The NaNoWriMo Challenge – Do you play well with others?

Baldacci Total Control coverWarming up the car this morning before taking off for my Nia class, tardy as usual, I caught the tail end of an interview with the best-selling novelist David Baldacci on WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Joe Donahue, the interviewer on The Roundtable, asked him if he’d ever consider collaborating with another writer. “No,” he said. “I don’t play well with others.” 

Donahue was referring to writers like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, who have published novels with a co-author listed in smaller type below their names. “Why would I do that?” asked Baldacci. “It would spoil all the fun.” 

I’m with him – I don’t write well in groups. Case in point: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I signed up again this month, though it’s been an exercise in frustration when I participated in past Novembers. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a daunting task. It comes out to an average of 1,617 words a day. You post your daily word count on a jazzy bar graph on the NaNo website. The graph and its accompanying chart track your progress and the date you can be expected to finish if you proceed at your current pace. Last night the site told me I’d finish on Christmas eve if I churned out about 2,500 words a day. In other words, I’d lose. 

The Albany area has a large and dedicated group of NaNo participants. There are multiple write-ins at various locations in the Capital Region. For the most part they’re at cafes and coffee houses, and for good reason – the caffeine tends to inspire jacked-up bouts of creativity, and people can hang out for hours nursing a single cup of coffee. Personally, I feel it’s only fair to order some food as well. This usually takes the form of high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar concoctions. One of my favorites is warm apple pie a la mode drenched in caramel sauce. Denny's French toast ad

That particular diet destroyer is on the dessert menu at Denny’s, where write-ins take place every Sunday night. Writers with laptops descend on the place like locusts at the Latham location, where they’ve taken to saving a separate side room for us. The Municipal Liaison, aka chief cheerleader, is Shannon Kauderer, a young woman with blond hair shading to green, who’s a chemist by day and science fiction writer by night. 

These Sunday night write-ins have an unusual format: folks write silently for 20 minutes, then socialize for 20 minutes, then write, then socialize. And so it goes, usually till midnight, sometimes as late as 2:00 a.m. (The fact that Denny’s is open 24/7 is a major inducement to patronize the place.) 

My husband thrives on this format. He can flail away at his laptop, then get up and stroll around the room, chatting with the other participants, most of whom are several decades our juniors. Then when Shannon sounds the timer, he can sit back down and resume writing right where he left off. Others can apparently write this way, although I have no clue as to the quality of what they’re churning out. Still others ignore the chit chat and write straight through the social breaks. 

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

I can do neither – at least not well. I work best in absolute solitude, with only my dog or cat for occasional company. No background music, no interruptions except for full-blown emergencies. I’ve learned to write during those 20-minute sprints, but I hate turning my creative process on and off at will. And I never talk about what I’m writing in the midst of writing it. For me, it dissipates my energy and scares away my ever-elusive muse. Huddling silently over my laptop while my spouse enjoys the company of younger women, I may come across as curmudgeonly, but I truly don’t care. Like David Baldacci, I don’t play well with others. 

Still, despite my reservations, I’ll probably show up for another Denny’s write-in. The positive energy is infectious, and I’m getting better at jumping right into my writing without procrastinating. I may make my 50,000 word count after all. Besides, there are lots of scrumptious desserts I haven’t tried yet. 

What about you? Can you write with others around, or do you require solitude? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Help! I’m on Katie Couric’s show next week and I don’t have a thing to wear!

 

Katie in a dress that would never pass her show's dress code!

Katie in a dress that would never pass her show’s dress code!

This coming Monday I’ll be in the audience at the Katie Couric show, soaking up the atmosphere for my novel-in-progress, which is set in the land of daytime television. But I don’t have a thing to wear! After the phone call inviting me to attend, they sent me a lengthy e-mail explaining what I should expect and what they’ll expect from me. “Katie loves bright colors!” they said. I should “dress to impress,” with absolutely no black, brown, beige or gray, nothing dark or muted, and no prints.

Though I love Duke Ellington’s classic “Black, Brown and Beige,” I don’t cotton to those colors when it comes to my wardrobe unless they’re combined with something brighter. Nor do I usually wear straightforward primary and secondary colors. As an artist, I prefer subtler shades – and lots and lots of prints. But it’s Katie’s show, and she has the right to determine her own esthetic, so I’ll be hitting the January sales this week.

I thought I was well past the age of slavishly following someone else’s dress code, so why am I caving for Katie? Because except for a visit to the Conan O’Brien show many years ago, I’ve never set foot in the TV studio of a major network. Even though my novel is pure fantasy, I’m a stickler for accuracy, so I need to do some heavy-duty research. That’s more or less what I wrote in the online application in the section asking why I wanted to attend the show, and maybe it piqued the interest of some lowly intern processing the applications. I didn’t elaborate further, nor will I do so here.

I’m so excited about this story, so convinced it’s a high-concept project, as they say in Hollywood, that I’m not about to give away any specifics until it’s up on Kindle. Suffice it to say that it’s my first excursion into the paranormal, and it’s a lot more light-hearted and humorous than Eldercide or Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

When inspiration struck last spring, I was slogging away at the sequel to Eldercide, but I was bogged down and blocked. My husband was planning to enter Script Frenzy, an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month, and he suggested I join him. The challenge: to write a 100-page film or TV script during the month of April.

JULIE

(Frowns as she sips coffee)

            But I’ve got no desire whatsoever to write a script. 

SPOUSE

            Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose? 

JULIE

            That whole show-business world is so competitive, I’d never have a chance. 

SPOUSE

            Just do it for fun, as a creative exercise (pause as he gazes skyward) I know. What if you write about that show you always watch, and that actor you’re so crazy about? 

JULIE

(brightens and grins)

            Hmm . . . Maybe that could work.

FADE OUT

sf_winner_180x180And so I took a flying leap into the unknown – a totally new format, a new genre – and before long I was having a ball. I made my quota of 100 pages in the 30 days of April, submitted my script for verification and printed out my winner’s certificate, but that only took me a third of the way into the story. Then began the challenge of turning it into a novel.

I’d hoped my new opus would be finished already, but now I’m aiming for the spring equinox on March 20th. I’m asking you, my readers, to help hold me to that deadline. I’ll post progress reports every week or two, and I hope you’ll leave comments to cheer me on. If I really buckle down, maybe I’ll be free to write another script in April. Well before then, I’ll blog about Script Frenzy in hopes of enticing you to join. In the meantime I plan to reconnect with the wonderful online community of writers, and beginning this Valentine’s Day, I’ll be hosting guest bloggers once again.

As I wrap up this post, I’m watching the Katie show. Though she doesn’t look it, she’s celebrating her 56th birthday today. And those women in the audience are all decked out in cheerfully brilliant colors. Time to head for the mall – since orange is my favorite color, I’m envisioning something in orange sherbet or tangerine.

What colors do you favor for your wardrobe?  And how much are you willing to tweak your image for special occasions?

New Year’s Resolutions? Bah humbug!

Leon Comerre (1850-1917)

Leon Comerre (1850-1917)

Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? I haven’t, but at least I managed to write a new poem about all the lazy things I did instead:

TARDY RESOLUTIONS 2013

January second, and I haven’t made my resolutions yet.

Maybe it’s too late to bother. Too late to make it to the Y

in time for Nia, but for exercise I walked my dog

beside the lake, where he adorned the roadside

with an humongous turd too mushy for doggy bags.

I buried it with frozen clumps of grungy snow

left by the plow. So much for “Love thy neighbor.”

 

Back home I weighed myself, discovered I’d been ambushed

by four new pounds in just four days, crawled back in bed

and ate the raspberry strudel left from New Year’s brunch.

The sugar knocked me out. I fell asleep,

cuddling with my cat Lunesta, named for my favorite sleeping pills.

Waking at last, I slugged down coffee, gorged on leftover lox and bagels,

read the morning paper with its daily dose of mayhem – a murdered nun,

a stampede killing dozens after New Year’s fireworks in Africa –

then stole an hour blotting out the news with Spider solitaire.

 

Now it’s high noon. I’ve blown the best of day,

but no one will know, since my husband’s away,

unless I confess to this surfeit of sloth                                                                            

by posting this poem as my latest blog,

owning up to the deadly sin of wallowing

in total torpor. Shaming myself in public, flaunting  

a scarlet L for laziness, for lassitude,  an F for everything

I failed to do last year.

 

I know – I’ll take it from the top,

watch the midnight ball drop one more time in rerun,

erase this lackadaisical beginning

and make those resolutions bright and early,

trusting in tomorrow, praying for time.

I’ve only wasted one more day of life.

Last night the famed Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs (where Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and countless others played on their way up) had its first poetry open mic of the New Year, and having the chance to read this poem there was a major motivator. People seemed to love it – at least they laughed a lot. The Capital Region’s poetry community is a wonderfully welcoming bunch of folks who are always generous with their applause. It’s great to be able to write something, then try it out on stage the same night.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them, and if so, do they help you work toward your goals? Or do they just make you feel guilty?

This cat looks a lot like my beloved Lunesta.

This cat looks a lot like my beloved Lunesta.

 

                                                                                     

 

 

 

Mad dash to the finish for NaNoWriMo

Van Gogh's Night Cafe

National Novel Writing Month will be over in exactly 24 hours, and I’ve only got 48,000 words. The finish line is in sight, and by midnight tomorrow I’ll have to crank out at least 2000 more. I’m determined to do it, even if I have to pull an all-nighter the way I did for college term papers.

I hope the NaNoWriMo  administrators never read this blog post, because I’ve got a confession to make – I cheated a little. At about 35,000 words, like a marathoner, I hit a wall, and I knew I’d never make it at the rate I was going, so I copied a few online articles relevant to my research and pasted them into my document. Methods of suicide, assisted dying and state laws about same – fun stuff like that. Only a few thousand words, but enough to help me over what would otherwise have been a hopeless hurdle.

Even so, I’m proud to say that about ninety percent of the words are mine, all mine. Of those, I hope more than half are the actual first draft of my new novel. Those I’ve been formatting in traditional black type, double spaced. But they’re interspersed with miscellaneous meanderings. Many are about the developing plot and the evolving characters. I type those in single-spaced red. Green is for personal ramblings that have little to do with the novel – except that often they lead to new ideas for my fictional tale. And purple is for blog posts like this one, which I’m also copying and pasting into one enormous, unwieldy document.

I’m writing scenes about whatever captures my fancy at any given time, without worrying about where they may eventually end up in the book. Which point of view I pick depends on my mood – sometimes it’s Paula Rhodes, the temperamental CEO of Compassionate Care, the home care agency inspired by ElderSource, Inc., which I ran in the 1990’s. Sometimes I’m drawn more to Claire Lindstrom, the idealistic nurse who was my main protagonist in Eldercide. And then there’s the evolving character of Carolyn, who assisted at the death of her husband, who was suffering from the end stages of pancreatic cancer.

Edvard Munch - The Scream

My printer may have died, but I don’t have time to diagnose what the problem is and whether it’s fixable or I need to buy a new one. So I don’t yet have a hard copy to work with, nor have I reread most of what I’ve written. Sometimes I scroll back to read the last scene in order to hazard a guess as to what comes next, but by and large I’ve managed to banish my inner critic.

When December arrives, I’ll do a “save as” and begin dividing this humungous document into manageable sections. Then I’ll see what I’ve come up with and where I go from here. At that point I’ll have the luxury of slowing down and maybe letting that inner critic to have her say.

Though I’ve written four novels and published two of them, I’ve never worked this way before, but I’m enjoying it. Most importantly, the NaNoWriMo challenge has inspired me to barrel through the creative block that plagued me for so long, to get back to my writing, and to discover that my muse hasn’t deserted me after all.

 

Hallelujah – Discovering e-books, finally!

I’m declaring it official – I’m finally free of depression. After fifteen full months of wallowing in the doldrums, at last I’m genuinely happy. The reason? I’ve decided to write a new novel.

During my long dark night of the soul, I wasn’t at all sure I’d ever write again. If anything, I thought I might try my hand at nonfiction, maybe memoir, but it seemed my muse had deserted me, maybe for good. Turning 70 didn’t help. On the contrary, it confirmed the fact that I was finally a bona fide elder, and therefore absolved of the responsibility to do very much of anything. I confronted the years ahead with dread, because I couldn’t envision anything but irreversible decline.

So what happened? Last Sunday afternoon I attended a panel discussion and workshop sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, and organized by my good friend Marilyn Rothstein, who writes historical mysteries under the name M.E. Kemp. I hadn’t attended a writers’ conference for well over a year, and Sunday reminded me how essential the inspiration from other writers can be.

In particular, the panel discussion on e-books was exciting. Technophobe that I am, I’d steered clear of confronting this strange new world of publishing, but Gloria Waldron Hukle summarized the basics and made the process seem far less intimidating. (She admitted that her husband helped enormously with the technical aspects, and I’m hoping mine will do so as well.) Susanne Alleyn described her own positive experiences with Kindle. After being dropped by a major publisher, she got back the rights for her out-of-print books, and her agent helped get them on Kindle. The monthly royalty checks were especially satisfying, she said.

The royalty rates are great on Kindle: 70 percent on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35 percent on books under or over those amounts. There’s no upfront expenditure. I love the idea of pricing my books so that people can actually afford them. At panel discussions and signings, people have often told me they’d love to buy my books, but they simply don’t have the money. At $4.99 a pop, maybe they can take a chance. (Personally, I think long and hard before shelling out $15.00 for a trade paperback, and I very rarely buy hardcover books – practically the only one I sprung for this year was Keith Richards’s autobiography, since he’s always been my favorite Stone.)

After the break, Hallie Ephron gave a mini-workshop on “Crafting a Page Turner.” I found that inspiring as well, but I’ll save the details for a later post.

Back home that evening, I logged onto Kindle and studied their guide to online publishing. There are lots of technical steps involved, and I found it somewhat intimidating, but I could actually picture myself doing it!

On a three-hour road trip to the New York State Convention of Universalists this weekend, I dug through my black leather Fossil bag, the one I use when I want to look professionally upscale, and realized to my dismay that when I switched handbags, I’d forgotten my reading glasses. I can read without them, but just barely, and before long my eyes begin to smart and sting. I was in a mild panic till my husband handed me the Nook reader he’d recently bought at Barnes & Noble. He showed me how to enlarge the type size, and to my amazement, I was able to read easily for hours without glasses and without eyestrain, more comfortably than I can read a traditional book. And I found I could easily and discretely read while appearing reasonably attentive during boring workshop presentations. So I’m definitely going to buy myself a Kindle as soon as the newest model comes out next month. Then we’ll be able to compare and contrast the relative merits of each e-reader.

Back home last night, I resumed the search for my glasses. I was sure I’d left them in the depths of the purse I’d left behind, but they weren’t there. After a frantic half-hour search of the house and car, I finally found them in an unexplored side pocket of the black bag. So I’d had them all along, but I’m glad I didn’t know it – the weekend gave me a crash course in the virtues of e-reading, and proof positive that I need to convert my novels to e-books ASAP.

It’s great to feel myself tapping into the wellspring of my creativity after a prolonged period of drought. I hope you’ll visit my blog again, and leave comments – this time I truly plan to post more frequently.

Help! A Doppelganger is haunting me on Facebook

Pablo Picasso

Facebook wants me to become friends with Julie Lomoe – they think I may know her. Evidently there are now two of me on Facebook, and my cyber self has come down with a case of acute Dissociative Identity Disorder. (That’s the official name for what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder.) Is it because I neglected them for three weeks?

It started innocuously enough with an e-mail message from Facebook saying “Your 2 friends are waiting” and naming two people for me to confirm as friends. In hindsight, maybe I should have been suspicious – I thought they were friends already. But I clicked on the link, got a “Welcome Back” message, and moments later I was logged in on my account, or what I believed to be my account.

My photo was gone, though, replaced by that innocuous blue and white avatar silhouette. Even worse, I now had only three friends instead of two hundred – the two I’d just confirmed plus my husband. The site gave my Albany location and my married status, but the rest of the information was stripped.

Panicked, I ran downstairs. “Facebook has deleted me!” I told my husband. “Practically all my information has disappeared! Can they do that just because you’ve been AWOL?”

Calmly, he brought up his own Facebook account and typed my name into the search box. Thank God, there was my own account, safe and sound, complete with photo, but below it was a new account with that pesky avatar and pitiful three friends. To the best of my knowledge, there’s only one Julie Lomoe  – the last name is Norwegian, and the few Lomoes in the world are related.

I’d inadvertently created a Doppelganger with all my identifying features zapped away. Now, how to delete it? Checking the FB Help section, I learned how to deactivate or delete an account, but I was too frightened to try, because I wasn’t  sure which account I’d be disabling – maybe the imposter, but maybe the real me with all the background information I’d painstakingly entered over a year ago. I couldn’t bear to risk it. So that shadowy Julie Lomoe still floats ghostlike in cyberspace, stripped of all my hard-won life experience, but I’m hoping people will find their way to the true me. 

Facebook has been trying to sabotage my married life as well. Another e-mail, allegedly from Facebook, contained a request from my husband asking that I verify that I’m in fact married to him and requesting permission to use my name on his account. I was surprised, because we’ve always kept our online identities separate and distinct for professional reasons. But I naively clicked OK, only to learn from him later that he’d never sent such a request and remained steadfastly opposed to such a revelation.

So the cyberspace gremlins are up to some nasty mischief on Facebook, or what poses as Facebook. I’m sure there are super-sophisticated explanations for what’s going on and why, but they’re probably far over my head. In the meantime, I’ve got a low-tech strategy: I won’t click on any links in e-mails that purport to be from Facebook. Instead I’ll log in the old-fashioned way, and hope that faceless Doppelganger fades away into the great beyond.

Have you had any similar problems with FB? Any ideas what caused them or any solutions? I’d love to hear from you.

Writing workshops – are they worth it?

Several women writers I know are off to a three-day writing workshop at a local retreat center, and I admit I’m jealous. Expense was a factor. Still, I could have gone, but I don’t write well in groups, and I’m resistive to the idea of following the directions of other writers, so I took a deliberate pass.

My voice flows entirely differently when I’m alone at my computer. Maybe it’s because of the way I taught myself touch typing in high school. I remember sitting at my mother’s old Smith Corona manual typewriter, fantasizing about the jazz musicians I had major crushes on – Miles Davis and Charles Mingus chief among them. The words flowed from my fingers, and by college, I was capable of turning out twenty-page papers with minimal typos in frantic all-nighters. Then while trying to make it as an artist in SoHo, before becoming an art therapist, I had numerous menial jobs that jacked up my words per minute even higher.

For me, writing in longhand just doesn’t cut it. When my hand can’t keep up with my ideas, my thoughts turn sludgy and slow. The proximity of others close by, scribbling away on their own papers, conjures up thoughts of final exams, wracking my brain for the right answers and scrawling them frantically in blue books. Remember those essay questions, the way you had to watch the clock and ration your time? Time’s usually at a premium in these workshops, too, and you’re expected to come up with something reasonably coherent and contained in the span of a few minutes. When the facilitator asks if you need more time, that probably means there isn’t any.

Then comes judgment time, when the workshop leader inevitably asks, “Who’d like to share?” I’m usually one of the first to volunteer, because I find it hard to focus on others when I’m waiting my turn. The work is almost invariably met with appreciative murmurs, oohs and ahs – I can’t remember a time when anyone’s actually critiqued me harshly. But the impact of the praise is diluted by the fact that everyone gets equally favorable reactions. I’m my own most severe critic, and there’s always someone whose work is insightful and profound enough to make me feel inferior.

Of course work produced in this high-pressure environment can serve as a springboard for more writing after the session is over, as most workshop leaders acknowledge. There’s always time to expand and explore, to mine the longhand scrawls for little gems that can be tweaked and polished at leisure. But I confess I’ve never gotten around to reworking the pages I produce at these events. Instead I stow them away unread until they resurface months or years later, whereupon I scan them and toss them in the recycling basket.

Would it make a difference if I brought a laptop to these affairs? Maybe, but I’d be terrified to find out. What if my random musings were just as mundane and sludgy even if I could type them? My facile fingers argument would be blown, and I’d be exposed as terminally mediocre.

So there’s my argument against writing workshops. Having written it, I’ve got to admit I could easily write a blog post of equal length detailing all the reasons these workshops can be wonderful. There’s the collegiality, the energy generated by being in a community of writers . . . but I’d better quit while I’m still feeling negative, or I’ll berate myself for not signing up for that workshop after all.

What about you? Do you enjoy going to writers’ workshops and retreats? Can you do your best work there, or do you think they’re just a waste of time and money?

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