Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

Another November, another NaNoWriMo. It's now time to take stock of the process and the results.

When I closed last year's NaNoWriMo chapter, I wasn't sure I'd go for the 50k again. As a matter of fact, I was almost certain I would not try it again. I used a speech recognition program for the first time and that changed my writing - the sentence patterns, the type of words I'd use and the general flow of the text. I felt that it had become flatter, less interesting. I liked the story very much (I still do) - a thriller/mystery whose main character is one of the goofiest characters I've ever created - but the writing seemed to take an eternity.

However, I decided to follow my gut-instinct and, for the third consecutive time, dive into the NaNoWriMo madness.

These three years were a valuable learning path and, despite the hardships, I wouldn't change a thing because it feels like I'm treading a path resembling a spiral, getting closer and closer to that one moment when I'll say "this is it" - I have finally found my "voice".

Some people say I'm a gardener - I'm neither a plotter nor a pantser. I prefer to know where to begin and where to end. The middle does get a bit fuzzy at times.

I started working on this year's story more than a month ahead of time. I used a word-processing program and outliner for writers. That helped structuring the story in more detail.  For the first time, I took quite some time to create character profiles and location notes. I think they helped bring the characters/locations to life in a more credible way.

Each year, I add something to the writing process. The first year, I took a few notes on a piece of paper not bigger than a napkin (and I busted my wrists writing furiously too). The second year, I used a speech recognition program and jotted a few ideas down for each chapter of the story and on what I'd write each day. This year, I used the word-processing-program and outliner to have a complete chapter/scenes structure and character/location notes.

Do you see it? There's a pattern emerging here. I'm plotting and preparing a lot more now than at the beginning.

The biggest lesson I've learned this year was that I have to be more patient. The story needs to mature which means I have to start working on it a lot sooner than October. I have to live with my characters a lot longer than I have till now, before I release them in a story to go about their usual mischievous ways.

NaNoWriMo is not a moment to write a book - as I imagine it is for so many writers. For me, it's a month of testing myself, pushing myself to the limit to see where the weak spots are, to learn and to grow.

I'm happy to say that I keep learning and hopefully growing too, and that is something I value immensely.

A final word. Thank you to my family and friends who, both in Real Life (RL) and in Second Life, were supportive of my writing and patient enough to put up with the odd schedules. 

And a very special thank you to my writing group. We have met every single morning of every single day of November (sometimes still half asleep and struggling desperately to stay awake!), some doing the NaNo, others writing RL short-fiction/novels/work stuff, and we pushed one another to go beyond what we thought we would manage and to go beyond what life threw at us when we least expected it. You guys are awesome and I would never have made it without you. You guys know who you are. Thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Octoberville 2015

The young reporter was nervous.
“They pinned it on me, the bastards,” said the prisoner. “I was there, but I didn't see anything. I didn't do anything. I swear on my mother’s grave. I tried to explain how things happened, but they didn't care. They wanted a scapegoat. Yeah, that’s right. So, here I am. The bastards pinned it on me.”
Years later, while reviewing old cases, the reporter found the photo they had published back then. Readers always enjoyed reading about familiar faces of the past. So, he decided to interview the prisoner’s mother, who was still very alive.

Friday, November 27, 2015

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk for the Virtual Writers, Inc.

Milk Wood

Harriet Gausman asked me to write a short pep talk at the end of week 3 of the NaNoWriMo. This pep talk was to be published at the Virtual Writers website. Unfortunately, technology got the best of everyone's plans and the pep talk ended up being posted at the Virtual Writers Facebook page instead.


"Why, sometimes I've believed
as many as six impossible things
before breakfast"
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

You’ve made it this far! I bet you’re happy!

You are also exhausted, perhaps even a bit cranky. The end of week 3 crept up on you. Deprived of sleep, over-caffeinated and inadequately fed, you now have serious doubts about your novel, because it resembles a perplexing turmoil of random ideas, hanging by a thread.

You feel a major plot makeover coming and you dread the nightmare of reorganizing a story you put your heart and soul into. Plus, your characters decided to conspire against you and are now out in the streets, doing whatever they want, aren’t they? I think I hear some of mine chanting and laughing out there too.

How about your word count?

Are you ahead? Congratulations! You’re doing great.

Are you keeping up? Good job! No one can ask you for more.

Are you struggling to hold on? Well, if life decided to pull the rug from under you and you are tempted to drop this crazy idea of writing a book in a month, set your own goal and go for it.

Whichever the case, don’t read what you have written so far. Oh, no. Don’t! Just push forward.

We are about a week away from reaching the finish line. Now more than ever, it’s important to stick to a writing routine and to rely on the support of your fellow writers. Giving up is not an option.

And believe me, impossible things do happen!


As soon as the page started working again, it was published at the Virtual Writers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Workshop: Boost Your Writing Using Second Life (Part4/4)

Milk Wood

Workshop Notes (concl.)
Host: Lizzie Gudkov 
Location: Milk Wood
Date: November 5 2015 

3.6. The Role-playing Approach – (Re)creating environments and characters
– Role-playing, and do consider this designation in a broad sense, role-playing itself can be a very interesting resource as well.
– It’s not accessible to all and it could become expensive.
– I don’t do this myself, but I know several writers who create and recreate settings and characters of their stories in Second Life and in other virtual platforms as well.
– They create the settings of their stories in Second Life from scratch and use these to write their off-world narratives or, the other way around, they recreate in-world an idea they already had and then immerse themselves in these settings.
– They improve them, adjust, correct, add details, and explore different possibilities, triggering new material for their stories.
– They also do the same with their characters.
– They create an avatar resembling their character; and they test his looks in-world, his clothes, hair style and speech mannerisms.
– Some even write their character’s diaries or letters, for example, to help with character building.
– They literally walk in their character’s shoes!

This is an approach that combines immersion and creativity. It also offers the advantage of making it less likely for narrative inconsistencies to happen.

Before I conclude, I’d like to add a few bits and pieces on how to turn Second Life into your NaNoWriMo backup plan.

Writers are curious by nature and there’s no lack of creativity in Second Life. So, do make use of your curiosity.

    3.7. Profiles as a source of information

– Check people’s profiles - I found some of the best locations in Second Life just by reading people’s picks.

    3.8. Avatars' names and looks

– Notice avatars’ names – we often agonize over finding the right name for our characters. Second Life’s residents offer a vast array of options. Some names are totally silly, granted, but others are really smart, funny and original.
– Also notice how avatars look – there are amazing avatars out there and just check everyone’s avatars here! We could all be characters in someone’s story! And perhaps we already are!

A final note.

We’ve talked about using Second Life as a support network. We’ve talked briefly about having access to potential readership for feedback on our writing. And we’ve talked about using Virtual Reality as a source of both information and inspiration, prompting us to get back to writing if we get stuck.

Whether you have a predefined path for your novel or you are the type of writer who prefers to improvise, I cannot emphasize enough what an amazing resource Second Life is for us writers, with the added bonus of being easily accessible and triggering ideas quickly! We do need that during NaNoWriMo.

I’d like to thank Harriet for inviting me to share a bit of my experience as a writer in a virtual world. Thank you.

I’d also like to thank everyone who attended my workshop.
                      I wish you all, the best of luck with your stories.

Workshop: Boost Your Writing Using Second Life (Part3/4)

Milk Wood

Workshop Notes (cont.)
Host: Lizzie Gudkov
Location: Milk Wood
Date: November 5 2015

When you visit a sim looking for ideas for your story or looking for ways to get unstuck, ways to motivate you back to writing, I’d like to suggest two possible approaches.

    3.3. The Macro Approach – Get to know the whole sim

– Take a walk around.
– Don’t worry about taking notes, just enjoy the sim.
– Get the feel for the layout of the pathways, streets, tunnels, mazes.
– Enjoy the buildings, the colors and the general mood of the place.
– Notice the sounds. Sim creators always pay close attention to everything to make sure apparently unimportant details contribute to the general mood of the whole sim – the wind, doors opening and closing, wooden floorboards creaking, a crow in the distance, birds chirping, the water splashing against a pier, etc.
– Get to know the whole sim!
– This approach is good for creating settings in your story.

   3.4. The Micro Approach – Go for detail

– Look for something specific.
– A house, a room inside a house, or even an object or two inside a specific room - I mentioned a house but it could be a ship, a cave or any other space.
– Don’t be afraid to click here and there, to experiment.
– I have stumbled upon a few very unusual ideas by sitting somewhere and ending up hanging upside down! Sim creators often have a great sense of humor and they have fun adding details that the less curious would miss entirely!
– Look for that spark that would reignite your story, that could get you back on track, writing!
– Go for detail!
– This approach is good for creating and adding detail/depth to characters and to the storyline.

During NaNoWriMo, we have to work quickly, overcome problems quickly and get unstuck quickly.

Knowing that you can arrive at a location in Second Life, a sim, a parcel or even a small area within a parcel, and have a diversity of resources that will trigger ideas – basically, solutions – for your writing is, to say the least, reassuring.

    3.5. Going beyond Your Comfort Zone

More experienced writers often advise new writers saying “Write about what you know”. However, once we set our minds to writing something, we, as writers, tend to be extremely stubborn. Sometimes stories push us to go beyond our comfort zone.

Being immersed in a virtual world provides you with ideas. But it also provides you with crucial information, sometimes with information that changes your approach to the story entirely.

An example. A while back, I wanted to write a story where my main character had to survive a snowstorm.

I live in Lisbon, Portugal. We don’t have snowstorms here! Not even during the most dreadful of winters. Yes, I know what a snowstorm is. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen films about snowstorms. I have an idea of what it is to be caught in a snowstorm, ok, a vague idea, I admit! But I have never experienced it.

So, I teleported to a winter sim. I paid close attention to the elements I recognized, the wind, and the whiteness, how everything moved in a sort of an overwhelming way. But there was one thing I hadn’t thought of. I knew about it, but I had completely forgotten about it because being in a snow environment is not part of my life experience – and that was the sound of snow/ice cracking under my feet. This is the kind of detail that makes a story richer. I then understood that my story had to have a lot of sound references to be more believable.

Another example.  Up until recently, I wrote a monthly column for the Virtual Writers website. The column was called “A Story Waiting to Happen”. For this column, I would visit a sim and use the macro and micro approaches I have just told you about. I would then suggest ideas for stories and for characters based on what I saw at that particular sim.

One of the places that impressed me the most was Hestium. When I first visited Hestium, it was a parcel, about a quarter of a sim. Today, Hestium covers a larger area. A few parcels were added in the meantime.

The place has several houses decorated in very different ways, suggesting different characters are living there. This is fascinating for a writer. And it’s especially useful as a resource for our NaNoWriMo backup plan.

If you’d like to try the suggestions I’ve made so far, this is a great place to start. At Hestium, we are encouraged to go inside the houses and check everything (there are no rented houses; there’s only one small area we have no access to, which is the owner’s home).

Having NaNoWriMo in mind, I suggest the following:

– Look around and choose the elements (again, not too many!) you find useful for your story, the elements you think could trigger ideas, the elements that will prompt you back to writing, and use techniques we, as writers, are all very familiar with.
– Brainstorm connections between these elements – the general ambiance of the place, a house, a person/character that could be living at a specific location in the sim, an object or two you come across - and the characters in your story. Choose objects that will add something to your character’s story, experience and disposition.
– Ask questions like - Who? Why? What? How? When? Related to the objects you’ve chosen or the characters you imagine are living there.
– Ask “What if…?” I like this approach a lot and use it often to brainstorm possible conflict and tension
– Look around and make your character say “I wish I could...” How would he complete this sentence?
– Think about your character’s life by taking the whole area that you’re visiting into consideration or the way a house is decorated or even a particular object.
– Think about what kind of connection the character has with the location, the house and the objects inside. Do you think they trigger good recollections or do they remind him of something terrible?
– You can use these techniques as prompts to add elements to a character/scene that already exists in your story or to create a new character or a new situation that would encourage you to go back to writing.

What’s wonderful about Second Life is that it’s always changing. New environments, new ideas and resources are available! That also happens at Hestium.

While I was preparing for today’s meeting with you, I revisited Hestium only to find out that a whole new group of residents, fictional residents, had moved in! That was both intriguing and fascinating.

Allow me a disclaimer here. I’m in no way affiliated with Hestium. I think it’s a great place for us, because it does have writers and stories in mind.
Like Hestium, I’m sure there are many more interesting locations out there in Second Life, depicting all sorts of environments and becoming potential material for all types of stories.
This goes for Milk Wood too, where we are right now. When you have a bit of time, just take a walk around and you’ll see a lot of interesting locations, characters and objects.

What’s really important is that a location provides you with new ideas so you feel that you are ready to go back to writing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Workshop: Boost Your Writing Using Second Life (Part2/4)


Workshop Notes (cont.)
Host: Lizzie Gudkov
Location: Milk Wood
Date: November 5 2015

Let’s dig deeper into the story writing itself.

Expectations are very high during NaNoWriMo and it’s easy to feel discouraged if, for some reason, you get stuck or your writing pace slows down.

Procrastination is tempting and, when you least expect it, you feel you have lost too much time and you realize you’re falling behind on your daily word count.

You hit a wall. Some people would call it writer’s block, but I prefer to say that you’ve reached a hurdle you need to overcome.

To overcome this hurdle, you can research for ideas online, you can collect bits and pieces of information here and there, newspaper clippings, brochures, maps, etc.

The problem with this method of collecting material for the story without relying on a virtual world is that it can be extremely time-consuming.

3. The Story – Immersion

Second Life offers a very interesting solution – Immersion – make use of the fact that you are immersed in a virtual world that is extremely rich and creative.

How can you make use of Virtual Reality to prompt you to get back on track with our story?

    3.1 Finding locationsSearch for the type of sim that fits your story -  in Second Life you can find locations for all sorts of stories – Post-Apocalyptic, Vampire, Dark Horror, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi, Steam Punk, Urban/Noir, Industrial, etc.

      3.1.1. Destination Guide

– Use the Destination Guide – it’s not updated as regularly as it should be, but it’s still an interesting resource.
– Do a targeted search in the Destination Guide –When you go to website, you’ll see a list of different categories that you could use as a reference. Use these categories as a first step in your search.

      3.1.2. SL travel blogs

– Check Second Life travel blogs – a number of them are updated daily. They have great pictures that allow you to get an idea of what that location looks like so you can decide very quickly if that’s the type of sim you need for your story.

      3.1.3. Suggestions of friends/fellow writers

– Rely on suggestions made by friends and fellow writers. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find what you are looking for. Ask your friends and your fellow writers for suggestions.

But… Be selective. During NaNoWriMo, time is a precious commodity!

      3.1.4. Role-play sims - Start by choosing sims where people are role-playing.
– These are usually very well done and creative.
– Role players take great pride in being truthful to what they are recreating.

    3.2. Arriving

      3.2.1. Windlights and Sounds

– When you teleport to a sim, wait for things to rez completely. This seems a rather unnecessary observation, nevertheless it’s very important.
– You don’t need the extra stress of lagging like crazy because you are pushing your system to the limit.
– You don’t need the frustration of seeing everything gray or totally distorted.

These are the type of things that often make people give up on using Second Life as a resource for their writing. So, that’s why I’m drawing your attention to them.

– Turn your volume up and allow the viewer to display the Windlights chosen by the creators of the sim.
– If you come to the conclusion that these Windlights don’t work, you can always change them to something that fits your story.
– A word of caution. Beware of the fact that photos in blogs, and in the Destination Guide as well, have often been changed in image editing software, sometimes they have been dramatically changed. Don’t feel discouraged if you arrive at a sim, having a certain expectation, only to find a place that doesn’t work for your story at all!
 – So, if you arrive at a sim and you realize that the Windlights create the wrong mood and you cannot draw inspiration from it for your story, don’t discard that location immediately. Choosing the right Windlights would make it a usable resource nevertheless.

      3.2.2. Writer Tag and Cautious Interacting

– Wear a tag that identifies you as a writer.
– Everyone knows this, but we tend to forget when we try to be friendly and polite – at a role-play sim, don’t talk to people unless they talk to you. You’re a visitor, so it’s important not to interfere with those who might be role-playing. We don’t want to disturb them.

This was a piece of advice someone gave me a long time ago and it has proven to be extremely useful, because by wearing a writer’s tag and not interfering, role-players quickly understand that I’m probably looking for ideas for new stories and they become interested.

They tend to come to me and welcome me to the sim and tell me that I’m free to walk around. Sometimes they make me aware of the fact that there are residential areas, but that otherwise I can walk about as much as I want. So, they basically open the doors to their sim.

Curiously enough, they also take the time to ask questions about my writing, about my stories and how I would use their sim as inspiration.

This interaction has provided me with very interesting information and ideas for my storylines, characters and settings.

    So, I highly recommend it.

Workshop: Boost Your Writing Using Second Life (Part1/4)

Workshop Notes
Host: Lizzie Gudkov
Location: Milk Wood
Date: November 5 2015

NaNoWriMo is a demanding challenge and getting stuck is not an option. We'll address a few simple ways to turn a virtual world into your NaNoWriMo backup plan.

Outline of the Workshop » Links to the different posts

1. Problems during NaNoWriMo  »Part 1/4
1.1. Real Life
1.2. The Story
1.3. The Writing 

2. The Writer’s Path – Support, Information and Writing Opportunities
2.1. Meeting Other Writers and Readers
2.2. Writing Opportunities
 3. The Story – Immersion  »Part 2/4
3.1. Finding Locations
3.1.1. Destination Guide
3.1.2. SL Travel Blogs
3.1.3. Suggestions of Friends and Fellow Writers
3.1.4. Roleplay Sims
3.2. Arriving
3.2.1.  Windlights and Sounds 
3.2.2. Writer Tag and Cautious Interacting
3.3. The Macro Approach  »Part 3/4
3.4. The Micro Approach
3.5. Going beyond Your Comfort Zone
3.6. The Roleplaying Approach  »Part 4/4
3.7. Profiles
3.8. Avatar Names and Looks

1. Problems during NaNoWriMo

The initial enthusiasm is starting to wear off. Real Life is now putting a lot of pressure on you – kids, family and your job. Everyone wants to have your full attention back.
On top of that, you start having doubts about your storyline. Your characters, if they are like mine, decide to disrespect the outline you’ve crafted so carefully. Unexpected events take place. And you find yourself wondering – now what?!

I’ll start by referring to our paths as writers in general and I’ll progressively narrow it down to the elements of our stories.

2. The Writer’s Path – Support, Information
          and Writing Opportunities

    2.1. Meeting Other Writers and Readers

Attend informal meetings with other writers in Second Life to discuss books, stories, and ideas for characters, writing techniques or other writing events taking place in-world.

– These informal meetings tend to be rather chaotic when they don’t have a pre-established topic. From my experience, people have a propensity to ramble aimlessly.
–They also tend to focus on their own work only and not on expressing their opinion on the work of fellow writers. You’ll witness boring parallel monologues and little real interaction.

– You have the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas.
– You can also exchange useful information - programs for writers, websites and other online and off-line resources. Writers are always looking for new options to increase their productivity and they enjoy sharing this information with their peers.

Attend Open-Mic events

– When Open-Mics are not specifically organized for writers, the type of feedback you receive is basically “I liked it” or “very interesting”; as a writer, you learn very little.

– It is interesting to share your writing and receive immediate feedback. In Second Life, there are many Open-Mic events for people to share poetry, but there are also a few where you can share your stories.

As it happens with everything, it does depend on what you need and on what you’re looking for.

    2.2. Writing Opportunities

Attend informal writing sessions – These usually have no rules. People enjoy sitting together in-world while working on their individual projects. So, co-presence becomes a motivational factor.

Attend writing challenges – You have a prompt, a time constraint and/or a word count target.

– Some people have told me that they don’t like the pressure - the time pressure and the word count pressure.
– They don’t like to feel that they are in a competition, because everyone tries to write as much as possible.
– Also, at some writing events, the stories are shared at the end and people hesitate to share a rough draft, especially if English is not their first language. And we have a lot of writers taking part in our events whose first language is not English.

– A challenge presents a great opportunity to work out your “writing muscles”.
– The practice will boost your writing pace.
– You establish a writing schedule and a routine.
– You create a sense of companionship with writers you meet on a regular basis. Having writing buddies (or accomplices, as I prefer to call them) keeps your motivation high and you become more productive.

Sunday, November 22, 2015



The flag flapped in the wind, resilient and shredded. It had survived centuries of battles, countless journeys… and John. When he discovered the relic in the attic, he decided to play with it He imagined fierce pirate fights where kings and aliens joined forces in improbable alliances. For weeks, that flag was a cape, a belt, a beach towel, a hat, a blanket, a traveler’s bag. When his parents realized what he had done, they were horrified and decided to place the flag in the garden, flapping safely in the wind, but away from John’s dreams. The flag wasn't happy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Kats Beach

“All forms of alien life, clear the deck.”
When asked about the sign, Ray pointed. “You can’t see them? The bastards! They are sitting right there, mocking me.”
That was odd. No one had ever seen any alien around.
Everyone laughed. Ray was just the local oddball.
He thought he was a prepared oddball though. He had plenty of food and water in that boat, just in case.
When the electricity system collapsed mysteriously, Ray said “See! That’s why I didn’t want them to get comfy in my boat.”
But they did and they ate all of Ray’s supplies too.