Well, nuts. Last night my goal was to cross the 40,000 word threshold, but I just missed it. I was tired, and I was at the end of the chapter, and I didn’t want to force myself through those last 400 words.

However! This morning I wrote very well and got over the line, though I didn’t actually check my wordcount yet. And I finally got my characters into a long-awaited secret chamber, though the lovebirds have started fighting and things will generally be downhill from here.

At around 30,000 words, the middle of last week, my novel took an unexpected turn. It was something I should have seen coming, but didn’t: once I started writing what I had in my outline, I realized that it was stupid and made no sense. So I wrote something else. This got my stuck and result in a several-day-long slowdown of my work. The whole point of having an outline is to know what I’m doing so that I can write quickly, but this doesn’t work when the outline violates the core premise of the story.

I eventually worked my way out of it and got back onto the outline, though with a missing chapter and a really rough spot that needs to be worked over in editing. My protags got hitched and laid. This means that I’ve passed the logical midpoint of the story, and now I can get to work tearing them apart and destroying everything that they love.

This story is going to be so much longer than 50,000 words.

See that progress bar over there? See how it’s suspiciously close to half-full?

That is an optical illusion, children. It is, in fact, just over half full: 25,838 words out of 50,000. It merely appears to be less than half full because of the drop-shadow on the left, and our general inability to visually assess exact ratios.

The novel goes swimmingly. The first 20,000 words ripped right along in the first ten days or so. I stalled slightly getting to 25,000 (which was my goal for Tuesday 11/11, but wasn’t actually met until Thursday 11/13), because I found that I had to stop and explain a great many things, and because my protag was recalcitrant about falling in love with his intended.

However! Things seem to have cleared up between the soon-to-be-happy couple, so I foresee sexy fun times at the end of the chapter, all the better to lead into the mysterious ancient artifacts and world-shattering catastrophe in the latter half of the book.

New goal: 30,000 words by Sunday (11/16) night.

Things are rocking. Having an outline of the entire book has been incredibly helpful, as I’m able to charge through the actual scene-setting without having to stop and worry about what happens next. I’ve discovered something about my writing process: actually putting words on the page is the easy part for me, the fun part. The plotting is the hard part: I usually start with a very vague beginning and a very vague ending for my stories, and I spend all of my time trying to figure out how to get from A to B. If I do all of the plotting up front, then the writing itself is a breeze.

Anyway, I was at about 8,000 words this morning, and by this evening I expect to break 10K. Two days early! W00t!

So this year I’m doing–or attempting to do–NaNoWriMo. Never done it before. I managed to finish my first novel without artificial deadlines pushing me along, but my second novel has been stalled for almost a year. I started one this spring, abandoned it about one-third of the way through, and haven’t written anything longer than a short story since. (Not that there’s anything wrong with shorts, but I’ve got books in my head, and they need getting out, too.)

So: NaNo. Today was day one, and I wrote in every spare moment and managed to churn out just shy of 4000 words. Woot! I only need 1667 words per day to win, so at this rate I’ll coast to an easy victory. I note with pride that only one person in my group of writing buddies is ahead of me at the moment, and after tomorrow I may be able to claim the lead.

(I’ll get one of those wordcount widgets up here soon, but the site is busy and slow today with all of the traffic, so it’ll have to wait for things to settle down.)

I haven’t read all the way to the end yet, so perhaps I should withhold comment, but my reactions to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother are very similar to those of this reviewer:

If only we lived in a world where the people who work for the Department of Homeland Security were transparently one-dimensional and evil, if only DHS were massively more invasive into every facet of our lives instead of just having useless airport security checks, and if only Doctorow were a hacker who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during a terrorist attack. If only all of those would come true, then Doctorow would save the day….

It’s not that I disagree with any of the ideas put forth in this novel. For the most part, I strongly agree with them. It’s that the package in which they are wrapped is poorly considered, poorly argued, and poorly written. The ideas herein are important and absolutely must be discussed, but the execution of those ideas is so heavyhanded as to make the book near-unreadable.

That’s pretty much it. I really, really wanted to like this novel, and I really, really identified with the central concerns of the protag. But the actual execution was heavy-handed and graceless, and Doctorow seems to be oblivious to the vices of techno-rebellion that he transparently advocates.


Take the “jamming” that the characters describe in the first half: randomly cloning the RFID chips of passersby, and swapping them out with other ID’s on the fly. The goal is to confound the data-mining software that the DHS is using to seek “terrorists”, which is superficially admirable. But they scramble credit cards and transit passes, doing permanent damage to the financial records of hordes of innocent people, and costing them thousands of dollars! It’s hard to see how this is morally different from the DHS’s wide net of harassment. At no point do the protags reflect on the fact that their pranks have real costs for innocent, uninvolved people–the only motives entertained for not going along with the scheme are cowardice or conformity.

Then there’s the ridiculous slogan “Don’t trust anyone over 25”, cribbed (with explicit acknowledgment) from the 60’s counterculture, then subjected to “slogan inflation”. This is just plain dumb. Sometimes adults know things; sometimes adolescents are stupid and pig-headed. The worship of youth and distrust of age were two of the worst aspects of the old counterculture, and they were two parts that didn’t need to be revived for the current generation. (Doctorow himself, who is in his thirties, seems to regard this as a joke–but the characters in the novel are awfully serious about it.)

And finally, as much as I hate to agree with the lame discussion-squashing civics teacher, the First Amendment really isn’t a carte blanche, as the protag tries to argue in one particularly cringe-inducing scene. There are legitimate restrictions on speech, and the right way to argue against the stupid, destructive, and illegal restrictions are to point out that they’re stupid, destructive, and illegal. Thumping your copy of the Constitution like a fundamentalist (a comparison made in the book itself) only makes you look like, well, a techno-libertarian fundamentalist.

As I’m reading, I keep hoping that these conflicts will eventually get some traction in the narrative, maybe giving way to a viewpoint that’s more nuanced and less adolescent. But I’m not seeing it. The protag is always vindicated and never chastened, and the viewpoints other than his own are always revealed to be stupid and wrong.

(For contrast, read LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, which both praises and subverts its anarchist society.)

Progress has been poky lately, for a variety of reasons. And it’s time for a short break: I’ve got at least two short stories that I want to break out, and the current WIP will benefit from more time percolating.

35000 / 80000 words. 44% done!

Metafictional progress: Had a minor crisis upon reaching the plot-wise halfway point at only 30,000 words. Reconsidered the plot, decided that there was actually more in the second “half” than I thought, plus I had skipped a chapter. Decided that my original estimate of 80K words for the whole thing was probably correct.

Fictional progress: Barbarian warlord came home to discover that his wife was dead. The Heroine convinced her comrades to do something other than cower in fear. Their first excursion against the barbarians almost ended in disaster, except for the Old Woman using some henceforth unsuspected powers.

And that’s all for a while!

Wow. A bumper crop of envelopes in my mailbox… but none of them say what I want. I do want to highlight one response I received, though. This wasn’t for my novel, but for one of my short stories:

We thought it had a promising start — the writing is good, and it’s genuinely funny in places. But… [snip lots of useful information about what this editor didn’t like about the story]. That said, please do try us again with more work in the future.

I’ll take that. Yes I will. It’s not quite the same thing as an envelope full of money, but it’s the next closest thing.