25 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Being Lame About Posting but Focused on Writing Update

From Wikimedia Commons
Weirdness has been afoot this month, which has been a capsulized, compressed version of the weirdness that has been going on all year. Personally speaking, 2012 has been a challenging year ("challenging"). Along with the year that I broke pretty much everything in my upper body and the year that I had to finish my half-not-done-yet PhD thesis in under two months, 2012 is a contender for hardest year of my adult life. It is up there. And probably it isn't in the number three slot. November saw fit to throw all the challenges of 2012 into the pot at once.

Yet I've kept writing. I've been feeling blue and strange and discombobulated, but somehow I've still found it in me to hit the last few days of this challenge with everything I've got. I won NaNoWriMo ("won") this past Tuesday. I've just about finished with the middle of my story and I'm into the gear up to the final conflict. There will be much to flesh out. I can see myself hitting 83614, my secret personal November goal, by the end of the day November 30. These numbers in no way are representative of the serious slogginess of writing this particular book. It's dark and nasty. I'm turning over a lot of rocks for this one, even as a lot of rocks are being hurled at me in regular reality. 

It's a rock thing. 

What's the single hardest writing challenge you've had to face? I want to hear your inspiring stories. Or some spam advertisements for shoes or survivalist websites. Either way. 

(61806 words)

16 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Up to Today

Okay somehow Blogger's spam filter is kaput. Great, just great. Don't take it personally if I invoke Captcha for a while, although I hope there's a workaround.

Ummm let's see. I've had a busy non-writing week, and an okay writing week too. I'm about to hit a couple of kaboom moments that I've been waiting to unleash for a while, so that's exciting. My main character isn't going to see what's coming. As it turns out he's a wee bit smug, so I think I'll enjoy smashing him in the face with the plot equivalent of a wet fish.

In the meantime, I've been reading super short novels and ultra short stories. If you haven't read them, I heartily recommend Daisuki by Hildred Billings and The New Death and Others by James Hutchings, for totally different reasons.

Hildred's book is naughty lesbian erotica (or maybe porny romance?). Hildred manages to deftly balance fun sex scenes with an exploration of what it's like to be a gay woman in Japan and a central romance in which, despite conflict, we aren't asked to choose sides but rather understand both characters' points of view. It's lovely.

James Hutchings's short story collection sits somewhere between a modern, snarky Aesop's Fables and a perverse version of the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales, with a smidge of Cthulhu thrown in just for fun. There's some shorter poetry in the mix, also, which is everything short poetry should be, which is to say clever. James, I trust you wouldn't mind my sharing a bit from the poem that convinced me I was going to have a great time reading the collection, "If My Life Was Filmed:"

If my life was filmed, it would
go straight to DVD
and someone who was famous once
would have the role of me
and if five stars meant 'excellent'
you'd give it two or three
and most of those who rented it
would watch ironically.

Seriously, The New Death and Others is worth your time if you like smart ideas played out in the time it would take to crack a whip. It's worth the investment to get to read the second half of "If My Life Was Filmed."

(37060 words)

11 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Lost Week (Days, uh, Five Through Ten?)

By Andreas Praefcke, via Wikimedia Commons

So, I've been writing. And there was that little blip in the middle of last week when I participated in Mina's Resurrection Blogfest, which was great. I am still making the rounds of people's entries, so if I haven't visited but you're on the linky list, I will see you sometime soon.

This year's NaNo isn't the frenzy that last year's was, but it is going well. Every time I write a novel length manuscript (and I've done five or six, I guess?) I feel like I'm getting closer to a real book. Last year's was an amazing bit of chaos, for which I still feel that I have to do some research to supplement what I wrote. (Seriously. I don't want to be irresponsible about stuff.) This year, my plan to go way more character-focused has paid off, not necessarily in terms of sky high word count, but most definitely in terms of feeling like I know what my next step will be, and writing with that in mind. 

I'm at the point now where my main character has to make the decision that will determine his fate for the rest of the story - or at least set the parameters for the rest of the story. Oh, and there's a nasty fellow whose eyes are sewn shut. Yup, we're still in the dark here. It's a good place to be.

Word Count: 25126

07 November 2012

Resurrrrection Blogfest: How Do You Free Yourself?

Woof! That first year of blogging, yikes. Like probably everybody, I have found the act of going back through my archive just a touch awkward. Don't get me wrong: there are triumphs in that first year. I still think my first attempt to blog NaNoWriMo is awesome - way more awesome than the resulting novel draft was. 

After reading my first year archive through my fingers, I chose something for the Resurrection Blogfest that I wrote during November 2008, less than a month after I started this blog. In my opinion, there are some cringe-worthy aspects to this post. I no longer like discussing writing and craft from a "let me tell you how it is" perspective. I know now that I'm not qualified to interrogate anybody else's creative activities, so I tend not to try, though I am still into exploring my own choices from time to time in this space. I picked this post because it offers a terrific snapshot into where I was when I first embraced the idea that I needed to make writing a major focus. I remember that confusion. I remember how terrifying it was to powersteer myself out of the life track I'd chosen and into a whole other place. I remember being scared that I couldn't do it. 

Four years later, I'm in a great place as far as writing goes. I've been able to make it a major focus. It doesn't feel risky any more. It feels like what I do. It is great, however, to revisit the process that brought me here. 

Without further ado, I give you November 10, 2008's post, entitled "How Do You Free Yourself?"

In many ways, this NaNoWriMo season is a culmination of a long and slow climb toward self-awareness and freedom (in the broadest sense of the term).

Once upon a time, I knew that I wanted to be a writer (since grade three, in fact, thanks very much, Mrs. Cooper, for liking my story about the duck).

And then I decided I had to have some way to make money, some kind of a title, some kind of a place in the world, a job. But the world of literature kept calling out to me, and I decided that a reasonable compromise would be academia. Ten years ago I went back to school for a Master's degree in English literature, and I really loved it. When you're doing degree studies, it's neat because you have more coaching on your writing than you ever will in any other circumstance. It seems like an ideal scenario, really, because you can read all the time and write about what you're reading. And there is an art to the academic essay, whatever people say about how incomprehensible academic writing can be (and oh, it can be ornery stuff).

I finished my PhD three years ago. As I began to go on interviews, though, I began to feel really sick in my heart. I'm sure it showed: the interviews were mostly terrible and even the ones I enjoyed, I ended up with a bad feeling about. I didn't get any job offers. It seemed I had stalled out. I decided not to continue.

That's the superficial level of what went on. But the real story isn't about how I failed at the job market (and oh, I did fail. Sarah Palin's interviews looked pretty good compared to some of the answers I gave). While I was doing all that flunking out career-wise, I was slowly building up my resources elsewhere.

While to the outside world I was working toward my PhD and earning fabulous scholarships and shaping up to be the next bright thing, I was also performing acts of creative espionage. I was having a little bit too much fun. I was spoiling myself for the austere life of a professor:

I read novels that weren't on my reading list. I attended a conference outside of my area of study, but on the topic of one of my favourite horror films, The Wicker Man (the original 1973 film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee). I wrote a short story and sent it out to a good magazine. It didn't get published, but I got a nice note back from the editor about how it was an "almost". I enjoyed my area of study a little too much. Some of my research sent me into a giddy bouts of raucous creativity, as I imagined ways to spin what I was learning into a fabulous novel about plague and zombies and vampires and Shakespeare. (This is the novel I'm beginning with NaNoWriMo this year.)

Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole I went: I meditated a lot. I chanted. I did tai chi. I opened my mind way, waaay up. I listened to some pretty weird shit. I did Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way course - twice. I still faithfully write morning pages every day.

It wasn't all nice. I suffered through a mid-degree nervous breakdown. I had panic attacks that were pretty scary. I cried a lot of tears. I felt a lot of distress. I did a lot of therapy. I did a lot more tai chi. I meditated. I chanted. I went for long walks in the woods.

Finally, I recognized that the academic world didn't acknowledge or allow for most of the things that rocked my boat. I wished it did. I wished the job market had been better. I wished that being a professor didn't entail sacrificing everything else. And then I decided that the only thing to do was to face the truth. To acknowledge my truth.

So I quit. About a year ago, I had to decide whether to go on the market again or not. I decided not to. I still say the degree was worth it: I have mad research skills now, and I can read just about anything that's written in just about any sort of English. It took me a year to extract myself from the contract work I was doing. Thanks to my ridiculously supportive partner, I'm taking this time to build a fiction portfolio.

At thirty-seven, I decided to begin again. At thirty-eight, I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. I'm doing it in relative poverty, mind you, and I'm doing it with a lot of consciousness that I will eventually need to find a way to bring some dollars in. I'm doing it with a healthy heap of guilt, reinforced by our culture at large, that I'm not being "productive". But I'm also doing it with the understanding that doing the PhD was a lot harder than what I'm proposing to do now.

Sell some stories? Way easier than selling out.

This is not to diss the academy altogether. There are a lot of people there, people I consider to be great friends, who are genuinely and deeply invested in expanding knowledge and educating students. But they're working under a sick administration, and the resources they need to do their jobs well are simply not there. The support for a true diversity of opinion is not there. And in English departments everywhere, there are a lot of people who would much rather be writers. Who ache to create, and who are instead looking longingly and lovingly at the work of others, and trying, sometimes even patiently, to explain to undergraduates why creative work is important. But it's a hard place to be. And I don't want to sacrifice myself any more.

My suggestion? If you're reading this, do something creative today. Pick up a paint brush, get your hands on some clay or some plasticene, or write a little poem, play a little music. It might feel silly. Do it anyway.

Chant "om". If that starts to feel good, go for "omanepadmeom". It will open your heart.

Find a good teacher who will show you how to meditate. Stretch a little. Go for a walk. Talk to an animal. Adopt an animal.

Anything to get a wedge into your routine, especially your routine channels of thought.

Open the floodgates, just a crack, so that a trickle of fresh, clear water can run into your life.

And don't forget to ask if you're doing what you really want to do. It's the most important question you can ask yourself. And you might want to ask it over and over again, until the answer is a resounding YES!

05 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: A Shocking Revelation (Days Three and Four)

You can kind of run out of gas on Day Three. It's okay. For me, Saturday is my most challenging day in terms of sticking to a writing schedule. I'm out of the house and teaching more on Friday and Saturday, but also Saturday is one of those days where I can let myself sleep in. Typically I get up late, drag myself around the house, stare at the television, and otherwise mellow and procrastinate. After I got back from class this past Saturday, I ended up in that weird zone where you are somehow mesmerized and feel like you have to watch the same audiovisual entertainment over and over again as if there's some secret message embedded in it just for you.

Saturday word count happened between 11pm and midnight, the last possible moment: 786.

Yesterday, there was a write-in. In the past I've never quite managed to get a lot done at write-ins, because there are all those lovely writers to talk to! (I might have told you this story before, blog, but when I was in Grade Three, my teacher wanted to put three sides of a cardboard box around my desk so I couldn't see the other kids sitting around me. Apparently I never got any work done when I was in class because I was too busy socializing. Yup. Things haven't changed. Thankfully, my Mom refused to allow me to be put in a box. I like to think she shouted, "Nobody puts Baby in a box!!" and then danced out of the room like Patrick Swayze, but that's probably not historically accurate.)

Anyhow, this year I've decided that I'm putting my head down and, you know, writing at write-ins. I had a good day yesterday: 5361 words, which is almost as many as I wrote in total my first three days. Woot!

Word Count Total: 11587.

And now enjoy a super freaky dance party brought to you by Die Antwoord (my latest internet musical obsession) and their absolute loathing of Lady Gaga:

02 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Adoption Society (Day Two)

This month I'm using a gorgeous NaNo-based wallpaper for my computer background by Kiriska. I've used her designs in the past. They are wonderful because she does deeply aesthetically pleasing calendars for any number of screen resolutions, and offers daily word counts for both the usual NaNoWriMo goal of 50k, and the doubly ambitious 100k.

The other great thing about Kiriska's stuff is that she includes little challenges and suggestions on each day of the calendar. Today's suggestion was "adopt a something from the adoption forum." So I did.

I didn't adopt Markus, but he is currently available at the Hamilton SPCA if you want him.
Look at that face!
The Adoption Society forum at the NaNo main site is a place where writers go to post their superfluous yet brilliant ideas for others to use. After combing through some of the threads (Adopt an Illness! Adopt an Insult! Adopt a Pet Name!), I chose to adopt an obstacle. I chose it from a list of simple yet devious problems that virtually any character might plausibly face in the course of a story. The one I chose is good and juicy: it will massively complicate the lives of two of my characters. It's going to be a while before I'll be writing the scene in which I'll use the obstacle, but I can't wait.

Even if you're not officially NaNo-ing, I highly recommend a browse through the forum to get you thinking about ways to make your current project that much more fun.

Word Count: 5440 

01 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Writening Day One

So tired. Thursdays and Sundays are my days off, so I was fortuitously able to spend much of today writing and plot figure-outing.

One thing I'm doing is trying to pre-think my characters a bit better, rather than have them be all haphazard (and therefore flat). I've got some scant plot points sketched out, but more importantly, I'm drawing some handy schematics for my characters that are helping me remember what their typical responses should be in a given situation.

So far, I've drawn up some dodgy looking notes on tiny slips of blue paper. This is the one I did for Walter Esterson, a secondary antagonist:

Yup, it's messy. Sorry about that: these are raw notes. In case you can't read my writing, these two triangles represent a summary of Walter's character. The top triangle maps his strengths (things he's good at), weaknesses (things he isn't good at), and vulnerabilities (what he cares about / what can hurt him). The lower triangle maps his goal, what motivates him to reach that goal, and who he conflicts with. Both of these schematics I've adopted thanks to listening to the Storywonk podcast. Alastair and Lani go into both of these ideas in detail over the course of numerous episodes, so if you find the schematic confusing or want to know more, that's where you should go.

I've been thinking about keeping my characters "cleaner" - i.e., doing more to get to know them and make them more self-consistent - ever since reading Game of Thrones earlier this summer. One of the many things that George R. R. Martin is amazing at is making a character's traits grow directly out of his or her place in society and other circumstances.

In making myself think through this simple schematic, I found that I had to push a minor character like Walter Esterson to a more nuanced place. I needed someone who could and would function like a bully. The world I'm writing allows for a particularly dark version of magic. Walter basically feeds on conflict: the more he can draw someone into a fight with him, the more power he has. Without conflict, though, his magic doesn't work. That idea gave me strengths and weaknesses for Walter, but I had to think a while to give him something that he really cared about. We can be hurt in those areas where we open ourselves up.

I decided to give Walter a love interest: Sparrow Lao, a member of his gang of ne'er-do-wells. The way I'd been picturing Walter, he was basically a flat villain type, eager to make mincemeat of my main character. Giving him something to really care about not only softens Walter a bit, it also changes his responses in the scenes where he and Sparrow are together. He's just as interested in offering Sparrow support as he is fighting. I'm really liking the way these schematics serve as a reference for me to review all of a character's concerns, before I insert him or her into a scene. It makes tracking them through an interaction much more fun. Because I'm working on a story where the conflicts are multi-directional, I'm hoping this will help me grow my plot fairly organically.

I plan to draw schematics like this one for each character I introduce, major and minor. It only takes a moment or two, but it forces me to answer questions I might not have thought through.

Day One Word Count: 3291