Tag Archive | National Novel Writing Month

Onward and Upward with NaNoWriMo

Imagination Rain.epsIt’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016. November is half over, and so is NaNoWriMo. Once again it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve vowed to write 50,000 words by November 30. So far, I’ve written just over 10,000, and the jazzy graph of my statistics on the NaNo website predicts that at the rate I’m going, I’ll finish on January 11, 2017. So should I give up? No way—there’s still time to salvage what’s left of this ghastly month.

“The time for hesitation’s through, no time to wallow in the mire.” So sang Jim Morrison, and though his “Light My Fire” lyrics were about lust, they apply equally well to creativity. And why not? Like the late lamented Leonard Cohen, the Lizard King was a poet before he morphed into a pop star.

jim-morrison

Jim Morrison

Like practically everyone I know, online and off, I’ve been wallowing in the mire of depression ever since last week’s election, and tiptoeing around the dismal swamp that our government and political system have become for months before that. I’ve frittered away countless hours online, tracking the latest polls, reading the left-leaning articles and opinion pieces in the Huffington Post, clicking the links that lead to still more articles that clutter up my brain with gloom and doom scenarios.

dwayne-the-rock-johnson-net-worth

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

This morning, amidst all the horrifying stories about Trump’s transition and the scary people he’s recruiting to ruin our country as we know it, I came upon some breaking news that’s actually cheerful: People magazine has named “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as its Sexiest Man Alive. I’ve always liked “The Rock,” though huge muscle-bound men have never been my type. But probably the People editors thought we could use a little levity in these dark days, and despite his huge hulkiness, The Rock is reportedly a nice guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, unlike certain politicians I could name. (FYI, my favorite Sexiest Man choice in recent years has been Mathew McConnaghey. I even referenced his looks in describing one of the characters in my novel Eldercide.

matthew-mcconaughey

Matthew McConaughey

In hopes of breaking free of the shackles of gloom and doom, I’m resolving to cut down radically on my news consumption, whether online, on TV or in good old-fashioned newspapers. I’m cutting back on Facebook too, since most of my FB friends are still preoccupied with the political scene. Instead, I’ll do my best to play ostrich for a while, focus on the people and pets I love, and zero in on my writing.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I won’t be working on a novel. Instead, I’m focusing on a new nonfiction project, a book on creativity and blasting through the blocks that inhibit it. In recent months, I’ve given some workshops on the topic. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and so have the participants. It’s a lot more fun than reading passages from my novels in hopes people will buy them, and paradoxically, I’ve sold more books when I’m not overtly flogging them.

nanowrimo-camp-2015-poster-get-lost-writeBack in a former lifetime, when I was a creative arts therapist, I gave workshops on creativity, dream work and women’s issues at colleges and growth centers, but it’s a skill set I haven’t used in many years. Facilitating the creativity of others, I realized I’ve got a lot to say about it—hence the book project I’m plunging into now. It will be part memoir, part self-help, part exploration into past and present findings about how the brain works, and much more. I’ll probably include stories from other writers about their own adventures with the creative process. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post. Please subscribe so you won’t miss anything. I’ll talk with you soon!

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.

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?

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.

 

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

Today’s my sixth day of National Novel Writing Month. I started out with a bang and churned out a lot of words on the first three days, then goofed off and fell behind. NaNo has a nifty bar graph that charts my progress, telling me exactly how many words I need to turn out per day to finish in time and how long it’ll take me at my present rate.

Today NaNo says I’ll finish on December 8th, so I’ve got to pick up the pace. This is about the point I copped out the last time I tried several years ago, but I’m determined to stay the course. Fortunately my husband is understanding and supportive – he’s entered NaNo too. Right now I’ve got about twice as many words as he does, but he started late, and I expect he’ll pass me before too long.

I’m all too easily distracted. It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, perfect for leaf raking and putting the garden to bed, but I don’t dare go outside until I’ve written at least a thousand words. From my office window I have a bird’s eye view of my next-door neighbor’s roof. Two men are laying down new roofing, and it’s a pleasure to watch them, especially the younger one who’s wearing a black tee shirt and jeans as he crawls around with amazing agility. I’m admiring his musculature while I study their technique.

He’s working incredibly fast, while the older guy mostly stands and watches, hitching up his pants every once in awhile. This side show would be all well and good except for the fact that he’s using an electric hammer which emits a steady rhythm of “ribbet, ribbet,” conjuring up images of frogs. I’m tempted to give the men a neighborly shout-out of encouragement, but that would destroy my voyeur status.

Everything’s grist for the mill. I won’t be able to use this scene just yet, because my novel takes place in January, but maybe my observations will come in handy for a future book, so it’s good to take notes. They’ll end up in my 50,000 word count, and so will my thoughts as I worked in the garden yesterday.

Picasso's Woman in Mirror

But there are some observations I can use immediately. Yesterday I went to a vegan restaurant in Troy in hopes of meeting some other NaNo writers who’d said they’d probably be there. I met only one, but I ended up in a long conversation with a non-Nano woman who was unusually talkative and forthcoming with personal information, like the details of her incontinence problems. Only after I showed her a copy of my book MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS did she reveal that she was diagnosed bipolar. She said she’s doing fine without medication and by adhering to a strictly vegan diet. 

After I extricated myself from the conversation and left the restaurant, a light bulb flashed and I realized she’d make a perfect character for my book – maybe a ditzy secretary who drives the other staff crazy with her never ending self-referential chatter. I’ll transform her in most respects, of course – I don’t even how what she looks like yet – but I can envision her as a recurring character who adds some levity, like the grandmother in Janet Evanovich’s books.

Although I vowed not to get hung up on editing for this first draft, I find I can’t resist the urge to tinker with my words, at least a little. Yes, it slows me down, but I need to feel good about what I write. If I fall further behind, I’ll just have to put in more hours. And when I’m really feeling panicked, I can always paste in a short story I never published, but which I was planning to incorporate in this novel anyway.

Throughout the time I’ve been writing this post, those guys have been working nonstop on the roof. On this first day back on standard time, darkness will come all too quickly, but right now the sinking sun is throwing the young man’s face and arms into high relief. The pine trees framing the lake make a perfect backdrop, and on the opposite shore, there’s still lots of gold and red in the trees. All in all a beautiful sight.

So far, the biggest win for me in NaNoWriMo is the revelation that I can still write fiction, maybe at a higher level than I ever have before. In the year of depression from which I’m only now emerging, I’d seriously questioned whether I had another novel in me. Now I know I do.

*I found the cat photo above by Googling NaNoWriMo, and I don’t know what’s up with the spelling. But she does remind me somewhat of my tabby cat Lunesta, who is currently sitting atop the computer monitor batting intermittently at the screen. She’s still on daylight savings time, not having realized we’ve gone an hour backward, and thinks it’s time for her evening meal.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – can I write a novel during National Novel Writing Month?

This is the first sentence of my new 50,000 word novel. Yes, I’ve signed on for the exercise in masochism known as National Novel Writing Month. That big a word count averages out to 1,666 words a day, according to the site’s organizers, or about six and a half pages. That’s not an impossible goal on a good day, but I’ve never cranked out a novel that fast. Now that the race is on, my anxiety is already kicking in – I’m hyperventilating and my heart rate is rising.

NaNoWriMo (www.NaNo.WriMo.org) was launched in 1999, and it’s grown steadily since then. Last year 200,000 people participated, and of that number, 30,000 completed 50,000 words or more. Those who reach the finish line get some kind of sticker and certificate. There’s no fee to enter, and no one sees or reads the finished manuscript. When you reach 50,000 words, you upload your novel to their web site to verify the word count. If you’re paranoid, you can do a “save-as” and scramble the book a bit to insure that no one can steal your plot.

So why did I make the first line of this blog the novel’s first sentence? Because I plan to make my 50,000-word manuscript a form of performance art in order to beef up my word count and blend fact with fiction. I’ll alternate fictional scenes with stream-of-consciousness ramblings about my creative process, some of which will end up on this blog. Who knows, the process may open up new horizons for me as a writer.

I entered NaNoWriMo several years ago but dropped out after a week because the break-neck speed made me excruciatingly nervous. As a writer, I’m accustomed to taking my time, backtracking and editing as I go along. I agonize over the perfect words and phrases and make changes directly on the computer, so that before I print out the new pages, I’ve got a fairly coherent and engaging first draft, or so I hope.

With NaNoWriMo, there’s no time for that kind of lollygagging. As in a marathon, I need to sustain my pace. No time to fix typos or check for repetition, let alone worry about the finer points of spinning a compelling tale – there’s only time to spew, no time to analyze the vomitus.

Word’s spell-check just underlined vomitus with a red squiggle, telling me it’s not a legitimate word. Normally I’d take time to consult an online dictionary for fine-tuning, but not now – I have to meet my quota. But then what does this Microsoft program know? It doesn’t even recognize the word “blog.”  

No need to agonize in solitude – NaNo has lots of online forums where people can share the misery. You can find out who’s participating in your own geographical region and even meet them in person. In three hours I’ll be dining on free pizza, hobnobbing at East Line Books, an independent bookstore in Clifton Park, where the owner, Robyn Ringler, is throwing a NaNo kick-off party. Apparently some NaNo participants converge on local libraries and coffee shops to write together en masse, but I think I’ll pass on that – I’ve never done my best writing in a group setting.

You too can share in this November madness. There’s still time to sign up. I don’t see any entry deadline on the website, but of course every day you lose means more catching up in the remaining days. As the say on their home page, with a nod to Maurice Sendak, “let the wild rumpus begin!”

Anyone care to bet on whether and when I finish my 50,000 words? Give me your best guess, down to the date, hour and minute, and I’ll send the winner copies of my two mystery novels, MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS and ELDERCIDE.

There, I’ve just written 647 words – over a third of today’s quota!