The NeverEnding (NaNoWriMo) Story

 

Keep Calm and Write On

I received a peppy email from NaNoWriMo this week about it being editing time. Usually, I would be all over that, or even a couple steps ahead. Last year, I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel on January 24th. The year before, I was a little slower, taking until February 10th, but my first draft was 30,000 words longer. This year, sad to say, I’m still under 70,000 words (barely) and feel like I might have finally achieved the halfway point of the story arc (if there is such a thing).

I’m not giving up, just plodding along. I don’t write new material every day – I don’t even think about it every day – although I should. I’m just too busy – often with things besides writing. But I’m reading a really good book that I can hardly stand to put down. (Okay, I’m actually reading several good books, but only one page-turner that’s brand new to me.)

And I have become distracted by another writing project. Yes, I’m writing this with guilty fingers, fingers that have typed on another story. Just to think – I postponed work on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel for NaNoWriMo 2015, and now that’s slowed down because I had this completely unexpected novel barge in one day, demanding to be written. Books will do that sometimes, and although I’ve been able to put some of these stories off before, this one wouldn’t take “Wait” for an answer.

You see, it all happened when I read a good book. (That’s how my first NaNoWriMo happened to begin with, so I guess my muse is really rubbing her hands together in glee right now.) It was teen fiction. No vampires or werewolves or anything at all supernatural, which is somewhat unusual for me. And suddenly, I had a character and an idea, and poor NaNoWriMo 2015 was doomed. I’ve only typed a little on this new project (just under 5500 words), but there’s at least 10 times that much simmering in my head, ready to boil over. It’s not like anything I’ve ever written, which makes me think that maybe it’s special.

Or maybe I’m just coming up with excuses to let NaNoWriMo 2015 linger.

Somehow, I don’t think so. Although I’ve left quite a few manuscripts hanging out to dry before, my NaNoWriMo record to date stands at two participations, two wins, two completed manuscripts (and by completed, I mean that I plowed through to their respective ends, although they still need major editing). Considering it’s the third book of a trilogy, and I have beta readers who want to know how it ends, I need to finish it for them – and for me. Earlier this week, one of my characters surprised me and did something I thought a different character would do. I guess I ought to keep writing and see how that’s going to resolve.

But let me state up front what I’m not going to do. This year, I am not going to set goals that will put me in a panic. This year, when I finish, I plan to edit and do it right. I will eventually have a copy of this book for beta readers, but I don’t even know if CreateSpace has a deal for free books this year, and I’m not going to stress out about it. If I have to pay for books, I have to pay for books.

So I’m going to work on these two stories (plus Camp NaNoWriMo, plus editing books one and two of the trilogy again), and if they take me through the end of October, so be it. But come November 1, 2016… well, the NaNoWriMo piper will play for me again. I’m sure of it.

This Week in the News…

It has been quite the newsworthy week, both for the good and bad, locally and internationally.

At the start of the week, it was the tragedy of David Bowie’s death, and later, it was Alan Rickman’s. I’ll say that while Bowie’s was a shock, Alan Rickman’s came as a blow. And it’s not even like I knew him. Tragically, another acclaimed actor, who seemed to be a good person in real life, met an untimely end. But I’ve always had this thing about Alan Rickman, ever since he played the despicable Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Maybe it’s because, as young a girl, I didn’t know to distinguish the actor from the character, so for years, I associated Alan Rickman with evil. It was only much later that I discovered that he was much more than the characters he portrayed. I admired him for so often choosing roles that were dark, challenging, even hated. Someone has to be very comfortable in his own skin to be able to sustain a career as such.

But getting back to the news…

Aside from additional tragic local news, there was also the national hoopla surrounding the billion-and-a-half-dollar Powerball. I’d never paid any attention to any sort of lottery before, but this one had the attention of even the most stringent non-gamblers (even if it was only to scoff). It’s hard not to wonder what it would be like to wake up one day as a billionaire. Some co-workers and I joked that we would happily “settle” for the lucky million-dollar ticket. Even after taking out taxes, that kind of money would make an incredible amount of difference in my life. And even big celebrities like Queen Latifa and David Duchovny said they were participating.

But what about people like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, who had a lot more than I’ll ever, even if not billions? Would that kind of money have made a difference to them? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking that they could already afford the best health care money could buy, yet they still both succumbed to the dreaded C-word.

While many people speculated about what they could do with that kind of money – from retiring at the tender age of 19 to buying houses in all the posh resorts around the world – I thought that I love my job and would hate to have to quit because of the sudden notoriety that being a big winner brings. If, somehow, I ever managed to get any kind of windfall that would allow me to do whatever I pleased (financially) for the rest of my life, I would want to hide it, so I could still do exactly what I’m doing right now.

I’m a pretty low maintenance girl. I don’t need fancy houses or luxury cars – although, I would like a cool reading nook or even library in my dream house. I wouldn’t spend the money on jewels or designer clothes because I’d rather wear yoga pants and a sweatshirt than anything else. It’d be nice to be able to live completely debt-free and know that my kids will always be taken care of. But money won’t cure my elder son’s dyslexia or my younger son’s whatever-he-has.

About the only changes I would make would be to buy a house closer to where I work, hire a cleaning lady once a week, and make my husband retire and become my personal chef. (He’s a good cook – no need to hire outside help.)

As for the rest – buying a new car with cash when the old one craps out or taking vacations on a whim just because we can or filling my library with all the books I could ever want – while that would be nice, there’s something to be said for earning it. Recently, we paid off a  car and finally bought a new one that has all the features we ever could have wanted but couldn’t afford until recently. And there’s something so fulfilling about knowing that we’re finally to that point – that we’ve made it ourselves.

And, hey, there’s still that very slim chance that I’ll make a comfortable living as a novelist. The odds are better than of winning the Powerball, at least.

And say that does happen – say that, someday, the world mourns my death like they’re mourning Alan Rickman’s – I’ll still want to live the quiet life. I’ll still want to sit on my couch or reading nook and be left alone to read a good book. Or read one of my favorites with my children or future grandchildren. I’ll still be enthusiastic about hosting book clubs. Because that’s who I am, and no amount of money (or lack of it) will change that.

And just because, I would like to end with a beautiful, very human quote of Alan Rickman’s. I think that anyone can appreciate it, but only true Potter fans will really get it. Alan Rickman certainly did.

Alan Rickman quote

What to Read in 2016?

It’s that time again – a new year and a new list of books to read. But first, a look back at 2015:

I created a list of 27 books to read in 2015 (read that list here), and I’m proud to say that I read 24 of them (and I’m halfway through the 25th). Four of those titles include Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle – finally! That series was well worth my investment of time.

I also started reading the Harry Potter series to my elder son last summer. I only planned to read The Philosopher’s Stone, unsure of what Peter would think of the British versions of the books (which I prefer over the American versions). The problem is that he’d never read anything without illustrations, and the British books don’t even have the little sketches at the beginning of every chapter, like the American ones. To my surprise, Peter fell in love with the series after he got over his initial indignation that he had to create all the pictures in his head. In fact, we just finished The Order of the Phoenix. (Also, for Christmas, my cousin bought Peter a copy of the gorgeous, fully illustrated Sorcerer’s Stone. “Now I know what Peeves looks like!” he told me while flipping through it.)

I made few detours from my anticipated list of books in 2015, but when I did, I was glad to do so. When someone hands me a book and says, “You have to read this,” or when my job requires me to pick a book for summer reading, or when my child gets enthusiastic about a new series, I’m happy to deviate. Still, I bought several new books during the year, understanding that I likely wouldn’t read them until 2016 – but they’ll show up on this year’s list.

One new venture I’m undertaking this spring is a book club for 4th through 6th graders at my school. We’re going to read The Lightning Thief, the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and if it’s popular enough to continue, we’ll tackle The Sea of Monsters. Either way, I’ll likely go ahead and read the rest of the books on my own. I’ve also bought a beautiful, illustrated companion book called Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods.

Borrowed Books 2016

Pile of Borrowed Books

Aside from re-reading these series and adding the few new books I’d bought earlier in the year, I was beginning to wonder what else I would read in 2016. I was considering putting a plea on Facebook until one afternoon a few weeks ago when I visited a different cousin. It turns out that his wife, a high school media specialist, is on a committee that’s reading all kinds of new young adult fiction. She has piles of books all over their condo that she’s received for being on this committee. And before I left, she hand-picked a number of books that she thought I would enjoy borrowing. She also gave me a recommendation for a book that she couldn’t relinquish (signed by the author) and which I received from Amazon this week.

Christmas Books 2015

Christmas Books!

In addition, Christmas is always a magical time for books at my house – I give, receive, and then buy them afterward. This year, I gave the first Sword of Summer book (Rick Riordan’s latest series on Norse gods) to my husband, and he gave me the second book of the Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series. (Not pictured: the third book of that series, which I just ordered, and The 5th Wave, which I bought after taking the photo.) Lastly, two people gave me blank books this year – I love blank books! It’s taking me longer to fill them these days, but I will fill them.

Without further ado, following are the novels (plus one fun non-fiction title) that I read in 2015 (in chronological order):

  • The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus Book Four) by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus Book Five) by Rick Riordan
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Eragon (Inheritance Cycle Book I) by Christopher Paolini
  • Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  • Eldest (Inheritance Cycle Book II) by Christopher Paolini
  • Brisingr (Inheritance Cycle Book III) by Christopher Paolini
  • Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle Book IV) by Christopher Paolini
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  • Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth
  • Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
  • Messenger by Lois Lowry
  • Son by Lois Lowry
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
  • Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

And now for the 2016 list – coincidentally, 27 books again (including the two that I’m currently reading):

  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • And Another Thing… Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Part Six of Three by Eoin Colfer
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
  • Raven Queen by Pauline Francis
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book I) by Rick Riordan
  • The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book II) by Rick Riordan
  • The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book III) by Rick Riordan
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book IV) by Rick Riordan
  • The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book V) by Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (The Sword of Summer Book One) by Rick Riordan
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Having Myself a Martha Little Christmas

Let It Snow quote

I’ve been putting off writing this particular post for a couple weeks. I even decided, just a few minutes before I read the above quote, that I wouldn’t write it. After all, it was going to be a post about how busy I’ve been, and writing a new post would just add to that busyness.

But then I did happen to read that line from Jubilee, and it sort of seemed to be speaking to me.

If you know me well, you know that I’m organized to the nth degree. I’m disciplined, an overachiever – okay, maybe I’m slightly OCD, which can be a problem – but the point is that I’m always busy doing something. The week of Christmas is no exception.

Somehow, it crept up on me this year. It was a couple weeks ago that I realized that the last week of school was approaching, and if I was going to do my usual make-some-goodies-for-my-coworkers thing, I’d have to get my act together, like now. And I didn’t even know what kinds of goodies I was going to make.

Christmas Tree Fruit

Christmas Tree Fruit

Years ago, I used to bake like a crazy person in the lead-up to Christmas. It got so stressful – putting the pressure on myself to make cookies for any- and everyone I might possibly see – that my husband asked me to please slow down. Even then, it took a couple years for me to actually follow through. I still make goodies (this year dark chocolate truffles, English toffee, muffins, cookies, and even Christmas tree fruit platters – cute, right?), but not nearly to the degree that I used to.

I could, of course, go to one of the many excellent chocolatiers in town and just buy treats that I know my friends will love, but that gets expensive, and here’s the thing: even though I don’t particularly love baking, I love giving what I bake.

I am the classic Martha – you know, from the story of the sisters Mary and Martha in the Bible? In case you’re not familiar, Martha is so busy serving Jesus that she doesn’t have time to listen to Him. Meanwhile, her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, and when Martha asks for Mary’s help, she gets rebuked by Jesus.

Okay, now I’m not trying to insert myself into a Bible story, but women often get categorized as Marys or Marthas, and I’m a Martha if ever there was one – except.

Except that I like being busy. There are very few times that I become Mary – sit and enjoy. My husband half-jokes, half-jabs at me that I can’t watch TV without reading a book at the same time. Multi-tasking is, of course, necessary if you’re going to work full-time, get the laundry done, fix lunches, and do all the other mom stuff.

But that doesn’t mean that I resent Mary. Right now, the Marys in my life are my two kids (who are boys, by the way, so this isn’t a perfect analogy). They’re busy, too – my elder son does karate, takes piano lessons, plays baseball, and has his school responsibilities. But right now, he has a two-week break from school, and he pretty much gets to be a kid.

While my four-year-old napped this afternoon, my eight-year-old bounced on our new trampoline. Meanwhile, I was cleaning the kitchen, preparing for guests on Christmas morning. He asked me to jump with him, and while I had plenty of good excuses not to, I decided to be Mary for a little while.

A few hours later, both kids spread out paper and markers on the floor and started making Christmas books. (Said Christmas books had pictures of Christmas trees, rattlesnakes, and worms – hey, they’re boys.) I was touched, not just because I’m a writer, but because they worked so well together, and they were totally into their project. And they wanted me to help, too. Again, I had any number of other things that I could have done, but these books, while not Caldecott candidates, are very important to them. So I let them trace my hand, and I added a choo-choo train to the snake-and-worm collage.

Because I spent time with my kids, I was left with plenty of things to do: dishes to wash, laundry to fold, and presents to wrap. I even had this post to write. But to be a Martha – a true Martha – I believe there comes a point when you have to understand why you’re so busy. Yes, I have to wash clothes so we’ll have clean things to wear. But why keep the house clean, why make goodies for my friends, why post this blog if it doesn’t in some way fulfill both me and the person or people for whom I’m doing each particular thing? And the answer is that if I’m being busy just to be busy, I’m doing it for the wrong reason.

Now that I’ve come to terms with this truth about myself, I hope I can live up to the good side of my inner Martha. And no matter which sister describes you, my readers, I hope that you all will tap the positive aspects of your personalities and fully enjoy this holiday season.

What Comes After NaNoWriMo 2015?

Print

The short answer: a lot more writing.

And as much as I usually like to elaborate, I just don’t have the energy or time to say much more right now. Part of that is just hanging over from the doldrums I suffered all November long, but the other part is that I need to use my time (tiny slivers of it, at least) to continue writing this year’s novel.

I wrote my 50,000 words before the end of the month (54,000, actually), but I am nowhere near finished with the first draft of my book. So instead of writing about writing (even though I love to do it), I am going to just plain write for a change.

Slow-Mo WriMo

It’s been one of those kinds of months – you know the kind. I’ve had mornings in which I almost put apple juice in my coffee. The day before Veteran’s Day (a holiday for everyone in the family), I was in a near panic about my son’s baseball game that night and getting the kids to bed on time afterward – and my husband just stood there and listened to me stress about this – before I realized that because we had Veteran’s Day off, we could all sleep late the next morning. Problem solved. Duh.

This November has been exactly as crazy-busy as I feared November would be back when I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2013. I had every excuse to not participate this year.

But I’m not here to give excuses. According to nanowrimo.org, I’m on schedule to finish my 50,000 words by November 29th. I would have been appalled by this last year, but I’m just happy that I’m still on track to finish this year.

So far, 2015 has been a very different experience than 2013 and 2014. Rather like trying to run in a dream, I can see exactly where I want to go and am trying desperately to get there, but my legs seem to be pumping in slow motion. Some nights, I don’t get to sit down and write until 9:30 (and I’m supposed to be asleep by then during the week). Sometimes I’m so tired that all I can do is stare at a blinking cursor, at a total loss for what to write. Other nights, I’ve written under 1000 words, happy that I was able to increase my word count at all. In fact, I told myself I would not write this blog until I had my word count met for the day, and this is the first day in two weeks that I’ve been able to do that before the kids were in bed.

This year’s novel is the third in a trilogy, the first of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2013, the second of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2014. Last year, it helped to edit the 2013 book right before I started on 2014, so I figured that this year, I would go back and edit 2013 and 2014. The only problem is that I only gave myself a month to do this (I was having too much fun writing my Camp NaNoWriMo book before that).

I got to the halfway point of the first book by mid-October and switched to the second book, which I wasn’t nearly finished with by October 31st. And at that point, I realized that 1) I needed to finish editing it anyway, to avoid terrible inconsistencies in this year’s novel, and 2) I had no idea how I was going to open the third book. Whereas with the previous years, I was brimming with words and could hardly stop them from flowing from my brain to my fingers/keyboard on November first, this year, I spent half the day editing, praying for a brainwave. None came. Sure, I knew lots of things that would happen later in the book, but I didn’t know how to start the confounded thing.

After three false starts, I got going and was able to limp forward for 2000 words. Now, 2000 words is a great daily goal. That means finishing on the 25th of the month, with plenty of time to spare. But my first year, I wrote  4700 words on the first day alone and had reached 10,000 by day three, 20,000 by day six. Last year was tougher, but I still managed 4100 words on November first and 10,000 by the 4th. I wrote well more than my personal minimum of 2000 per day, despite feeling like it was a slower start. It was a struggle the whole time, so I never imagined that this year would prove even more difficult.

Aside from dividing my writing time between two books for two-thirds of the month (I just finished editing last year’s book two days ago), being in editor mode – cutting, polishing, perfecting – is not the right mindset for NaNoWriMo, when the goal is to build, build, build.

IMG_5206

So I’m dumping mounds of sand right now, trying hard not to judge, trying to just get the job done so I can go back and make it the way I like it later. This dumping is ugly. Sometimes I’ll write a scene that’s not in chronological order because it just won’t let me go. Although these are fun to write, when I fill in the scenes in between, I often discover that I have to make so many changes that the fun-to-write scene barely resembles what I originally wrote. Oh well. It’s all a part of the process, I suppose.

And another part of this process, one that I just realized a week or so ago, when I was thinking that surely I should be on a roll by now, is that the middle is always the most difficult for me to write. It’s the in-between stuff that’s necessary but not exactly glamorous. And since this is a trilogy, much of this third book is still actually the middle of the story.

Plenty of exciting things are going to happen, but I just have to plow through and get to those things. Then maybe (please!) my story will take over and start telling itself. But even if it doesn’t, this girl isn’t about to quit.

Longhand NaNoWriMo?

This year, NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month, AKA November) is going to be different for me. I thought I was crazy to try to write a 50,000-word novel in one month in previous years, but this time, I really am a glutton for punishment. I’m working full-time for the first time in almost eight years, and November concerns me a teensy bit. I’m not worried at all about having a 50,000-word idea. In fact, I already have a novel idea for next year, too. What I’m worried about is not having enough hours in the day to get that idea on paper.

If you’ve read my recent posts, you know I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in July, but although I met my word count goal, I didn’t finish that particular novel in July or even later in the summer. I hoped to finish the first draft by the end of September, giving me October to edit my 2013 and 2014 NaNoWriMo novels (which are the first two books of the trilogy that I will complete this year). But I can no longer carry my MacBook with me wherever I go and write in my spare time. I’ve had to squeeze all my writing into a few minutes after my kids go to bed and on the weekends. At the end of September, I dutifully (but regretfully) set Camp NaNoWriMo aside and started editing.

Then one day recently I had a stroke of genius – I can still write longhand. Actually, aside from the inconvenience of having to read and then type my sloppy scrawl, I prefer writing that way. Research shows that writing longhand (particularly cursive, which is how I write) makes what we write stick in our brains better than when we type. It’s how I took all my notes in college, in the dark ages before students carried tablets and laptops to every class. I rarely read over those notes after taking them; it was in the taking that the magic happened.

I used to carry a massive folder of loose pages – a novel in progress – with me everywhere, writing when I could. And then, I went back with a pen and edited over my hand-written draft. A guy in my fiction workshop saw me doing this once and marveled that I still “actually wrote longhand.” Gasp! Can you imagine? This was still the early 2000s, folks. He would really flip out now, but I’m excited to employ this method again – something I’ve hardly done at all since 2011.

You might think that there’s no possible way to write longhand and still validate a 50,000-word novel with NaNoWriMo, but they have a specific guideline for just this issue (read it here). Would it be a bit of a pain to keep track that way? Sure. But it’s possible. And who knows – maybe something magical will happen if I write this novel (or a good portion of it) by hand. It’s certainly a more laborious process, but it’s better than the alternative – letting my ideas fade because there’s not a word processing program nearby, losing the thread of my novel in the absence of technology.

As for Camp NaNoWriMo’s novel, I’m still working on it, pulling a pad of paper out of my purse and adding to it one sentence at a time. I may not be able to finish it until after November, but as long as I carry a writing implement and paper with me, I’m ready when inspiration strikes.

I am excited about NaNoWriMo. I know I’ll at least be able to type on November first, and maybe I’ll make up for the time I miss during the week on weekends (and our super long Thanksgiving break – yay!). My fingers are crossed, and I’m ready to go. Maybe I’ll even regain the mark of the writer, my good old friend, the callous on the finger where my pencil rests.

The Return of the Callous

The Return of the Callous