NaNoWriMo Day 30: My Magical Crayon

 

One day left. Hours really. And, are you ready for this??? I’m only about 400 words away from completing NaNoWriMo!! Yeah. I’m impressed, too. My latest novel is now 79,600 words! It’s gonna happen people!

But before I finish, I thought I’d reflect on the adventure that was NaNoWriMo for me this year.

I started it on a whim, not really all that serious about it. Yeah, maybe I’ll do it. I lined up all my excuses to explain why I wouldn’t finish it. They were good excuses. Excellent, in fact, so when the end of the month rolled around and I was still stuck somewhere around 30,000 words, I’d be able to explain.

With my safety net in place, I started writing. In the beginning the words just flowed and flowed. That was mostly because I’d been sitting on this story for months, so I had a lot to turn loose on the page. It felt good to finally write it down. And doing it in such a crazy rush, felt good, too. I was on a writing high that first week. Who cares if this isn’t my best writing. Just get it on the page, I thought. I’ll fix it later. That’s a very freeing feeling. Kind of like dancing when no one is looking. Or singing loudly while driving on back country roads. I was just flying over those hills and swinging my hips like I was still twenty and hadn’t birthed three babies.

And just when I thought I’d write the whole dang thing in a week, the election happened.

I was frozen in my tracks and waffled on how to proceed. I could let me emotions be a roadblock to my progress and just one more excellent excuse for why I didn’t finish, or….I could use that anger/sadness/horror/fear to drive my writing, just like a basketball team that lost the previous season by one point and goes into the next season FIRED UP. Instead, I went with another option.

I dove whole-hog into my story and pretended that the real world didn’t exist. I shut down social media, silenced the radio and television, nodded sagely while silenting saying “blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-I-can’t-hear-you” each time other people brought up the election results. I lived inside my story.

And you know what? With the exception of a really nasty character with a bad combover appearing in one chapter, it worked. I wrote like a madwoman, pounding out that wordcount right up until….Thanksgiving happened. Cousins and food and friends and wine and the prolonged presence of several foster puppies took over my house. I lost almost a whole week to gluttony and sloth and puppy poo. When I finally got back to my laptop I thought, No way. Ain’t gonna happen. Break out the excuses.

But I wrote anyway. Even if I was going to fall short of my 50,000 word goal. With three days left I still had over 10,000 words to write and I was stumped. I couldn’t see the ending and I was getting bored with my characters’ indecision. So much for NaNoWriMo. I couldn’t sacrifice my story just to get a winner’s badge.

And then yesterday, I sat down at the computer and I thought—just write something. Anything. Even if it’s a stupid idea, just slap it on the page and see what happens.

And you know what? The ending found me. It was nothing like I thought it would be. Once again those characters surprised me. They were much better people than I’d imagined them to be. The magic happened. This is why I write. I write for these moments when what comes out of my fingertips comes straight from my heart, completely bypassing my brain or my conscience or my grand plan. It appears on the screen and I think—wtf? Who wrote that? This is the magic I love about writing.

Remember that book, Harold and The Purple Crayon?

harold

It was a simple little book with a purple cover. All the illustrations were line drawings. Harold starts drawing a picture and suddenly he’s in the picture and he’s creating a whole world and then he’s in that world. He encounters a forest, but doesn’t want to get lost so he draws a forest of only one tree. He’s hungry, so he draws apples on the tree to eat. But like any good story, there is peril! He almost drowns, but he draws a boat to save him. His adventures take him anywhere his mind wants to go. This is how writing works for me. I have one idea, so like Harold, I just start, and then I see where it takes me and if the story is fun/interesting/moving for me, then there’s a good chance it will be for the reader, too.

Would I have completed this story if I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo? Probably. Just not in a month. What was so cool about doing it this way is that it forced me to keep going when I didn’t trust my characters or my crayon or the magic. And I learned that the magic will always show up. I just have to start writing.

Speaking of writing, I have 400 more words to spit out….

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 25: Waffling

dsc_4195
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 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.

 

Kindle Convert

I’m not a fan of kindle. Or at least I wasn’t. The main problem was that I’m terrible about recharging all my electronics and consequently the kindle is always dying at the most inopportune moments. Plus, it’s heavy and my wrist gets tired of holding it. (Yes, I’m a whiner.)

My other complaint is that I can never remember the name of the book or the writer I’m currently reading because I never see it.

“Oh, I’m reading this awesome book right now.”

“Really? What’s it called?”

“Uh, Um, I think it’s….actually I can’t remember, but I’m at, like, 68%!”

I just turn on the kindle and it opens to the page I’m reading, super convenient, no bookmark needed, but because there isn’t that daily imprint of seeing the cover art and the author’s name, I can’t seem to retain that information. (I’ve decided my memory is at capacity, but that’s the subject of another post.)

This morning I had a minute and I scooted over to goodreads to review the book I just finished last night (which I loved). I wanted to leave a good review and send a message to the writer thanking her for her story., but I couldn’t remember the name of the book or the author. My kindle was still on my nightstand (its battery slowly dying). The only way to get to my bedroom from my office requires that I pass by the puppy room (where all 12 of my foster pups were sleeping and quiet after a morning of poop games and three major cleanups).

There is no way to sneak by that room. There is always at least one pup still up, pressed against the fence closest to the door, standing sentry.

dsc_5378 Continue reading “Kindle Convert”

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!

nanowrimo

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.

dsc01300

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

cara-and-pups-better

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”