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NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum (say that one a few times over fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

With only 11 days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s.  All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

VerseDay 11-14-19

Happy VerseDay my dear readers. Today’s contribution and ode to the brave and selfless men and women of our military comes a from a long-time (I wouldn’t say we’ve known each other since we were knee-high to a grasshopper, but pretty damn close) and dear friend, Ethan Hejki.

Enjoy, share, and take a minute to contemplate what it means to serve our country, and the high costs both to body and soul it demands.

 

 

Untitled

 

I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go.
I did what others failed to do. Not by choice

but necessity
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing.
I took nothing from the unwilling.
I was the hero and the villain.
I have accepted the fate of eternal loneliness

and damnation for my actions

I have seen the face of terror

and the face of happiness
I felt the stinging cold of fear

the searing heat of rage
I have heard death’s whisper, beckoning to me.

Soon, soon
I enjoyed the sweet taste of love

the bitterness of loss

I have cried pained and sorrow. but most of all,

I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

At least some day I can say that I was proud of what I was.

A soldier.

 

Ethan Hejki

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello!, and thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

 

VerseDay 11-7-19

A cold and blustery day calls for something fitting.

Enjoy the cold embrace of Fall…from inside, hopefully cuddled in your pajamas with a furry beast close by.

 

We

We are the Autumn, love

the life of us, shrunken and dry

And the icy fingers of wind

Slip beneath our coats

And the days are short and gray all round.

 

We know the dark horizon lies ahead

straight from the one track road

our hands and eyes have fallen to

And all that was spring,

Rounded and succulent

Is nothing more than shriveled blooms

Long ago spent are the fickle buds of youth.

 

We are not buried yet,

Beneath the ground, the snow

But we will not again crash into the world

like vibrant green and cherry blossom pink.

Such a subtle death is ours to claim.

Beneath the acrid crunch of leaves

And the ceaseless, howling gray.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill Writer.

VerseDay 10-31-19

I hope you’re all getting into the spirit of Samhain and doing your best to ward off the evil spirits (or inviting them over for drinks and merriment). Today’s foray into the art of verse is brought to you by the lovely Kathryn Balteff.

Enjoy, share, and monitor the mini chocolate bars…they can sneak up on you.

 

Moonbeam Tango

 

I often wonder why

was I sent to this place?

Tending the magic left behind.

Struggling to cultivate

and coerce it into

petals of diaphanous colors

with only lemon salt tears,

hot love, and strawberry memories

for sustenance.

 

Still,

I keep on.

What else would you have me do?

 

Most nights my feet are bound to earth.

Loosely tangled

yet tethered still.

But tonight . . .

Ah, tonight

 

Moonbeams unravel the ribbons

and I tango alone along the Milky Way

to my tryst with Orion.

 

The sea hears my heart,

but the stars

they listen.

 

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

 

Challenges, Fears, and What it Means to Tackle NANOWRIMO

Can you feel it in the air? The tingle of excitement in the tips of every writer’s fingers? The antici—–

–pation of the challenge and the reward? The insane gauntlet thrown down to write the better part of a novel in the short span of 30 days? I feel it in a new way. A frightening way.

For the first time since I started participating, I’m wondering if this might be the year that I fail.

It’s probably no surprise for those of you who follow the blog that I’ve been a little…down… lately. And with that comes a starkly lowered self-esteem. Add in a dash of mental block and creative fizzle and I’m having a hard time believing I will have enough clout to make it through 1700 words per day and finish a victor.

So what do I do? Not try at all? Shelve it for this year and treat myself with gentleness? I’m all for self-care, but I gotta be honest, lately I’ve been giving myself a little too much grace. I’ve been allowing myself an out from writing in every basket of laundry, sudoku puzzle, floor mopping, and random ten minute cat nap (that’s a nap with my cat on the couch) I can find. I’ve been so ‘busy’. But the truth is, it’s because I’m afraid to face the blank page that sits inside my head lately. I’m so certain it will end up a blank page on my screen that I’ve let the fear and disappointment of that possibility keep me from writing at all.

After all, if I don’t try I can’t fail, right? Ergo, if I don’t sign up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I can’t fail at it. Plus…what will it do to me in my delicate mental state? To face such frustration and probable defeat?

The dark voice says it will break me. It says it will keep me from ever writing again, it will unhinge me. It will rob me of time better spent napping and such.

But there’s this other me that’s been trapped inside with the dark and she’s having a real teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, stand-up moment.

She says we can. She says she’s not afraid of a blank page, and she’s not worried that there aren’t any more ideas left in me. She says she knows people and characters, she knows struggle and strife, and the harsh realities of human frailty. She says there’s another novel in there, locked away behind the dark and she wants to flip the switch and shed some light on the subject.

You see, self-care is not just about bubble baths and indulging in your psychotic cat’s demand for a nap at ten in the morning. Sometimes, self-care is about knowing what you love and not letting yourself give it up when things get tough. Sometimes the deadline and the challenge is a sense of purpose in disguise that we gift to ourselves. The pursuit of your happiness is, quite possibly, one of the most important things you can do and not just for yourself, but for everyone who loves you.

So here it is, writers. If I can drag my ass to the computer and invest in my work (and myself) every day for a paltry 1667 words, then you don’t have an excuse not to. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all at a loss for ideas. The world around us doesn’t make it easy to dream. It’s loud and impatient. It’s riddled with worries and doubts, and problems bigger than any of us can solve on our own. But if we all start by investing in our art, in rising to the challenge, in reclaiming our power and self-belief, then we will become better people. And better people make a better world.

So go do something amazing. If you’ve never NANOWRIMO-ed before, check out their website to learn the rules here:

National Novel Writing Month

Most cities and states have local chapters for the event that will organize meetings, writing sprints, coffee, happy-hours and all sorts of other social stuff to keep you encouraged and give you a clan to check in and commiserate with.

Or if you’re more of a solitary beast, like myself, you can get tips and inspiration emailed to you, or join on-line forums in your underoos. Once you sign up you get a nifty author page where you can log your words per day and check on your progress (this is HONESTLY one of the best motivators for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited about blowing the curve, you know what I mean? Wow, that sounded pretty naughty…not sorry.)

The beauty of this event is that it teaches you to establish a writing habit, and shows you that even when you only have a few minutes here and there in your day, if you dedicate them to writing you CAN complete a novel in a month. And that makes all of those excuses for not finishing your work in progress kind of null.

Maybe you’re ready, maybe you’re not. Either way…do it. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Of if that’s what motivates you, give the world a daily tally to keep you honest. You don’t have to write the next best seller and you don’t have to finish the story. The only thing you need is to do is dedicate the time to your magnificent imagination.

I originally thought I’d be putting The Beautiful Stuff blog on hold during this month since I’ll be otherwise ocupada…but after thinking it through, I will continue to write to you. I’ll let you know my progress, I’ll ask you questions about yours. I’ll offer advice as we get started, how to continue the momentum, how to get through the doldrums (shit yeah, that’s totally a real thing and it happens around week three) and how to finish strong, catching every last minute to cruise into the 50,000 word goal.

Then we’ll celebrate. With cat naps, or champagne, or a good cry in the shower, you know…whatever it is you need to unwind.

To inspire you further I offer this:

One lucky reader who takes a minute to let me how the process is going either via email or comment on the blog, will receive a congratulatory package after your awesome accomplishment with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of “Rise: An Anthology of Change” a beautiful little book of stories and poems about the power and folly of change and the human condition. Look at the pretty cover:

Rise Anthology

 

Take a deep breath writer, start brainstorming some ideas or dust off ones you’ve shelved for too long. Saturday we begin a new chapter, a new book, a new start.

 

VerseDay 10-24-19

Hello my fine, friends and a fantastic VerseDay to you.

I’m so excited to share this poem with you from previous contributor and writer extraordinaire, sid sibo, who says:

“Initially, I resist resistance. I prefer (in the notion of what you resist, persists) to throw my heart toward the vision of what I hope to see, to co-create with other love-filled visionaries

But…maybe we still need to recognize what’s wrong, on our way forward.” 

sid, your words are dynamic, thought provoking, and beautifully written. Please enjoy this poem and share.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 12.47.11 PM

 

sid lives on the west slope of the Rockies and works as an environmental analyst.

Follow here: sid sibo

VerseDay 10-17-19

Humans can be profoundly affected by our geography and by the environments we inhabit. We experience differences in our inner thought processes, comfort level, and overall spiritual and physical health depending on where we are in the world.

Some places unsettle us and can even cause physical reactions (Las Vegas does that to me). These environments rub against the grain of our constitution and basal genetic code, causing us to feel uncomfortable in ways we can quite pinpoint, anxious to not dawdle and even frantic in trying to find your equilibrium in every passing moment.

But sometimes you find yourself in a place that seems to run roots up through your feet from the minute you land. Those places that feed your soul, encourage your balance, and fill your blood with calm and connected joy are a rarity. It can feel like the land itself speaks to the deep timelessness of your stardust and reminds you of who you are deep in the marrow.

I’ve found only two or three such places in my short time here on this earth.

DSC_0208

Tnûth

The green valleys of hillside walls and

twisting archaic roads, tucked like snakes between.

Veining through time-forgotten land.

Vibrant and wet.

The countryside sewn with patches of heather and stone

And endless fields lit from Godspeak skies

give the feeling of being an island apart

from the insanity of the world

Stone fences encroached upon by lusty green growth,

Hugged tight to the tepid handy work of man,

as if to say that magic still breathes here,

and it will overtake our fleeting pillars.

My lungs indulge the mist of Loch Skeen’s mare.

And shoulders let go the weight of the lies I have lived.

Where the loamy peat and woodsmoke hearth

of cottages rendered from stone and thatch,

Nestle into knolls dotted with contented woolen faces

Call to me in dreams, once and again over,

She settles into my bones,

and fills my blood

I know this land somewhere deep in my veins.

This is where my heart lies

She is the place that calls my soul home.

The gray shores of rock and sand,

The moor I miss is more than I am used to yearning for.

So pray, Caledonia, beckon me

Come home, mo ghràdh,

And I will answer.

 

 

 

 

 

On Poetry

Okay, I know.

I’m a novelist. And believe you me, I’ll be getting into some hard-core, novel-in-a-month advice the next couple weeks, but until then….let’s talk about poetry.

 

(BECAUSE I KNOW YOU’RE ALL PREPARING SOME AWESOME POEMS TO SEND MY WAY TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE 2019-2020 ANTHOLOGY, RIGHT? STOP SHIFTING UNCOMFORTABLY AND SEND ME THOSE VERSES. I’m really quite lovely and so excited to read your stuff. I’m a big, snuggly, softy posing as a hard-nosed writer.)

black vintage typewriter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Long before I wrote novels, I was a poet. In retrospect, I’m kinda amazed at how easily I would could a page with stanza after stanza.  It took time to develop, but the poems progressed from what would rhyme to what would bleed just the right color.  My poetry led to some hurtful, terrible and cathartic things on the page.  Words were raw and emotional in ways I never knew they could be.

Each one of those poems pulls me back to the time and events that they were borne from.  I remember the exact person that inspired each.  I can sometimes even remember the exact night they were written.  That’s powerful stuff.

Words, in their inherent singularity, are powerful. One word can command meaning, history, and intention just by its existence on the page. Words can change and shape how we experience our human existence throughout time.

Knee-deep in a novel, it becomes a challenge to capture the same essence I once had in writing poetry.  I’m too used to telling a story in pages, not lines. Heavy worded and filled with the need to explore each step of a character’s journey, I can sometimes lose the contrite honesty of being a woman of few words.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, novels or short stories, practicing poetry is an excellent skill for all writers.  It will improve the preciseness of your writing.

How do you say the most with the fewest?

Here are some exercises (that’s right you beautiful, wordy bastards, I’m giving you homework) to help you boil the most important elements of an idea down into its thickest, richest concentration.

Throw some words down from this exact moment of your existence and make each one count.

Do it fearlessly, because there’s no judgment between you and the page.

Send it to me, or don’t but keep it and use it to understand your skill and how you can grow even further in your art.

 

*Describe the chair you’re sitting in in six words.  Try four.  How about two?

 

*Describe the person in your chair (yes that’s you—maybe it’s two of you—I don’t judge) in six words.  Try four.  How about two?

 

*Describe the best day of your life in six words or less:

 

*Describe the worst: