Running Behind, But Still in the Running (NaNoWriMo)

Marathon

Well, NaNoWriMo is one week underway and I’m running behind.  I’ve written about 9,300 words at this point, though I’m not done for the day.  Unfortunately, my daughter and I both got a nasty little cold last weekend and the first week it was  rather difficult to write anything much, between being tired with taking care of her at night and getting sick myself.

Thankfully, NaNoWriMo is more of a marathon, a race of endurance, than a sprint, so there’s always time to catch up.  In fact, I don’t recall them offering it before, but I see in my stats on NaNoWriMo.org the breakdown of how many words I would have to write daily in order to finish on time.  It turns out it’s only about 100 words more per day than the original 1,667.  Doesn’t seem so terrible when you think of it like that.

This past week I’ve had a couple discussions with people about what 50,000 words means.  It’s not really a whole book, is it, they would say.  Perhaps not, but it certainly can be.  I listened to Neil Gaiman read The Ocean at the End of the Lane some weeks ago on audio CD and it was brilliant! The other day I received the hard copy so I could write a review and stared at it in shock.  This is a very small book, but it certainly didn’t seem that way when I listened to it. It’s only 178 pages, probably somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 words.

That seemed particularly significant in the midst of NaNoWriMo where those 50,000 words are the goal. I looked at the book and thought, here is an example of something of that length.  It makes me wonder how many words were in the first draft, whether it was longer and edited down or shorter and added to in the rewriting and editing phase. Yes, I’m still getting over my shock.  It does not read like such a small book.  It is very much a big book.
May we all write big books this month.

Let the NaNoWriMo Festivities Begin!

2013NaNoWriMoCalendar

Okay, so I’ve been shocked at how much attention my NaNoWriMo calendar has gotten but I’m glad people are enjoying it. I’ve set it as the background on my own laptop, as one poster said he was going to do with it.

Last night I submitted my entry for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.  I wanted to let go of it before I started NaNoWriMo.  To be honest, I was utterly sick of it and ready to be done.  I’ve been editing it and nitpicking for the last two months, but it taught me a lot.  I think one of the failings in my writing has been my lack of follow through in editing to that degree.  I’ve written some good things and I’ve had some good ideas, but to really create something someone is going to want to publish, you have to be willing to go the distance with the editing.  I did that and let the story go. We’ll see how it does in the competition but I’m not going to hold my breath, I’m on to the next thing.

This month is all about creating without editing.  I’m about 2,300 words in and so far it isn’t really flowing, it doesn’t feel inspired.  I have an outline so I’m working with that but trying to remain flexible.  I’m working on a re-imagining of my Biomalware story.  I have two story summaries that are guiding the idea.

“As genetically modified crops take over and biodiversity dwindles, a menacing reality looms.  For half the world’s population these crops aren’t food at all.  They are… Biomalware.”

The other guiding idea is more human centered.

“When Sam’s two-year old daughter, Maddie, becomes sick he must find answers before it’s too late, but can he succeed when the opposition is a huge corporation with the full weight of the U.S. government at it’s disposal?”

Of course, these are just ideas and the story is changing along the way and as I learn more about the topic.  It’s science fiction but also a medical thriller and, of course, there’s a bit of a romance in there too.

And – to kick off NaNoWriMo on the right foot, I received my rejection e-mail from the Sustainable Arts Foundation today.  *sigh* I suppose it doesn’t mean much one way or another – they received over 1,500 applications and only give out half a dozen, with giving concentrated in the San Francisco area.  It was a long shot but I’m glad I did it.  I might try again next time.

Right now I’m licking my wounds and trying to concentrate on NaNoWriMo.  I believe I have a good idea and a good outline if the writing can live up to it.  That comes in time, though.  Right now it’s all about getting the words on the page.

It was definitely heartening to have EIGHT people at the kick-off write-in at my library.  That’s the best turn out I’ve ever had for a write-in.  It was inspiring to look at so many people sitting there just creating.

Happy writing everybody!

Inspiration and my Favorite NaNoWriMo Pep Talks!

Marie Lan Nguyen

If you’ve found this page in my blog then you’ve likely already made the decision to join NaNoWriMo and write a novel in November.  (Thank God!  I don’t want to be alone in this!) 

Seriously though, I really believe that everybody has a story to tell.  I’ve met so many people who tell wonderful stories but most have never bothered to put them down in writing, like my father, and it’s really hard to write someone else’s stories down for them.

How you tell that story is up to you. I also very firmly believe in NaNo Rebels – write poetry, a memoir, short stories, a script, whatever you fancy, just write those words down.

For some of us, writing is what we we felt we were always meant to do for the rest of our lives, but that isn’t necessary to NaNoWriMo.  It’s okay if you’re doing this because you want to get your memoir down or just want to give it a try. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, or a right or wrong reason for doing it.

It doesn’t matter whether the manuscript ever sees the light of day, just joining us on this endeavor is going to put you in touch with your creativity in a way you’ve never experienced before. 

There have been quite a few official NaNoWriMo “Pep Talks” over the last six years.  Sadly they are not all created equal.  Some ramble, some need editing, and some have really good advice.  The advice can be useful but when I want a pep talk, I want a PEP talk! I’ve been making a list of my personal favorites.

(2009 was a short list but the two I chose are some of the funniest I’ve read.)

Obviously, the best inspiration comes from reading material that directly relates to your novel in November. For me, I’ll be looking at articles and books, pro and con on GMOs, that inform my fiction. I’ll also be watching movies that are in the same genre I am writing. 

(Where will you glean inspiration from? Please take a minute to comment and share!)

Whether you’re getting ready for Nano and want to procrastinate a bit, are looking for some much needed encouragement or want to bookmark this page to pop back in when you’re two weeks under way and feel like you’re foundering, here they are – my favorite pep talks in all of Nano land.

2007

Author – Neil Gaiman

Favorite line –You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.” Sounds SO cheerful, doesn’t it?

Link –  http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman

Author – Sue Grafton

Favorite line –Perhaps you’re suddenly uncertain your immediate family will appreciate your rendition of their annual drunken Christmas antics that result in all those accusations, renunciations, and slamming of doors. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sue-grafton

Author – Sara Gruen 

Favorite line –But today, I am going to jump around and write only the fun bits! I’m going to write about food fights, and disastrous sex, and escaping in-laws, and apes with unlimited credit! “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sara-gruen

2008

 Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line –November 16: The second half of NaNoWriMo dawns. Writerly confidence builds. Your book comes to life, and characters start doing interesting, unexpected things. Nice. Weird.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2008

Author – Meg Cabot

Favorite Line –But how long until some other story idea comes along and twitches its enticing little characters at you, and you decide to abandon this new one for it? How many words will you have then?”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/meg-cabot

Author – Janet Fitch

Favorite Line –When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don’t let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/janet-fitch

Author – Jonathan Stroud

Favorite Line – “This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/jonathan-stroud

2009

Author – Maureen Johnson

Favorite Line – “What’s nice about NaNoWriMo is that you are traveling with a posse of thousands, all of you making your way over the mountains, through the valleys, across the creeks. You are fighting off the beasties.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/maureen-johnson

Author – Gail Carson Levine

Favorite Line – “My techy friend spent hours tinkering with my computer. She’s assured me that it will combust if I try to reestablish connections to the internet and email. The single thing I’m keeping is my cell phone in case I start to go into cardiac arrest, but the keys are smeared with battery acid, except the 9, the 1, and send. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/gail-carson-levine

2010

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey. Change is scary because we have to figure out what comes next. But feeling afraid is ten times better than feeling bored, and your book will benefit from your risk-taking.”

Link – http://http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2010

Author – Lindsey Grant

Favorite Line – “All together, let’s laugh in exultation at our total domination!/ MuahaHAHA!/Now let’s go do some writing.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lindsey-grant-2010

Author – Holly Black

Favorite Line –There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work. Please don’t let wondering if there’s a market for your book or wondering if the book you’re writing is genius or evidence that you should be heavily medicated get in the way of the writing. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/holly-black

Author – Lemony Snicket

Favorite Line – “Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lemony-snicket

2011

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Sadly, the older we get, the harder it is to find time to visit these wild places within. Between school, work, and family, the days just get away from us. There might be an hour of writing here or a few minutes of dreaming there, but it’s usually sandwiched between tasks and errands. The roar of that creative ocean becomes a distant sound that occasionally drifts in through our windows at night, reminding us of a place we once loved, and keep meaning to get back to./ But you know what?/ This November, we’re going to the ocean.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2011

Author – Rachael Herron

Favorite Line – “Every day I white-knuckled it, and on November 30th, I wrote my 50,006th word. The words The and End were two of those. After a few months of lying in dark rooms recovering, I picked it back up and gave it a real ending. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/rachael-herron

Author – Erin Morgenstern

Favorite Line – “I want to mix you each the beverages of your choice, cocktails or sodas or tea or foam-topped espresso drinks that all magically maintain perfect drinking temperature. Bring you truffles or tira misu or chocolate-covered popcorn and give you wrist massages while whispering these encouraging, fortune-cookie bits of wisdom-esque whatnot garnered in my years of NaNo-ing”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/erin-morgenstern

Author – Lani Diane Rich

Favorite Line – “You’re not signing up for this challenge because you want to type a lot in November./ You’re doing it because you have a story to tell, and that’s a big deal.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lani-diane-rich

2012

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “…we’ve realized the whole “fair fight” thing was a dumb idea, and partly because we blew all of our harassment budget on yesterday’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to crash every word processor in Manitoba.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2012

Author – Grant Faulkner

Favorite Line – “It resembles a canvas that a gaggle of preschoolers are fingerpainting on together. Then, while the teacher isn’t looking, the ornery little devils find a box of feathers, glitter, Cheerios, pasta shells, and they toss it all into the mix.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/grant-faulkner

Author – Marissa Meyer

Favorite Line – “The trick to landing an excellently unexpected insertion is to not go with the first idea that pops into your head—too often, that is the domain of clichés and the all-too-expected. Rather, try making a list of at least twenty things you would enjoy writing about right now. It doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what you’ve written so far (you can always drop in some nice foreshadowing during revisions), and the whole point is that you’re about to insert something fun, unique, and exciting into this draft.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

Author – Scott Westerfeld

Favorite Line – “Make a list of all the varieties of aliens you can come up with. (And if it’s less than 3,000, then THE PEARS ARE LAUGHING AT YOU, MY FRIEND.)”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

Charting Your Characters for NaNoWriMo

resumepicture

So, what do you really need to know in order to write a good character? There’s the basics –

  1. Height
  2. Build
  3. Hair color
  4. Eye color
  5. Temperament
  6. Job
  7. Hobbies
  8. Skills

Then there’s getting down to the nitty gritty.  I just picked up Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do by Meredith Maran and I’ve been enjoying the entries on the various authors tremendously. (I admit I’ve been skipping around instead of reading straight through.) Terry McMillan has an interesting way of creating characters. Years ago she picked up a job application for McDonald’s and fills it out for every single character in her books.  She goes further though. “I create a five-page profile for every one of my characters so I know everything about them: what size shoes they wear, if their hair is dyed, if they bounce checks, have allergies, what they hate about themselves, what they wish they could change, if they pay their bills on time.”

Now, maybe this isn’t completely necessary but I can sure see the benefit.  I’ve always been something of a “method” writer, getting inside the character and writing from the inside out.  I need to know whether my character would really do the things that I’m writing for them.  Will it ring true for the reader?  I figure if I know my character inside out, I can put them in a situation and I will know what they will do, how they think and how they will react.

I found a great job application out of Alaska at http://www.jobs.state.ak.us/forms/genapp.pdf  It asks the generic questions but in a way that gives you a broad idea of your character and lets you infer some interesting things.  For instance, if someone is willing, or even prefers, to work the graveyard shift – why?  Hmmm. Who would your character contact for references?  How about in an emergency?

4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone by Barbara Ann Kipfer offers some very specific questions that you could ask your character.  I think it’s a great book for a writer to have, but I don’t think I could possibly answer each one for all of my characters.  She does break it down into some good categories.  Some of these questions are hers and some are mine, but more are hers than mine.

Childhood & School

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. Where did you go to school?
  3. What is your saddest memory? (And a bow to Humans of New York)
  4. Do you have any siblings?  Did you get along with them?
  5. In what organizations and extracurricular activities did you participate?
  6. Did you have any serious accidents or illnesses as a child?

Family & Friends

  1. Did you have any pets as a child?
  2. As a child, were you closer to your mother or your father?
  3. What is your ancestry and ethnic background?
  4. What was your parents’ relationship like?
  5. Did you like school?
  6. Did you have a favorite teacher or subject?

Fun & Sport

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. Do you participate in any organized activity?
  3. What do you do for fun?
  4. What do you think is funny?
  5. What sports do you like to watch?
  6. Do you dance?

Habits

  1. Do you get up on the weekend or sleep in?
  2. Where do you eat dinner?
  3. Is your house neat and/or clean, or is it messy and/or dirty?
  4. What are your vices?
  5. Are you careful or careless with money?
  6. Which pant leg do you put on first?

Love & Sex

  1. Do you have a significant other?
  2. Do you believe in love at first sight?
  3. Do you believe in marriage?
  4. What sexual position do you favor?
  5. Who was your first love?
  6. Tell me about your first kiss?

Outlook

  1. Are you a pessimist, an optimist or a realist?
  2. Do you like or dislike change?
  3. What are five things you are grateful for?
  4. What worries you the most?
  5. Do you have goals for your future?
  6. What is “success” to you?

Politics

  1. What political party, if any, do you align yourself with?
  2. Are you pro-choice or pro-life?  Why?
  3. Do you believe in the death penalty?
  4. Do you think we should have national healthcare?
  5. What do you think of marriage equality?
  6. What does the term “feminism” mean to you?

Spirituality

  1. Were you brought up in a religious tradition?
  2. Do you identify with a particular religion now?
  3. Do you believe in ghosts?
  4. What does “evil” mean?
  5. Why do you think bad things happen to good people?
  6. Do you believe in destiny or choice?

Work

  1. What was your first real job?
  2. What do you do for a living?
  3. Do you like what you do?
  4. Do you think you’re a hard worker or lazy?  What would your boss say?
  5. If you had to change careers, what would you do?
  6. How many hours do you work each week?

How do you build your characters?

Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way

Open_book_01.svg

Okay, first of all, do you know who Jim Butcher is? He writes this fantastic series of urban fantasy books based around a wizard named Harry Blackstone Dresden in modern day Chicago. If it sounds interesting, there’s already something like 12 books in the series. Check him out at your local library or on Amazon. Here’s Jim Butcher’s Amazon page.  

Okay, he also writes another series called Codex Alera and I’m sure the writing is just as fine but I haven’t read it so I can’t say I love it, like I can the Harry Dresden series. They are fun, fast-paced action but also really good writing and he always hits me with something deep somewhere along the way. Love it!

Anyway, he also wrote a a LiveJournal where he shared information on writing. I’ve been looking at distilling it down to steps I can use to plan my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Here’s what I came up with. If it looks interesting, check out Butcher’s LiveJournal for more in-depth and better explanation. Be warned, it goes backward. You have to scroll to the bottom to the see the first entry then work up. 

Some of these were good reminders for me but some were new ideas that make good sense, like the Stimulus-Response Transactions.

  •  Conflict should exist in one form or another in every single scene. 
  • All of your characters need to have a goal
  • Use “Stimulus-Response Transactions.” Something happens to your character and he/she reacts. If you reverse that, it can confuse the reader so don’t do it unless you are very confident.
  • Write in either first or third person, especially if you’re just starting out. It keeps things much simpler.
  • Choose your point of view character based on who has the most to lose.

Write a Story Skeleton description of the main plot of your book in two sentences.

“*WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?”

Characters

What is (or what makes) an interesting character?

  • Exaggerate a feature – physical, mental or emotional.
  • Give them an interesting position, whether it is a social, geographic, intellectual or moral.
  • Introduce your character with a solid Characteristic Entry Action that is typical of who and what he is.
  • Make sure they act believably.
  • Make your character a whole, full person by showing his or her emotions, reactions and decisions.

I love the idea of Tags and Traits. It can help make your character unique if you pick the right combination and it helps solidify the character in the reader’s mind.

  • Tags are a few specific words you use to describe your character, and as much as possible, only your character.
  • Traits are unique items like a prop.

The Big Middle seems to be Butcher’s way of thinking of the climax. If it’s different, I’m not sure how. Maybe it just arrives earlier. (If somebody has a different understanding of this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.) Basically, Butcher recommends creating a great big dramatic event for the end of the middle of the book which will lead directly to the homestretch.

The organization of scenes the way he explained it makes a lot of sense to me and really helps in plotting and organizing a story. They have to include –

Scenes

  • Point of View Character
  • Goal
  • Conflict (scene question)
  • Setback (scene answer)
  • Possible scene answers include
  • Yes! (but that gets you no where so) –
  • Yes, but..
  • No, and furthermore!

Sequels

Sequels are what happens after a scene. A character reacts emotionally, then thinks about it logically, considers possible outcomes to actions he could take and makes a decision. It’s simple and this is how people react to events so it keeps the reader moving forward quickly.

A Story Climax is the answer to the story question. It should include –

  • Isolation – friends can’t help him now.
  • Confrontation – obviously, with the antagonist.
  • Dark Moment – Confrontation did not go well.
  • Choice – between something good and something really bad.
  • Dramatic Reversal – poetic justice.
  • Resolution – keep it short.

Organization – The Basics

  • Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you intend to introduce him.
  • Ditto, but for the main opposition.
  • Create a story arc on paper or somewhere and fill in the opening scene, the big middle at the top and the climax on the right.
  • Fill in any scenes that you have in mind.
  • Add in phrases describing scenes that lead your character from one to the next.
  • Do Story Arches for all of your subplots.
  • Profile every significant character on his own sheet,
  • Outline scenes and sequels.
  • Repeat until climax.

As I said, this is the basics, Butcher’s (very entertaining) LiveJournal is something like 47 pages long and remember, this is one way to do it. Maybe it looks good to you, or maybe parts of it do. Take what works and leave the rest.

Happy Novel Planning!

Creative Writing While Still Planning (or) Planning for a Pantser

David_Malo's_map_of_the_world,_1832

By nature, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter.  (Okay, maybe it’s because I was never taught to plot.) Recently, however, a writing friend looked at one of my story ideas, proceeded to twist it on its head and challenged me to write a short story using the idea of a bridge burning at both ends then suggested a few elements to work in, however I chose.  I thought when I gave him the finished draft that I had gone too far afield of what he had “assigned” me.  He emailed me back quickly and told me, “You nailed it!”

That made me start thinking about how you plot and then work the elements you’ve decided on in, but also have room to make the story whatever it might be.  I have started several short stories since then, and also pulled out several that I started some time ago, but haven’t yet finished ANY of them.  Normally I get started and sometimes I finish and sometimes I get lost along the way.  With the framework that he gave me, I plowed right through writing but wasn’t too stifled.  It was something of a revelation.

How to create that framework to work within on my own? I’ve heard and read lots about outlining and planning but I’ve never really managed to grasp it.  Maybe I’m older and wiser but it’s beginning to make sense to me.  I really enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s post in 2011 on 25 Ways to Plot Plan and Prep Your Story, but I can’t say I was able to apply it that well.  (I think that was my shortcoming, not his post.  I’ve always been that way, I could memorize formulas in math, no problem, but applying them was a whole other quadratic equation.)

I like Wendig’s ideas of “The Vomit Draft” where you just write down everything you can think of and “The Bring Your Flashlight Draft” where you only outline a chapter or scene in advance.  (Is that really plotting?  I guess so.)  Anyway, give his ideas a read.  (He’s hilarious.  Seriously, I now must go read some Chuck Wendig.  However, there is at least one thought that made me say, “Oh, ish.  No, it wasn’t the pants comment, it was before that.)  One of my favorite thoughts, “The key is not to let this – or any planning technique – become an exercise in procrastination.  You plan. Then you do.  That’s the only way this works.”

I’ve been hearing a lot from people about using the Snowflake Method to organize their thoughts about a story.  I’ve looked at it and found the originator’s articles online about how to use it for both novel plotting and short story plotting so I’m going to give it a try and see if it helps me finish these short stories I have started.  I suspect it will.

At the same time, I’ve started turning Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal blog into something that I can hit point by point in plotting out my novel for NaNoWriMo.  He says himself that this is information he learned, not something he came up with, so I plan the distillation once I have it finished.  I figure, if I use the Snowflake method then fill it in just a little more using Butcher’s methodology, the novel is going to be a lot easier come November 1st, as long as I can stay in story space.  I’ve been out of that part of my brain for a week at least and I’m looking for the door back in.

In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It really reminded me of books by Madeline L’Engle that I read when I was growing up, though with a bit more adult content.  There was the same wonderful young main character, the magic and yet the feel of the Time Lords.  I’ve always enjoyed stories with a young protagonist.  I suspect that’s because we’re all a child inside, as he says in the book.  Or as another author put it, we never lose all the ages we’ve been.

Anyway, reading a slightly older collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman now, listening to Anansi Boys in the car, working on applying the Snowflake Method to my short stories in progress, and distilling the LiveJournal entries from Jim Butcher.

Right now I have a story to write and I need some coffee.  I’ve already written one scene last night, two scenes this morning, and I have two more to write then I can start editing and turning it into something that makes sense.  Wish me luck.

2013 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Calendar

Here it is folks – a calendar of quotes and inspiration with your daily word count goals for NaNoWriMo.  We’ve still got a month and a half so start day dreaming about what you want to write now!

I’m going to attach the calendar full size but you will probably have to click on it to really see the image clearly.

2013NaNoWriMoCalendar

Writing + Editing & Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Matite

I’ve been doing a lot of writing these days, or at least editing and re-writing.  I wrote one short story, a post-apocalyptic love story where people are living in trees, for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest deadline in November on the 15th.  I’ve been working with another writer on editing and he’s been giving me little things to fix.  That’s been an interesting process that I’ve tried to work on daily.

As I finished that one, three characters showed up in my head – two angels and a demon, all in human form.  (Hey, at least the angels outweigh the demons, right?)  One angel is a middle-aged, rosy-cheeked Italian priest with thinning hair who has more questions than answers but trusts in his faith; and the other angel is a slightly younger, scruffy-looking, chain-smoking, cynical construction foreman.  The demon is a fairly normal guy who grew up fundamentalist Christian, with a wife and kids and he is having a bit of crisis about who he is.  (I’ll give you a hint, he doesn’t know he’s a demon.)  Anyway, there’s a whole lot of humor to this piece but I see some tragic and painful stuff to balance it out.

I put that aside and tried to focus on editing the first story.  Then my editing friend went for a major change and my brain balked.  I’m wondering though if the real problem isn’t that I stopped creating and started just editing.  Maybe I need to make sure I get a little original creative time in?  Try to find some balance between the writing and editing so that both get done daily.

So, then, another story popped into my head that’s sitting there wanting to be written now.  It’s a romance and I see some real potential in that one because it’s very truthful to my own experience as a teenager.  I sat down this morning and wrote some notes so I could focus on work today and start writing it tonight.

There’s a whole lot of characters swimming around in my head right now, but I’ve also had the realization lately that I need to work a little harder on figuring out what the central story question of a piece is and making sure each scene adheres to that so that my characters don’t run off and leave me without a story.  I’m very character driven, I think, but you need a plot too.

Maybe because I’m in this great creative space, I’ve started getting excited about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) I have to ask myself why I want to do this – 50,000 words in one month?  On one level, it’s completely insane.  With my schedule, there’s very little chance I’m going to write anything intelligible, let alone good, in that short a time period.  In the past, I’ve gotten a few short stories or a giant outline.

On the other hand, the pure creative exuberance of it can be intoxicating.  Plus, there is the chance I’ll end up with a draft.  I’m beginning to understand the true nature of re-writing and editing.  It’s a long process, but it lets you turn something you think might need burning into something worthwhile.  If nothing else, I’ll enjoy the creative flight into fancy.

I started a NaNoWriMo calendar today to hand out to my writers group.  (I’m happy to share if anyone would like a copy.)  It’s basically encouragement/ inspiration and the countdown of where you need to be with your word count to finish on time.  I wanted to make it fit on cardstock so my quotes had to be fairly short.  Here are a few of my favorites that I couldn’t fit.

Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.  ― Meg Cabot

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself. ― Eleanor Roosevelt

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. ― Franz Kafka

Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award & a New Story

Cayuga_Lake by Stilfehler

We had a GREAT time on Cayuga Lake last weekend, very relaxing, but now it’s back to work.

I’m working on applying for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award.  They typically give out 5 awards of $6,000.00 and 5 “Promise” awards of $1,000.00.

You must have a child under the age of 18 (which I do) but there’s no application fee and it’s all done online.  The application is due by 5 pm (Pacific Time) on August 31st, which is Saturday.

I’ve applied for other grants before, so I already had half the work done.  They just want 4 samples of  work so I’m submitting two short stories, an essay and a memoir piece.

I made the mistake of not paying enough attention to what they were requesting otherwise so learn from my mistake.  I had combined my biography and letter of intent into one thing for another grant application and didn’t realize I need to write them separately for this one.

They want a biography, an artist statement that gives a “concise description of your work and goals as an artist,” a Curriculum Vitae (in other words, an artist’s resume that tells them where your work has been seen and what workshops you’ve attended) and a letter of intent that tells how you would use this award if you win one.

The thing that’s giving me the most trouble is the biography.  A lot of what I write is biographical in nature so it’s hard to know where to stop.  How much or how little should I say about myself, my life, my writing and my family?  The only direction they give is to include how your family life inspires or challenges your writing, if it’s relevant.  Well, yes, it is relevant, but what else do I include?  My mind went one way, focusing on my writing throughout my life, but I’m trying to keep it concise.  I mean, they didn’t even give me a word count maximum –  I could ramble on for ages!

So I went through and edited the writing pieces I’m submitting, yet again, then edited the resume, artist statement and letter of intent.  Then I realized I need to pull out a separate biography.  I’m almost there.

(Just went and looked at last Spring’s winners. I’m glad I didn’t look before.  It’s a little discouraging.  Everybody who won seems to be very accomplished.  Oh well, it’s worth a try.)

I’ve also been editing my entry for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest.  Then I started getting this idea for a story about two angels and a demon that would be GREAT for the longer genre contest.  Unfortunately, that’s only two weeks away so I don’t know if I can have it ready in time.  It’s a good story so I’m pursuing it and if it’s not done, I’ll hold onto it.  I’m a little loath to send something I just finished writing into a contest anyway.  I prefer to let things set for a bit and edit again.

We had an unexpected day off on Wednesday because our power went out so I took myself down to the local coffee shop to write for a bit.  It was incredibly loud and I was getting a little annoyed but I decided to just listen and found that I was sitting next to a group of people talking about their Catholic religion.  My, how inspiring for my story since one of the characters is a priest!

So, I flagrantly eavesdropped and made a few notes.  They were telling religious jokes and laughing uproariously but they also hit on a few more serious topics.  Not sure if it has any relevance for what I’m writing but it did inspire me to think about my story and make some progress.  I’ve got a good idea of who my characters are and why they are there.  I also have the central question of the story, the theme and where it’s going, to guide the plot.  Now I just have to make sure all my scenes reflect and build on that.

It just seems like there has been a lot of great creative energy in the air lately, for my whole writing group at least.  Hopefully that is true for everyone out there.

A Couple Grants and Contests for Writers

WilliamAdolpheBouguereau

Well, I’ve actually been getting a fair bit of writing done and I’m planning to enter a grant competition at the end of the month.

I’m working on a short story for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest, 1,500 words maximum, getting one bit each night.  I’m really pleased at how it’s coming along.  It may be utter garbage but just the fact that I’m producing and having ideas is the best feeling.  (The British term “chuffed to bits” comes to mind.  I wonder if that would be a proper application of it?)  Anyway, the deadline for that is in November so I’ve got some time.

As I said, I’m working on a grant application at the same time.  It’s for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award.  You must have a child under the age of 18 and they do give preference to people who live in the San Francisco area but there’s no entry fee so I’m going for it!

Besides the application, they want 4 writing samples and they prefer you’ve written them since you had your child.  Well, I’ve got quite a few things on my Yahoo! Contributor Network board so I’m trying to choose four from that.  I’d LOVE to have anyone’s input who cares to take a look and comment.

I am thinking to choose between –

Memories and Choices  http://voices.yahoo.com/memories-choices-12079419.html

Devolution: The Beginning  http://voices.yahoo.com/devolution-beginning-11335874.html?cat=44

Regrets: A Confessional Villanelle  http://voices.yahoo.com/regrets-confessional-villanelle-11335696.html?cat=47

27 Minutes  http://voices.yahoo.com/27-minutes-11439900.html?cat=43

Faith Hope and Love  http://voices.yahoo.com/faith-hope-love-10777773.html?cat=43

Biomalware  http://voices.yahoo.com/biomalware-11149566.html?cat=44

I’d like to include the two that were featured on Yahoo!, Regrets and Devolution, because they got really good feedback.  However, Memories and Choices, Faith Hope and Love, 27 Minutes and Biomalware all have more to do with being a parent than those two.

To further complicate manners, novelization of Biomalware is my current project and novelization of Devolution is my next project so those might be good choices to show them where I’m headed.

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