Lockdown and Snowflakes

WARNING: For those of you looking forward to a diatribe about the lack of mental and emotional resilience among the younger portion of society, spoiler alert: you will be disappointed. If you are so upset that you want to complain, my reply in advance is as follows:

“Man up, you melt!”

How Time Flies

The first four weeks of lockdown were, for the most part, an absolute dream! I’ve always valued time more than money, and so this was my equivalent of a lottery jackpot.

There were two dark clouds, that passed quicker for me than for those being directly rained on, but after that it was more or less back to “walking on sunshine” playing in my head at various points of the day.

As an introverted, agoraphobic, who fears flying and couldn’t tell you the last televised sporting event I’d seen, those lab boys in Wuhan had done me a massive solid. Sorry – I’m sure there were girls working there too. (Calm down! If you’d read Stephen King’s “The Stand”, your mind would’ve gone there as well).

Seriously though, although I don’t detest my day job, when I was told that for the foreseeable, I wouldn’t have to (a) commute an hour each way (minimum) five or six days a week (b) spend at least five hours a week in meetings, or (c) do many of the meaningless admin tasks that take up a large chunk of an otherwise productive day, I won’t lie to you – I cannot say that I was unhappy.

For two more reasons, I was in fact ecstatic.

Firstly, for years I have complained, felt guilty, and threatened to change career because of the lack of family time it affords me (ignoring holidays). But right now, for the time-being, I am here for breakfast, lunch and dinner with my wife and two kids. I get to help my wife with homeschooling them (she does the lioness’s share – but she’ll tell you, I do come in handy with maths and some tricky spellings) and I get to play with them, A LOT. It’s been great!

Secondly, for an even greater number of years I have talked about writing a novel – and yet…nada. Not even a novella. Not even a regular blog post. Replying to work emails makes up the bulk of my daily word count.

Each October, just before the Halloween festivities that are now a firmly established family tradition, I naively sign up for NANOWRIMO (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). I order my overpriced (due to shipping from the US) t-shirt or mug, I start with good intentions, but early each November, life just gets in the way. I have even attended a few local NANOWRIMO events. These have been motivating, but they still haven’t enabled me to get anywhere near the required 50.000 words for the month.

So now, with all this time on my hands and permission to stay at home and sit at my desk as much as I like, I might have found a way to slay that dragon!

Obviously whatever I write during lockdown won’t contribute towards November 2020’s word count – but just getting into a routine, and practising the method below will put me in a better position to finally be a NANOWRIMO winner and maybe even a self-published author.

The Snowflake Method

Created by Randy Ingermanson (physicist and award winning author), I’ve known about the Snowflake Method of novel writing for some time. However, as is my way, I’ve half-heartedly attempted to follow the method, only to give up before seeing the 10 steps through to completion.

I can waste time going through the various excuses I’ve used for this, but I’ve wasted so much time already, it feels wrong to do so. Instead, the first post in this series will take you through the initial steps in the process, and how I got on with them.

I won’t start worrying about anything like a “daily word count”, until I reach Step 10: Write and Edit Your Story.

So the start date (or stopwatch?) for this blog and the novel, was set at 09:00 am on Saturday 18th April 2020. This is me, publicly committing to finishing a first draft by 10th September 2020 (144 days away). Gulp! Wish me luck!

Step 1: Write Your Storyline

Simple enough. In 25 words or less, write a single sentence summary of your story. I managed to nail the gist of mine in 13 words, which I will share nearer to the publication date.

Step 2: Write Your Three-Act Structure

Write a one-paragraph summary (Randy suggests 5 sentences) of your story, which details the three acts – or the beginning, the middle and the end. Again, I just needed to skim the surface here and not know all of the details, but have a general idea of my story’s starting point and where I want it to end.

This is where the “planner” vs “pantser” (as in, fly by the seat of pants…make it up as you go along”) debate rears up in my head. On one hand, I want the story to be free, organic, go wherever it’s going to go. But that’s a recipe for wasting hours, maybe even weeks, writing yourself into a corner and having wasted that time. It’s the equivalent of going out for a long run in a new place without google maps or any other way of finding your way home – nightmare!

I really enjoy a lot of Stephen King’s books and he is probably the most famous pantser. It’s just that it sometimes feels like he went where the urge took him, and there were better options available, had he planned it – especially his endings. Not always, but more than once.

So I’ve settled on having my rough plan, but I’m open to adjustments.

Step 3: Define Your Characters

I will not be using roman a clef, where you take people from real life and disguise them in fiction. So my friends and family have nothing to worry about! My characters are generated by me taking a real person I know very little about, letting my imagination fill in the blanks to some personal questions, and then asking what their siblings or friends are like. My characters will be the brother, sister or friend that I’ve created, so they’re even further removed from reality. I cheat, using my experience and background in psychology as a starting point, but I don’t shy away from doing the character-creating work.

The Snowflake Method asks you to write the following:

  • Name
  • Ambition (product goal or end goal)
  • Story goal (process goal)
  • Conflict (obstacle to goal)
  • Epiphany (how the character develops or changes throughout)
  • One-sentence summary (storyline if they were the main character)
  • One-paragraph summary (beginning, middle and end, if they were the main character)

I found it preferable to put this all on a spreadsheet, that way it is easier to add to it or edit as I go along.

In addition, I like to be able to see my characters, so I use google image to find photos of random people that look similar to who would play my characters in the film version (let’s not get ahead of myself…novel first, screenplay later. Netflix are screaming for good ideas).

So these characters have a name, a face, and even the beginnings of an inner life – suggested by their outer goals, actions and obstacles. Like work colleagues, they are going to become a part of my life for the next few months at least. The more invested I am, the more frequently we interact, the more real and meaningful they will become. With any luck, this will translate to the page and eventually, the reader’s mind.

I have started with 7 main characters, but this is already starting to grow out of necessity. Lots of characters can be confusing for the reader, so it’s simplified as they each belong to one of three groups – there are a couple of floaters, who change as necessary. Anyway, I don’t want to talk to much about the story itself, just the process.

The Beginning’s Conclusion

So, the first three steps are complete. I feel good about that as I did them all in one sitting, but not so good that I want to celebrate, as I have been further than this before and still failed to finish.

The next few steps may be more time consuming, and mentally challenging, so rather than put off writing completely I will alternate between writing this blog about “why I can’t write” and actually writing the bloody thing! I know, I know…genius!!! Thanks, yes I did think of that myself.

It’s currently 11:16 on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning. I slept in and skipped my run, but did do my Wim Hof breathing and had a 60 second cold shower. I’ve had no breakfast yet and only one coffee so far, so with my coffee deadline being midday, that is my next port of call. After that, play with the kids, read, watch a film, stuff my face, and maybe…just maybe…write something?

Until next Sunday, Constant Reader, stay safe and well.