Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on NANOWRIMO

For three years now I have sworn to myself that I would participate in NANOWRIMO and changed my mind by the time November came around. This may be a good thing. I don't think NANOWRIMO is always unhelpful but I'm not sure it would be a good thing for me in my current stage of writing and perhaps my circumstances know this better than I do. The past three Novembers, even though I didn't participate in the 60,000 words scramble to write a novel beginning to end, have been crucial to my development as a writer.

November 2008 was the first year I decided I was going to participate but the first week of November was midterms. I had a full course load and was already working on several novels. Starting one from scratch without finishing at least one of them first felt unfaithful. Still, I didn't want to let the month pass without challenging myself in some way. I remembered a friend had participated in a writing challenge to write 400 words every day for twenty eight days the year before at some point in the fall so I e-mailed her about it. It turned out I e-mailed her on the day it started and she was organizing it herself that year and could therefore e-mail me the prompts even though I did not attend her school. Fate? 400 hundred words a day is not as impressive as a whole novel in a month but it got me into the habit of writing out something every day and because I was so busy with classes I had to let go of my inner editor and stop pushing the backspace button every other sentence in order to meet my quota. I was surprised by some of the ideas that came tumbling out when I wasn't censoring them.

Last November I decided that rather than start a new novel I would just make it a priority to finish the one I was already working on. I carried my journal with me everywhere and wrote like mad on the bus and during class and jury duty. I didn't make it by November 30th. I extended my deadline to December 31st and I still didn't make it. I actually didn't finish it until this last August but forcing words out for those two months did force me to look at the plot as a whole instead of spending all my time harping individual scenes to death when they might end up being cut anyways. And I learned I don't write fast and shouldn't try.

That important revelation should make you wonder why I decided I would participate in the mad word chase this year but I have been experimenting with actual outlining instead of just jumping in and watching where the story goes. I thought it might be a good idea to start the Robin Hood novel I've been researching and outlining and re-outlining for the last year and a half to see how this method works for me but by the time November came along I still hadn't got around to editing the novel I'd finished in August. I decided that would be my November writing task. It only took me the first day to realize that editing actually took longer than drafting (for me) and that rushing it was not going to do me any good. I also still had the unfinished story for the Notes From The Underground contest dangling in front of me. So this year's November task was much simpler. Finish, edit and polish a ten page story. It's maybe 0.5% the size of a novel but I think (at least for now) I gain more satisfaction in doing one small thing well than a large thing sloppily and I was still able to draw inspiration from the idea that this last month writers everywhere were pushing themselves to find out where their limits are.

So what have your experiences with NANOWRIMO been?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just a Story

When I submitted a piece to the Literary Lab's Notes From The Underground contest it was mostly to keep me on my toes submitting stuff. I was pleased but very surprised when I saw my name on the list of winners. I lost count of how many time I re-read the list to make sure I wasn't imagining it. When I was finally convinced that if this was an hallucination it was a detailed enough one to land me in the loony bin I got excited and told all my friends, decided which idea I would dig out for the final submission, checked out some books on the subject, scratched down a bunch of contradictory notes . . . and didn't actually get anything written down for a month and a half.

I tried. I really did. I sat in front of the computer with my hands hovering over the keys trying to decide what flavor this story would have. What themes I would use. Whether I should use first person or third. How snarky the protagonist should be. How creepy I would make the tone. How I would prevent it from turning in to a novel the way every other short story I'd ever attempted had. What reaction I was going for from my very first realio tuelio audience. All the rules I wouldn't break to prove that I knew what I was doing.

I'm sure you get the idea. I was over thinking. A lot. I had a ton of ideas but every time I was able to type them out on the screen they were immediately followed by a rigorous application of the backspace key. The irony is that the whole nature of this particular contest was supposed to liberate the writer from rules and the fear of rejection so that they could create the story they wanted. The freedom scared me. I would be the only person responsible for whatever I turned in and it would be permanent. I couldn't wake up in the middle of the night and say “What was I thinking? Taig Feargal would never use the word 'acquiesce'” and make the necessary amendments. It would already be printed and sent off to readers who have never met me and would judge their opinion on my entire existence on those words alone.

Then came the nasty part. I had to admit to myself that a large part of why I write is to improve other people's opinion of me. I didn't want to write a piece that I had a strong emotional connection with that expressed my innermost thought. I wanted to write something that other people LIKED. Of course it would be nice if it at least appeared to express my innermost being or managed to say something clever and profound sounding. But it had to accurately represent my other work and . . .

By then I was sick of the whole idea. The deadline was approaching and I had nothing but a handful of sentences and paragraphs that didn't make sense together. I was trying to make ten pages of story do more than any story possibly could. Too much clutter. Too much expectation.

I started over. I placed a stack of notebook paper next to my bed and started writing the way I did when I was thirteen. Long hand with no outline and no delete button at the end of the day when I was too tired to worry about whether it was making sense or had intelligent themes. Just me and my imagination and the calming sensation of pen against paper.

I am content with the result. It is flawed, I am sure, but by allowing it not be a masterpiece I was able to manage something much more personal and something I can release into the world without worrying about the reaction. It's just a story. I will tell many more and hear many more and if I don't let it go after I tell it I won't be able to focus on the next one while it is being told.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT concludes the adventures of the Wee Free Men and their "Big Wee Hag" Tiffany Aching who at Fifteen id now a good deal less "Wee" but still manages to wiggle in and out of tight places. As the chalk's witch she handles all the problems everyone else would rather sweep under the rug. Although everyone in the chalk needs her, they don't always like to admit it, and the fairy tale cliche` of witches being cruel and ugly is starting to wreak havoc on her love life, To Do list, and general safety.
Pratchett weaves his usual brilliant blend of humor, wit, and striking insight into human behavior into a masterfully paced adventure full of drama, witches of all shapes and sizes, and littkle blue men whho say "Crivens!".

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I have finished a draft of my story. It is a little too long and needs some polishing but I feel a lot better having it completed beginning to end. I will post an analysis of the process I used to write this story and what I think I've learned from it for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing. (If you aren't I completely understand. The analysis will be mostly for my own benefit as short stories are sort of a new teritory for me.)But for now I celebrate with these sonnets I've been tinkering with just for fun.

The black pulse of a thousand minds
Waits for truth to hold back time
Steeped in color and liquid light
The darkened roar demands its sight
With fists raised in unseen design
They cry for communion with the divine

Tonight the sky drops down its eyes
The silence drowns in lucid dies
Between the rifts of glittered strands
Hang the fates that mock demands
Beneath the pull of threaded sound
The tower falls, a toppled mound

Inspiration here at last
To join the present with the past

Food of Love

My forever faithless jealous lover,
Leaping from the fingers of another
Unresolved notes loose their effect
In punishment for my long time neglect
A word with a sonnet, a wink at verse
Moments when I was too lost to rehearse

My fingers slip and fall against your keys
Rough sounds flow through your hollow reeds
Nothing is left but your siren's screeching
A hand cramped from my ceaseless reaching
I am parched for the voice you will not grant
With a mind flailed with silence I recant
Flow back to my brain and out of my throat
Forgive if you can the false words I wrote


Whir of colorless gauze begging for dies
Shadow filled laughter drowning out sound
Paint covered eyes spinning round and round
Drink bitter delights to sustain the lies

A popinjay decked out in white and black
Swallow the emptiness. Wash out the hues.
Dance to the silence of a drunken ruse
With feathers and bells dripping down your back

With masks twisted out of charm and wits
Don't let them see that your eyes are their eyes
Don't look at yourself. Don't dare become wise.
Whisk your cloak full of glittering bits

Invisible in gilded finery
Wear the costume you expect to see