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Fear and habit: my biggest writing bugaboos

Monday, March 21

Block Busting: Blasting through the Barriers to Creativity.

That’s the catchy title I came up with for a workshop I’ll be delivering at least twice in the coming months: once for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild in June, and once for the Capital Region chapter of the Romance Writers of America in November. By the time the June workshop rolls around, I hope to have figured out a bunch of ways to walk the talk, because I’ve got plenty of blocks of my own to overcome.

Crocuses Ruby Giant purple

Today feels like an auspicious day to begin: it’s the first full day of spring, and at long last Michael Easton is back on General Hospital. My crocuses are in full bloom, and bit by bit, the minutes of daylight are triumphing over those of darkness. From this day forward, I plan to track the patterns of my creativity—the actions that work and the road blocks that hold me back—and to share them with my readers. I hope you’ll share yours with me as well.

What is it that keeps me from writing? In two words, fear and habit. Fear that I’m not good enough, that I’ll run out of ideas, that people won’t read my work. Once I begin writing, those fears almost always dissipate, and I actually start enjoying myself, but it’s that nasty devil of procrastination that too often derails me before I begin. I’ve got lots of avoidance mechanisms, and here’s where habit comes in. Once I sit down at the computer, my first impulse is to play a game of FreeCell, and I too often succumb to temptation. Next I check my email, then go to Facebook. I catch up on my online friends and colleagues, then check a couple of news sites to see what new disasters have befallen the planet. Before I know it, I’ve frittered away a couple of hours, and lo and behold, it’s time for lunch.

Lunesta computer April 2014

That’s assuming I even get to my computer before lunch—and that’s a big if. I often watch TV and read until one or two in the morning, then sleep till nine or ten. I walk my dog Sirius; then it’s back to bed for breakfast and the morning newspaper. Then my Nia class at the Y three mornings a week, a philosophy group at church on another morning, my daily dose of General Hospital from two to three. Then it’s upstairs to my office and the computer, whereupon I engage in those dilly dallying habits I detailed above.

With luck, I may start writing at four, and all too soon it’s time for dinner, complete with a glass or two of wine. Evenings bring a variety of diversions—choir practice at FUUSA, assorted meetings and open mics, ushering at The Egg or the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. When I stay in, television usually proves my undoing. I’m partial to The Voice, among other shows, and if all else fails, there’s always Netflix.

The-Voice-Season-8 promo

If you’ve waded through the above paragraphs, I congratulate you. They’re so pedestrian, so humdrum, that I’m almost too embarrassed to post them, but if I plan to help other writers overcome their blocks, the first step is being honest about my own. In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll see if going public helps me overcome them. I’ll post a weekly progress report incorporating some of the helpful hints I come up with.

And now it’s 6:00pm, time to pour myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and slap together a speedy dinner of smoked salmon and cream cheese on gluten free bread, then catch the evening news with David Muir, who’s quite the hottie. Tonight I believe he’s hanging out with President Obama in Cuba. Then my husband and I are off to a lecture about overcoming bad habits. Catch you later . . .

Obama & David Muir Cuba 3-21-16

David Muir interviews Barack Obama in Cuba, March 21, 2016

March 22, 1:00pm.

Last’s night’s lecture was fascinating. Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling The Power of Habit,has lots of thought-provoking ideas I’ll blog about soon. Back home, true to form, I indulged in most of the habits I described above, with minor variations. After staying up till almost 2:00am reading Duhigg’s book, I was too sleepy to get up in time to make it with my husband to the philosophy group. But on my walk with Sirius, I saw the swan that’s been hanging out on Snyder’s Lake, and we spied a couple of loons in the distance. Since my long-distance vision isn’t so great, that necessitated hanging out for a few minutes to watch them dive, then resurface many yards away, to make sure they really were loons and not our resident ducks.

Then it was back to bed with breakfast and the Times Union. I logged onto my computer at noon. I managed to resist FreeCell and Facebook, but I checked the news and came upon the horrific news of today’s terrorist bombings in Brussels.  I then happened upon a link to an article about David Bowie’s former mansion on Mustique, which you can now rent for a paltry $40,000 a week. At 1:00, I got back to this blog post, which I may be able to publish before General Hospital comes on at two. Word has it that Michael Easton will have more screen time today.

David Bowie Mustique retreat

David Bowie’s mansion on Mustique Island

And so it goes. I may be frittering away my life, but sitting here with the sun streaming through my office window, with my dog and cat nearby soaking up the rays, I feel inordinately happy. And is that such a bad thing? Should I be wallowing in guilt? That’s a topic for another time, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments. Is sloth truly a sin?

Lunesta & Sirius office window 3-26-15

Lunesta and Sirius in late March a year ago, when there was snow on the ground!

A lonely birthday marred by murder of my favorite soap opera character

The bar at Ashfield Lakehouse (winter snowmobilers, but a similar crowd)

The bar at Ashfield Lakehouse (winter snowmobilers, but a similar crowd)

It’s not often a man strikes up a conversation with me in a bar, but then it’s not often that I find myself alone at a bar in a strange town where I know no one.* New York City doesn’t count—I met my husband at a bar there over 40 years ago, Max’s Kansas City, to be specific. And when I’m in Manhattan for the day, I sometimes treat myself to a libation in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel or the Marriott Marquis before heading back to Penn Station. But those are elegant upscale establishments with overpriced cocktails and comfy upholstered chairs that invite lounging, so they don’t count.

The Ashfield Lakehouse, on the other hand, is the quintessential blue-collar pub, and the man who asked me about the book I was reading at the bar when I took refuge from the storm was a perfect match for the place—middle-aged and moderately paunchy, with curly brown hair and a ruddy complexion suggestive of Irish origin. I’m not sure he was actually hitting on me. Perhaps he was just being friendly. But when he told me that like Abraham Lincoln, he had kind of an evil side, I decided it was time to settle my tab and make tracks back to Wellspring House, where I’d gone for a writer’s retreat week.

Whatever his intentions, I’ll admit I was flattered, especially since my seventy-fourth birthday was just hours away.

Robb and his motorcycle

Robb and his motorcycle

Back in my room, when I logged back online, I found a Facebook message from my husband wishing me an early Happy Birthday. I poured myself a nightcap, settled into bed with Abe the vampire hunter, and read myself to sleep.

Friday was the first birthday I can recall spending alone in over forty years, and the first day my voluntary solitude weighed heavily on my mood. The dozens of birthday greetings from friends on Facebook brightened the day enormously, but I missed Robb, and I longed to hang out in my garden with my dog Sirius and my cat Lunesta.

Although I had no access to television, I knew Friday’s General Hospital would end in a cliffhanger, and it was hard to focus on my writing. Would they really kill Silas Clay? I thought it more likely that they’d string out the suspense until the next week, maybe close with a pointed gun or an off-screen scream. But no, by 3:00pm the reports started flooding Facebook—he was dead, lying face-down on the floor, stabbed in the back. The only cliffhanger was the mystery of who had murdered him.

Silas Clay, stabbed in the back on my birthday!

Silas Clay, stabbed in the back on my birthday!

At first I felt surprisingly calm. After all, the rumors of the murder had been flying all week. But as I surfed through the messages pouring in, the sorrow was contagious. Women were crying nonstop, some for hours. One had vomited, another fainted. Many swore they would never again watch General Hospital. Like me, many had watched Michael Easton since he played the vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles, then Lieutenant John McBain on One Life to Live and GH, then Dr. Silas Clay on GH. Fourteen years in all—it was like losing a member of the family, a close friend, a fantasy lover.

Elmer's (photo by Peacebear222)

Elmer’s (photo by Peacebear222)

I drank some wine, went for a swim, then headed to Elmer’s for a solitary birthday dinner. The place was crowded, though with a clientele very different from the Lakehouse. More upscale, dressed in country chic, speaking quietly with their partners—and virtually everyone seemed paired off with a partner. I was glad I’d be checking out the next morning.

I began this post as an exploration of my writing experience at a retreat house, and how it compares to the experience of writing at home in my own office. But I veered off on a tangent—much the way my writing got derailed by a drama being played out across the country in a Hollywood studio.

So in conclusion, I’d say I didn’t give the retreat experiment a fair trial; thus the results can’t be considered valid. If I ever decide to repeat the experiment, first I’ll treat myself to a computer or tablet equipped solely with a word processing program—one that doesn’t connect to the Internet.

*This is a continuation of the saga I began last time, in the post dated August 10th. If you missed it, I recommend you read that one first so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Real-life soap drama shatters idyllic writing retreat

Wellspring House. Photo by Julie Lomoe

Wellspring House. Photo by Julie Lomoe

“Wherever you go, there you are.” That’s the most significant lesson I brought home from my week at a writing retreat in the Berkshires the last week in July. You can change your surroundings, plop yourself down in an idyllic setting with maximal solitude and minimal distractions, but it’s fiendishly difficult to jettison your habitual ways of frittering away the hours you ought to be writing.

My husband had spent a couple of highly productive weeks at Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, so I decided to give it a try. My goal: to get a good running start on Sunlight and Shadow, the second in my vampire soap opera series. In particular, I wanted to get inside the head of my heroine, Abigail Hastings. Hope Dawns Eternal, the first in the series, is told entirely from the point of view of the hero, Jonah McQuarry, who fears he’s being possessed by a vampire played by the actor Mark Westgate on a long-cancelled soap. This time, I plan to alternate between Abby’s and Jonah’s viewpoints, especially since that will give me more freedom to describe Jonah in more explicitly loving detail.

Michael Easton as John McBain

Michael Easton as John McBain

Wellspring is a beautifully restored, rambling old two-story house run by Preston Browning, a retired English professor. There are bedrooms for from eight to ten writers, each nostalgically furnished in New England bed-and-breakfast style, each with its own writing desk and chair. There’s no television, and the spotty cell phone service works only if you have Verizon, which I don’t, but they do have WiFi. A shared kitchen, but no set mealtimes, and you’re responsible for your own food.

The atmosphere is quasi-monastic. Talking isn’t forbidden, but people tend to speak in hushed voices, and if you encounter someone in the common areas, it’s perfectly okay not to speak. Since people spend most of the time in their rooms, presumably writing or confronting the reasons they can’t write, it’s possible to spend an entire day in silence.

Preston Browning, proprietor of Wellspring House

Preston Browning, proprietor of Wellspring House

I booked a five-night stay and arrived Monday evening, vowing to write at least 2,000 words per day. Only after a full day of successful writing would I allow myself to tap into the box of Almaden Pinot Grigio I’d brought along. But Monday was practically over and I was tired after my drive, so I decided to take the night off and get an early start on Tuesday.

I settled in with wine, cheese and crackers. I’d brought a few library books, so I cracked open Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Next thing I knew, it was two in the morning—an all too common bedtime, I admit—so I slept till ten, then went out for a leisurely breakfast at Elmer’s, the restaurant down the street. Back in my room, I whiled away a couple more hours with Abe, rationalizing that the book counted as research into vampire lore. When I finally buckled down to work Tuesday afternoon, I was delighted to find myself back in the flow. Jonah and Abby were trading lustful glances and barbed witticisms in their favorite bar, and I was happily channeling their words as fast as I could type. I felt good about meeting my word count for the day.

Wednesday morning, I was still in the flow. Around noon, I decided to take a break and check my email. As usual, my inbox was dominated by Facebook notifications from the General Hospital fan groups I belong to. I clicked on one of the links and brought up my Facebook page. Within moments, I was clobbered by devastating news: Michael Easton, my favorite actor on General Hospital, was leaving the show, and Friday would probably be his last day. Although he’d signed a three-year contract renewal in March, the news didn’t come as a total shock. His character, Dr. Silas Clay, had been given increasingly crappy story lines, and recently, he’d barely been seen at all. But had he quit? Been fired? I surfed from one site to another, checked out all the soap gossip columns I could find, but nowhere could I find an explanation.

Michael as Dr. Silas Clay with Ava's baby, January 2015

Michael as Dr. Silas Clay with Ava’s baby, January 2015

This called for more than a cursory lunch break, so I headed to Elmer’s again. I ordered a  Chardonnay and silently toasted Michael, whereupon Wednesday morphed into an official day of mourning and goofing off. I hung out at the beach, did some leisurely swimming, showered and changed, then decided to dine at the Ashfield Lakehouse, a boisterous blue-collar pub. What the hell, this was hardly the time to count calories, let alone words. Their sandwich of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil pesto went fabulously with the house red wine. After dinner, I retreated to my room and lost myself in the memoir of a classical pianist who had been molested by her father until I drifted off to sleep.

Thursday I tried my best to write, but I never got back in the zone, never reentered that state of creative flow where the words spill onto the screen of their own accord. I kept clicking back to the web, searching for the rest of the story of Michael’s departure, trading conspiracy theories and wallowing in collective grief on the fan sites. Rumors were flying that Silas Clay would be murdered on Friday’s show. What choice did I have? I headed back to the Lakehouse for a repeat of that yummy mozzarella sandwich.

Ashfield Lakehouse. This is exactly where I was sitting when the rain started pouring down.

Ashfield Lakehouse. This is exactly where I was sitting when the rain started pouring down.

Although storm clouds were threatening, I chose a seat out on the deck overhanging the lake. I was midway through my mozzarella sandwich when a drenching downpour let loose. The waitress helped carry my stuff inside, where I found a seat at the bar. I was back to Abe the vampire hunter once more, trying not to drip cheesy grease onto the pages, when a man asked what I was reading. When I told him, he grinned and said, “I think Abraham Lincoln had an evil side. I have kind of an evil side myself.”

(to be continued)

Ashfield Lakehouse, where I took shelter from the storm at the bar.

Ashfield Lakehouse, where I took shelter from the storm at the bar.

What, me hire an editor? No way!

Pierre Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard

Hallelujah! HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL is finally ready to publish, or almost. Yesterday I finished combining the prologue and 36 chapters into one gigantic document of 265 pages and 78,318 words – longer than I’d expected, but an ideal length for the first book of a trilogy. Or who knows, maybe it’ll become a longer series. I feel as if I’ve barely begun to explore all the possibilities in this paranormal soap opera vampire saga.

In countless workshops and articles, I’ve heard the same advice: get an editor. I’ve always disregarded it, convinced I’m my own best editor. This time my husband, who has extensive professional experience in publishing, gave my final draft a careful read-through, and he found relatively few things that needed changing. Even so, it’s amazing how many nit-picky things I’ve found to research even after I thought I was finished.

Murray's Cheese Bar, Bleecker Street, NY

Murray’s Cheese Bar, Bleecker Street, NY

The names of cheeses, for example – how do you know which to capitalize? Swiss cheese, with its many holes, is a no brainer, but how about Brie or Stilton? Yes, they’re capitalized because they’re named for specific locations where they originated, but it takes some Googling to find out which are actual place names. Some are capitalized because they’re domain-protected, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, which can only be made in those specific cities. We don’t capitalize ricotta, though, because the name simply means “recooked.”

And what about hats? I had my hero hunkered down in a cab, with a fedora Hat styles - menpulled down low to hide his face, but I thought I’d better check to be sure that was actually the correct word for the hat I was visualizing. Turns out I was right. Picture Bogart, Sinatra or the film noir heroes and villains of countless 40’s movies – they’re all wearing fedoras. But in the course of my research, I learned all about porkpies and homburgs too.

 

Then there are new-fangled terms like showrunner. It’s the trendy term for the head honchos/creators/auteurs of TV series, like David Chase of The Sopranos  and Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad.* But is it one word or two? When I was working on my first draft two years ago, Word’s Spellcheck underlined showrunner with that squiggly red line every time I used it, but now the powers-that-be at Microsoft have decided it’s a genuine word, and the red squiggle is no more. In the new Vanity Fair, however, Beau Willimon, the creator of the Netflix series House of Cards, is described as a hyphenated “show-runner.”

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

Consistency is the key – that’s why publishers and periodicals have style guides, and they don’t always agree. In my personal style manual, showrunner is one word, but I found a couple of instances where I’d made it two, so I changed them. And I’m ultra-cautious with the “find” and “replace” functions, which can lead to weird consequences. For example, I had a villainous character named “Nick,” and I changed him to “Mick.” My husband caught the line where I said something happened “in the Mick of time.”

But these are just copy editing issues. Then of course there’s the over-all flow of the story line, the characters – I could go on and on about that kind of editing, but I’ve said enough for one post. I’ve done my damnedest to make this novel the very best it can be. That’s not to say it couldn’t be better, but I’m not changing a word. If some agent or publisher wants to take it on and offers me a gazillion dollars upfront, I may reconsider. Until then, for better or worse, Hope Dawns Eternal is a fait accompli, and I’m ready to send it out into the world. With any luck, it will be available by the end of February. Then it’s on to the sequel!

*Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men (Penguin, 2013) is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of modern series like The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

P.S. I still haven’t found my illustrator and designer, and I need money to hire good ones. Please help by donating to me at www.gofundme.com/gep8ts. Every little bit helps, and I’m offering prizes. I may even name a character after you!

 

 

 

 

Hope Dawns Eternal nearing the Finish Line

Chicago under ice by Shawn ReynoldsHow do you know when you’ve finally finished your novel? Especially when it’s the first in a series?

I thought I’d completed Hope Dawns Eternal, my vampire soap opera thriller, a couple of months ago, but when my husband read it, he thought I needed a more dramatic ending that wrapped up more of the unfinished business. I took his advice, and I’m delighted with the results. Now I’ve finished the final edit, and I’m compiling the 36 chapters into a single document to send off to the man who’s going to format it for me. Yes, I know I could probably do it myself, but I don’t want my technophobia to get in the way of launching it into cyberspace ASAP.

Now I need to confront my biggest bugaboo: marketing. To that end, I’ve just created a new Facebook group called HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL. I just need to figure out how to get people to join it. I printed out a six-page sheet of suggestions from Facebook with helpful hints about involving people in your group, but that’s assuming you already have members. Oh well, I’ll figure it out before I launch my book.

Speaking of marketing, my GoFundMe campaign has been pretty much in limbo since before the holidays, but I’m Goddess Selenereviving it once again in hopes of raising enough money to hire a professional designer and illustrator for my new novel as well as my earlier ones, Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, which I’ll be reissuing soon. My goal is a modest $3,333. I’ve found an illustrator I love, but his book covers begin at $1,500, so I’ll have to scale down my aspirations in that department. I did the cover illustrations for my previous novels, and I still love them, but I think I can find someone better.

Please visit the site at www.gofundme.com/gep8ts and consider making a donation, however modest. You’ll have the satisfaction of supporting a worthy cause, and if you act soon, you could be listed in the acknowledgements in Hope Dawns Eternal, and maybe even have a character named for you in the sequel, Sunlight and Shadow.

I’m signing off for now. I’m not good at multitasking, and I’m dying to get back to assembling that humongous document. I’m tweaking here and there as I go, making only minimal changes. For example, on a recent visit to Manhattan, I walked the High Line, the marvelous linear park created atop elevated railroad tracks that used to carry livestock to the slaughterhouses in the meat packing district. Surveying the Chelsea neighborhood from above, I realized I should move the location of the QMA studio from Tenth Avenue around the corner to a side street. And I’m dropping in a few clues foreshadowing the surprise twist at the end.

I’ve left a few loose ends that cry out for resolution, but that’s the great thing about writing a  series instead of a stand-alone – they’ll make a good starting point for the next book. The ideas are already whirling around in my brain, and I’ve already written a few scenes, but I need to keep my priorities straight and launch Hope Dawns Eternal into the big wide world. When exactly will that happen? Subscribe to this blog, and you’ll be the first to know!

Is Sloth Still a Deadly Sin?

 

Sloth three-toedThis New Year’s morning, I awoke full of good intentions. Rather than committing to the usual litany of resolutions I’ll never keep, I decided to focus on just one goal: I vow to write at least 500 words per day, which comes out to 3,500 words per week. If I don’t reach 500 words one day, I’ll make it up the next day, or the one after that. I’ll cut myself some slack and make the weekly total 3,333. That’s the same goal I set for my GoFundMe* campaign, where I’m hoping to raise $3,333.

At that rate, I’ll reach 173,316 words by next New Year’s Day. That’s the equivalent of two good-sized novels, maybe the next two books in my vampire soap opera series. But I won’t limit myself to fiction. This blog post will count toward today’s total. So will journaling or writing poetry – anything that keeps my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Using the mouse won’t count. No more frittering away the hours with Facebook or FreeCell. (That’s worth a resolution in its own right, but it’s one I know I won’t be able to keep, so I’m not making it.)

Can I actually do this? Sounds reasonable, right? I can easily turn out 500 words in an hour or two, so what’s stopping

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

me? In a word, SLOTH. Not the cute three-toed kind shown above, but the Deadly Sin variety. Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, sloth is by far my biggest challenge. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition, particularly within Catholicism, referring to laziness. Sloth is defined as spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. It can also be either an outright refusal or merely a carelessness in the performance of one’s obligations, especially spiritual, moral or legal obligations. Sloth can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.

Back in the day, those guilty of sloth were sentenced to Hell, and in particular to a pit full of snakes. But these days, those of us who don’t fear hellfire and damnation have a hard time taking sloth all that seriously. Googling the subject, I found a brilliant essay Thomas Pynchon wrote for the New York Times in 1993. Here’s a sample:

Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. . . . there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Reading Pynchon’s essay, I find I’m guilty of another of the Deadly Sins: Envy. He’s so creative, so hilarious, that I could never come remotely close to his level. This in turn engenders pessimism and an almost irresistible urge to play FreeCell or check my email. Or it could give rise to Gluttony, another of the Deadlies, but I’m still feeling bloated from overeating at Dan Wilcox’s  New Year’s Day open house, so the thought of more food is distasteful.

In case your memory needs jogging, the other four Deadly Sins are Wrath, Greed, Pride and Lust. It’s curious that drunkenness doesn’t make the cut – probably Thomas Aquinas and the other theologians were too fond of their alcoholic libations. But the fear of spending an eternity in hell for committing one of the shameful seven no doubt helped keep good Christians in line so that the social order didn’t descend into total mayhem and anarchy. Later, as Pynchon points out, the fear was harnessed in the interests of motivating the labor force that drove industrial productivity.

Today, thanks to our vastly extended life spans, most people in our country have the luxury of enjoying at least a decade or two of retirement, with the leisure time to pursue our own interests  – or to kick back and do absolutely nothing. In these bonus decades, can sloth still be considered a sin? Haven’t we earned the right to be lazy? Maybe, but if so, why do I suffer such pangs of guilt and self-loathing when I spend an afternoon immersed in reading a novel or an evening lounging in bed watching multiple episodes of the latest series on Netflix?

I could ramble on in this vein, but it’s almost midnight and I’ve exceeded my 500 words, so I’ll cease and desist. How about you? Is sloth a problem in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

*My GoFundMe campaign was on hold during the holidays, but I’m relaunching it as of today, hoping to raise money to pay for help with cover design and illustration for Hope Dawns Eternal and my other novels. To learn more, visit www.hopedawnseternal.net.

Boschsevendeadlysins

 

 

 

My NaNoWriMo win: I may be a cheater, but I’m not a liar

Trying my best at my own table

Trying my best at my own table

I made it! Last night I validated my National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) score of over 50,000 words, and the site declared me an official winner. They provided a link to an online certificate I can download, with lines to fill in my name and book title, and links to order merchandise, including a black tee shirt with this year’s emblem – a knight slaying a dragon.

There’s just one problem: I cheated. Yesterday afternoon I reached 30,747 words in the document I’d titled “NaNo total word count,” and there was no way I could legitimately come up with another 20,000 words in the last few hours of the contest. Illegitimately, it was easy, with just a few simple commands: Select all, copy and paste. Eureka! All at once, I had a document of 61,494 words. I uploaded it into the correct line in the NaNo form, hit the button marked “Validate,” and voila! I was a winner.

True confession time: this isn’t the first year I’ve done this. I’ve entered NaNo several times. A couple of times I dropped out, butDennys Nano 11-30-14 the other times I used the nefarious means I’ve described above. But this was the first time I solicited other people’s opinions – on Facebook, no less – before taking this sinister turn to the left. Those who replied, including my husband, felt I should take the high road and refrain from cheating. I’d be demeaning the efforts of those who won legitimately, they said. Heaven forbid I break the rules! Those rules are set by genuine human beings, true, but they’re enforced by a computer program. It counts words; it doesn’t read or judge content. Theoretically I could type the same word 50,000 times.

Our fearless leader, Shannon Kauderer

Our fearless leader, Shannon Kauderer

At last night’s final November NaNo write-in at Denny’s, the Albany group’s Sunday night hangout for the past month, I confessed my transgression and asked if anyone else had cheated. No one fessed up. I wasn’t tarred and feathered, but no one told me it was okay, and I didn’t win the plastic diamond our leader passed out to those who had won legitimately.

So am I ashamed? Embarrassed? Yes, to some extent. In the hard light of the morning after, I considered not blogging about this at all, but then I’d feel even more cowardly. Besides, in many ways I consider myself a genuine winner, with some bona fide accomplishments. For example:

  • I’m off to a good start on Sunlight and Shadow, the sequel to Hope Dawns Eternal, and I know where the plot is going from here.
  • I’ve learned the basics of the Scrivener program, which offers new ways of organizing my novel in a more flexible, less linear fashion.
  • I’ve found I can write at night as well as I can in the daytime.
  • My wine consumption has dropped dramatically because of the aforementioned night writing, because my writing suffers when I’m under the influence. Even a single glass makes me noticeably more slow and stupid.
  • I’ve gotten better at just jumping in and tackling a scene rather than procrastinating and waiting for inspiration to strike.
  • I’ve gotten better at banishing my inner critic.

I still prefer writing in solitude to writing in groups. And I’ll never be as speedy as those folks who can crank out thousands of words a day, but then I’ve never read anything they’ve written. For all I know, it’s total gibberish, but in NaNoWriMo, aside from counting words,  there’s no comparing and no critiquing. That’s why I’ll probably do it again. Who knows, next year I might even win without cheating.

Dennys NaNo Robb

 

The accompanying photos are from last night’s write-in at the Denny’s in Latham. A shout-out to the wonderful staff there, who let us hang out for hours in our very own room, overdosing on coffee and scrumptious desserts.