NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Minor Miscalculation

I can’t believe we’re past the halfway point of November, and I’m just now blogging about NaNoWriMo. Some years, I’ve blogged about it on a weekly basis. This year, however, I’ve had even more obstacles than usual. (Seems like I always say that—but it’s true!)

November is a crazy-busy month in the Full-Time Writer Mom’s house. We have all the usual Thanksgiving stuff, plus my elder son’s birthday falls in this month. My husband was out of town all last week, and up until last night, my now-nine-year-old spent up to three nights a week and most Saturday mornings at the baseball field. Add to that the community chorus of which my husband and I are members and the children’s choir that my kids joined this fall, and my “life” has become something lived in five-minute spurts. By the time the kids are in bed at night, I’m wrung out and useless. Clean my house? What’s that? Write in my journal? It’s collecting dust. Oh, there’s one thing I have done: I’ve spent the last six weeks cramming for the final test I needed to complete my professional teacher certification. I took that test today, and—hallelujah!—I passed. So now, with fall ball over and the test behind me, I can finally devote more of my very divided attention to my novel—and even take a few minutes to blog about it. (Note that my house still isn’t clean, and we’re going to have a to cram a Christmas tree in here sometime soon.)

As for this year’s novel, I’m doing something I’ve never done before—I’m writing with multiple first person points of view. I assumed that I would write third person omniscient, but I kept reverting to first person present. The only way I could still tell the story I wanted was to expand beyond my usual one-narrator perspective. This is a challenge on a couple levels, the first of which is differentiating the character’s voices. Fortunately, this is something I should be able to address (for the most part) in the editing stage. The second challenge is simply remembering who the narrator is. Although I title each section with the narrator’s name, sometimes I get a few paragraphs in and forget—thus turning my poor character into a split personality (often turning into the very character he or she is talking about).

Add to this a new obstacle that I created out of thin air this year—a totally (unintentionally) fabricated word count. Let me first explain with this graphic:

english-major-shirt

Okay, actually, I’m not bad at math. (Mind you, we’re not talking about calculus.) I’m a treasurer for a non-profit as well as a part-time bookkeeper for my family’s small business, so it’s very important that I’m competent in the basics and then some.

I’ve always prided myself in equal use of both sides of my brain: I’m creative and OCD; I can have conversations with my characters and format Excel spreadsheets; I’m a writer with a fairly good head for arithmetic. I’m generally a walking, talking contradiction, but, boy, did I live up to the assumption that writers can’t add earlier this month.

I’m going to chalk this one up to all that busyness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Why tack NaNoWriMo onto a schedule that already keeps me out late every weeknight? Well, because I can’t imagine not participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me, I once thought it was crazy. (See my first NaNoWriMo post from 2012.) As I pointed out to my husband at the beginning of the month, I get a week-long break at Thanksgiving, so even if I’m abysmally behind, that’s a great time to catch up.

On the evening of November 1st, I got to around 1180 words, and I felt pretty good about myself—I’d just typed 1100 words more than I thought I would. I then told Thomas that I would need to type about 2700 words a day in order to finish by the November 30th deadline. If I’d paused to think for even half a second, I would have realized that 2700 words per day for 30 days was even more insane than the idea of starting and finishing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Something did strike me as kind of funny—2700 didn’t seem to be the right number—but I just figured I was rounding up from 2667, and that’s why it seemed off.

It wasn’t until day two that I remembered that if I type my word count into NaNoWriMo.org, it’ll give me all kinds of cool stats, like how far behind I am, how many words a day I need to finish, etc. So I plugged in my word count for the first two days and then looked at their cool little chart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was actually ahead. I was only off by…oh… a thousand when it comes to the word count. Can you imagine making a similar mistake on something actually important—like a mortgage? Sheesh. Thank goodness the mistake was in my favor.

The good news is that I now know I only have to type around 1700 words per day, and 18 days in, I’m averaging about 1800. While it’s less per day than the last three years, I’m still sticking to the hope that the week ahead will prove productive. Even with all the new challenges of NaNoWriMo 2016, I already feel like a winner.

In My Opinion

lady-liberty

I absolutely cannot stand politics because I think that they divide more than unite. Once you’ve put a label of Democrat or Republican on something, an entire demographic will automatically turn the other way simply because of the label. As a loving friend with an open mind and the opposite political persuasion once said, “We’re good people with different approaches of how we want to care for others.” I love her for that.

I have stayed silent on the political front this year—pretty much like every election year. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s confrontation. Doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention, though. It’s been alternately entertaining and dismaying to read what’s going on in social media—friendships thrown away over an election.

Here’s the thing, folks: we are fortunate to live in a country in which we can change our minds every four years. Feel like your voice wasn’t heard this year? Guess what? There were people four years ago who felt the same thing. What about third party supporters who always feel left out? What about people who feel like our electoral system is so broken that they refuse to vote?

Hillary supporters: she’s not your personal savior. She wasn’t going to come knocking on your door with all the solutions for your life. And for those who are thrilled with the impending Trump presidency—he won’t do that either! I, like many, was absolutely disgusted that the choice came down to these two. And it doesn’t matter if you liked Gary Johnson or Jill Stein because there was no chance either of them would win. I know this is me in my fantasy world speaking, but wouldn’t it be nice, instead of choosing the candidate you hate the least, to be torn over whom to pick because both candidates are so honorable, so likeable, so qualified?

We had poor choices—but if I think about it, the person I like is never the one who is nominated. The type of person who is nominated for this office is generally someone who is so far removed from the typical American’s life that it’s hard for us to connect. The type of person I want in office is someone who comes from humble beginnings, who knows what it’s like to struggle before finding success, who doesn’t like the limelight, who wants a quiet life with his or her family—although that kind of life is impossible for any president.

But you know who does live like that? We do. Moms who get up early to fix lunches for their kids before school. Teachers who stay up late grading papers and spend hundreds or thousands of their own dollars to care for their students as if they are their own children. Parents who work the graveyard shift in order to provide a better education, a better future, for their children. Doctors who hold precious lives in their hands and carry a heavy burden that never leaves them, even when they’re at home or on vacation. I could go on and on and on.

We are the people in charge of our futures, for the most part. We cannot expect a great political leader to swoop down and “make everything better.” (Remember how the Hebrews expected Jesus to be the great political leader that would lay all the Gentiles low? Didn’t work then, either. Hmm…) With that kind of expectation, nothing will ever happen. Let’s not sit by and be passengers in our own lives for another four years, hoping that the next one will get it right… surely the next one…

Now’s the time for a great platitude, right? Like “change begins with you” or “you make your change.” Please. I’m a writer, and I hate clichés. How about this? Live your life. Be as kind to others as you possibly can be. I know it’s hard. But it’s also not impossible.

Last night, I was at my son’s baseball game. There are black kids and white kids on his team. I don’t know how a single one of them voted, and they don’t know how I voted, either. It doesn’t matter. We cheered for the kids and encouraged them when they struck out because that’s what we do. We laughed about how wimpy we Floridians are when temperatures dip below seventy. I’m sure many of us carried our own baggage from the election, but we were quiet about it. We’re continuing to live because that’s what’s required of us if we want to be decent parents.

If we go through life feeling misunderstood—most of us are, so why cry about it?—we are missing the chance to do something positive. Did you know that it’s possible to have friends of different viewpoints? It’s even possible to have disagreements within your own particular belief system. But it is also possible to appreciate the beauty in the differences. Although it may be hard to swallow, you can learn a lot and even grow when you reach out and have a conversation or simply listen to someone who comes from a differing perspective. Imagine that! How many of us get along with our spouses or parents or friends one hundred percent of the time, anyway? But do we get a divorce or disown our siblings when we dare to say what we believe?

Sadly, yeah, some of us do. We need a healthy dose of Grow Up. We need to appreciate that our differences are what make us unique, instead of trying to convert everyone to our particular way of thinking. As soon as we try to be like anyone else, we’re losing what makes each one of us an individual.

And since it is Veterans’ Day, thank you to the people in the Armed Forces, from hundreds of years ago all the way to the present, who work together, even if they disagree with one another politically, to give us this country and this life, where we are free to disagree and have stinky opinions and still live—if we can—in peace.

The Book Birth Plan

 

Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)

01-become-a-writer-they-said

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.

 

So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that

02-scariest-moment

But

03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:

04-just-keep-writing-dory

So you do, but sometimes

05-i-dont-know-what-im-writing-about

Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,

06-what-idiot-wrote-this

Because

07-reason-4

And there are those times when the page stays blank because of

08-writers-block

But no matter what,

09-you-should-be-writing-batman

So your days start to look like this:

10-rapunzel

Through it all, you have to remember that

11-oscar-the-grouch

By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:

12-stages-of-writing-a-book

You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because

13-happiness-is-a-good-book

But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to

14-keep-calm-and-revise

A Bookworm Without Any Books?

Borrowed Books 2016

A few of the books I’ve read

For the first time since I’ve started publishing a list of fiction titles that I hope to read in a year, I’ve actually managed to read them all—and in under 10 months! I didn’t assign any less books this year than previously, and some were even of the long or slower-paced variety. I’ve even gone astray and read extra books that weren’t on my list. If you’re interested, check out my activity on Goodreads, or read the 2016 list by clicking here.

Although I feel oh-so accomplished, there is a problem: What’s a girl to read when she can choose any book in the world? I just so happened to buy several not-on-the-list books this year that I have yet to read, and they’ll tide me over for a while. But even so, I’m three months ahead of schedule, so what will I read in 2017?

The problem is always in the choosing. There are many books I would like to read or even re-read, but guidance is always welcome. So if you’ve read something that really moved you or that you think fits my profile (again, see Goodreads), please recommend away. The bookworm grows restless!

Fundraiser Books

More books to read and re-read

Face Time

FaceTime logo

There’s a good reason why Apple chose “FaceTime” as the name of their video-calling product. Unlike a regular old phone call, it allows people with the FaceTime app to chat face-to-face. It’s something my husband and I used recently when our kids were out of town. I’m so grateful for the benefits of modern technology, but I also have to be careful not to let those same benefits turn detrimental.

I fought getting a Smartphone for a long time. My husband had a Blackberry for a while, and no offense to Blackberry, but it was a piece of garbage. I know now that it was just an inferior model, but its rudimentary GPS that only worked when you didn’t need it and super-slow Internet search capabilities left me underwhelmed. Not to mention that I would rather stay in the stone age than learn how to use new technology. Update the operating system on my computer, and I get all ticked off that the icons look different. You’d think I’m more like an octogenarian than a millennial.

I did finally break down and get an iPhone. A longtime Apple user, I knew that it would be user-friendly and easy to learn, and I wasn’t disappointed. But I had heard about people becoming glued to their Smartphones, compulsively checking email in the middle of the night, over-stimulating their brains by browsing Facebook instead of reading a book before bed. I was afraid I would turn into a Smartphone zombie, and the games and apps available soon had me trapped. I was playing Words with Friends at stoplights and browsing shallow entertainment articles when I could have been doing just about anything else. To lure a bookworm away from her books is quite a feat.

There were other issues at play—I can’t place all the blame on my iPhone. When I purchased it, I had a months-old infant and was mired in the depths of postpartum depression. It was easier to engage in mindless pursuits and live on autopilot than try to do… anything. Fortunately, the depression was temporary, and once I was myself again, I realized what was going on: I had allowed myself to be seduced by technology.

I deleted all the games I’d downloaded, and I moved the ones that I couldn’t delete off my home screen. I started to read again. I came out of my funk and remembered that I liked to write and edit and decided to try my hand at making some money on the side.

Thus began my transition from pro bono editor to freelance writer. I once again let technology take over. While I wasn’t necessarily playing games, I was writing articles when I should have been a mom. My wake up call came in the form of my elder son telling me that I wasn’t always very fun. I knew I had to make some changes, and you can read about them in my Work-At-Home Covenant post.

But working at home is just a part of it. Parents who work 40-plus hours a week outside of the home are just as susceptible to the likes of Candy Crush and Pokémon Go (or so I’ve heard—I engage in neither). I’ve set a few rules for myself. I don’t use my phone at all after I’ve gone to bed, unless responding to an emergency text in the middle of the night. I used to check emails if I awoke in the night, only to wake myself up so completely that I couldn’t get back to sleep. Also, after recently reading an article (written by a non-millennial) about how young people are unable to start their day without technology, I decided to buck that trend by starting my days with at least five minutes of contemplation. Sometimes this means that I fall back asleep (oh, well), but I usually spend it thinking about the people in my life who are going through tough times. If I tell you I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers, that’s not an idle promise—I’m doing it every morning.

So I’ve insulated myself when I need to sleep and when I wake—what about the rest of the day? Such as when I’m being a wife and mom?

It just so happens that when I was watching the news this morning, the resident “expert” seemed to be talking directly to me. The story was all about how harmful it is for parents to be on their phones when they’re around their children. It could be texting, spending time on social media, reading the news, or checking emails—it doesn’t matter what the parents are doing so much as what the children are seeing. They’re seeing that their parents are engaged with technology rather than the family.

The news story made me rethink my own use of technology, how I will sometimes read a stupid article with a catchy headline, which is followed by something like, “Readers who liked this also liked 50 Hairstyles You Don’t Care About and That Will Steal 10 More Minutes from Your Life!” I didn’t buy an iPhone to read vapid tripe like this. I use the camera feature when my kids are doing something cute; I use the alarm to keep to my schedule; I access dictionary apps when I need to look up a word—but the email and social media and all the rest is like so much icing, pleasant in moderation but sickening if I overindulge.

Many parents, conscious of the overstimulation of so much technology, limit the amount of time their kids watch TV, play video games, and spend on their phones doing who knows what. I do the same. So this morning, when my elder son asked if he could watch TV and I said, “No,” he pulled out the iPad. “That’s the same thing—you’re still watching a show,” I told him.

You’re using technology,” he said.

I was. I had my laptop open, ready to write this post. Touché, little man.

I closed the laptop and pulled out my novel. I helped my four-year-old cut some shapes that his brother had traced for him. And long after I’d planned to let my son turn the TV on again, he was still sitting on the couch, looking at one of my old scrapbooks.

It’s not all about technology, but rather about being present. Technology just happens to be the biggest culprit. So the next time you pull out your Smartphone or tablet or sit in front of the computer, take stock of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it useful? Can you do it later? When was the last time you played a board game with your kids or sat at the table as a family, all phones switched off? Do you remember when you last had actual face time?