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So NaNo’s been interesting this year.

The last two years I approached it from very different angles – once, with no plan whatsoever, and once with a meticulously detailed plan that ended up falling apart within moments. For all of the differences in approach and result, though, both times I found the experience to be remarkably similar. I was off on an adventure, writing whatever I could think to write, throwing myself in with abandon, watching scene after scene just … go.

This year, no such luck.


Every single scene has been a weird battle, in which I wasn’t sure what side I was on or even what the objective was all of the time. I’ve never been more confused, or more bored in all of my time spent as a writer! I’ve abandoned four scenes in the middle, because I didn’t know what I was doing with them, and finally managed to get myself to what I thought of as the opening action.

Only to get bogged down five sentences in, floundering in prepwork and establishing shots and defining magic systems. I have so many new characters, a new city, a whole new world, and it feels like every time I turn around there’s something else that needs to be gently, tediously explained.

And then this happened.

Ishar made a little noise of acknowledgment. The area in front of the wall was now bathed in the rich amber light of twilight. Other mirror lamps were being tied off, bright points of gold or orange or crimson depending on when the light was taken, shining steady and clear. They wouldn’t all last the night; some would falter, depending on the strength or the concentration of the reever who’d tied it off, but for the next few hours the heights would shine like a miniature galaxy.

 “Best time to be up here on the Heights,” Brenn said, unable to keep a pleased note out of his voice. “I keep meaning to come by around sunset, but -”

 “Sure,” Ishar agreed. He glanced up at a nearby mirror, then held the bag out to Brenn. The assassin checked the light, took two steps toward the nearest of the pile of leaves he’d been gathering since the beginning of his watch shift. Then he turned his own gaze up to the mirror, and cast his will through the sheet of adamant to the reflection beyond. The strands of will rushed out like a net, wrapping around the pile of leaves and other detritus,


 Ishar fell silent before Brenn had a chance to place a hand over his mouth.

 On Brenn’s other side, Gilleth tensed instantly from a lazy sprawl to a crouch, her dark eyes shining with reflected starlight. He could almost hear her nerves humming, and he could feel the tension in Ishar’s arm where it rested against his own.

 “What was that,” Gill breathed, barely a whisper. “Did you -?”

 And then the night exploded around them.

 Three feet to Brenn’s left, the shadows surrounding a small grove of decorative fruit trees suddenly shattered and flew outward in all directions, tiny razor-edged shards of darkness whistling through the air like knives, an insubstantial effect of the light suddenly made solid and wickedly sharp. Other silent concussions burst out to his left and right, and between one breath and the next the cool, calm night air was a whirling, writhing mass of deadly shade.

My assassin was raking leaves.

There was a giant epic fight scene coming up, and my assassin was raking leaves. For 1821 words! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME????

So I have a new rule for myself, one that seems obvious, and probably isn’t: don’t be boring, at least not in NaNo. Maybe not even in first drafts as a whole, I’m not sure.

Sure, there’s lots of basic groundwork that will need to be figured out in any story. People need to get from place to place, cultures and economies and interpersonal relationships need to be established. But I notice as a reader that many of my favourite authors are the ones who don’t have to stop and say “here is the town of Peanut, its major exports are garlic and fruit flies”. They throw you in, and you learn what you need to as you go, and perhaps it’s because they had the decency to do their exposition off to one side. Maybe they didn’t, maybe they have other tips and tricks, I’m not sure.

One thing I do know is that within the context of NaNo, there’s absolutely no reason to get pulled away from the action to figure out the currency system of city number three. Sometimes, that kind of thing is fun! I love backstories, for starters, and this isn’t about that. NaNo is for writing like the wind, and if writing vampire tax law is what helps you do that, by all means, go for it!

But never again am I going to sit through a paragraph whose only purpose is to get me on to something better. I’ve got a long story planned, there are good words there wanting to be written! I can fill in the gaps in editing – and I think I’m far more likely to think that this is a thing worth editing at all if I can get to some of the good bits, rather than ending the month with 50 000 words of setup.

Final word count: 11700