2016 Summer’s Promise

2016 Summer Promise.jpgEach summer, I make a promise to myself: to read the stack of books I’ve been accumulating throughout the year (the ones I didn’t get to because I’m reading or grading for teaching, or writing, or doing mom stuff). I taught two new classes this year and I had a student teacher, so school took up a lot of my spare time. I did, however, manage to get a few read-for-pleasures in.

I long for summer. I long for the moments when I can read without feeling pulled in another direction. So, these are the books I’ve collected.

Mitch Albom because I have read every single one of his books & his The Five People You Meet in Heaven is on my top 10 list.

Anita Diamant because she also wrote a book on my top 10: The Red Tent (a MUST read for any woman). There are just those authors we form an allegiance to and she is one of them for me.

Ransom Riggs. Well, this book came recommended to me. It doesn’t seem like it’s in my wheelhouse; however, it seems like a book my students could love & I like to recommend books to them. It’s also being adapted which is always interesting for me because I am as much a film buff as I am a reader.

Tina Fey simply because she is funny, I admire her as a woman, and I like lighthearted as a change sometimes.

Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite authors. I simply love her writing style. Plus, it’s a classic that I haven’t yet read. I do try to read at least one new classic a year because I think they make one literate.

Peter Ackroyd because this was a gift given to my last year & I just never got around to reading it. I teach British literature and love all things London. I have also read this writer before. I anticipate learning some things.

Nina George: new author, I think ,or new to me, anyway. I chose this because it’s on the bestseller list, I enjoyed the synopsis and I’ll be traveling to Paris, so I thought it would be a fun read whilst there.

David Levithan– also an author I’d never read, but this book was recommended to me and the I liked the voice immediately when I read the first two pages.

Margaret Powell is a non-fiction and when I googled Downton Abbey booklist, I came up w/ this. I loved Downton Abbey and I’m missing it already!

Jojo Moyes — I’ve heard a lot about this author lately. This is my summer book club choice. Over 50 students signed up for the club. Because I teach literature and film, I always try to choose a book that is being made into a movie, so we could do a comparison when our club meets. I’m really looking forward to this one.

Elizabeth Gilbert. This novel has been on my TO READ list for some time. And I am a believer that as much as we choose books, they choose us too. Since I’m taking this journey to Europe this summer (16 days: Italy, France & the UK), I thought this would be a good parallel read. From what I know about this novel, the timing is perfect.

I look forward to this post every year. More so, I look forward to diving in & being transformed, as I have been each summer.

Happy reading.

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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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Dear Blog,

I’ve been neglecting you. See, I’ve been working on a NaNoWriMo project that isn’t going as well as I was hoping. Sure, word-wise, I’m on target, but my book is still just not where I want it to be. Last year at this time, momentum was at an all time high. Obsessed with my story, I wrote and wrote and wrote; I dreamed and breathed it. For this book, I’m coaxing myself.

Lev Grossman in his pep talk to NaNo-ers wrote that we all have doubts as writers… that rough drafts are just that. I’m putting my faith in his words. While the ideas soared with my last project, this one may need more Tender Loving Care.

I’m committed to the contest. I’m committed to winning. Most importantly, I’m committed to the process and what I can learn about my story, its characters and myself along the way.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Yours Truly,

A frustrated, but committed writer

Half-way There

You’re going along on a road. You know the destination, but the path is foggy. There are so many choices.

This has been my NaNoWriMo process. I have a concept. I’ve begun. I’m on my way; that much I know. I’m seven chapters in and still the direction isn’t clear.At this point last year, my story virtually was writing itself.

I’m not saying I want to abandon this idea. It isn’t that it’s bad; it just isn’t good, yet. There are blips of goodness. Lines of enlightenment. I’m going to keep feeling my way through the dark because I believe the light will come and make the path clearer.

I’m hoping this half-way point is the turning point I’ve been waiting for.

Nano 2013 count day 14

Camp NaNoWriMo Frenzy (with STUDENTS!)

A FIVE STEP PROCESS TO NOVEL WRITING

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As if participating in NaNoWriMo during the month of November (and WINNING!) wasn’t a lofty enough task to take on, I’ve decided to invite my students to take the ride to CampNaNoWriMo during the month of April. While some had entered my second semester Writers’ Workshop class relieved to hear that November and the opportunity to write 50k words in one month had passed (after hearing of some of the first semester achievers and defectors), others were clearly disappointed.

Only last week did I hear of the Camp and the opportunity to write in whatever genre you want and set your own word count. So I put it up to a vote in my class. Two thirds elected to take the journey with me; majority rule, so even the unenthusiastic need to embark. I offered to set some guidelines as to how it will equate to a grade– as for many, that is always the bottom line. We came up with a 25k word count as a good goal to begin with (B-ish grade) and word counts in excess of  +10k will be in the “A” range and less thAn will be in the “C” range, so on & so forth. In addition to word count, they will need to submit a representative excerpt to be included with the grade along with a written reflection speaking to the process and what they’ve learned. I’d say, we’re well on our way.

camp lesson photo

 

So two weeks is NOT a lot of time to plan a novel; hence, I’ve condensed my usual fiction writing lessons and morphed them with some of the NaNoWriMo Ready, Set, Novel! Writer’s Workbook activities.

 

Lesson 1: The Inception

I. Brainstorm ideas, drawing from personal experiences, reading that resonates with you, fracturing stories (whether from novels, television shows, movies…).

II. Next, decide what genre your story will be told  in (fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, romantic, historical, literary fiction or non-fiction) and how you will tell it (linear/non-linear narrative, point of view, short/long chapters, exposition/dialogue/combination…).

III. Finally, create a loose timeline of how you see your story playing out (no details, just yet).

IV. Come up with a summary, perhaps a one sentence tag-line that you might use to sell your story.

camp dialogue

Lesson 2: All about Character

I. I provide my students with a four page dossier for them to fill out everything from what their protagonist looks like to his/her life experiences to what matters most and his/her worst nightmare, to how he/she cuts their toenails (I’m not kidding, it’s that specific). It needs to be. Every writer needs to know everything there is to know about their major characters in order to understand what motivates him/her and determine what choices he/she will make.

II. I throw a bunch of baby name books on the table and ask them to choose a name for their character that is symbolic to who he/she is.

III. Create a day-in-the-life agenda to learn what the typical actions of the character is

IV. Create a time line for the character’s life including where he/she lived and major life experiences

V. Write dialogue from your character to at least 3 other characters whom he/she might come in contact with to learn the nuances of character.

VI. Form the same knowledge of other characters in the story

camp conflict

Lesson 3: Creating the Story

I. Decide what your character wants. Every character is driven by conflict. Determine what conflicts (major and minor) your character needs to overcome to make a change.

II. Determine your story arc: inciting incidents, climax, resolution

Camp Plot arc

III. Make a more detailed outline of the events of the story including all major and sub-plot points

camp pt of view

IV. Determine the point of view your story will be told by experimenting with different points of view (ie. write part of it in the 1st person, then write the same part in 3rd person omniscient, repeat with 3rd person limited, then change the character…). Experiment, consider the pros and cons of each choice, and go with what feels right.

camp setting

V. Set the story where it needs to be. Consider your story arc. What will the major settings be? How will they be necessary to the character and your plot? Understand how setting affects your character and the story.

 

Lesson 4: It’s all in the Details

I. Given time, do some research on your situation. For example, the protagonist in my most recent novel is a 20-something young woman who hates her job and wants to find love. She’s a social network guru, so I needed to become one, as well. I researched blogs written by ppl. looking for the same as she in her demographic, I visited dating websites, I researched current relationship topics, I talked to people who are in similar situations… you get the gist. Uncover as many stones as you can; knowledge is power.

II. Write from what you know. Infuse aspects of your own experiences to make the writing rich and real. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but think about how you or people you actually know or know of would make decisions or behave in like circumstances.

III. Figure out the logistics. There are 30 days in April. Decide on a word count goal, divide by 30 to determine your daily minimum and stick to it, and, if one day, you fall short, plan on compensating the next day. Also figure out where/how you will keep all of your notes so they are readily accessible when you’re writing.

camp 5 senses

Lesson 5: Ready! Set! Go!

I. Now, feel confident that you are ready to begin. Feel the adrenaline pumping in competition with the fear. It’s all there and it’s all good.

II. Just write… even write through the mundane and acknowledge when you’ve written something good! Your writing will ebb and flow. Expect it, never losing sight that you can go back later and make adjustments; in fact, editing LATER will be necessary. But, for now, don’t give into the urge to edit.

III. My best advice: never end a writing session at the end of something (the end of an event or a chapter), always end in the middle, so you know, upon the next session, where to pick up. This will help alleviate writers block. And I find what while in the writing zone, the flow maintains itself, at least most of the time.

IV. Expect to feel both euphoria and frustration. Experience it. Embrace it. Share it with your cabin mates; that’s what they are there for.

V. Expect the unexpected. Allow your story to deviate from your original plan. Writing should always be an organic process. Trust it and yourself, as a writer.

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And so, we are ready to begin. For one month, we will give in to literary abandon. We will become novelists, writing each class that we meet, and outside of class as well. As I mentioned earlier, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November and it changed me as a writer. I ended up far exceeding my 50k goal by the end of the month and writing well past that to complete a draft which ended up being 134k words that I’ve been editing ever since. When I sent my what-I-thought-to-be polished and edited draft to an agent, he said I’d need to cut 40k from the draft before he’d read it. So my goal for CampNaNoWriMo is to cut back and revise instead of write, and equally intense, perhaps more difficult process. Together, we will take this journey, whatever the outcome, supporting one another as writers.

Creativity at Work

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So, I have completed the first draft of my novel with mostly excitement and a tinge of sadness. I’m going to miss my characters and their story.

I am reminded of the preface to David Copperfield where Charles Dickens writes:

“I do not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from this Book, in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it, is so recent and strong; and my mind is so divided between pleasure and regret – pleasure in the achievement of a long design, regret in the separation from many companions – that I am in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal confidences, and private emotions.”

Now, I’ve taken on the task of editing– not my favorite stage of writing, but I’ve been at it now for about a week, and I am literally obsessed. It’s all I want to do. Every spare moment is spent on reading/ re-reading/ tweaking/ thinking/ re-thinking/ checking for continuity/ expanding/ cutting back/ word-smithing…

And according to Mark Twain:

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

So forgive me the lack of blog posts, for now, my creative juices are otherwise engaged.

IWriNo

Yes, I am. I’ve committed to writing a novel through the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project. This means I have exactly one month (from November 1- November 30) to write a 50,000 (or more) word novel. I was turned onto the project by a colleague who has challenged her Writers’ Workshop students with the project; there is a site dedicated to young writers for all of you educators out there.

While a daunting task, I think this is just what I need to get me out of my writing slump. I’ve been between projects for some time, now. So many ideas are swirling through my head, some I’ve brainstormed on paper, but I haven’t been able to commit to one. Aside from keeping up with my blog– I’ve been in limbo for too long. I’m hoping my NaNoWriMo commitment will be just the jump start I need.

I’ve already come up with a sketchy idea which is still ruminating. Instead of using one of the ideas-on-hold, I want to do something completely different. I’m thinking a sassy, sarcastic tone, something light and fun– maybe even funNY! I don’t usually write funny. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding, is what comes to mind.

I’m going to blog about my process, so feel free to keep tabs on me. And if you need your head examined, like me, I challenge you to give it a try, too! We could be NaNoWriMo Buddies. ON YOUR MARK. GET SET. GO!

Unsatisfying Ending

There is nothing more frustrating than reading a book you are so completely mesmerized by– appreciating the writing, captured by the story, intrigued by the characters– only for that heart sinking, pit-in-your-stomach, ready-to-lash-out feeling you get only when you feel cheated by the ending.

Reading a book is a personal investment one makes. It’s a promise, particularly by an author whom you’ve admired and whose work has lived up to all of those expectations in the past.

As a reader, one forms relationships with authors. Among my go-to authors are Tom Perrotta, Anna Quindlen, Alice Hoffman, Anita Diamant, Sue Miller, Richard Russo, Margaret Atwood, Philippa Gregory and Judy Blume. They have never once disappointed me in the past. Sure, some work is stronger than others for this reason or that.

I won’t name this author, here, or the work, and yes, I will give the author another chance because everyone deserves a second chance.

Just like anything else in life, you come to set your expectations based upon your past experiences, and sometimes, when those expectations are too high– you set yourself up for disappointment.

So the lessons in all of this…??? Forgiveness. Second chances. The ability to move forward.