Friday, November 30, 2012

Raising the White Flag

Well, NaNoWriMo, you beat me this time. There were too many distractions, too many bizarre injuries, too many hurricanes, and too many other obligations. I am attempting to accept my defeat gracefully. There are many other WriMos out there in the same boat as me. NaNo is a real challenge every year, and even the most prolific writers encounter periods when their time is not their own.

 I knew fairly early on that this was not going to be a winning year for me, but I didn’t surrender until the last day. Why? Simply put, every word you write for NaNo is a word that you wouldn’t have otherwise written. Despite my relentless distractions, I managed to write 25,000 words this month, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I continue to learn more about my own writing process, as well. This is hugely important. I consider writing to be a form of art, and like any artist, I must continually work to improve and stretch and challenge myself. The life of an artist is a journey, and the public’s perception that an individual is either talented or not, full stop, is erroneous. The Stephen Kings, J.K. Rowlings, and Neil Gaimans out there aren’t born writing well – it’s a learned skill. Events such as NaNoWriMo are wonderful vehicles for writers to learn and grow and develop their abilities, and so no attempt could ever be seen as a failure.

Another consideration that keeps me from spiraling into a vortex of self-loathing and chocolate binging is that many of the obligations that kept me from working on my novel were tied to my work for Renaissance Romance Publishing. This is a good thing, because it reminds me that I finally have a career that I can enjoy and find fulfillment in. I’m lucky to have been given such an opportunity after so many years of patent specifications and embassy certifications and demanding clients and mysteriously disappearing (yet critical) case files. It’s hard to get depressed over having a full and rewarding life.

I still love the NaNoWriMo experience, and I’m looking forward to giving it another shot next year. Perhaps this time I’ll try advance preparation and a smidge of organization… maybe.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


So, NaNoWriMo has been something of a disaster this year. Between my litanies of physical complaints, I have also had the most unbelievable string of unusual distractions and challenges crop up throughout the month. I’m going to save myself some time and trouble and just blame Hurricane Sandy.

There are four days remaining, and I have 30,000 words left to write. While technically doable, I tend to be a rather deliberate, plodding sort of writer, so I’m not sure how realistic the goal is. I have already scraped through every note and partial outline and random margin squiggle for ideas, and I’m feeling a bit uninspired.

This could have been avoided in large part if I had taken the time to outline the full novel before November began. Unfortunately, we are none of us in complete control of our time, and my other commitments did not allow for that preparation. This was still a good experience, though, since I now know that I need to begin outlining far in advance of next November’s attempt. If you are like me and do not have a steady and easily-anticipated schedule, you may want to join me in my planned year-long brainstorming session.

All I can say is that all the terrific ideas I have are all jumbled together into a mess because of the lack of planning. I don’t think I’ll be able to untangle the skeins before the end of the month, but I’m still plugging away. It may be a lost cause, but the ultimate purpose of NaNoWriMo still holds true: it’s one of the best ways to motivate yourself to sit down and write, and whatever my final word count, it’s still more progress than I would have made otherwise.

The deadlines lie thick upon the ground for the remainder of 2012, so I’ll take whatever I can get.

Good luck to my fellow WriMos as we reach the end of another National Novel Writing Month. May your pens be swift, and your wit abundant.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Art of Manic Laughter

So… it’s still November. I’m still doing NaNoWriMo. BUT. I haven’t been able to work on writing for five – count them – five days straight. Not good.

This does serve to illustrate one of the reasons why WriMos go slightly insane by the end of the month. It’s called “Real Life.”

This year, we started with Sandy, the superstorm of incredible bad-timingness. Our local schools were closed for almost a week, and one middle school was even turned into a shelter. The weirdest part about this was that I live in Ohio – not exactly ground zero, as far as the storm path was concerned. However, power was restored to everyone in my City only a day or two ago, so the impact was significant.

We spent the first days of November trying to contact our friends in the hardest-hit areas, especially those in New Jersey, Virginia, and New York, and making sure that our local friends and family got whatever assistance they needed. I’m not the most selfless gal around, but even I had a hard time focusing on my own agenda with all that going on. Of course, school closures and horrible weather combined to produce cabin-fevered, cooped-up children. By day three, there was no ADHD medication on this Earth that could have kept Shorty from ricocheting off the walls. It was like he was competing with Sandy to see which of them could knock my house over first.

Things got back to relative normality, and I decided to go out with a friend. I had forgotten that I am Karma’s personal Slinky, however. I have a history with stairs. It’s not a good one. With my customary grace, I tripped up (yes, up) a flight of stairs and smashed the ever-loving hell out of my left leg.

Hello, ice packs and ibuprofen. And today, I had the added indignity of going in to the doctor’s office where A) they weigh you – every girl’s favorite thing; and B) I was sent for x-rays, which were handled by technicians younger, thinner, and more aesthetically pleasing than me. To add insult to injury, they asked me how I managed to hurt myself so badly. I told them I was just naturally graceful.

Did I mention that we had the presidential election on Tuesday? I voted early by mail, but it didn’t help me avoid Election Day distractions. Hellooo, live streaming. Goodbye, productivity. I tried to resist, but Jon Stewart is just too damn funny to be denied.

Tonight was our parent/teacher conference for Shorty. I should send his teacher an apology. Most parents don’t keep the teacher there for an hour and a half. My husband and I together are like a vaudeville team that time forgot. She was very patient, though, bless her.

All these hiccups in the road are behind me now, so my novel should blossom and thrive unimpeded. Right? (It’s okay to lie to me on this one.)

Shorty’s birthday is next week. My teenager’s parent/teacher conferences are Sunday. I have editing jobs lined up in a queue, mocking me with their not-doneness. Thanksgiving weekend looms. And those are just the things that popped into my head. I’m sure I’m missing stuff.

I do not despair, my fellow WriMos. I have done this thing before, and I know that where there is a will and a supply of coffee to rival the inventory of an apocalyptic bunker, anything is possible.

Don’t give up now if you’re struggling – there’s plenty of time!

And if you’re already at 50,000 words, I can only congratulate you and say with absolute sincerity:

Go away. I hate you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Not Going According to Plan

This year, I was going to have an outline. I was going to arrange my plot ahead of time, actually finish the Scrivener tutorial so I could use it for once, and I was going to go into NaNoWriMo with a solid game plan.

As anyone who has read my blog can probably guess, that is not what actually happened.

I have heard of some people having already produced a NaNoWriMo word count of 20,000 or higher, and I’m trying not to spiral into a vortex of self-pity. There is a remote possibility that I might just been the teensiest bit competitive, but I can neither confirm nor deny it. Depends who’s asking.

I have so much on my plate right now that if I stop to really think about it, I wind up in the fetal position weeping to the accompaniment of terrible 1980s power ballads. I have 50,000 words to write, a charity piece to complete, and two manuscripts to edit… not to mention those paltry house/children/husband/personal hygiene issues that occasionally require my attention as well. Add in things like a hurricane, my teenager’s report card (don’t ask), a smashed kneecap, a new internet provider, and the virus from hell that is bouncing around my household, and things may feel just slightly completely out of control and hopeless.

Don’t worry for me, though. This is my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, so I’m a little calmer than I might otherwise be right now.  That’s not to say I’m actually calm – just less completely batshit insane.

What have I done today to combat stress? I gave myself permission to watch a couple episodes of Sherlock. I pfutzed with Instagram. I iced my knee while working on one of my editing jobs. And I opened the file for my NaNo novel, cast an appraising eye over it, and said, “Nope, not today.”

I want to enjoy writing this novel. Even with the pressure of the 30-day deadline – and often because of it – I have actually enjoyed writing the novels I created in prior years. When I sit down to write this year, if I’m not enjoying it, the deadline doesn’t matter. My feeling is that, with a ton of other things hanging over my head, I won’t be able to relax and have fun.

My advice to first-time WriMos is simple: relax. Yes, you want to use the pressure of the deadline to free yourself from your inner editor, but don’t put so much on yourself that you spend the entire month miserable and subsisting on Fritos and reheated diner coffee. You’re a writer, so writing should be fun for you. I still plan to hit 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th. I also plan to be sleep-deprived, slap-happy, and perhaps a wee bit mental. But those are all things I enjoy (in moderation). NaNo is the one time of the year when you are really aware of the breadth and scope of the writing community around the world, and it gives you a wonderful sense of camaraderie and belonging that we isolated and often awkward novelists are not used to experiencing.

So relax. Have fun. Write down every lunatic idea that pops into your head. And if you cherish your sanity at all, don’t worry about other people’s word counts. The only person you’re competing with is yourself.