Takeaways from Nanowrimo 2022

Nanowrimo 2022 Winner Badge
Nano 2022 Winner Badge

November ends today, and I have banked another 50k words towards a novel, so I “won”—the kind of winning I like best because it’s based on my own goals and standards and is set up so my win doesn’t take away anyone else’s chance to win, and yes, that is the kind of person I am.

I thought I’d celebrate this milestone, my tenth official win according to NANOWRIMO, with a few takeaways from my process this month.

Daily effort = results

I had good writing days and not-so-good ones. I had times filled with inspiration, and times that definitely were not. But making myself write something every day pays off.

Okay, yes, there will be a lot to cut. A LOT. There are entire scenes that are now irrelevant. But finding out why they are irrelevant is important—it means I’m figuring out what the story actually is, like carving a sculpture out of a stone. I have to remove the parts that aren’t right so I can see what is.

Adding comments along the way helps.

I’ve gotten in the habit during nanowrimo to add comments to my draft as I go along, as needed. Sometimes, it’s because I know I need to come up with a name for a character or place or a concept, or I did make one up but I have forgotten it and don’t want to go searching right now for it. So I type something else, such as CHARACTERNAME in caps, or the wrong name, such as Jill?, and then attach a comment there to fix it later.

Other comments are questions or reminders or concerns about what I just did, a kind of red flag to say to future Cama that this needs fixing but I need to keep writing right now.

Outlining can be an organic process.

Although all of what I’ve written here is true for me and doesn’t have to be true for you, this takeaway point especially deserves the caution “Your mileage may vary” because writers tend to have strong feelings pro and con towards outlining. So this is what works for me: I create an outline before I start but also after I start. When I start fleshing out a scene suggested by my outline, I often go off track and discover new things, which leads me to go back to the outline afterwards and alter it further.

Talking my way into the story

Sometimes, I have trouble getting my footing with a scene, aware of what I want to see happen, but I’m just not feeling it yet. In those cases, I start writing it almost like a movie director, explaining to the cast and crew what to expect. “Okay, in this scene, my protagonist is freaking out a little because of the news, and then she’ll get a call from her cousin…” and as I write those instructions down, I almost always slip back into narrative, with dialogue and some descriptions and reactions weaving in. If I run out of steam with the narrative, I switch back to talking through what else has to happen.

As you can guess, this means my current draft of 51,769 words is really a mess.

This year, I’ve been working my way through revising several novels drafted during past nanowrimos, and I was often surprised by how much is not there. But I shouldn’t be surprised. As I worked through this fast first draft, I often skipped scenes or put in placeholders, so it is obvious why the past drafts are so incomplete. But the gist is there, plus many discoveries and insights that would not have emerged if I hadn’t made the vow to put “the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair” for 30 days straight.

It’s also nice to be done.

Um, so I’m not done because I have this ugly draft of a novel to work on, plus the other ones to develop, all part of a series so it’s been helpful to see how each book in the series gives me more insight to improve other books in the series, including a lot of world-building and character development. So I’m not really done, but I am free to choose when and how I work on my writing moving forward, including taking Saturdays completely off, which is my preference when I’m not trying to earn a badge on the Nanowrimo website for updating my word count every day. Which, let’s be clear, I definitely did, even if some days I only wrote a couple hundred words.

You unlocked a badge: Update Progress Every Day.

I hope November has been good to you, and if you are writing, that your writing is going well, too.

Reading Notes: Vicious is my middle name

I’ve chosen to spend most of my life in a small college town in the mountains of North Carolina, and despite the understandable yen to explore the world in my youth (which I did), I have always loved it here, loved the sight of the mountains and nature all around. But one of the things I grew up knowing how to do was to look around and edit large parts of it in my mind, especially the power lines cutting through almost every view in our neighborhoods, or the random billboards and abandoned car lots that line some of our country highways.

So I could especially relate to a specific moment in the new middle school novel Vicious is my middle name by my friend Kevin Dunn. The main character Sydney is already dealing with a lot—forced to move away from her best friend and home town in New York state after her father died, not to mention dealing with literally vicious bullies in her new school. Despite it all, she finds friends of all ages, and she starts to fall in love with the land itself, when the threat of an asphalt plant rises like a shark’s fin on the horizon. Unlike the people around her, Syd hasn’t learned to ignore such sights, and her questions and complaints lead her and her growing network of allies to do something about it.

And what they do about it is the best part, the moments when I get lost in the story and want life to be more like this, more often.

At a critical turning point in the book, a punk rock singer pen pal writes to Syd, “Fortunately, we’ve got punk rock to show us the way, right? It was such a revelation when my punk friends here in Chicago taught me that instead of sitting around waiting for someone else to make a change, you have to do it yourself…. or even better, do it with friends!”

I admit to knowing little about punk rock, but I loved learning about DIY culture. I also like, as I think back over this book, that it really isn’t a story of how one girl saved her town from building an asphalt plant right beside a school, but how so many people helped along the way. Kevin paints a picture of a world where power turns people into bullies but also one with solutions that are available to all of us: pay attention, never stop asking questions, find allies, research your rights and exercise them, allow yourself to care about the world around you, and create your own ways to spread ideas, art, and music. And maybe, just maybe, have fun while you do it.

You can buy a paper copy of this book to gift a young person (or young at heart person or DIY punk culture curious person) at https://regalhousepublishing.com/product/vicious-is-my-middle-name/

Or a kindle version at Amazon (consider posting a review if you do).

And since this song and artist are mentioned often in this book, here’s a link to a performance by our Doc Watson playing (and discussing) the song “Shady Grove.”

25,477 words

Happy (almost) halfway through November–I just wanted to peek in again today to say hoorah because I have passed the 25,000 word count for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). I know the word counts don’t really matter, but I have found that I need to celebrate any win I can get as a writer, and this one, unlike so many others, is very much in my control.

As usual, the secret to my success is to aim for par in terms of how many words I write each day. It tends to reinforce the habit of writing daily because I can’t afford too much wiggle room to tempt me to take the day off, because one day off sometimes leads to many days off. So knowing that I have to write but not much more than 1667 words a day keeps me on track.

I also take odd comfort in the fact that I keep discovering holes and issues that need addressing as I write. It is all to my advantage–I don’t know what I don’t know until I try to write a scene and discover that some motivations are unclear, or that there is a need for tension based on something believable. Still, it would be nice to be writing along filled with confidence that each scene leads logically to the next one rather than being very very very aware of the need to rewrite and change scenes I’ve already written not to mention realizing that I need to make some major changes to the general outline I created in October.

At any rate, perhaps this all makes clear why I need to celebrate any win, so crossing the 25,000 word goal is worth celebrating. Even if many of those words have to be revised later, this draft now represents the path from here (no novel yet) to there (novel complete). And that is something joyful.

If you are nano-ing this month, write on!

Here’s why

This week, I’ve been volunteering to help get out the vote for Democrats. Here’s why…

Because we need sensible people to face challenges such as inflation, those who know employment, education, and accessible healthcare are good for families and good for the economy; 

Because Democrats have already passed major legislation designed to boost our infrastructure and economy and to begin to address ongoing climate change;

Because there’s still more to do, especially when the playing field is constantly shifting, such as global disruptions due to new Covid variants and the horrors of Putin’s genocidal war in Europe;

Because when there is rarely a single fix and problems evolve, we need the Democrats who stay open to finding solutions and pursuing measured responses;

Because the Republican Party is now dominated by people who don’t try to fix anything but prefer to complain and produce mindless clickbait;

Because it is under the Republicans that the economy crashed (twice);

Because the Republicans demonize their opponents to the point of inciting violence;

Because the Republicans seek to deny access to healthcare and cut Social Security and Medicare;

Because we have to reject their lies, violence, and reckless incompetence.

Vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. 

4142 words

Just wanted to peek in here for a minute to give a shout out to anyone else participating in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s day two, and I’ve drafted the first 4000 words of a new novel. November is my favorite month because working on the novel gets to be my top priority, which removes a lot of second-guessing from my life–though it also makes for a busy month. Best wishes to my fellow Nanowrimos! Write on.

Vote D for Democracy

This November 8 (or sooner if you can take advantage of early voting or absentee voting in your state), it’s time once again to save our democracy. It would have been nice if the last election had been enough. But apparently not. The stakes are as high if not higher this time around, even without the spotlight of a Presidential race.

In a democracy, of course, every election matters. Just some are a bit boring, and it turns out that was a luxury. Those days are gone. This time, the choice is between preserving democracy or collapsing into a tyranny ruled by a few wealthy narcissists, including, apparently, a power-blinded individual named Leo (link). It’s the choice between whether or not someone you love dies due to a pregnancy. It’s a choice between whether or not everyone has rights and everyone is subject to the same laws—or not.

It would be nice if we could vote based on candidates’ strengths and weaknesses rather than party affiliation, and normally, that seems like a wise approach. No one is perfect, and belonging to one political party does not necessarily make you a better candidate for office (see LA).

For this fall’s election, though, it is the Democrats who have committed themselves to protecting democracy, respecting individual freedoms, and preserving the rule of law. The other side, still known as but unrecognizable as Republicans, is siding with tyranny, here and abroad. They take complex challenges, such as inflation in the wake of a global pandemic, the Russian war, and supply deficits, and pretend that complaining about a problem and blaming others is the same as offering a solution to that problem (spoiler alert: it’s not). These Republicans do not offer solutions, just complaints. They don’t want this country to prosper, that is, not everyone in this country. They don’t even seem to want their supporters to prosper.

Meanwhile, the Democrats continue to push as hard as they can, playing what few cards they can play with the slimmest of majorities in the federal government. They passed historic legislation to build infrastructure and mitigate climate change, seeking to boost both our economy and environment for the long term. They seek to address inequities by forgiving a portion of debt for college education—an investment in our people that has been long overdue. They are working to manage healthcare costs. They continue to seek ways to reduce inflation. They also build strong, rational alliances with democracies around the world, a way to protect us all from sources of unchecked power.

Have they solved everything? No. Will there be quick fixes? No. But it is clear that they are trying, and the other side is not. The other side prefers to inspire hate and division, the stuff of tyranny and empty clickbait, frightening authoritarianism combined with cynical sensationalism. The only response in a democracy is to reject it, absolutely.

I sometimes try to squint a bit to understand how anyone still supports the other side (the party formerly known as Republican, but it is an insult to Republicans, frankly, to call it the Republican Party). How can they support anyone who lies to his supporters and incites them to the violent attack and attempted coup of January 6? How can they support candidates who want to fix elections so that only “Republicans” can win?

I came up with this: Maybe they tell themselves this is simply a way to commit fully to their side, that the ends justify the means.

Short answer: No, the ends do not justify the means.

Long answer: Imagine a family has a field where we plant crops. There is a lively debate of what to plant in the field, how to plant it, what to do with the crops, etcetera. There are two sides in this debate (really, there are many different options but two dominant sides). Those two sides can debate and strongly disagree on what to do with the crop.

But then, one side fears that the other side will get its way, so to “win” they decide to raze the entire field so there are no more crops at all, no potential for crops.

That’s not winning the debate. That’s burning it all down. That’s what the current “Republican” party stands for.

So this year, it is simple. Vote D for democracy. Vote for every Democratic candidate you can find on your ballot. Local and state races are as important as federal ones, so make your vote count—especially anything to do with elections and, apparently, school boards. If you aren’t sure how to vote or who is running, start by contacting the board of elections for your state (this office may have different names in different states). Call or google your local Democratic Party to ask for voter information, especially for nonpartisan races.

Make your plan now. In North Carolina, we have a wonderful set of resources on our state board of elections website https://www.ncsbe.gov

Also, Democracy NC is ready to help ensure your vote gets counted. You could also look for ways to volunteer to protect other voters.

Vote D for democracy. That’s all you have to remember.

Yes, And…

It’s a confusing time because it is (and has been) essential to elect as many open-minded and ethical Democrats/Independents to local, state, and national office as possible, yet it is understandable that people want to yell at anyone they can. Yelling at the main perpetrators (right-wing Republicans, Libertarians, and similar) is not as satisfying because it’s like yelling at zombies for eating brains. Destroying democracy, the environment, public health, and human rights is what they do. So I can see why some want to yell at anyone they think they can blame for not finding a way to protect all of us. I confess I personally feel similar rage towards certain Senators from AZ and WV as I do towards McConnell. As angry as I feel about how those two Democratic Senators have almost single-handedly undermined my children’s chances to live long and healthy lives, I know that McConnell and his type are much, much worse.

So complain, yes, AND vote.

Complain, yes, AND get involved somehow, preferably in ways that lead to positive change.

I worked quite a bit on local campaigns when I was younger, and I still remember feeling more frustrated with people who agreed with us than those opposed to us. (I also hated the fact that it felt as if many people only paid attention if the election was made to seem urgent with dire consequences rather than simply the pursuit of that which would be useful and helpful.) Too often, it felt as if the people who were politically moderate/liberal/progressive didn’t seem to feel any need to do anything or, worse, acted as if there was something unsavory about political engagement. Or so it felt at the time, though I think it’s improving. I’ve since realized that I don’t want to complain about the people who didn’t work their butts off to get as many good people as possible elected up and down the ballot because I tend to believe everyone’s doing what makes the most sense to them for lots of reasons and that sometimes they just aren’t there yet. It’s just hard to bite my tongue when some of those people complain that the “Democrats” didn’t do enough, like Democrats are a separate entity with magical access to power unrelated to the actions of individual voters and unaffected by the capricious mood swings of the voting population. It’s the same way I feel when people complain about The Government in a democracy. In a democracy, who is the government? The people. It’s us.

Is it hard and time-consuming? Yep. Is it frustrating and slow? Oh, yeah. Do you discover that we don’t actually all think in lockstep which makes it really hard to put into action all these plans that some activists claim would fix everything? Yep. Do you also discover that some solutions have unintended consequences, so you are never done with trying to fix anything? Oh, yeah. Do people/corporations with too much money have too much influence over our government? And are deliberate disinformation and clickbait culture undermining efforts to share important information? All too true. Does it all make you want to take a nap and/or eat some chocolate? Sure. Does it mean we should give up entirely? Hell, no.

Complain if you must—you aren’t alone, though it would be great if we could also talk about what has worked or what is working rather than only about what isn’t.

So vent, yes.

And then find ways to get engaged and to sustain some kind of engagement for the long haul. You are the government.

A few ways I argue with myself before writing on my blog

*Someone somewhere has already written something similar but better.

Yes, AND so can I. This is not a competition (at least, it isn’t for me). And I believe each one of us has the potential to bring something unique and specific when we join these ongoing conversations. AND sometimes we just have to work some of the same concerns out in writing more than once, and that is okay. No one gets hurt if what I write isn’t the best possible and most original take of all time. Perfection is boring (to say the least).

*What I want to write today doesn’t fit neatly with anything I’ve written before. Aren’t I supposed to have some kind of monolithic platform of topics that I stick to?

No. No, I don’t. But I do feel awkward that the shifts in topic are awkward for someone else to read. I have to get over that. I mean, I don’t go around judging other people for having multiple interests and shifting moods. I prefer that. I also know how to stop reading if a topic doesn’t interest me. I can only hope other readers know how to do this if it happens with one of my posts (or all of my posts, sorry about that).

What I write isn’t timely enough. Or somehow it’s yesterday’s news.

All I can do is roll my eyes at this because one of the most damaging trends in U.S. society is this “breaking news” addiction that suggests if it isn’t new, it doesn’t matter. OMG. Some of the most horrifying things ever aren’t new at all, and we still need to learn from them. Plus, because it can’t all be gloom or doom these days or the bullies win, some things are just interesting and funny for me at the moment when they are interesting and funny to me, and why should I give up my joy just because of an imagined reader or critic operating under some kind of time limit for their ability to care?

I hate to be wrong or misguided.

Sure, work on not being wrong or misguided. But what’s that cliche about breaking a lot of eggs to make an omelette? That is, I may have to make some mistakes and learn from them by writing anyway than never write for fear of making a mistake. I believe I can learn and get better, and for my own sanity, I want to believe that is true for everyone else.

Anyway, this is just a sample of what delays me in writing or posting, and I am working on it, and I hope you are, too. Write on.

Choose pride. Choose love.

In honor of pride month, I am going to attend a pride march for the first time ever. Thanks to the wise teachings of my father, gained both from his academic research and love for his gay brother, I have succeeded in being straight but not narrow most of my life, though I continue to learn more about how to be an ally, a process not a destination.

I haven’t attended pride rallies in the past because I sensed there is strength in spending time within a unique community. That is, I didn’t want to rain on anyone’s parade.

But I’m called to attend today because I have watched in horror as politicians go out of their way to attack vulnerable children—children!—with legislation that literally seeks to do harm rather than to benefit the people of their states (Florida. Texas. And yes, the stupid North Carolina legislature is trying.) And the current rise of harassment and intimidation must be stopped.

I know the horror I feel about this week’s ruling to deny access to healthcare to half the population—horror and grief that is already echoing in the LGBTQ+ community.

So I want to be there. As usual, I’ll be a quiet presence, mostly on the sideline. But here’s what I will be thinking. Be proud. Choose pride. You are beautiful. Some of you are, frankly, adorable. You show us all the way to be ourselves, and we need you desperately just as you are.

And for those who struggle to understand, I beg you to choose love, not hate. Reject the heavy burden of hate that politicians and con men on the airways and social media have dumped upon you in their cynical pursuit of money and power. Look this time with the eyes of love. Accepting others for who they are does not mean you have to stop being who you are. You just have to let go of hate, and the unbearable pain that goes with it.

Choose pride. Choose love.

What I accept/What I abjure

I accept—and respect!— that people have strongly held values and religious beliefs that motivate them.

I abjure any attempt to force such beliefs upon others. I abjure it on principle… but also in practical terms, I am yet to observe that any religious person fully agrees with another religious person on all issues, even those within the same church. (Of course, this is true for all people, regardless of religious belief.)

I accept that many people love babies. I love babies. I want them to be celebrated and cared for and to go on to live long and rewarding lives. I know how hard it is to raise babies—I have some of my own, I was supported in so many ways, and it was still hard. The pregnancies were tough and sometimes scary. I was haunted by the risk of a miscarriage, not to mention the risk of dying and leaving my husband alone with a baby (or possibly with no one).

I abjure any attempt to force pregnancies upon others.

I accept, indeed insist, that you should live your life according to your values, and you can peacefully express your values in hopes of improving the lives of others. This should be an act of kindness on your part, fueled by your generosity and empathy.

I abjure the idea that your values justify attempts to punish or control others for thinking/looking/acting/being different from you. That is the exact opposite of a spiritual or moral stance. I abjure the idea that your values justify violence. I abjure the idea that your values justify tyranny.

I accept that peaceful protests are not violence (and have been a healthy function of U.S. democracy since its inception). Strategic resistance is not violence. And these both seem wholly appropriate right now, in addition to voting to protect the lives put at risk by abortion bans and seeking fresh ways such as ending the electoral college and expanding the courts to protect our democracy from zealots and the con artists who profit from them.