The Gathering is Upon Us: NaNoWriMo

Full disclosure: yes, I do equate NaNoWriMo with The Gathering from Highlander.  Because a) I am a huge nerd, and b) Queen is the best writing music ever!

Once more NaNoWriMo is upon us!  For those not in the know, National Novel Writing Month is an annual event encouraging people to write 50 000 words of a novel over the course of November.  NaNoWriMo is the perfect event for anyone who feels they have a novel in them, but have had trouble getting started.  To quote from the official website:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

This is what has attracted me to NaNoWriMo in the past.  Years back, I actually completed a 50 000 word “novel” during the event.  (What happened to it?  Let’s just say it was merciful and quick. And I’m a man now.)  But without the push that NaNoWriMo gave me I would never have made the attempt, and the doing was the important thing in this case.  Yes, the result was so bad I destroyed it rather than infect the minds of others.  But forcing myself to write every day, and more importantly write without self-criticism, was the best thing I could have done for myself.

That’s why the time has come for me to enter the fray once again.  Yes, for the first time in many years I will test my mettle ‘gainst the blank screen, and I will emerge victorious!  On November 30 I will survey the screen, the vanquished words piled high around me, and only then will I set down my keyboard… (cue Bagpipes)

Now I’m sure not any kind of NaNoWriMo veteran, but if you would enter fight by my side here is some advice that will help you rack-up the word count and get to the end:

1)  Make an Outline – I did this the first time I participated, but not the second. Result? I finished the first time and not the second.  And then didn’t participate again for a while.  Your outline is going to be your rock; besides keeping you on task, it can help keep you motivated, get you excited about your story again.  Make sure there is enough detail in the outline to be useful, but don’t write a novel when you write your outline.  I keep mine purposefully brief by writing it out on index cards; one per major scene/plot point, plus one card per main character.  You can also find outline helpers online (Splashnotes or Freemind, for instance), and both Google Docs and MS Office can be used to outline.

2)  The magic number is 1667, not 50 000 – 1667 is the daily word count you need to hit if you are going to get all 50 000 words by the end of the month.  Or if you plan to take weekends off, you’ll need to achieve 2273 per weekday.  Either way, keep that number firmly in your mind.  Thinking about 50 000 words every day is going to make this overwhelming, so don’t do it.  This is about quantity not quality, remember?  So start each day with the thought that you have zero words, and you need 1667.  Hit that daily total and then reward yourself; high-five the cat, have coffee with cream, whatever does it for you.  Do that thirty times and boom, you’re done.  Should you keep writing even after you’ve made your daily quota?  I would say yes, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to let the next day slide.  Remember, every day starts at zero.

3)  The Process is the Goal – This is important.  NaNoWriMo will give you many things: confidence in your writing, a sense of accomplishment, new habits and tools to improve your future work, and connection to a wider community.  The true goal of NaNoWriMo is helping you develop these things.  If you have managed to find a new way into your writing, then you have reached your goal.  But what about the 50 000 word novel, you might ask.  Oh, be proud of that too, but know that 50 000 words is not a novel.  Most novels fall in the 80 000 to 120 000 word range, so you have at least 30 000 more words to go.  If you want to shoot for that after NaNoWriMo, excellent!  Keep to your word count and you’ll get there in 18 more days.  At that point, your copy will be ready for editing, which will drop it below 80 000 words, which will mean more writing… Not trying to scare you off, but I am trying to illustrate why bothering the nice publisher with your “manuscript” on December 1 is a mistake.  Enjoy the journey, not the destination.

I hope I see you on the battlefield, fellow NaNoWriMo-ers!  Songs will be sung of our glory!

(For your edification this post is coming in at 916 words, roughly half of your necessary word count.  Knowing is half the battle…)

Are you jumping into NaNoWriMo this year?  Are you too scared?  Comment below…


Humpday Links for October 26

Welcome to the last humpday link of October!  I hope everyone has fun spooky plans for Nerd Christmas!  I will be dressing up as a beloved family character from DC Vertigo, joining a few of my friends dressed as my brothers/sisters.  But to get us through the day and closer to the Sea of Parties this weekend, enjoy these links with my compliments…

– Somewhere along the way I lost mine, but you can now enjoy The Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Colouring Book online.  Print off the pages and get your crayons!

– courtesy of @bingofuel (who you should be following on the Twitters), a baby deals with wasabi like a boss!

The latest expansion for Settlers of Catan will eerily mirror  current societal concerns.

– The next time you’re sitting in a waiting room bored out of your mind, grab a pen and leave a little surprise for the next person…

– This one is for my pal @nitabing: Legend of Zelda Hylian Shield

– Who wouldn’t want George Takei talking from their pants?

– Arguably the best part of the Police Academy movies, Michael Winslow gives us a little Zeppelin

– Out Of The Box Publishing has a shiny new site, and you need to check it out!

– If Disney got a hold of Sin City, it might look a lot like this.  I’d…I’d still watch it…Don’t judge me!

– I’m not saying you can’t be a geek if you haven’t read these books, but Wired is.  I’m just agreeing with them.

– Offered without comment: coffee wine.

Hammers of War is a snazzy little Warhammer 40K documentary shot down in Calgary.

– Local steampunk scholar Mike Perschon was interviewed by Judith Graves.  If you want more of The Steam Scholar, check out his panels at Pure Spec this year.

– Here are the five finalists in the Battle of the Geek Bands.  No surprise, Kirby Krackle is one of them.

– Finally, courtesy of @redlianak, comes the Globe & Mail telling us that candy isn’t all bad…

That should hold you.  Now get out there and get your Halloween costume!

Some Nerd Subjects in Brief

There have been several things of note going on in the nerdverse recently.  While I didn’t want to devote an entire post to these, I felt they deserved a bit more than a sentence in the Humpday Links.  So enjoy these, and fire off your comments; I’ll be around and we can talk back and forth about them.

Headline: New independent climate study confirms global warming is real – Penned by Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame, this article is a frank summary of a recent independent study on global warming.  In short, yes, global warming is real and yes, it is our fault.  I am constantly confused by people that deny this very simple and observable fact.  Perhaps it comes from living in Alberta, arguably the province that is an ongoing severe environmental impact.  Yes, yes, I’ve seen the commercials, the oil and gas industry is cleaning up their act.  But that is sort of like a company claiming the sludge they are dumping is “Now 40% less toxic!”; “cleaner” is not “clean”.

But this article makes a very good point about global warming debunkers: the hard-core debunkers will not be swayed.  To quote the article:

I know this new study won’t sway climate change deniers. It can’t, because nothing can. The reason for that is simple: This isn’t about the science. If it were, the conversation would have been over years ago. Instead, it goes on, because it’s about ideology, not facts.

Personally, I am offended by ideology getting in the way of doing what is necessary.  Refusing to do something about the sorry state of our environment because of ideology is like a fireman refusing to enter a burning Conservative building because he/she is a Liberal.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this: this is our home.  We don’t have another one, and currently, we don’t have anywhere else to go.  Even if you think that global warming is a crap idea, wouldn’t it make sense to err on the side of caution?  Maybe keep the fresh water flowing, make sure we have enough food, try not to poison the animals living with us (not to mention us animals)?  Species survival is not ideological.

Headline: A PSA for Shy People – Thanks to Jessica Mills of Awkward Embraces fame for this PSA, it raises a good point regarding geeks with social anxiety.  Her points are especially important to remember if you are meeting someone in person that you have previously only met online.  It can sometimes be confusing, especially since most people with social anxiety will not mention it.  So you can go from a lively, friendly exchange over the Twitter and email, to a terse and awkward in-person conversation.  So keep social anxiety in mind the next time you are meeting your online friends IRL.

Something I wanted to touch on as well; the person in your group who is brash and loud may also have social anxiety disorder.  Mine tends to manifest this way.  Somewhere in my brain it occurs to me that, if I can keep everyone laughing with/at me, then obviously everyone loves me and I have nothing to fear.  Never mind that the rest of my brain is often, “Why did you say that!? Are you $%&@ing out of your @%$&ing mind!?”.  Now, I rein that in a lot, especially compared to years past.  But keep that in mind the next time you are at a party: the loud jackass and the aloof snob may have something in common.

Headline: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing – This has blown up all across geekdom since Sunday, but yes, Mr. Whedon and a few friends banged out a movie version of Much Ado About Nothing, and managed to keep that hidden from the world.  I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to live in a time-line where I have this to look forward to.  I mean, seriously?  Arguably one of the best directors around, armed with some of the best writing mankind has been able to produce, and supported by an immensely talented cast (no, really, read the press release, it’s crazy)…how is this not going to be amazing?

I think what I love about this the most, is that he just did it.  No fanfare, no asking questions.  He wanted to do it, he had people that trusted in him to help him, and he went for it.  There really needs to be more of this going on in the film industry, in my not entirely humble opinion.  Yes, movie studios want to research and study things to death before committing hundreds of millions of dollars to their next blockbuster, and I can’t blame them.  But not everything has to be safe.  Create a part of your company that has the resources to say, “We believe in this, we have a great script, we can get good actors and we can put this out right now.”  For the cost of one blockbuster which may not do well (I’m looking at you, Immortals), how many of these projects would get out the door?  Ten? Twenty? A hundred?  And if only a fraction of them have monetary success (while a fraction flop and the majority break even), you come out further ahead than you would with your, “probably won’t break even except on paper” blockbuster (yup, still looking at you, Immortals).  Is that a bit optimistic?  Sure.  Am I wrong?  Well, we won’t know unless someone has the brass ones to try it, will we?

Okay, I’m done sounding off.  If you have an opinion to share on any of these, please comment below.  Until next time, my lovely nerds!

Edmonton Nerdery and Future Plans

Today is sort of a two for one post; I have some local nerdery to promote, and I want to talk for a bit about my plans for Renaissance Dork.

But, nerdery first!

Costuming Help 101: An Informal Affair

Join the Edmonton Steampunk group for a casual afternoon of costume planning and instruction!  If you have questions about steampunk costumes, need some inspiration or just want to hang out with an awesome bunch of nerds, this is the event for you!  Taking place at 2pm at the Elephant & Castle downtown (10200 102nd ave), this is an all-ages event so don’t be shy.  With Pure Spec just around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity to put the finishing touches on your steampunk array…

22nd Annual Folding Festival

Curious about the mysterious art of origami?  Ever wondered if you could do it yourself?  Pop on down to the Folding Festival and find out!  With a mix of origami displays and hands-on instruction, the Folding Festival is your place to explore this beautiful and deceptively simple-looking Japanese art.  Running two afternoons in the Edmonton Room at the Stanley Milner Library, admission is free to the public.  Come get your fold on!

*     *     *

Okay, that’s the nerdery.  Don’t worry, there is more coming, I just don’t want to spoil the surprise too early.

On to Renaissance Dork!  Since I started running fairly regular Edmonton Nerdery posts, I’ve had a really good response from readers.  Obviously there was a niche to be filled for a local “What’s On for Nerds” type of site here in YEG, and I am quite frankly happy to be the niche-filler.  Edmonton nerdery is there, no question, but some days I think it needs an amplifier to be heard properly.

So I am going to be that amp, brethren and sistren, and I go to eleven!  In the next while you’ll see a separate page go up with a list of the regular and ongoing geekery around town (things like the Social Media Breakfasts, monthly events at Metro and so on), with links to find out more.  As well, unless there really is no nerdery to report, the Edmonton Nerdery posts will continue on a weekly basis.  If I have to skip a week I will be a very sad panda, so keep those geek events coming!  Seriously, if you are organizing a nerd event or have an ongoing event you’d like on my event page, contact me at brent.jans(at) with the details.

In addition to promoting YEG geekery, going forward you will start to see interviews popping up in the posts.  I am reaching out to people I know in the geek community, to chat with them about this and that.  I will then post our chats here on Renaissance Dork for your edification and enjoyment.  It turns out I know a lot of really interesting nerds, so it seems fitting I should introduce you.

Last but not even least, I am opening the door to guest posts.  I have a few people that have expressed an interest in writing the occasional bit of geekery, but don’t have the wherewithal to set-up their own blog.  Down the road I will provide a home for these orphan posts, and I thought it only right to extend the offer to my tens of readers as well.  So if you have a nerdy piece you want to write and you need a place to post it, talk to me.  It can be anything; editorial, review, amusing anecdote.  Just drop me a line at brent.jans(at) with a query (or even the finished piece) and we’ll talk.

That’s all for now!  The game is five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky’s the limit!

Comments go in the Comment place!


Humpday Links for October 19

Another week, another Wednesday, another batch of links for your surfing pleasure.  Here at Renaissance Dork we spare no expense in providing you with the finest free-range web content, lovingly typed by our own grain-fed dork.  Bon appetite!

– Speaking of conventions (I was, I don’t know what you were speaking of),  here are 15 people you will see at every nerd convention.

– Like Lego?  Like Gears of WarLike this!

– Want to improve your Twitter manners?  Here is a handy cheat-sheet to do just that.

– The Petoskey Batman is going to be spending more time with Alfred…

– Though I can’t fathom it, I guess there is still one guy that doesn’t get that female gamers are not just a fad.  Here is an Open Letter to that guy

– You may have seen this already, but Playstation wants you to know your games love you!

– Body suits may soon allow the paralyzed to walk.  Enough said.

– As an opponent of poor grammar, I can’t even tell you how happy this makes me.

– Curious about Warhammer 40K, but don’t have time to read all the books?  Here is everything you need to know in about a minute

– Sadly sold out, here is a beautiful Japanese print for all you Whovians

– Oddly, I didn’t even know a new Judge Dredd movie was in the works, never mind that there was trouble with the director.  Though it now appears those reports were exaggerated.

Fingerprint scanners in schools.  Not cool.

– In case, like me, you can’t get enough pictures of Mars

– Next time you are accosted by a balloon-sculpting clown, ask him to make this.  Don’t forget the pool in the library!

– When we go back to the moon, likely we’ll be mining.

– I’m not ashamed to say it: I love and fear this.

– And finally, you may think you love your cat(s).  But do you love it/them enough to give them the full Harry Potter experience?

That’s all for this week!  Share your own links below, if you dare!

When a Game Master Gets Lost

It can happen to any Game Master.  There you are, mid-campaign.  In an attempt to keep the party engaged you have plot threads running everywhere.  But some of those threads are fraying, others are getting snarled up.  You aren’t sure anymore what is going on, and if you aren’t sure it is only a matter of time before the players aren’t sure either.  And when the players lose focus…

But it’s okay.  Take a deep breath.  I’m here for you, my struggling GM.  Here are three suggestions for regaining your campaign focus:

1) Re-read Character Backstories – If you were a clever and tricksy GM, you read the character backstories your players provided and mined them for precious plot ore.  Why are backstories so rich in plot?  Because your players are highlighting the things, people and events important to their characters.  They are providing you with the bones of people, places and situations that you can then build into encounters and adventures that engage the player because they affect the characters personally.  Stop the ritual because it will bring an age of darkness? *Yawn*  Stop the ritual because they are sacrificing the wizard’s sister to bring about an age of darkness?  Now you have your player’s attention.

So go back to those backstories, look at the elements you had already picked out.  Now look at your plot-threads.  Drop any thread that does not involve character backstory.  Put your effort into building encounters that are tied to the characters.  Don’t try to make every encounter personal to every character in the party, though, or you’ll wind up losing focus again.  Take a tip from television, make a character the “star” for a time, then move on to another.  The more personal you make encounters for the characters, the more involved your players will become.

What’s that?  Oh, you didn’t get character backstories when you started the campaign?  Okay, okay, don’t compound a rookie mistake by panicking!  Ask your players to answer these three questions about their characters:

  1. What is your characters most important relationship? (Does not have to be a loving one)
  2. Why is your character adventuring and not working in a shop/tavern/temple somewhere?
  3. What one thing does your character covet above all else?  What one thing does your character fear above all else?

Pretty basic questions, but the answers should give you some idea of where to focus your attention in your campaign.

2)  Plot Thread Does Not Equal Truth – It can happen that plot threads get snarled because of impromptu decisions during a game.  The party defeats Nasty Baddy x, and you decide on the spur of the moment to give him a dying speech that ties him to Villain a, even though you aren’t quite sure what that tie is yet.  Then you do it again with another NPC, and another.  Now you are tangled up in these threads and can’t figure out how to resolve them all.

So don’t.  Here is an important thing to remember, both in life and in the life of your NPCs: People Lie.  Sure, Nasty Baddy x may have gone on and on about how tight he was with Villain a.  But that doesn’t mean Villain a has even heard of Nasty.  Or maybe they are connected, but the connection is not as strong as Nasty would like to think.  Whatever the case, having your NPCs lie or just plain be wrong about something, will give them a bit more dimension and save you from having to tie too many threads together.  Don’t get too carried away with the lies, though, or your players will stop trusting you and your NPCs.

3)  Stall. Stall Like the Wind! – It is likely you will need time in which to put my first two suggestions into play.  No problem.  See that module or scenario you have always wanted to run, but you couldn’t figure out how to fit it into you plot?  Perfect!  Grab it, figure out an enticing hook or three for your party, and run it!  The fact that it has nothing at all to do with your main campaign is ideal in this case (and you must resist the urge to tie it in; remember how we got to this impasse?).  After all, not every event in real life is directly connected; wouldn’t the same hold true in your campaign world?  Sure, there may be a shadowy group trying to bring about an age of unspeakable evil, but in the meantime thieves still steal, ancient tombs are still creepy and unexplored and goblins still…gobble.

Giving your players an adventure that has nothing at all to do with any of your threads does several things.  One, playing keeps the fun going, which is important.  Two, it adds depth to your world, because as I have said people (even NPCs) have lives outside your plots and schemes.  Three, it keeps the players from tangling any of those threads further while you sort them out.  Finally, it gives you a bit of a break as well.  You can run a session or two of the “side-track” adventure to clear your head, before jumping back into your plots.  And if you’ve taken the first two pieces of advice, a couple of sessions (okay, maybe three) should be more than enough to get you back on track.

So next time you find yourself snarled up in plot threads, just relax, take a deep breath and remember my advice.  You can get untangled.

Thoughts?  Comments?  I’ve got a place for those…

2012: The Year of the Con

It’s no secret I love conventions.  I think there is no better way to meet my fellow geeks and just have a great time than at a convention.  I would spend every weekend at a con if I could.  Okay, I realize that sentiment may fade after a few months, but darn it I’m willing to test the theory!  Like most people I’ve done the cake-in-the-sky (thanks, Patton Oswalt) dreaming about what I’d do if I won the lottery.  And a lot of what I’d do is go to cons.

Thinking about it today, I’ve decided that since the lottery probably isn’t coming into play anytime soon I’d have to take matters into my own hands.  To that end, I am declaring 2012 my own personal Year of the Con.  I have decided that in that year I will attend as many conventions as is physically and financially possible.  I want to get out there and celebrate geekdom with my people, and by Cthulhu this seems like the way to do it!

I’ve settled on the following 2012 conventions for my initial “Must Attend” list.  Going forward, the list will include only those conventions happening outside of Edmonton.  (Edmonton conventions take note: as long as you don’t conflict with an out-of-town con I am attending, I will be in you!)  The purpose of this list is to help me set goals and expand my geek horizons.  I also want to expand the scope of Renaissance Dork, and if I can use this con-going schedule to develop new contacts and find people to interview, all the better!

2012 Year of the Con Appearance List

Futurecon (December 30-January 1) – Organized by my pal Liana K., Futercon will not only be my first con of the year, but the first con of the year; it takes place over the New Year’s weekend.  I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year than with a con full of nerds.  I’ve already committed to being there and running some games (a little Kobolds Ate My Baby!, anyone?), and I fully expect to have a great time.  Other cons beware; Futurecon will have set the bar pretty damn high for me.

Emerald City Comicon (March 30-31, April 1) – Though I do read a few comics I am not a huge comic guy, so including a comic convention on my list may seem strange.  But ECCC is on here for a few reasons.  The primary one, I’ll get to attend with some friends of mine who are also making the trip from Edmonton.  I like travelling with people who’s company I enjoy, and it should make for an interesting trip.  But another reason is, looking at the vendor and guest lists for ECCC, there are tons of webcomic artists I want to meet, buy a sketch from and thank.  That alone will take up a good chunk of my weekend, and the con hasn’t even posted an event list yet.  So I think this will be a good first “out-of-country” convention.

Calgary Expo (April 27-29) – A little closer to home this time, my desire to attend (already high) will go up as they add more guests to their list.  They just announced Robert Englund as their Horror GoH, so they already have my attention!  And I have to say it is really cool to have a media heavy con so close to home; when you are planning to spend $40-$75 a pop to get photos and/or items signed, it helps to not have just dropped a bundle on travel.  Also, it will give me a chance to hang out with my Calgary pals, which I don’t get to do often enough.

PaizoCon (Dates tba) – Nothing has been set for 2012 yet, but PaizoCon usually runs in June.  I have tried to get to this con for the last two years without success, but no more!  I WILL get to PaizoCon in 2012, I have decreed it!  I mean, really, an entire weekend of Pathfinder run by Paizo employees and volunteers?  Yes please!  And I’ll get my second taste of Seattle, which will be interesting to me.  I may try to pad an extra day on the front and/or back of my trip to explore the city.

Gen Con (August 16-19) – The Cadillac of gaming conventions, it is time for me to get back behind the wheel!  I am tempted to go back as a VIG (Very Important Gamer), but I am equally tempted to volunteer with Paizo to run Pathfinder for most of the weekend.  Both have their perks, so we’ll see what happens down the line.  But if you are a gamer you should get to Gen Con at least once; it will be the best gaming experience of your life.  And Indianapolis is a lovely city, even if it was bawls-hawt when I was last there.  But even if it is 40 degrees C outside, it is a pleasant AC-degrees inside the convention hall, so that won’t stop me!

So that is my list so far!  Add in local events like Pure Spec, Edmonton Collectible Toy and Comic Show and Animethon, and I’m having a busy year.  But I am excited by this plan, and looking forward to the coming year.  As my plans progress I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll set up a page soon that will keep a running list of my 2012 con appearances.  You can also expect some posts with tips for planning and executing your own con-going, which I will field test for you over the coming year.

Okay, geeks, have a great weekend!  Roll some dice, watch a movie, or get out of the house and do something geeky.  See you back here Monday for more nerdery!

Any nerd cons you plan to attend in the coming year? Talk them up in the Comments section and maybe I’ll go, too!