Posted on November 30th, 2009 in braindump

Hands up, who “won” NaNoWriMo this year?  Heehee.  Oh, I’m sorry, I just love this joke, so much – and I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t actually get that it was a joke until a couple of years back.  Seriously, I was one of those people who cringed and tsked every time someone posted their exciting wordcount, and I was quick to list the unhealthy habits and ideals the “competition” encouraged.  And then one day I actually took a look at the site, and it is dripping with so much delicious irony that I finally caught on.

It is just not often that you see a work of satire so brilliantly crafted, and so delicately balanced that an audience continues to participate in the joke year after year after year.

Some of you think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m really not.  You don’t even have to take my word for it.  Here, I’ll cut and paste directly from the NaNo site.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

So. Delicious.  And since the post-modernists aren’t usually self-aware enough to pull off a statement of intent like that, I realized I had to be looking at the sly wink of a cunning trickster.  Or, rather, tricksterS, as I’d soon find out.

It took about a year of asking the right questions and proving my trustworthiness (hah!) through complicated trading games and moonlit ritualistic sacrifices to get to the origins of NaNo.  Which is silly, because all I probably needed to do was ask one of my friends – but I really can’t deny my fondness for the occasional complicated ritual sacrifice.  What I’m about to reveal to you will very likely get me a stern talking-to by hooded assassins, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

The truth must out.

You see, back in 1998, the internet was a wild-wild-West of untamed AOL accounts and blinking Geocities pages.  A handful of professional writers had made their way online, thinking perhaps this new land of connectivity would serve them well for networking, but those foolish enough to have left their email addresses public soon found themselves inundated by misspelled and confusing mails from fans and mental patients alike. The common threads running through many of the more whining or angry letters were some variation of the following: “I want to write novels.  Will you read my novel? I should be writing novels instead of you but I don’t have the time that you do because I am very busy.  I hated your last novel and I would have written a much better one if they’d paid me what they paid you.  Novels are just words, and I can make words, so how come you’re famous and I’m working at a gas-station outside Alameda?”

That last may sound a bit specific, but there really were a lot of gas stations outside Alameda in ‘98.

Anyway, it was weird and more than a little creepy, you know?  These were folks that were used to death-threats when they slowed between volumes, but this was an entirely new sort of entitled crazy. The authors asked their friends in the medical and machining professions if they were getting the same sorts of whines and sniffles: were people saying they’d be great doctors if they only had the time but they were stuck instead with a useless degree in advance basket-weaving? But no – it seemed to be a writing-specific phenomenon. 

And something needed to be done.

Here the history gets a little hazy – I’m uncertain if the first NaNoWriMo (allegedly held in the summer of 1999 in the Bay Area) is a bit of invented history to add to the perceived authenticity of the hoax, or if the shady shadowy cabal of those early internet pioneer writers (if you’ve assumed they were mostly SF writers, then you’ve got good instincts, because those guys are pretty mean) just rightly assumed that the Bay Area was going to drive internet memesites for the next decade, and talked some poor suckers into beta-testing the joke.  All I know is that the premise of the confidence game was simple and brilliant, with a fantastic payout: If all the folks that would be sending them annoying emails were otherwise occupied writing miles and miles of absolute crap in an invented competition with no cash reward, that’d be a month of peace and quiet for the real writers to get some work done.

And it worked better than they could have dreamed. 

As LiveJournal rose in popularity, the folks with a whole lot of nothing to say quickly circled their wagons and word of the competition spread like frontier herpes. Soon there were entire easily-avoidable communities of folks exchanging tips and tricks to make it through the month of pointless distraction.  And as more pro writers found their way online, they were quietly briefed on the con so that they could endorse the month and further the con with a cheerful “Good Luck, Everyone!” before settling into their own month of relative peace. Of course, there was the tiny unforeseen side-effect of a few annoying word-count widgets and twitters, but those are easily blocked and forgotten. 

But it gets better, as all the best jokes do:  Although the original intent was simply a stealth-variation of the classic “if you think you’re so clever, then you give it a try. Test your strength, win your girl a bear!”— well, it turns out that the crippling defeat of failing to spew out 50K in a month causes some people to be so embarrassed that they actually stop talking about wanting to be a writer until the next October!  And even some of the “winners” are so caught up in attempting to edit what essentially comes down to a brick of Lorem Ipsum that they’re out of the blog and email circuit for months, too.

It truly has become a gift horse that keeps on giving.

But, look.  I’ve been so on about creativity and Making Things that I cannot, in good conscience, fail to at least give you the chance to right your course.  And I haaaaate that, because NaNo is so funny, and I’d really rather just keep laughing at… sigh.  No, I’ve got to stick to my intent, here.  Stupid intent.  You’d better be worth it.

So, okay, fine, you’ve been had by (perhaps the greatest, at least for November) bit of farce on the net.  And now you’ve got fifty words, or 50K, of absolute crap — and you’re either feeling completely dejected because it sounded so easy to finish, or completely overwhelmed because you did finish… but it doesn’t look so much like a novel and you’re afraid that means there’s going to be even more work and no one said anything about any more work.  But, really, it’s all going to be all right.  I mean, first off, you gave me a good laugh, and that’s a worthy result right there.

But, ahem, right, helpful: you did, at least, crack open that word-processing program and start something.  And whether you got 50K words in or fifty, you did have An Idea, right? That’s good. We’ve talked about this: that’s your start.  However far you got, the simplest way to finish (and, again, really, those of you with 50K are a waaaays away from finished.  Seriously.  Is that middle section even a real language? Or were you so hopped up on sleep dep and caffeine at that point that you were just smacking keys with your face?  Yeah, thought so), the only way to finish, in fact, is not to stop now that November is (almost) over.

Oh my god, I know, but you’ve just got to keep going.

Yes, even with the holidays coming up.  Oh, I know it’s impossible to find spare time in December, but you’re just going to have to do it anyway.  If you can’t or won’t, or if you think I just made all this up, then you’re a hilarious example that proves their and my point.  Because guess what writers do?  They write.  Every day.  Even on national holidays.  And when they finish writing one thing, they start on the next, or they’re already halfway into it.  And then they write some more.  If you do that, and only if you do that, then you’ll get there too,

And it’s not as glamorous as it sounds, and it doesn’t sound very glamorous, no.  But if it’s what you are, then you already know you haven’t got a choice in the matter.

But again, you know, I’m sure you’re right if you think this has all been a work of fiction.  Absolutely.  I’ll see you next year when you start NaNoWriMo 2010.


Not entirely related, but speaking of long-running-or-soon-to-be jokes on the internet: Warren’s and my TOTW just went live. And, oh, this week’s made me grin. Go take a look.

your favorite artist and mine, Brandon Bird, has gone the extra... via Trixie Bedlam

Wednesday February, 03 2010 04:51 PM UTC

your favorite artist and mine, Brandon Bird, has gone the extra mile this February, offering 5 brand new valentines in his Law & Order: SVU valentines series FOR FREE. click through to his blog to pick up 5 high-rez images for your reprinting and distributional pleasure, or his name above to see his original valentines. experience the wonder!

A Communique From Moon Wiring Club via Warren Ellis

Wednesday February, 03 2010 03:39 PM UTC

I occasionally receive strange email notes from Moon Wiring Club, fine purveyors of confusing English electronic music. This one turned up today:

Hello Warren,

Hope you are well.

Did you know, that in 1983, ASDA, the well-known supermarket chain, commissioned several musicians to provide 70min music mixes to ’enhance instore customer experience’?

Of course you did!

Well, anyway, this project was, sadly abandoned after unusual reactions were witnessed within a test group.


The fabled, perhaps infamous Moon Wiring Club ADSA mix has surfaced here:

As well as vintage-synth style music, It features over 3 voice samples from potentially obscure televisual sources, and there’s even a nice cover too!

But under no circumstances listen to it on headphones within a supermarket.


Yeah, Me Too via Warren Ellis

Wednesday February, 03 2010 12:57 PM UTC

This is warren ellis dot com. Zo says hello.


materials for inspection can be sent to warrenellis [at] gmail dot com

Followers Poll? via Kieron Gillen

Wednesday February, 03 2010 12:07 PM UTC

This is mainly for my twitter followers, but I’ll stick up here as it’s a bit more permanent than the general twitter churn.

Basically, since I’m dual-classed at the moment, I’m interested in seeing exactly what people’s interests are in terms of following me. At the moment, I have a healthy mix of comics, random game stuff and a high proportion of total nonsense. I want to know whether I should consider twisting it another way.

mbimotmog: Not really sure where this started. Not really sure... via Trixie Bedlam

Wednesday February, 03 2010 05:35 AM UTC


Not really sure where this started. Not really sure where it?s going. I blame it all on LOST.

oh, look. someone is in a group show at a gallery in Portland.... via Trixie Bedlam

Wednesday February, 03 2010 03:24 AM UTC

oh, look. someone is in a group show at a gallery in Portland. we should go check it out!

By popular demand via Cherie Priest

Wednesday February, 03 2010 02:42 AM UTC

In the wake of an ecstatic tweet regarding my suppertime selection, I’ve been commanded to blog the “recipe.” I use fingerquotes around the word “recipe” because I did in fact yank it from a Betty Crocker book*, but I sort of streamlined it and customized it a little. So at this point, it’s not much of a recipe. It’s more like a short paragraph:

    Get yourself a casserole dish and fill it with layers of torn-up corn tortillas and chili beans, then douse it with enchilada sauce, smother it with the cheese of your choice and bake it at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve it dolloped with sour cream and tomato chunks. THEN STUFF IT INTO YOUR FACE.

At least, that’s how I went about it.

* Which might as well be called, RECIPES FOR LAZY IDIOTS WHO HATE TO COOK.

Kit via Warren Ellis

Tuesday February, 02 2010 11:37 PM UTC

Working on an episode of FREAKANGELS and a WIRED UK column about human spaceflight that will probably get a bit shouty, this evening. Around midnight I’m going to switch to something else. I have a shitload of travel coming up, and for a chunk of a month the only writing I’m going to be doing is on a netbook on planes, on a netbook in hotel rooms if I’m lucky (and not asleep), and, if I’m very very lucky, in paper notebooks in dive bars.

(Because, you know what, Steve? iPads look very pretty in that STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION way you and your people have, and I’m sure they’ll be a marvellous coffee-table machine, but they’re the wrong form factor for serious writing. Netbooks do that better. As a dedicated writing/internet machine, my Eee 901 running OpenOffice and Chrome wins.)

My business runs on four things, really. A netbook, a smartphone, a handheld email device and notebooks. Currently, that’s the 901, the iPhone 3GS, a Blackberry Curve and a pile of Moleskines and Field Notes. The phone and the email device have to be two different devices, because having to answer the phone when you’re in the middle of typing an email or note is, frankly, fucking annoying. (I used to work on an all-in-one handheld, a Visor or a Treo with a foldaway keyboard that I could write on as well as do email and take calls. That got annoying. Convergence is a nice idea, but not for me.

(I’d add in a fifth, an mp3 player. I thought a moment ago that was non-essential business kit, and then I tried imagining travelling without one.)

Obviously they all serve different purposes, but they are all in fact bent to the same purpose, the essential purpose of writing: getting the idea down before you forget it. Doesn’t matter if the idea’s crap. Doesn’t matter if it’s not immediately useful. Doesn’t matter if it’s half-formed. Get it down. Jot it in a text file on your computer and toss it in a folder called Loose Ideas. Thumb it out into a note file on your phone. Scribble it into a notebook (in block caps so you can read it later, if you’re me). Record it as a voice memo (I’m working with someone right now who sets his phone to voice-recording in the car and spitballs ideas into it as he drives, hits send to email it out to me when he parks, just so he doesn’t lose the ideas).

If you don’t have some kind of kit for capturing ideas, even if it’s a 50p reporter’s notebook and a pencil from the local shop for local people, you’re doing it wrong.

(I used to burn through those fuckers. I’d sit in the local burger bar because it didn’t close until 3am, writing episodes of LAZARUS CHURCHYARD in longhand and sketching out the panels and pages because I was terrified of asking Matt Brooker to draw something that was impossible. This is a paranoia I’ve had since David Lloyd told me at a convention that Alan Moore had written him a panel where a character was to stand with his back to the reader, smiling. Think about that for a second. Yeah. Matt was a greatly more experienced comics artist than I was a comics writer, and I really didn’t want to embarrass myself.)

(Point of story being: don’t be afraid of being lo-tek. Worked for me, in those dark pre-internet days when the most advanced electronic device I owned was a small portable b/w television that only worked if you punched it every ten minutes.)

The Milky Way Transit Authority via Warren Ellis

Tuesday February, 02 2010 10:33 PM UTC

A bit of brilliance from one Samuel Arbesman, via Discovery:


100 Words: Bag of Holding via Dan Curtis Johnson

Tuesday February, 02 2010 08:53 PM UTC

Officer, this is going to sound nuts but let me explain.

For two years, I?ve been working on a project for the military to store small inanimate items in an extra-dimensional space, so soldiers on the battlefield don?t have to carry everything with them. Food, flashlight, gun: all stored in No-Space until needed. But I had a little accident with the prototype and now it?s activating randomly.

So while I?m not saying I didn?t shoot all those people, I *am* saying it?s not exactly my fault. The gun keeps phasing back in, firing, then disappearing off into?




For consideration: "The gun's in my hand and I know it looks bad but believe me I'm innocent"

Derek Chatwood via Warren Ellis

Tuesday February, 02 2010 07:06 PM UTC

Derek’s illustrations are always entertaining, sometimes surreal, sometimes revelatory. Here’s today’s, complete with his caption quoted below:


Remember Ultraman? Remember how he had that thing where he could grow really large to fight monsters, but only for three minutes, and then he shrunk again?

Turns out he was stuck with that deadline even when there weren’t any monsters.

Sometimes surreal, sometimes revelatory… and, yes, sometimes dick jokes. But very well drawn ones.

Now That?s A Business Card via Warren Ellis

Tuesday February, 02 2010 06:45 PM UTC


Designed for Jamais Cascio by Chip Zdarsky.

A busy morning with much to recommend it via Cherie Priest

Tuesday February, 02 2010 05:58 PM UTC

I awoke this morning to a bit of an email bombardment, due in no small part to some combined forces on Twitter - but it was all good. First of all, I was alerted that John Scalzi is at it again; and by “it” I mean “being very smart, compassionate, and helpful when it comes to his fellow writers.” Thanks tremendously, John - and thanks also to Warren, who plugged my name into the alert as someone you, the readers, can reasonably support by following John’s suggestions and advice.

Next up - I learned that Boneshaker has made it to the Locus 2009 recommended reading list. I’d like to extend my profuse and heartfelt thanks to the Locus folks — for they have been very kind to me.

And speaking of books — just for a moment, books that are not Boneshaker — my marvelous agent reminds me that today is the trade paperback release day for last year’s hardback debut, Fathom. And now I’m going to copy that agent and repost the starred Publishers Weekly review, in the hope that it might entice you to take a chance on it.

“A decidedly dark departure from Priest’s Eden Moore saga (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, etc.), this stand-alone novel is equal parts horror, contemporary fantasy and apocalyptic thriller. During a summer vacation to her aunt’s coastal Florida home, innocent teen Nia sees her cousin Bernice commit a brutal murder and then get dragged into the ocean by a monstrous water witch. Nia becomes inadvertently entangled in a conflict between primordial creatures that endangers the very existence of humankind.

Entombed in stone for countless years, Nia eventually emerges from her cocoon transformed, only to realize that an old god is close to awakening and destroying the world. Priest’s haunting lyricism and graceful narrative are complemented by the solemn, cynical thematic undercurrents with a tangible gravity and depth. This is arguably her most ambitious?and accomplished?work to date.” –Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Because this is a Macmillan title, it is (as yet) unavailable through — but you can grab it in lots of other places!

And finally, speaking of new edition birthdays — my friend Mark Henry’s debut Happy Hour of the Damned appears today in mass market (pocketbook paperback) form!

Keep your eyes open for this one; and if you like the sound of exquisitely bitchy undead hilarity, then for heaven’s sake, pick this one up.

Click here to discover all the places that sell it — and don’t forget: The same University Book Store that sells signed copies of my books also sells signed copies of Mark’s.

(While you’re poking around on Mark’s page, allow me to recommend preordering his latest, Battle of the Network Zombies. Scroll down here for all the details.)

Living On (and Hacking the) Earth via Jamais Cascio

Tuesday February, 02 2010 05:35 PM UTC

Last month, I was interviewed for the syndicated "Living on Earth" program (typically heard on NPR stations) on the subject of geoengineering. That interview was run this past weekend, and is now available -- with transcript -- at the Living on Earth website.

(Direct link to the MP3.)

YOUNG: What do you think is the likelihood that we might need a geo-engineering approach?

CASCIO: I think it's more likely than not, unfortunately because...

YOUNG: Now wait a minute, you spent all this time telling me how it's a disaster, now you're saying we might have to use it?

CASCIO: Well, yes. It's because over the past few decades we simply have been ignoring the problem of global warming. We're in a situation where we simply no longer have the best option available to us. The best option would have been to deal with this 20 years ago.

And so, what we're stuck with [is] a selection of less good options. Are we talking rapid decarbonization and what that's going to the economy? Are we talking about making major changes to our energy infrastructure? Useful, but again, disruptive. These other alternatives are so seemingly unpalatable. It's very likely that we're going to be stuck in a situation where we will feel ourselves forced to take radical action.

Emphasis in that last paragraph on the "seemingly," btw.

romance cannot compare to... via Trixie Bedlam

Tuesday February, 02 2010 04:37 PM UTC

romance cannot compare to robomance


it?s always right in front of you.