Cows, Cameras, And Catastrophes: My November 2023 Writing Update

It should come as no surprise that this month’s writing update is all about my NaNoWriMo project. And yes, given the controversy this past month, I worried about associating my story with that particular writing challenge. Unfortunately, as the news made its way to me later in the month, I had already started planning and writing around the NaNo parameters, using the stats on the website to track my progress. But, as with previous years, I attended no write-ins, and did not purchase or donate anything.

It will be interesting to follow any developments that arise to determine if I will go back to NaNo in the future. As much as I love tracking my stats through their site, at this point it will likely be a no. But I would love to be pleasantly surprised if the leaders of NaNo take responsibility for their role in what happened and their apparent failure to adequately address the situation when it initially arose.

As evidenced by my involvement in the AutoCrit community, I love a writing challenge, so it’s hard for me to resist the annual siren call of NaNoWriMo (even during the years when I didn’t “win”). And based on conversations with Trevor – both on and off the Writing and Robots podcast – I had been debating participating in Camp NaNo for the first time in 2025. But things change, and I will now be on the lookout for new challenges that will force me to flex my creative muscles.

With the politics aside, let’s get down to the important stuff: my creepy cows in Modern Hauntings.

If you’re a listener of the podcast, you have likely heard so, so much about these cows. But why cows? Well, when the idea for this story first came to me in the summer (August, I think), I had it in my mind that I wanted to combine the movies Grave Encounters (2011) and Isolation (2005). For whatever reason, I thought that using elements from two vastly different horror movies would make for an interesting combination – and it did! Since my story was inspired by two films, I placed a lot of attention on the camera – to the point where it even became a character by the end of the story. Although, back when I first came up with the idea, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to pull it off.

Well, this year I went rogue and became… a planner. And as a diehard pantser who has only written as a planster on a couple of occasions, you would be correct in assuming that I procrastinated when it came to my planning. I did research on paranormal shows and elements all throughout the month of October, but I really only wrote my 4 page outline on October 29th and 30th. And sure, it was helpful to have the whole story outlined given that I had so little time to write (and kept having to cut down on my writing time early in the month). But I did go rogue again and stray from the plan.

The way I write is very… loose and lacking in structure. I love starting with a basic idea, a prompt, or a scene that I want to work towards, but that’s it. I just put my fingers on the keyboard and let the word vomit happen. In longer projects especially, I love writing in a more stream-of-consciousness style. The editing phase is when I get strict with myself, clean it all up, and add any structure or development that’s lacking.

Because of that, the Modern Hauntings outline wasn’t always useful. Sure, it pointed me in the direction I needed to go, but I often had to rewrite later parts of my outline to accommodate the changes that occurred during the writing process. Will I ever make an outline that detailed again? (not that it was super detailed to begin with) Probably not. But at least I’ve tried it once. Although I’m sure Trevor will continue to try to recruit me into the cult of planners.

Another thing that was new to me was, well, writing a novel. I used to write novels for fun all the time in my teens and early 20s (No, those will not get published). But as my publication history indicates, I have mainly been focused on short stories the past couple of years. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t been working on longer projects at all, but it’s the short stuff that’s been my bread and butter since I became a published author. I stop when the story tells me to stop, and not everything needs to be a 50,000+ word project.

But Modern Hauntings did need to hit that word count, and that made things tricky. I’ve been so good at training myself to avoid purple prose and unnecessary filler words. Thanks to more practice with editing, I know what not to include in my writing in the first place. So I used this knowledge to cheat. My novel is peppered with filler words and phrases that I will ruthlessly cut when I start my edits.

And sure, I could have not written the filler in the first place and focused on adding more story. But the thing with horror is that brevity is sometimes the more effective option. Why spend three pages analyzing a character’s inner turmoil and suffering when I can describe the body horror and physical suffering in three paragraphs? Sure, editing and later drafts could reveal more story, but for now I do not believe that Modern Hauntings needs any additional characters or events.

“But Stephanie, why didn’t you just aim for a lower word count then? You didn’t need to hit that 50k.” Because I’m competitive and I strictly follow the rules for writing challenges. Once the challenge is over, I edit the story to make it what I want it to be. So there.

What’s the final verdict on this project? I adore it! I’ve fallen in love with the characters, the situation, and (of course) the creepy cows. Some of the later chapters contain some of my strongest and most twisted writing. I cried when I killed off my favourite character – the kindest soul in the novel – in the most horrific and heartbreaking way. I even felt sick to my stomach afterwards. So one of my editing goals for 2024 will be to work on Modern Hauntings and get that ready for beta readers, editors, etc… I’d love to publish this late 2024/early 2025 and I cannot wait to share this twisted paranormal investigation (and equally twisted cows) with the world.

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