world, Chicago, a city I visited in 2010 on my way across the United States -- I still remember the hangover after getting smashed in a Hooters bar with a bunch of English travellers. The novel's technical content is drawn from my years of experience working for information technology and engineering companies.

So where does this revelation leave me? I confessed to my wife and brother that slaving away at Weaver of Dreams has held me back enormously in terms of allowing me to explore and finish other projects. My wife challenged me to write something different, out of my comfort zone, yet not once have I regret this change -- in fact I feel energised and liberated in ways I had not thought possible.

I will return to Weaver of Dreams after I complete the draft of First Byte -- even if takes me longer than the remaining weeks of November to finish it. Ironically, I think First Byte will end up being my first published novel. What that means for me as a writer is not something I've fully come to terms with.

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