What’s In It For Me?: Thoughts From a NaNoWriMo Veteran

becomingcliche:

Dying for a follow up on my NaNo experience? I knew you were.

Originally posted on Tipsy Lit:

The beginning of December is a little sad for me. Not because Black Friday has once again crushed all my faith in humanity, but because it means that NaNoWriMo is over for another year. This is my third year, my third December wondering what in the world just happened reflecting on a glorious month of writing.

I had never even heard of NaNoWriMo until October 2011. Two days before Halloween, someone mentioned it in my Twitter feed. Call me crazy spontaneous, but I signed up on two days’ notice. Never mind that I hadn’t written seriously in years. I wanted to write seriously again. What better way to jump start?  I threw myself face first off the deep end, and I belly-flopped. It was a little more difficult than I had imagined. 1,667 words a day didn’t sound like a lot when I was gleefully registering on Halloween, but the last major…

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Send Help!

No, I’m not dead. I’ve just been busy. And right now I have to type really fast because I’m writing from my mom’s hospital room, and their internet policy is no personal websites. Although Facebook and Twitter are okay? I don’t know. Medicine doesn’t make much sense to me in general.

Remember when I went hiking a few weeks ago? It was an eleven mile adventure, and it was fabulous. Unfortunately, I slipped a couple of times and did a little damage to my knee. One slip sent me tumbling onto my back, holding onto the cable embedded in the rock for dear life. Actually, probably literally for dear life, or at the very least dear not-broken-into-a-thousand-pieces. I hurt my knee, but it was cool.

I had my hiking poles, so I managed to drag my sad, sorry carcass off the mountain complete the hike. I was a little sore the next day, but nothing unexpected. The muscles were tight, but I stretched them out. No biggie.

Of course, a couple of days later, I noticed that I could no longer go down hills without my knee locking up. Or stairs. Or get out of bed. It hurt a little. I just kept a little heat on it via my rice sock, and I stayed limber enough to keep from screaming every time I stood up get around okay.

Turns out, my threshold of stubborn is about two weeks. On day thirteen of the countdown, I was sitting on a high stool in a local restaurant getting a little wi-fi and breakfast. When I tried to get down, I nearly dropped the “f” bomb in the middle of Chic-Fil-A had a little more trouble than expected. I decided at that moment that if I could ever bend my leg again, I would head to the doctor’s office immediately. Considering that my only other option was to stay on that stool for the rest of my natural life, I limped my way to my car to get it checked out.

It turns out there’s nothing too serious. I strained my lateral/collateral ligament. A few weeks of rest should get me on the road to recovery. Rest. Wait. I think I know that word. It involves walking my son to school every day and standing up in front of a class and teaching, doesn’t it? No, wait. It doesn’t.

My activities have been sharply curtailed, so I’ve thrown myself headlong into my NaNoWriMo project, and I’m having the time of my life. My book this go-round can best be summed up as a splash of personal narrative that has spent time in a hyperbolic chamber. It’s not a memoir. I’m not sure there’s a verifiable fact in the whole thing, but it has been great fun putting a creative spin on some memories. Wait. There is one fact. I did use my real name, and my sister’s. I’ll post a little excerpt here sometime, maybe.

I knew I had more words to say than just 50K this time, so I set my goal for 80K for the month. I turned out a 50K project last year in only 12 days, so I thought I could make it to 80 in a month. Leg propped up in bed, I made it to 80K this afternoon.

Hello, my name is Heather, and I’m a bar graph addict. On my page, it shows me a little graph with a bar that indicates how close I’m getting to my next goal. The goals are set in increments of 20K, and I am completely addicted to seeing my little word count bar climbing. Someone needs to stage an intervention. I’m not sure my kids have seen me for three days, and the only one who still loves me is my cat. Because I’m her heat source.

Someone send help.

Anyone else doing NaNo this month? How’s it going? It’s the most fun I have all year, and I think I’m going to do it again in January!

The Best Present Is My Past

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Insert Peter, Paul and Mary here because I am, in fact, leaving on a jet plane, and I don’t know when I’ll be back again. I have a general idea because a return date is printed on my ticket, but it snows in Wisconsin. If it snows, I’ll be delayed.

I like to travel, especially when I don’t have to drive. The possibilities are endless. I’m bringing about 150 books (e-readers are the best!), music, snacks. The kid in me is wired up and fired up. Not because of the books, though, or the secret stash of Cliff bars, or the Lunchable my husband bought me for the flight (Shut up. I’m really eight.). That kid is tickled pink over the brand new legal pad stashed in my backpack.

Back in the days before laptops and desktops and the little electronic typewriter and the gigantic IBM typewriter circa 1944 that shook the walls every time I hit “return,” there were legal pads, bought with my own money. They were impractical and unconventional, so no legal pad ever appeared on my school supply list. When I ventured to the store to buy them, they had a purpose all their own. No mundane notebook filler, legal pads were intended for greatness. As a seventh grader,  I wrote my first novel on a series of them. Those battered yellow tablets are stashed in the garage somewhere. Not somewhere. I know exactly where they are. I leave them there. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

For over a year I carried those tablets everywhere, writing anywhere I could, squeezing in a few sentences here, a paragraph there. They were my best teachers. Through my work on yellow legal pads, I learned about hyperbole (mostly how to do it badly), and that sleep can be lost over sticky plot points. I learned that no one ever died over torn pages, although they might feel like it at the time. I learned that there are critics everywhere and that sometimes when kids see you spending more time with a pad of paper than with actual humans, they think you’re a little weird. And that weird can be good.

I let an adult read my book once. At the time, I was cocky and full of my own self-importance. I was thirteen and had written a book. I was golden. I had not learned that first drafts are word-vomit or that every writer needs an editor. I now try to imagine that teacher’s impression of my work. And I cringe. My writing then was so raw, the very essence of my burgeoning teenage self. I didn’t wear a mask back then. My hopes, my dreams, my insecurities are contained in those pages, bared to the world. Now I could no more let someone else read that early work than I could walk naked across the town square. They are essentially the same, you know. I can’t even bear to reread them myself. I’m not ready for that level of exposure

My husband bought me a new tablet tonight. I added it to the shopping list, and when I came home it was there on the counter. It’s yellow, and it’s new, and it’s waiting for me. I have plans for this pad, oh yes, I do. First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is coming. I signed up again this year, and I’m getting ready. On the pages of this legal pad, I will meet my characters for the first time. I will learn their names and their history. We will plan their story; what was, and what I hope will be. It’s the best present.

If you are signing up for NaNo, too, and leave your user name, I’ll add you as a buddy. I’ll meet you at the corner store to buy a box of Runts, and we can stay up all night plotting and planning whole new worlds. I can’t wait.

What If Baby WANTED to Be Put In A Corner?

She might have, if it was anything like my corner. I have one, you know. Fifteen square feet in this world that is all my own. I don’t have to share it with anyone. My husband fixed it up for me, and I love him for it. Want to see?

It's the best, isn't it?

It’s the best, isn’t it?

It has everything I need, and most of the pieces have a story of their own. The bistro table is from our favorite coffee shop. When they closed their doors, my husband bought me “our” table. There are two chairs. If you’d like to sit and talk books or writing for a bit, have a seat. You would be most welcome!

The blanket hanging on the back of the chair was a “dirty Santa” gift from a work party. It’s huge and warm and, hello? LIZARDS! It’s like it was made for me. I may or may not have peed on it to keep anyone else at the party from trying to steal it. I’m not saying. One trip through the wash and good as new, right?

One of the little cases on the table contains my MP3 player. I have writing playlists. There is no better music to listen to when trying to write intense, dramatic scenes than this. For real. Buy it now, thank me later. The other case contains my glasses. We won’t go into that right now.

The cork board was a gift from my husband, and it literally has a story. My story. Pinned to it is the layout for my newest project. The work is not exactly new. I started it for NaNoWriMo this year, but I got stuck and continued on with something else. Now it’s time to revisit. This tale gets my blood pumping. My goal is to finish the first draft by Mothers’ Day. Though it is half-finished this timeline may be a bit ambitious since this will be my most technical work to date, and there are some fiddly bits that I haven’t finished working out yet. By tomorrow, the note cards will be color-coded by story line, character notes, plot twists, and questions I am trying to answer. And then the real work begins.

This space mine, and I love it. I spend hours here each night after kids are in bed. I don’t have have to share with anyone. Except my old cat. She’s the most demanding editor, fussing at me to sit down and write so she has a cozy place to perch. It’s good for both of us, really. She’s my muse.

I finished my book this weekend. At 51K, It’s not a huge tome. It was never meant to be. It was just a story that was begging to be written. It made me happy to write it. It was exhilarating to watch it grow with such speed, uncovering one surprise after another. Is it good? Probably not. Yet. There are still rewrites and such. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just for me, anyway.

So what is your writing space like? Are there notes from a current project you’d like to share? And what’s on your playlist? I’m always looking for new musical inspiration! So many questions! The wheels in my brain are run by a hamster strung out on MoonPies.

 

***If you’re under the age of 30, the title may be meaningless to you. If so, run, do not walk, to the video store, or stream it, or whatever you crazy kids are doing these days, and get this movie. It is key to understanding my generation. No, you darned kids, get off my lawn!

Charting New Territory

I’ve never done this before. I’ve been a writer for a lot of years, and even in my heyday when I was churning out short stories and novellas at a rate that stuns me now, I never tried this. But I’m doing it now, and I’m kind of liking it.

I finished my first novel in 25 years last week, a novel that I started back sometime last summer, before I saw Avengers in the theatre. That landmark is significant to me, so I remember. It was a fun ride, sometimes frustrating. Typing “The End” was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had for a long time. I remembered what it means to be a writer.

How I have missed the writing process; the characters, like badly behaved children, never doing quite what was expected of them. It took 2 days and ten thousand words to work around a surprise thrown into the works by one of my characters. But she was right, I think. In the end, her actions made the story stronger, tied things all together in a way I had never imagined.

I love the magic that is writing. Starting a new work is like footprints in fresh snow, creating something there that never was before. A few days ago, I started a new project. Its beginning was a little less romantic, more like doing a face plant in a snow bank. It’s a story that was demanding to be told. But here’s the kicker. I will never show it to anyone. Ever. This time, it’s all for me.

The story has grown to over twenty five thousand words in six days, the words pouring like water. It’s easy right now. I know this story. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. It’s there, and it wants to be created, demands it. And because it is for my eyes only, I worry less over the turn of a particular phrase, or whether I’ve used “said” once too often in this chapter. It’s liberating and exciting.

I have never done this before. Previously, I created for an audience. I thought about what might interest others. This time around, I don’t care. I am more than willing to admit that no one cares about this particular story except for me. And I care a lot. Suddenly, my previous goal of a thousand words a day is laughable. The words don’t stop. Two, three, four thousand words seems inadequate. The story simply must be told. It’s telling itself.

The hard part is coming. I know that. I suspect that I am heading at breakneck speed to the place when the story dries up. A few thousand more words, and I may be hanging over the edge of the cliff. With my previous novel, the last sentence was written in my head before I ever typed the first one. This time around, the ending is out there in the ether. I can’t see it.

I may get stuck, may leave this story behind for a while at that point, may let it stew in its juice and work on something else. I have ideas, lots and lots of ideas. But I’ll come back to this one eventually. I want to see how it ends.

And Now The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For

And by “you all,” I mean my husband and children, who are hoping to one day have a decent meal and clean laundry.

Here it is. The big announcement that isn’t an advertisement for deodorant. Last night, after four months of work, I finished my first novel in 25 years. I’ll pause here and let that sink in a minute. For me, not you. I am floored. 25 years.

It has been:

309 full moons

175 dog years

a quarter century

6 terms of presidential office

6 Aerosmith albums

The shelf life of a package of Twinkies

I knew early in the day that I was set to finish. I was giddy and gleeful all day, until I typed those magic words; “The End.”  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ll go for both.

Anyway, this is just the beginning of a long and painful process. I’ve put it away for now, letting it age like a fine wine while I work on some other things. I say wine and not cheese because I’m really hoping I don’t open it back up and find out it really stinks. And then come the rewrites. I’m not fooling myself. I have a lot of rewriting to do.  And then I find beta readers. And decide if I’m going to pursue this one as my debut novel. I thought no at first, but now I’m not so sure. This may be the first one I put in an agent’s hands. It’s hard to imagine, like thinking about sending your kid to college when they’re still small enough to sleep in a crib.

It’s just a little baby novel yet. I’m going to give it a kiss and stick it in a drawer for a few weeks. Just like the baby books tell you to do.

I Haven’t Changed.

I’ve been MIA for a couple of days because I’m pounding out words like a psychotic trained monkey. I know this is supposed to be a Thanksgiving post and all, but what I am most thankful for is currently a state away from me. No, you romantic thinkers, not my 2001 minivan. Although I am infinitely grateful that she hasn’t dumped me on the side of the interstate in at least a year. It’s what’s in the minivan that I’m grateful for. And kind of missing.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina. They’ll be back later tonight, and I’ll be doing my Snoopy happy-dance. In the meantime, I have for you a Black Friday post. Read it here.

Click the link and the zombie in the middle lives again.

I haven’t changed a bit, and I doubt I’ll be invited back. I’ll let you know.

You Knew I Was Crazy, Right?

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I have a thousand compelling reasons not to do it. My husband and kids may pack up and head for the hills when they find out. I shake my head in disbelief that I would even consider it. But I’m going to do it, so there.

I am, of course, talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month 30 days of novel writing madness. It kicks off in 22 days. EEK!

I must be crazy. I should not do NaNoWriMo because…

I’m already at work on one novel. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel from start to finish during the month of November. No fair bringing work to the table that we’ve already started. So I’ll either need to put this baby to bed for a month while I work on something new, or I will have to work on them concurrently. We have already established that I am nuts, so guess which one I’m going to have to do.

I scrapbook in November. I do the family scrapbook every, single November. The last one I did contained 600 photos and took me three weeks. I can do it in December, I suppose, but that means that I can’t give it to Nonni as a Christmas present. Maybe I should just stop taking photos of the kids.

Squish has grown weary of the “Play quietly while Mommy writes” routine. If I’m going to get this done, I’m going to have to carve out time in new places. I don’t need to eat, right? Or go to the bathroom? Think of all the time I will save if I make the switch to diapers!

I am an early bird. As in, I make my nest as soon as the sun goes down and don’t stir forth until daylight. No night owl here. I’m not so good at stretching my evening into hours of productivity. I do my best writing (and everything else) early in the day, and then my brain is toast. Hmm. Two novels and a scrapbook. I can swing it, right?

Oh, yeah. I have a little blog. I love my blog. I have used it as a daily exercise in self-discipline for the last year or so.  I can’t completely abandon it. So two novels, a scrapbook, and a blog. I can do it!

I’ve got all these really great reasons not to do this thing. So why am I doing it? I’ll blame Jennifer and her post this morning for getting this wrecking ball swinging, but really, there’s only one reason.

BECAUSE IT’S FUN!!! Though last year was my first year participating, I can’t imagine skipping it ever again! Those sleep-deprived, coffee-addled days, nerves jangled as I try to hammer out 1666 words in a single sitting. The hours of watching my Twitter feed, giggling at the prompts, spirits lifted by the encouragement.

I started running a few weeks ago, but I am no runner. There are no road races where I would not humiliate myself and everyone related to me. NaNoWriMo is my marathon, it is my opportunity to be a part of something much larger than myself, to engage with other writers, sharing struggles, celebrating victories. My rough as sandpaper draft at the end is my medal.

I’ll do it a little differently this year. Because I have so much on my plate, my goal is to just have fun. I am going to follow as many of the writing prompts as I can. No plan, no expectations beyond 50,000 words. I’m also going  to attend at least one local write-in so I can make connections with actual, living people, even if it means I have to listen to jazz (curse you, Panera Bread!) to do it.

Coffee’s on. Who’s with me?

The Numbers Are Up

It is day 17 of NaNoWriMo. I can’t stay away from my stats page. I love numbers. How they go up, up, up (on a good day), what they say about me (watching “Friends” while writing has a negative impact on productivity. Shocking and disappointing), how many words I have to cough up in a day if I even hope to finish on time (831. Thank you… thank you)

There are some other stats that you may find interesting. Or maybe not. But whatever.

Cups of coffee since NaNoWriMo began:  63. Primarily French roast. But I’m finding that making coffee is a bit time-consuming and have taken to just chewing on the beans. Beans. Scenes. Jeans. Paula Deanes. What’s that buzzing sound?

Loads of laundry washed, folded, and put away: 13 (All in the first two days when I was struggling to find my muse. Since then, nothing. My family is now forced to gird their loins in tea towels. But if it’s good enough for Dobby, it’s darned well good enough for them.Too bad it’s November. And kind of cold.)

Times I’ve checked Facebook/Twitter/Subjot in search of distraction:  342

Total inspirations found on said sites: 0

Times computer has been yelled at: 23

Number of items thrown at the computer: 0. My computer’s age is approximately 142 in laptop years. It can’t tolerate any rough handling. I’m even trying to cut back on the yelling because I really don’t want to hurt its feelings.

Times I have nearly deleted the entire work by mistake: 3. It is now backed up three different ways each day because I am afraid I may be too exhausted or stupid to complete the process without accidentally deleting at least a day’s worth of work.

Number of updates  and new features added to Facebook: 27. I think. It might actually be more. The most annoying one right now is the “sort” feature. It resets everyday. Hey, Facebook! You seem to recall that I once read an article on whoopie cushions about 2 years ago. Think you can try to remember that I want to view the page in chronological order?

Number of illnesses Mr. Squish has brought home: This one is hard to say, as he has had a runny nose and cough since September. But at least one big one. That he gave to me. That sent me to bed to sleep for 17 hours. How I wish that was an exaggeration. How I wish I could do that again. The sleep, not the snots.

Boxes of Annie’s Mac and Cheese the kids have been served: Three. Judge me now.

Hours spent on-line shopping: 5

Items purchased: One. A little belty kind of thing for my vacuum cleaner. It was $2, which seems expensive for a giant rubber band. Hope that means it comes complete with someone to install it.

Times I have checked the tracking number on the package: 5. And it’s in a different spot every, single time. It went from Kentucky to Georgia. Too bad I’m in Tennessee. It’s now scheduled to arrive on or by the 21st. Of November, I think.

New goal: to complete my 50K before the part arrives. It could happen. If I use the time I would have spent vacuuming to actually write. Weird. It seems like i can hear my husband laughing. Maybe it’s the wind.

AND NOW THE BEST PART

Number of words written: 38373. And they are mostly different ones. I was afraid at first that in order to meet my goal, I would end up writing the words “Oh, poop! What the heck have I gotten myself into?” 5000 times. So, yay!

Even better, this  marks my 100th blog post. I think I read in the WordPress Terms of Service that when I hit “publish” today, a genie will grant me a wish. I’ll let you know.

 

Lost in Translation: Spousal Edition

Okay, so it's a picture totally unrelated to my blog. Sue me. No, don't. Please. The only thing I have of value is my Serenity comic book, and I haven't even had a chance to read it yet.

 

What she says: “Phoebe, I’ll take you out in just a minute. Let me finish this.”

What he hears: “Take the stupid dog out!”

What she may mean: “Sorry, Phoebe. I know you need to go out. Please don’t pee on my floor. I am hurrying.”

 

What she says: “Sweetie, can you take the dog out?”

What he hears: “Why didn’t you take her out already, you lazy bum? Can’t you hear her pacing around?”

What she may mean: “My task is taking me longer than I thought. I’m afraid the dog may pee on the floor.”

 

 

What he says: “Yes, there is gas in my car.”

What she hears: “You’ll be able to get wherever you are going and home again without having to stop at a gas station.”

What he may mean: “Fumes are gas, right? You may not make it to the end of our road.”

 

 

What she says: “What do you want to watch tonight?”

What he hears: “I have no preference. You can choose.”

What she may mean: “Not-the-Godfather-Not-the-Godfather-Not-the-Godfather. Please, NOT the Godfather.”

 

 

What he says: “Would you like to watch Twilight tonight?”

What she hears: “I am having an affair with my secretary.”

What he may mean: “You’ll be asleep in 15 minutes, and I can switch it TV over to PBS.”

 

 

What he says: “Did you get much writing done today?”

What she hears: “Did you do anything of value today? It obviously wasn’t the laundry.”

What he may mean: “Will you be spending another evening swearing at the computer and griping about word counts?”

 

 

What he says: “Are you and the baby going anywhere today?”

What she hears: “Will you at least get out of your sweatpants? Maybe even go to the grocery store. Or a therapist. And for Pete’s sake, woman, get some exercise. Astronauts coming off a space mission have better muscle tone than you do.”

What he may mean: “What did I ask her again? Oh, look! Oatmeal for breakfast. Mmmmm. Oatmeal.”

 

 

What he says: “If you will re-pot that plant, I will take it to my office.”

What she hears: “Good grief, woman! How many things did you PLANT this year? We only have one window to winter plants by, and you put everything in 12 inch pots! My office looks like a set for ‘Tarzan of the Jungle’ as it is! What am I going to do with bay laurel and rosemary at work? I’m not cooking a stew!

What he may mean: see above

 

 

What she says: “Stop! hit your brakes! You’re going to hit that car! STOP, for the love of God! STOP!

What he hears: “You are a reckless driver, and you will one day kill us all!”

What she may mean: “‘Stop – in the naaaaaame of looooove!’ Just singing with the car radio. Loved the Supremes, but wasn’t that Diana Ross a piece of work? Love you, sweetie!”