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.

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.

 

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:

Because A Dog Can’t Eat Your Virtual Homework…

All right, friends and neighbors, the homework I assigned last week is only due for me. You can send me your 0-1000 word story/poem from the prompt: “Write about something you left behind by accident and/or Write about something you left behind on purpose” anytime between now and September 1st.

Remember, you not only get featured on the blog, you get a free set of my steamy romance novels signed by me and braggin’ rights. So get me those entries, send them to the contact info on this site.

In the spirit of being a good example, I’m including not only a flash fiction piece but also a poem. Because prompts are expandable, remember I said that. Be creative. Hell, you know what? If you have a photo that you feel might fit with this prompt, send that in too! I’d love to see it…In fact, today’s photo was a result of said inspiration.

Get out there, get writing. Here’s my homework (you’re welcome to print it out and grab a red pen but you can’t send it back…)

 

Hyde-Park-London

Hyde Park

 

I left your scarf on a park bench

The sun came out

It was too warm

 

I pulled at it, slipped it down one side of my neck,

Set it beside my tea

And went back to the newspaper

 

The orb blazed brighter

Dropping my mind

into a haze of preoccupation

 

I tossed my cup in the bin

Tucked the paper under my arm

Fled the barrage of summer

 

And came home

Without your memory

hanging around my throat

 

That’s how you finally forget,

I suppose

Letting go happens when you’re least expecting

 

In the heat of a Tuesday afternoon,

On a bench in Hyde park

With a mind full of other things

 

Besides the tender hands that first placed it

In a sodden field,

blanketed with rain

 

The sun came out

It was too warm

I left you on a park bench.

 

Part The Second: The flashing fiction bit…

 

Diamond Trees Don’t Root Like Potatoes

So finely honed was the veiled disappointment in her face that I didn’t even need to look to know it was there.

“I’m sorry,” I shrugged over the potato peeler and the growing pile of gritty brown scraps beneath it.

“I just can’t believe you lost it!” her pitch rose and startled me.

My mom’s passive aggressiveness was legendary. She didn’t wield a battle-axe; she used a scalpel. She didn’t say outright what she meant; she kept the grudge seething for decades. That’s how the poison worked in our family. The curse of material prestige, the “what we owned” owning us. The things handed down like shackles being snapped into place.

“I said I was sorry,” I muttered. “It was an accident.”

In the way digging a hole and burying something akin to nuclear waste beneath an old billboard welcoming folks to Beautiful Bonnie Bay, Minnesota was an accident. Oops, I tripped and fell into a purposeful purge. Maybe a black little tree of greed would grow up from the seed. The idea was both ridiculous and frightening.

“She told me not to leave it to you until you were older! I should have held on to it,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead, and resumed her agitated pacing from pot to oven.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I whispered.

“What?” Pacing stopped. “What did you say?”

Her new direct approach was something I attributed to the magic of the hated object lying beneath three feet of dirt and unable to inflict its venom. It could’ve been that she was just really…really pissed. That was okay, because at least she was being honest.

“I said,” I turned wielding the starchy peeler like an accusing finger. “That you shouldn’t hold on to it. To any of it, Mom.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She spent years holding all these ‘treasures’ over your head, just like her mother did to her and probably hers before…making sure you stayed in line if you wanted to inherit–”

“That’s not true!” she shouted.

“She poisoned you!” I blurted out into the room still ringing with the echo of her voice. “She poisoned you into believing all those things were your worth! That they were her love. And you had to earn them, and that she could take them away just like that!” The snap of my fingers startled her like a coma patient waking.

“I don’t… know what–” she sputtered and took hold of the counter with fingers clenching.

“You deserved loved from her. You deserved better! You are worth so much more than a broach, or a set of dishes, or a closetful of linens. And you’ll always have my love, no matter what you give me, even if it’s just the time you spend yelling at me over a piece of cut rock. I’ll love you! ‘N you never have to buy it, or earn it. It’s just there.”

It would have been customary for one or both of us to turn away or huff off to a different room where we’d place the grudge dutifully on our shoulders. But she came to stand beside me, facing out into the kitchen and catching her breath, slowing into calm.

I picked up the half-naked potato and finished his delicate undressing so he could join his skinny-dipping friends in the pot.

Mom sighed while her eyes closed out the room and her mind reread every cursive note attached to every object filling the boxes in the attic.

I leaned the warmth of my hip against hers and listened to the jangle of sharp metal over thick skin. Finding the white tenderness, separate from all the dirt, gave me appreciation for the rugged beauty of rooted things, and the glimmer of hope for a barren ground above the broach’s final resting place.

 

Homework

Oh, you’re in for it now.

Listen, sometimes I get down to the dirt of it all and give you the best writing advice I’ve got and all you have to do is sit back and absorb my witty information dumps.

But I’ve got a case of summer boredom and am itching for something different. Something a little more…interactive. So, today, instead of me expunging on the benefits of plot arcs and character development, or raking you through the coals of The Chicago Manual of Style, we’re gonna play.

I say “play”. You might say homework.

Pota-toe. Potaah-toe.

Here’s the rules. I’m going to give you a writing prompt. You send me your 200-1000 word result. It can be fiction, nonfiction, prose or in poetry form, written in chocolate pudding, or Latin (or in Latin, in chocolate pudding)…the possibilities are all before you.

I’ll choose a winner, send you a set of my signed novels, and feature your story on the blog with all the bragging rights that come along with it. Cool?

And because, I’d never ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, I’ll be featuring my ‘homework’ on next week’s regular Tuesday blog.

So…you see, writers that suffer together…give each other awkward, virtual high fives afterwards? Drink heavily and question the purpose of their existence? I vote the first one.

Because I’m feeling generous, I’ll even give you two options to choose from.

 

Here’s your homework:

 

Write about something/one that got left behind by accident.

or

Write about something/one that got left behind on purpose.

 

On your marks….get set…