Winner’s certificate

Done :)

I met my Nanowrimo goal today! I did not quite finish drafting the novel, but I passed 50,000 words, and I feel as if I have a better sense of what could happen in this novel. I wrote it scene by scene, but it still felt more like an outline in the end, a shadow or hint more than the fleshed out novel it could someday become.

To my surprise, in addition to the usual badges, bells, and whistles that occur on the Nanowrimo site, I also got new laurels to appear on my avatar.

Laurels
Something new this year!

Ha! I guess nine years of Nanowrimo “wins” is a lot. I’m still pleased to have reached this goal, but it is not quite the surprise it once was. And yet, I will never take it for granted. I have made more progress this month than I have in awhile, and I have gained insights into what can happen and still needs to happen in the process of writing a novel.

I have different goals ahead. I want to spend some time refining my system to keep track of my world-building. The more I write in this future world, the more unwieldy it all becomes—and yet the more I come to understand it. So I want to see if I can get that better organized somehow (though I’ve made this vow before, but maybe third time’s the charm (or who knows how many times I’ve tried!)). I’ve also been reading more lately, and I hope to double down on that in December. If November is my Write-A-Lot month, I like to see December as my Read-A-Lot month, though the holidays sometimes make that harder than I expect.

I guess that’s enough goal-setting for now. It is nice to reach the end of November —and maybe I will rest on my laurels for a little bit.

Word count total

30K Done!

I have been a bit too busy lately to post my progress here, but I am still on track with Nanowrimo. I continue to be surprised by the way this new novel is unfolding. It’s so very first draftish. I can already anticipate some of what will need fixing or cutting, but it is so helpful to have written what I’ve written because it has been a process of discovery. As my protagonist moves through various situations in this new setting, I keep learning more about the setting and some of the problems she must deal with.

I have been surprised because there was a character who (in my very loose Nano prep plans) was supposed to be an antagonist in a fairly superficial way. He was supposed to misjudge and dislike my protagonist, and be generally annoying—yet he insisted on becoming relatable and even potentially an ally to her. In general, I know my story could use a bit more drama rather than what has been a quieter percolating tension, so his insistence on being an ally is toning down the conflict even more. But it has increased the way this novel keeps surprising me. I really don’t know what’s going to happen until it starts to happen, and then it leads me to new possibilities. And though the drama has been muted, the mystery and the surprises are still mostly working. I have had few chances to use the writing exercises that I had hoped to integrate in the drafting process somehow, but there will be time for that later.

At any rate, it is so much fun. And I have to say that again this year, Nanowrimo works best if I pretty much aim to stay at “par” each day—reaching at least the average word count needed to be on track to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Some days I have written more than 1667 words, though usually not more than 3000 words in a day. Those extra days give me wiggle room for the days when I just can’t write as much.

I’ll share some of the Nanowrimo website’s charts so you can see what I mean. This first one is my progress on reaching the target daily word count.

My progress charts from Nanowrimo.org

The second shows my actual daily word counts, which vary more.

It seems to help that I try to never be under the target count—never to think, “Oh, I will do extra tomorrow.” Instead, I allow myself to write less when I have some extra words banked rather than writing less on credit, so to speak. The reason it isn’t so helpful for me to count on catching up later is that it seems to get harder and harder if there is more pressure for me to write more than 1,667 words.

Somehow, 1,667 words, more or less, is just about perfect. I get somewhere. I learn something. And then I get to stop and feel a sense of accomplishment even though I didn’t put in hours and hours.

I call that a win :).

10k badge

10k Day

10k as in 10,000 words, of course, nothing to do with kilometers or running, lol. I’ve been on track all week with my Nanowrimo work, though busy enough that it is all I can do to write an average, more or less, of 1,667 words per day. Which, to be honest, is the only way I can succeed with Nanowrimo: I just aim to stay on par every day for wherever the website (nanowrimo.org) says I should be by that day. Today, they say the “path to success” would be 10,002. Not to brag, but I’m at 10,181.

Much of what I’ve written feels like it may need to be cut or completely revised if I were ever to want to share this story with someone else. But I learn so much as I move forward. I come to understand more about the setting, characters, and situation, things I just don’t know until I try to write this story.

In other news, we had our first snow this week, just a strange steady snowfall that melted when it hit the ground, though it dusted some of the treetops, briefly. Still, I felt a burst of joy that I associate with snow days, when the world that was chugging along in one direction suddenly hits the brakes, and there is time to breathe and snuggle up with a story.

And I took this photo at a local grocery because it made me grin.

Wine under self-care sign
Day two badge

Two days in a row

I know what you’re thinking. Two days in a row doesn’t really sound like a lot. But it must be a lot because I got a badge on the nanowrimo website. And really, one of the deepest yet somehow also most obvious insights I’ve ever had is that daily effort, even the most minor teeniest tiniest effort, is probably the most powerful. This kind of work is certainly more meaningful to me than anything that I power through in one sitting. For me, at least, whatever I complete in one long session (writing any kind of report, for example), tends to lose meaning after awhile. I start to just go through the motions. There are exceptions, of course. But overall, small and steady daily effort FTW.

A few notes on today’s session:

I was in a much better mood, partly because I had more sleep, I felt better than yesterday, and I have more time to write on Tuesdays.

I actually did have to stop writing before I reached my word-count goal for the day because I needed to make some decisions about the setting for this scene. It led me to sketch out the location (and I use the word sketch very loosely here), which in turn led me to get more ideas for world-building, etcetera. So even though that added maybe 45 minutes to my writing time but no fresh words to my word count, it was super rewarding. I also engaged in some light research on the web that was fun and generative.

As I write, my previous efforts to edit/revise my completed novels have made me conscious of elements in this first chapter that will need to change. I mean, some of what is happening here, at the start of the book, is just slow. It’s important to me, to my protagonist, and to my story, but when I revise, I will have to find a way to crank up the pressure, maybe move some conflicts upfront so the protagonist has to deal with that while absorbing this slower unfolding of tension that is occurring now.

I’m hoping this realization is a helpful one for me. I want to believe that I can make that fix later on. I also just don’t know how else to make sense of this novel but to write it out, find out what might happen, then revise it later to make a reader want to read it, too.

To my fellow writers, whatever you are working on this week, write on!

First day badge

Day One Done

Just thought I’d post a little shout here to say that despite having a super tired Monday today, I managed to write 1690 words for my first day of Nanowrimo (the goal is to average around 1667 per day, so check!). I’ve had better results on other Nanowrimo months. Usually day one is one of the easiest. But I was dragging today, so it was harder, and there were definitely some passages that made me think, yep, gonna have to cut or deeply revise that part someday. But even a not-so-great writing session has its great moments where I start to learn more about what might happen. Oh, and I just realized, I didn’t wind up using the writing prompt that I chose for today (which was this: Write about an unusual pet). I already figured out what I would do, and I realized that the pet might play an important role later in the story in some way. That’s always so cool, when I realize that something that I added as a kind of embellishment or description or to provide color can later become important to the story.

So not only did I get started, but also I have an idea ready to develop when I return tomorrow. And maybe I’ll catch up on some sleep, too, and be raring to go for Day Two.

Best wishes to anyone else nanowrimo-ing this month.

Writing books

Nanowrimo’s Eve

So Nanowrimo (aka National Novel Writing Month) launches tomorrow, and I am ready.

Reading those words, you might not hear the doubtful tone in my voice. But I am more ready than I was at the start of October, and progress is always something to celebrate.

So far, I’ve fleshed out notes on the gist of this novel, by which I mean one core problem that will drive the plot.

I spent some time jotting notes and ideas about the setting, which went from non-existent (even though I knew it would be critical to the problem of this novel) to details that will serve as a resource to me in writing the story.

I didn’t have to take notes on my protagonist because this novel is part of a series, so I just reflected on her possible internal and external motivators at this point. I then reviewed past world-building notes and identified existing characters who could be part of this novel. Some of them have been a bit flat, so this novel gives me a chance to develop them further. I also identified at least one new central character. Because these novels draw on mystery tropes, I have identified a few possible antagonists to serve as red herrings along the way.

Just fleshing out those notes helped me identify a much-needed subplot that will run parallel to the main plot. I love the way such ideas emerge in the process of asking myself who is in the story and pondering what they want.

I chose Katytastic’s grid available on this part of Nanowrimo’s NanoPrep site https://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep-101#week3 to give myself general goals for about 27 scenes (conveniently close to the number of days in November). I don’t enjoy plotting within a spreadsheet, so I transferred the categories to MindNode, one of several graphic organizer apps that help me feel more playful about brainstorming but that I somehow never use enough to know how to make the most of them. I did figure out this time how to add stickers so I placed little doodle images with several scenes to try to capture the feeling of the scene. I did not write a lot for each scene, especially for the later scenes because I suspect I will be learning more about what is going on as I write out these scenes. I mostly identified key players for the scenes, possible goals, and settings.

I think I read some wise person’s advice about it being helpful for writers to get a clear sense of direction when they write. I think that makes sense, and I suspect that what I have done so far doesn’t fall into that category. It is true that sometimes during the course of a Nanowrimo I fast draft a scene early in the month with specific actions that later in the month I pretend didn’t happen because I can see how they didn’t work.

So there are aspects of the pursuit of 50,000 words in one month that don’t quite fit with Serious Writing. As I thought about it, I realized that Nanowrimo feels a bit like a game for me. Can I dream up the novel with just a few ideas? It’s a bit like a game I recall from long ago called, Name that tune, when you had to bet you could name a song with as few notes played as possible, i.e. I can name that tune in five notes. So I’m challenging myself to “create that novel” with as few notes as possible. I may discover mid-month (or sooner) that I need more plans, so I will have to stop and take more notes and make more decisions, including, as I mentioned, possibly revisiting/changing something I’d already drafted. It may take more time, but I just love being surprised by what I am writing.

So this year I realize that I do this for fun as much as anything else. Which, if I’m honest, has become the best reason to write, especially as I learn more and more about the publishing industry. It’s not that it’s impossible to write for your career, one way or another. But if you want the act of writing to be rewarding in the deeper sense of the word, just write for fun (or for joy or for personal transformation or to tell a story you need to tell).

As I dug into this commitment to pursue the joy of writing, I remembered how much I loved writing exercises with writing prompts. Again, it’s a kind of play or puzzle to see what arises in the moment. So the last stage of my NanoPrep was to identify three of my favorite sources of writing prompts (and I’ve barely scratched the surface with all three books): Everyday Creative Writing: Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg, The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform your Fiction by Brian Kiteley, and Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. Each day, I will pick one at random… or eventually pick one, in case I keep rejecting whatever I pick at random, and let that be what kicks off my drafting session for the day.

I saw a tweet by Erin Morgenstern that sums up my take on Nanowrimo:

https://twitter.com/erinmorgenstern/status/1454082114081673226?s=21

The only thing I would add is to clarify that “messy” drafts are accomplishments. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what we mean when we talk about drafting a novel. Revising a novel, that’s for later. (And of course, some people clean up the draft as they put it on paper, so you do you—I’m just saying that calling Nanowrimo a time for messy drafts is not a criticism.)

So to anyone else joining in the games and messes tomorrow, best wishes!

Countdown to November

It’s that time of year again. No, not fall, though that is my favorite season. No, not Halloween, though that’s fun, too. Nope, I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month, nicknamed Nanowrimo because why not.

Just a quick definition for the uninitiated: Nanowrimo comes across as a contest, but everyone can win, and winning is defined as writing 50,000 words or more in one month. There are “prizes” to celebrate reaching the goal, such as a certificate you can print out, and free trials or discounts for writing-adjacent products. You can choose to pursue the old school goal, which is to write a novel from scratch (planning is allowed) or you can go rogue and use the month to revise or update or write short pieces everyday. Most importantly, you get to chart your progress on the website to watch as you get closer and closer to the goal of 50,000 words.

I sometimes choose to blog about my progress during November, and I like to see if any fellow bloggers are trying it, too. It’s just fun to cheer each other on. Last year, I wound up becoming shy about posting on my blog about Nanowrimo because it felt insensitive to talk about this endeavor when I knew many were struggling with pandemic-related challenges. I also am aware that some writers, and I usually assume they are better writers than I am, find Nanowrimo frustrating because it’s just fast drafting, an approach to composing that might not work for them, and frankly, doesn’t result in a high quality novel by December 1.

Recently, though, I was thinking about how over the years (and I’ve “won” Nanowrimo nine times), I often approach the month of November feeling a bit of burnout from work or whatever, yet I am always in the best mood during November. While I regret that for some writers Nanowrimo is a source of guilt or some feeling of inadequacy based on the (inaccurate!!!) idea that so-called real writers can write novels in a month (lol), I want to explain that participating in Nanowrimo simply makes me happy. It reduces rather than increases stress for me.

I think it might be helpful to explain why. Again, this is for me. This is not so much an attempt to convince everyone that they should try Nanowrimo—it’s not a good fit for everyone, and for some writers, it might be counterproductive and/or a complete waste of time. I mostly want to explain why this works for me and why it is not a waste of time for me. Nanowrimo has helped me get writing done, including fleshing out full novels, that had been rarer for me before my first Nanowrimo. But I also always must thoroughly revise everything I’ve written during Nanowrimo, so the main benefit is the idea that it can help to write every day, and you don’t have to set arbitrary word count goals to get that result and you don’t have to sign up for Nanowrimo in order to write daily, either.

So really, for me, what makes Nanowrimo such a morale booster is that unlike the rest of the year, I don’t have to wonder, “what should I work on now?” Or “What is my top priority?” There are many aspects of writing that require a lot of gritting of teeth, such as some types of revising or what feels like endless problem-solving to figure out what isn’t working in a scene, not to mention my least favorite, publication and marketing endeavors. In November, I already know the answer to the question of what should I do: Work on the novel! I need to generate an average of 1667 words per day so that I can be on track to reach 50,000 words total by November 30. The words should be fresh writing on a novel, but that doesn’t mean they have to be perfect or keepers, so I can be playful about my approach. I can work for an hour or so to get in my words all at once, or I can grab a few minutes here or there to write parts of it throughout the day.

It’s fun. It’s writing without self-flagellation. Just get it done. Be creative. Be playful.

During the month, the daily effort means the novel is my main focus, so it starts to percolate in my brain even when I’m not writing. I get ideas when I take showers or go for a walk. I’m more open to the possibilities for this one specific goal. The focus on just this one novel, rather than the Everything that I normally need to consider, lightens the load on me so much, and I get to feel productive and creative for the entire month. I must be productive and creative because the bar graph on the website says I am, right? Ha.

There are easy writing days and there are hard ones, yet the challenge is, for me, just enough that I can usually push through as long as nothing extremely stressful is going on in the rest of my life. (A certain amount of stress and distractions are always going to be there, but some Novembers are better than others.)

So anyway, this is my apology and explanation about why I love Nanowrimo so much, and why I might mention it now and then in blog posts ahead. Whether this is your writing goal or something different, write on, my friends.

Keep it short?

I recently skimmed through an old copy of Writer’s Market, where a section described blogging as best when the posts are short. It occurs to me that I don’t always approach my own blog posts that way, yet as a reader, I am rather grateful when one of my WordPress buddies posts something short because I rarely have a lot of time to read blog posts.

It feels like a good goal to explore what is possible with shorter posts, and I wonder if I would post more often if I didn’t conceive of the post as a form of essay.

How short is short, I wonder? Should I stop now? (Yes, you say. Nice try, I reply.)

I wanted to add this thought that came to me. Shorter posts make me think of what happens on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes called micro-blogs. Those spaces feel to me like highways, constantly in motion with the benefits of speed as well as the dangers. This WordPress blog feels more like a pasture. Quiet, almost peaceful. There is less to see unless I take time to notice what’s around me, to be open to what the day brings.

Alternative Facts About my W-I-P

Dear Publishing Professional:

This book about aliens wearing fuzzy orange hats compares well with your favorite book, which turns out to be Little Women, and I’m going to get back to you on exactly how this is the right fit.

My protagonist is indeed grappling with a life or death decision that will keep you up at night and cause you to wonder if anything is real anymore. You will need intense therapy after you read this book. No, no, I mean it, there is no way that this book is just an entertaining story with a few subtle and not-so-subtle themes. No one wants to read that any more, do they? They want to be scarred for life by the act of reading, or so your mswishlist led me to believe and I am here for it.

My novel is exactly 75,000 words long, the perfect length, I know, and that was made possible once I added the word “very” 10,000 times. I never realized how very helpful that word could be. Because I am a creative (which turns out to be a noun now, and I am fine with that), I also added the word “so” a few thousand times too.

I would tell you my favorite books except that talking about favorite books is a bit like telling someone my favorite music, and there is nothing that sparks disdain more than finding out someone likes the wrong kind of music. Let’s leave it at this—I love to read and write, and some of what I read are books.

This book will be so easy to sell because the truth is that I don’t even need any help selling it. I am just writing this query for the fun of it. No, wait, how about this—I am doing it to give back to the publishing community out of gratitude for the many books I have loved over the years, and now that I’ve written that sentence I admit there is some truth to that.

Of course, everything I’ve written so far is completely true or at least is similar to things that have sometimes been true.

With warm regards and possibly a plate of chocolate chip cookies,

Me

20 years later

20 years ago today I was having a wonderful morning. I was working in a new job that I loved. I think it must have been my second year there, and I was getting on a roll with writing in the morning before heading in for a late shift at work. The sky was a crisp deep blue, and it was a perfect fall day in the mountains. I was in a wonderful mood. I can’t remember everything from that day, but I remember that feeling so clearly because it was such a contrast to what came next.

I can’t fully remember how I heard the news. Something about a plane hitting a building. Maybe my husband told me? I got to work, and found people gathered in rooms that had access to cable news.

I remember my first impression was a small plane had accidentally hit a building.

The news grew worse as the day progressed.

I remember crying when I heard a report that taxi drivers were pulling the seats out of their cars to make room for bodies.

I kept picturing fire fighters climbing up the stairs of the building, not knowing that it was about to fall. Thinking this was something else, something manageable. Something they would survive.

I heard stories of people jumping off to escape the certain death of the building to reach the certain death of the ground. These are choices, moments, too painful to contemplate.

And I remember regretting, again, that the Supreme Court decided Bush would be president because I knew he would not respond appropriately. He would not engage in the international detective work and financial networking that could lead us to find and bring the perpetrators to justice. He would instead pound his chest and condemn countless lives to death to merely appear to take action (and not coincidentally, make a lot of money for military-affiliated businesses).

On the other hand, I was a bit grateful not to have to hear the faux outrage of the right wing if Gore was president, knowing their tendency to be supremely confident that there was a better way that only they knew. Little did I know all the horrors they would bring us by the year 2016, and that you can’t just wait for bad faith actors to settle down. They will grind our democracy to bits if we don’t push back.

And as I reflect on the sorrow and shock we felt at so much human loss and destruction (and that we now learn never ended), I am also aware that we lost 1,642 Americans yesterday (and 8,949 people worldwide), bringing the total to 658,865 in the US and 4,616,807 reported deaths worldwide, and that with Covid19 we also don’t know how many will experience lasting harm because of it.

In the weeks after 9/11, Americans wondered how they could help, and the only thing the petty leaders of the right wing could suggest was to go shopping.

In these pandemic years, we actually can help. We can get vaccinated. We can wear masks in crowded and indoor public places. We can do our part to reduce the pain and loss that keeps passing back and forth within our very mobile society.

And perhaps we can learn the lesson from the aftermath of 9/11 that small, steady, unglamorous steps are more helpful than bold performances of power. I can hope we might avoid the pain and loss that marked our time in Iraq and Afghanistan by seeking solutions that do not resemble video games or blockbuster action movies.

And if we are lucky, we may find a way to inoculate ourselves from the snake oil medicine salesmen and internet trolls who now control the Republican Party who could never conceive why anyone would enter a burning building to try to save another’s life.