To WriMo or not to WriMo — that is the question

©2021 Michael Raven

November is sneaking up on us in Minnesota. We’ve still not had a proper autumn, as temps are running 10-20°F warmer than normal. Aside from the change in the color of leaves, it didn’t feel like a real autumn yet. So I haven’t thought much about NaNoWriMo until now.

I’ve basically made some attempt every year to participate in the “write a novel in a month” challenge since 2004 or so. The last few attempts were pitiful in large part because of external forces causing my enthusiasm to flag by about a third of the way through. Last year was tensions about the election results. Mostly anyway. Other years, overdemanding extended family.

And so I debate once again if it is a wise undertaking to pursue writing a 50k novel in 30 days…

Considering my track record of about 3 in 17 for success rates, one would think I might say screw it and give up on the idea — none of the “successes” were anything I would even consider remotely publishing, even with heavy editing. Indeed, I think last year that’s exactly what I did when I failed so miserably (I think I hit something on the order of 11k words (?)) — I declared I was not a novelist in any way, shape, or form. I declared to the whomever would listen that I would be now and forevermore strictly a short-form writer.

And yet, I am starting to get twitchy at the idea of digging back into writing a novel and something about the changing hues of the landscape make me wistful about the concept. Maybe it’s because I’m a silly and absurd man. Maybe it’s because I started getting ideas that built off of Wallcloud. Maybe I’m avoiding real life and the reality that I probably shouldn’t try to write longer fiction.

Or maybe I still cling to that idea that if I talk about it someone, somewhere will look at themselves in the mirror and say to themselves, “If the Michael Raven joker thinks he’s good enough to write a novel, then I sure as hell can write one and do it better.” Maybe, just maybe, someone will take it as a personal challenge to outshine me and write something I only wish I could write. I would consider 5k words an overwhelming success if they came and told me that I actually made them write something so awesome that it changed their world and got them published. I’m okay living vicariously through someone else’s success.

While I always enjoy writing and am grateful for other people liking what I write… I’m more pleased by the idea that I got someone else to write and, just maybe, have them discover success.

So I’ll probably do it again this year. And drop out part-way through. Or finish and never publish it. I’m not sure what will happen. But I guess the answer to my question is: yeah, I think I’ll be stupid and write another NaNoWriMo disaster. I will probably WriMo.

Old, laid to rest

Call in my oneiromancer…

Talk me through the dreamspace, spiderweb dreamtime, time to cull the cull to cull the fictions, the knotted myriad mendacity, they follow the threads to the fruit to the poison inside.

Ravens nod. For once, the laughter stills..

I watch, bemused. Why am I laughing at this stage? The wasted

time

All that time, trapped within the dreaming, in love with a trickster quarter-century fool.

Takes one to know one, the ravens say.

Which must have been my failing — no taunter am I.

but

I am the fool. Always a fool.

In love with wolves, their blood-smeared mouths howling at the moon, the sun, hunger for me to acquiesce, surrender, give them their feast, but the cantrips spoke, galdr sang, the weaver untangles the lies.

How they howl!

I cover my ears at the din. Their ravenous, insatiable greed denied.

Dreamweaver’s blade catches the ghost. This time there will be blood. Heartblood. That black stuff of dreams.

twenty-six-twenty-six-twenty-six lyes.

The dreamworker turns, covered in viscera. There. It is done. That vampyr put to rest. Find other guides…

outpour the worms

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Note on “Soon –“

Soon is my best recollection from a series of reoccurring dreams (thematically reoccurring, rather than repetitive reoccurring) I had when I lived in Seattle and for some time after I returned to the Minneapolis area. It’s been years since they happened, but the young woman involved in the dream seemed to have a fondness for books, rain-wet and empty streets, and walks along the piers near the Alaska Way Viaduct or the docks along the north side of the Magnolia neighborhood, commonly called “Fisherman’s Wharf” (or so I thought at the time). Her looks changed over the dreams, but two constants were her eyes and her crooked smile.

Sometimes a dream is just a dream, but these dreams’ other feature was their lucid elements, that hyper-real feel in the face of some obvious absurdities. That, and they are still vivid in my memory many years later, well after I’ve forgotten a great many other things that probably should have been easier to retain than a series of odd dreams.

In every case, she was greatly amused by our encounters and didn’t tell me or give me much, but she insisted either in word or action that what I did see, do, get, hear, read… was all of the most vital importance. I wrote down what I didn’t think I could remember (DANRYS were letters carved into one of the shelves in the library/bookstore in one dream, for example), but most of it is just retained in the old noggin. It probably doesn’t mean anything after all this time, but I cling to it just in case it turns out to be some important message my subconscious was trying to convey. Or that this “soon” event actually comes up, whatever it might be (I like to play both the skeptic and the believer in this business, covering all of my bases in case it is truly important).

Anyway, crazy stuff from the madman’s head. I felt I owed all an explanation.

Soon —

I still remember that wink and a smirk you gave me on the second floor of the dream library, one elbow propped on a low shelf of books so many years ago. The sign above declared the books to be “Future Histories” and you handed me one with my pen name, Michael Raven, embossed in gold on the cover and spine.

“What should I do with this?”

“Read it, you ninny.”

I opened the front cover, flipped to a random page to get the gist of the content inside while you watched, patient. As I watched the letters fell away like bugs from the paper, tumbling to the hardwood floors as you laughed out loud.

“Don’t read it now,” you said between giggles. “Later. You can’t read the future until it’s done.”

I shook the book at your persistent smirk. “When will that be?” I asked.

“Soon enough,” you said and then took me by the hand, your slim, pale fingers trapping mine and and leading me through the stacks. I should have watched where I walked, but I couldn’t tear my eyes off your cascade of dark hair tumbling in large curls around your shoulders and down your back. We ran, the stacks blurring on either side of us until we came to a tall window, where you turned me to face you.

As I looked into your eyes, you wrapped my arms around the book and pressed it to my chest.

“What is your name?”

“That’s so unimportant. Ask me something else.”

“What’s this about?”

You paused, that damned crooked smile growing bigger while you milked the suspense and I waited for your response.

“Love,” you said in a husky whisper as you drew me close and pressed your lips to mine.

I started to melt into you, getting weak in the knees.

And then —

You pushed.

I crashed through the window and fell, the world miles below me. Falling I could see you leaning out of the broken window, waving at me from above as you grew smaller and smaller, the book with my name clutched close as I screamed.

And woke.

“Soon”… What does that mean to someone like you? I wonder, decades later.

A harlequin night.

©2021 Michael Raven

It is a lonely kind of night. I’ve looked for other words, other ways of expressing what I feel but I keep coming back to the simple truth that it is a lonely kind of night, one of those nights where you can feel like a stranger in your own home, like you’ve forgotten the words to talk to the ghosts shuffling through the same space as you. You raise a hand, start to speak, but they are deaf to your voice, blind to your presence. Zombies shuffling through, looking for something other than what you offer, what you represent.

You change the channels, turn the page, open a new browser tab and find you are Heinlein’s stranger in a stranger land. There are ghosts there too, ghosts content to feed on the detritus and petri-dish vat-grown meat of the world. All are looking for a god to follow, waiting for their floof-god to knock things off shelves or have a Karen, white-privileged moment in a busy supermarket. Segue, staccato stutter, flicker — shuffle the deck and it all comes up the same. Low cards all.

I knocked on the door. “Is Judith in?” “She died.” “She just posted something on SpaceBook, she is most certainly alive.” “That was her ghost.” The door slams shut, bruising my nose, my ego and insulting my intelligence. It wasn’t Judith I was looking for, so this was a ruse, a lie given me. I was looking for another spirit, but disappointed them when they saw me painted red, marking me for a liar, a harlot, a whore. It’s no lie, for I’d sell myself cheap to stop the lonely leaking from my wrists in a bathtub full of spite.

It is a lonely kind of night.

The chess board comes out, the smell of wild strawberries and I set the pieces in place. I know death will win, death knows all the moves before they happen — that’s death for you. No cheating him. But he doesn’t want to play on the beach of stone I painstakingly arranged for the occasion, he said he has a date with one of the ghosts shuffling through the background. Scythe and reap. Sad state of affairs when Death can’t be bothered to beat you at chess, I’ll say. He says nothing about it — bones have no voice.

I opened and closed all of the doors in this house of cards. Empty rooms. No — voids. Void and abyss behind every card. Welcome to the machine.

I close parchment eyes, dry against the night. A lonely kind of night. Sleep laughs at me and I smile, the butt of the joke laughs along, and she is offended at my audacity.

It is a lonely kind of night.


file under: experimental

Growing words

In only a couple more days (two, to be exact) and I will have done 300 consecutive days of posts, often with multiple posts for each day — or so WordPress tells me. I don’t think of meeting that metric of a post a day most of the time, as I just write and it happens to be every day. Some posts are of higher quality than others, granted, but that’s part of the freedom that comes with not having a mission behind my writing. I write because I write; which is quite Zen now that I’ve committed to words.

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.

Alan Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973)

Being a writer is just to commit to the act of writing. In other words, I don’t worry overmuch about publishing a story or a poem when I write. Or garnering “likes” here, there, or anywhere. I just write.

My approach is somewhat akin to the Ryōkan quote, now that I think about it:

In the scenery of spring, nothing is better, nothing worse; The flowering branches are of themselves, some short, some long.

Ryōkan Taigu (良寛大愚) (1758–1831)

When I write, I esteem to create something not-horrible but accept that I might not meet that target some days. Or even most days. But my goal, for several years now, has been to write to just write. I don’t recall if it was Bradbury or King that said it (I suspect it was Bradbury in his Zen in the Art of Writing, which has almost no Zen in it), but whomever said it emphasized that the act of writing is of the utmost importance, even more than writing something of quality. This is because the act of writing alone will improve the quality of your output. Incrementally, perhaps (or, in my case, especially), but the writing will improve on it’s own to one degree or another as you commit words to whatever media you elect to commit those words to.

Of course, writing tons of garbage — as I am probably doing — will not get you closer to being published. Lucky for me, that hasn’t been my goal for a very long time. When I write, I write to write. Publication is not on the forefront of my thinking (outside of publishing here).

I’m a bit more critical of my fiction than I am of my poetry and, gods know, I probably should be much more critical about all of what I write. But being critical tends to get in the way of the act of writing. It invites blocks into the equation and blocks have never been very helpful with actually getting writing done. So I’ve subscribed (without realizing it until today) to the Ryōkan philosophy while I write. Each piece I write is a flowering branch unto itself. The important part is making it grow, less important is the ideals of quality we apply. And what is quality anyway? Let’s do some motorcycle maintenance before we discuss what quality is, eh?

Save the Scrivener Cat

I’m still nerding around with setting up a Scrivener template that suits my inclinations before I try to go back to one of my false starts and see if having a Save the Cat Writes a Novel beat-oriented binder works better if I use it as the basis for my Scrivener setup and have it set up in advance.

[Disclaimer: I do not receive any kickbacks from Scrivener or StCWaN; this post is purely a unaffiliated attempt to tie two tools together for my own use. With both tools, your mileage may vary quite a bit and anything I write about these two tools should not be interpreted as an endorsement of either. I enjoy testing things kinds of things out — that is my sole motivation.]

Earlier this week I had mentioned I had opted to upgrade my Scrivener license, even though version 1.0 was a bit lacking in parity compared to its Mac cousin. Version 3.0 seems to have remedied those issues and appears to be better functioning as a result (so far). I see Scrivener as a tool with awesome potential, provided that you don’t let yourself get hung up in the mechanisms and power within the software when you are supposed to be writing. That’s why I am (this time around) setting up my template, look and feel in advance of actually revisiting some of my unfinished orphans to see if the power is useful to my style of writing, or a hinderance.

Continue reading

Scrivener days

I’m feeling like being stupid, so I went ahead and upgraded my Scrivener license to the Windows 3.0 version after doing some alpha, beta, release candidate, and final release trials. I like Scrivener for what it does well and it seems to now have parity (from what I can see) across platforms. The stupid part is not upgrading my version of Scrivener, but I’m going to backslide on my sworn oath not to attempt longer fiction and give it a whirl on the new version of the software. Not that I expect it to go anywhere, which is the stupid part…

And, now that I have a decent bit of software that allows for nonlinear writing and shared reference, I feel compelled to give it a good old test. Maybe it will make me a successful writer? LOL. I’m purposefully ignoring the tiny voice that tells me to stick to poetry, as I’ve managed to be not-terrible at poetry.

Anyway —

One of the things I was toying around with before I begin is getting the workspace set up ahead of time instead of on the fly. While Scrivener is a powerful tool, I’ve never been 100% happy with the templates they have to use or, like everyone else, it seems, a fondness for itty bitty teeny weeny fonts all over the place. So, instead of starting writing and trying to correct all the things that annoy the shit out of me, I am creating a personal workplace that reflects my needs and desires.

So I went through, switched to night mode, bumped up the font size 2-4 pixels so you can actually read the menus, notes and window headers. Then I got rid of the old novel template that has been the bane of my existence (I get overwhelmed by the super-simple organization and it freaks me out). And then, I decided I didn’t much care for most of the free templates out there and wanted to go back to exploring the “Save the Cat Writes a Novel” scheme, so I came up with a binder structure to capture some of those concepts. And, while I know lots of story-writers like to have really fleshed out character sheets, I often don’t really get to know my characters until I start writing about them, so I came up with a simplified character sheet that gets to the bare bones of the character. And I mean, just the facts. I figure I can fill in other details as I discover them.

It is still a work in progress, however. Even as I write this post I am thinking of tweaks that I want to add: Chapters under plot sections, with scenes under those; “Notes” section to the character sheet for those things you think of after the fact; Color schemas for primary characters (and another color for minor characters); etc. But here is the binder section and workspace as it currently stands:

A bit closer to the binder and focused on the character section:

It’s a bit fun designing this template and it might even help me actually write something to completion if I’m not dithering around with settings as I go.

No promises, however.

But at least I’m having fun with template design…

Between youth

As the person who snapped this picture back in, I dunno, probably ’86 or early ’87 (maaaaaybe as early as ’85), “So serious?”

Even back then, at the tender age of 15-17-ish, I guess I was serious AF when I was writing. Everything in that little book I was holding was me pouring myself into my writing. I took myself very fucking serious as a writer back then. I didn’t have illusions that I was ever going to make it anywhere with my writing (and the rejections letters I used to post on my apartment doors later on helped remind me that getting famous from my writing was a pipe dream at best). But I was, and largely still am, a serious writer.

I’m not sure what the hell I mean by that, honestly.

I guess I always try to be 100% into my writing when I’m doing it. I never expect it to go well, and I don’t slash my wrists when it doesn’t (I’d not have any wrists left, were that the case), but I am the act of writing when I am writing. I’ll admit that I am quick to move on. But each piece, while written is deadly serious. I’ve always been that way.

Which is why I probably rarely look very happy in pictures people take. I’m often toying around with an idea with writing and I forget to smile nicely for people. Not that my smile will win any beauty contests… And when I say “often”, I mean almost 90% of my waking moments.

It’s probably a mental health problem, but I redirect you to an earlier post that explains that I spent too many years drinking, then antidepressant-ing, and other mood altering things where I couldn’t think very well about writing and it’s like my brain is trying to make up for the lost time.

An even more serious picture, sent by the same HS friend:

She probably interrupted my writing to snap the picture. Really.

What the fuck, Kate? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of writing. Jeeze.

Yeah, that’s probably the exchange that took place. I can hear it in my head as I write it.

Story cards update

I played a bit with the story card app and felt it was all too “beta” (alpha is more like it), at least as an app. The idea is good, but the execution is kind of sloppy.

It is easy to excuse the unfinished feel of the app to being a matter of amateurs wanting a “me too” app and getting it out there before someone else gets the bright idea of taking your idea and making it into an app. But I’m not that nice of a guy. I always feel that you should be careful what you put out as a “finished product” and that you should disclaim the hell out of it if it isn’t up to snuff. Or, at least be honest and make people sign up for beta access instead of releasing to the wild in an unfinished state.

Text on the digital cards bleeds over the edges. The “deeper explanations” are largely in a “coming soon” state on most of the digital cards. There is a tutorial, but it is buried in the menus, so it is a guessing game until you find it on how the app works. There is a “Test” card pack in the store for sale, using “coins” (which I suppose is fake money until they start charging real money for card sets they intend to add at a later date). Presentation of the drawn cards is too small until you enlarge, and there really should be a swipe function to flip between cards instead of a Zoom In/Zoom Out feature to view more than a single card.

On a whole, it feels very unfinished, which leaves one with a poor taste in your mouth if you had high hopes for a cool tool. Will I check it out in a few months? Sure, but I can’t get over the nagging feeling that this might be as good as it gets when they run out of cash from the sale of the cards.

The cards themselves are actually pretty useful, albeit not quite as useful as I had hoped when you dig into it. There was some good thought put into them, but the effort feels uneven and inconsistent. I can’t get over the idea that these folks are really trying to sell their services as ghost writers for when people get stuck as authors, which makes them feel more like opportunists than like archangels. The cards are $45 for the physical set, which is a bit pricey after playing with the digital ones. They are all to happy to sell you a writer’s unblock for $150 (a consultation) or more. I basically say services being sold upwards of a thousand dollars right alongside the cards selling at $45.

So, not quite what I was hoping to find.

But why am I looking to find anything at all anyway? Why not just write?

Well, there are times when I want to write just to write, but find myself struggling with what I want to write about and wish I could find a good writing prompt webpage (Ugh! Too specific or too general or too WTF in most cases). It would be nice to have a tool along those lines to create random concepts to spin off from, that was reusable in a way so that you would keep running into the same or similar prompts, something that mixed it up.

Well, playing with the digital deck got my mind spinning and I have a few ideas now. I need to beta test and develop the concepts further, but I like the rough outline I have in my head.

And guess what? If I did develop a tool — I would give it out for free. Certain things shouldn’t be done for profit and this feels like one of those things. If it works, then maybe I’ll write a rabbit-hole-exploring book about it (hahahaha) and sell THAT, but the core idea would be free. Writers should help other writers write more. Period. Not charge $150 for a little deus ex machina. That’s absurd. And likely a predatory practice.

And I would definitely not promote my tool as a finished product while I was still working on it.