Archives for category: Writing

One thing I know to be true is that life never turns out the way you expect it to. We wake up thinking our day is going to go a certain way, and sometimes it does, but more often there are those moments when the unexpected strikes.

The unexpected can be good, just ask anyone who had a “surprise” baby if they would send them back. It could be something small like a box filled with Hershey’s kisses sent by a friend who gifts you the opportunity to say that you got kisses from the UPS man you have a secret crush on. Or it could be discovering that your car has had barbecue sauce poured all over it because somebody doesn’t seem to understand that when you park on the city street and cars move around you it sometimes looks like you took two spaces when you didn’t actually. Good or bad, it’s not about what kind of “unexpected” it is, it’s about how we face those challenges. Do we laugh? Do we complain? Are we grateful? Do we cry? Or do we just keep going?

This month has not been unfolding as expected at all. Over the past few weeks I have gone on seemingly endless trips to stores (consuming and spending money are very nearly my least favorite things to do) to stock up on supplies for my rural desert life. Mattress buying, dentist and doctors appointments, a worrying medical condition in an extended family member, one flat tire (astutely spotted by my 3-year-old who is also excellent at spotting spiders, Ikea and Mule deer), cleaning, packing, teaching my lovely teenage girls at church and then saying goodbye over and over again.

In the midst of all of this, I was getting up between 3-5am to get my word count everyday. As always, there were days when the writing was quite painful and I just wasn’t happy about where it was going but, I kept doing it because I needed something to anchor myself in these stressful and surprising times. I wanted one good thing that I knew I could count on everyday. And what I unearthed from my imagination was perhaps the most unexpected of all, adventures, people, chases, and secrets I didn’t even know were there.

Not only did I “win” NaNoWriMo this year, but I finished a day early and 1,416 words over my 50,000.

About mid-month I began to worry because I knew that I wouldn’t be finished with my Novel at 50,000 words but, I was pleased to discover that according to the NaNoWriMo rules:

You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel. 

Winner-180x180

I did it! I am halfway through my second novel and once I’m settled into my little house in Texas, I’ll return to finishing my final draft of my first. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this second book. I promise to share it with you . . . someday.

The very same day I won NaNoWriMo another unexpected event occurred. It was literally the day before Michael was supposed to fly home and our family would be reunited after 7 months apart. I noticed there was something not quite right about The Boy. The next day as Michael was getting off his plane and collecting his luggage The Boy and I were at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado being told that he needed surgery and we wouldn’t be moving to Texas two days later, as expected. There was a moment when I almost cried but instead I shrugged and was grateful that all of this happened before we moved to a place where the nearest children’s hospital would be four hours away. It was a blessing with perfect comic timing. So, Michael came, took all of my stuff and the dogs and he left me and The Boy behind. Sounds like a country song, right? Well, I’m writing a country song of my own, “Michael, we’re coming after you . . . just as soon as the doctor gives The Boy a clean bill of health.” It’s not very catchy.

All of this made me realize that life is made up of the unexpected and you should never put aside the things that are important to you simply because there is too much going on. It is those very things that keep you sane when the unexpected arises.

Life isn’t a chain of unexpected events, it is a chain of salvaged moments filled with the things and the people you love.

Advertisements

I apologize for my long absence. I have been traveling around the country, an interminable visitor everywhere I’ve arrived and departed, experiencing a small glimpse into what it must be like to be a refugee. I’ll tell you now, it’s not great to never be able to go home because you no longer have one. I haven’t written in months (on this blog or otherwise) because I realized the frustration of my current life is not at all conducive to creativity. It became painful to sit in front of my computer day after day, forcing words which refused to come. I decided to enjoy the other parts of my life for a little while, knowing that the writing would be good again one day. So, I let go.

Until the night of October 30th, when I was in the shower (like I’ve said, I get a lot of my inspiration in the shower). I was thinking over the coming weeks: my impending move to the border of Mexico, the reunion of my family after months apart, mattress shopping, and my slowly dying computer. November, it’s going to be a busy month, I thought. And then I felt a flutter that began in my stomach and stretched to my heart, National Novel Writing Month. I received the reminder email a few days ago telling me to, “Get your outlines ready and prepare for a busy November folks.” I sent it immediately to my trash, rationalizing that my life is too busy right now and I couldn’t possibly think about writing another novel because I still haven’t finished the revision of my first manuscript. But, the excitement I felt was overwhelming. I started thinking about what I would write and all of the unexpected adventures that were awaiting me. As crazy and impossible as it seemed, I wanted to do it.

And now a tangent, which I promise will come full circle if you stick with me.

I am not a marathoner and (sadly, for those of you who are) I am one of those people who had always believed that there is something wrong with people who choose to run marathons. It really does seem like a sickness to me, to choose to torture yourself. I like to recount to anyone willing to listen (really, nobody should) that the origins of modern-day marathons are based on the legend of Pheidippides who died after running his 25 miles. (I also like to leave out the part where he’d also just recently run 150 miles in 2 days because it kind of takes the sting out of the “take that!” aspect of my opinion.) In my limited experience, marathoners love to talk about their training, their races, their qualifying times and I love to not listen to them. They have stickers on their cars (26.2), they wear the t-shirts proudly advertising their races or begging “Ask me how many miles I ran today,” and they make sure that it is no secret they are that hardcore.

Whenever I’ve asked someone why they run marathons they always say, “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.” I would always think, Well, if I had a good enough reason to run 26.2 miles – armed gunmen chasing me or to save someone I love – I know that I could do it, or at least die trying. Then Michael, my husband, ran a half-marathon (which is only half as crazy) and afterward, while he was being sick, he declared that he was never, ever going to do it again. I felt vindicated in my opinions about long-distance dabblers but when I talked to him about it he said that even though he didn’t want to do it again, he was glad he did because of the feeling. The high he felt as he crossed that finish line was something he’d never experienced before, something that is impossible for anyone who has never done it (that’s me) to understand. Michael thought he could run 13.1 miles when he started training but knowing he could was quite another feeling. It was proof of what he had only believed himself to be capable of. He was a different person when he crossed that finish line. Not somebody who could possibly run a ridiculously long distance, but somebody who did. After listening to him I was finally able to admit that I was wrong. Just because people are doing things that I don’t want to do or experiencing things that I don’t understand, doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. I still won’t be joining them and I’m still not a fan of the t-shirts and the stickers but I am happy to accept that these crazy (I say this with affectionate awe) people are experiencing this amazingly elevated feeling that I will never experience.

Or so I thought, until I started writing my second novel (yesterday) on November 1st.

I was so excited that I woke up before my 5am alarm went off. I didn’t know what I was going to write but when I stared at the blank screen, I knew it didn’t matter. There was a story inside of me and it was bursting to come out. I typed a couple of words, paused, began again and I didn’t stop for three hours. I felt alive in the way that only writing can make me feel, but the weight of the goal was already in the back of my mind. I’ve done it once and I know how incredibly hard it is. I know what’s coming and this year, because of my living situation, it’s going to be harder than ever. I even allowed for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I told myself I wouldn’t tell anybody, I would just “do it for me.” But as soon as those thoughts came into my mind I knew that if I wasn’t committed to really trying, I’d already failed. That’s when I realized that NaNoWriMo is my marathon (although it’s more like a sprint in terms of writing a novel.) The only way you can complete a marathon, or a novel in 30 days, is if you move forward as if you already have, as if the actual doing it is just a formality. It’s hard, painful, and you want to quit almost everyday but instead you drag yourself out of bed earlier and earlier to get those words on the page (or your miles on the road). Sometimes you hit a wall and you really believe you can’t go on, but then you push past it, and when you cross that finish line you know that you are the person you always believed you were. And, as soon as you recover, you’ll come back again for more, because you remember that feeling at the end and you know it’s worth the pain. So, I will once again be trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days (only 29 left) and I will consider myself in good company. Not just with other WriMos but with those runners who pass me on the street (as I’m walking leisurely), pounding the pavement, working just as torturously toward their next high at the marathon finish line.

But, I’m not going to go out and get myself a t-shirt that says, “Ask me how many words I’ve written today,” mostly because the answer would probably be embarrassingly small.

The editing (or perhaps I should call it, “the total re-write”) continues slowly.

I am at the point of making serious decisions. Decisions so dire it makes editing feel like murder. But, sometimes I know that scenes and people have to go because they aren’t helping with the overall story (even if it makes me a serial killer.)

Mr. Griswald is one of those people. I met him several years ago and it was love at first sight (at least in my mind’s eye.) Then I had the unexpected opportunity of meeting the almost exact physical embodiment of Mr. Griswald in my neighborhood in Chicago. The real man was as delightful as the fictitious one.

Mr. Griswald’s small part in my book is one of my favorites. But, I fear he may have to go. And to come to terms with that, I’d like to introduce you to him.

Mr. Griswald, of The Gourmet

Cleo stepped into The Gourmet, the domain of Mr. Griswald. He peered at her through the fog appearing on his horn-rimmed glasses, a steaming teacup paused at lips hidden beneath an elaborate white mustache. He was a fixture of the culinary shop, a slight, but sturdy man who added a distinguished air to the atmosphere.

The Gourmet was not like any other shop. Mr. Griswald had paid quite a bit of money to be sure of that. People often spoke of flow and positive energy, and these were exactly the kind of people he wanted to patronize his establishment. Designers, decorators, and the odd spiritual guru had advised him on the proper form and function of nearly everything and as a result the shop was inviting and refined. Equal parts culinary delights and art; a place a person might never want to leave. The staff, like waiters in a fine restaurant, were ready to run down the nearest aisle to fetch almost any food imaginable. They advised the chefs in the finest homes and restaurants on the ingredients most appropriate for their creations; therapists for the culinary world.

As inviting as his shop was, Mr. Griswald was not. He was perpetually frowning and disapproved of nearly everyone, but he did like Cleo. And she liked him in return, especially his mustache, which he took great care to curl up at the ends each morning. She thought it made him look very literary; not like a real person, but a character with foibles and problems, threatening to nobody, least of all her. His approval of Cleo was not bestowed so generously. She had earned it.

Cleo had been there when Mr. Griswald had been viciously, as he saw it, assaulted by her neighbor, Roman Vance. Roman, who had previously been banned from the shop, stepped inside and shouted “Hey Gris, check out this tomato, it’s quite ripe!” It wasn’t very clever, but the entourage following him erupted in laughter as Roman launched the tomato into Mr. Griswald’s face, where it splattered and then slid down his front, defiling his fine tweed jacket. Cleo hadn’t laughed, which the gentlemen, as he believed himself to be, greatly appreciated. She simply walked over to him, lifted up onto her tiptoes, pulled the handkerchief from his jacket and gently wiped his face, all the while never taking her eyes out of her book. He stood there, frozen in his state of disbelief, insulted by what had just happened and confused by the absent-minded way this young girl was trying to help.

When Cleo did look up, she apologized, “It’s a very exciting part.”

Mr. Griswald laughed, releasing his terrified staff who joined in the revelry, and he decided he and Cleo were going to be very good friends. And friends were exactly what Cleo needed, because those hooligans who were constantly harassing Mr. Griswald did much worse to that poor little girl. He’d seen it with his own eyes.

Mr. Griswald decided early in his career, long before his elevated status as owner of The Gourmet, that it was the duty of grocers to stamp out hooliganism. He reasoned that hooligans, who were not gentle with people, would most certainly not be gentle with fruit. Mr. Griswald knew this lack of respect for proper food handling would cause bruising, and lead produce prices to plummet, which would inevitably lead to the downfall of civilization. Cleo, on the other hand, took great care with her fruit. He liked the way she gently handled each piece, examining every inch of its surface, smelling, and then tasting it after she’d made her purchase.

If Mr. Griswald caught anyone harassing her, he would deliver justice by refusing to sell goods to the chefs in their parent’s employ. “Why won’t I sell my goods to you this fine morning? Well, let me tell you . . .” Results were immediate. Telephone calls were made, apology notes delivered and sizable monetary gifts bestowed in Cleo’s name to feed starving children across the sea so that exotic dishes could be served on time.

Mr. Griswald knew of his great power but never spoke of it, out of propriety. Every good grocer knows, when you control the food, you control the world. And when you bruise the fruit, you will be made to pay.

Cleo picked up a pint of plump blueberries, packaged carefully on a bed of fine linen in a little metal tin, as she did every day. Mr. Griswald, as always, bristled her cheek with his mustache on her way out and watched her protectively as she made her way down the street. Roman Vance interrupted his vigil, suddenly appearing on the other side of the window in brightly colored sneakers and dark baggy clothes, his keen face, dark mirth-filled eyes, and unruly auburn hair just inches from Mr. Griswald’s face.

Mr. Griswald sputtered indignantly as Roman made a rude gesture at him before running down the street, laughing maniacally. By the time Mr. Griswald regained his composure, Cleo was gone, and so was his opportunity to observe the stranger following her.

I became completely preoccupied with our sudden removal from Chicago and I missed Dan Haring‘s (he’s my brother-in-law) big book release day on April 24th. I received a gentle reminder in the form of his book just a couple of days ago. Congratulations Dan!

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read it before I had to re-package it, along with my Dad’s book, and mail them off to my husband who is living in a tiny border town with only library internet access, no furniture and very little to do. I’ve flipped through it and it looks very exciting and action packed. I can’t wait to get it back from Mikey so I can read it! Here’s the description from the back cover:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he’s an Oldsoul– a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he’s going to need them all.

Sounds like a great summer read. If you’re interested (and you should be), it’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, and paperback and Nook at BarnesandNoble.com.

In other exciting news, Congratulations to Michael Roueche (he’s my Dad) for being a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Regional Fiction!

I’ve read this one and it’s excellent. I highly recommend it (and not just because he’s my Dad), especially for book clubs (which he will happily make a skype appearance at, if you so desire, to answers questions about the book.) His book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon or Nook at BarnesandNoble.com (or you can just contact me).

Now I just have to finish my manuscript so I have something to contribute at family gatherings.

[Me hard at work, courtesy of The Boy]

On the most recent episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, spoke of a lesser known scientific principle:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand, for example when you’re showering . . . if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering or putting [as in golf], then another part of the brain, the anterior superior temporal gyrus is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.

I wondered, giddy with excitement, how I had not heard of this enlightening principle. Then I remembered, Jack Donaghy is a fictional character and even in the fictitious world of 30 Rock his theories and practices are generally suspect. Not to mention, that last bit of the “scientific” principle (which I’m willing to bet was developed by Dr. Spaceman) is obvious nonsense. And yet, I still wanted to believe in The Shower Principle. I even googled it, just to be sure. I am telling you now, to save you some time, it is not a real thing (For a correction and UPDATE please see this post: “The Shower Principle Revisited”). However, I did find some interesting information (here and here) on a study by Jackie Andrade, that indicates you will pay better attention during a boring meeting or class if you doodle. (You’re welcome for that useful tip.)

So why, you may be asking yourself, was I so desperate for The Shower Principle to be true? Because . . . that is exactly how I get the inspiration for my manuscript. My very first idea came when I was driving and over the next two years all of my ideas came as I sat at my job sticking bar codes on thousands of DNA samples for hours at a time. It became such a regular thing that I wouldn’t move to my DNA “station” without taking my writing notebook with me. I even worried when I left my job, to move to Chicago, that I wouldn’t have that magic window into my imagination any longer. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that inspiration can happen anywhere at any time, I just have to be doing something mundane, mindless or repetitive. Driving, riding my bicycle, knitting, cleaning, cooking and yes, showering too. If I am doing a task over an extended period of time, (it usually has to be something that is almost second nature and does not require intense concentration) I am almost always struck by inspiration about scenes, dialogue, and characters. Then when I finally have a chance to sit down to write, I use that inspiration I developed while under the influence of “the shower principle.” It may not yet have scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing. If I have writer’s block I just have to go into my kitchen, turn on some music and start chopping vegetables. Within minutes my problem is solved. And based on the doodling study, it makes sense scientifically (although I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of how the brain works.) The theoretical reason doodling helps you pay better attention is because it occupies your mind so that you can’t daydream. Jackie Andrade explained:

It takes a large cognitive load to daydream. That has a big impact on the task you’re meant to be doing. Doodling takes only a small cognitive load, but it’s just enough to keep your mental resources focused on the main task.

Using that logic, if you take away the doodling, you’re left to daydream which is exactly what I do when I’m writing a story. There was a time in my life (well into adulthood, I might add) when I believed all of the people around me were ceaselessly making up stories in their head, the way I do. I thought daydreaming and creating stories were synonymous until I made one of those off-hand comments about it to someone and they gave me the look, you know that look people give you when they have no idea what you’re talking about and they are suddenly wondering if you’re a little bit crazy. It was just like the time, at my book club meeting, when I mentioned that really sweet foods tickle my tongue. I met with blank stares followed by raucous laughter and I was left wondering, am I the only one?

I have since done some light investigating about how people daydream and although I don’t believe I am the only one, I have yet to find somebody else who entertained themselves on those miserable childhood afternoons spent being dragged around department stores by making up stories about all of the mannequins, or someone who has a long cast of characters living imaginary lives in their daydream world. I know there are others out there like me but from what I can tell, most people daydream about real life or create fantasy lives about themselves. So, thank you Mom, for turning me into an indentured servant every Saturday morning and forcing me to clean the downstairs bathroom because I believe that’s where the stories began. I transformed my childhood angst into creativity and I guess it just never stopped.

Jackie Andrade said:

The exciting thing is that people actually got better while doing two things at once. Doodling is not as bad a thing as we might think.

And neither is daydreaming.

Feel free to let me know if you also daydream in stories, practice The Shower Principle in your life or your tongue gets tickled when you eat really sweet things (I’m a bit worried about that one, I’m really beginning to think I am the only one that happens to) because I would be interested to know. Maybe I should do my own study.

[The boy listening to Paul Simon (his request) and taking self-portraits.]

ANOTHER MATTER ALTOGETHER:

My friend Emily mentioned that I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s nice to know that at least one person missed me. Never fear my faithful readers, I haven’t given up on blogging I have just been preoccupied with my writing. I’ve been having some amazing success with my manuscript the last couple of weeks and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The last goal I set for myself was to be done with my second draft by April 1st and if you will kindly look at the calendar, you will notice that was yesterday. But, that goal was to mark the anniversary of the beginning of my 5-year-manuscript-project which, I discovered while perusing old emails this past week, I actually began writing in February 2007. The 5-year ship has sailed. The new plan is to be done by May 31st and in the meantime I’ll try to blog more regularly, for those of you who missed me. If I don’t, just know it’s because incredible things are happening on this very computer I’m typing on and you’re one day closer to actually being able to read my story.

I know at the beginning of the year it’s popular to set new goals about blogging more often, but I’m just not going to do it.

I’m still here, but I’m busy editing my manuscript and fighting off all impulses to throw it out entirely and give up. Editing is hard work and quite painful actually. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I’ll be back soon.

Perfection in a coffee cup; or, the way I like it by Daniel Lestarjette
Perfection in a coffee cup; or, the way I like it, a photo by Daniel Lestarjette on Flickr.

The vacation from writing is over. Actually, it was probably longer than it needed to be. On December 1st, I was going to keep plowing away with my editing but I read a Post-NaNoWriMo pep talk that compared my 50,000 word feat to a marathon and said I needed a break. I took the advice to heart and let the laziness ensue. But, just like taking time off from running, the longer I went without it, the harder it was to start again. I missed writing. I missed waking up each morning, excited to write or dreading it. I missed that purpose and that sense of accomplishment.

And if I’m being honest, fear, was holding me back. I am terrified of editing my manuscript. Simply because 146,068 words is extremely daunting. It’s a lot of material and I don’t know where to start.

Then I discovered Scrivener. It is a book writing software and it is simply amazing. It’s making my editing seamless and almost easy. I am in love. It took me 3 hours to do the basic tutorial but when I was finished, I just sat staring at my computer wondering why nobody told me about this software before. I’m not trying to sell it, if you’re curious, go check out the website. I am just that proud pet owner showing you the weird pictures of my dog dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween. You may not want to see my pictures, but I’m going to show you anyway.

These are my 3 favorite features of Scrivener. (Although there are many more amazing ones.)

1. Easy Organization: Imagine writing a novel in Word, or Googledocs, Pages or whatever word processing software you use. Sometimes you skip around, it starts getting longer (imagine you’re working with a 500+ page book) and you have to start using the “Find” feature to jump to places where you want to write. Things get lost. Things get out of order. You begin to forget to connect parts of your story because they are buried. Scrivener allows me to divide my book up into folders and documents which can be visually organized as an outline however I want: Books, Parts, Chapters, Scenes within chapters. All I need to do to go to those chapters is click on the folder in the bar off to the left. In addition, each of these folders and files can be visually seen as index cards on a virtual cork board where I can add notes describing the scene or can leave a watermark with the status (First Draft, Needs work, Finished, etc.).

2. Notes, Research, and References: Along with the organization you can attach files, pictures, url links, videos and references to the documents. Sometimes I gather visual cues to get my mind in the right place to write a certain scene. I can click on that index card or file and see those pictures. Or I can read off to the side notes I’ve left myself about what needs to be worked on or find links to references and background research that I’ve collected. Because I am writing a trilogy, this ability to leave myself notes is vital because I can remind myself about clues that I need to leave. And overall it just makes my editing better because I can taunt myself into producing a better novel through rude messages about poor writing, inconsistencies in my characters and holes in my plot.

1. Snapshots: This may very well be my favorite feature. Before I change anything when editing a scene or a chapter, I can take a “snapshot” which just means that the program saves my original document and puts a time stamp on it and the new, edited document becomes is a completely separate file. If I decide I don’t really like the changes I made, I can go back to the original document or I can pull up both documents at the same time to compare them, Scrivener shows me, through colored text and lines crossing through words, what it was that I added or took out. It’s brilliant.

[FYI: Scrivener was originally written for Mac and that’s the version I use.  The Windows version might be a little different.]

So now that I have the tools to edit, I need the goal. And here it is.

I will have a 100,000 word second draft completed by February 1st. And then I’ll pass it on for peer review.

In the meantime, I’ll post another excerpt from my book as soon as I have something decent edited.

The end by Alexandre Moreau | Photography
The end, a photo by Alexandre Moreau | Photography on Flickr.

The other night I found myself lamenting that it had been so long since I’d worked on my book. Moments later, when I was calculating just how long it had been, I realized that the date was December 1st, meaning it had only been one day since NaNoWriMo ended and I declared myself a winner.

Writing is no longer in my heart. It’s in my blood. A necessity approaching eating and sleeping. I thought when I posted The Doldrums that I was just days away from a month long vacation from writing. A well needed reprieve. But simply the act of putting my feelings and frustrations into words and posting it on this blog revived me and I found myself wanting to write even more.

NaNoWriMo enabled me to write the ever elusive words “THE END” on my first novel but it also taught me a few other things about myself and writing along the way.

1. Goals need a finish line: I’ve never been fond of goals. I am an all or nothing kind of person. If I want to do something, I am determined to do it. If I don’t want to do something, even if it’s a worthy goal, I don’t even try. But NaNoWriMo opened up my eyes to the value of well-defined goals. You may not be exactly where you want to be when you finish, but you’re closer than not starting at all. I have been working on my novels (I’m already 60,000 words into the second one) for over 4 years. I’d always planned on finishing, someday, but I had never actually envisioned the finish line. In my last week of NaNoWriMo I was forced to do that. I had to sit down and think there has to be an end to this. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever would have gotten there if I wasn’t forced into it. If you’re a writer, set well-defined goals.

2. Blogging and practice make perfect: Starting a blog while trying to write a novel in 30 days is very near insanity. Until I started blogging I didn’t understand that blogging itself can be a very serious form of writing. It’s intense and it takes time. Time that could be spent getting my word count. But, there were two benefits. I was publicly accountable to everyone reading my blog and that accountability motivated me on the bad days. (Failure is not an option, although it should be, see above point.) And, as I’ve mentioned, one of my posts pulled me out of a slump. Writing in any form begets more, and hopefully better, writing.

3. Perfectionists and first drafts don’t dance well together: I am a recovering perfectionist. It is something that I will struggle with my entire life. I began to fight it when I realized perfectionists can never be happy because they will never be perfect. When I started writing years ago I was naive. I wanted to write my manuscript perfectly the first time. When I wrote “THE END” I was absolutely certain that it would be my one and only draft. But, that’s arrogant and limiting. Critique and input from other people doesn’t make your work any less valuable, it just allows you to pull more from yourself. NaNoWriMo lends itself to fast, not necessarily good, writing. It’s about filling the page and ignoring the inner editor. My manuscript is a mess. Plot holes. Weak characters. Ridiculous scenes. My new adventure is tearing that manuscript to shreds and making it even better.

4. Failure is an option and an opportunity: I recently read blog posts by two people, here and here, who participated in NaNoWriMo and didn’t “win.” Neither of them is a “loser.” On the contrary, they are both moving forward with lessons learned, ideas, and novels in the works. I recognize that it is a very distinct possibility that I would have lost NaNoWriMo too, if I hadn’t cheated.  Oh, the lessons I could have learned from that!

Writing is a sleep depriving, heart racing, frustration inducing and euphoric journey and I hope that I never find “THE END.”

A new well-defined goal will be coming soon, so stay tuned.

Finish Line by andrew_mo
Finish Line, a photo by andrew_mo on Flickr.

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo.

But, just like any good race or contest, my victory is riddled with scandal. The numbers don’t quite add up and when it comes down to technicalities, I cheated a little bit.

You see one of the requirements for being a NaNoWriMo participant is that you have to start your novel from scratch on November 1st. According to the NaNoWriMo website, this is why:

This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.

I broke this rule with reckless abandon. I had already written 89,722 words over the course of 4 years. But, (I will continue with my cavalier attitude, it is all I have left.) I may not have started my novel on November 1st but I did write 50,000 additional words and finish said novel in 30 days.

My goal was to reach 139,722 words and I surpassed that by reaching 146,068 words. The numbers did get a bit muddled. The daily tally I kept only had me reaching 51,548 words while the document word count claimed I reached 56,346. It’s safe to assume that the actual number is somewhere in the middle. Either way, I did it.

And here is what I won:

It’s impressive, I know. But wait, there’s more. I can also print a fantastic NaNoWriMo winners certificate to hang on the wall next to my College diploma.

Oh, and I can now say that I have written a book. That’s pretty fantastic.

A special thanks to: You, for reading my blog and cheering me on. The incredible virus that has been running rampant through our household causing me to be quarantined in my apartment for practically the entire month. Steven Burns and his puppy Blue, for entertaining my sick little boy. Michael, for never complaining when he had to make dinner again. The schnauzers, for attacking the dust bunnies before they grew large enough to eat us all. Dan, for telling me about NaNoWriMo. And finally, my Uncle Aaron, for being the first person to tell me that I could grow up to be a writer, if I wanted to.

Tall Ship "Zodiac" by EdBob
Tall Ship “Zodiac”, a photo by EdBob on Flickr.

Nothing compares to writing a good scene (except for maybe meeting a new character who seems to appear out of nowhere.) It feels like that moment when you pull your winter coat on knowing you can’t fight it any longer, you have to admit that the summer is over. You explore this old trusted friend. You stretch your arms, zip the zippers and place your hands in the pockets. And then . . . the magic happens. There’s something in that pocket. You don’t even dare to wonder or hope, you just pull it out. There it is, lying in your hand . . . a $20 bill. The memory of putting the money in that pocket stored so deeply in your brain it’s almost as if somebody else had put it there, just for you. A surprise for yourself. After I write a scene that I find particularly interesting or exciting I sit back and wonder where it came from. Did I really write that? It almost seems too good. A surprise for myself.

The moment is euphoric.

On a day like that nothing can go wrong, even when everything does.

But the majority of writing is slogging through days when writing is sometimes painful. You wonder if it’s worth it to continue. Your characters are annoying; your plot line flat and full of cliches. It’s something that most, if not all, novelists go through. It’s the Middle, that part, or what I call, the Doldrums.

The Doldrums, that part of the ocean near the equator where the winds are calm, trapping ships and their mariners, for days and weeks at a time. The writing Doldrums are much the same. The winds of creativity are calm, sometimes seemingly dead. I continue to press the computer keys or scribble on the paper, but the words don’t take me anywhere. I am trapped. Cabin fever sets in. The symptoms “include restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow or dark.” Admittedly not much different than my usual behavior, but that I blame on all of the extroverts who are constantly trying make small talk with me.

During the Doldrums writing a novel goes from the most divine experience imaginable to the worst form of torture. I’ve been stuck in the Doldrums for about a week but I keep going because I know, deep down inside, that there is more money hidden in those coat pockets and the winds of creativity will begin to blow again . . . right about the time I’m about to walk the plank into shark infested waters, by choice.

The winds are gently rustling my sails, not steadily, but it’s getting better. My protagonist forgot that her actions are driving the story. She was a spectator for a while, but she’s moving now.

The most important thing that I’ve learned in the past week is the etymology of Doldrum is derived from an archaic word, dol, which means, foolish or stupid. The Doldrums. Stupid indeed.

NaNoWriMo Total Word Count: 45,225

Only 3 days left!