Sunday, October 31, 2010

My First NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short, a rather ugly acronym in my opinion, and it is now international). Participants challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. The purpose is to gain experience and know what it feels like to finish a novel. Of course, not everything people write will be publishable, and that isn't the main point of the exercise. I have decided to treat my first novel as a practice novel and not to expect it to be published.

I have always wanted to write, and have written intermittently for as long as I can remember. Since reading has always been such a central part of my life, I decided as a child that one day I would write books of my own. This blog is part of my practice writing. I have been writing here for over two years now, sometimes every week, sometimes less. I like receiving feedback on my writing, and so far those readers of this blog who have commented on my writing (rather than just on the content of my posts) have been very supportive and encouraging. I have been building up the confidence, self-discipline, and working habits in preparation for November, and have finished off a large work project. I will probably undertake some work during the month, but I hope it won't take up too much of my time and energy.

One problem with my profession is that being a translator uses up similar sorts of energy as writing. I am always thinking in language, trying to find the right words and structures, and evaluating the consistency of what I have written. In some ways, it might be better for aspiring writers to have a non-verbal day job. Still, I have to start somewhere, and I feel ready for this challenge.

I have read two opposing theories regarding sharing your goals in public. The first recommends it, saying that when you commit to something in public, you are more likely to follow through rather than face the shame of failure. It talks about accountability. This seems to be the theory behind communities like NaNoWriMo and various support groups. On the other hand, the second theory says that once you have told people about your plans, your brain already feels like you have achieved them, so you are less likely to feel driven to actualize them. Since writing is a form of story-telling, if I tell someone the story I want to write, I have already engaged in the act of story-telling, albeit in a non-written form. So my intention is to tell people that I'm writing a story, but not discuss the actual details of what I'm writing with anyone.

I'm starting this challenge with full confidence that my experiences this November will change my self-identity forever. I will go from "aspiring writer" to "author of an unpublished novel", which is an achievement by any standards.

Charles Stross - The Fuller Memorandum

Charles Stross, The Fuller Memorandum, Orbit, 2010.

This is the third novel in the Laundry series. Once again, agent Bob Howard embarks on an adventure, attempting to prevent the vast, scary monsters from other universes from destroying our world. This time the threat is in the form of reanimated corpses, more usually known as zombies, an unpleasant meme in popular culture, with a more serious twist in the context presented here.

As always, I enjoyed the combination of humour and realism. The geek-talk, office politics, and historical background make this series very vivid and current. At the same time, serious issues are tackled. Bob has a convincing rant against cultists. While in our world, people who choose to act out made-up rituals can easily be ridiculed, in the Laundry world they pose a real danger since they might wake forces beyond their control.

Being predisposed to religion has its uses, but it's a real Achilles' heel if your civilization is under threat by vastly powerful alien horrors. (p. 149)

The novel shows the strain experienced by operatives like Bob and Mo, who have to live with their secret knowledge of the real nature of the universe, are regularly exposed to life-threatening and potentially world-ending experiences, and know that there is not much hope for the future. This can make depressing reading, so readers are advised to remember that our reality is in many ways less dangerous and more chaotic. Knowing that the risks described in this series are not real in our world can put things into perspective.

Quite early on, I knew the identity of two mystery characters. This knowledge did not spoil my enjoyment of the story. I often wonder how authors find the balance between leaving enough clues for the reader to work some things out in advance and gain the sense of superiority, while keeping the characters credible all the time they know less than the reader. In this case, it worked quite convincingly.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend the whole series. It is worth reading the books in order, and finding the other stories set in this universe, which I hope will one day be collected into one volume. I look forward to following this series in the future.