NaNoWriMo Day 25: Waffling

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Half of these chickens didn’t survive the latest fox attack. My odds at finishing NaNoWriMo seem similar. sigh.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it. There are only five days left in the month and writing time is at a premium considering the house is overrun with kids and their messes and their friends and my need to be amongst them. Add to that a couple foster dogs/puppies and well, I’ve got a boatload of excuses for not finishing NaNoWriMo.

I’ve got just under 13,000 words to go. Doable? Sure, but will I do it? Not so sure.

I’m doing what I’ve done with pretty much all five of the novels I’ve written – stalling in the middle. Ask any writer – the beginning is the easiest part. And then for many writers, the ending is obvious, but the middle….that’s terribly tricky. It’s very easy to wander. It’s very easy to obsess over unnecessary detail. It’s very easy to play favorites with your characters and entertain an odd darling or two.

For me, though, what happens in the middle is a lot of circling and stalling and avoiding the ending. I don’t want the story to end. Once it’s over, the real work starts. The tedious, painful editing. The sorting out whether there’s really a story here or not, and after 90,000+/- words, there really better be a story here.

Hanging out in the middle is safe. It’s easy. I like it there. The tail end of the middle is the time when I get anxious. What if the ending doesn’t appear? And what if it does and it sucks? Or what if I jump the gun and force it?

Much better to just stall and await a sign.

The problem with NaNoWriMo is there is no time to stall. There’s not time to explore tangents and wiggle my way into an ending. I have to write 13,000 words. NOW.

But what’s the worse that happens? I don’t finish NaNoWriMo? (or in the NaNoWriMo lingo – I don’t win?) So what? No big deal, Easter seal. I can handle it. I don’t have to achieve my goal. I can finish in another week or two. What’s with the arbitrary deadline? There’s nothing hanging in the balance here. The only person I owe this to is me. And I’m easy. Ask my kids. I talk big, but in the end I always cave.

Will I make it? It’s so very hard to say. I wouldn’t wager any money on it, but then again, I’m a more or less reliable person. I usually do what I say. So, you know, maybe it’ll happen….let’s just wait and see.

NaNoWriMo Day 16: Election Recovery & Inspiration

img_4303The best thing about Donald Trump’s election is that my word-count is through the roof. I’m finding it unbearably disturbing to dilly-dally about on social media or read the news, so I’ve been escaping into my fiction for hours every day. I’m obliterating NaNoWriMo and passed the mid-way mark on the 10th of November when my writing jags went so long my butt fell asleep.

I mark it as great progress towards becoming an adult that instead of sinking into a deep depression or cutting off contact with all my friends who did not vote as I did, I’m simply retreating to my keyboard. When anyone asks me how I’m handing the results, I say, “I am hoping that I am dreadfully wrong in my assessment of Trump. I would like nothing more than for him to surprise me.” And then I change the subject to PUPPIES!

On Wednesday when I awoke to the rainy, ugly day, I knew that to make it through the rest of the week I would need a distraction, so I contacted my foster coordinator and volunteered to take in three 4-month-old puppies. These little rascals are not only amusing and distracting, they are plenty of work. So, if you don’t find me hunched over my keyboard deep in my story, you’ll find me on the end of a leash attached to a puppy who has definitely never been on a leash before and is still not quite clear on the idea that pooping outside is a good thing.

download-1The fun never ends. But more importantly, the election is over in my heart, and at the rate I am writing, I’ll be finished NaNoWriMo before we carve the turkey.

It’s been a good week, after all.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 9: The Devil is Driving Me

download-1I kicked butt yesterday and pounded out nearly six thousand words, so I’m all caught up according to the NaNoWriMo website. They have a nifty graph there that shows how you’re doing. I’m floating just above the line, so I’m barely above average, just like my grades in school. I’m trying to resist allowing this to make me slack off for a while.

It’s hard to write today. I’m distracted by the national news and trying to adjust to a new reality. I would venture to say I’m in shock to a certain degree. Disappointed in my state and even more so in my country. I want to believe that this doesn’t mean that hate won, but I have that same sick feeling I used to get when the bullies triumphed in high school. I fear for our country and worry about the message this sends the world about how seriously we take our role in it. Enough said. I wasn’t going to write a word about it. I have to let it go or it will ruin my days. I’m just so heart-sick about all of it.

I am trying not to dwell on the sadness, but the rain isn’t helping. My first thought when I woke was, “God is crying.” Really. I haven’t thought like that since I was a little kid.

Pushing it aside. Cramming it down in that space behind my computer monitor where things get lost forever and I forget about them. There. That’s where I put it.

Instead, I’m gonna write. I’m gonna pound out some serious wordage, lose myself in my story which is much happier and more hopeful than I feel. I need my story to be my world. I won’t visit facebook at all. Too many gloating people there. I’ll stick with twitter where I found so much solidarity last night as I watched the returns.

Stop it. Let it go. Let it go. What’s the next line? No matter. I’m gonna write. Hang out with Kat and Dylan and Mac and Gweneth. What do you think of my names? I always change most of them by the time the first draft is done, but I like this bunch so far. We’ll see.

NaNoWriMo Day 4: Not a Word, Not One Word

Today is the first day that I’m worried there will be no writing. And not because I’m delaying or distracted, but simply because there isn’t a solid block of time available to me. It takes me so long to get going that if I’m only going to be interrupted or pulled away after fifteen minutes, I don’t even try. When I’m interrupted, I’ll be annoyed and when I return to the page I won’t have any idea where I was going with it and I’ll be pissed at the kid/animal/appointment for sabotaging (unintentionally I know, I know) my story.

Better not to start in the first place. Instead, write a blog post! Blog posts can be scattered and fragmented and no one minds. (well, maybe they do mind, but they HAVE NO POWER over me and there’s nothing they can do about it, is there? It’s not like they can demand their money back. After all, this is me giving away my writing FOR FREE which is what everyone expects, right? I mean, who pays full price for a book anymore? Why would you do that? It’s not like anybody’s crazy enough to think they could make a living writing books. No, they write for fun. Writing’s not a real job. Oh wait? Did I say all that out loud? Sorry. Back to the blog post….)

Today is consumed by the 12 puppies I’ve been fostering for the last 8 weeks. Today is Gotcha Day – the day the puppies go home with their adopters. It’s actually Gotcha weekend as five leave today, four tomorrow and the last three straggle out next week, assuring that I’ll get very little done this weekend as I try to soak up the last hours with these pups and console myself with chocolate and wine after they go.

Even though I can’t spend quality time with my keyboard, the story is coming out my pores. It’s making me distracted and anxious. I want to be sure I catch all of it. I’m scribbling notes on scraps of paper, my to-do list, my phone, and the edges of the puppy paperwork. I feel like it’s flying at me faster than usual, but maybe that’s because I’m forcing myself to spit it out in one month.

I try very hard not to write when I’m not writing. I try not to envision too much in my head because when I finally sit down to write, it never comes out as good as I imagined it. Alan Watt (of the 90-day novel) uses the phrase “hold it loosely” to describe how you should handle your story. He refers to having a plan, an outline even, but then holding it loosely and not being bound to it. It’s the same way I carry the eggs down from the barn when I forge the egg basket. I fill my pockets and hold the rest loosely in my hands– careful not to drop them, but not holding them so tightly that I crack them. Holding things loosely is my style, and I’m never quite sure what will come out when I finally sit down to write. I find if I have a definite idea then it’s less likely that any magic will happen.

That’s my plan this weekend. I’m holding it loosely and giving in to the distractions of puppies and wine and possibly the last warm sunny weekend of the fall. The keyboard will be waiting on Monday.

UPDATE: Days 4, 5, AND 6 and still NO writing. A tiny panic is flickering at the back of my mind.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 2: Finding distractions anywhere I can

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This isn’t really my desk. But I wish it was. It’s a nice desk. Nothing to distract me but whatever weird thing that is in the pot there.

So, I’m doing this crazy NaNoWriMo thing. Yes. Yes I am.

(for those of you who are uninitiated, this means I’ve pledged to write a novel in one month, this month specifically.)

This is day two and once again I’m finding every reason not to sit down and write. Yesterday I spent a good twenty minutes voting on the goodreads awards before cleaning out my inbox and then tidying my desk. I reasoned that I didn’t want anything hanging over my head or distracting me. (As if twelve puppies in the room next door isn’t distraction enough.)

Finally, I opened my WIP (Work in Progress) which had stalled out at about 33,000 words last May. When I say stalled out, I mean I ran out of time for it because there were these other people who stopped going off to school every day and had taken over my house. The story was still raring to go and nagging at me every morning when I ran.

I think my reluctance to open now is little teenage rebellion of sorts. Since I have to write, I didn’t want to write. Normally, I love to write. I can’t wait to write. I’m annoyed at people who keep me from writing. But now, with the NaNoWriMo clock ticking, I resist. Why do I have to write? Really—noone’s holding a gun to my head.

I looked at where I’d left off. There was a note to myself about a loose end I’d left unattended, so I scrolled back a few pages to fix that and in just that little moment, I was back in the story and writing and writing and writing until Addie walked in my office and asked me to help her with something. I felt kind of stunned by the interruption. Not sure what time it was or what day it was or what she was doing home. I hadn’t had a writing jag like that since….since…..since I started this story back in May and vowed to finish it over the summer.

And now this morning, here I am, delaying, delaying, delaying. Writing this post instead of working on my NaNoWriMo WIP (how’s that for a mouthful?). I’m rationalizing. I wrote 3300 words yesterday. That’s, like, two days’ worth isn’t it? So maybe I can take a day off. Except it’s only the second day.

I think this is going to be a long month.

UPDATE: Day three is upon me and I’ve written 8, 740 words. I am rocking this baby. (but there is still a daily battle and I can’t possibly keep up this pace. )

 

 

Advice From Famous Writers

My son, who is also a writer, posted an article on Facebook that listed the most important writing advice from famous authors to young writers. It wasn’t what you’d expect. This was just off the cuff, what’s-your-best-advice-to-young-writers stuff. The advice was funny and seemed almost nonsensical. Until you thought about it. Take Zadie Smith’s advice:

Whenever you introduce a character, you don’t have to specify that they are wearing pants. Most readers will just assume that they are wearing pants unless you say otherwise.

Silly, right? Only it’s not. Because many times we writers think we need to spell out everything for our readers. We don’t trust them to use their own brains. Writing that holds a reader’s hand is exhausting. It gets bogged down in minutae. And truly, it’s kind of insulting to the reader.

I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to stating the obvious. We want to be completely clear. (See what I did there? Ugh. Redundant, right? Like I can’t assume that when you read the word ‘clear’ you knew that it means completely clear. What else would it be? Something is either clear or not clear. Nevermind that the entire sentence is unnecessary as it’s only expounding on the previous sentence which wasn’t that complicated.)

Taping a note to my desk right now that says, “Assume they are wearing pants.”

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Then there was the advice from Haruki Murakami. He says,

Every time you write, ask yourself: Could this scene take place in a hot-air balloon? If the answer is yes, then it probably should.

Again, silly advice. Except it isn’t. If your scene could be more exciting, then it should be. Don’t be satisfied with just good enough. Can it happen in a hot air balloon? Great question!

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And no-less than George Saunders gives this advice:

When I first started getting some attention, stories published here and there, Don DeLillo took me aside and gave me some advice that ended up being very formative for me. He said, ‘George, if you keep breaking into my home to use my swimming pool, I’m going to have to call the police.’ I always thought that was really wise.

He really didn’t go where you thought he’d go with that, did he? But he has a point. None of this advice means diddily-squat, really. What works for some does not work for others. Don’t try to copy anybody else or be anybody else or swim in anybody else’s pool.

It’s very tempting to get wrapped up in learning the craft and studying other writers and reading every blog/website/article/book out there on writing, those things are important but in the end there’s only one thing that will make you write better—writing.

Put something down on paper. Hone it to the best of your ability. Then write something else. And don’t take others, or yourself, too seriously.

NaNo-what?

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76NaNoWriMo is not some kind of cult-inspired chant or childish taunt. (Or is it?) It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s held each November. It’s the crazy idea that you can write an entire novel in a month. Well, maybe not a novel, but you’re supposed to shoot for 50,000 words.

Even if you take the weekends off, that’s only 2500 words a day. As a professional writer, I’ve had days where I got on such a writing jag that I churned out 15,000, so, 2,500? Chump change. And yet….I do not write 2500 words every day. For a month. Ever.

If you’re the type of writer who agonizes over every turn of phrase, well, 2,500 words in one day might seem unreachable. Still, the main idea of NaNoWriMo is to sit down EVERY DAY and write. In exchange, you’ll get encouragement, direction, accountability, and commiseration. All things that most writers are sorely lacking.

When I mention to other writers that a few years back, I tried the craziness of NaNoWriMo, I get a knowing nod. I’m not sure if that nod means, “Yup, I knew you were nuts, now you’re just confirming it,” or “Ah—you’re one of us!”

I remember that month as being one in which I was very focused. I nearly reached my goal but was sidetracked by several personal issues that stole my time and attention. But still, I did flesh out a novel. And that was the novel which hooked me an agent. Sadly, that novel still lives only in my heart and on my laptop, but writing it taught me a lot. It set me on the path to publication. Someday, I hope to get back to that story. It deserves to be told.

This fall I’m flailing around on several projects, spending way too much time with my puppies, and berating myself for not getting back to the novel I started last May. That novel is presently 27,000 words. If I added just 50,000 words, I’d have a novel that falls nicely in the sweet spot between 75,000-85,000 words that most publishers appreciate. So, yes, I’m tempted. NaNoWriMo is calling. I could use the direction and motivation, but mostly the accountability.

I posted recently on Facebook that what I needed most was a boss, so maybe NaNoWriMo could be my boss for the month. Giving this serious thought. Anybody else out there up for the challenge? We could commiserate at Starbucks (where I know one of the baristas pretty well) or via the internet (which sadly has no baristas).

Click on over to NaNoWriMo.org and get the details or just go crazy and sign up!

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The Hard Work of Getting Famous

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Most days I love to write. But some days I don’t love being a writer. Back when I was trying to be a writer, wishing I was a real writer, learning all I could, and writing- writing-writing all day long, it was hard—but it was good.

It’s still good, but it’s hard in a new way. Suddenly I feel this pressure. It’s not a pressure to write—I’m always happy to do that. It’s a pressure to become famous and sell books and build my brand.

I read blogs of writers who have, at least to my mind, made it. They are New York Times or USA Today bestsellers and they make a living at their writing. They speak at conferences, host writing retreats, teach online classes and appear in writing magazines.

Reading about these people and their success always takes me back to high school. My mother made me buy my clothes at JC Penneys and my weight did that adolescent expand and recede thing. I could write or sing my thoughts, but they stuck in my throat in the company of most people and pretty much all adults.

I still feel that way most of the time– as if I could never be  one of the popular kids/NYC Bestsellers. Most days I’m okay with that, because I like my life. But some days I get caught up in this pressure to make it. What does it take? I don’t know, so I study the people who have made it. And it consumes huge swaths of my time.

Take Tuesday. I decided to devote my morning to promoting myself the way all those bestselling writers say you should. I sat down with my cup of tea and contemplated where to begin. The options seem limitless.

I open a few of the famous writer newsletters I subscribe to, and study them.  How clever is that? Look at how well they engage readers! They’re so funny and humble at the same time. I make a list of what I should put in my newsletter (the one I have yet to make happen).

I click to my website editor and read through the help section on newsletters provided by my website host. My eyes glaze over. It makes no sense. I’ll get to it eventually. Just not today. I don’t have time.

So I head to my social media outlets. I follow successful writers on twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. Wow – they are so pithy and snarky, without offending. The pictures are amazing. The quotes motivating. How do they think of such clever ways to entice people to buy their books?

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What can I post? I haven’t posted all week. I scan through the pictures on my phone. Maybe I should post something inspiring or some kind of writing wisdom instead of another dog picture. I know! I read something last night…

I go in search of that clever line I underlined in the book I was reading last night. The book is upstairs next to the bed, but on the way there, Gracie wants to go out and I remember the laundry in the washing machine. So I hang out the laundry and check on my foster pups. They’re way too cute to just walk by, so I stay and snap a few pictures. Which reminds me of why I got up from my desk in the first place and I go look for that book.

After I’ve agonized over the font for my quote and searched in vain for a picture to accompany it, I realize I’ve wasted most of the morning.

I haven’t written a thing. Ugh.

But this stuff is important, right? This is how I get my name out there. This is how people discover my books. I go back to the blogs, the ones written by writers-who-have-made-it. Engage, engage, engage they all say. I have a few thoughts to add to one post, but after I figure out just what I want to say without sounding stupid or grammatically incorrect, I realize someone else has just commented with basically the same thought. Delete. More time wasted.

I need to do something to push this career forward. So, I work on a pitch to a blogger who I’ve never met, but who is open to guest posts and doing book reviews. I study her blog long enough to be able to make an intelligible comment, re-write my pitch so I don’t sound desperate and press send.

Now what? It’s almost lunchtime. I notice the post-it on my desk – mention Edith’s Heart in newsletter. I really should start my newsletter, but what’s the point in sending the newsletter to so few subscribers. All the succesful people say the key is to build your list. I open my website again. I need to think of some offer to get people to sign up for the newsletter I never send out.

I spend forty minutes shuffling things around on the site, adding events to my calendar and deleting the ones that have happened. I wrestle with the size and placement of a picture for WAY too much time. I look at the form inviting people to subscribe to my non-existent newsletter. It looks fine. Besides, I’m hungry.

I glance at the clock. Lunch time. And I’ve written nothing. But maybe one of this morning’s meager efforts will have reached a new reader. Maybe my cleverly illustrated quote on Facebook will garner a few more followers. And who knows, I haven’t checked twitter lately but maybe I’m closing in on 2500 followers. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Moving the career needle upward. Go me.

As I sit on my porch with my lunch, it occurs to me that when it comes to being a writer, the writing is the easy part.

How Writing Can Make Your Life Happier (even if you aren’t a writer)

Last night I spent some time with a moms’ group through Wellspan. These were moms of babies and toddlers. I’ve been out of that scene for quite some time. The little cherubs swirled around us, while a few moms nursed and I talked to them about what writing can do for them as moms. I’ve had the chance to speak to this group in the past about raising healthy eaters, affording to eat organically, and keeping a green household. When their leader approached me to talk about writing, I was intrigued.

I’ve talked to lots of groups about writing, but this wasn’t a group of writers. This was a group of busy moms who were in the trenches of parenthood. They didn’t have time to brush their hair, let alone write a cohesive sentence.

I thought about my own years when my children were small. Some of that time I was working, sometimes not, and we moved twice. But I was always writing.

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In fact, I would say that writing is what got me through. My husband traveled a lot when my kids were little. Many times when I was overwhelmed with an overly-active, overly-creative preschooler, an independent-yet-demanding toddler, and a fussy baby, I turned to my journal to vent my anger and exhaustion and feelings of absolute and complete inadequacy.

In calmer moments, I wrote in journals to my children—telling them of my dreams for them, my observations of their emerging personalities, and funny anecdotes of their days. I’m not sure at what point in their lives I will give them these journals—because do we ever stop mothering?

When we moved to our current house, I struggled to find the kind of friends who had sustained me in our previous town, women I desperately missed. I turned to my laptop. I wrote a story about leaving because what I wanted more than anything was to leave. Escaping into that story during naptimes or early before anyone else was up, kept me sane in many, many ways.

When conflict arose between my beloved and I, it was rarely possible to address it in the moment, as the moment was full of three little people who needed me to push my anger aside and care for them. By the time everyone was put to bed, many times I only wanted sleep of my own, so I swallowed my anger or frustration with Nick and by the next day too much time had passed. Why bring it up again? I let it go, but it didn’t go away. Continue reading “How Writing Can Make Your Life Happier (even if you aren’t a writer)”

Going to the Dogs

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Having completed the third book for my three-book deal (due out June 2017!), I decided to take a short break from fiction writing to work on a project near and dear to my heart.

It’s a memoir about our family’s experience fostering 50 dogs. I love the dogs and I love my family, so you’d think this would be pretty easy, and it is, but there are complications. It’s fine to write about the embarrassing, stupid, and simply odd things that I might do, but what about all the innocent parties living in our household?

Writing real life gets tricky. With fiction, I could just make something up. Don’t like the way that looks? No problem, I’ll just change it. Bad resolution? I’ll re-write it so it makes more sense. Slow scene? I’ll just punch it up by making someone get pregnant or die or get arrested. Nonfiction is a completely different animal. These characters I’m writing about are real people whom I care about deeply. Probably more than anyone else. Certainly more than anyone reading my book. Continue reading “Going to the Dogs”