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.

Traffic Jam at the Intersection of Chronic Sinus Infection Avenue and Swamped Street

traffic jam

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am a planner. You might call me OCD. My husband rarely makes plans without asking me first, for fear that I’ll lose it if my plan gets sidetracked. This particular piece of the Sarah puzzle doesn’t always fit nicely with the rest of the pieces. But on the up side, I’ve always known what I wanted. As a seventeen-year-old high school graduate, there was absolutely no question about what major I would claim in college: English, obviously, because I love to read and write, and I was well on my way to becoming a published author who would make enough income to support herself and her future family.

Fast forward to reality: at almost thirty-five, the only books I’ve published were paid for by me, and the income I’ve made as a writer is hardly steady, much less supportive to the family budget. I still love to write, but it was with a heavy dose of humility that I finally admitted that, if I didn’t want to watch my husband work himself to death from the sidelines, I needed to find something profitable to do. Having a traditional, full-time job was never a part of my plan. But after I stalled for years and accepted it, I have found satisfaction and even a joy I never expected by first teaching and now crunching numbers, of all things.

Have no fear: I am still a writer, and even though I am much less active than I once was, this blog keeps me accountable. Although I’m going on three months without a post, it’s not that I’ve lost my passion for writing or run out of things to say; I simply haven’t been able to wrap my mind around a cohesive topic in a while. Or more accurately, I haven’t had the time to so much as think about it. What with going from the “let’s look at houses” to actually buying one and moving in in exactly one month, being busier than ever at work, getting and staying sick for almost three months running, and becoming an independent consultant with Thirty-One Gifts, I feel lucky to remember my name.

But it happens to be spring break, and I consider it a God-thing that inspiration finally struck right when I had the time to nurture it. It happened Monday while reading my daily devotional. Some mornings, I absorb it, while others I’m lucky to remember what I read five minutes later. But this particular entry seemed to be speaking to me:

Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”

—Monica Brands, “The Point of Being Alive,” Our Daily Bread (read full entry here)

This struck me because I’ve been following one particular financial method for over a decade, and it is absolutely based on the idea of sacrificing certain pleasures now in order to enjoy them after retirement. Now, I have no argument with saving for the future. And really, is being fiscally responsible and living within my means a bad thing? But I don’t think that’s what the author of the devotional was getting at. There has to be a balance between wasting what we earn on instant gratification and becoming misers who save for a tomorrow that might never come.

Years ago, I met a woman who had looked forward to her husband’s retirement more than anything else in her life. They were retirement saving pros, their goal to travel during their golden years. But mere weeks after he retired, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their retirement dream died right along with him.

I am usually not one of these people who dwells on death, but I have been sick for 11 weeks now—the perfect storm of chronic sinus infections, allergies, and barely enough time to rest every night. The same day I read the above devotional, I had a CT scan to ascertain what, exactly, is going on in my head. My ENT expects to find a reason behind the congestion, but as soon as he said, “scan of your head,” I thought about my friend who lost her life to a brain tumor at 32.

Wouldn’t it be just like Life to give me a major detour? Health problems are a nightmare to planners like me—I don’t have room for that nonsense! But while I seriously doubt that my results will show anything that serious, just the idea of it has been enough to make me look back over my life and consider my regrets. Well, I’m not a bestselling author… and that’s about it. I married the love of my life, and we have two children whom we adore. My family in itself is blessing enough, but I have more: we’ve taken great trips and made lots of memories. We read to our children all the time and tell them stories of our own childhoods. We instill in them the values that we hold dear, and I hope I’m not too boastful in saying that they’re good-hearted people (even if the older one is snarky and the younger one is a hot mess).

When I was younger, I assumed that everything I wanted in life would fall into place as easily as my marriage: I would land a literary agent, get published, play Scrooge McDuck in my mountains of earnings, and then write more novels from my office while watching my children play in my perfectly manicured backyard. I have the husband and children, so why is the rest so unattainable? It’s frustrating to say that I’m a writer—that I’ve written novels—yet have little to show for it. I was jarred by my ungratefulness when a friend who is successful in her career and seems to have it all told me she admires me for being a mother. She doesn’t look down on me at all because the career I’ve always desired remains out of reach.

It’s easy to get lost in the belief that life doesn’t begin until [fill in the blank]. The problem is that if we have to achieve x before life is worth living, we could travel down that lonely road forever without reaching the destination.

While the lure of a perfect someday can blind us to the imperfect joys of today, if we follow the (annoying, frustrating, life-changing) detours without fighting to stay on our original path, we’ll likely end up right where we need to be… with many (worthwhile, unexpected, fulfilling) stops along the way.

It Feels Like a Good Day to Write 50,000 Words

NaNoWriMo 2017 Badge

Okay, first off, I didn’t write 50,000 words today. As of this moment, I’ve written 2650 words today, but right around word 2550, I had 50,000 in my word bank, which means that I won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2017!

If you read my last post (click here), you know that I was really taking a giant leap this year, working with little more than an idea I’d gotten from a dream. (And my husband can attest that some of my dreams are really strange and don’t necessarily lend themselves to coherent narratives.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 graph

NaNoWriMo 2017 Word Count Graph

Add to that the challenge of this November’s brutal lack of free time, and I was lucky to keep up with the requisite 1667 words per day. In fact, I only kept up through day 15, as you can see in the 2017 graph. That nice diagonal line that’s going up? The bar for every day needs to reach that diagonal line in order to keep up with the word count. As you can see, I took a little dip for a few days. There was even one day when I only typed 201 words. Yikes.

And this was uncharted territory for me. Never before have I fallen behind. Usually I’m just ahead (see my 2016 graph below—and I thought that novel was hard to write), but sometimes I’m way ahead. (See 2013—doesn’t that make you sick? I don’t know how I managed that except to say that I had inspiration strike just about every day.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 graph

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 Word Count Graph

On Thanksgiving evening, my dad asked me what my word count was, and at the time, it was only about 33,500 (which I admitted with a cringe). Already, I had a plan to write 2500 that night and the following three nights, which would put me at 43,500 before I had to go back to work and reality on Monday. That would allow me to breathe a little, and I would only have to write a little over 2000 words for the next three days, thus giving me a tiny bit of cushion, and I would validate on the 29th.

Now it’s time to admit to why I had fallen so far behind, something that’s a huge NaNoWriMo no-no. About 25,000 words in, I realized I had a major flaw in my (half-written) novel and decided that, instead of tackling it in the editing stage, I would go ahead and fix it. Yep. That’s the OCD at work. Of course, I used the opportunity, while going back, to add scenes and fluff when- and wherever I could, but a lot of it was just reading, looking for the flaw, and fixing it.

Thanksgiving night, I decided I couldn’t afford to edit anymore, fast-forwarded to the end of my story, and just started typing thousands of words of info-dump back story. Yes, much of it will be woven into the larger story, so it won’t seem as dump-y in the end (I hope), but for now, I just need the words. (I even left in an entire scene that really needs to go, but I’m being a good girl and ignoring it for now.)

By Friday, I felt like I had enough words down that I went back and finished the edit, then started moving forward again. Yesterday, the epiphanies started to hit—finally! it only took 40,000 word to get there—and I wrote over 7000 words in one day. Whew. I can’t tell you the relief I feel. Meeting today’s word count was a breeze, and now the rest of my writing won’t feel as much “have to” as “want to.”

So if you’re stuck, if you can’t see the light at the end of your tunnel, stick with it! I promise you’ll be glad you ventured into the scary, dark unknown of your novel-in-progress. It’s Rainbow-Unicornland on the other side.

It’s Almost November! (This Happens Every Year)

02-scariest-moment

I’ve come to the critical time of October when the anticipation of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo, aka November) is putting me in an almost constant state of anxiety/excitement. Part of me wonders why I do this to myself—after all, couldn’t I pick any 30 days during the calendar year to start a novel from scratch and complete 50,000 words? Now that I’m working a full-time job for the first time in almost 10 years, the pressure is more acute than ever. It certainly would be easier to do this over the summer, when my kids have fewer events that require my attention.

But the greater part of me can’t wait for it to happen. There’s something about November that’s magical. It’s always been this way for me. There’s the possibility of cooler weather (yes, it’s only a possibility in northeast Florida) and the certainty of my favorite holidays ahead. I can bake pumpkin things without feeling weird about it, and I have my kids’ birthdays to look forward to. Even though I’m always crazy-busy and feel like I have zero spare minutes for me, adding this event that is only for me is a challenge to which I eagerly look forward.

Maybe other introverts will understand. Although NaNoWriMo is a community event, what with writers from all over the world participating, introverts are free to sign up and write behind the scenes. Yes, I update my word count online and post about my progress upon occasion, but otherwise, it’s a solitary event. The fact that I’m operating within my little bubble yet still accountable makes me push myself more than I would if I just decided to start a book tomorrow and finish 30 days later.

It presents a different set of challenges. If you’ve read my previous posts about NaNoWriMo over the years, you know that I don’t do a lot of prep. I’m not one for elaborate outlines, plotting every little twist and turn and then filling in the prose on day one. When I first participated in 2013, I had a book-size idea just days before November first and signed up on a whim. The following two years, I wrote books two and three of that trilogy—challenging, but at least I was dealing with characters with whom I was familiar. Last year, I wrote a book about which I’d been thinking for over a year, and I was bursting with ideas. Although every year after the first has been a challenge, I’ve always won.

This year’s novel… well, it’s going to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants composition. The premise is based on a dream I had several months ago. (Other writers, do you do this? Turn your dreams into stories?) I woke up and wrote down some elements and decided that another idea I’d had for a character quirk would work well with that scenario… and that’s it. It’s basically a scene. And a scene from the end, best I can tell. How do I start this thing? How do I build the characters and get them where they need to be and make it readable?

In the end, I don’t have to. That’s a challenge for the editing stage, which is months away. I have to hold all my thoughts together for a few more days and then let them flow from my brain to my fingertips and into Word starting on November first. If all I do is string together 50,000 words of scenes, I will win. Maybe I’ll surprise myself. Maybe golden prose will flow forth, and… who am I kidding? The manuscript is sure to be disjointed and chaotic, and this OCD girl is ready to embrace the messiness of it (with rubber gloves on, of course). Stay tuned.

 

“Wow, You Really Like Books, Don’t You?”

 

New Stack of Books 2017

Books I can’t wait to read!

The title of this post is what my cousin said to me recently when I was at his house, returning a pile of books that his wife had lent me. And then because she has some sort of wicked sixth sense about her, she guessed that I might appreciate even more books, so she blessed me with another pile of loaner teen fiction. This is third such pile of books she’s let me borrow in the past couple years, and my cousin knows this, but I think this was the first time he was actually in the room while I eagerly accepted the books, all but bursting with delight to have my hands on more stuff to read.

If you know me, you know that I always have a book on hand. Nothing will stop me from reading. In fact, I finished one book and started another when I was in the delivery room, hours away from giving birth to my first baby. It’s a serious thing to me. (Some might call it a problem.) But I guess it’s different to witness me grabbing all the books I can get my hands on, a manic gleam in my eye, as if I’m on an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Now before anyone gets onto me for starting on a new pile of books before finishing what I set out to read at the beginning of the year, I will say that even though it’s killing me, I will read (or try my best to read) everything on my 2017 list before I get started on this latest stack of potential goodness. That’s not to say that I’ve been good and haven’t detoured at all. I have. The problem is that so many of the books from this year’s list are the first book of a series, and if I like a series, well… let’s just say that my bookshelf real estate is dwindling.

This could be a problem, having enough time to read everything I own. I was really worried when my position at work changed from teacher to admin support, which puts me in the office year-round. But I am not to be deterred. Maybe I’m not blogging as often, but I am reading and writing with as much gusto as ever.

It’s well past the halfway point of the year, so of the 34 books on my list, I should have read more than 17, correct? And I am happy to report that, despite getting sidetracked a few times, I’ve still crossed 23 off the list. (Check out the link to my Goodreads page in the sidebar for all the details.) If anything is going to sidetrack me from my list, it’s other books, not a lack of time to read them.

So bring them on! I need to have something to read in 2018, anyway. And please excuse me for cutting this post short; my current book is just getting to the good part.

The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.