NaNoWrMo 2017: The League Book One, The Secret Years

This year I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWrMo.

The Novel

I have had a fantasy in my head for a very long time. In this fantasy, I received a box with Clarkian-magic* stones in it that had the ability to do at least 3 really cool things: generate gravity, change any matter to energy and create any matter it has seen from energy stored in it, and view any where from a distance.

It was a cool personal fantasy, but a fantasy isn’t a novel. (Even when it is a fantasy novel ). In a novel things don’t always go the way you planned. And it isn’t about you.

This year I’ve decided to turn my fantasy into a novel. I decided to participate in NaNoWrMo, which I had heard of before, but thought was kind of crazy. I mean write a whole novel in 30 days? Stupid. Even a relatively short novel like the 50,000 word goal for the contest.

But once you break it down to what it is, you are really just writing something that is 50,000 words long. A worthy and inspiring goal.

Why Write A Novel

The decision to write a novel came from two desires in my life. Firstly I wanted to do something where I didn’t have to depend on other people at all. Secondly I wanted to have a good deep work project.

I’ve got a number of very important and big projects in my life right now, starting LaunchAPod as a business, creating a new Toastmasters club in Abilene, being Public Relations Manager for District 25, and redoing the D25 website. The success of all of these projects depends on my motivating and leading others. Something I’m interested in learning and doing, and I have good people to work with. But still, I wanted something in my own hands.

I also read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work in September. It revolutionized how I work and how I organize my time. He makes a compelling argument for the fact our increasingly distracted lives are literally messing with our brains. He also contends that even as our environment increasingly distracting, the value of being able to focus, work, and think deeply has never been higher.

Writing is a classic example of deep work. It is also one that doesn’t require collaboration. So writing is what I’m going to do.

The Prep

NaNoWrMo is all about having a goal. Specifically a 50,000 word goal. That is 1666 words every day of November. To write like that you need to have time set aside every day to do the deep work of writing.

One thing I already know is if you sit down to write but don’t know what you are going to be writing that day you can waste a lot of time staring at a blank screen. So I decided to prepare for my writing by creating an outline.

I don’t like outlines. I’ve written outlines and treatments before for stories. Then once I got those written the story was out of my head and I didn’t care enough to sit down day in and day out to actually write it.

I have a couple of things going for me this time. First I’m not doing a complete outline. I’ve created scenes in Scrivener, my writing tool, but they aren’t all there. In this process I’ve learned a lot about how a plot develops and how much of the cool meat of a story is in the single scenes. I like writing scenes with emotion. Every scene needs to have a beginning and ending feeling for the main character in that scene. If there isn’t a change in feeling, the scene probably doesn’t need to be there.

In the past I’ve looked at plot as what needs to happen. Getting from point A to B. Scenes are about information. Each has something you tell the reader so they understand how to get to the next scene.

But really a great story makes the reader feel something. A great scene leaves their eyes burning, or their heart pumping. It makes you care. That is my goal. The outline is just a map.

Second I’ve got deep work habits on my side. Since I read Cal’s book I’ve started scheduling out segments of time to do deep work on each of my projects. Instead of just popping from to-do to to-do, I schedule blocks of time to do nothing but one project. Turn off the email and other distractions and just do that thing. Generally for an hour.

Then I track each day if I’ve done each of my tasks on a calendar I’ve printed. The idea is to build up streaks of work I don’t want to break. I call this ‘streak-tracking’ and it looks like the featured image of this post.

The three things I’ve streak-tracked all of October were, Morning Pages, Toastmasters and Writing. Morning pages are 20 minutes of free writing every morning. Toastmasters is the new club or the new website. Writing has been preparing to write mostly, but sometimes you just have to write the scene.

As you can see from the image, I’ve done a pretty good job keeping my streaks. Now I have momentum. I have a habit of writing an hour every day. Plus the work I’ve done during these session is the foundation of the writing for November.

Don’t expect me to blog a lot about the writing. If I can write a 1000 word blog post I can write 1000 words on the novel.

If you want to keep track of my progress you can use my NaNoWrMo stats page. I’m also working on how to add a progress bar to my side bar.

Wish me luck.

* As in Arthur C. Clark’s famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.”

Personal Insight on Decision and Action

Looking for next steps is my indication I’m changing direction.

I firmly believe in taking action when you decide something. I really believe you haven’t actually “decided” until you start taking action. There is this phenomena in my head where I say, “I’ve decided but not really”. This means internally I’ve decided but I’m not looking for next steps. I’m not taking action.

— from my morning pages 08/22/2017

Captivate By Vanessa Van Edwards Review

Any chapter in this book is worth 10x the cost of the book.

Like Vanessa I too had an epiphany at one point in my life when I realized social interaction could be learned. I wasn’t some how limited by my genetics or upbringing to forever not know what to say. Once I learned this important truth I became a voracious student of social engineering.

I’ve heard Vanessa on a number of podcasts and immediately pre-ordered Captivate when I heard it was coming out. When she asked for pre-readers I jumped at the chance. I’ll admit to struggling to get through the awful formatting of the pre-release ebook version give to me by her publisher. But the day the book came out I bought both the Kindle and Audible versions.

Captivate is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of how to understand and interact with people in the last half decade.

The “academics who did a study on college seniors and now tell you how people tick” genre has exploded recently. While there are good nuggets and insights in those books. They are heavy on the author’s biased reasons why and not on actionable – as in you can use it today – techniques. Vanessa’s book is practical. It is written from the perspective of someone trying to build a business, get a date, or just have a good party.

This is real world stuff for people living in the real world.

If you are a fan of social and life hackers like Neil Strauss, Tim Ferris, Scott Adams, or Tony Robbins, be ready to add a new member to the social engineering pantheon.

If you are a self proclaimed introvert with social anxiety this book is for you too. Vanessa calls herself a “recovering awkward person” and you can be too. You’ll learn to work with your strengths in the first chapter and not live in the hell of faking it till you make it.

Buy the book, you won’t regret it.

World Building – Start With A Map

Every story starts with characters in a place. Often the first thing that happens is they need to go to another place. Stuff happens in between. Very many of the first questions have to do with place. Why are the characters where they are? How hard is it going to be to get from where they are to where they need to be? What is the place they need to be like? Why is it where it is?

This was my first doodles map of my new world.
This was my first doodles map of my new world.

Another core problem is why are these characters together? It is highly unlikely they are together as a party unless they are together in the starting place. Are they visitors to the starting place? Or natives, that have history and a home in the place?

In D&D your parties are almost always racially diverse. There are humans, elves, dwarves, gnome, etc. But a common troupe of D&D is there are kingdoms or domains or homelands for each of these races. There are dwarf cities underground. Elf kingdoms only partially in the forest of this plane. So why are your characters together where they are? Yes, part of character building is giving them a reason to have left their home, but generally that is looked on as why they become adventures, not why are they in the place they are in.

If you start with a map, you will start to get a feel for the places in the world. You’ll know how far your dwarf is from home. Where the centers of commerce and travel are.

Your map probably starts with geography, but sometimes geography is influenced by story. You aren’t looking to create a world for no purpose. You are doing it to tell stories in. That means you have to have mountains for the dwarves to live under. You have to have forests for elves, druids, and rangers1.

Another story element of geography is isolation. There are probably places you want it to be hard for characters to get to, especially low level characters. For instance the strong hold of the super powerful evil wizard isn’t somewhere you want lost 1st level characters to run into. So you need some hard to get to places to put those people. For instance on an island. So include some islands.

You also probably want a diversity of terrain. The typical fantasy story is modeled on medieval Europe, which is generally seen as mostly forested land with some plains and agriculture. As well as some mountains and seas. But what about desert? Jungle? Scrub lands?

Once you roughly layout the geography, the terrains, the rivers, the mountain passes, the coastline’s inlets and peninsulas, start thinking about where the people are. There are obvious places for congregations of people. Where two rivers meet. Where rivers meet the sea. On the coasts of rivers and lakes. Pencil in cities there.

Decide on travel. How do people get from one city to another? Wouldn’t it be cool to say for a particular city, “Oh, you can only access Kartan by river.”? Also cities become rich because they can easily get their goods to other cities and people. This means there are roads – or rivers – between those cities.

Now it is time to think about history.

Destroyed cities. Cursed cities. Countries. Warfare. Alliances that cause divides.

1 Or do you?

Recovering An Old Obsession – D&D

The guy who invented D&D has died. Don’t know if I would have made it through adolescence without that game.
– Ron Davis, Reactuate.com, March 4, 2008.

My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.
My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.

Recently I’ve rediscovered an old obsession and am returning to it. There are going to be a lot of D&D related posts on the blog, so I thought I’d write one explaining what’s going on.

You see a little over 33 years ago in High School I played D&D every weekend. I doodled maps on graph paper in class and wrote descriptions of the monsters who populated them. I envied my fellow players who could draw their characters. I ran games and reveled in creating cool scenarios for people to encounter. Places they could grow and enrich their characters.

Back then D&D wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. The Hack and Slash dungeon crawl was mostly all there was. Every week was another keep that needed to be cleaned out. Another week protecting the weak Magic User in the party till he could get enough XP to start throwing fireballs. A weekend of discovering new cool magic items and accumulating so many gold pieces you knew you were violating the carrying rules to get it back home.

Over the years I mostly didn’t play any role playing games. I did continue to acquire books. I have two whole shelves of books. I’ve got manuals from every version of D&D except 4th. Dozens of GURPS supplements even though I’ve never even played GURPS once.

I recently heard it said that character creation is a game inside of a game. I know that has certainly been true for my sons. They took to the books like fish to water and created characters all through school. But I don’t think they played the actual game except the one time I ran them through a keep full of kobalds on a weekend. Now one does interactive story telling on line every week and the other has GMed an ongoing campaign with his college friends.

D&D is enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s coming back into the conscience of the culture – or at least geek culture. The live streaming and YouTubing of gaming session is something to behold. I was totally hooked on the new 5th edition of D&D after watching the very polished Acquisitions Incorporated episodes on YouTube.

I also have to thank my friends Kevin and Jesica for inviting us to play Pathfinder. Pathfinder is a fork – to use a computer term – of D&D 3.5. It has been a blast to play my Gnome Berserker Tiny Tanya whose personality is based on Tiny Tina from Borderlands.

This was so much fun I wanted more. Playing every other week isn’t enough. Also I want to DM. So I’m working on a new campaign for D&D 5th Edition that I will be running in the near future. As I develop it, I’m going to be writing about it on the blog. This gets me back to my promise to do more creative acts.

What Is A Creative Act?

If I’ve set a goal of creating something every day, how will I know when I succeed? We create things all the time. Is a Facebook post saying I’m back in Texas enough? A photo of the new Cisco Supercharger?

No, I don’t think so.

Those things are creative, but they aren’t sufficient to accomplish why I set the goal. Instead I need to define a “creative act” as I’m now calling it. This is the thing I’m trying to do every day. The thing I think will make an impact on bettering my life.

The main difference between the little creations that we do all the time and the Creative Acts that change us is magnitude. It isn’t the medium. My portraits from yesterday are just as much photographs as the picture of the Cisco supercharger. But the new pictures of my friends took skill, thought, preparation and execution.

That is the kind of creative act I’m trying to do every day.

This morning was the first time I ever woke up and my first thought was, “I have to create something today.” That’s a good thing. I need to have a driving desire to create something from the moment I wake up if I’m going to accomplish my goal.

It isn’t easy. Today I spent some time helping fellow Toastmasters. Most of the day was spent trying to get back on Texas time for sleep and driving. Driving from Dallas to Stephenville, them home to Abilene. Getting stuff to the bank and dry cleaners.

Now I’m creating something, even if it just a blog post about creating something.

Tomorrow has a bunch of travel in it, but I will create something significant. Then do it again the next day.

Photos of New Friends

I spent the week on the M/Y Pegasus at the San Diego Comic-con and one of my jobs was to take pictures. Specifically to take pictures of the crew/guests. Here are some portraits I did of my new friends Jesica, Devin and Amanda.

Jesica SDCC 2016
Jesica SDCC 2016
Devin, SDCC 2016
Devin, SDCC 2016
Amanda, SDCC 2016
Amanda, SDCC 2016

More Creating Less Consuming

My life is pretty good. Actually really good if I look at it objectively. Not just the “I’m not a starving child in Africa” objectively either. Heck I’m writing this on a freaking yacht for God’s sake. This leads me to feel a little guilty when I start thinking it needs to be better, but that the way it is.

What needs to change? What am I missing that needs to be improved. After much soul-searching, or something similar, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not creating enough. Heck, I’m rarely creating at all.

I just spent four days at the biggest popular culture celebration of creating event in the world, Comic-con San Diego. As I walked the floor I was filled with a yearning. The rock stars from the next Wonder Woman to the guy selling cosplay photos in a booth where all creators. Even the metaphor of “rock star” means you are famous for creating something so cool that people by the thousands become ecstatic in your presence.

Given this I realized I’m not on my way to stardom. I’m looking for the next thing to get by. A job, or even a new business. My standards are low and my heart just isn’t in it.

So what is the solution?

More creating and less consuming.

For the last few months the only thing I’ve created, the only creative outlet I’ve had, is Toastmasters. Which explains why, despite how much work it is, I just keep doing more. I’m passionate about making it better and better. I really believe that Toastmasters changes people’s lives by helping them overcome their fears and learn to communicate and lead. But the joy I get out of it is in the creation.

I used to create all the time.

I had a thriving photography hobby. I blogged all the time. I did some cosplay.

Now I do almost none of these. But I do spend a lot of time-consuming media about these things. I’m consuming art, not creating it.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m going to create more. Everyday I’m going to create something. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll post about it every day. This post is the first thing I’m creating.