NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 24: Thanksgiving

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 24: Thanksgiving

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese

I’m a film buff, something that’s been with me since childhood. In addition to the usual Disney fare growing up (I saw Mary Poppins on original release), my parents also indulged in some choices that some might mark down as questionable parenting. As an adult, I wonder at it from time to time, but it means that I have vivid memories of a monolith on the moon and T.E. Lawrence watching Sherif Ali coming across the empty sands. I saw Paul Newman and Robert Redford pull a con, and, as revivals houses and classic film festival become fashionable, Joan Crawford as Sadie Thompson and Gloria Swanson both as Norma Desmond and the Queen of Silent Cinema she once was. Our local PBS station ran a mix of silent and foreign films on Fridays and Saturdays, so you could often find me in front of the television feasting in Lillian and Dorothy Gish in Orphans of the Storm — or watching Toshiro Mifune taking on a group of bandits threatening a town in Seven Samurai. Now, with channels such as TCM, services like Netflix and a host of films available for instant download from iTunes or Amazon or on DVD or BluRay, it’s much easier to find old and obscure films rather than feeling at times like Indiana Jones as I sought them out.

But while I love films, it really is the moments I remember. The Monolith, Lawrence’s burning sands, the looks between Captain Renault proclaiming he is “shocked” to discover there is gambling going on — just before the croupier hands him his winnings. I can even tell you what my favorite 10 seconds of film of all times is: Gene Kelly with an umbrella, spinning around a rain-swept street. For me, it is pure joy captured on film and makes my heart swell when I see it. Back in 1994, AFI created a short piece entitled “100 Years at the Movies.” It runs from time to time on TCM, but it’s also on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here. Watch it and notice where just a brief clip can give you an immediate emotional response.

As writers, what we capture on the page are moments, both good and bad. Our stories are scenes designed to provoke emotion in our readers. You can tell when you’ve connected because a reader will tell you what moments stood out for them. We strive for that, which is one reason NaNoWriMo is an excellent cauldron for a first draft. We are writing fast and furiously, not stopping to let our inner censors tell us to pull back, not be quite so aggressive on the page. Those are battles to fight when you revise, but once you get that emotion on the page, you’ll find it easier to keep it there. Never fear going too far in a first draft.

Here in the US, today is Thanksgiving, one of those days that often makes moments we remember for the rest of our lives. For those of you with families, enjoy the warmth, mine any drama for inspiration, and, if necessary, you can try using the excuse, “I have to write my words!” if it all becomes too much. (You have no idea how many times I’ve done that.)

For those of you on your own, I wish you well. I’ve been there, too, and I know today and the weeks to come can be some of the darkest of the year in more ways than one.

Best to you and yours today and all the days through the year. If you’re ahead on your word count, you might want to consider that second piece of pie your reward.

Word Count Goal: 40,608


NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 23: Small Victories

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 23: Small Victories

“Every drop in the ocean counts” — Yoko Ono

A week from today, we’ll be entering final word counts, so the pressure is definitely on. Every word you write in support of NaNo counts toward that goal at this point. My Scrivener files often end up looking like a complete mess by November 30 because there is always this collection of items where I know I absolutely went down the wrong path, or I finished the scene and realized I really didn’t need to detail a character getting up and going through their morning routine, so that was dropped out. All of those words count, because they are words I wrote as part of the NaNo process. This year, I’m going to count my blog posts as well, at least the ones written during November, because they all focus on NaNo.

Why? Because the 30th is coming faster than we think and many of us are looking at not crossing the finish line. I’ll be honest with you: I’ve had a miserable NaNoWriMo this year. The writing is not moving as it should, the election sucked, there are technology issues, I’m sick, and my muse seems to have taken an all-expenses-paid cruise to Alaska despite my best efforts to nail her to the floor. At this moment, I really want a victory of some kind and realizing that I managed to write 50,000 across this blog and two different story projects would help.

A lot of us need that victory at this point, but we also have to look beyond a winner’s certificate and a video cheering our accomplishment. Once December is done, what do you plan to do with your project? Is it going in the drawer as you return to a life that’s becoming increasingly packed with year-end obligations? Do you hope to get back to it at “some point” — or are you going to keep adding to it, drop by drop, until you can call it done? I hope you’re trying to do the latter, that you’ll let the momentum of NaNoWriMo carry you forward, even if that momentum hasn’t been as great as one might hope. The idea is to keep working at it and get the thing done. Then you let it sit for a month, taking it out of the drawer in January and settling down to the fun work of revision.

We’ve got so many more words now than we had before. We’ve got stories living in our brains we hadn’t told before. Let’s keep creating those drops and filling the ocean because we need to keep moving forward, even if only for ourselves, if only for the small victories of a video of folks cheering you on. Keep going.

For those of you on the road today, good travels and come back to us safely.

Word Count Goal: 38,341


NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 22: Talking Back

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 22: Talking Back

“Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” — Joss Whedon

I’ll say up front that I’m not actually a parent, except to my cats. But I also remember the moment when, as a teenager, my mother uttered the curse almost every parent lays on their child at one point or another: “Someday, you’re going to have a kid just like you. Then you’ll know what it’s like.”

No children, but I have a number of characters whom I’ve “birthed” for my writing. Guess what? The best ones do start talking back, straining against what my conscious mind wants them to do because the subconscious is say, “No, we need to go this direction.” Like my mother, I can experience terrible frustration at that moment because they. Just. Won’t. Do. What. I. Want. Don’t they understand that MaMa knows best?

Ever have that feeling with your story? The moment when you could happily reach out and strangle your characters because they’re reacting differently than you expected them to? As frustrated as I am when it happens, I’m always anxiously waiting for when it happens in a project. That’s because the characters have now gone from being the set of characteristics I’ve thrown together and have developed something of a personality – and they push back in unexpected ways. They do things that provide shadings I hadn’t expected, or answer to plot problems that maybe weren’t quite fleshed out completely when I started. At this stage, it’s all imperfect and there’s still work to be done, but the groundwork’s there.

We’re starting the final full week of this year’s NaNoWriMo today, racing towards the finish line. Today, as you write, listen to what your story is trying to say to you. If it talks back, don’t try to immediately force it back into the channel you had planned, but open yourself to this new information. It may surprise you – and those surprises are sometimes the best moments of all.

Word Count Goal: 36,674


NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 21:

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 21:

“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou

We’ve made it three weeks. Some of you are feeling triumphant at the moment, word count progressing as it should – or even better. Some, not so much. Either way, we’re here, through the end of the hardest slog. After today, we’re racing for the finish line or managing our expectations as to how much we’re actually going to finish.

Checking the #NaNoWriMo2016 hashtag on Twitter, I’ve seen several winners and some folks saying that’s it for them this year because they know they’re not going to make it. But there are also folks celebrating that they’ve just now reached 25,000 words, still striving toward the goal though the odds are somewhat stacked against them at this point. They’re working at it, getting their words in wherever they can, so when the moment comes to make their final validation of their novel, they can say, “I gave it my best shot,” whether they cross the finish line or no.

Some days are better than others, some NaNos are better than other. Last year saw a full first draft while this year sees me pushing to make just 50,000 words. The unifying thread is that, for both, I must do the work.

We’ve got a rough week ahead from a writing perspective. Some of you will be traveling, some of you will be cooking. Some of your are not going to be able to write a word Thursday, while others can spend the entire day holed up with their keyboard. But we keep doing the work, our eyes ever on the clock, knowing that we’re pushing toward that moment a week from Wednesday, when, no matter how many words we have, it’s time for that final tally. No matter where you are, may your fingers be swift today and for the nine days to follow.

Word Count Goal: 35,007


NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 20: Patience

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 20: Patience

“Have patience with all things, but first with yourself.” – St. Frances de Sale

So, the trip to the doctor yesterday was both good news and bad news. I do not have a nasty cold, incipient bronchitis or the flu. The bad news is: I have a sinus infection and have to take a course of antibiotics in hopes of beating it before the stupid thing settles in as it did two years ago. Four months. I was sick for four months that time. Not something I care to repeat.

So I am on the mend, but I’m going to need to have patience with myself. I absolutely want to be better now, but that’s not going to happen. I want to make up all the words I’m behind, but that’s not going to happen immediately, either. Step by step. If I took nothing else away from the several rounds I did of The Artist’s Way back in the 90’s, it’s that you must take baby steps before you can walk with speed or run. Even Usain Bolt had to toddle at some point in his life.

But when things don’t move as fast as we think we should, it’s very easy to lose patience. Sometimes it’s because the line is long at the grocery store and Express Line has a customer who has thirty-seven items, not fifteen or less (yes, I counted), and a batch of coupons, a number of which are expired so they’re arguing with the clerk about them. It’s easy to have a clear target in that instance of where our impatience is aimed.

But what about when our career isn’t moving at the speed we want, our love life doesn’t progress as we think it should, or the words are falling from our fingers as a much slower pace than we would like? The first target is often ourselves. I’ve been dealing with this a lot this week, because I sense time ticking and stuff is not coming together as I want it to. Because, often, the person we’re most impatient with is ourselves – and often without good cause.

Look, if you spend your time playing a game online or cruising news sites, telling yourself you’ll get to writing in “just a minute,” only to find your time has disappeared and not a word has been written, I can empathize with you because I’ve done that. But maybe you should be a little impatient with yourself then because you’re not getting down to the business of getting the work done.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been at the keyboard every day, trying to meet your goal, but job, family or health has interfered, please be kind to yourself. Keep making your best effort and understand that it’s not necessarily your fault. If your plot has severely derailed, take a deep breath. Be patient with yourself while you figure out where you need to go next. It’s not the easiest thing in the world at times. It it was, well, we wouldn’t stress over it so much.

Ten days to go after this and we’re closing in on the home stretch. If things have gone well for you this NaNo, novel validation begins today which means we’ll start seeing “Winner” notations. If you’re one of those, I officially hate you. Now, go finish the rest of the damn book if you haven’t already.

For the rest of us, have patience with yourself. Do your best effort, always pushing forward. As I write this, “Wait For it” from Hamilton has come up on my iTunes. Burr sings, “Life doesn’t discriminate/Between the sinners and the saints/It takes and it takes and it takes/And we keep living anyway/We rise and we fall and we break/And we make our mistakes.” It’s what most of us do every day, just move forward one step at a time, no matter what life throws at us. It’s all we can do.

Be good to yourself today, and have patience with yourself as you write. You may have to wait a bit longer than you’d like to cross the finish line of a first draft, but it’s worth it.

Word Count Goal: 33,340


NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 18: Let’s Do Something

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 18: Let’s Do Something

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

I could probably do an entire month of essays just based on quotes by Franklin. He was a prolific writer — what’s more, he was a professional writer. Old Ben didn’t just write things to elevate moral discussion or philosophy. No, he printed and hawked what he wrote to the public. Poor Richard’s Almanack was first published in December, 1732 and kept going until the 1758 edition. So, for twenty-five years, Franklin was self-publishing and making a living from it, with print runs of up to 10,000 copies per year. Not bad for most authors, even today.

It’s not bad advice — one of the reasons Old Ben keeps getting quoted. It’s a call to get off one’s ass and “do” — whether that doing is telling the world what you know and dream or doing something that will inspire others. We’re writers, so we live mostly in the first category, and that’s not a bad place to be. The world would be a poorer place without ideas to inspire folks, to challenge their beliefs, to offer comfort when life is cold and cruel. We should not elevate what we do too much, but I have long held that if what I write makes one person feel better — even if that person is me — then that is a worthwhile thing.

We’re in the midst of what I believe to be the hardest stretch of NaNoWriMo. Next week, we’ll be pushing up against a holiday and facing a looming deadline that has suddenly gotten very close. Less than two weeks from today, we’ll be in December. Now, though, we’re in the slog, trying to get through to our writing goal or catching up when things haven’t been going well. Some of us aren’t going to catch up and we’ll talk about that more in the days ahead. For now, though, let us seize today. As Poor Richard wrote, “What you would seem to be, be really.”

We are WriMos. We are writers. Today, regardless of word count or deadlines, let’s write.

Word Count Goal: 30,006


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