What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

This could be a huge post, but I’ll keep it moderately short, as my education via NaNoWriMo can be summed up in one sentence:

I can’t write a book in a month.

Now, there’s a few reasons. One is my style. I’m a slow writer without a doubt when it comes to large projects. I get excited, then work frantically, then lose interest, and then become absent for a while. Then the cycle starts anew. It’s probably the most important reason I’m not a professional writer – I’m not reliable when it comes to time constraints and deadlines for a story.

Next is my inherent inability to judge scope. What I mean by this, is that I constantly over or underestimate the size and scale of my projects when I start them out. One of the novels I’m working on started out as a poem. After two pages, I decided to make it a short story. Eighty pages later, I’ve decided I may as well give in and admit it’s a full-length novel. The Keeping of the Light is facing a similar dilemma: I keep telling myself it’s a one-off, but the truth is clear: the story is too big, and the lore is too complex. It’s almost definitely going to become a two or three-part series.

And then came Everwander, my NaNoWriMo project. I thought that writing a story in my pre-existing fantasy universe would speed things along and make me spend less time on lore and mechanics, but what happened is the exact opposite. Since stating Everwander, I’ve spent more time working out magic systems, languages, cultures and geographies than ever before. With TKOTL, I opened a can of worms. With this project, I’ve started dissecting the worms.

Needless to say, I’ve come nowhere close to finishing the project this month. NaNoWriMo has been an unsuccessful venture for me – but I won’t say that it’s been a complete failure. I’ve learned a very valuable thing from this experience: I can’t rush my writing.

As many times as I’ve impatiently waited for the release of a new novel or part of a series, I can honestly say now that I see why deadlines get pushed and wait times are underestimated. I started out the month planning to write at least 50,000 words, and ended up writing only 7,134 words. Also, I haven’t written so much as a chapter title since the 6th of November. My stories are going to take their time, whether I want to or not.

So I may as well take my time and do it right. The book will be finished, but who can say when. When it is, I’ll let you know. Until then, keep looking for new chapters posted here. Thanks for reading, and happy writing. Cheers.

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The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 11 – Tooth and Claw

Lyca grasped a handful of coarse black feathers and yanked hard. The crow – stiff and half covered in drifting snow – was frozen hard to the ice. Finally, she tore it away, leaving a black stain where it lay. Then she wrapped her bare hands in the folds of her coat and headed back to her cabin, carrying the biggest meal they had seen for weeks.

Geoffrey was shaking in his bed when she got there. He was mumbling in his sleep with words she could not decipher. She wiped cold sweat from his forehead and puled the blankets tighter around his neck. The fever was getting worse.

Featherless, the bird looked a sorrowful scrap of scrap. Tight-drawn skin. Sharp edges of bones jutting out at awkward angles. With slender hands she gutted the crow, keeping what she could, and tossed it into a pot with some root and salt. Slowly, the bubbling mixture released a scent into the air that seemed foreign and forgotten – cooking meat. Her mouth watered. Noticing the fire was getting low, she wrapped herself in layers again to fetch more wood.

As she filled her arms with wood, she noticed that things felt oddly still. The wind had ceased and the bay seemed quiet in the crisp winter air.

At that moment, a shrill sound tore through the forest – a scream. Instinct kicked in. Lyca readied herself to run back to the cabin and defend against whatever beast might have made it, but then she listened more carefully. It was a woman’s voice.

Heart pounding, she ran in the direction of the scream. It was full of pain and fear and crackling in an inhuman way that filled Lyca’s mind with dread. She ran hard, hoping beyond hope that there was some way she could help whoever it was. Down the path. Through the trees. Onto the shore trail.

Another shriek pierced the frosty air – it was coming from the river. Somebody has fallen through the ice!

She forced her legs to carry her faster, biting back the sharp pain that was stabbing in her lungs. Finally, she broke out of the trees and onto the shoreline at the mouth of the river, and her eyes widened in horror.

A stones throw from shore amid great boulders and chunks of ice lay Mavis’ Uncle Locke – trembling and covered in blood, his hands clutching at his throat. His wife, Sherylen, was standing her ground to the right of him holding an axe and swinging it wildly about as a lynx the size of a bear was brandishing its red-stained fangs at her, ready to attack.

Without thinking, Lyca started scrambling toward the ghastly scene – frantically trying to reach them before the cat made its move.

“HEY!” she bellowed, closing in on the confrontation. “Sherylyn, run! GET BACK!”

At that moment Sherylyn spun around, sobbing uncontrollably and still brandishing the axe like a sword. The lynx saw it’s chance and sprang forward, reaching out with massive paws and revealing claws the length of carpenter’s nails.

“BEHIND YOU!” Lyca screamed.

The older woman swung her whole body her attacker, the axe gliding through the air like a club. Just as the great beast would have torn into her and taken her to the ground, the blunt of the axe head smashing into one of its outstretched paws – hooking a claw and ripping it loose.

The lynx roared – a terrible, ear piercing shriek – and fell to the ice, taking Sherylyn down with it.

Lyca had reached them now. Not knowing what else to do, she yanked her small knife from its sheath and threw herself onto the pile. She stabbed frantically into the grey fur of the cat’s back. One… two… three… four times she plunged the blade into its flesh. More terrible shrieks. A second later she was lying dazed on her back. The lynx had thrown her off and was now focused on her. Her head was throbbing and there was a gash in her lower leg that felt as though hot coals had been forced inside.

“GET AWAY!” came Sherylyn’s voice, trembling with fear and anger. “AWAY FROM THEM!” She raised the axe high, ready to cleave the lynx’s ribs.

It was no use. Before she had even begun to swing the axe the great cat had whipped back at her, knocking her to the ice and opening fresh wounds on her arms and hands. It didn’t seem to faze the lynx that Lyca’s knife was still driven to the hilt in its back.

Lyca rose unsteadily to her feet. Her leg was weak, and she was dizzy. Bracing herself against a rock, she saw Locke lying a few feet behind her. An enormous chunk of flesh had been torn away from where his neck met his shoulder. As his head lolled sickly from side to side, he reached out a shaking arm. Lyca thought for a second he wanted her help, but then she realized he was pointing at something on the ice.

The axe, which had been knocked out of Sherylyn’s hands, was lying just a quick sprint from the rock Lyca was leaning against. She made a move for it but stopped. The lynx had returned its attention to her again. For a moment it stood still as some nightmarish statue in three legs, its injured paw dripping red onto the ice. Orange slit eyes stared into hers. Tufted ears pointed straight up. The ragged, blood-matted fur on its back quivered horribly as it produced a low, scraping hiss. Slowly, its mouth stretched into what seemed an evil, hungry grin.

Lyca heaved herself at it.

The lynx pounced to kill, and an instant before its claws and teeth would have shredded her neck, Lyca lunged down onto the ice, sliding under the cat’s airborne body. She grabbed the axe before lurching to an abrupt halt against Sherylyn’s limp figure. Forcing herself to her feet, she swung the axe back over her shoulder in preparation to deliver a killing blow. Instead of the expected heaviness at the end of her swing, however, she felt a sudden jerk and the handle went light.

The axe head and slipped off.

Wounded and holding a useless stick, Lyca stared as the Lynx wheeled round and charged at her. There were voices of other villagers shouting from the shore, but she couldn’t pick them out. Tears burned in her eyes as she watched her attacker leap into the air with every intention of tearing her limb from limb.

“Geoffrey…” she whispered.

Something black streaked over her head – just brushing the hood of her fur coat. There was a sickening squelch of dry metal on bone as a long spear slid effortlessly into the roof of the cat’s mouth and out the back of its head. The lynx crumpled in mid-air and fell limply to the ice at her feet.

Trembling, Lyca turned around.

Before her stood a young man holding a second spear. Behind him stood other men and women, brandishing spears and bows at the ready. They were all standing in front of sleds with three skis towed by six huge moose, which snorted steam from their frosted nostrils.

“Are there others?” asked the man.

Lyca couldn’t speak.

“I said are there others? Other beasts?” the man asked, louder this time.

She tried to say no but couldn’t. Instead, she shook her head.

“Lower your weapons!” he shouted to the crowd of strangers. Slowly, they lowered their spears and unstrung their arrows, looking cautiously at their surroundings. “These people are injured – we must help them back to shore.” Then, to Lyca, he came closer and said, “Is that your village, there? Where are we?” There was kindness in his voice.

Now grabbing the bleeding wound on her leg, Lyca finally forced herself to speak.

“Rivermouth,” she managed. “This is Rivermouth.”

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 10 – Fire on the Ice

The distant shrieking of some raptor sifted through the drifting snow as the trio of travellers made their way along the shore path. They trudged on, crunching burnt squirrel bones between their teeth and cursing the frigid air that invaded their clothes. Hektor would join them on their journey with hopes of finding a new territory in the foothills of the Western Ridge. For two days and the night between they moved without the slightest hint of other people, but on the second night the setting sun brought an unfamiliar sight from across the ice.

“Torches on the west shore,” Jamie told his companions as he peered through Hektor’s spyglass. “At least a dozen of them,… moving southward.”

“Same lot you saw the other night?” asked Mavis.

“Can’t tell. Could be.”

“Hunting for swiles, no doubt,” said Hektor, accepting the device.

“Perhaps.” Jamie had an uneasy feeling about the lights on the other shore since he had seen them the night Hektor joined their party. Until now he had thought he might have imagined them, but now they were certain that there were people over there. The light-bearers were likely travellers like themselves, but they had already been lucky once with Hektor. Being lucky twice in a row was unlikely.

Their new companion was rather profound at storytelling, they soon found out, and never seemed to run out of little tales or songs to share when they stopped for a rest and a spruce needle tea. Some of the stories were true, some probably made up, Jamie thought. Earlier that morning, while they were packing up for another day’s walk, he shared a story he had heard years ago from a sailor in Dhevon.

“There’s this young feller from Dhevon,” he said, “who kills the captain of a freighter and takes the ship. He sails it off in the middle of the night, planning to take it to Lhorrenhelm and sell it to the merchants along with the cargo. This young killer, though, he’s no seaman. Halfway across the mouth of the Further he gets himself caught in a gale and blown far south off course. He’s lost, scared and drifting on the open ocean. He struggles for days to find sight of land but on the eleventh day…” Hektor paused for affect, fixing his shoulder straps. “… on the eleventh day he sees a ship in the distance, just barely sees it through the fog. This young killer’s panicked and starved out of his wits, so guess what he does?”

Jamie and Mavis shrugged, clueless.

“He sets the sails on fire, hoping that the other ship will see him through the fog. And it looks like it’s working. The ship is coming closer, and closer, and closer. But the thing is – he realizes – the ship he had seen wasn’t sailing towards him. It was anchored near shore, and it was him who was drifting towards it! By the time the fog clears up and the idiot’s stolen ship drifts close enough to see other ships and the port, the fire’s spread everywhere and the freighter sinks, meaning he’s got to swim ashore. He’d been drifting towards land the whole time, straight to the capitol. Course, by the time he got there, word had already gotten round and the folks there marked him as a killer and thief, and banished him off to the Barrens to die.”

“What happened then?” Mavis asked, unwillingly drawn in.

“Whaddya mean?”

“What happened to the ship thief?” Jamie pleaded.

“I’unno. Died I guess.”

“Well what’s the meaning of that story, then?” said Mavis, annoyed.

“Meaning?” Hektor laughed. “Don’t go fuckin’ killing people and stealing their shit.”

That night as they were doing the usual setup, Jamie once again spied the torches in the distance. He pointed them out to the others. Hektor joined him with the spyglass. “A group of hunter, you think, lads?”

“Probably,” said Mavis. He dragged out the response, as though he wasn’t entirely convincing himself.

“Let’s just hope they stay where they are, and we’ll give the same courtesy,” Jamie said, watching the lights flickering. The miles-wide field of drifting ice separating them did nothing to ease his mind.

The companions boiled spruce and berries and tossed in a scrawny gull that Mavis managed to shoot down that day. They took turns tending the pot and fire and spying the torches and when the meal was done they passed around the pot, drank the broth and lay down to sleep, terribly hungry.

The next morning followed suit – packing up their gear and tools and setting off again in a blur of shrouded sunrise. Jamie felt that something was different, and the others seemed to feel it too. He was beginning to feel weak, and the constant hunger seemed to mulch him from the inside out, making every hour of travel more painful than before. They had food but it was not enough to give them strength for such a long journey. By the time they stopped for camp the following night the trio had decided that they would need to fin some sustenance to better fuel the remaining days of their trek.

“We ought to follow suit of the others,” Hektor suggested, cracking a cake of hard tack into halves and attempting to bite off a chunk.

“Go on the ice?” Jamie asked.

“Aye, and fetch ourselves some meat. A swile would keep us for a week. What say you, Mavis?”

Mavis was silent.

“Well, you are the hunter of us three, correct?”

“Birds, deer, yes. But I’ve not been on the ice before,” Mavis said. He was clearly disturbed by the thought of wandering onto the ever-shifting and groaning ice field. “I can’t say I’d know where to start, but one of those fat bastards would do us a mighty bit of good.”

“We’d need to make some torches,” Jamie said. He stood up and grabbed a slender stick from their little woodpile. “And spears too. We shouldn’t risk losing any of your arrows.”

“Make them damn sharp,” said Hektor. “They’ve got blubber on em thicker than your arm. They’ll have to be barbed as well.”

An hour later and with the sun well set, the three men stood at the shore and made their first tentative steps onto the ice. Holding their torches high and tied at the waist by a length of rope, they made their way out into the darkness.

NaNoWriMo has begun!

One thousand, nine hundred and seventeen. That’s how many words I’ve got so far. If I can manage to pull this off every day, I’ll actually make the 50,000 word mark by November 30th. Whether or not that’ll happen for sure… we’ll see.

I got up extra early this morning, made some coffee, and started typing. I’m usually a slow writer, as I tend to overthink my word choice on the first draft, but today I decided I’d just focus on the story and worry about the colorfulness (didn’t think that was a word until I typed it) of the language later. I was surprised how quickly ideas started coming out.

I’d had a very, very rough idea of where I wanted this story to go and what it’s characters would be, but I had no idea where to start. One of my issues with my main novel project – The Keeping of the Light – is that it starts somewhat slowly. There’s no huge action that takes places or an interesting event that sets things into motion – things just happen, there’s some foreshadowing here and there, people say stuff, small things occur, and then we later find out why.

I wanted to do something different for Everwander, so I spent most of my time this morning writing the prologue. As it stands right now, I’m actually very pleased with it. Now I hope I can make the rest of the novel just as engaging. As I think I’ve said before, I will not be posting any of this project until it has been finished. I want to retain some of the ability to make major edits if need be, without confusing any potential readers mid-progress. That being said, I’ll still take the time to post chapters of TKOTL here and there, as I’ve been doing thus far.

To those of you reading: thank you. To those of you writing: good luck. I may write more later, but now it’s time for me to get to work. Cheers.