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NaNoWriMo: If NaNo-ing Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right (Reprise)

4 Oct

A lot of irrational things annoy me.

  • The term “animal style” at In-N-Out
  • Humidity
  • Crisp, overdone foley sounds in movies or television, like “sexy” whispered voice-overs on ads, crumpling paper/plastic, or the sound of footsteps. (Wanted to Hulk out every time they amplified the tap shoes in So You Think You Can Dance last season. Ugh! I’m making fists just thinking about it!)

I’m sure I annoy people with the things I do, too — like turning everything into a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference (just annoyed myself by typing the asterisks between the letters) and, now, apparently, by being a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I really don’t understand the hostility. I get the stress from agents whose inboxes strain beneath the weight of the naïve each December, but most participants know better than to query their raw product, and most of the criticisms I read are not from agents but from writers. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing about it. Perhaps they’re evil. Perhaps it’s just the sound of the word NaNoWriMo that makes their skin crawl the way the word dander freaks out my mom. Maybe you all want to slaughter me for my poor grammar and sentence fragments. We’ll deal with that later. Right now, I just want to explain why I participate in NaNoWriMo.

Let us begin with a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference.

In The One Where Phoebe Runs (video here), Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s headlong running style and shuns her, not wanting to seem ridiculous by association. She doesn’t get the value or appeal of such a thing. Phoebe explains that it brings back the fun of running, the joy from when you were a kid and ran so fast you thought your legs would fall off.

NaNoWriMo, to me, is like running until you think your legs are going to fall off — and loving it.

When I first began writing in grade school, I did it because it was fun and made my friends laugh. When I took up fiction writing again as an adult, I did it because I’d had a really tough couple of years with unemployment, the loss of my dad, and my toddler’s bout with melanoma. Writing was therapy. Writing my heart out made me feel happy again. Alive again. Put color back in the world. I still love it. I still enjoy it. But now I spend most of the year fussing over it, getting serious, running it through workshops and critique groups, agonizing over every word, stressing at deadlines. Worrying about what people will think.

Then November and NaNoWriMo arrive with arm-flailing abandon, reminding me to let go every once in a while,  feel alive again. Join the galloping, galumphing, windmilling parade.

Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Lonely. Even when you belong to a class or a critique group, you’re all pursuing different goals, are at different points in your stories, and you’re there to get down to business and be serious. These are not bad things. Most of us belong to writing groups and are grateful for the resulting improvement. NaNoWriMo, however, is different. In November, writing becomes a social activity. You no longer feel alone. You’re in it together. Writers from all over the world congregate on one site to crash its servers celebrate the joy of writing until our legs fall off. We’re allowed to cheer each other on, we bring back the joy, and we walk away with a stitch in our sides from laughing. And sometimes a couple of new friends.

Do I think this is the way to go full time?

No.

Do I think I’m there to write a masterpiece?

Heck no. It might happen, but I’m not concerned about that.

I’m just there to run my legs off and rediscover the magic. I want to put aside my inhibitions, limber up my twisted imagination, and fall in love with what I do again. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo right, I know it because I once again feel that heady rush of new love. I can’t wait to get back to the story, I think about it day and night, and I (obviously) can’t stop talking about it.

I wasted too many years of my life not knowing or enjoying who I was because I was too busy toeing the line, forcing myself into herd mentality because the moment I stepped out of the mold, the Eternal Junior High Mean Girls of the world were ready to taunt me, torment me. Shun me. The world would see I was “crazy.” As much as I hated to be noticed and labeled as a brain (You’re such a brain. I hate you!), I feared the least deviation from perfection and hard work because that would expose that I was a sham, an idiot, and thus subject to more ridicule.

So I need NaNoWriMo’s help to let go of that. I like being allowed — encouraged — to be BAD, to be WRONG, and to see that no harm will come from it. In fact, a lot of good comes from it. Being able to laugh at yourself is a major skill in life.

People complain that those of us who are celebrating writing “crap” are wasting an opportunity to do something serious and valuable and “good”. I disagree. First of all, one man’s good is another man’s crap, and vice versa. Second, I think they’re missing the point of what this month means to people like me. This isn’t my only opportunity to write. I write all year long. I revise, rewrite, and edit all year long. I treat my primary novel with the care and seriousness of a parent. I don’t go into NaNoWriMo with the aim of producing the next great classic. I don’t pose for a woodcut portrait on Barnes & Noble’s walls.  I use NaNoWriMo to revive my creative energy so that I can go on to strive for a masterpiece,  whether through extensive rewrites and editing of my NaNo novel or through starting something new with the momentum I gain. It’s a workout.

I should have a better concluding paragraph, but I don’t. I’m sleepy and have thousands of words to write before I rest. That makes me happy. So I leave you with the following — a dramatic recreation of how I feel about the sound of crackling paper and amplified tap shoes, brought to you by Ms. Phoebe Buffay and Ms. Pacman.

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NaNoWriMo: Time for Extra Credit

26 Nov

I’m terrible. I realized that we could start validating wins on the NaNoWriMo site yesterday, and suddenly nothing would do except crossing the finish line by the end of the night. I was 5000-some words away.

But I made it! I ended the night with 50,033.

The story is gathering momentum now, so I’m going to see how much more I can write before the thirtieth. Maybe I can reach The End by then.

NaNoWriMo: Hey Nineteen

19 Nov

My score at the end of Day 19

Now, this is good. Right here. This blissful moment of meeting my word count goals for the day — above both the daily and the overall quotas, and higher than my randomly selected stranger/adversary that I must beat or else. (Or else nothing and they’ll never know?) (Don’t knock it. It’s motivating to me.) (What? I am NOT competitive!) (I just talk to myself, parenthetically.)

Anyway, it’s good to meet my goals for the day just as my eyes are getting warm and blurry and the world begins to warp in my happy, sated exhaustion. Who knows what tomorrow brings, but tonight I sleep the sleep of a clear writing conscience.

Good night and happy writing to you all.

NaNoWriMo: Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

9 Nov

Still haven’t broken the 7k word mark.

Flippin’ flappin’ laptop. I need some smelling salts for the dadburned thing.

I am itching to rewrite many of those 7k words, realizing that my MC isn’t driving the action so much as going along for the ride. I have a good idea how to do it. But it’s Day Nine. I don’t think I should be going back at this point.

Anyway, a more helpful bit for my writer-readers (I hope)…

I read a great writing “rule” this week. More of a storytelling tip, but an important one.

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder talks about Act I being the Thesis (The Before picture), Act II being Anthithesis (Act I turned on its head), and Act III being Synthesis (getting chocolate in your peanut butter*). I’ve had a loose grip on the concept for a while, but it wasn’t until I read about Goldilocks on Wikipedia that I found a simple, concrete way of thinking about it.

Author Christopher Booker characterizes [the story] as the “dialectical three”, where “the first is wrong in one way, the second in another or opposite way, and only the third, in the middle, is just right.” Booker continues “This idea that the way forward lies in finding an exact middle path between opposites is of extraordinary importance in storytelling”.

I now have a simple test to apply to my manuscripts and a simple way of planning the basic flavor of each act in new stories. Act One is too hot/tall/hard. Act Two is too cold/low/soft. Act Three is where the characters mix elements of I and II to obtain the solution that makes everything just right. **

Also from Save the Cat is the notion that the hero and antagonist are often just opposite sides of the same coin. Two lawyers with different ethics in Pretty Woman. Batman and The Joker. Luke and Anakin. Etc. Helps me think about my characters and makes sure that one side of the coin isn’t out of proportion — they should be very nearly matched in scale and strength (whether they realize it or start out that way or not).

NPR is going to announce the winner of the Three-Minute-Fiction competition this weekend. I have no right to be nervous — implies I think I have a chance of winning — but I’m still a fidgety mess.

*My son is allergic to peanuts. I shuddered just typing the word. Used to love the stuff, but now it represents poison to me. So I guess, in my world,  my analogy only works if the MC’s solution is to poison the bad guys. 😉

** I was watching Fairly Oddparents with my son the other day and laughed to recognize the above structure in the 20 minute episode.

Timmy’s fairy godparents have a baby, and so they decide to “babyproof” all his wishes, making them all safe and soft. Timmy, as any normal kid would, feels frustrated, insulted. In the catalyst scene, he discovers there’s a clause in the fairy godparent contract where he can request a temporary fairy godparent if his are not satisfactory. His current godparents advise him not to do it, but he ignores them. We swing into Act II where he’s assigned an uber-macho, vain fairy godfather who is willing to grant all his most exciting and dangerous wishes. And escalate them. Fun and games ensue. Then Timmy starts to feel exhausted and threatened, but his new fairy godfather won’t relent, is only getting more and more violent. Timmy’s not sleeping, is constantly in peril, and can’t see any way out. The temporary contract is for one year or until Timmy explodes, whichever is first. The only way to get out of it is a clause where a kid can fire the temp if he balks at granting enough wishes. But what could possibly upset this new fairy godfather? Act Three begins with him realizing a plan — keep wishing for babyish things to humiliate the uber-macho fairy godfather — bringing Act One and Two together to come up with a solution. After wishing for macho fairy godfather to wear a baby bonnet and diaper on the field of a stadium full of his peers, he succeeds in making his new godfather release him from the contract so that he can return to his former set of fairy godparents.

NaNoWriMo: On the Brink of Madness

31 Oct

The madness begins tomorrow. Thirty days of grudge match. My imagination versus fifty thousand words. I think I’m up to it. Last year, I went into this with banners flying, confidence high. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, though. The year before that was a breeze, by comparison.

This year, I’m feeling quieter about it all. (Part of a larger trend, as you might have noticed by the dust on this blog.) I didn’t think I’d have enough of an idea, actually. Luckily, one blossomed a few weeks ago. So I enter this year’s fray with less pomp and more preparation. This will be the first time I concentrate on plot instead of story or characters.  I’m armed with my copy of Save the Cat and the various “beats” of my plot. It’s not an outline. It’s more of a list of landmarks I need to hit as I meander toward the finish line in whatever kind of squiggly path I discover. Wish me good luck. Plotting is my weak point.

Another of my weak points is brevity, and I hope to make this novel 60-70k words, completed. Very short compared to my usual 100k-ish words.

Anyway, here’s my project. I hope to have fun bringing it to life.

A twelve-year-old runaway decides to pay “rent” on his woodland hideout by becoming its owners’ fairy god…um…kid – eavesdropping in order to grant wishes, serve as a human Ouija board, and perform anonymous good deeds from the tree tops. However, his “magic” keeps leading to disaster, winter’s on the way, and rumors are spreading that could lead to discovery by the stepfather he’d hoped to escape.

Background texture by Smoko-Stock

30 Covers, 30 Days – Redux

30 Oct

On Tuesday, NaNoWriMo will begin posting covers for the 2011 30 Covers, 30 Days challenge. I was the gleeful recipient of a cover last year (go day twelve!), and I made a collage of the entire collection. For old time’s sake, here it is again. Can’t wait to see the latest batch!

Proof!

23 Jun

For the very first time, after three years of writing fiction, I completed a novel! I’m laughing maniacally every time I remember typing those magical words, “The End.”

I have a novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end! Whoa… [Laughs maniacally]

(So there’s some explanation for my absence from the blog.)

Thanks to the kind sponsors of NaNoWriMo, I had a code for a free proof copy. It arrived today! [Muhahaha!]

It has some errors, and I’ve made a few corrections to the story itself, so there will be a second proof, but, in the meanwhile…BEHOLD!

click for larger version

click for larger version

click for larger version

 click for larger version 

The 2nd Annual Drunk at First Sight Fest

17 Mar

I’m a little late on this (a lot late for my international friends), but, in the spirit of camraderie, I thought I’d put something up. It’s a first draft of a deleted scene, and an old one, at that, but it’s all I have in the way of a drunk scene at this point. It probably makes no sense.

Learn more about the fest on the Where Sky Meets Ground blog @ The 2nd Annual Drunk at First Sight Fest.

_____________________

Elizabeth: naive college freshman in Berkeley, 1969.

Marisa: Elizabeth’s best friend and landlady, also known as The Red Queen, hostess of weekly anachronistic parties to promote her dance studio

David: Elizabeth’s ex

Jim: Elizabeth’s secret love and self-appointed protector

Paul: Marisa’s henpecked, nerdy cousin

 

This is the confusion before the storm. Bad things are just around the bend…

_____________________

As David’s façade of civility began its crumble, he’d developed a cute little trick. Creeping to the television, he’d press himself against it, one eye turned her way, growing happier and happier as Elizabeth went insane. To achieve this, he need do only one thing — flip the dial back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until her brain was full and she was screaming. Fragments, flashes, from hiss to canned laughter, static to song. Always with the sound turned up full blast, of course.

When she thought back on Marisa’s St. Patrick’s Day party, it was a lot like that torture by television — not so much for the maddening element but because of its fragmentation. She remembered it only in flashes.

Flash one: She’s in the kitchen, her default party spot. Stephanie’s threatening to kiss her if she doesn’t join the mob in the basement.

Flash two: The basement. Marisa’s sangria. Yum.

Flash three: Who drank all her stinking sangria? Dammit, Paul, get some more.

Flash four: The music isn’t loud enough. Someone — maybe Elizabeth — has organized a guerilla trip through the tangle of crowd to the stereo to do something about it. A jumbled memory of walking bent forward, one arm out, ready to snowplow anyone who got in the way. A staggering mob hanging on behind like a zombie conga line.

Flash five: Laughing and laughing and laughing with Marisa until their stomachs hurt and — whoa — who turned down the lights?

Flash six: Marisa is scolding her, brushing her hair roughly and tying it back in a ponytail. This will come in handy later when…

Flash seven: Elizabeth wipes her mouth and rises from the strip of marigolds outside Marisa’s back door, thanking the lecherous Steve for his rare act of chivalry — holding her hair while she gets sick.

Flash eight: Another Dixie cup of happiness in hand, she’s kicking said chivalrous friend to make him stop groping her.

Flash nine: A chorus line! The entire dance class is shrieking something approximating “Orpheus in the Underworld” and kicking their feet, arms around each other’s waists like the Rockettes. Jim! Jim! You have to join us! Have to! The blurry recollection of Jim recoiling slowly and cautiously, as though from a band of wild dogs.

Flash ten: Arguing. Did Jim try to talk her into leaving? She had the vague memory of calling him a poop, of feeling her attraction to him like a literal magnet and tumbling into his gravitational pull. The compelling yet all too short flash of his bicep beneath her hand and Susan’s giggle in her ear.

Flash eleven: Why is there no more Jim? Why? Why is Marisa’s shoulder so stinking wet? Oh, a handkerchief. Oh no. Oh no. Where’s that flowerbed again?

Flash twelve: Handkerchiefs are no match for sangria.

And now.

Not a flash. A flash would be merciful in its brevity.

No.

This? This was more of a swirl. An undulating, insinuating wave. A ride on the end of a cat’s tail. A whirlpool, Elizabeth alone and still in its center.

She forced her mouth to move. “Make it stop.”

“Huhhhhhhn?” A familiar girl’s voice.

Elizabeth said, “You’re moving my house. Stop.”

The feet in front of her face jerked, bumping her nose and releasing an explosion of comic book sparks and exclamation points. From the opposite end of the bed came the voice again. “Merde! I’d give my left tit for a shot of whiskey.”

“Steph?”

“Yeah, ‘sme.”

Elizabeth struggled onto her elbows. Her joints felt congested, whatever that meant. They were in Marisa’s guest bed, heads at opposite ends.

“Why here?”

Steph flailed a hand and rolled to drop her torso off the bed, re-emerging with a cigarette and lighter.

“Damn amateurs.” Steph spoke with a clenched jaw as she inhaled. Groaning and expelling a long plume of smoke, she rolled onto her back, eyes closed.

“Ama-whos?”

“Can’t take the high octane. C’mon. Show you.”

Elizabeth rose, feeling each step in her head instead of her feet. She was a ragdoll made of sandbags — sandbags full of broken glass and rotten eggs. “Holy flippin’ gravy.”

Steph shook her head. “Closer, but no cigar. We’ll get you cussing properly one of these days.” She pulled Elizabeth from the room at a shuffle.

On Elizabeth’s closed door, they found a makeshift sign. In thick, wobbly, red magic marker, but obviously Marisa’s writing, they read, “BASTARDS — don’t let them out.” Underneath this puzzling message were a tiny heart and a lopsided happy face.

Elizabeth swayed, narrowing her eyes to try to focus and read more sense into the thing. It hurt her brain. Steph smirked and inclined her head toward the knob with a raised brow. For some reason, this scared Elizabeth. Who were The Bastards? Why were they in her room? What if they got out?

Steph lowered her cigarette and wheezed with laughter at Elizabeth’s expression. Smoke came out her nose. “Elle, you are my love. Look.”

Cracking the door, she waved Elizabeth forward. All she saw was a foot clad in a white sweat sock ringed with blue stripes. It rested on her pillow, bedspread pulled primly to the calf as though it were some new form of sleeping giraffe. Steph opened the door wider, revealing half a dozen unconscious men.

Elizabeth gaped. “Why?”

“Drunk and disorderly.” Steph shrugged, taking a deep drag and exhaling it with sharp contempt into the room. “Even when she’s drunk, Marisa’s still the sheriff.” She pointed to two boys, leaning against each other, drooling and snoring. “Those two tried to feel you up.”

“What? When?”

Steph just rolled her eyes. “And that one?” A chubby blond upperclassman with a crew cut. “He tried to fight Jim when he didn’t like the way you were dancing.”

“I danced with Jim?” Her head swam.

“No, with Colonel Lardass!”

“Oh.” She looked around. “Are they all mine?”

“No. Only those three. The others just got on Marisa’s nerves. There were more, but some must have escaped down the balcony the way Mare hoped. Even scrawny little Paul was here for a while, remember?” She smirked at Elizabeth. “No, you don’t, do you?”

“Why Paul?”

“Don’t know. Just because. He’s fun that way.” She closed the door. “I just know he was out in time to sweet talk the cops.”

Elizabeth rubbed her eyes and groaned. “Cops? I don’t remember any of it.”

Steph squeezed Elizabeth. “Good for you, then. You’ve got the drinking part down. I’m proud.”

Back to the Drawing Board

1 Feb

Nathan Bransford announced the finalists in this year’s Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge this morning, and there are some great entries there. A few of my favorites made it, but we’re not supposed to mention names until the final vote is tallied — no fair campaigning, not even unintentionally.

Head over there to read the finalists’ paragraphs and cast your vote in the comments section.

I’m feeling a bit of the Day after Christmas Blues. I never expected to win or even place. I just enjoyed the wondering, the waiting, the having something out there where people could read it. Meanwhile, it marks a few firsts:

  • my first contest
  • my first exposure to an agent’s discerning eyeballs
  • my first toss into the slush pile.

But, as far as landings in a slush pile go, it was very soft, and now I feel more like an official writer. A rite of passage. Woohoo!

I guess it’s not an official rejection. The Great Hell-No Letter of Despair will come later, along with all its special feelings.

I linked to my first paragraph before, but now I’ll post it here in all of its shame glory entirety.

Elizabeth fit her feet into the rut of a forgotten rainstorm, one sneaker before the other down the old dirt road. Just a needle in a record’s scratchy groove, she sang dirges to the dying summer sun and surrendered to the pull of her secret haven. From her perch atop Mars Hill, she’d gaze over town, imagine herself as one of the soaring ravens, and forget real life, find her breath again. She couldn’t remember ever needing it more.

The entire first chapter (brief) is here.

I need to add more pent-up urgency. She now has more of a reason to be in a hurry. And, yes, there are probaby more issues to fix.

Off to The Marvelous Land of Revisions!

Dog Pile on the Slush Pile

29 Jan

I did it.

Earlier this week, I mentioned Nathan Bransford’s 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. I wasn’t sure I should enter. But then Mr. Bransford posted something along the lines of Eh, Why not? Time’s running out. So I said what the heck. There’s safety in numbers. I joined the throngs in the soon-to-be slush pile. My entry is on this page, tenth from the bottom, I think (#1391). It starts, “Elizabeth fit her feet…”

My paragraph may never be read that deep in the pile, but the challenge is still proving useful. NB suggested his readers go through the entries to learn what works,what doesn’t work, and how the good ones start to stand out after a while. [Article here] Mr. Untitlement and I did just that last night, and doggonnit if NB wasn’t right. I printed the first 200 paragraphs (of more than 1500), and we went through, crossing out the ones that didn’t grab us. In our first sweep, we wound up with only 45 survivors. It was disturbingly fun and educational. You really do start to see patterns after a while.  I’m going to go through those 45 today and see how many I still like.

Meanwhile, I’m sure others are wrinkling their noses at my first paragraph and making big red Xs across it. So be it.

Even if you didn’t enter, I highly recommend taking Mr. Bransford’s advice to read the entries. It’s a true crash course on how to start a book.

Thanks a zillion to everyone who read and commented on my 99th page yesterday. It means a lot to me. If you haven’t read it and commented, then I’m taking my toys and going home consider giving it a look. Thanks again!

NPR Fail & A New Writing Contest

24 Jan

By Nevit Dilmen (Own work)

I had a story planned for the NPR challenge — a silly idea based on characters from my WIP. I was poised to write, and then — kabam — a migraine came a-calling. Hey Imitrex man!

By the time I slept off the nasty side effects and scribbled a first draft, it was too late.  The deadline was forty minutes in the past, and I was forty words over limit. Besides…first draft.

My husband did finish and submit a story! I’m really proud of him. And jealous.

***

In other news, there’s a new contest, and I’m flailing because I want to participate but don’t know that I’m ready.

For those of my writer-readers who possess courage and a polished first paragraph (not to mention enough of a manuscript to enjoy the prizes), check out former literary agent Nathan Bransford’s The Fourth Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge! (Gotta love the name.)

The grand prize…

The opportunity to have a partial manuscript considered by [Nathan Bransford’s] utterly fantastic agent, Catherine Drayton of InkWell, whose clients include bestselling authors such as Markus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF), John Flanagan (THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE series) and Becca Fitzpatrick (HUSH HUSH), among others.

Other prizes include a signed copy of NB’s novel and a query critique.

Click on the link above to read the rules and/or enter. Good luck! You may see me there. Not sure. My first paragraph is pretty, but I’m not sure it’s compelling.

***The gif of the radiometer has nothing to do with anything. I just liked it. Purty.

The opportunity to have a partial manuscript considered by my utterly fantastic agent, Catherine Drayton of InkWell, whose clients include bestselling authors such as Markus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF), John Flanagan (THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE series) and Becca Fitzpatrick (HUS