Half-Way To an Unknown Destination

Good morning fellow readers, writers, and friends. This morning marks nearly the half-way mark of NANOWRIMO.

In the month of November a gauntlet is thrown, where in writers of all types, genres, and experience levels attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. While this ain’t my first rodeo (fourth year participant) I’m quickly finding that every year is different.

Most notably this year’s project has been a study in what happens when I let my “pantser” out.

Before you call the authorities and request a restraining order, what I mean is that usually I have a rough idea of what my novel will be about, some basic plot points, a shady little arc where in I can fit most scenes with relative smoothness. I’m not an all-out “plotter” I don’t have graphs, or charts, or beat sheets. Usually later in my process I come up with something that formal if it helps me fill in the gaps.

But this year–

This year I just started writing about a girl who’d suffered a horrifying assault, ran away, and returns to her childhood home with no intention of staying past the point of handling her grandfather’s affairs.

That’s it.

That’s all I had.

Oh…and a murder has been committed.

And there’s this seasoned old detective who’s lovable but grouchy as shit.

Oooo, and lets make him a divorcee, trying to quit smoking while raising a curious 12-year old boy.

And let’s say he doesn’t deal well with horses. Or heights. And he’s got a paunch, because he’s over forty and can’t get rid of it no matter how many weeknights he plays rugby.

And she gets panic attacks. Bad ones.

And what happens when the lady in question has a panic attack while driving just ahead of the cop and his son on their way to rugby practice?

And her sisters hate each other, and are polar opposites hippie versus yuppie.

And I need to learn Greek. And I gotta start looking into regional varieties of grapes and how rare the Andravidas horse is…and what’s the shape and size of a typical head wound from a roncola…

See what I mean? I’m all over the place. And this book, ladies and gents, it might be the messiest first draft I’ve EVER written. I jump from scene to scene, character to character, out of time, out of place, sometimes contradicting myself within the same paragraph. I’ve never had such a mess of a project.

I’ve never worked on a book that I wasn’t sure I would absolutely finish and make into something better.

But this fella, he’s a different breed.

He’s a quirky little story and I’m sort of hopeful that all of the pants-ing going on here is going to produce some really raw and gritty emotion, boiled down description, some complex characters in tender situations that will amount, later and with a lot of elbow grease, to a decent and intriguing novel.

The point, (yep, there’s one–it’s coming. Wait for it–) is that by jamming out words, even in their flagrant misuse of proper grammar or form, even with complete disrespect for story arc, has allowed me to explore a genre I’ve never written in before without the halting self-doubt that might have stopped me before. I’ve discovered characters who are more than a little fucked up (*gasp* where’s the romance in that?) and may or may not find out the truth let alone a happily ever-after. And that might be okay this time around.

If you’re in the middle of it, and have a day that knocks you back, jump ahead, jump behind…write the characters ten years in the future or what their sixth-grade year was like. The words don’t have to be in order, they just have to be there.

Good skill writers. 16 more days, and you are all over this like a bunch of bacchantes on Dionysus.

Get to it.

 

On Creativity, Word Count Deadlines, and the Immortal Curse of Want-to-be Novelists

Hey ya’ll, listen up, I don’t have much time. I’m on a deadline, with not many words to spare.

 

So far, in this week, I’ve managed to keep up a hearty 2,000 a day word count on a new novel idea that sprung from my last trip to California and it’s vibrant rolling hills of vines and orchards. It’s been a trip of a different kind these last seven days. I’m dipping my toes into a new genre and, of course, committing any and all time in my day to getting the words on the page.

 

I haven’t had much time to spare a thought for much else, but I did want to share what I’ve discovered on this year’s NANOWRIMO journey, in the event that it could help you on your own craft.

 

Not all of us are reaching for 50,000 words in 30 days but I think we’re all striving to finish something and, in doing so, come across many of the same road blocks.

Here’s some bulleted info to keep you engaged.

 

  • Word counts help. They give you a goal. Goals are measurable, ensuring that you have a start, an end, and a way to track your success. Pick a word count and stick to it. Even after November is over, I plan to recommit to my pre-NANOWRIMO word count ambitions in order to keep myself in the thick of it. The inspiration of word count goals should do a lot to…

 

  • Unclog your creativity ducts (Okay, I’m not sure we actually have those but…) there’s definitely a correlation between writing without the time to edit and the uprising of new and unfettered ideas. You may start with a stupid sentence but one word of it, or phrase, or character trait will pop the top of the bottle and unleash a whole outpouring of possibilities.

 

 

  • FINAL THOUGHT—The Curse of The-Want-To-Be-Writer, the thing that stifles us most and keeps us from getting those word goals is the self-editor sitting on our shoulder EVERY TIME we sit down to write. He’s the jerk that points out the misspellings, the grammatical errors, and the plot holes. He whispers, “Oh no, go back and delete that, it’s not good. And take out that part, and fix that ‘they’re’ to ‘their’, and you forgot to use an ellipses, and is that name spelled right? Let’s make sure the spell check learns it. Now…that’s a pretty sentence…nope! Just kidding, it’s awful delete it! Ah…now, a nice fresh blank page to start…over…on.” Do you see what I’m getting at? Don’t do that shit.

 

JUST WRITE.

 

Leave all the grammatical errors, spelling mishaps, and mistaken names or plot holes where they lie.

 

Imagine someone excavating the tip of a gemstone. But instead of digging all the way down, seeing how big it is, what its natural shape is, picturing what can be crafted from it, they just dust off the tip, and begin carving it meticulously, polishing it to a shine. Then they uncover a little more, but that doesn’t look like the first bit so they hone it down even more. They uncover another bit and another but there’s no flow because each part of the gemstone is cut differently, polished oddly.

 

First drafts are made to give you raw material. So make it raw as hell.

 

So far I’m at about 16,000 words and I’ve typed things that I’ve regretted the second they’ve left my fingers. Mistakes. Glaring ones. Things that don’t fit, behaviors that don’t gel with my characters, point of view shifts.

 

Honey, I’ve seen it all in the first twenty pages.

 

But I also see a story. An interesting arc with characters that are starting to smile coyly in my direction with secrets I will only learn if I stop telling them to shush.

 

If you’re writing a novel this month—Keep at it and kick your nasty self-editor to the curb. You can go pick him up later (or send an uber for him if he won’t get in your car again)

 

If you’re just thinking about writing a novel sometime: stop thinking and do it…we ain’t getting any younger sweetheart.

 

Now, I’ve got to get back to my work in progress, because these 753 words don’t count on my dashboard and I’ve got words to go before I sleep.

 

Send me your word counts, send me your questions, send me your inspirations. Let’s keep this sprint going.

 

Happy Writing!

How Many Words?

Gentle readers, it has been a week.

Empathetic critters, such as myself have taken a hit. Not only from personal issues, but from the rising level of hurt, angry rhetoric, senseless killing, and crumbling ecosystems. So I’m stepping back. I’ve left my social media site for a very restful and cleansing week and have decided I’d like to get back to the other side of this website.

That is–Writing.

I’m not just here for flowery posts about helping your fellow humans, finding the light, being the better the world needs… I’m also here to inspire you in your artistic endeavors.

Now I don’t know much about all the arts, (Bob Ross, I ain’t), but I know a few things about the written word. What little I do know I want to share, because others shared it with me and boosted me up when I flailed for solid ground.

So today’s post is about writing. Specifically one of the greatest tools I have ever used to get my novels started, finished, and published.

Ladies and Gents, tomorrow begins the 2018 NANOWRIMO (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth).

Nothing will test your writing muscle like being under a 50,000 word deadline in 30 days.

Impossible? Actually no. But it is a challenge.

Precious few of us have the luxury of spending our days with uninterrupted time to dedicate to our writing. Most of us have jobs, children, families, and obligations, which can make the 1700 words a day seem unattainable.

But I’m here to tell you it’s within your reach. And what’s more, it will help you cull the nasty, time-wasting habits that keep you from doing your job as a writer.

When your time is limited, and the word-count is great, three major things happen;

1.) You stop farting around on the internet. Yep. You heard me. (Actually, you just heard my mother speaking through me). When you only have thirty minutes here and twenty there, and maybe ten in the car, you no longer have the luxury of scrolling through the latest cat videos or Pintrest-ing the hell out of your meal plan for the week. Ten minutes, you will learn is enough to get a good few hundred words in if you focus.

2.) You stop self-editing. What’s more terrifying to the creative process than Facebook Life envy? Um…you’re sitting on its butt. It’s you. You are. You feckless human. You who judges the words and sentences while they’re barely hitting the page. We don’t have time for your inner critic. And what’s more and better, the word-count box doesn’t care. It doesn’t care what the words are, if they are grammatically correct, if they contain gaping plot holes, or confusing tense. It just cares that the words are there. Which is all you should care about anytime you write a first draft.

3.) You begin to believe in yourself as a writer, even when things get tough. Somewhere in the middle of the month, when the bar graph is starting to catch up to itself and you’re hitting the doldrums, you’ll start to wonder not just if you’ll finish, but if you’ll ever want to write again. Some days will be bad, and barely a thought will come. When you reach these places of stagnation you’ll somehow find the outright stubborness to keep moving, even if the plot goes a little wonky or you lose/gain characters that make no sense. You’ll get over humps and realize that you are capable. And that, as G.I. Joe used to say, if half the battle.

It’s just words, people. Just a lot of beautiful words.

And, kids, this is your time. Life doesn’t get any longer. If you really have a novel in you, a pile of papers on the back burner that you’ve put off for far too long, this is the time.

It is now.

Go to the website, and create an account, free of charge (though donations are always welcome and needed!)

NANOWRIMO

Hold yourself accountable to your writing.

I’ll be popping in for a few short blogs during November but most of my words will be playing on a different field for the month.

Good luck! I look forward to hearing from those of you participating and drop me a line if you need any warmth or encouragement.

This is the year you write your novel, I can feel it.

book book pages college education
Photo by Victor on Pexels.com

Giving Light

It’s a whirlwind of lies and vitriol out there right now, am I right? Social media sites spreading memes about the other party, the dangers of our world, the arrogance and wrongness of the side ‘opposite us’.

There’s something about fighting with someone online that can whip us up into an adrenaline laced mania. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s the conviction we have in our own righteousness, the hard line we draw against any challenge to our perceptions.

And when you try to disengage you are still frowned upon. If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you’re in danger of being part of the problem. That is true to some extent. But there’s something to be said for the deep-breath pause that begs us to consider if the argument we’re forming is going to change any minds or just throw gasoline on the fire.

All of this made me think of the world, and what we contribute. What we give to it.

So often we give our opinion, we give our hatred, we give our disapproval and judgments. We give our anger and our raised voices. So we give. But we give things that hurt our humanity, often, without making worthwhile differences.

I’m not judging. It feels good to vent.

It also feels good to do heroin, I’m told. Doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for us to do.

See what I’m getting at?

How about, just for today, you and I think about what we can give to the world that will lighten the dark?

Can you give your time?

Can you give an open mind and a willing ear?

Can you give forgiveness that you’ve been holding back?

Give to your charity. Give full un-technology distracted attention to your children. Give your boss a break. Give your smile, even when you haven’t been able to in a while.

Sometimes, I think we feel if we give these things (our love, compassion, forgiveness, time, etc.) then we will have none left for ourselves.

But just like the worry that comes with a second child, (how could we possibly love another as much, when we love the first so ardently?) we quickly learn that love doesn’t subtract or divide.

It multiplies.

The more you forgive…the more forgiveness you will want to give (you’ll find the lightening of your heart is such sweet reward).

The more you love…the more you want to love.

The more you listen…the more you learn…the more you learn, the more compassion you give…and the more you feel it in and for yourself.

And you spread light, you lighten sadness, and lightening of sadness drives away the haze of hatred that’s settled over us all.

You may not get it back 100% of the time, that’s ok…because that’s not the reason we give.

We give because we can.

We share our light to push the darkness back from one other.

If it comes back, it fills our cup to do it again.

And again.

And again.

So this isn’t a rocket-science, grand-idea blog today.

This is a remember blog.

Remember, human. You are a force to be reckoned with with both great and terrible results. You’ve a light inside. And you can guard it with closed arms and gnashing teeth, suffocating its power inside for yourself alone. Or you can open your arms to the dark, and let your light spill across the vastness.

The night is dark and full of terrors. But we’re pretty terrifying too. Beautifully terrifying.

And the darkness won’t ever leave if we do not light it up.

So light it up.

Muse

Vim and Vigor. Piss and Vinegar. Spunk, Spark, And the Immortal Divine.

sexy secretary pinup girl 1960s

I’m talking about Muse…not the band…I mean the illusive, seductress…who steals into your thoughts and whispers sweet plot lines into your ear like naughty suggestive teases.

One of my favorite older movies starred a young Julie Andrews and even younger Mary Tyler Moore. It was based on a Broadway musical and was set in the roaring twenties when women were toying with independence and embracing a more modern sense of sexuality. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, the main character, a stenographer, comes on to her boss by lounging across his desk and rasping out the line; “Well, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” (In context she’s referring to Tom Sawyer’s innate mojo despite his tender age of 12)

Julie Andrews Rockin' It

So when I think of that evasive and tease, inspiration, I think of that line.

When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

The problem is that so many of us think we cannot create without ‘it’. That unless the muse is on our desks, lounging across our scattered post-it notes and circling the rim our cold coffee cup with a delicate finger, we won’t be able to create anything substantial.

Can I let you in on a secret I’ve learned? That blank stare against the wall of a writer’s block doesn’t come from a lack of ‘it’. It comes from the expectation that having ‘it’ is the only way creativity will come, and that anything other than madly typing away the best idea we’ve ever been gifted, is simply a waste of our time and divine talent.

Let me tell you something about my muse. He’s a well-upholstered, balding guy in a basement, with a half-smoked cigar hanging out one side of his mouth and a sneer that could stop a very determined freight train on its tracks. He’s an asshole. He doesn’t come out when I sit down at my lovely little desk with all of my office supplies neatly aligned inmy muse OCD perfection. He sneaks up behind me at airports and gooses me like some over-entitled politician. He wakes me up in the sweetest six minutes of sleep before the alarm goes off by hitting me in the face with his meaty hand and a pale idea of how to fix Chapter 8. He’s the one that whispers, in dark undertones, questions about unassuming passerby’s that turn into vibrant characters. I cannot summon him to lie across my desk and pull up his smooth skirts seductively.

He’s got it, all right, but it’s never what I expect.

The one exception is this, and the point of my post this week:

That bastard shows up every time I give up hope on him and just sit down to write anyway.

The first few sentences on my own are stumbling patches of weeds, filled with gopher holes and tripping hazards. But if I ignore the imperfections and keep at it, one paragraph becomes a page, and so forth and so forth.

I don’t stop for clerical errors like misspelled names, or fudged facts. I forget the use or non use of oxford commas and just let the words go where they go. I don’t allow myself deletions, even if I’m painfully aware of the stupid that trails behind my keystrokes.

It’s like emptying the hot water from the camelback tube on a hike. You have to draw out that nasty part before you can get to the refreshing cold stuff.

Before I know it, I can smell cigar smoke and salami and that cagey bastard is behind me…nodding in a nearly impressed manner.

Creativity is part vim and vigor. It is part mojo. It is part magic and a dash of spark. But it is mostly work. Even when the playing is done and the book is written, she’s just a dowdy, ill-fitting dress until you nip and tuck her into shape.

Maybe creativity lives in my basement because a dash of it goes a very long way. It’s the elbow grease we have to buy by the barrel full. Because long after Muse is sacked out on his brown plaid recliner with one hand down his polyester waistband, the work still remains and that’s when we really find out if we are indeed full of vim and vigor.

. . . If we’ve got ‘it’; the magic that turns muse into story, story into book, and book into experience for you and your readers alike.

So don’t pay too much mind to capturing that sultry vixen. Just write. When she whispers at you in crowded stores, or on quiet trails, be at the ready with pen and paper (or…ugh, yes your cellphone if you must) to catch her teasing giggle. But for all of the other 97 out of 100 times, don’t let her be the excuse you aren’t putting your ass in the chair.

After all, a muse is best attracted when she’s being ignored.

Happy writing, Kids.