Category Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo 2018

The week after our holiday, I thought, “What am I going to do for NaNoGenMo this year?” and then thought, “one of the reasons I do NaNoGenMo is to avoid thinking about why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo when I’ve wanted to write a novel for almost my entire life”. So I did.

Screenshot 2018-12-03 21.44.13

I went into this without any real plan, just a daily word target and a couple of ideas I’d been thinking about for a while. The first week I spent writing a short story about addiction, recovery, schoolboy crushes, religion and maths; for the rest of the month, I was writing an irregularly-shaped mass which, with some expansion and redrafting, could become Autodidacts Anonymous, a short novel about a self-help group for cranks and internet obsessives, which I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years.

I’ve never attempted to write fiction on this scale before. Here is what it felt like.

ME [for several years, to myself]: “why, X would be a good subject for a novel!”

MY WRITING TARGET [every day, for a month, in SpongeBob SquarePants’ most annoying voice]: “HEY DO YOU STILL THINK X IS A GOOD SUBJECT FOR A NOVEL? WELL DO YA? DO YA?”

If you have an idea for a novel, and you think the answer will ever be “no”, don’t start. Other things I noticed:

  • Writing at this scale has momentum, which is kind of relaxing, but also means that it has a wide turning circle if it goes somewhere you weren’t expecting. But that’s fun, too.
  • Budget for 2,000 words a day, even if your calculations say 1,666. Because there will be days when you can’t write.
  • Scrivener is good software.
  • I didn’t sign up or do anything on the social/official side of NaNoWriMo because that seemed like a distraction.
  • November is a bad month in which to write a novel, at least in Australia. Day jobs get that weird blend of panic and torpor as accounting deadlines loom, people go on leave and the schedule fills up with parties. And it’s too hot.
  • The only people I know who know what NaNoWriMo is are online people so explaining it to other friends and family got repetitive.
  • It’s good when someone asks you for the elevator pitch.

I’m really glad that I did this: now the question I ask myself is no longer, “can I write a novel?” It’s “can I write a good novel?”


Appendix: four procrastinations

Everywhere Dense (2014)
Neuralgae (2015)
Annales (2016)
Formations (2017)


The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

A man in our town is so fond of the short stories of Lydia Davis that he never wants to see a photograph of her. He explains that for him, she is a texture of words, and if asked to elaborate will explain that the composite portrait offered by her overlapping and exactly-sketched characters, which are almost certainly no more or less autobiographical than those of other writers but which somehow, due to the concision and clarity of her style, seem to embody a consistent presence, is more satisfying than any mere mechanical reproduction of her physical appearance could be expected to be.


I told myself, and I wrote here, that I was going to blog more, about a month ago, and nothing much has come of it. For a while now I’ve been trying to write five hundred words each day, which sometimes is fiction and sometimes essays which end up as blog posts, either here or on, but which is mostly a diary.

There have been other times when I’ve been going through troubles that I’ve written regularly. After a spell of frantic and introspective journal-keeping after getting divorced in 2003, I went off it, because it didn’t seem to help with my depression and in some ways made it worse. I felt like I was just rolling around in my problems and not doing anything about them. The ritual of putting pen to paper was comforting, but the actual writing wasn’t amounting to anything, and it meant that the most creative activity which I did was also concentrating on all the reasons why I was sad. I’ve still got an envelope somewhere containing a thick wad of foolscap which I sealed away when I decided to stop keeping that journal. I haven’t ever been tempted to open it.

My daily writing now has felt more productive, even if it’s not that much more worth reading. Every now I’ll go back over it — the fact that I’m doing it on a laptop rather than a notepad makes this easier — and it’s sometimes embarrassing to see me write down the same insight, something I’ve figured out in therapy or while running that struck me as particularly helpful or wise, months apart, often using almost the same words, with no self-awareness that I’d already been over that ground. Maybe the lesson here is that keeping a diary is more useful if one re-reads it, so that things don’t get lost.

There’s another reason for this kind of delayed stutter, and that’s fear. Mostly, the repetitions I’m thinking of are writing about, or writing around, something which I need to tell someone or do with someone, and which I’m afraid of. Writing about it is, in a way, a delaying tactic. Instead of getting up the courage to have a difficult conversation, I can write five hundred words about it. It is a useful way to put my thoughts in order, but it’s also a sop: I get the satisfaction of having done something, and ticked off a daily self-care task, without the danger of actually doing the thing which I’m afraid of doing.

I do, eventually, mostly, get around to doing these things, and I shouldn’t be hard on myself about the slow and repetitive nature of the process. There’s far more repetition in my head, where I worry about these things and have imaginary versions of the conversations which I’m delaying. By turning them into something that’s a little more concrete — even if it’s the evanescent form of a text file on a laptop — I make them more real, something I’m less likely, even if only marginally, to forget about or put off.

Two projects and an absence

My entry for NaNoGenMo 2016 is ANNALES, a procedurally-generated chronology of rulers, courtiers, tribes and intrigue:

Being a faithful narration of the history of the realm from the reign of Fobbial Artesia I to the present day

As transcribed by the algorithm annales-exe using the pseudo-random seed 1835917550 1 during the reign of Armey Engine III

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings”

Reign of Fobbial Artesia I the Unbridgeable.

Fobbial Artesia I, surnamed the Unbridgeable, won the throne by divination.

Fobbial Artesia I espoused Sidentilation with wild channession.

Rumours of morees in Wire Star.


Fobbial Artesia I the Unbridgeable gave birth to a son, Lavaloman, under the influence of Kabdhilinan.

Rumours of rederes in Vectary Viroth.

The source code is here and I’ll be blogging a bit about the technical details on when I get around to it.

I also got around to implementing my dumbest Twitter bot idea, @TVisoTropes.

I’ve been away from Twitter proper since the US election: my mental health has been poor this year, so I’ve had a couple of enforced absences, but the way I was reacting late stages of the campaign and Trump’s victory were pretty decisive in showing me that the way I’ve been using social media is really bad for my brain. I miss it a lot but I still don’t know how to return: maybe when my mood improves? Maybe I should start a new account and reset things?

Materiality: FAKE

DD4_layersI’ve got two short articles in MATERIALITY: FAKE, now online at Pinknantucket Press:

An uncanny valley in reverse is a brief illustrated attempt to explain the computational underpinning of deepdreams for a lay audience.

Vermiculation, on the use of fake rustic textures in classical architecture and its colonial domestic descendants.


Grouch Porn

Issue 3 of CRANK, a zine dedicated to petty grievances, huffs and pedantic setting-the-world-to-rights, is available now from Pinknantucket Press. Among other things it includes my explanation of why it’s gross to compare everything to porn, and the cover illustration in which I break my own rule.

Alexander Cockburn

Sad to hear the news that Irish-American journalist Alexander Cockburn has succumbed to cancer at the age of 71. To borrow one of his metaphors, it was exposure to Cockburn’s journalism at a tender age, via a chance discovery of his 1988 anthology Corruptions of Empire, which inoculated me against the error of thinking that his friend Christopher Hitchens had an admirable prose style.

Here is a collection of his articles. It’s nice to see that this includes a piece about the excesses of New York dining. Most of the obituaries I’ve read are strictly about his political work, but Cockburn is one of the funniest and most acute food writers I’ve ever read, and I’ve never forgotten his gloss on a recipe for cold fish curry:

Short of lowering one’s naked foot slowly into the weeds at the bottom of a pond it is hard to imagine a more depressing experience.