Day 24 :Reaching Goals, NaNoWriMo Style

I was turned onto NaNoWriMo by a colleague, who was challenging her Writers’ Workshop class to set a writing goal for November in the young adult division; she suggested I participate too, since she knows I love to write novels. I was ambivalent, at first, for two reasons: it occurs during a busy month (Thanksgiving and the month before Christmas– shopping time), and I would be looked upon to succeed because I had written novels before– the pressure was on.

Now, I’d never before written so intensely or routinely as I have over the past 25 days. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the momentum. I do have a process, which I needed to alter significantly in order to meet my 50k word goal within the time allotted. Normally, my process involves doing some preliminary work– some pretty detailed character sketches, a sketchy (at best) outline/plot. With NaNoWriMo, however, I needed to nearly quadruple the time spent on the brainstorming phase– not only would I need to brainstorm, I’d need to plan, even tediously plan because I couldn’t give into becoming stuck. I needed to have the foresight to also know what kind of research I’d be using because I wouldn’t have the time to stop what I was doing to spend on research. Luckily, and perhaps skillfully, I chose a topic that didn’t require as much research as my previous writings.

During my writing season, usually Spring & Summer, I write habitually, but not on a schedule, and, when I hit a block, I walk away for a couple of days in order to return refreshed. And, usually, that does the trick. Writing when I’m off from school enables me to write in the morning, my writing time. It’s the part of the day I feel most refreshed and creative. During school (November, when I’m waking at 5:30), I needed to find a new writing time, most often right after school and before dinner prep time. It didn’t turn out nearly as bad as I’d envisioned; perhaps, I just hadn’t given afternoon writing a chance.

Prior to this exercise, and I viewed the entire time as an experiment of sorts, I wrote with purpose, and I’d tediously read back what I’d written the day before, every day, editing as I went. If something wasn’t good, I’d scrap it, altogether. I’d become stuck in editing mode until I felt it was good writing before moving on, even if I was working on one chapter for days. For this exercise, I didn’t have the time to edit as I was going. Instead, I had to retrain myself to write through the crap. But what I learned was that, there will be crap, and there will be whole sections, when, upon completion, I feel thoroughly satisfied with how my writing turned out. I’ve been noting where I’ve written through in order for the purpose of moving my story forward, so I can go back at a later time to develop, alter or scrap it, altogether. I think these sections will pop out at me during editing, screaming at me to work on them.

From the start, I viewed this as a writing project versus writing a novel. I knew that I wanted to write something that wasn’t so inherently based on personal experience as what I’ve written in the past. I took this on, initially, as an exercise of moving outside my comfort zone. I chose a character who is unlike anyone I really know (perhaps very loosely based on a mixture of people I’ve heard about or read about or seen in movies)– but I wanted to see if I could develop someone who mostly came from my imagination. I also set out to create a situation for her that was made up– from start to finish. I have drawn upon what is opposite from what I know, or attempted to. In the writing, however, I found myself infusing aspects of my day and morphing them into something completely different. I questioned a lot, thinking well what if she reacted this way or that way– and often chose the more/most outlandish of the choices. Now, roughly two-thirds into what has shaped itself as a novel in the making, I’m finding that while the premise is completely based upon imagination, there are, in fact, facets of my reality that appear there. So, my original hypothesis, if you will, did not exactly come to pass; instead, I’ve realized, no matter how my characters are unlike me or anyone I know personally, or how the plot can be something I only remotely am familiar with, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, separate the writer from the writing. And, I’m okay with that.

Because writing has been a hobby for me, I’ve been writing for myself, primarily, for years. There have been a handful of occasions, that I’ve tried to publish my work, and once I even got really close, then I back away. So, because I haven’t been forced to meet deadlines, I’ve been working at my own pace. The only goals I’ve set are the goals for the content of my material. As far as a time frame is concerned, there has never been one for me. This project forced me to attain daily goals and ultimately big goals. The first being to thoroughly plan prior to November 1st, the second being the daily word count of 1,667 words or more per day, the third being reaching 50k words before November’s end, and now that I’ve accomplished all of those, my goal is to complete the first draft of my novel prior to the month’s end. A lofty goal, I know, and one that I may need to modify. But, if nothing else, I’ve learned that goal setting is something I can and, moreover, should adhere to because I want to take it to the next level by becoming a published author.

As an ad hoc member of the Writers’ Workshop community of writers, I was invited to participate in writing activities such as the Kick Off party and cafĂ© dates, in addition to being a member of the group Facebook page. Writing this blog has also led me to making other acquaintances who have NaNo-writing in common which led me to belonging to another group Facebook page. Really, the last time I felt a sense of the writing community was when I was in college writing workshops (poetry and fiction). I’d forgotten what a force of support a writing community can be. What also feels good as a writer is having the ability to share my own experience/advice with others. For example, I told the student writers the best piece of advice I could give them was to never end a writing session at the end of something (a conversation, a chapter, an event or thought); always end in the middle, that way it gives you something to come back to which allows you to easily and fluidly settle into writing mode. It was so nice that, now 25 days in, one of the students thanked me, telling me how useful it’s been through this project for her. From herein, I will seek out a community of writers (whether it be fellow bloggers or tweeters or people in my physical world)– a writing tribe, of sorts.

Thank you, said-Colleague and NaNoWriMo and inspirers from many walks and my family/friend supporters (who monitored my progress often– because it made me feel like what I was doing matters). I took on this project with not a lot of expectations– certainly not with the expectations that really have proven to be useful and surprising results. I got so much more out of this project than anticipated, and I can only hope that is evidenced in what I produce as a result of it.


A Cornucopia of Thanks: Tradition

Pungent November scents fill the air on Thanksgiving day. The roast turkey at the center of it all, stuffing oozing from the seams. Homemade mashed potatoes and sweet potato balls rolled in brown sugar and walnuts, fresh cranberry sauce and –my personal favorite– the canned/gelled variety. I’d sneak in & steal parts of crisp turkey skin as my father was making the ceremonial slices. And once we were sufficiently stuffed and well-napped, with the endless melody of football as a backdrop, we’d return again to the table for apple and pumpkin pies with Nana’s homemade sweet sauce. These are the familiarities we come to rely on each Thanksgiving day. Like Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting depicting a traditional feast– so much food to be thankful for. And each other. Our family: mom and dad, me and my two siblings– until we grew and we grew and we grew.

Before we knew it, we acquired step members, and spouses and kids of our own. Our Thanksgiving tradition was morphing to accommodate our current statuses. Soon, other familial obligations took hold– the in-laws wanted to be part of the tradition as well, which prompted us to establish new traditions. Every other year, we’d all eat as a family, but it was those in between years that we missed not being all together. It seemed just not quite right to be giving thanks on a day when we couldn’t be with everyone we were so thankful for.

So, we created a new tradition: family film on Thanksgiving night. No matter where we spent Thanksgiving meal, we’d agreed to commune at a central local to enjoy a film which brought in the new holiday season: Christmas. My children were little when we began it (now in our eleventh year) and new children have been born and have taken there place as the current little ones. The challenge has always been finding something we all will appreciate: big and small, young and old. The underlying premise, a film released on Christmas day. Among them Eight Crazy Nights, Four Christmases, A Christmas Carol, Elf, The Santa Clause 3, How the Grinch Stole Christmas… Now, that my children are nearly all grown, the first question that arises in talking about the holiday season is, “What movie are we seeing this year?” It’s one they research as soon as possible in order to get the seal of approval from the aunts and uncles and cousins; Nonni and Poppy and Marguerite and Clarence always go along with whatever we decide and are simply just happy that their families are all together.

This year our selection is Rise of the Guardians. Just another year, and another film to end Thanksgiving and welcome Christmas with all of the people we are most thankful for.


The Shared Journal Revival: Mother/Daughter Time

The summer between 6th and 7th grade was an uneasy one for my daughter, Alexa. She was not only filled with excitement but mostly fears about beginning the 7th grade in a new school. She never was one who adapted well to change.

Over the summer, the year before, we’d formed a Mother/Daughter book club with three of her friends and their moms. Once school was out, we made a date at the mall for lunch and to the bookstore, so each of the girls could choose a book that we’d all read over the summer. The book chosen by each of the girls determined the host of the book club meeting. Our book, appropriately called The Mother/Daughter Book Club, was one for which we’d host a pool party and summer treats as we’d talk about the characters and the story. Moreover, the connection was made that we’d begun our own mother/daughter ritual.

Also, that summer, I attended a party at a friend’s house and one of our many treats was that she’d hired a psychic for each of us to be read. Her reading for me included a warning of sorts in that she told me it was the last summer I’d have with my daughter before she entered the stage of wanting to be with her friends all of the time.

I heeded her warning, even though, I was skeptical– knowing my daughter, but also taking into consideration that I’d been through this stage twice with my boys at about the same age.

Coming up with the idea of shared journal is one that Alexa and I began with eagerness that summer. My underlying hope was that she’d confide her fears about the changes happening in her life and to her body in the journal if she felt uncomfortable sharing them in conversation. We wrote back and forth sporadically. She began, and when she completed an entry, she left it under my pillow for me to find, read at my leisure and then respond. Then, I’d leave it under her pillow and the process would repeat.

We kept this up on and off for about two years before, once, one of us has forgotten to respond and the journal lay in her drawer.

She found the journal about a week ago, and read it, feeling bittersweet. Surprised, she shared with me some of what we’d written, having long forgotten about the content, leaving me with the suggestion to read it in its entirety on my own. As a result, we’ve decided to revive the Mother/Daughter journal– appropriately so, as she enters a new stage of her life.

Completely having transitioned from wanting to be Mommy’s little girlfriend to wanting to spend her (almost) every waking moment with her friends. Being pulled in all directions, as a sophomore in high school who is an honor/high honor student, who also plays three sports (field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse)– suffice it to say, her life has taken direction of it’s own. But my daughter, being my daughter, has not lost sight that while we might not have the quantity of time we once had– the time we spend together certainly is quality. We make time to take shopping excursions or eat out for lunch or breakfast or enjoy a spa day. We have shared t.v. time and even talk about the books we are reading. We’ve even established a holiday all of our own– a play-hooky-from-work/school day that we call Donna/Daughter day– just me and her time that we take spontaneously once during the school year.

I know our relationship is bound to go through many more changes, but it’s important to never lose sight of the special bond we have or our quality time.

Day 14 Update

Day 14

32k words

3 chapters

106 pages

I’ve been writing for four hours because over the next two days, I won’t be able to work much on my novel. I know I should look at these next two days as a reward, which I do and I’m looking forward to them, but I’m also a little sad to miss a day or more with my characters and their story. I’m finding that when I write every single day, I’m feeling a stronger affinity to my characters. I’ve taken copious notes, so I don’t forget where I wanted them to go and how I wanted them to get there.

Claire is hopelessly looking for love and failing miserably at it; she’s nearly exhausted online dating and is now looking into other methods. Meanwhile, her job is looking up. Through the play she is creating with her students, she’s getting to know them (by default) and becoming involved in their lives– finding herself more invested as a result. She didn’t mean to care about them, but somehow she does, and it’s not as bad as she thought.

17 Days to go

18k words left to write

7 more chapters

1 completed draft


Switching Gears

With more than 50% of my count in and more than 50% of time left to get there, my focus has turned from just trying to get to 50k to trying to complete the first draft of a novel.

I have to admit, that I’m completely invested in my characters as they are really taking shape now, and they have a story. While at times, I’m writing through a particular event, making a note to go back and develop it further or tweak it or revisit it altogether, I’m still resisting real editing temptation. That said, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to resist. I find myself taking more copious notes than usual because I’m allowing myself to just write through my trouble spots.

One strategy that is really working is jotting down some notes about where the next phase of the story is going upon completion of writing each day. Just a couple of bullets at the end of the writing does the trick for me. It really helps me to focus more quickly than my usual routine which would be to completely re-read the day before’s work.

There are also sections/chapters that upon completion of them, I recognize as good writing. Ahh… and that feels REAL good! At least, there will be substance to work with when this insane writing race commences and it’s time to noodle.

I am thoroughly happy that I decided to tackle this project, even though it is amidst the end of one marking period and the beginning of a new one, xmas shopping, 1 child returning home from school for the month of November and picking up the other (4&1/2 hours away by car) on Friday for a week, and Thanksgiving. Yes it is a crazy busy month, but I’m making it work and so proud that I am able to do so. I began this task mostly excited but also scared that I was biting off more than I can chew. I was thinking I’d just do my best (translation: it’s okay if I can’t meet the daily word count). Now, I’m thinking I’m doing my best (translation: exceeding my own expectations). Thank you, NaNoWriMo for giving me the push I needed.

NaNoWriMo Strong

I’m a week in and going strong.

This is what I’ve learned so far…

1) I can be self disciplined when I want to be

2) I can exceed the goals I set for myself

3) I need to give up the idea of “just right” and instead “just write”

4) The support of family and friends (and, even more so, a community of writers) fuels creativity

5) Taking on this seemingly overwhelming challenge is quite do-able, not to mention FUN!!

Day 5: Coffee, Write, Run

Somewhere, I read some suggested rules of successful NaNoWriMo-ing which included writing abundantly, eating healthy, drinking plenty of fluids, sleeping well and exercising. At the time, they all seemed pretty obvious– good daily practices whether you are writing 1,667 day (or more) or not.

Sub-consciously, at first, I’ve been heeding them. While exercising is not normally part of my daily routine (as I know it should be), I’ve been feeling great about it.

13, 877 words in (count clocked yesterday)– I’d say I’m off to a great start and feeling really good about not only my writing but myself– an ancillary benefit I hadn’t counted on.

The words do seem to be coming abundantly. I’m feeling “the flow” of the story which doesn’t normally happen this early into a project (albeit that I’m not normally this far in only 5 days). I also have curbed my inclination for editing while writing. Although, I am noting where I know, now, that I need to return at some later date.

My concern at this point is that I’m more than 1/5 of the way to my goal (or the goal set my the program), but I don’t think I’m 1/5 into the whole of the novel (in fact, I can almost guarantee it). Yet, I’m committed to stay true to the story and not simply to fulfilling a word count. I’m realizing this story has a lot more to it than what can be said in 50k words.

I’m also already feeling like I need to tweak my synopsis some. Claire isn’t as undatable as I had originally perceived her to be– at this juncture it’s more about her inability to find the right person. I could work with that.

My favorite part about writing is discovering the story through writing it. For me, it cannot be absolutely planned because it takes on a life of its own.

Now back to writing… with a hot cup of coffee at my side and a nice run on the treadmill to look forward to.

Day 3: Quantity over Quality

3 days into NaNoWriMo 2012: 6757 words. While I’m pleased with my progress, I’ve hit my first obstacle today. Writing quantity over quality is a near impossibility for me. I write. I edit. I write some more. This writing sans editing is killing me. For the first two days, the words just flowed. I was able to write through where I wanted to edit. Today, not so much. Quantity over Quality GOES AGAINST MY PROCESS AS A WRITER. Yes, I’m screaming, pulling-my-hair-out-of-my-head, having a hard time with this. Today, I actually, took the time to look back at my notes, fill in some gaps for keeping track purposes because already new characters have found themselves into my story that I hadn’t planned on. I also confess to researching a little bit more. I’ve resigned that I need to find the balance between quantity and quality. I will not compromise the quality of my writing for word count. I can do both! I tell myself.

Can you tell that I feel guilt over this? I’m feeling all of the time I have needs to go toward writing because if I have it in me to and have the time, now, to overwrite my daily averages when Thanksgiving rolls around and I can’t find the time, I’ll be ahead of the game, so there will be no need to worry. NOTE TO NANOWRIMO: June would be a much better month for this project. That said, one of the aspects I do like about the November month is that it IS a challenging month for me– hence, part of the appeal. I CAN DO THIS, I keep telling myself. So far, I feel continued inspiration and well supported by my family and colleagues and friends. I know, it’s only day 3.

I’m wondering your stance on Quantity over Quality… please, comment!!

DAY 1: Community of Writers

It’s day 1 of NaNoWriMo– I am officially no longer a WriMo virgin– ahhhhhh, it feels so good.

Today’s kick-off at school was absolutely energizing. To be surrounded by 20some writers, all working toward the same goal, was the perfect way to begin this journey. Some of the students expressed intimidation at the volume of the requirement, but they were all excited. Furthermore, they proudly referred to themselves as novelists; I was appreciative and excited to be among them.

I was asked for some advice, having completed two novels. My first piece of advice was to be honest and true to your writing because, after all, one should always write, first, for her/himself. Second, my advice was always to finish a day’s work in the middle of something– at a point where you know where you’re going. By not ending at the end of an event or chapter, it allows you to ease back into the writing with direction which helps you to continue the flow– thus, alleviating writer’s block.

2,848: my word count for the day. Not a bad start. I plugged in my ear buds and wrote and wrote and wrote. The temptation to stop to edit was difficult, something I will definitely have to get used to. Out of discomfort, comes growth. I’m a firm believer of that.