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

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.

Fallen

I missed last week’s blog post. I’m not sure if anyone out there even noticed, which is fine. I tell myself that I don’t write to garner a following. I write to hold myself accountable to the passion that shapes me.

But last week…

I was fresh out of passion and had given up on myself. I was feeling shapeless.

This is not a new story for myself and, probably, for all writers, artists, musicians, and those who contribute slices of our brains and hearts to public scrutiny. There are days when the offering of our thought, time, and energy to the craft is returned with silence, or rejection. Most days we let it go and move on.

heartbreak
Aw…Sarah’s gonna have to clean the cat hair off of that before she puts it back in.

But even for more sane people than myself, a long drought of success, can cause us to question the path. We question if it’s worth putting our hearts in the hands of others. We start to wonder if a nice, minimum wage job in a cubicle somewhere isn’t the better option. (At least the coffee is ‘free’, and I’m done at 5).

So, last week, I didn’t bother writing a post. I didn’t even think about trying. I just said, nope, fuck it, what’s the point?

Because sometimes life is like that. And sometimes we need to throw up our hands and surrender to our own suck-itude, (sure its a word).

But this week I’m back. Not because I’m feeling any better than last week, but because writing is what I do. And I’m not quite done with life yet, so as long as I’m drawing breath I’ll be drawing thought. Some days those thoughts are vibrant and inspirational. Some days they’re like walking in a bog of hopelessness, and I apologize to those reading when I drag you along behind me on those darker days…but no human is a ray of sunshine all the time. (Unless they’re one of those freaky-uber-happy-Suzie-sunshine types and nobody really likes those Pollyann-kool-aid-drinking assholes…but I digress.)

The point is, I was in a hard place last week. And I don’t know if it’s much better now, but at least now I’ve mustered enough fucks to sit down and write, pour out my self-pity and self-doubt and let you all make your own judgements about what I’ve got to offer.

Whether you write or not, we all have days. Days when we’re tired of fighting and tired of trying. Days when we’ve fallen and we don’t care if we stay down. Days when the battle hardly feels worth the effort. It’s part of what makes getting back up so beautiful. To win the battle over apathy and despair is a shade of divinity particular to humans. Not only just for physical survival, but for our emotional and psychological longevity.

I’m not all the way back up, but I’m not dead yet. And I guess that’s something.

VerseDay 8-30-18

Happy VerseDay.

Today was darker, as some days can be.

Enjoy…or if you can’t enjoy it, sit with its awkwardness for a bit and don’t be afraid of the feelings you may catch. Part of our Beauty lies in those dark and painful corners.

I Belong

I am yours and I am theirs.

I am the scale’s and the mirror’s

I belong to the vogue airbrushing

And the PTO.

I am the tethered hawk,

Forgotten her wings.

Hungry to hunt,

No freedom with which to fly.

I am the man’s and the patriarchy’s

I am the lament of God

And the decent substitute,

When nothing better comes along.

I belong to so many,

Each a share of grief,

Each a pound of flesh

So many hyenas tearing at a picked over carcass

I am wasted and wanting,

Found without

I am the lukewarm spread, the mannequin arms,

The expected response and sweaty spectral.

I am the failure of my skin

The price of privilege

The stain of guilt.

For apples I did not eat.

I am the sunken boat,

long forgotten; a weathered splinter in the reeds,

I am the once useful, fading at dusk.

I belong to you.

And to them.

I am no more myself, than anyone else’s.

But oh the torture of knowing.

How different it could have been.

In Defense of the Senses

Happy Wednesday good people of the world. Extra Happy Wednesday to the bad ones…since you probably need more happy.

 

Today, I’m writing about the beauty of the human senses.

 

The human senses are invaluable to a writer, being the most surefire way to engage your reader in what the main character is feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling and, if you’re really good at the descriptive narrative, making them feel as though they are feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling the same things.

 

Senses are powerful. The words you choose to describe them must be impeccable to harness this power.

 

I realize, if you aren’t a writer, you may feel left out. Well I never leave a person behind, so hang on.

 

Why in the hell does a human need to explore their senses if they’re not showing someone the glint of moonlight on glass?

 

Well, hear me out, human.

 

Every single one of us, writer or no, deserves to indulge in our senses.

 

Why? Why is it important?

 

Well, shucks! Thanks for asking, new paragraph that makes my self-questioning seem rational…

 

Because part of living beautifully, is living with purpose which is closely tied to living in the moment, and living in the moment has everything to do with connecting to what is real, around you presently…not the feeling of a chair you sat in five days ago, or the way spring will smell eight months from now.

 

I’m talking about being present through the use of gifts you’ve been given.

 

Sit still for Christ’s sake. Seriously. Just sit.

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

Someplace safe and comfortable, turn off your goddamn phone, close your eyes and listen.

Take a deep breath, really hear the wave of it rush in and out against the shore of your throat. Listen to what you can only hear when you stop moving, and worrying, and obsessing. Bird chatter, the quiet hum of the neighbors AC unit (hey, not every sound is some natural wonder sent to give you soulful clarity.) Maybe it’s the squeal of tires outside or the school bell in the distance. Now, before you start having judgments or memories, or ideas that are inspired by what you can hear in silence, let those noises go. Let them pass through your brain like clouds in a sky. Take a deep breath.

What do you smell? Last night’s dinner, the oily basset at your feet (who’s probably clyde.jpgcracking off the most horrific clouds of flatulence you’ve ever suffered through—wipe your eyes, try to get past it).

Maybe it’s soap (the decadent scent of a man newly showered) or maybe you smell the old books on your desk, the bed linens behind you and all the interesting smells that reside there. (Remember, basset or sheets, reserve your judgement.)

 

Open your eyes, focus on the small details, try to descern the exact colors, watch the play of shadows and the shimmer of reflections.

 

When you walk through gardens, through stores, through life, hold out your hand and touch things (no butts please…or unwilling butts? Don’t go touching unwilling participants is what I’m saying…stick to the inanimate). Touch fabric, leaves, dead branches and icicles, let the dog passing by snuffle your hand and leave its viscous slobber behind. Touch your hair, the arch of your foot, the base of your nose, tug on your ear lobe…how different it all is! How does it feel to be touched in those strange little places? Get to know your own body and the sensitivity of your fingertips.

 

When you sit down to eat, really taste your food. Keep it on your tongue and think about what’s going on there. When you kiss someone, taste them, their lips, their breath, the

man and woman kissing together on body of water
Photo by Edward Castro on Pexels.com

flavor of them and their body chemistry…it is different for everyone and that’s something fascinating to explore.

 

Finally…and this is an important one…your gut. The so-called sixth sense. Intuition. IT’s there. IT’s often drown out by the madness of our modern world, the overstimulation and cultural rules and denial of the naysayers who believe humans are so far above ‘animals’ that we no longer need such ‘witchcraft’.

 

Tell those voices to stuff it. Listen to your gut. Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You’re still an animal and don’t forget it. Don’t get too lost in the  modern world. Remember, use the gifts biology and genetics gave you.

 

IF you are a writer, use these exercises to bring clarity and realism to your work.

If you’re a normal human with a ‘real’ day job (oooo self-burn!), use these exercises to be more present in your own life—to slow down time and remember what you are; A beautiful, messy human being with magical guts, wandering eyes, soft to the touch, with angry squirrels chattering on rooftops, smelly bassets underfoot, and a taste for the sensuality all around.

 

 

Book Review: Kathryn Mattingly’s “The Tutor” Will Stun and Captivate

I was lucky enough to pre-read a wonderful new novel out by one of my favorite authors and an all-around amazing woman, Kathryn Mattingly. I just wanted to take a moment, on this site that expunges on the beautiful and chaotic journey’s our lives take, to promote “The Tutor“. A wonderful book to begin your Autumn reading list.

Here’s a little review:

Kathryn Mattingly’s newest novel, “The Tutor” delves into the dark underbelly of the horrifying international baby-trade business and the unscrupulous men who profit from it. This page-turning thriller captivates readers as it follows the story of one woman’s desperate escape from her controlling husband to save their traumatized son from being locked away.

Following Natalie Giovanni’s flight with her troubled and beloved only son, Matti, lands us across the globe, in the lush world of Roatan, Honduras and paints a striking difference between the world that Natalie is accustom to and her new life, hidden away.

In her trademark style, Mattingly paints a vibrant world of crystalline beaches, reefs teeming with life, colorful people, and a vivacious culture. The reader is offered an inside perspective from the men and women living on the island and becomes part of their day to day lives in striking detail.

Mattingly explores both the differences of life in the United States and life on the island and also the similarities in their systemic patriarchal controls. This contributes to the complex plot and journey Natalie takes in finding herself and in helping her son recover from the shock and trauma of witnessing his father’s unspeakable act of cruelty.

The dynamic between characters is complex and engaging and begs the reader’s investment in what will come with every turn of the page. Her dynamic heroine remains relatable and captivates the audience with the trials and transformations she faces on her path to self-reliance and helping Matti to heal.

As always, Mattingly is an artist at character development and gives the reader a thrilling adventure that offers a deeper theme of the heartening bravery it takes to do what is right and protect the ones we love.”

 

Find it here:

 The Tutor by Kathryn Mattingly

VerseDay 8-23-18

My darlings…This humble writer took a short break from her blog this week, but I will catch you on the beautiful flip side of life, next week on Wednesday. Also, look forward to a formal submission call for VerseDay, and all the fun rules and regulations that includes.

Until then, Enjoy a little VerseDay with your Thurs….day.

 

SHE

She came wailing

Screaming into the world on slippery tracks

Destined to set apart the befores from the afters.

She came pink-faced and angry

Perfect petals pouting tirades

Fingers tightly curled into tiny, life-lined palms

She came disgruntled

Protesting the cold and bright,

Raging against the metallic and sterile.

She came to show us, to shake us,

To remind us.

Life twists on, where we least expect.

And where we struggle to control and contain,

She always comes…just the same.

 

 

VerseDay 8-16-18

Good morning, Darlings. Here’s a little something to start your day.

 

Frailty

How precious, the fear,

Of casting your frailty,

Out into the jaws of a desolate world.

How brutally important

To stretch the lines of comfort

 

Throwing the weakly bonded cells

Into the universe of chaos and rock

The stone that tears,

Branches that bite,

Fire’s searing kiss.

 

How cherished, the heart-pounding uncertainty,

That drives us to the far away,

Against the pleading of timidity

Begging us to come home.

 

Safety is not safe,

Until we step into the treacherous.