NaNoWriMo

November is here again, and that means NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), lays down the challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.

Like the last four or five years, this year I will again be watching on with a sense of melancholy induced by my lack of participation. I have a range of good reasons: November is a busy time for my family, with a number of birthdays, and an anniversary. As a school teacher it is also the month during which I have school reports to write, and usually a school camp to attend. They are all good reasons, and the reasons why, yet again, I won’t be attempting NaNoWriMo, but it does leave me with a sense of sadness.

50,000 words over 30 days means around 1667 words a day. Each reason represents nights away from the keyboard, too many of those stacked up pushes the word count required per day into unattainable territory. Now, I wouldn’t wish away those reasons (well, maybe the reports and camp), but by the same token, I would dearly love to participate in the NaNoWriMo.

Why? Well, there is a drive and a strength that comes from participating in an activity to which so many others are committed. Of course, I could aim to write 50,000 words in any given month, it doesn’t have to be November, but NaNoWriMo is a Thing, and being a part of a Thing is a source of impetus, comes with a sense of community or belonging, instills a sense of shared purpose and lends drive.

It could be any other month, but November is the month, and for whatever reason it just doesn’t feel the same when pushed to some other time. Perhaps this is a thing I need to shake from my mind, just shove the mental hurdle aside and set a goal for February or March, or some other time of the year and have at it. Perhaps…

It’s a thought to come back to. For now I need to focus on getting my freelance writing done, my reports completed, and finish off my next micro-RPG: Corsairs. Everything I already need to get done is enough to contend with, sure, but I still look in on NaNoWriMo wistfully…

Horns of Dilemma…

Horns of dilemma… uncertainty… vacillation… indecision… unwillingness to commit… Is it one of these or all of these? It’s time for the rubber to hit the road, as it were, to make a choice and commit to it. I’ve been putting it off, easier to vacillate and make no choice than set goals, which have targets, which can be missed.

At the start of the year I wrote about wanting to write a novel manuscript. I still do. I also wrote about developing my role playing game, something I am still doing. But I have come to realise that I am too often using one as a distraction when the other is looking tough. Stepping from fiction to RPG and back again is fine, but I would like to actually get to the point where I have something or somethings to put out there in the world.

While maintaining my freelance work I have come to realise that of the two things above I can really only focus on one for now. I simply don’t have the time or mental acuity to get both done. So here we are: the horns of dilemma. Fiction writing or RPG development?

If I choose fiction writing I would be committing to write one or two short stories a month, as well as working on my novel. I’d be committing to build a reader base, starting an email list, probably completing some courses, and getting my work out there to magazines, and other publications. I would be looking at dropping my work on my RPG (though maintaining my freelance work) and focusing on getting a novel manuscript finished by the end of the year, hopefully three by the end of next year, and looking at options for either self publication or mainstream publication.

If I choose RPG development I am similarly locking myself into a commitment. I would be aiming to build my current big project up into a publishable piece, playtesting, blind playtesting, and looking at self-publication through Kickstarter. I would be looking at creating a range of smaller products, like zines, on a regular basis, for publication on DriveThruRPG and/or through a Patreon page.

Both are commitments, both are two to three years of focus, quite probably more like 5 or more. I can’t do both however, not at the same time. So we return to the horns of dilemma. I’m sure the easiest question to ask is: which am I more passionate about? To be honest I find it difficult to answer this question. I want to do both. But I can’t do both right now. I want to write fiction, I love it. I want to work in the role playing space, I love it too. Right now though, doing both is is more like forgetting one for a while and doing the other, and making little progress on both as a result.

Doesn’t this look sexy! I cringe, looking back. But Zev never outright said he hated it…

I’ve been working in the gaming space for years now. I wrote the old Z-Man Games newsletter back in 2008, and wrote some 20-30 issues over the following few years. I worked on miniatures games like Halo: Fleet Battles, and Dystopian Legions, for Spartan Games. In more recent years I have been back working on Role Playing Games, writing mainly for Modiphius on the Infinity The Role Playing Game line, but also a little for Star Trek Adventures, and more recently for Red Scar on their Devil’s Run line. In the RPG world I have had/will have more than a quarter of a million words published, over more than 20 books, and while it’s not a huge amount for many freelancers out there, it is experience.

As a result of this experience I ask myself whether choosing the RPG option from my horns of dilemma scenario is the easy way out. By which I mean something I find sits more in my wheelhouse, something I am more comfortable doing. Something where I find the words flow a little more smoothly. The actual next steps to getting my drafts to anything worth publication will be anything but easy, but I hope you get my meaning.

I also worry… If I choose fiction will I be disappointed I didn’t choose role playing games? If I choose role playing games will I be disappointed I didn’t choose fiction? I shouldn’t be, it’s not like I can’t later do the second if I pick the first now. But while it’s easy to tell myself that, it’s much less easy to not feel it.

So here I sit. A week of busy vacillation, of active uncertainty, struggling with this problem. Is it I don’t want to let one go? Is it I don’t want to actively commit? I don’t know. I do feel the growing pressure, however, of needing to make a choice…

Aimless Wandering…

Staring at a blank screen. All white. Waiting to be filled with words. What words though? A dozen story ideas percolate in the upper layers of my subconscious, grasping them is like grappling with fog. I know if I grab harder, push more, pin the thing down and try to examine it I’ll find the thread at its core to follow. But is it ready? Am I ready? If I pull at the thread will it unwind? Dissipate back into fog after the first few feet? Which to grasp at? There are too many…

For the first time in three to four years I cleared my freelance roster, I had no deadlines looming, no things that needed to be done. I was free to write… But what to write? For a few days I did little more than open a word document and wonder what I should use to start filling that blank page. Which story idea? Which would lead somewhere? I was at a loss. At a loss I turned to what was easy, the role playing game I am working on has a list of things that need to be done. The obvious answer to the sense of gnawing indecision was to start with the first bullet point and work down. I want to write fiction though. I have the lofty goal of writing a novel manuscript this year, and yet, faced for the first time in years with the prospect of having that time I found myself doing what? Idly wondering where I should begin and actively finding other ways to fill my schedule. Avoidance, in other words.

Since late last year I’ve been catching up with a writer friend of mine regularly, and we’ve been pulling apart each other’s work. After schedules pushed our meetings back this month we finally had the chance to catch up again tonight. It was nice to talk. It was nice to mutually lament the maudlin state of indecision and the generally felt lack of progress. The talking itself was spur enough to get me moving. I am reminded of a favourite quote:


“You can’t edit a blank page.”

Variously attributed to either/both Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult.

I must pick something, and I realise now it doesn’t really matter what. I must pull at that string, whether it leads to fog or somewhere else entirely.

I came away tonight from that catch up with a sense of purpose renewed: just pick something. I have a number of story ideas, I might pull at a few and see what unravels. Maybe they will be worth following, maybe they won’t be ready yet. But at least I have some drive returned.

We didn’t have much work to share with one another tonight, but in conversation I recovered my drive to get words down, to start something, to get things flowing again… Maybe I needed the break, even if it was just a few days, to reset myself, to stop looking at the whiteboard schedule, now empty, and wonder ‘what comes next’, and just push forward with a few things to see where they lead. It was good to talk, and good to be reminded how important talking is. I have to stop now though, there’s a blank page calling my name…

Keeping Track…

Sometime in late September I decided it would be a good idea to track how many words I write on a nightly basis. Why? It’s a question I am still wondering if there is an answer to, I think I heard someone mention they do it on a writing podcast, or a social media post, or maybe I dreamed it… who knows.

I started tracking the words I was writing in October of last year, every night after I had finished my work for the evening I’d run a word count and plug the figures into a spreadsheet. I still am, and intend to keep going for the foreseeable future. Not everything I write is in there, copious emails go uncounted, which is a shame in some respects, but writing I do for my freelance jobs, for my own games, and my own fiction, all get counted and added.

Three and a bit months in and it has been interesting. I have found it variously depressing, uplifting, and informative. It has been a spur to action; to get the numbers up. It has also been affirming. One of my goals is to write a novel, and the question hangs like the sword of Damocles: but can you? Well, I knew I could get words on paper, but having some idea of how many has made a big difference to how I think about it. I have learned I can certainly write the required number of words for a novel, so that’s one tick.

Drilling into the numbers has been interesting, and from the outside it looks like no more than a bunch of numbers on a page; very nice, well done. What is has done is to highlight patterns. Importantly, those patterns relate to the types of writing I have been doing at the time. I know for example that I usually write between 1000 and 2000 words a night (in usually between 2 and 3 hours), when I am working on setting material for a role playing game. I know that when I am writing adventure material that rate increases. I know that when I write fiction, it typically decreases.

All of this is useful information that has given me a better understanding of what I am capable of given the tasks before me. I need to write an adventure? I know I can get the words down fast, but I also know that there is more pre-planning involved. Setting material and background? I can be more accurate about how long it’s going to take, but research is fundamental here. Fiction? Well, I really need to work to increase those numbers, but I am reasonably sure that the fact I do less of it than the other two is a factor in the word rate.

What it doesn’t show is also important, and perhaps there is an easy way to track these things, I haven’t given it much thought. It doesn’t show how much research and reading is involved. How much time I spent looking at maps of San Francisco. How much time I spent finding common Vietnamese surnames (and Vietnamese naming conventions). How long it took me to read about the structure of the UN Security Council. The hours spent finding out details about private military companies. Nor does it indicate the time invested into dubious searches about what materials are required to make various drugs and explosives (yes, I have no doubt I am on a watch list somewhere, probably all writers are).

Tracking the numbers has been informative, and I intend to keep doing it for a good while yet. Some of things I hope to learn include how the time of the year and the various things that happen at those times influence my productivity. January is quiet, everyone is getting back and getting moving. December is full of ‘Nights Off’ a short hand for anything that keeps me away from the keyboard, and at that time of year means functions, family, work and so on, in the build up to Christmas. I’m sure the availability of freelance work will influence my productivity as well, the last few years I have had jobs lined up months in advance and no time for anything else. How that fares into 2019 and beyond will be interesting.

Would I recommend doing something like this? Yes, I think I would. There are nights when I don’t hit 1000 and I feel guilty, like I failed some unspoken agreement. I have to remind myself I’m not racing anyone, and that even a night off, or a few hundred words is ok. It’s something. The last three months of 2018 saw me write about 76,000 words, and a lot of words are not included in that. That information is affirming. I have averaged about 25,000 words a month, and that’s not bad, not that I have a yardstick to compare it to, just my own little self. The point is to keep going, keep writing, keep practicing. The only way forward to improvement is effort, and I feel like I am growing and developing. Keeping track of the words has been something I have enjoyed doing, and while I can sometimes beat myself up over not hitting the invisible benchmark I set myself, it tells me I’m moving forward, and it helps me work out where my strengths lie, and what I need to push harder at.

Annndddd…. at this point in the post I have reached about 925 words… and yes, they will be added to my daily total.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

Last post I put on my rose coloured glasses and gazed back into the mists of the year just gone. With the quiet determination of someone desperate to prove to themselves that their time was not wholly spent on Netflix, Twitter, or picking LOL Dolls up off the floor after my daughters, I busied myself with looking at the achievements of the year. That done the next task is at hand, looking forward, setting goals, gazing at the metaphoric mountain peak that lies somewhere in the cloudy distance of 2019 and plotting the climb. Of course, I’ll probably stay at the base camp for a while… It’s warm, has good WiFi, and watching the social media rage of a bunch of people upset that Gillette dared to suggest that being a decent human being is worth the effort is both depressing and amusing, though mostly, I fear, the former.

Where was I? Ah, Goals! A capital ‘G’. Not capitalised for any of the normal grammatical reasons of course, but for it’s significance. Goals are those things we too often tell ourselves we would like to achieve while quietly recognising that, yes, it would be nice to achieve that, but the scones are warm, the beer is cold, and the cricket is on. Tomorrow will be the day I leave the metaphoric base camp…

The beautiful thing about tomorrow, of course, is that it’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, tomorrow will be tomorrow, and so on. Last year I managed to tick off a bunch of things, and I’m glad about that, but did it get me any closer toward my overall goal? What even is my overall goal? My five year plan? Well ultimately I’d like to Write. Write with a capital ‘W’, as in Write for a living rather than a hobby. So this year, my goal is to take some steps in that direction.

Now, I wrote a lot last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 words a year for the last three to four years at least. That’s good. Plus it’s nice to be paid for that work, but it’s not my own fiction, it’s not my own produce, it’s produce for other companies. It has helped me to build muscles I wasn’t sure I had, like the ability to sit down and write every night, to plot and plan and execute, and to hit deadlines. It has taught me to save, save, save, then back up those documents I saved, and make sure they’re backed up, and then just to make sure, save again. It’s taught me that sometimes I feel like writing and sometimes I don’t, and that the words that were dragged from my fingers, a month later, are impossible to differentiate from those that positively flew. Those are all good lessons. But now I need to make sure that 2019 moves me a couple more steps in the direction of my ultimate Goal (note the ‘G’). I need to write more fiction. I need to write more things that are mine.

So onto the goals!

I want to maintain my freelance work. It doesn’t pay brilliantly, especially in the Role Playing Game industry, but I enjoy it, and it has helped me get better. I have made some good contacts, and worked with great people. I’d like to keep all those things up.

I want to write at least one short story a month. Just one isn’t a lot, but there are other goals here, and other writing to do, so one is enough for now. I’d like to edit them, rewrite them, and submit them.

I want to finish plotting out one of the many novel ideas I have. I’d like to select one of those many and write it. I mean actually write it this year. Like hit 80,000 words by the end of the year. They don’t have to be brilliant words, they don’t have to be the best words, but they have to be written words. As the saying goes: you cannot edit a blank page.

For some reason or other I started writing a role playing game last year, rules, setting, the lot. I’d like to finish that this year. I’d like to finish it, and then decide what I’m going to do with it next, maybe not in that order. If it feels good I may look for a publisher, I may look to Kickstarter, I may just publish it as an indie game online, but I want to do something with it. It feels good right now, and I want to explore it further. I like the foundation, I like the setting concepts and themes, I like this beginning I have, and now I need to add flesh to that skeleton and see if I can bring it to life.


I want to keep up with the writers group thing I started doing with a friend of mine. It’s been good, and encouraged me to write more, even if just to keep up. Meet up every fortnight, and maybe connect to other writers in our area, who knows.

I want to read, I know it seems silly, but it’s easy to relegate the things you assume you’ll do at some point to some other point that isn’t now. I read more last year than I have for many years, and I want that to continue. I used to read voraciously, and while I have other ways to spend my evenings now, the curse of being an adult, I need to read.

I want to role play on a regular basis. I managed it for most of last year, so it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate that goal. Testing the adventures I am writing for other companies, testing the system I am developing for my own RPG, playing another published game, whatever, just playing.

I want to make sure I game with my family, that’s board games, of which I have too many by any reasonable standard. But a game every night or every couple of nights as a family is the goal. Oh, and gaming with my wife, just the two of us. We used to game a lot together, and then we had kids and that became less, so making sure we spend the time to reconnect over that shared passion, a board game and the occasional movie of course.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Some goals laid down for the coming year, hopefully achievable. We shall see!

Goodbye and Hello

2018 has come and gone, and as the dust of the year passing settles, it is time to look back and examine what I set out to achieve, and how I fared against that target. It is also time to take pause, and think about the things to come, the things I would like to accomplish by the end of the year ahead.

At the start of the year I set out a number of goals I wished to achieve on my other blog, Castle by Moonlight. There I wrote down a number of somewhat lofty goals – to keep up the freelance work, to blog twice a month, at least, and to draft a novel. Hmm… Let’s start with the negatives, and hopefully end on a better note.

I completely failed at my goal of writing a novel. I have outlines for two novels, wrote a novella, and a couple of short stories, but I did not make tangible progress on a novel. Why? It is partly due to vacillation. Not picking a story idea and running with it. It is partly due to prioritising freelance work, and not making time for my own fiction. It is partly due to procrastination, not using the time I did have effectively. All of these are things I need to change for the coming year, because yes, writing a novel is going to feature in my goals for the coming year. I’m like a moth to a flame… as they say.

My blogging goal was to write at least two blog posts a month, and then I went and starting this blog, splitting my attention between Castle by Moonlight and here. It did not go well. Sure I wrote 18 posts on Castle by Moonlight (petering out in July), and 19 posts here. Sure, combined that is well more than two posts a month. But I haven’t felt settled. I’m not sure still whether to maintain both blogs, abandon this one, or that one, and focus on the one remaining. I get more readers on Castle by Moonlight, but I also wanted to start a blog that was less gaming orientated and more the beginnings of a vaunted ‘Writer’s Website’ (capitals required). I’m not sure what to do on this front, perhaps me posting this here is a subconscious clue I should pay heed to, but I’ve never been much good at introspection.

Freelancing. This fared better in 2018, and I submitted somewhere around 135,000 words all told, pretty much all for the Infinity RPG from Modiphius. This included a campaign of five adventures, and various contributions to about seven books. How it will fare in 2019 is anyone’s guess, the list of books to be written for the Infinity RPG is nearing completion. I have work (I hope), for Red Scar that I am looking forward to immensely, but as for more, who can say.

Unforeseen projects… Somewhere around November last year I was wanting to role play some more, I was between projects, nothing to playtest for Infinity, and the prospect of work for other companies upcoming, but unsecured. I didn’t want to start a new campaign (though I have plenty of unplayed games on my shelf), in case work did pop up that required testing… what to do? Ahh, the obvious answer: write your own setting and role playing game!

Well, I didn’t see it coming, but around mid-November last year, in whatever fit of madness took me, I started to write my own RPG. I have a number of complete and semi-complete games sitting on the shelf, but this is a project that draws on the experiences of the last five to ten years working in and around the games industry, and particularly the last three to four in the role playing sphere.

Within a short space of time I hammered out about seven or eight dice systems (I have finally settled on one, though further testing may change this), and developed a setting I rather like. I wrote the system, some setting notes, and the character creation system, and have managed a test session with my local group. I am thrilled with how it is coming together, and there are some aspects of character creation that tie to world building that I am particularly proud of. How this will develop, or where it will go, is something I haven’t decided as yet, but it is in development, and I look forward to developing it further.

Well, that is the introspective stuff done, the goodbye to 2018. I think I’ll save my look forward, the probing prognostication regarding the coming year, till the next post. I hope you don’t mind, gentle reader, but you will have to wait with baited breath…