NaNo is Here Again!

This is my fifth year doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The first four years I finished my 50,000 words with relative ease. Last year, I started off with good intentions… and then stopped. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I just got tired of pushing toward 50,000. I knew I could achieve it if I wanted to and so I didn’t have the urge to prove myself that I had the first few years.

This year, I’m doing it again. And there are some new nuances that should keep me on track. For one, I’ve made my NaNo intentions very public by announcing them on my website, To stop before hitting 50,000 would be a huge visible flop. (As a writer, never understimate the power of peer pressure and public humiliation to keep you writing.)

Also, this year, I’m applying some of the tricks that I’ve learned over the past four years to help me stay the course and finish.

Enlist your friends and family – this year, my sister-in-law, my brother (first-timer!), and my significant other (another first-timer!) are all doing NaNo with me. Nothing keeps you going like shared pain and taunting challenges from your family.

Use short bursts – When I sit down to write, I do so in 15-20 minute increments. I can crank out the words, knowing that I only have to describe the immediate scene in my head and nothing else. A short break and them I’m ready for another sprint.

Reward yourself profusely – this year I’m giving myself MP3 downloads at the end of each week IF I’m on track with my word count. At the end of NaNo and 50,000 words… a HUGE reward. I haven’t decided on what that will be yet, but it will be good. My significant other is considering an XBox 360 as his major prize.

Don’t be afraid to write crap – the theme of 2008 NaNo for my NaNo Region (Des Moines, IA) is “Yay, Crap!” You know you’re going to write crap at some point during NaNo… maybe all the way through it. So don’t kick yourself over it… celebrate it! Writing crap means you have something to work with when you hit the editing stage.

Have fun! – this is the main reason to do NaNo and the main attitude you should have when doing NaNo. It’s a breakneck thrill ride in novel-writing. The words look like picket fence posts as they zoom past you on the novel highway. Enjoy the ride!

If you don’t have any friends or family doing NaNo, let me be your cheering section. Add me as a Writing Buddy on the NaNo website, so I can follow your progress and heckle you as needed toward your own 50,000 word goal. Here’s to a great November!

Don’t look back…keep writing!

Urging your fingers to stay on the keyboard, a cold sweat breakouts, you try to resist scrolling back. Just a peek, you tell yourself. You want to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. Lurking, ax in hand, right over your shoulder is a story killer. If you over think or stop typing, it will get you. The self-editing demon. He’ll bring his little ghoul buddies, doubt and fear to chop away bits and pieces of your self-confidence. Like a slasher in a horror flick, they’ll rip your story to shreds. Deep down you know forward is the only direction, but like the token blond in the three inch heels you trip. Become disoriented and head right back to the beginning.

I don’t know about you but this scenario happens every time I set fingers to keys. I try to be the smart chick that defeats the monster, but alas, I end up the blond. Unfortunately without her fashion sense or endowments. Maybe that makes me the bumbling sidekick who thinks they have it figured out, but steps into the trap anyway. Either way it sucks having an ax planted in the middle of your story.

Those of us still fumbling our way through the forest of becoming published are often caught in the snares. Getting that opening just right or polishing a scene until it leaps off the page. Those that have gone before and survive to get there tales told, advise us to avoid such obvious traps. Don’t look back. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can always go back and fix it once the story is on paper. It sounds simple, but it’s not.

I find myself getting stuck in scenes that don’t ring true. They might be fine, but something about them isn’t right. So I start back at the beginning taking that proverbial ax to my baby. Hacking and slashing my way through, playing Dr. Frankenstein, putting it together in different forms. What’s wrong with that you ask. Everything! It keeps me from finishing the darn story. There’s nothing worse than ticked off characters crashing around in your head wanting the story finished so they can take a breather. Can’t blame them, I want one too. With the vicious cycle of self-editing, neither writer nor characters can move on to the next story.

I brandish a mighty red pen–just ask Sara–and my work shows the scars of its slicing and dicing. I can’t leave the darn thing alone! I’m a serial self-editor!

At this month’s meeting of the Saturday Writers I opened my big mouth and said I would use NaNoWriMo to finish Disenchanted. The girls will hold me too it and there will be a much deserved raking over the coals if I procrastinate. Hope I can hold up my end or at least come up with entertaining excuses if I don’t.

Anyone else out there a serial self-editor? How do you deal with the slasher mentality toward your work?

Writing the Novel Journal 2

I wish I could say this past month had been really productive but to be honest I can’t.  I still have a huge desire to write but am finding it difficult to go forward.  I hate to say it but I think I am dealing with the nasty B word and I don’t mean B**ch, I do mean Block).  If there is a B**ch involved in this process, it’s me.  I’m letting everything that I have no control over, control something that I do have control over.  I can write if I just allow myself to sit down and do it but my anxiety about the current ecomomy has made it difficult for me to accomplish anything.  You could say that my life is out of balance and until I can swing the scales back a little more, I feel lost in most areas of my life. 

In my day job I’m a Realtor and my listings are down, the buyers I do run into can’t get financing and even the transactions I do get involved in fall apart the day before they’re supposed to close. 

I’ve been attending Weight Watchers and for the past couple of months, I’ve been watching my weight go up instead of down.  All of this is affecting my attitude and I admit, I need an adjustment. 

I keep telling myself, I need to take advantage of this time when it is a little slower and spend it writing but every time I tell myself it’s really okay to write, I feel guilty because there must be something else I can do to create business which is the one thing I do that supports my writing habit.  Which makes perfect sense now.  My writing is like a drug.  When it’s going well, I’m happy and all is well with the world.  I’m missing my fix.  I’m in withdrawal from writing. 

Okay, now that I’ve made my breakthrough.  Here is my confession about what I have accomplished this month.  I’ve been reading lots of books on writing, including Making Scenes, Writing the Wave and 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists.  All have been inspirational.  I did attend a retreat that was refreshing for my spirit if nothing else.  I wasn’t able to check in until 5:00PM on Friday and that was when everyone was getting together for evening activities so really didn’t have time to write that day but the evenings were interesting.  Got to get to know some people in the writer’s group a little better, having joined it recently.  We did some plotting with a book called Writer’s Brainstorming Book, as a group.  I did have Saturday to write and got 5 pages written.  I had hoped to get a lot more accomplished but realize now that it needs to be a daily habit, not something I put off for when it’s convenient.  All in all, the retreat was good because time spent with other writers always is time well spent. 

All together this month, I’ve written 11 good pages which sounds pathetic for 30 days of work.  I have spent quite a bit of time developing characters and the story.  I have tried critiqueing part of it with a friend and have decided to hold off on that until the first draft is done.  I hate trying to defend a story that is neither complete nor set in stone yet.  The person I critiqued with made it feel like she was trying to take off with my story in another direction and I found it difficult to stop that without hard feelings.  I don’t think she meant it but that was how it was perceived. 

It has been a rough month but I am determined to get this done and this coming month will be better.  I will have more to report next month. 

Wow, I think this could be better than therapy.

Please feel free to share your experiences with developing a new story and finding time to write with me.  I would love to hear them. 


How is your Handwriting?

During a writer’s group I attended recently we went around the room sharing ways we organize as we write. There were many good ideas shared but what I noticed from most of the ideas was how much we rely on technology. Word processing programs to writer’s software. What happened to a college ruled spiral notebook and a No. 2 pencil? I can’t remember the last thing I have actually taken the time to write out in longhand. Can you? The closest I have come lately to practicing my penmanship, which Mrs. Jones taught me so carefully and with such love, was making out the grocery list.

I was taking quick notes during a business meeting last month and when I returned to my desk and reviewed my notes I couldn’t read my own handwriting. How lazy have we become? In one of my company’s newsletters under employee notes it told you how to give a compliment with class: If you have something nice to say about people, put it in writing. Handwriting, that is. It shows that you took extra time and care to recognize what they did. When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? Something so simple but would bring so much joy when you received it in the mail. You couldn’t wait to rip it open and read the contents over and over. I still cherish one of the last handwritten letters from my Father.

I remember in school how I would throw away notes and start all over if I thought my handwriting looked sloppy or if I didn’t dot my i’s correctly or cross my t’s. It was always a contest between girlfriends to have the cutest signature. Additions of hearts, curly cues or anything that would set you apart from the group and make your name instantly recognized in the slam books that were passed around school.

Think what our children are missing out on. They won’t receive that first cherished handwritten love note or valentine. Remember running your fingers over the signature because you could feel the love? Now our children will receive a text message, instant message or email. Instead of filing it away in an old shoe box for safe storage under their bed now they will make a directory and save it under some filename that will help them remember what it contains.

I will be the first to admit emails and word processing programs are fantastic when you work or live with people who can’t spell or write legible. What I don’t know is how much of our spunky personality or fantastic sense of humor can we show in an email or attached file using Times New Roman font versus handwriting with i’s dotted with hearts and t’s crossed with curly cues.

Go home and make you grade school teacher proud or make someone’s day by sending them a handwritten note. Practice your cursive writing. Attach all your letters and make them all slant the same direction. Give it a try. You will be surprised. It’s not as easy as it used to be. Just make sure and include the love……

Writerly travels

Does your writerly brain stay ‘on’ when you travel?

Last month I was lucky enough to spend 5 days in San Francisco. Being a “native” Californian, of course I’d been to SF before, but it has been a while, so I took everything in with new eyes… and I noticed my writer’s brain was engaged. It’s a place that’s so rich in experience and history, it’s hard not to come away with ideas for places, characters, situations.

My hostess, a recently transplanted Iowan now residing in an apartment near Fisherman’s Wharf, thought it would be a kick to take a couple of the double-decker bus tours. The first one lead us all through the major areas: Union Square, Embarcadero, the Financial District, Chinatown, North and South Beach, and does a drive-by of Lombard Street. The potential stories found in that 45 minute bus ride alone were amazing: did you know any flat part of San Francisco is built on landfill, and much of the landfill is the corpses of ships that were abandoned during the gold rush? Did you know the history of the phrase “Sugar Daddy” can be traced directly to a statue in the middle of Union Square? Do you know which celebrities now call San Francisco their homes? Then we took the “Golden Gate tour” – and there I learned that Mark Twain said of San Francisco “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent here.” The incredible Presidio, which was the oldest US military base, is now being turned into private (rented – at $10,000 a month!) housing, and parts of it are being taken over by Hollywood to become studios for the guys and gals who brought us Star Wars. The Golden Gate Bridge has to be repainted pretty much continuously… when they finish one section, the others have all gone ragged looking. Many potential story ideas here.

But besides the great tours, I came back with some fantastic impressions of life in general in this new city. My hostess gets up each morning, walks to Peet’s (Starbucks is only for tourists!), grabs a coffee and hops on the trolley which she then takes to work. By getting on the trolley two blocks west of her apartment instead of the one a block south, she avoids the throngs of tourists who don’t know they have other options. On the ride to work, she passes the incredible Ferry Building where people shop for olive oil, bread, specialty mushrooms, chocolate, cooking utensils and then finish it all off with a glass of wine at the wine bar. Tons of story ideas there, too… And then once in her office, she has a glimpse of the whole hilly city, all its inhabitants, all its flavor. Here I have some color for my character’s life.

I took notes. I grabbed brochures and flyers and BART maps and napkins and took photos. I have a new folder marked “San Fran” and have included my scribbled ideas, memories, and questions on the cover while it protectively encases my memories so that I can dive in and bring up something wonderful sometime when I need inspiration.

So, what vacations have filled your head with writerly thoughts and ideas?


Writing a Mystery – Second Installment

I’m finally getting it together – my book, that is. I’ve learned how to use clues and how to have several suspects. I’m almost ready to send the first 50 pages in for a real writer to evaluate them and offer good suggestions. I like my book and characters. I hope that person does.

I created clues. I wrote scenes with clues and suspects. Then, I put them together. Next I printed everything out and decided where I wanted things. It was wrong the way I already did it. I physically cut and paste. I re-wrote the story line and added the clues, suspects and scenes. I changed the location of the murder and the location where they dumped the body. I added more people standing around the crime scene tape. Some of the were suspects. I added conversation at the scene and other places. I added description. I deleted some people. I added more trauma.

Okay, now I have 50 pages. They will be ready to mail next weekend. That’s about 15,000 words. I feel my book is to the horrible sagging middle. I have defined the murder, suspects, some clues and people trying to find the murderer. The sagging middle is where more action and trauma will develop. Will someone be put in danger? Will the murderer stay hidden? What clues will be uncovered?

After the next 60,000-70,000 words, how will I end it? Who will the murderer be? At this point I don’t know who the murderer is. I have narrowed it down to two people, but I’m not sure who it is. I’m not going to worry about it until I’ve written a lot more. My story will reveal the murderer, even to me. I’m anxious to find out who it is.