Nano – What To Do About That Urge: Six Lessons #nanowrimo #writing

(the images are from my garden; I cannot believe the colour that has extended into November)

National Novel Writing Month is an exercise in many things: patience, persistence, imagination, robust typing skills. To arrive at November 30th with 50,000 words tucked away is a task many feel is beyond them. It is the marathon of writing prompts and as with the real marathon many are put off by the bogmindling enormity of the undertaking. Some start and grind to a halt after a few days especially if they fall behind in achieving the 1667 average words needed to succeed in this self imposed task.

This year will be the fourth time I have entered.  One year when I was feeling particularly crazy I modified the challenge to my own version: 50,000 words spread across 30 separate short stories, each based on a  prompt given to me by someone else and each story written on each day of November. No story could be started before the day in question, save I allowed myself to have two stories with no more than 200 words written at any one time and I also allowed myself to have thought out the title. I didn’t even permit myself to sketch out an idea beyond those two exceptions. If I knew what the story was going to be I carried it in my head until I was ready to go. Those 30 stories are now the subject of an anthology I published. I nearly expired when, after fifteen days I realised the story I had just started writing was the wrong one. I needed a significant cheese inhaler for that one.

But the other three occasions, including this year, when I have entered I’ve followed the usual challenge route. One story, start to (well near the) end over 30 days. And I’ve learnt a bit. Here are my top 6 lessons:

  1. You can plot and you can pants, either can work. What you can’t do is spend time overthinking what you are going to write.
  2. You will not have any time to edit. You will not have any time to revise.  And that’s good. Like the metaphorical marathon you have to keep going forward and no looking back.
  3. But, and this is critical don’t try and look too far ahead. In a real running marathon the idea you still have many miles to go has put off many people. Break it down into chunks. Here there is the fear that the daily chunk of 1667 words MUST be achieved. No. You can catch up.
  4. It does not matter in the slightest if you realise you have made a mistake. This weekend I realised I had suddenly written a chapter in the first person rather than the third person point of view I had been adopting up to that point. It really pissed me off and, admission time, I checked back to see how long I had been off on a tangential frolic. About 1500 words. I made a  note and left it at that. IN the past I’ve changed names, forgotten a main character was already introduced, moved the action between two cities mid chapter… oh you name it. Just carry on. Make a note if you must but carry on.
  5. If I’m falling behind I write dialogue. I get my characters talking. It eats up words, it is real, it even gives me ideas while I’m doing it. The thing is, the edit will kill off the crap but only you can stifle the whole thing at birth.
  6. It matters not if you finish, as in reach The End of the book. One year I did. Another I kept writing in December and reached The End at 76,000 words. A third time I ended at about three quarters of the way in and that book remains at that point. It’s a thriller set to the back drop of the London Olympics in 2012. It will be a good book. One day. But without Nano, it would never have got beyond a nugget of an idea.

This year, I’ve used a short story I wrote two years ago as the prompt. The characters have changed, as has the setting but the kernel of the idea is at the heart of my book.

This is the short story..

The Art Of Spirit Capture

Extraordinary things happen in ordinary places.

If you take the B2402 out of Maplecroft on the old Dover road and follow it for nearly a mile you’ll see a battered sign. ‘Hoskins’ it says, still readable through the rust and stippling from some rogue shotgun pellets. If you turn onto the track, avoiding the biggest potholes and drive another mile, you leave the stony fields and scrubby trees behind to reach a set of old Nissan huts. You may wonder, on arrival, if there is anyone there but look carefully before you shrug and leave.

There are always a few cars, parked in the field to the right and, these days, a smoker or two hanging around the largest hut, puffing anxiously while they await their moment with Arnold Hoskins.

Few know Arnold but those who do recognise a genius. Some call him magician. Arnold has many social limitations: he barely speaks these days; he’ll not make eye contact; and please don’t try and shake his hand or touch his arm in a casual friendly way. He has spent most of his 87 years, sitting at a variety of work benches crafting beautiful Christmas tree decorations. That in and of itself is not what makes Arnold special.

What sets Arnold apart is a discovery that he made, in the depths of the frozen winter of 1962/63: the art of spirit-capture. By means of a simple series of transmissions, while regulating the temperature of the glass at super low levels, Arnold can extract a person’s essence, his or his essential core spirit and capture it inside a decoration. This is done in the moment of dying and enables the deceased’s fundamental presence to continue, despite the inevitable entropy of the flesh.

For ten years Arnold experimented. He learnt hard lessons. For one thing, on capture the essence is strong. It will soon fill the room, where the vessel is present, which causes, over time, numerous neurological disturbances amongst the spirit’s living relatives and close friends. Short term exposure is recommended – no more than ten to twelve days, ideally, at a time and then an absence of exposure for at least six months. This allows for the released essence to settle

It is Arnold’s genius in creating Christmas decorations for the captured spirits that has led to this small stable business. Exposure for those  twevle days is enough, certainly in the first post-capture decade.

Those calling, locals mostly, who hear of Arnold’s skills, and who desire, often with a typically understated passion common in this part of Kent, to retain something of a departing loved one, know Arnold does not capture every essence.

The selfish, the mean-spirited, the callous and the small-minded bitter folk who’ve lost their love of life are allowed to dissipate to the hereafter. But the bonny, the jolly and the hail and well met are embraced.

For it is their essences which will enhance Christmas. In the houses, where spirit-captures hang, there is something powerfully good and peaceful that saturates the mood of everyone who steps across the threshold, dusts off the frost and breathes in deeply. Often times they’ll look for a fresh pine branch or cinnamon candle or mulling wine, sure they have smelt some delight. And when they go they will massage their cheeks from all the smiling, wondering at the joy of simple hospitality.

Grateful customers have been known to invite Arnold to join them. He manages what passes for a smile and declines. No, when Arnold shuts for Christmas, he goes to his simple cottage, dresses the tree and imbibes the simple residues of his parents and grandparents. These days the essences are almost gone but Arnold, himself, is nearing his time. There’s enough left of his childhood memories for an old man to enjoy his remaining few Christmas alone but far from lonely.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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32 Responses to Nano – What To Do About That Urge: Six Lessons #nanowrimo #writing

  1. Excellent story, Geoff. I particularly liked the layered descriptions that put the reader into the story as well. Had the smell of pine and clove as an olfactory illusion while reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice story, and great NaNo suggestions. I’m using NaNo as a motivation to write on my current WIP everyday, but (as it’s historical) I’m finding the research I need to do slows me up. Love your advice to not get stalled by mistakes. I’m one that likes to read everything I wrote the day before a couple times before moving forward–but I can’t in this exercise. Oh, and your garden is amazing. Those white roses. I think I can smell them from here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Rebecca. I try and limit my back reading to no more than a couple of paras just to make sure I start again from the right spot. Two years ago I wrote the third part of a series, this one set in 1987. There were any number of cultural and other references I needed to check but I guessed them and came back to them later. In a couple of places that made the plot clunk or not work but I found solutions. As you will do. So my advice is don’t let the facts get in the way of writing a good story. You will change it later.


  3. Mary Smith says:

    Your garden is glorious with so much colour still. I didn’t attempt NaNo this year as I knew I wouldn’t be able to do as there are too many other time-consuming things going on in November. I enjoyed your story. Expanding it could take it in lots of different ways and it will be interesting to read the completed novel. Good luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ritu says:

    Loving it His Geoffleship 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a gorgeous garden, Geoff. This post is terrific NaNoWriMo encouragement too. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your flowers are beautiful, Geoff. I enjoyed your story. I can’t do NaNoWriMo as I work full time and couldn’t manage that many words in one month. Maybe in December, you never know.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Colourful autumn captures of your garden Geoff and very unusual for this time of year. I always enjoy glimpses of your garden.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It seems everyone in the UK is enjoying late summer colour still. We are enjoying continued winter wet, winds and temps interspersed with the odd summer day or two. Your garden is beautiful and deserves a post all its own. And your writing tips were so interesting to read, even for me who will never attempt an NaNoWriMo! I remember the original for this story. Not in detail of course, but the premise is intriguing and one I find a little cruel like the idea in the crafting world of fairy captures, where people put little fairies in prettily decorated bottles they keep on their shelves. Freedom at any cost is my life motto I guess 😀 Anyhow, this story has developed beautifully, Arnold is drawn vividly and his relationship with his own captured spirits has a ring of beauty and pathos about it. It’s one of your special stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Kudos to you on once again tackling this project. Since my writing is often described as “terse” I am afraid I would never get anywhere near 50,000 words in a month.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. willowdot21 says:

    Did you miss me? …No? . Well word press unfriended you! again.

    This is a great post. Great story, good advice, and lovely photos.💜💜💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Charli Mills says:

    Stunning color, an in November! We still have some herbs beneath the snow but color has been lost to us. Your lessons are excellent. I’m a fan of #5. Yep — get ’em talking. This year, I’ve been doing a lot of telling which makes my skin crawl, but I have a purpose to it. I admit I cheat and create a character list as I go otherwise everyone is named Bill and Betty. I’m agonizing over the horse’s name so it’s just Horse. My reward, after the words, is to explore names! You’re blazing away as bright as your cosmos!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a terrific story. It will surely be a wonderful book. Your garden is a joy Geoff. You have green fingers.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. JT Twissel says:

    A very poignant start – I look forward to seeing where you go with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: You could decide to start right now | Eagle Creek Writers Group

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