NaNoWriMo 2018: 10 Down, 20 to Go

So, where exactly am I with my NaNo wordcount, you ask? Woefully behind, writers, woefully behind! Like, I haven’t written in almost a week. **cringe** I know. But a couple of things (ok, four things).

  • One: every NaNo-inspired word is one word that might not have otherwise found it to the page.
  • Two: It’s technically not too late to catch up (although it might be too late to do so gracefully).
  • Three: Not to make excuses, but I’m in the middle of Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. More on that here.
  • Four: I am rounding out the last day of a really excellent writing conference at the University of Wisconsin. My head is swimming with writing tips, revelations, and inspiration, I have met some amazing writers and professors, and I have tons of leads on publishing and contest opportunities, organizations to join, books to read (SO MANY BOOKS TO READ), etc., etc.

So … sorry, not sorry, NaNo project. I will get back to you friend, I promise.

NaNoWriMo 2018 – 1 Down, 29 to Go

Happy First Day of NaNo!

Wordcount: 1,657

Time confetti. Stolen moments. Today I wrote in the car before walking my son to school, while I waited for my latte, on the train, at my desk before leaving for work, sitting on my kitchen floor before the PTO meeting, and while waiting for my daughter to fall asleep. Get it done writers!

Onward to Day 2.

NaNo Prep

Hello NaNo Preppers!

We are in the final days before NaNoWriMo 2018! I have been diligently (ok, not always so diligently) working through my NaNo Prep materials this month. I have an idea, some characters, my characters have some issues. And … I think that’s as good as it’s going to get. Every October I set out intending to be super organized, starting NaNo with files of research, character profiles, and a detailed outline of scenes to write. And every Halloween at midnight I throw up my hands in defeat and just dive in. I am a wanna-be planner. In truth, I’m a plantser (half planner, half seat-of-my pantser). What did Elizabeth Gilbert’s mom used to say? Oh yeah, “done is better than good.” So I’m calling it. I’m done with NaNo Prep.

So what’s this year’s project, you ask? It’s called To Rebehold the Stars (thank you, Dante). And I don’t really know what genre you would fit it into (please, please, don’t say chick lit), but it’s basically a coming-of-age novel for grown ass women. In it, a handful of women approaching (or slipping quietly by) the age of 40 realize they have worked very, very hard indeed and achieved much in their lives, but always on other people’s terms. They take the chance, at life’s natural midpoint, to redefine themselves (or to define themselves for the first time) through creative pursuits, through things they’ve always wanted but denied themselves. But they must battle that most deadly of foes: the belief that what they want–purely for themselves–has no value. Oh, did I mention that these women have been through some serious shit? And life does not stop throwing fireballs at them just because they’ve decided they will reclaim their identities. Oh no, folks. These ladies are going to have to lean on each other. But first, they need to find each other. Stay tuned.

NaNo Prep – Week 1 Recap

Hi writers! It was a busy first week of October for me. I posted my second NYC Midnight Flash Fiction entry on the contest forum and have had fun responding to feedback from other participants and reading their entries. I signed up for a noveling conference next month and have been trying to read at least one novel from each of the authors who will be presenting there. And I’m gearing up for an intense 48 hours this weekend as the NYC Midnight short screenplay contest kicks off.

And then there is NaNo prep! I’m loosely working my way through two texts this month in preparation for National Novel Writing Month in November: Lisa Cron’s Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel and the workbook Ready, Set, NovelSo far, the two dovetail nicely. Chapter 3 of Story Genius is called “The What If?” (see last month’s posts for summaries of chapters 1 and 2, which lay out Cron’s story-writing philosophy) and Chapter One of Ready, Set, Novel is called “Storming Your Brain.” Both challenge you to tease out from that nagging little kernel of a story idea  you’ve been carrying around a bunch of potential novels. This is always the nerve-wracking part for me; committing to one idea when there are so many others floating around. What if I choose the wrong one and wind up hating it in November?

But that isn’t really how it works. I’ve gone into NaNoWriMo as both a serious plotter and a pantser (NaNo speak for someone who does no planning and simply sits down on Day 1 to write by the seat of his or her pants) and I can tell you I have never regretted a moment of planning. You are not rigidly stuck with your outline, notes, doodles, random thoughts, character sketches, or other NaNo prep work. You will still be surprised by the directions your writing takes during the month. But a little planning significantly cuts down on the amount of time you will stare off into space (or at a blank notebook page or blinking cursor), wracking your brain for what to say next.

This week I’m diving into Chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Story Genius, titled “The Who?”, “The Why?”, and “The Worldview,” and Chapter 2 of Ready, Set, Novel, titled “Creating Your Characters.”

Not into these books? Here are some other NaNo Prep resources you might be interested in:

  • The folks at NaNoWriMo have a whole workbook full of exercises to get you thinking about your novel that they use with their high school student participants.
  • They are also offering a few webcasts this month, including one this Thursday, October 11, on NaNo Prep, and one on October 15, focused on how to find time to write every day.
  • And you can check out the new weekly podcast Write-Minded, by NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Thornton and   Brooke Warner of She Writes.
  • Are you a checklist person? Check out this one by Deborah O’Carroll.

Happy prepping writers!

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2018

One thing I managed last month, in the midst of what otherwise felt like a general writing slump, was to submit my second short story in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Contestants in each round are assigned a genre, character, and subject and asked to write a very short story (1000 words or less) in just 48 hours. There are four challenges in this contest. Contestants who do well enough on their first two stories move on to the second of three rounds.

You can read my Round 1, Challenge 2 flash fiction piece, Ruadhán of the Heath, here. My assignment for this challenge was fantasy, a bonfire, and a first-aid kit.

And you can read my Round 1, Challenge 1 flash fiction piece, Juror Number Twelve, here. My assignment was horror, a jury room, and a hard-boiled egg.

Guys, this is the beauty of contests: accountability and deadlines. Wish me luck!

Raw Material – Recap

Hi writers! No, I was not abducted by aliens. Yes, I did completely flake out on last month’s challenge. And just as I was feeling really terrible about that, someone posted this on social media: “Forgive yourself every night and recommit every morning.” I guess I’d like to amend that to “Forgive yourself monthly and recommit on the first of the month.”

I will say, I didn’t flake out completely. I continued to read Lisa Cron’s Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel. I thought it would be a good idea to pair doing that with working in a prompt book to generate a lot of raw material, which I hoped would give me an idea for something to write about next week for NaNoWriMo. But I felt like I was just going through the motions. As it turns out, there was an idea for a novel, simmering in the back of my mind, and reading Story Genius made me want to just steep myself in it and try to really figure it out. So I did a lot of daydreaming and spacing out and jotting incomprehensible notes. Procrastinating, you say? Perhaps.

So what’s the plan for October? I am going to continue to post tips I picked up from Story Genius. I’m also going to go through each of the exercises in the first part of the book, which are designed to get you to work out your protagonist’s internal struggle, the live wire that drives your story. I may also use,  Ready, Set, Novel, a noveling workbook I’ve used before, which also helps you develop your backstory, characters, setting, and major plot points, all before you sit down to write that novel on November 1.

Whether you plan to work with these books or do some other kind of NaNo Prep, I hope you will stick with me and tune in for more regular posts as we gear up for my favorite writing month of the year!

Raw Material – Day 10

Prompt: The worst Thanksgiving dish you ever had. 

Wet clotted spoonfulls of stuffing, made from the rubbery crusts of day-old baguettes, wormholed by limp strings of sautéed onion. The cook attempted to “crisp” the thing, flashing it in the oven at high heat. This had rather the effect of an as-seen-on-TV food dehydrator, leaving behind a vomit-brown casserole the consistency of shoe leather, with little charred tips like the points of a meringue.

If you could get beyond all of that the–the texture and appearance–the sound of it squeaking between your teeth, the flavor would hit you. Not rosemary, thyme, or sage, those Thanksgiving standards, but oregano. Dusty green handfuls of oregano. The monstrosity tasted like nothing so much as a frat-party pizza, waxy and abandoned the day after the party in a grease-stained box.

Lucy dutifully raised another a spoonful to her mouth. She wondered if she had the nonchalance to spit it into the fancy embroidered napkin in her lap.

Raw Material – Day 9

Prompt: Tell a story that begins with a ransom note. 

She could do without it, Abby thought. Should be able to do without it. She had been planning on getting a new one soon anyway. The old one worked fine but it was a little slow, and beat up, with campground stickers from her gap year plastered across the top. Whoever took it must have known she needed it right now, enough to clean out her meager checking account and hide a fat was of bills in the prescribed hiding spot: under the loose plank in the step of the old stone water tower building.

That alone should tell her something, she thought. Who knew that building? An actor in the stage company that performed there on weekends? One of the tourist information desk workers in their blue T-shirts and khaki pants? Maybe someone less obvious. Some behind-the-scenes figure. A set designer or someone on the janitorial staff. Really, she suspected it was someone from the law school. Who else but a law student would think to ransom a person’s laptop in the last days before the bar exam?

She pulled the note out again and unfolded it. She smiled, in spite of herself. Someone had taken the time to clip letters from magazine and newspaper headings and paste them down on a sheet of white typing paper. It was a good, old-fashioned ransom note, fit for FBI scrutiny, the sort left by a serial killer at the scene of his last crime or stuffed in the mailbox of a rich celebrity’s daughter, as she lay gagged and squirming in the back of a utility van. It couldn’t be real, she thought. It had to be a joke.

A Lesson From Story Genius, Ch. 2

In Chapter 1 of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron sets out the premise of her book: that we are all biologically hard-wired for story–that stories are not mere entertainment, but an important evolutionary we use to virtually test new experiences.

In Chapter 2 Cron debunks a few (ok, quite a few) writing myths:

Myth 1: Great Writing Equals Great Story. This is like mistaking the wrapping paper for the present. The story is the thing that is essential, that makes us want to turn the page. Beautiful words and unusual metaphors are gravy. Want proof. Cron points out that the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy sold over 100 million copies. What did everyone in my book club say about it? “It’s terrible, just awful, but I can’t put it down.”

Myth 2: Pantsing (Writing By the Seat of Your Pants) Is the Only Authentic Way to Write. Yes, it’s liberating, fun, easy. It might get your creative juices flowing. But if you want a good story, you have to do some of the hard work of planning.

Myth 3: Just Get a Shitty First Draft On the Page. What you need is a shitty first draft of a story, not thousands of rambling words.

Myth 4: Figure Out Your Plot Points and You’re All Set. The plot is concerned only with the surface events. They are the after-effects. The cause, the whole reason a creative work exists, is because of the internal events. What is going on inside the protagonist’s mind. You need to know your character’s past so you know how the external events of the plot will affect him or her.

Myth 5: You Need an External Story Structure. You can religiously follow Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” but you will still be left with a dull, lifeless manuscript unless you focus on your character’s internal conflict and change.

So, if none of these things will guarantee you a good story, what will? You need to focus on your character’s “inside story,” everything that came before the inciting event. What starts on page one is only the second half.