Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nanowrimo Week 4, You Can Do It!

Yes, really! 

Nanowrimo Week 4 can be a difficult time: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, all the temptations to sleep in, goof off, and enjoy the start of the holiday season with friends and family. And here you are, having to churn out X-amount of words for Nanowrimo. Fun, isn’t it? 

Three years ago I had the worst ever last week of Nanowrimo. My beloved calico cat, Mitzi, aka Princess Mizzy, suddenly became ill from an undiscovered tumor the day after Thanksgiving. She was 16 years old, and the time for her to leave us was of course inevitable, but I just wasn’t ready for it now. Especially as on Thanksgiving Day she had been jumping around grabbing tofurkey off everyone’s forks; leaping from the back of the couch cushions; slamming through her kitty door to skid around on the icy patio. She’d always been a live wire, and that particular Thursday was no different than any other. But the next morning, she was still and quiet and apparently in great pain. It was awful. By the time we could see a vet, the consensus was that there was nothing we could do but say goodbye. 

I was devastated. Over the previous eighteen months I had gone through that same depressing vet visit with my two other cats. Both of them, like Mitzi, were senior citizens who had simply succumbed to age-related illness. With Mitzi now gone, though, I was without any pets at all, and I can tell you, the last thing I wanted to do was write 1400 Nanowrimo words that would take me to the 50K mark. 

When we came home from the vet that evening, Mitzi’s lifeless body wrapped in a little quilt I’d brought for her, it was snowing and dark. My husband went to bed, the strain and stress making it impossible to eat dinner or watch TV. My response was to go into a cleaning frenzy: laundry, scrubbing floors, rounding up cat dishes and toys and food for giveaways to the neighbors. By the time I was ready to go to bed I still had a few hours before the clock struck midnight and Nanowrimo 2007 would be over for good. I only had 1400 words to go. It was hard, but I wrote them for Mitzi. 

It was a fitting tribute. Mitzi had been my writing partner in one way or another ever since she came into my life in Carrollton, Georgia. A pregnant stray, no more than a kitten herself, she was desperate for food and love, and she literally jumped into my arms the day I found her. The two years I wrote a pet-astrology column, "Zodiac Zoo" for the now defunct online site, Baku’s Zine, I gave her a byline of her own, deciding she had contributed as much as I had to the writing. Ah, Mitzi.  Bunny and Poppy too.  I miss them terribly. And I still have Nanowrimo pages to write. 

When I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t expected to write so much about loss—this was actually meant to be an inspiring “pep talk." Maybe it still is. Because what I just want to say here is that life rarely offers up the “perfect moment” or time to write. Sometimes it seems all we have is the page, the pen, the typewriter or computer screen, and a backdrop of absolute chaos, despair, and worry behind us. Sometimes it seems impossible to turn our faces in the other direction and just write. But you know, you can do it. You really can. 

I hope your week is a good one, and that you are not going through any kind of serious difficulties or problems. But if you are, I send you my most sincere best wishes for strength and healing, for patience, and the ability to overcome. There must be a good reason Thanksgiving falls during this last week of Nanowrimo—maybe it’s just to be thankful for all the goodness that writing and creativity brings into our lives. So let's be thankful, and let's write. 

Tip of Day: Life happens. Not just during Nanowrimo, but all year long. What seemingly insurmountable obstacle is keeping you from writing? Maybe the best thing in the world is to write about it, and then write some more. You can do it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nanowrimo Week 3, What's Your Genre?

Here we are, nearing the end of National Novel Writing Month 2010, Week 3, and I'm already worrying about my marketing plan.  No matter that my current manuscript won't be ready to sell for a good two to three years, maybe even four; I just want to be sure I can describe my story in a quick and easy logline that starts with a key word:  my chosen genre.

As I've mentioned earlier, for Nanowrimo 2010 I'm attempting my first adult murder mystery.  While the mystery genre is not exactly new to me, my book set in Egypt for 8-12 year olds, The Great Scarab Scam, is more of what you'd call a "caper."  The plot revolves around stolen and forged antiquities, presenting a dangerous puzzle for my junior sleuth, Lydia Hartley, to unravel at great risk.  Despite plenty of action, scary moments, and some real bad guys--there are no dead bodies, an absolute must in the adult mystery.  But there are some deeper levels to writing genre fiction that go beyond "mysteries must start with a murder," or "romances have to end happily ever after."  These extra levels are the real reasons people are drawn to one genre over another.  For instance:
  1. Do you believe in justice--that crime doesn't pay and that good can prevail over evil?  The mystery genre might be just right for you.
  2. What about love?  Does love make the world go 'round?  Does it "conquer all"?  Do you believe there are such things as "soul mates"?  Romance may be calling.
  3. Technology, parallel universes, six impossible things before breakfast.  Science fiction can be a real pleasure to write if you enjoy stretching the "what if?" boundaries of the known world into new and foreign (outer) limits.
  4. Using those same stretches of imagination as science fiction, fantasy and paranormal fiction allows writers and readers to explore the world of myth and fairy tale in a modern format.
  5. Do you find yourself frequently dreaming about the past, wishing you lived in another time and era where life was more difficult but perhaps much more interesting, too--and the clothes were fantastic?  Historicals may be your perfect genre.
  6. Are the stories you prefer centered around women in all the various stages and aspects of their lives:  juggling career and family, being a daughter, sister, wife, best friend?  Women's fiction certainly doesn't  mean "no boys allowed," but it does focus on issues that can be unique, and special, to women's lives and experience. 
  7. Do you love the sound of words and language?   Do you enjoy "open" or even tragic endings?   Are you fascinated by experimental, off-beat plots, and "breaking the rules"?  Literary fiction may be a good fit.
  8. What about belief in a Higher Power and the role of faith in our lives?  Inspirational fiction can be a dramatic expression of your strongest and most uplifting values.
  9. Choosing to write for children does not mean you live in Talking Bunny Land (but if you do, I'm envious).  Neither does it mean you have the mind of a child and are only comfortable with fourth-graders.  What it does say is that you can celebrate themes of wonder and innocence, as well as understand and acknowledge the pain of the "bad stuff":  first betrayals, bullying, fear of the adult world.
  10. And what if you just can't stand the "made-up" story, and prefer to write things that "really happened"?  Go for it!  Nonfiction sales make up 95% of the book trade.
Other points to consider when choosing your genre are things such as patience and endurance levels:  Are you prepared for a marathon (reading and writing hundreds of pages, with months and years of revision)?  Or are you more of a sprinter, enjoying the quick, satisfying read of a shorter word count, and willing to write one or more books per year?  If so, you may be perfect candidate to write a series.  And what about the "multi-genre" book:  the paranormal Western, or a romance where the principal characters are also working for the FBI?  The best approach is to still choose one main category and describe your book in those terms:  "A Western where the sheriff just happens to be a vampire."

Whatever you choose, the secret of genre choice is not what you think will sell, but what you really, really want to read more than anything in the world.  If you love to read it, chances are you'll love to write it.

Tip of the Day:  Brainstorm some of your favorite books and movies.  Identify the themes and genres, and then write about why those themes were meaningful to you.  You may find certain phrases will pop out that can help you easily steer your current WIP in the right direction for both the actual writing and your marketing, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nanowrimo Week 2, Taking Control by Letting Go (of Transitions, that is.)

Wow, here we are in the second week of Nanowrimo and I have to admit I am behind on my word count.  This morning I realized I needed to make some changes to my approach.  In my previous four years of Nanowrimo-ing, I've simply dived in, written my heart out, and ta-dah!  A 50,000+ word manuscript, messy as a mud pie, but still, mine own.   This year things aren't going quite as smoothly. 

What makes the situation even stranger to me is that I came to the table much more prepared than ever before:  I had an extensive outline, I had my writing prompts, I had my collaged "scene illustrations" all made in advance.  Now I'm thinking all this advance work could be my whole problem:  I may be a little too organized.  I know what I want to have happen in my story, and it seems to be taking me forever to get there. 

So starting today, my new modus operandi is to experiment with writing only my key scenes, whether they're action, dialogue, or descriptive passages that express my characters' emotions.  I'm not going to worry so much about the "how" or even the "why" regarding my plot structure, I'm just going to put my characters in place and in jeopardy and have them fight their way out of the story "trouble."  I know they can do this--they're tough, resourceful, and very motivated.  In fact, they'd be great candidates for tackling 50,000 words in 30 days!

Already I can see some serious benefits to this new writing system.  For one, it really does follow my favorite writing maxim regarding scenes:  "Enter late, leave early."  I think by ignoring transitions, at least for the moment, my writing will be much tighter when it comes to the revision stage.  Any transitions I do need later on will be fairly easy to pop in where necessary.  But the real benefit is going to be in my renewed willingness to get to the blank page and start writing.  By concentrating on the scenes that truly interest me, I have a genuine reason for participating in Nanowrimo--I can't wait to find out "what happens next."  And if I can't wait to start writing, with any luck that same enthusiasm will fire up my readers to want to keep reading.  In my opinion, there's nothing worse than a boring book, either to read or write--and I've got better things to do than cope with boredom.  I'm sure you do, too!

Tip of the Day:  Experiment with abandoning or minimizing your transitions, at least for the first draft stage.  You may actually find your word count increasing despite the loss of endless pages of characters opening and shutting doors, or taking several hours to learn how to handle a gun that really needs to just be fired.  At the same time, don't forget The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript is still on super sale.  You'll find great information inside on all aspects of writing, including transitions.  Just click here for my US $5.95 plus free S/H special.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010, Week 1

Well, here we are again...National Novel Writing Month, sometimes better known as Whoever Thought of This in the First Place?  The answer is of course, Mr. Chris Baty, and while 50,000 words in 30 days might not be everyone's cup of tea, I personally think Chris is a genius.  I love Nanowrimo and I'm thrilled to be taking part in the whole crazy business once again.

This year I'm writing a mystery:  Into the Woods.  My plot revolves around the Internet, the opera, and a whole bunch of bad stuff for my much-beleagured young heroine, Kate Sheffield.  The story opens just as Kate is leaving with her husband for their honeymoon in Jamaica, hence the Polyvore set at the top of this post, which is meant to be a small sampling of her trousseau.  Within minutes of landing at their destination, though, things for Kate and her new hubby fall apart, badly, and the trouble begins...and what a lot of trouble I have planned for Ms. Kate.  Oh, yes, indeedy.

I made the Polyvore set as one of 30 I created as writing prompts for the duration of the month.  A writing prompt set up in advance for Nanowrimo is a great way to stay focused and to keep writing when the inspiration starts lagging.  However, taking a second look at the set, I think it also says a lot about how I feel about Nanowrimo.  To me, November 1 signals the start of a very special writing adventure, one that I have no idea where it will take me.  Like Kate, I've got some nicely packed suitcases, my passport to foreign territory, and the bluebird of happiness to guide me on my way.  So why would anyone want to to tell me not to go there?

This year I've been amazed to read a number of articles denouncing and criticizing Nanowrimo for all kinds of things, from filling the world with "bad writing" to causing unnecessary stress.  I'm not sure what all the fuss is about; I mean, I don't think the Nanowrimo team sends out special agents who knock on your door at 2 AM and demand you sign up or face a firing squad.  The people who sign up for Nanowrimo want this experience; we want to force ourselves to write, to be disciplined, to take ourselves and each other seriously as writers.  For me, Nanowrimo is one of the most Zen-like opportunities of my writing life.  For an entire 30 days, I'm allowed to focus solely on my plot, my characters, my themes and my specific details without worrying whether we have enough milk in the fridge or if the bookshelves need dusting.  For 30 days I get to go on my equivalent of the writer's spiritual retreat.

Which leads me to my top 5 reasons why I love Nanowrimo:
  1. Nanowrimo is like a giant writer's conference where participants get to run the show, not just sit in on lectures or workshops.  It's our equivalent of the Olympics or a World Fair:  we gather to share a common goal and interest on a grand scale.
  2. During the rest of the year, I get a lot of ideas for writing.  But most of those ideas have to go into a folder labelled "Ideas for Future Writing."  November is the month I get to use those ideas.
  3. For me, writing is rewriting, and the sooner I can get a first draft down on paper, the sooner I can get to the "real writing."  If I have a draft ready to revise, I have a real, live WIP to polish and get ready for publication.
  4. And that means that by participating in Nanowrimo every year, I am assured of having a body of work waiting to be revised.  The amount of time between writing a Nanowrimo first draft and the day I sit down and rewrite it is at least a year, usually longer.  The longer I am away from a draft, the stronger my editorial eye and the better my sense of detachment.
  5. Writing covers a lot of bases for me:  it's my "hobby" (yes, I'm not ashamed of that word); it's a source of income (I'm a professional, too); it's a source of passionate interest; and it's a spiritual discipline.  The "practice of writing" reminds me to be consistent in all areas of my life.  Mindful writing equal mindful living and I try to do my best in both.
So that's why I'm saying "Nay!" to the nay-sayers, and wishing you a great Nanowrimo 2010 with lots and lots of words.

Tip of the Day:  In honor of National Novel Writing Month 2010, The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript is still on super sale for one more month.  At only $5.95 plus FREE US shipping and handling, it's a steal.  Come on over to my website and get your copy today.