The Scariest Halloween Ever

NaNoWriMo 2019 Writer

Okay, it’s not actually scary because it’s Halloween. It’s scary because tomorrow is November 1st, and I am NOT prepared for NaNoWriMo 2019. Do I know what I’m going to write? Yes. A scene popped into my head in the spring, and I realized that this would be a great story to pursue for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I even managed to abstain from writing furiously, which is my normal behavior when a brainwave happens. Then again, I’m not sure when I would have had the time.

I started grad school in August. Only one class, folks, and it’s kicking my butt. Not that it’s so difficult, really, just that it’s online, and I never know if what I’m doing is what the professor expects. And then there’s just no time. I haven’t done homework in a week, and I have a really huge project looming. When’s it due? You guessed it: November.

But, I can’t not participate. When I told my husband I’d signed up a few weeks ago, he thought I was crazy. I am. Totally a nutcase. But I do get a whole week off at Thanksgiving, so you’d better believe I’ll use it. You may not hear much (if anything) from me until after then because, between work, two kids, basketball play-offs, piano lessons, play and choir practices, teaching Sunday school, meetings, and trying to find socks that match, for goodness’ sake, I won’t have two spare seconds to rub together.

Good luck to all my writers-in-arms. Next time you see me, I’ll likely have half the normal amount of hair and twice the normal amount of baggage under my eyes.

Sincerely,

The Crazy Person

What’s My Twitter Handle Again?

Twitter for Teachers

I’m doing something I said I would never do: I’m going back to school. Grad school, that is. I can’t make a judgment call yet because I’m at the beginning of this long journey. It’s possible that my second grader will get his Masters degree before I do. But. I started.

I’m taking a course called Literacy and Technology, which I find both fascinating and helpful because tech intimidates me. I am certainly no pioneer, eager to try every new thing put out by Apple or Samsung or Microsoft. Once I get comfortable with a particular technology, platform, or device, I’ll stick with it until it dies or I do.

I understand that I’m admitting to be a paradoxical, Millennial dinosaur. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that I love physical books—you know, made of this archaic material called paper. But I happen to have a son who is dyslexic, and paper books are a trial for him. This does not mean, however, that he has to hate books. He’s almost 12, but I still read aloud to him, sharing some of my favorite stories that I don’t want him to miss out on. Fortunately, current technology has progressed so that he doesn’t have to put me in his backpack and take me everywhere when he needs to read. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, and he has a handy one called Learning Ally that can read texts for him, both fiction and non-fiction. And that’s just one example of many that can help people like Peter.

How appropriate that my first class is introducing me to all kinds of tech and new ideas about how to best utilize it in the classroom. This week’s focus: creating educational content via blogs, microblogs, and video. In a time when schools either have some sort of computer device in most classrooms or actually require students to bring their own, this is a hot and often controversial topic. Cyber ethics and safety and online research are normal parts of children’s curriculum now. It’s not just Solitaire and Oregon Trail anymore, which were the main reasons I used computers when I was a tween.

The advantages of creating and using online content are many. If you’re curious about an educational topic, someone else has probably already posted something about it. All you have to do is search. And then comment. Or retweet. Or subscribe and share. Then give it your own personal twist; use it; post the results. The information accumulates, is shared again, and this is the beauty of live content, versus a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that cost a pile of money in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since then because of said pile of money.

Instead of debating whether this kind of technology would be allowed at my school, let’s go by the assumption that it would, and I have a classroom of students who are old enough to use blogs, microblogs, and videos. In this scenario, which medium would I prefer, and why? After studying all three methods, my answer today is a little different than it was this time last week.

Going in to this topic, I was very familiar with blogs. I mean, here I am, writing one. And despite being less active this year than I’ve been since starting Full-Time Writer Mom in 2012, I am still most comfortable with this medium. I pride myself on thinking carefully about each topic; that’s why I no longer write weekly. For a while, coming up with a topic felt forced. I decided to only write something when I felt moved to do so. The problem, of course, was that when I got out of the habit, it was easy to make excuses, to continue to not post.

But what if I were able to use this platform in the classroom? I discovered a couple new blogs this week that spoke to the book lover in me, A Mighty Girl and School Library Journal. I am seriously considering going back and re-certifying so I can teach 4th, 5th, or 6th grade language arts (I’m currently only certified through 3rd grade). Not only would these blogs and ones like them be a great resource for me in the classroom, but what if I could expand this blog to help other teachers? This is very appealing to me, something I feel I could do well and with relative ease.

Next: Twitter and microblogging. As the name suggests, microblogging is blogging, but on a tiny scale. And I’ll admit that, although I do have a Twitter account, I never use it. Why? I guess because I’m unfamiliar with it, intimidated. Please refer to when I said that I get comfortable with something and like to stick with it. I’m comfortable with Facebook. Not Instagram, not LinkedIn, not Twitter. I have accounts with them all, but I’m sadly MIA in most. My fault. I know they’re all good resources, so I need to make myself become more familiar, push myself out of my comfort zone. But Twitter specifically really gets me because I’m verbose. If the rule were to keep tweets down to 140 words, I’d still have a problem. But 140 characters?

This is a challenge I need to tackle, and I became convinced of this when I read about English teacher and author Kate Messner and how she got her class involved with Twitter. By creating an account for her class, she was able to have them join in on a conversation about one of the books they were reading with the book’s author and editor. While an argument can be made that social media isolates people, when used correctly, Twitter can connect people who, otherwise, might never meet. While I think it’s cool for the occasional author to comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, that’s nothing to having a real-time conversation like Messner’s class had. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. (Okay, it still is. I really need to get busy on Twitter.)

The last medium, video, is the one with which I am least comfortable, although I certainly appreciate its uses. My children have a few people they follow on YouTube, mainly adult gamers who play Minecraft or Roblox (MC Naveed and Pat and Jen are the biggies). My seven-year-old has learned how to create some amazing structures on Minecraft just from watching their videos. Are they entertaining? Undoubtedly. Do they also happen to be instructional? Actually, yes. I think a downside is, however, there’s so much inappropriate video content out there. Sometimes Ian will be in the middle of watching someone build something (not from the two mentioned above), and then a swear word comes out. And Mom Police immediately shuts it down.

Still, could I preview content and share what I deem appropriate in the classroom? I could, as well as use it for professional development. But could I create my own YouTube channel, my own content? Well… that’s where I’m unsure. I can do live videos on Facebook within a closed group, where my audience is small, familiar. Do I want to put myself out there, have my face on everything I produce? Because that’s what I see whenever I view someone else’s YouTube channel: faces. It seems kind of narcissistic. I know this bias shouldn’t make me leery of this medium, but it does. For now, let’s just say that I am more willing to be a consumer than a producer. But do I dare say “never”? Well, look at what happened when I said I wouldn’t ever go back to school…

Hunkerin’

hurricane-dorian-1.jpg

Dorian, where are you?

I got married in what I call the Year of the Hurricane (2004). Within a few weeks that fall, four hurricanes hit Florida, devastating mainly the central corridor of our state. Where I live, we were lucky to be tucked away in a spot that rarely receives a direct hit. Still, we received wind and rains from the outer bands of those storms, resulting in loss of power for days on end. How did we fare? Pretty well. In our early 20s, Thomas and I weren’t concerned about water bottles or extra batteries. We had everything we needed in our tiny apartment: doughnuts, pizza, sodas, candles, and Scrabble. We played endless games of the latter until we decided it might be nice to have A/C and a warm shower and relocated to his parents’ house, where they never lost power.

Fast forward to the last few years. My kids think that hurricane days are an adventure, but talks of school closing put me on edge. As someone who works at said school, I know that days off don’t come for free. And then there was the time that the kids and I actually evacuated. The way Hurricane Matthew’s track looked, we thought we would get a direct hit. We pulled all our pictures off the walls and put valuables on top of our beds in case the house flooded. The boys and I headed to central Florida, where it was sunny and hot, while Thomas had to stay put, due to his job. He had everything staged for if he had to abandon the house and head for a shelter, but the worst thing that happened was that A/C unit outside flooded, so he went without air for a couple days.

Thank goodness for modern technology that (usually) lets us know when major weather events will happen. But that still doesn’t remove nature’s unpredictability factor. A few months after Hurricane Matthew, a microburst struck our side of town out of nowhere. Listening to wind and hail beat all four sides of the house, I thought it was a tornado. Thomas was just down the street at the time, and a tree fell right in front of his car. When I left for work the next morning, our neighborhood looked like a war zone. Every house had lost at least a portion of fence, not to mention trees and large limbs.

Hurricane Dorian 2For Dorian, we never considered evacuating, but we did prepare for our neighborhood to flood and for an extended power outage. A hard rain can back up our storm drains, and our power has been known to go out when it’s not even raining. But it hasn’t flickered once, and today there was hardly any wind and just light, drizzly rain. We cancelled our Labor Day weekend vacation and stayed in town, and… nothing happened. At least not here. I feel for the people of the Bahamas, and I’ve since heard that cruise ship lines are responding with aid to those devastated by this slow-moving storm.

I started grad school (online) last week, and with that added activity, I now have at least one obligation every weeknight (and sometimes I’m double-booked). But since last Friday, my schedule has been clear. So what have we done? Thomas and I taught the boys how to play Scrabble. Our back patio got a top-to-bottom cleaning. And we’ve read. A lot. When I realized that we would have so many days at home—and there’s no guarantee I’ll get such dedicated reading time again for a while—I decided that the boys and I would finish the books we’re reading together, and I would try to finish my own novel, as well.

One of the greatest joys of being a mom is sharing my favorite books with my kids. Over a year ago, I started on the Artemis Fowl series with Peter. We’ve had to take breaks to fit in required reading for school, but we’re now just a few pages away from finishing The Time Paradox, the sixth of this eight-book series. I was determined that we’d finish the series before the end of the year when I wrote this year’s book list (read that post here). After that, I want to pull out some of my favorite historical fiction; Peter’s begun to take an interest in World War II.

Ian and I started reading Harry Potter just before the school year started. He’s in the Harry Pottersecond grade, and that’s when I read them to Peter. These are the first longer chapter books Ian’s read, and I worried that they might bore him; after all, he’s my ADHD kid who could never sit still for me to read to him when he was a baby. It does help that we have the beautifully illustrated Jim Kay versions (for the first three books), but even on the pages without illustrations, Ian is rapt. Many times, he’s asked me to read just a few more pages, or he’s carried the giant book to me, singing the Harry Potter movie theme. I feel like I’ve done something right because he told me a few days ago that he thinks the books are better than the movies because they made more effort with the books.

I feel guilty for getting so much time off when there was absolutely no reason for it. But how can you know? Not to mention that there are many people in my area who live in flood zones and aren’t as lucky. So the whole community has to abide by this schedule (and pray we don’t succumb to cabin fever). So I’m off now to read another chapter or two. Four books to go until I finish my 2019 book list!

Hurricane Dorian 3

 

Meet the New List, Same As the Old List

Welp, it’s another year, and as you may have guessed, I come bearing lots of excuses for why I didn’t finish all my books from the 2018 book list. At a quick glance, it looks like I read all my books plus some, but see below for a quick comparison.

Here are the books I set out to read in 2018, alpha by author (for the full post, click here):

  1. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  2. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  4. Passenger (Passenger #1) by Alexandra Bracken
  5. Golden Son (Red Rising Saga #2) by Pierce Brown
  6. Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown
  7. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  8. Ender’s Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Orson Scott Card
  9. Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series #2) by Orson Scott Card
  10. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  11. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  12. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  13. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  14. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  15. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  16. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  17. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  18. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  19. The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5) by Jeff Kinney
  20. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  21. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  22. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  23. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  24. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan
  25. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book III) by Rick Riordan
  26. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Victoria Roth
  27. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  28. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  29. Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab
  30. The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye
  31. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir

And now for the books I actually read (in the order I read them, squeezing in one last title during the last four days of the year):

  1. The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5) by Jeff Kinney
  2. Golden Son (Red RisingSaga #2) by Pierce Brown
  3. Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown
  4. Blackwater Swamp by Bill Wallace
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  6. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  7. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  8. The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye
  9. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  10. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  11. Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab
  12. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  13. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  14. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
  15. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  16. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
  17. A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir
  18. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  19. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir
  20. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  21. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  22. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  23. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  24. Passenger (Passenger #1) by Alexandra Bracken
  25. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Victoria Roth
  26. Wayfarer (Passenger #2) by Alexandra Bracken
  27. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
  28. The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth
  29. Ender’s Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Orson Scott Card
  30. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
  31. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book III) by Rick Riordan
  32. Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series #2) by Orson Scott Card
  33. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

Nine of the above titles are books that I read with my elder son, who is dyslexic. Although it’s a chore for him to read, and I wish he could do more of this on his own, I do love that we still read together. We started the Artemis Fowl series, which my husband and I both love, and I hope to finish it with him this year, but there’s always the chance that we’ll get sidetracked by other books he has to read for school, and that’s okay.

Of the five other titles that weren’t on the original list, two were books that I had to re-read in order for me to get to the next book in the series (which was on the list), and the other three were sequels. Hey, it happens (and will probably happen this year, too).

So of the 33 books that I read, only 19 of them were actually from the original list. I’m carrying 12 over into 2019. I know that the chances of finishing this year’s list is slim, even though it’s not a particularly ambitious one. I just know me, and I know that there will be days when I’m lucky to read five pages.

Also, unlike all previous years, I don’t have a picture of piles of new books that I’m looking forward to reading. In fact, I didn’t receive a single book for Christmas (a first), but I did receive a generous gift card to Barnes & Noble from a loved one who knows I love to read. So here’s what I bought for myself:

Christmas Books 2018

I know, I know—GRE for Dummies. Super entertaining, right? That’s a large part of what’s going to occupy my time in 2019. I take the test later this month, and from there, it’s grad school applications. I must be a crazy person. But at least I got one new book and a cool Stranger Things bookmark. And I’ve ordered/pre-ordered several other books (listed below) that weren’t available in-store. Instead of assigning myself piles of books, I hope to thoroughly enjoy what I do read this year. And if (big if) I do get through all these, there are always titles I’ve read in the past that I would love to revisit.

Here is 2019’s list:

  1. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
  2. Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) by Pierce Brown
  3. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  5. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  6. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  7. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  8. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
  9. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
  10. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
  11. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer
  12. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  13. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  14. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  15. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  16. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  17. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  18. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  19. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  20. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  21. The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan
  22. The Tyrant’s Tomb (The Trials of Apollo #4) by Rick Riordan
  23. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  24. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I hope you have a wonderful 2019, full of only pleasant surprises and lots of good reading!

Last Minute Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner BannerI think this is the first November since I started NaNoWriMo in 2013 in which I didn’t update my novel’s progress at some point between its start and validation. I was so behind on my word count for so long that I didn’t dare do any other writing project—even a short blog to update my (lack of) progress—for fear of stealing precious time from 2018’s novel.

Just to give you a literal picture of how sad this situation was, take a look at my stats graph from nanowrimo.org:

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 1.29.27 PM

I think the worst was the day when I only typed 298 words. And there were too many other days when I typed well under 1000. In case you’ve stumbled across my blog, and this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this NaNo business, to “win” at National Novel Writing Month, you need to write a 50,000-word novel that you don’t start until November 1st and that you finish on the 30th. (And by finish, I just mean write 50,000 words. I have not ever actually completed a novel in the month of November.) That means 1667 words per day, if you don’t want to drown in a sea of unwritten words.

I could point to plenty of reasons why I had a hard time keeping up. The day when I only wrote 298 words was a Monday, the day of the week when I have zero free time. After working a full day, I’m usually eating dinner while walking around the kitchen, making sure one kid does his homework and the other practices piano—and then I run out to a choir rehearsal that takes up the rest of the night, then straight to bed with my alarm set for 4:30 am. I’m the type of person who takes personal goals seriously, so unless I die, I’m not going to sign up for NaNoWriMo and then fizzle out. Fortunately, I knew that I would be off during Thanksgiving week, and guess what? That’s when my daily word count started to go up.

If you’re in the same boat, I’m sorry to say that you only have a couple days to catch up, but I do have three tips that I used this year that really helped me. (If I’d done these in previous years, maybe I would have finished sooner and with a lot less stress.)

1. Let it be messy.

Back during NaNoWriMo 2016, I was really excited about my novel because I’d had this story bouncing around my head since the previous NaNo (when I was already committed to writing the third book of a trilogy). I had scenes already planned and ready to pour from my fingers to the page. But then I got stuck on Day 1 because I didn’t know how to start the dang thing. I must have typed ten different beginnings, only to erase them (big mistake—see #3) and try again… and again… and…

Let’s get real for a minute. While publishing houses and marketing people care very much about the opening of your book—if it isn’t any good, the reader will just put it down and go for something else, right?—you’re nowhere near publication ready when you get done with NaNoWriMo. I mean, that would be like giving birth, changing a few diapers, saying, “I think he’s got this,” and shoving your newborn out into the world to fend for himself. Who does that? (Terrible people and bad writers, that’s who.)

There’s nothing wrong with a cold open. You can come back and make it Pulitzer-worthy later. (Say, after you have 50,000 words down.) Or maybe if you get stuck transitioning from one scene to another, just write a note in the manuscript (“Something amazing happens between flight school and when Jack saves Flight 132!”), and move on to the next part you do know. There’s this thing called the editing process, and I find that a lot of magic happens then. Which leads to point two…

2. Write everything, including the kitchen sink.

I’m a perfectionist. Point #1 is hard for me. And even harder is this one. I want my writing to be meaningful, certainly not fluff or garbage. But guess what, Mama ain’t got time to mess around with getting the story perfect when there are 10,000 words left to type, and the clock’s ticking!

I found myself writing absolute rubbish that I hope never sees the light of day just to keep the story moving—and to keep that word count moving up. Once I made the decision, sitting down to write became a whole lot less daunting because I knew that, come revision time, all this mess would be gone. And who knows? When you’re writing anything and everything semi-stream-of-consciousness style, something brilliant might just pop out, which might have been stifled if you’d been more careful, more discerning, with your output.

What do I mean by writing everything? Well, if your character is a baker, explain the entire process of baking a cake. Maybe tell about his favorite pans and where he bought them (on sale for 30% off). See all those extra words? They count! If you character is sick, explain every gory detail (you know, the ones your grandma tells you, and you wish you could be anywhere else). Explain the disgusting diaper, the allergic reaction, the thousand-step process to assembling the bed from IKEA. Do whatever you have to do to keep the story moving (and you might actually solve a transition scene problem while you’re at it).

3. DON’T DELETE!

Okay, if you see a typo that’s bugging you, fix it. What I’m talking about here is the big stuff, such as an entire scene that you realize, after it’s had time to marinate, is actually not at all the direction your story needs to take. So move on; start a new paragraph, and rewrite it.

That’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago. I realized that if I deleted the scene I’d been so careful to write (kitchen sink and all), I would lose about 1000 words that I desperately needed. I thought about ways I could salvage the scene. Maybe the character would start to do this but then change her mind… and when I tried that, I was able to save about a third of it. Still, that was too much writing to sacrifice. So I highlighted the paragraphs I no longer wanted, changed the font to red so that I would know this is the bad section, and I continued the scene down the new path. I never lost a single word, and now my story is going in the right direction again. I wish I’d thought of this back in 2016!

Bonus tip: don’t give up! You still have time (and the 30th is on a Friday this year, which I think will help a lot of people). Good luck, friends who are still in the trenches. I’ll see you after you’ve won your battle.

What Happened to NaNoWriMo 2017?

Keep Calm and Write On

Who cares about NaNoWriMo 2017 when NaNoWriMo 2018 is right around the corner? Well, usually I update my progress on the previous year’s NaNoWriMo at least a couple times before I even start thinking about the next one. But this year is different.

Yes, I did technically “win” in 2017, writing 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November. It was the toughest yet, and every year is harder than the last, so that makes 2018 look kind of grim.

While, for all my previous NaNos, I continued writing my novel until the entire book was done (which took more than one month and 50,000 words), I never finished writing 2017’s novel. Part of it was because I focused on editing four other novels almost as soon as I achieved the necessary word-count. But the bigger issue was that my inspiration simply dried up. All my wonderful ideas lost their luster, and the story lost its direction. And honestly, for a couple months, I didn’t even think about it.

With the next NaNoWriMo looming, I had two problems. The first, of course, was that I’d left the last novel unfinished. Unacceptable. And the second problem was that I had absolutely no idea what to write this November.

Then, for some reason, NaNoWriMo 2017 started plaguing me. I don’t mean that I was overwhelmed with guilt for not finishing it. Rather, its characters started reminding me of their existence at a time that wasn’t exactly convenient. They developed the oh-so-annoying trait of taking on lives of their own—when I wasn’t even writing! This one guy won’t stay despicable; he’s actually gaining dimension. Backstories are coming to the front.

This, I realized, could be a two-part solution. By life “interfering” and allowing me some space, my book developed in a way it couldn’t have if I’d insisted on plugging away at it. I hadn’t given up; I’d let it simmer. And now, I know exactly what I’m going to write this year.

Yes, a lot of the novel is largely written, but I have the feeling that much of it is going to end up consigned to the editing room floor. What I do write this year is going to be original or reconstructed from memory only. If I look at last year’s manuscript at all, it will only be to story-line check—no copying and pasting, I promise. I will start November at zero words, and I’m determined to end with 50,000. And once I’ve reached that goal, I will allow myself to merge the two novels, if still applicable.

Don’t let a novel that seems to have failed get you down. Stay creative, friends.

Does School Choir Matter?

singing

Sharing my love of music with my youngest

Before reading on, I invite you to watch a video (from whence I stole this post’s title) that addresses this issue by clicking here.

Growing up, I was always involved in some sort of music, from taking music lessons as a three-year-old and transitioning to piano to singing in children’s choir at church to my elementary school’s auditioned three-part chorus. My middle school’s chorus program was dying when I got there. After one frustrating year, I left that school, but I made my decision so late in the summer that it was too late to audition for our arts magnet middle school. Instead, my parents decided to try homeschooling me.

Maybe one reason I tend to read and write teen fiction is because I empathize with the ugly duckling teenagers who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and don’t know where they fit in the world. One reason I so readily left my middle school was because, somewhere in the adolescent muck, my old friends were no longer true friends. My rose-colored lenses were shattered beyond repair. Homeschooling was perfect; I no longer had to interact with my peers. Forget ugly duckling; I’d become a turtle that never poked her head out of her shell, and I’m sure my parents envisioned me locked in my childhood room, devouring books and Twinkies at the age of thirty-eight.

Completely against my will, they signed me up for a summer musical program at a local high school. It was a “normal school,” not one with a magnet program. But despite cuts in funding, this school still had musical theatre and chorus, the teachers of both programs collaborating to put on summer musicals that rivaled those of our city’s arts magnet. My closest cousin was a student at this school, and the chorus teacher was a friend of his family. My chorus teacher was (and still is) a loving man, who always put his students first. He took me under his wing, and even though I continued to homeschool, he became my advocate, convincing the principal to let me into the school’s chorus and musical theatre programs. After my first year, the musical theatre teacher left, but chorus remained. I sang in all the concerts, including three times in Disney’s Candlelight Processional. I sang in chorus, ensemble, and solo competitions at the district and state levels, participated in All State choruses, and went on two trips to New York City. I also met my husband.

The year after I graduated, the chorus program wilted. Funding at the school was cut, and they consolidated both chorus and band positions into one instructor, which was neither fair to the students nor the teacher. My chorus teacher, not wanting to compromise the program he’d built by being stretched so thin, went to a different school that still appreciated that chorus and band are two different things.

For a kid who homeschooled without being a part of a homeschool group, I would have missed so many opportunities if there hadn’t been a local high school chorus program and teacher willing to let me participate. It would be hypocritical of me to put my head in the sand with the attitude that because I love music, I’ll always make sure my own kids have opportunities to participate in musical programs. While that’s great for my boys, that’s not the point. So many kids have talents they’ll never get to nurture because their parents don’t have the time, means, or desire to help them outside of school. By cutting musical programs and only offering them at specialty or independent schools, we’re robbing children of a different way to learn, to think, to live. Not to mention that music also makes for excellent therapy.

But at least there’s always college, right? I mean, if they’re still interested at that point. After all, that’s how my parents met—in college chorale, where they not only had the opportunity to sing but to do so all over the US and Europe. But at the same junior college they attended (which is now a state college), the funding has been cut to the point that there may not be a choral program after the next couple years.

Let me ask: what do kids look forward to when they get up and go to school every day? Are they excited to learn how to take tests? I doubt it, but more and more, that’s what school is becoming. I looked forward to school (except for that one year) because I loved my friends and even my teachers. And my teachers made learning fun because they were actually allowed to teach subjects that excited them. If we send our kids to institutions for seven-plus hours five days a week but subtract all the parts that make child- and young adulthood fun, how can we expect their enthusiasm for learning to grow, much less flourish? This isn’t limited to music, folks. What happened to recess? Visual arts? Non-academic learning, such as kids problem solving and developing grit through play? These are all undervalued by the people in charge, whomever they are, and those of us who care are left sitting here, scratching our heads and wondering what we can do.

I wish I had an answer. I’m grateful to all the private music teachers, after-school programs, and conservatories that promote musical learning, but they’re often spread thin, too. These are private entities that depend on outside funding, tuition, or grants to keep their doors open, none of which are guaranteed. Why do we undervalue something that can bring about such positive change in the lives of everyone, from babies to the elderly? After all, the children of this generation will be taking care of me in a nursing home not too many decades from now, and when that time comes, I hope they’ll appreciate that playing some of my favorite songs and giving me a cool coloring book is more worthwhile than letting me turn into a vegetable in front of a TV.

The question isn’t really if school choir matters. It’s the why of the thing. It matters because it creates a safe space for children who come from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, and so on to create something together that’s much greater than what they can do individually. And if they grow an appreciation for this when they’re young, they’re more likely to take it with them as they grow and mature. I think it’s a pretty good place to start.