Saturday, December 3, 2011

Post-NaNo Thoughts

Well, stamp a big ol' FAIL across my efforts to blog my NaNo process.

But you can stamp a big ol' WINNER on me, because I did finish the challenge. With three hours to spare!

It feels good. It also feels weird. This is the first year that I haven't had someone watching me sweat through the process and waiting to celebrate with me at the end. It's sad, but it's also awesome because it was all me this year. I had the support of friends and family but getting through this NaNo was an intensely personal and private experience.

I wrote a blog about the things I'd learned by the midway point. Now I'd like to talk about the things that I'm taking away from the month as a whole.
  1. Live your life. I couldn't just cancel all my plans and dig myself a hole to sit in with my laptop. I am a shy, introverted person; oftentimes digging a hole to hide in seems like the best available option. But I can't do it. I have to find a balance between going out and about and being by myself. There's a steep learning curve, I find, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. 
  2. Do what it takes. Keeping #1 in mind, I realize that I do need to make sacrifices if I want to continue my life as a writer. Canceling my cable and internet was possibly the second best decision I made all month (this first was seeing The Airborne Toxic Event in concert). While I still managed to squeeze some Netflix time out of my tethered cell phone connection, not having the option to veg out in front of some long-canceled TV show forced me to make writing my go-to activity. It really helped. 
  3. Practice. That's what I consider this year's NaNo. The previous two that I completed are stories that I believe I have a shot at finishing and publishing someday. This year, not so much. This year's novel was more about getting to know my characters, understanding motivation, and accepting the fact that sometimes what comes out of a writing binge is just word salad. But maybe, just maybe, you re-read it later and find a nugget worth carrying around and ruminating on. I think I got that this year and I feel lucky to have done so.
Overall, I'm exceptionally pleased with myself for completing my third NaNoWriMo challenge. And so far, I'm keeping up the momentum by working on my previous project rather diligently.
Did you learn anything this November? How do you feel about your results?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thoughts as we near the end.

One week ago today, I drove myself to the store to buy a case of Diet Mtn Dew, then I shut myself in and wrote. And wrote, wrote, wrote.

It's not a method I would recommend trying to employ long term but if you're way behind on a deadline, it's surely effective. There's nothing quite like spending a solid 15+ hours immersed in your story. My dog hated it, of course and she's been edgy ever since, barking at me if I go too long without paying attention to her.

On Sunday I struggled to write anything at all, though I managed a thousand words or so. Yesterday it was the same thing. So there's that to consider as well before you go out and decide to write a novel in three days. I suppose that's why they give you a whole month.

My experience did reaffirm in my mind that bailing on my bad idea was the right decision. I don't think I could possibly have banged out 17,000 words in one day if I were still working on the first idea.

Now Thanksgiving has passed and I'm trying to get back into a steady writing routine, which is hard since I'm not at home and thus none of my other routines are in place.The deadline of November 30th is looming in my mind, terrifying all my muses into hushed murmurs but I know that I'll get there.

I wrote before about it being okay to edit while you write. I hold fast to what I meant by that but I've been experiencing the other side of the coin this past week. Wanting to delete instead of alter. Don't delete! Keep your words. You may completely abandon the scene later or you might find something you can salvage from it. In the middle of your first draft don't just go slashing and burning because you don't like something. Especially when you're participating in a word count challenge.

Clearly my thoughts are kind of scattered today and they have been ever since I fried my brain with my write-athon. I think there are important lessons to be learned from that kind of experience and I'm still trying to sort them all out and see how best to apply them in my every day writing life. Hopefully it will all make sense to me soon and I will be able to write about it with some coherency.

How's your NaNo coming? Are you going to make it?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Donation Challenge!

Hey kids, want to have some fun and support a great organization?

I'm holding my own personal donation derby and I'd love for you to participate. Here's how it will work:

For every donation you make between now and 8 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, November 19, I will write a certain number of words (above my daily target of 2778).

For donations between $1.00 - $20.00, I will write 1,000 words.
For donations between $20.00 - $75.00, I will write 1,500 words.
For donations above $75, I will write 2,000 words.

I will start writing at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and by midnight will have met whatever word count goal you all set for me. I'll be checking in here and on Facebook and Twitter so you can track my progress!

To make a donation, click here. To learn more about the Office of Letters and Light, click here.

I'll see you on Saturday!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I've learned so far

The decision I talked about in my last post was a good one. There's a possibilty that talking about it will jinx it but I think I'll take my chances.

Since said post, I have written over 8,000 words of my NEW NaNoWriMo novel and I'm still feeling really good about it. And since I'm feeling so blessed and inspired, I want to talk about what I've learned so far this November.

1. It's never too late to start over.
Okay, maybe November 29th is too late to begin a new novel for NaNoWriMo. As a writer though, I need to trust my instincts. There is no gain to be had in writing a book that doesn't work. If a project you're working on is a bust, give it up and move on. Note: it is not okay to use this lesson as an excuse to quit all your projects before you're finished with them.

2. It is sometimes perfectly acceptable to go back and edit what you've written before laying down more chunks of story.
I wrote a scene last night that on the first pass came out all dialogue. Instead of pressing on to the next scene, I went back and re-worked it, filling in the story around the dialogue. I also try to skim through what I've already written before I begin my new writing for the day. Then I can either flag issues that can be worked out later in the story or go back and change what really needs to be changed.

The difficult part of this one for me is not line-editing. I have a hard time taking in the big picture without adjusting all the minute details. Perhaps this is because I am a proofreader by day. It's hard to strike the right balance.

3. A healthy diet actually makes writing easier.
A healthy diet makes just about everything easier. I'm no health guru but I can tell you that eating a relatively balanced diet and not over eating (especially sugary things, for me) makes your brain work better. I've known this for years but it strikes me as a revelation every time I manage to reign in my addiction to ice cream.

4. Getting rid of television and making the internet a pain to access can really help increase productivity.
How many times would I have abandoned my writing for the night in favor of catching up on Castle or Modern Family? Probably a lot. But since I don't have a television and don't have a data package on my phone that will accomodate all of my guilty pleasures, I've been pretty much off television since I canceled it. The internet is a different story, because I can still get on Facebook and Twitter (and Blogger, clearly) and find other ways to waste time but a spotty 3G connection oftentimes makes it not worth the effort.

What lessons has November brought you so far?

Friday, November 11, 2011

the fork in my road

It’s probably obvious by the way that I haven’t been doing any blogging that NaNo isn’t going very well. (I suppose the alternative explanation would be that I’m doing so well I don’t even have time to think about blogging but that, sadly, isn’t the case.)

I’ve been trying to discern why. In 2008, I wrote my first NaNo novel. In 2009, I wrote my second with no more difficulty than I’d written my first. In 2010, I struggled and eventually quit. This year, I’m feeling about the same as I did last year. Why? 

I was reading [this blog] (recommended by @ashetler) and it resonated with me in a way that I’m loathe to admit because I’m such a NaNo cheerleader. After reading the blog and some of the comments, I had a lightbulb moment.

I love the book I wrote in 2009 about an amnesiac vampire trying to make her way and discover who she is. It’s the reason I quit last year’s NaNo. I couldn’t stop thinking about Jane and Wes and how I could make their story better. I’m running into the same wall this year. 

I have a lot of issues as a writer. I’m not consistent in my writing schedule. I’m not patient or diligent. I write in fits and spurts and I’m almost as terrible at revising and editing as I am at writing titles. I consider NaNo09 to still be in its infancy. But I believe in it. So much so that it’s difficult to purposefully put it aside to write something else that I don’t believe in nearly as much (or at all, as the case is this year). I thought I had my novel mapped out for this year. I thought I was ahead of the curve. 

I was wrong.

Now I see that I have three options.

1.       Forge ahead with my directionless and plotless YA novel in the name of doing NaNo since it’s practically mid-month and I’d be insane to try to start over at this point.
2.       Write a spin-off of my much loved NaNo09 novel, using the sub plots and back story that have been percolating in my brain for two years.
3.       Give up again this year, in the name of focusing on NaNo09 (and most likely end up deeply involved with the Ghost Whisperer or something stupid like that on Netflix)

After a lot of thinking, I’m choosing #2. Insane or not. 

So wish me luck, because my word count is now a big fat zero.

Edit: Since drafting this, my word count has actually reached 2,302 which is a far cry from the 22,000 I should have by the end of this weekend but it is better than zero! And I AM going to finish this year.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Take your moments where you can get them.

I feel like life keeps me pretty busy. Not soccer-mom busy, but busy enough that I never feel like I have enough time for anything. This is basically a lie I tell myself so that I can procrastinate and avoid my responsibilities. It’s not like I do it on purpose, though. For some reason, my brain wants to put an hours worth of padding on either side of any activity I want to do. Everything seems to require a huge block of time. If I stay a half an hour late at work, I suddenly no longer can do anything else in the evening.
I know it’s stupid, but it’s still how my brain seems to operate. 

So today’s advice, to myself and everyone else, is to take your moments where you can get them. Of course it’s always nice to have all the time in the world to relax, get into the zone, have hours of uninterrupted focus. How realistic is that though, really? You need to train your brain to do what you want when you want it. “Okay, I have 30 minutes until I need to leave. Now is the time to write a blog post, or else I’ll just put it off and put it off waiting for the perfect moment.” So here I am, stealing these twenty minutes back from myself so I can post a blog instead of… I don’t know. Reading or something. 

This is one of those things I hope to carry with me far beyond November.  It seems basic but it’s also easy to forget that moment to moment, we are ultimately in control of what we choose to do. How are you spending your time? Are you satisfied with that or are there things you wish you were doing? If there are, why in the world aren’t you doing them?


Word count as of 11/5/11, 3:40 PM ET: 4179. Yes, I'm behind. But I'll get there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNo 2011 (untitled) - Excerpt 1

As promised... 
How had I managed to make an outcast of myself on my first day? Nearly every person I passed on the way to my locker in the morning gave me a strange look and a wide berth. I reviewed the previous day but the only time I'd drawn any attention to myself at all was in calc and surely a class full of math geeks wouldn't have the social standing to pull this off. I sighed to myself. It was unnerving, but nothing more. It's not like I wasn't used to being stared at and talked about.
Oh my God, was that it? Had news of my mother's accident caught up with us already? It was a mistake to move here. This town may have come with a support system but it also came with people who knew my mother and would know what had happened. I slammed my locker out of frustration. Too hard, because it bounced back before it could latch. It stopped about an inch from hitting me in the face. I looked up to see a guy I recognized from a few of my classes holding the door just above my head. He was taller than me, a little lanky, and had a seriously adorable mop of curly brown hair. "Whoa, uh, thanks," I said.

"You done here?"

"Huh?" I was so articulate I could hardly stand it. He nodded toward the locker. "Oh, yeah. Sorry." He closed the door gently and tested the the latch.

"Bad morning?" I shrugged.

"Just the usual new school stuff. I'll be happier once the shine wears off and I don't feel so much like I'm under a microscope."

He laughed a little and I thought it sounded bitter. "Let me know how that works out for you."

We were walking toward American History, the first of several classes that we shared, and the crowd in the hallway was parting like the Red Sea. I wanted to ask him what he meant by his last statement but instead I leaned toward him and asked, "Have I grown a third eye or something?" He came to a halt and his eyes widened briefly, then his face relaxed and he seemed to study mine.

"No," he gently touched my chin and moved my head back and forth, "not that I can see." My face burned. I was so very grateful that my olive skin hid at least some of my blushes. "I'll keep an eye out for you though." His raised eyebrows encouraged me to get the joke. I got it but couldn't bring myself to laugh. Some bad jokes don't deserve a fake laugh.

"Then what is with everyone?"

"It's that new girl shine," he said, resuming his trek toward class, the humor draining from his face even quicker than it had arrived.

"Right," I scoffed. I wanted to believe it but no one had acted this way yesterday. I just couldn't figure out what had changed.

"I'm Caleb, by the way." He offered his hand to me. It felt large and warm and soft when I took it.

"Belinda," I said, "Which you already know. But you can call me Lin."

He bowed slightly before releasing my hand. "An honor." Then he turned and went into the classroom so quickly, I wasn't sure if he even noticed the questioning look on my face.

I sighed and slid into the same back corner seat I'd taken yesterday in all my classes. At least one person didn't hate me, even if he was totally weird. Beggars can't be choosers. 

Ten Stages of NaNoWriMo

On any given day/hour/moment in the month of November, I will likely be experiencing one of the following stages. The stages can happen in any order and come and go with little or no warning. I can’t speak for any other Wrimos, but I’m really hoping that I’m not the only one. 

Stage One: It’s only 1,667 words per day and I have the best idea for a novel ever. What could possibly be so difficult about this? (this morphs into “oh I’ve got plenty of time. I can easily write the last however many words in the time I have left”, usually followed by blind panic)

Stage Two: This is the dumbest idea anyone ever thought of. What is the point of even writing something so utterly terrible? 

Stage Three: I’m actually a pretty good writer, even if this is the lamest story ever told. 

Stage Four: No one will be able to resist reading this book. Best. Story. Ever. 

Stage Five: That’s it. My brain is completely fried. All of my characters have abandoned me. Is it too late to start over?

Stage Six: Wait, that doesn’t make sense with what I wrote on page three. If I just went back and tweaked the beginning… AGHH, I’VE RUINED EVERYTHING!  

Stage Seven: Shitty first drafts. Shitty first drafts. It’s the natural order of things. Just keep writing.

Stage Eight: Ahoy! I’m a novelist! I’m writing a novel! Holy cow! 

Stage Nine:  I’ll never be able to pick up this wave of inspiration again if I stop now. Who needs sleep anyway? 

Stage Ten: I cannot go any further until I complete some essential research. And by complete essential research, I mean Google things for three hours.

What are some stages you go through during NaNo? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OLL video and today's word count

If you'd like to sponsor my trek through crazy novelist land and support the awesome programs mentioned in the video, just click here:

Tomorrow I'll post my first excerpt!

The word count widgets aren't running yet but I'm at 1526 words, for those of you keeping score at home.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Forseeable Obstacles

I've been mentally preparing myself for NaNo and today I made a list of things I can see coming and plan for them so that I can jump those hurdles like a champ.

Obstacle #1 - Netflix
I am addicted to watching TV shows on Netflix. I've been doing a decent job of tempering that recently (okay, decent might be an overstatement) but it is incredibly easy for me to waste an entire night of my life watching episodes of Merlin or Dead Zone or whatever. And let's face it. Zoning out in a world that has already been created and produced for you is a lot easier than building your own, brick by brick.

Obstacle #2 - The internet in general
Memebase? Facebook? Woot? Amazon? Craigslist? Only a few of the time-wasting sites that can suck out my brain any given day. The worst part is that these sites only provide the lowest level of entertainment. They're just serious time sucks.

Clearly both of these are things I should work on in the off-season as well but why not start in November?

So. I'm cancelling both cable and my internet service. To be fair, I'm planning on moving soon, and will probably start at least the internet back up when I do. But until then, there's no reason I can't just use my phone for the basics. BAM. Distraction taken care of.

Obstacle #3 - Life
This might be the busiest November I've had since I started NaNo. I've got Tarot class going on, a reunion with my high school besties, a road trip to Indiana (of all places!) and of course, Thanksgiving. I really pretty heavily on weekends. Not this year!

Obstacle #4 - My job
I was unemployed for my first NaNo. In subsequent years, I had a job that offered a lot of downtime. This year I have a job that is not only heavy on the "no writing novels at work" policies and also heavy on the overtime.

I'm hoping that ridding myself of #1 & #2 will help with #3 and #4. The only other thing I can think of to beat these to is focus. Plan and focus. Two of my lesser skills. I'm going into this November more prepared both with my story and with my mental game than ever. And I'm a couple of months into a Major Life Change. It's the perfect scenario to help me get my act together. It's pretty exciting when you think about it.

See? NaNoWriMo will not only help me produce another novel, it will help make me a better person! And that will benefit everyone. Trust me. ;-)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Tuesday marks the beginning of the fourth National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I've participated in. I have completed the challenge twice. This year will be my third victory.

If you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, check out the website at You'll find tons of information there about the sponsoring organization, the Office of Letters and Light as well as all kinds of tools and advice for aspiring and veteran novelists alike.

So I don't need to tell you about all of that.

What I would like to talk about is what NaNo means to me.

I've always loved reading and writing. But focus and attention span are not exactly strong suits of mine, which makes writing a full length novel a bit of a trick. For me, NaNo was like a magnifying glass, gathering up the ideas floating around in my head and focusing them in a month long streak of productivity. I had never experienced anything like it. And I will never forget the moment that I crossed that 50,000 word threshold. In Holden Beach, North Carolina. I hadn't felt so much pride since I stood on the stage at Carnegie Hall with my high school choir. I'd created something. With my own brain and my own hands. It's a pretty awesome feeling.

It was the moment I started to believe that I could truly claim that I was a writer.

Things aren't perfect, of course. I've written two novels now, both of which have the potential to be quite good, neither of which I've come close to actually finishing. But I, like my stories, am a work in progress and I don't have any intention of giving up.

If you would like to donate to the Office of Letters and Light to help support NaNoWriMo and their other awesome programs, please do so through my sponsorship page at I will be using this blog to share my progress, excerpts, lessons and roadblocks with all of you so that you can be sure I'm keeping up my end of the bargain. Many thanks to all who support OLL, NaNo and me in whatever way you choose.