Another Project Bites the Dust


The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past week was the big deadline: after June 30th, the CreateSpace coupon code for two free copies of my NaNoWriMo novel would expire. As a perfectionist, I found it difficult to call my novel good enough. But then I realized that not only had a written a novel – from scratch – in just a few months, but I had also fully revised it a couple times. That’s a record for me – and quite an accomplishment, considering I’m so picky.

Now, if you’re reading this and wondering, What in the world is she talking about? What is NaNoWriMo?, I will tell you. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes around every November. Why November? I don’t know. You can read more at All I know is that it’s awesome. And it’s also for crazy people. Like me. Even some really successful novelists participate in NaNoWriMo. Like Sara Gruen, who wrote Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

While brainstorming my last blog of October – the one in which I would list all the reasons why my sorry butt wouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, yet again – I had an idea of novel-sized proportions. So I figured, What the heck? I just had a couple days to wait, so I held off until November first, then started writing like… what did I say earlier? Oh yeah – a crazy person.

A novel, as defined by NaNoWriMo, is 50,000 words. I wrote over 80,000 in November, so I “won,” but I wasn’t finished with the book. I kept at it until I finally finished in early February. Then I sat back and let it rest for a month – something Stephen King recommends (maybe I read it in On Writing – can’t remember).

When the month-long waiting period was over, it was time to start editing. I usually enjoy editing just as much as writing. Sometimes it’s the joy of discovering a detail I forgot I wrote. Sometimes I realize I really screwed something up, and I feel liked I’ve accomplished something after I fix it. And I always, always try to cut extraneous words and make the manuscript as clean as possible.

Now, I know this will sound gross, but the first draft is kind of like diarrhea of the pen (or keyboard, whatever). Many – way too many – writers leave their first drafts pretty much alone, so consider how awful it is for editors to read diarrhea-on-the-page. One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to just plow straight through, so there’s going to be lots of crap. It’s necessary if you’re going to write so much in such a short time. But if you want to have a chance of the success that Sara Gruen, Erin Morgenstern, and authors like them have enjoyed, you have to return to that original draft and pull out your ax. After all the useless words are cut, you pull out your chisel and try to make the story as close to its intended shape as possible.

One great goal to help achieve this is another that Stephen King recommends (which I read in the same place as “wait  a month”): he says to cut the manuscript by 10%. I have tried this with other novels and short stories – always to no avail. If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m wordy. I mean, I almost always break the blogs-should-only-be-500-words rule. And I had new scenes that I wanted to add to my book. How in the world would I cut a 148,000-word book down to a little over 133,000? (A double-spaced page in a word processing program has 250 to 300 words, so that’s like cutting 50 to 60 pages.)

My mom's amazing cover art.

My mom’s amazing cover art.

But I did. And for once in my writing life, I surpassed my goal. A couple days before the deadline, I trimmed it to just over 129,000. I even managed to design a cover. I got the basic outline done, told my mom (who is an amazing artist) what I really wanted, and then she waved her magic wand, and BOOM! Cover, done. It’s wonderful having a talented mom.

I sell my children’s book through CreateSpace (shameless plug – buy it here!), so I knew I needed to submit my story one day early to make it through the reviewing process. Hero is an illustrated book, so I had to submit it as a PDF. Like a dummy, I assumed my novel needed to be a PDF, as well. It was only after I submitted it that I saw they would also accept .doc or .docx.

Sure enough, the morning of the 30th, I saw that they had rejected the PDF – it cut off all my pages numbers. So I resubmitted it as a .doc, then waited. And waited. I went to sleep and set my alarm to wake me a few minutes before midnight, so I could still order my copies before my coupon code expired. But at midnight, July first, my book still wasn’t approved.

Grr. By the time I woke up the next morning, the book was approved. Isn’t that how it always goes? Part of me felt like giving up and continuing to edit my book to supposed perfection. But I’m enough of a realist to know that that will never happen. The whole reason I even considered sending it to CreateSpace to begin with was because of the two free copies, but I was already planning on buying a few more. They’re not expensive, and I wanted to have something nice to give my beta readers. So I went ahead and ordered them anyway.

My books should arrive early next week. I am both excited and nervous. If you had told me this time last year that I would have a sudden brainwave and write an entire novel in just over three months – and edit it and print it for its first critique-ers within eight months – I would have thought you were nuts. I had no idea that I would love NaNoWriMo. Even though I had to write ridiculous amounts every day, it wasn’t a chore. Maybe it’s just that serendipitous magic of the right story coming to me at the right time. As is my goal every time I write fiction, I created the story that I wanted to read. My only hope that my beta readers agree and won’t give a unanimous, What was she thinking? This is terrible!

Either way, my third big project of this year is done. I’m currently living in a bit of a fiction-writing vacuum. Yes, I still have plenty to do. But at night, when the kids are in bed and I’d usually be revising, I sit around and think, What do I do now? It’s hard to adjust back to a normal life, whatever that is.

There is, however, one consolation. I know that when my beta readers get done – even if their comments are miraculously positive – I’ll have my work cut out for me again. And I look forward to that day.

When to Write in Reverse

Memento (film)

Memento (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember that Guy Pearce movie Memento? Before I ever knew what it was about, someone mentioned to me that the interesting thing about it is actually the structure of the movie. In case you haven’t seen it (and I’m really not giving much away here), it’s told in reverse. That is, the first scene you see is the last scene of the movie, chronologically. And each scene is just a few minutes before whichever scene you just watched.

This is an interesting technique, especially when you realize it puts the audience in a similar frame of mind as Pearce’s character, who has short-term memory loss. I’ve always loved movies and books that mess with time. The most recent book that comes to mind is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I just can’t help but be drawn to stories like these; I think it’s in my blood.

Now, here’s the thing: when movies and books like these are still in the creation process, you wouldn’t want to watch or read them. That’s where the cutting room floor comes in; it’s the part of the creation process that is necessary but that the consumer doesn’t need to see. The final product isn’t messy but – if all goes well – seamless and sometimes mind-blowing in its intricacy.

Last week, I blogged about not being able to finish writing my novel on my own timeline because I got sick. But once I was well and able to get to work again, I realized that getting sick was merely a diversion from the ugly truth: I was stuck.

I hesitate to call this writer’s block because I still had plenty of ideas bouncing around my head, but the problem was how to write my way out of the current scene in which my character found herself. I realized that, even if I’d been perfectly healthy, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my book unless I could figure a way around my problem.

And then Memento popped into my head. Now, my story isn’t going to be told out of order, mainly because it’s narrated first person present. But Memento gave me an idea about the process of writing, and that was to write outside of the box. You see, I’d already written the end scene of the book weeks before. When scenes come to me, I get them down whether they’re in order or not because, otherwise, I’m likely to forget them. I knew where the story was going to end, but I’d lost my way. Unlike being lost on a road trip, however, I could jump right ahead to the end and forget the middle until I knew what to do with it.

All this week, I wrote in reverse. That doesn’t mean that I started with the last letters of each word but rather that I started with my last scene – the one I’d already written – and thought, What comes just before this? And I wrote it. The next day, I wrote the scene before that. And so on and so on, until today. Now, I’m writing right up to the scene where I left off. How could I not have known what my characters were up to?

It’s messy, full of repetitions, and I’m sure it will be a bear to edit. But it’s moving – even if it’s backward – to where it needs to go. My cutting room floor will be littered, but by the time I finish, the process of getting there will just be a cool story, not something someone can point to and say, “As you can see here, the author used the writing in reverse technique when her story stalled.”

I love writing by the seat of my pants. I know where I’m going, but the adventure is getting there, and it doesn’t have to be straightforward. I’ve had a lot of fun letting my story reveal itself in reverse. And even though it’s a little more than a week overdue, I am much closer to finishing (maybe tonight!) than I would have been if I had continued to plod forward.

So forget the rules. Drive in reverse for a while, and see where it takes you.

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What Comes After NaNoWriMo? (One Year Later)

Okay, Wrimos, did you finish? This time last year, I thought you all were crazy. Either that, or you had a lot of time on your hands, not to mention a good dose of stick-to-it-ive-ness. In fact, I blogged about it (read it here), asking for participants’ feedback, and what I heard was intriguing. Not enough to make me want to sign up but still intriguing.

If you had told me that I, too, would sign up this year, I would have laughed and thought, When? How could I possibly think I would have the time? Actually, I would have thought that two months ago. And even after I had my initial spark of inspiration and figured I might as well take the plunge – otherwise, when else would I ever have the courage? – I still didn’t think that I would finish. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I hit 50,000 words on day 14 (read about that here), and since then, I’ve continued plugging away.

Like I said last year, November is a busy month, and this year was no exception. Actually, I think it was a little busier. It’s been an emotional month, too. The thing about NaNo and how it intersects with life is that life will never stop and be turbulence-free just because you have something to do. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I have the feeling it’s like that for most everyone. I signed up, not because I thought that I would write the next bestseller (although I wouldn’t complain if I did) but because my life is not complete without writing fiction, and even though it can look very boring and passive to someone watching me while I work, it gives me an outlet – and makes me a happier person when I can pour my soul out through a fictional character. It can be lonely, but it can also be the safest way to meet and interact with new people, if you’re an introvert like me.

I know some non-writers will get done reading that and think, Yep, she’s crazy. She lost it somewhere back in October. I suppose I did, and I’m glad of it. To answer my own question from last year, what comes next is that I finish my book. My personal goal (after hitting 50,000 words) was to make it to 80,000 by the end of the month. I did, and I’m still nowhere close to the end. So my new goal is to write until it’s finished. It will be crap, I know, but then I can begin chipping or hacking away until something like the story it’s meant to be begins to take shape.

My biggest incentive for this is that CreateSpace is offering two free copies of every NaNoWriMo winner’s novel (check it out), and I have until the end of June to place my order. I think that’s enough time to finish it and edit – maybe even ask a couple of my awesome reader friends for some honest feedback.

Another thing that I didn’t know until I browsed is that there have been some pretty well-known novels that were published after the authors wrote them during NaNoWriMo. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants: A Novel, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Hugh Howey’s Wool. When I read The Night Circus earlier this year, I was impressed with how well the author handled the story jumping back and forth in time. I aspire to write like that, but I can promise you that her first draft wasn’t nearly so fluid. It seems like there could be some hope for me, after all.

So with November gone and another busy month ahead of me, I can not only say that I have absolutely no regrets, but it was the best writing decision I have ever made. I have no idea what next November will bring, but my writing high from the last 30 days could easily last until then, anyway.

A Book Affair


Books (Photo credit: henry)

I’ve never been one to blow through my paycheck on a shopping spree. I do buy clothes more often than my husband but not nearly as often as most women. I never buy jewelry. I don’t have a lot of knickknacks or art, although, with a mother who is an artist, I certainly appreciate great artistic talent. I don’t care about TVs, home theatres, or electronics gadgets. I am only occasionally tempted by purses or things with multiple pockets and compartments (and the bigger the better). Really, the only item in existence that is a potential budget buster for this girl is a book.

This past week I helped set up the Scholastic book fair at my son’s school. Book lovers can imagine my agony as I unpacked and shelved all sorts of treasures. The few books whose covers were torn during transport went back into the original boxes, never to be displayed; every time I found one, I wanted to offer it a home, even if I’d never heard of it before. And every time I found one I had already read, I wanted to say, “Oh, oh! I read this—has anyone else? You have to read this!”

I often avoid bookstores if I don’t have extra spending money because the temptation to buy is so great. At the end of 2012, I wrote a post about the books I hoped to read this year. Of course, I haven’t yet been able to read nearly as much as I hoped, but I’ve already gone through several that I adore and can see myself going back to again and again (including one title that was at the book fair, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus). But within days of publishing that list, what do you think I did? I went out and bought more books. Now, I know there’s no way in the world that I’ll be able to read all of those books this year. I suppose I could shut myself in my room with a box of tissues (just in case), but it’s not like I have a maid to take care of the house, a nanny to watch my kids, or a trust fund to pay for it all.

Why do I keep plaguing myself with these books? Why can’t I stop? There are much more harmful vices, I know, but even if I’m not destroying my relationships or running up credit card debt with my habit, I’m certainly running out of places to put each new purchase. I converted my china cabinet into a bookcase, and now I’ve taken over most of the top of my spinet piano, as well. Whenever I want to have fun and internet browse for my dream home, houses with built-in bookshelves automatically jump to the top of my list.

Part of me wonders why I never became a librarian. I didn’t want to spend any more time in college than I absolutely had to, however, so forget the master’s in library science. But I could still work in a school library somewhere. Whenever I volunteer in my son’s school’s media center, I bask in the atmosphere of so many well-loved published works. And since I went to school there, too, and received much joy browsing those shelves as a girl, it’s even more of a magical experience. I listen in wonder as kids come in, excited to find a new book, and the media specialist rattles off titles that she thinks will interest boys and girls of all different ages. She’s my hero.

My husband has always been a great gift giver. At birthdays and Christmas, he’ll ask what I want, and often I list a number of books that I’d like or say, “You know what I like to read. Just surprise me.” He’s responsible for many of the tomes that crowd our shelves and spill over into the rest of our house, including the Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and The Hunger Games series. He discovered early on that I couldn’t care less about jewelry, perfumes, flowers, spa days—in other words, things that would delight most other women. The first gift he ever bought for me (and the only piece of jewelry he’s given me, except for the wedding rings we exchanged) was a watch. I’d been going on for a while about how I needed a new one, and I still wear it today, almost fourteen years later. My mom jokes that it’s my engagement watch. But what she forgets is that Thomas followed the watch with a book, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. I think I know which gift really won my heart.