That’s so far! I’ve been thinking about doing a metananowrimo post since I started writing this month, but it’s been a busy time, and… I haven’t. I find it useful to reflect on the creative process though, so here we go…
I’ve written almost nothing for the last three years, since falling out of my Nanowrimo story in 2019 after just four chapters of Waiting for Silence, about 9000 words in. Although one reason was the busy November making this really, really hard to fit in, I’d also begun a story that I didn’t want to keep writing. I think it has the beginning and promise of a good story (by the standards of a novelette written with no planning or editing in a single month, y’know…), but I was painfully aware that I’d set myself up to tell a story that was about a younger character trapped in a spaceship with an older character who had abused them (and was now dying in the room next door). It’s a story and a subject that I do want to tackle at some point. But it’s really fucking hard to bring myself do it because it’s just too close, and however well the counselling and years have taken in my brain, it’s always gonna be a sore subject, especially when I’m projecting it into a trapped character who has to deal with it, and that I have to think and write about every damn day for a month. Too much, at the time at least. I’ve done better thinking about this stuff more recently – for our mental health podcast We Are What We Overcome, we talked about a number of diary entries from when I was in counselling that are about just such things. It’s very weird to listen back to, and the preparation for that was a little scary. Maybe I’ll be able to finish that story after this one!
November is always frantically busy for me, with Nottingham Comedy Festival putting the kibosh on establishing a regular writing routine in the evening (too many fun things!) and the approaching end of the year always seems very demanding. Basically, not my fault… I’ve been telling myself that my desire to write has faded now that I have a much more creative and fulfilling job in publishing, and that sates my need to write. Plus, improv is all making up stories and being creative, so I’m quite well stacked with stuff that makes me happy. As I’ve gotten further and further away from that last story I’ve found it weighing on me more heavily that I haven’t been writing, plus I have a couple of friends who regularly pester me about it. I very much appreciate their support and daily reading of my Nanowrimo stories as I publish them each day. I’d almost fallen into the idea that I had no more stories to tell, that I’d forgotten how to do it (that last one might be true). But that’s nuts – I have notebooks full of story ideas and scraps of pages that I’ve written. I’d just gotten out of the habit of doing the thing.
I need an idea goddammit
I knew I needed a seed idea, something to get me started. Swimming is my quiet time and is a useful space for reordering the old brain, compiling a to-do list and promptly forgetting it as I get out of the pool. But I did have an idea, which will come up in Stolen Skies eventually, honest. It felt like a cool idea, but it also didn’t feel like enough, so I spent a few hours anxiously flicking through those old notebooks to spark my imagination. I found an old story idea – just a couple of sentences – about the Earth being englobed and moved to another part of the galaxy. Not a detailed idea by any means, but combined with the other, secret idea it felt like just enough.
I’ve been making a conscious effort not to take this too seriously or try to go all hardcore as I’ve done before, hitting 5k a day and finishing the story by mid-month. I just don’t have the space, and as it turned out I didn’t even get to start the story for a few days, and have skipped a couple of days when I needed to. I feel quite chill about it, and only got round to updating my Nanowrimo profile a week or so ago. I’ve found that writing in the morning is the best time, which seems to be like the best way to get exercise over and done with before the rest of the day kicks in and obliterates that happy blank state. An hour of scribbling before work has me climbing out of bed far more readily than usual. I’m back to caning out about a thousand words in thirty minutes, which feels good.
Oh yeah – the important business of getting a title and cover together! It’s a useful focusing tool as I’ve found in previous years. This year I started with The New Stars, but realised that I’d half-inched that from Tim Pratt’s fun Axiom series. That mutated when I started thinking about cover design. This year I’ve used the full version of Dall-E Mini’s AI illustration tool. We messed about with a lot in the run-up to our last Improvised Star Wars Show at Nottingham Playhouse last October. It’s fun to play with, and I gave it junk like “exploding moon and lurid stars”. The results are not terrible, and it gave me the better title of Stolen Skies.
Sounds like writing
I like a good writing soundtrack, and this time I wanted a particular mood to get into the character and story with. I’m listening to a random shuffle of the three incredible trip-hop albums by Portishead, Palm Skin Productions’ Remilixir, and Venetian Snares’s stunning album Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. All mashed up together it’s distinctly dark and beautiful, with a hint of menace and lasting trauma. Perfect!