Sunday, November 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day 25: Binders Full of Women

A figured a retrospective entry would be fitting for my last National Novel Writing Month post.

I went to my parent's place for Thanksgiving and, as is my usual routine, I spent a little bit of time in my old room, taking a stroll down memory lane and looking through all my old stuff. My old TV stand now houses all my binders of old writing -- angsty poems and journal entries and short stories as far as the eye could see. Usually, I flip through the pages, recollect on a more naive time, and leave them be. But, since I was already grabbing a garbage-bag full of old clothes to use for sewing projects, I decided -- hey, why not bring these home as well?

The majority of this stuff will never see the public light of day, so help me God. And, actually, I have a confession to make (I have a shoe obsession! Pinterest is my main source of inspiration!): I talk about my first and my second novel, but there's actually a bastard for-real-first novel. This little 150-page gem is something I wrote sometime when I was 15 (judging by the subject material, but more on that in a minute).

The premise itself is somewhat original: the main character is shot and killed in the first chapter of the book. The rest of the story is part retrospect, part whodunnit. But the actual meat of the story is nothing more than overly-dramatic people being angsty and unrealistic and the actual "whodunnit" is so insipid that it actually causes me physical pain to re-read.

One of my creative writing professors said that your first book is basically your autobiography. Although I've never been shot while staring out of my bedroom window, the retrospective part is practically my life. This is how I knew I wrote the book when I was 15: the heartbreaks and catty friendships I talk about in my first "book" is exactly what happened to me between the ages of 14 and 15.

Now, given, the - er - calibre of most YA this days (Hunger Games excluded), this book could probably pass as a decent young adult book. I mean -- hey -- add in a few sparkling demonic-but-brooding creatures and I could have a bestseller on my hands. But, for me, if this book were ever to be seen by the public, it would have to be completely gutted and rewritten before I could even think of polishing it up.

But, who cares? If there is any message for my last post, it's that the foundations of your writing don't have to be perfect. The same way I wouldn't berate my first grade self for terrible penmanship (ah, who am I kidding. I still have terrible penmanship), I can't be hard on myself for something I wrote in high school. And, furthermore, there's nothing wrong with basing your fictional characters on your real life. People are multi-dimensional beings, and whose frailties, fears, and complexities do you know better than your own? The only caveat here is that you still need to make the work sound believable. It doesn't matter if the things you write about actually happened in real life if the reader wouldn't buy it as fiction.

So I'm a little over 40,000 words. According to NaNoWriMo, if I write at least 1400 words a day between now and the 30th, I'll make the 50,000 word mark. We'll see what happens. Some days, I get nearly triple my goal in. Other days, I'm fighting tooth and nail just to write out 1000 words. And things are only going to get more challenging when I have the wonderful Florida weather and wedding events to distract me.

But I'm only 5 days out. Let's see what happens.

Remember; you can always follow my progress on my NaNoWriMo page (y'know, if your cable has gone out or something).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day 20: Nothing Wrong With Writing Ahead … So Long As You're Willing to Kill It Off

I don't know how I made it this long. Last year, I got 2,000 words in and quit. Maybe the book hadn't been ready. Maybe I hadn't been ready. While I feel like there will always be an excuse to not write that page or finish that chapter, I feel that, for this book, at least, I needed some extra time to process the events in my life that originally spawned the book idea (the book itself is about an extremely dysfunctional school, something I came up with after having an incredibly negative teaching experience). The book is comedy and farce and absurdity, but I was still too angry about said situation to really be able to write comedically. I look back on some old segments I had written for the novel, and they just sounded bitter. Said segments ended in the trash folder pretty quickly.

Which brings me to this post's theme: there is nothing wrong with writing ahead in your novel, so long as you're willing to kill it off when necessary. As Stephen King would say: "Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings."

No one is immune to it: we have a story idea in our head, but instead of starting at page one and working our way forward, we want to write the scenes we have playing in our head right now. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. At least 2,000 of the words written this month were for scenes that actually happen much later in the book.

I am all about writing out scenes out of sequence, for many reasons:

1) It gets you writing your book. I don't care if you just scribble out some dialogue or a brief description of a room or the very last paragraph of your novel. You are writing, and you are writing for your book. Whatever you are doing is a thousand times better than just sitting around, thinking about how, someday, you'll write that Great American Novel.

2) You are getting the ideas out of your head. Aside from the obvious creative satisfaction of seeing those scenarios finally on paper, it clears up your mind. It takes a lot of energy to keep those scenes, conversations, character studies, etc, alive in your memory. Once it's out of your head, you have the space to come up with more ideas. I recognize that brains don't actually work as simply as that, but finally getting out what you were thinking about does relieve you of the task of remembering it, which will help you feel more free to think up new ideas.

3) Most importantly, you are warming up the creative side of your brain, making it a lot easier to write Chapter 1 than before. Think of it as the walk around the block before you go running. The same way many writing teachers recommended doing a free write each morning to get your mind ready, writing out a random scene gets you in the proper mindset, if not more so, because your focus is on your book.

However, there is one major caveat to writing scenes out of sequence: there is a very strong likelihood that, once you finally get to that spot in your book for that particular section that you have already written, there will be no place for it.

This happened to two different scenes in my first novel. Both scenes seemed perfect when I had originally written them. But the book ended up taking on a different path. One scene was deemed redundant while another scene actually took away from the novel. There was nothing for me to do but copy/paste them into a different Word document ("writing graveyard", if you will), delete it from my book, and move on.

Sometimes, you just have to kill your darlings.

Was I crushed when I realized this? Of course. But I wouldn't have changed a single thing. Writing out those now-useless scenes had helped organize my thoughts. If anything, it fleshed out certain aspects of the characters that made them more realistic. While the reader might never know about these traits, it helped me as a writer connect better with the subject matter at hand. And, one thing I've noticed, is that the more believable and complex you make your characters (even if it's only in your head), the more it feels like they're actually telling the story for you.

If there is anything I have learned from writing, it's that story ideas are a lot like children: you can have hopes and goals for them, and you can guide them and help them reach those goals, but, in the end, they're going to do their own thing. And, honestly, that's one of the marks of a good writer: the understanding that a story is almost an autonomous creature and the ability to let things go in the name of the bigger picture. The understanding that the story is bigger than you and more important than your self esteem.

So here I am, at Day 20. I gotta admit: I didn't expect to last this long. Now I'm 2/3s of the way in -- or 10 days out, depending on how you see it. Thanksgiving is in two days. I fly to Tampa next Tuesday, where I'll finish out November driving back and forth from Tampa to Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Seabring for all sorts of wedding and family (and micro-vacation)-related activities. But my resolve is strong: 1000 words or more a day, no matter what.

And then, who knows. Let's not get ahead of ourselves :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day 15: Don't Get Ahead of Yourself

A little update on my computer before I go forward: turned out I had a dying hard drive. While my husband could back up all my files, he couldn't fix something that was tangibly damaged (although my Macbook is coming up on its 3-year birthday, my husband pointed out the damage was most likely facilitated by the laptop being shuffled around while the hard drive was processing. I have a nasty habit of never shutting down my computer when traveling. Lesson learned there!). We conceded and went to the Genius Bar after all and paid for them to install a brand new hard drive (plus a nice keyboard/touchpad cleaning since I also have a *cough* nasty habit of eating while in front of my laptop).

Whenever things get tough, my husband reminds me that every setback that happens in our lives happens for a reason, and usually ends up bettering our lives than if the setback had never happened in the first place. This little speed bump, while costing me a day and a half in terms of stress and panic, ended up working for the better as well. The Genius Bar guys upgraded my software from Snow Leopard to Lion for free (an upgrade to Mountain Lion would've cost me, however), and the new hard drive had twice as many gigabytes as my old one. Since I had to redo all my bookmarks anyway, I decided on Chrome over Firefox as my main browser (a very wonderful upgrade in and of itself). I also was able to get MSOffice 2011 (whereas beforehand, I was using a very crappy 2004 bootleg). The best part was that I was able to start over with a clean slate. No unnecessary applications, no files all over the place. My Macbook runs smoother, faster; my desktop is actually organized for once.

The stress from my computer crash actually fits in nicely with this post's theme: don't get ahead of yourself. When I couldn't get my laptop to load, I got far too ahead of myself. What if my files were gone forever? What if I couldn't bounce back from losing 6,000+ words? What if I am never able to write another book again because I had such a disaster with my second novel? What if everything I've been working so hard towards crumbles in front of me like a dried-up cake?

All that did was add fuel to the stress fire, which is a good chunk of the reason as to why I had a panic attack. Another cause for the panic attack was potentially the fact that I had my first demo class ever. As I mentioned before, I might start teaching tai chi. I was giving a demo class at the Manchester Y that Friday, and it was safe to say I was getting ahead of myself there, too. What happens if I get this gig? Can I handle two jobs? What if this means that I'll eventually shift careers into fitness training instead? Am I ready to be a tai chi instructor? Does this mean I should focus on the trainings required to be a yoga instructor as well? Am I done being an early childhood educator?

Nothing good comes from getting ahead of yourself. It busies your brain at best and causes panic attacks at worst. The same goes for writing: around Day 4, I had already written out every scenario that had been simmering in the back of my mind pre-NaNoWriMo. This meant that I had to start making up what happens in my book on the spot. This is a daunting task: what should the next scene be? Does it add to the book? Does it add to the character or the plot? Is it absolute garbage?

The only way I could move forward was with the understanding that I only needed to figure out what would happen during the next 1000 words. I had another day to figure out the next 1000, and so on. And a funny thing would happen: I'd struggle with the first hundred words, only to downright stumble upon a great plot device or piece of dialogue, and, before I knew it, I was 1500 words down (I know I said I'd be more strict about pacing myself, but all that went out the window when I received the grey load-up screen of death).

I used to think I preferred the outline style of creating a novel (I wrote outlines for the last half of my first novel and essentially used it as a checklist when I'd finish each chapter), but, for this book, I'm better off winging it a thousand words at a time. Granted, I'm keeping a keen eye on the overall story arc, but knowing the direction my story is heading is completely different than knowing what will happen in every chapter.

If you are a hardcore outline enthusiast, my advice still stays the same: don't get ahead of yourself. You might have a full outline set up, ready to reach that full 50,000-word goal, but remember: unless you're Stephen King or John Grisham, you will not reach that 50,000 words by the end of week one. Take it one day at a time. See what you can get written today, not what you can get written while worrying about the rest of the month.

Before you know it, you're at Day 15. I'm roughly at 26,000 words total, 19,000 of which were written during NaNoWriMo alone. This means I've almost quadrupled my word count in a simple 15 days. I recognize that, with Thanksgiving and my brother-in-law's wedding coming up, I'm not out of the woods just yet. But, hey -- I survived a potential loss of all my NaNoWriMo's progress. What's a little bit of family time?

Friday, November 9, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day 9: Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming

Life is funny sometimes. A couple days ago, I was going full steam ahead, already playing out what my next NaNoWriMo post was going to be about (as you can see from my calendar, I was going to talk about rewarding yourself with stars).

And then my computer crashed.

My computer had been acting up, so I did the logical thing of restarting my computer. Much to my dismay, instead of seeing my beautiful desktop, with all its files and folders, I got only the grey load-up screen of death.

I was petrified, because while I had back-ups of mostly everything on my laptop, I had zero back-up of my second novel, pre-NaNoWriMo. This meant that, potentially, all my hard work, all the sacrifices I had been making to write 1000 words a day, was gone. And, since I'm the queen of timing, I found out this tidbit of information right as I was going to work.

I tried my best to go about my day, all the while silently freaking out about my novel. I raced home on my break, tried everything the internet told me to try, and had absolutely, positively, no luck. Nothing but the Apple logo and a grey screen.

And like the rational, reasonable person I am, I responded with a full-out panic attack. The second panic attack I've ever had in my entire life, the first happening when I was 18.

I'm not proud to admit that I had a panic attack over this. Granted, the panic attack came more as a combination of the stress of everything else happening in my life, a really bad day at work (students can just tell when you really don't have it in you to give it your all, huh), and a certain and stark uncertainty. And I know that when bloggers usually "admit" things on their blogs, it's usually things like, "I have SUCH a shoe obsession!" or "Pinterest is my main source of inspiration!" But, oh well -- sometimes you just gotta be honest, brutally honest.

Thankfully I am blessed with a caring, empathetic husband, who works just as close to our apartment as I do, who was willing to come straight home after I sent him a frantic text message, calm me down, and work his magic on my computer. He ran Ubuntu on my computer, saved all my files, picked out my second novel, emailed it to me, and continued diagnosing my decrepit machine.

But, I am getting a little ahead of myself. My husband wasn't able to successfully get my files from my computer until the next day (when I say he worked his magic, I mean magic. I don't know how he did it, but he did). Faced with not knowing if I even had a novel to return to, I went to my notebook and began writing from where I left off.

There is absolutely, positively nothing harder than continuing on when you don't know if you even have anything left to return to. But I kept going. The first day, I wrote maybe 200 or so words. Nothing compared to my goal, but, as my husband wrote on my calendar, I had a good reason.

Something happened once I knew my novel was safe and sound. I was still without a computer (it could run on Linux, but that was about it), but I had my notebook by my side. And I wrote. I wrote with such a fury that I actually lost track of time and barely made it back to work in time. I was engrossed with my pen-to-paper writing. No word counts to check in on, no abilities to scroll back and suddenly change my mind on a sentence. Just, writing. I wrote easily 1500 words during that sitting -- although I won't be able to check until I can type it all out. And nothing gave me more satisfaction than awarding myself a "star" on my calendar for the day after my panic attack.

So my message for this NaNoWriMo post is this: life throws you curveballs. Life throws you curveballs of all shapes and sizes. There will always be a reason to give up or turn back. But if you want something -- really want something -- you just have to keep fighting for it. JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter books on scrap paper and napkins while on break as a waitress. Steven King had an old school typewriter brought to him at the hospital after he was ran over in 2000 (long before the advent of the laptop). If there is one thing the "real world" has taught me, it's that there will always be an excuse for something not to happen. Anything is possible if you have the drive, the passion, the wit, and the support system necessary to achieve it.

And maybe -- just maybe -- next time I post, I can talk about something a little more superficial, like the benefits of sitting at a desk or a table when writing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I know I said I'd devote November to only NaNoWriMo-related posts, but I did hit a milestone that I couldn't exactly ignore.

I know a lot of blogs get this many hits in a day, if not more, but it means a lot to me that I've hit over 10,000 views. I started this blog on whim, not really knowing where it would go. I know I don't have the graphic design knack that many crafts bloggers have, but I love what I do and, after a lot of *snicker* trial and error, found a layout I love and really got into my rhythm.

So here's to the next 10,000 views! Here's to this impromptu blog continuing to grow. Thank you to everyone who has visited my blog, either oh whim as well or as a seasoned regular. I hope I've inspired at least one or two people to try a craft, create curriculum for their classroom, go out and take pictures, or maybe even write a story or two. And really, that's what having a blog is all about =)

Monday, November 5, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day 5: No Cheating!

By some beautiful miracle, I've written a little over 5,000 words in 5 days. To be honest, if I didn't have NaNoWriMo's website to log in my wordcount each night, I'd have no idea what the exact number would be.

Before November hit, I had roughly 7500 words written for my novel. Each day I would sit down, look at the word count,and say to myself, "You can leave this chair once you hit this word count + 1000." I'd work until I got my thousand words in, continue on a little longer if I've got a certain scene in my head that was ready to be played out, save everything, and close my laptop.

The biggest rule I have had for myself this year is this: by all means necessary, no excuses allowed, I must keep up the pace. I can't sprint one day and write 3000 words, only to slack the next day because, "Well, I wrote so much the day before." That is a slippery slope down which I do not want to … slide.

Now, would it be really cool if I hit 50,000 words (the typical goal of NaNoWriMo)? Yes, of course. However, I also recognize that that's nearly double (well, 166%, but close enough) my actual goal, and acting like superwoman and forcing myself to write 2000-3000 words is only going to lead to burnout.

I have my routine in place: sometime in the afternoon, usually on my break (I'm blessed with a commute of one whole mile, so I go home usually for my break), I sit down at the dining room table and I write, refusing to get up until I reach my word limit, but allowing myself to go on a little further if I can play out the scene just a little more. Never anything big -- maybe 100 - 200 words on the absolute outside -- but enough so that the 1000 word limit is not a hard stop. And then I leave my laptop and do something else (usually go back to work), with the understanding that I'll come back and do this all again tomorrow.

I must add, however, that I do allow myself to "plan" for the next day. After writing my 1000 or so words, I'll spend the rest of the day casually thinking about what to write next. I might even jot a few ideas down in one of my notebooks. But I never, ever, play the numbers game. Whatever I wrote in Microsoft Word the day before becomes null and void and -- no matter what -- I have a new 1000 words to write that day.

So there we go: five days, 5000 words down. Twenty-five days and 25,000 to go. If you're curious about my progress with NaNoWriMo outside of this blog, you are more than welcome to visit my NaNoWriMo page. There, you'll fine my overall word count (what I wrote before NaNoWriMo is included in this word count), a (completely unedited) excerpt from my book, and many other just like me, slowly chugging along with their writing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day One

My anal-retentive self is only a little frustrated that November/National Novel Writing Month didn't start on a Wednesday, which could have resulted in a Writer's Wednesday about NaNoWriMo. Only a little, I swear.

I think I've discussed ad nauseum about my first novel, and my fun times getting it published. I was originally set on giving up entirely on the mainstream route and self-publishing it before a friend of a friend suggested that I send my work to his agent, using said friend of a friend as a recommendation. This prompted me to go right back to work on my query, utilizing my husband's uncanny ability to polish all types of writing (but especially writing that is supposed to sell a product well). While my query isn't ready enough in my eyes to send my work out to said agent, it has motivated me enough to maybe -- just maybe -- try the agency hunt again. And honestly, what's the worse that can happen? I spend an extra few months sending out emails before going back to Plan B again?

What I don't really talk about are my other writing endeavors: namely, the second novel I've been working on (but haven't gotten past Chapter 3), and the two other novel ideas that have been swirling around in my head (I don't "brainstorm" so much as I let novels simmer in my mind until I think they're ready to be at least outlined). I wrote my first novel in a very slow-but-steady pace, 10 pages here or there for nearly a year until the novel was complete. I was hoping to do the same with my current novel.

Life, however, had different plans. I finished my first novel in the beginning of 2010, and since then, I: graduated college, started my first job as a Pre-K teacher, got engaged, took night courses, got married, moved across state lines, changed jobs, took up tai chi & yoga & ice hockey, and started doing crafts again. And, enrollment-willing, I'll be teaching a Friday night beginner's tai chi class at a nearby YMCA.

That schedule doesn't allow for much, even in the slow-and-steady pace.

That's where National Novel Writing Month comes in. For some, NaNoWriMo is a month-long, intensive writing session where one comes up with a brand new novel idea and completely fleshes it out in one month's time. For others, it's a chance to write out a novel they had been working on for ages.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it can be exactly what you want it to be, so long as it motivates you to write. Some feel they have "won" if they write an entire novel; others, if they write 50,000 words. For me, I'm hoping to write 1,000 words a day, good or bad, every day, for the entire month of November. This also means I'll be writing 1,000 words a day on Thanksgiving, when I see Gabriel Iglesias (one of the funniest modern-day comedians) live, and when I fly down to Florida for my brother-in-law's wedding.

It's going to be a challenge, but I really want to write out this novel. To lessen the burden, I'm hoping to use my blog this month to focus primarily on my writing. It's not as interesting as, say, videos about Taylor Swift music and necklace tutorials, but if I can focus my creative energy on just one thing, I might be able to do it.

So today is Day 1 of NaNoWriMo. With any luck, I'll be 30,000 words deeper into my book by the month's end. Hopefully I'll make it out with my sanity intact.

To find out more about National Novel Writing Month, visit There are some wonderful tips, ideas -- you can even create an account to log your process alongside millions around the country. I hope this months inspires all of us to do a little more writing, even if it's just writing about our day, writing emails to friends, or even just stream-of-conscious writing in our blogs :)
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