Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing necessities

Georgia isn't exactly freezing in November, but I've spent some chilly, gray autumn days writing what has become an epic account of a young girl's quest to become the leader of what used to be a peaceful valley but is now preparing for war. She's traveled through time, seen people die for her cause, met and fought the devil (she left him with a bad limp, and that's saying something), translated and read the entire book of the valley's secrets, and just yesterday, had her first kiss.

For me, writing so many adventures in so little time requires one thing: a deadline. But lots of other smaller things have encouraged me along the way. Here's my recipe for a successful National Novel Writing Month (or any other writing month), should you ever take on the challenge of quickly writing a story.

Ingredients for Writing a Delicious First Draft Novel in Just 30 Days:

1 (at least) fellow writer to email and chat with for encouragement

1 cozy blanket, preferably with a history (this quilt made by my great-aunt in a cabin in the Christmas tree mountains of North Carolina works perfectly)

5 minutes per day staring into the nothingness that is the mystery of the universe (my nothingness spot is the fireplace, but feel free to look at the ceiling or a closed door or your big toe or whatever works for you)

1 large bucket of willingness to ignore everyone and everything in order to get caught up after you find yourself 5000 or so words behind target

30 minutes per day (at least) in the kitchen (because you must get out of your head and do something on your feet that requires all five physical senses)

2 friendly cats (for keeping your feet warm)

1 hot shower a day followed by 1 cushy bathrobe (these two together have magical properties on any difficult day)

1 open mindset for adventurous writing like you'd never normally attempt (the speed of the thing makes you write strangely, but don't stop; enjoy ignored inhibitions)

1 large container of gingerbread biscotti and a jug of almond milk (for dipping)

1 or more conversations per day with a family member (nothing grounds you like family)

1 nap per day (unless naps make you grumpy)

1 (at least) critical thing that needs doing much more urgently than your novel needs writing (such as preparing for a lecture, traveling for a holiday, or cleaning your house before your sweet mother-in-law comes for a visit)


1. Mix everything together in one big bowl
2. Enjoy!


"We have to learn to appreciate what astonishingly hard work it is to produce a book . . . They have gone through the problems of throwing away the first chapter seventeen times, starting again and starting again, and they have labored through it. Even if the work is not great, they deserve applause for that. Anybody who can do that has started off." ~ Stephen Fry

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On chewing one's food

Picture a girl. She's gotten out of bed at a reasonable hour, taken care of the animals, and seen her husband off to work. The day is before her. But first: breakfast.

Though she doesn't look anything like what I'm about to say, just picture her for the metaphor, if you don't mind. The girl is messy, her socks and pajamas twisted and her shirt on inside out. Her eyes are pretty, but with gray shadows underneath. Alone often, the eyes are distant, inward, but not lost. If they land on you, they immediately know you. Her hair is red. Much deeper than mine, and pulled back with little wisps falling around her face. She smiles to herself in one moment and frowns in the next. She raises every shade on every window and puts on Christmas music a month too early. The bright autumn sun and blue sky spill into the house. Along with the music and her ups and downs and her beautiful mess, the place is a living poem.

But she runs through poems like she runs through the night--from something she doesn't know toward something she knows even less, on an unseen treadmill built by a deep longing for the answer to the question, What do I do in this world?

Sausage, eggs, and waffles cooking; butter, salt, and syrup on the table; plate warming in the oven; music coming through the speakers; sun and blue sky tumbling in; dog snoring on his bed...music playing, sky tumbling, syrup waiting, butter melting, eggs cooking, sausage frying, waffles toasting, dog snoring--then it hits her:

Stop. Don't let this go. This is everything.

In the fearful excitement that comes with revelation, she carefully folds her napkin and rests her fork as prettily and perfectly in its center as possible. With a deliberately relaxed pace, she fills the plate that's almost too hot to hold. Her computer remains closed where it sits instead of acting her usual companion. The phone is neglected somewhere out of sight. Looking out at the sun and the blue, the girl sits, breathes, then forces herself to chew slowly. The music washes over her, its notes separating in the air and dancing in front of her before forming one song again. The spices gather into groups on her plate before scattering again in one burst. The leaves on the ground outside her window float back into the places they held all summer before floating down again in a rain of spinning autumn yellow to the frosty ground below.

This moment, the world whispers, is what you do in this world.


"Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough." ~ Emily Dickinson

NaNo Progress

We're nearly halfway through November now, and I've broken the 20,000 word mark, an accomplishment that suggests I could win this year. Though maybe I shouldn't speak so soon. Thanksgiving, travels, guitar lessons, teaching, tutoring, work training, procrastination, and frequent naps and chocolate breaks will seriously threaten my word count goals in the coming two weeks. That said, I could stop now and be proud of what I've accomplished. Coming into the challenge, I had a decent start on the story. Now I'm a solid 20 chapters in. By the end of NaNo, if I succeed, I'll have at least a 60,000 word novel completed (and what's looking like the start of a series).

Writing away from home at Barnes & Noble with my favorite autumn
treat. More eating than writing done, but with pumpkin
cheesecake, the trip is never a complete loss.

As far as the writing community goes, most of my involvement has been in the chatrooms doing word wars to get my word count up quickly. When motivated, I can get a solid 750 words in twenty minutes without trying. I'm nearly done for the day after a couple wars. The problem, as always, is focus. Even though I'm taking my vitamins like a good girl now, I still get distracted easily and sometimes take all day to get the 1,667 words I need in order to stay on target. I even got distracted at my first Atlanta-area write-in, though to be fair, it was mostly by my yummy potatoes and eggs breakfast. I met a nice group of people, one of the NaNoLanta (as the Atlanta chapter is known) mascots (see pic below), and had a good time, which is what matters most (aside from the words--come on people, we can be friends later, this is serious). Okay, fine. Friendship is better than racking up words. A few of the friends I've made through NaNo over the past few years have even become friends in real life, and that's probably the reason I keep coming back.

The NaNoLanta Panda who greeted me at my first Georgia write-in.
He (she?) is fed and nurtured the other eleven months of the
year by write-in host and new NaNo pal Naty.

As for the story, it's still keeping me interested, surprising me at least once a chapter, and progressing terrifyingly smoothly. This never happens when I write. Something must be wrong. Cool moments keep plopping into each scene as if they were always meant to be there and have simply been waiting for me to put them into words, and when my characters don't like something that's happening, I can feel them getting frustrated with me. I've had to force very little (there's always gonna be a bit of forcing with the time crunch), and because of that, this has probably been the most enjoyable fiction writing experience I've ever had. So, yay for NaNo. More once I've hit another milestone.

Lunch at Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party for a writing date with a writerly friend.
Didn't get any writing done, but had great conversation and a big fat pimento
cheese sandwich. Hmm...my writing life seems to revolve around food...


"Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."
~ Stephen King, On Writing

Monday, November 5, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

It's that time again: National Novel Writing Month. This year, I'm working on a story I'm really into. It's an adventure/fantasy piece and is more plot driven than anything I've written before. I'm staying interested and writing quickly even though I got three days behind due to illness. My other NaNo stories have been ridiculous, so I'm glad to have something this year I feel proud of and excited to work on. Sure, it's fun just going for the word count, but it's a much less painful process round about November 15th if I'm not writing gibberish.

More as the month progresses. For now, a tiny passage from my (unedited!) story:

To Lacy, special abilities, like seeing clearly in the dark, were as natural as being a fast runner is to us, or being able to balance so well you can walk a tightrope without a safety net below. But she had never known of a real magic like this existing outside of stories, like this ability of one person's touch to transport another to a mountaintop. For that matter, she’d never known of someone being taken over by the dark. She did, however, have the presence of mind to believe and accept what she saw for what it was—something she simply didn’t understand yet but that was, in the end, always understandable, if only she had the right information.

There it is, folks. Nothing brilliant, but brilliant ain't what NaNo's about!

Since I don't have any NaNo pictures (me staring with wrinkled brow at my computer screen), here are a few from Halloween. Candy was given away, potato soup and rum cake were enjoyed, Thriller was poorly danced to, and I got to dress up like a Hogwarts professor. Fun.