Okay, well, I didn't write my 50,000 word novel this month. Not by a long shot.
But I did write 17,000 words, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Actually, a lot of those words I had already written before NaNoWriMo, so maybe it was actually something to sneeze at.
1) They tell you to start with a fresh, new novel for a reason. Writers have way too much invested in a project they keep making attempts at for years and years to write with the total crazy literary abandon necessary for NaNoWriMo. This is the second (and last) time for this particular mistake.
2) The Internal Editor needs to be locked up - and stay locked up - for the whole month. Every time I let her out, even just for a few minutes, it set me back - sometimes significantly.
3) Reading, especially good stuff, has to be off limits for the month. I read The Hunger Games in 3 days so I could get it in before November, because I knew it would mess me up if I tried to read it while writing my own YA novel. So what did I go and do? I read its sequel, Catching Fire, in the middle of November. When I finished it, my I.E. convinced me that I would never write anything even in the neighborhood - make that on the same planet - of how good it was. Final nail in the coffin of my YA novel. Oh well...
I'm not going to beat myself up over it. For now, I'll file it away with all the other cool things I almost did.
Like almost finishing my PhD.
(What would my beloved, deceased therapist have to say about that statement, I wonder? Somewhere, she's chuckling right now...)
And there's always next year. Maybe a novel for grown-ups for a change, as I mentioned before. If I have the guts (or a pseudonym!) to do it.
On the other hand, if there's still nothing but Vampire books on the YA shelf a year from now, I just may have to try this genre again.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The one day of the year that we're supposed to look around and take stock of all the blessings we have in our lives and remember to be thankful for them.
I'm way ahead of the game.
Several months ago, I bought a pretty spiral notebook and started writing in it. Every day. Several times per day. Line after line, page after page, I list all the things for which I am happy and grateful.
It's a powerful mood elevator / sustainer.
Some days I only write a few lines, others I can write a page or more. It doesn't matter if it's something I've already written; there are many repeats. But if I'm feeling grateful for it at that particular moment, it goes down in the notebook.
I initially thought that, if I was having a rough day or starting to feel depressed, I could pick it up and read it and feel better. But honestly, I haven't had to because just writing a few things in it has always done the trick.
So today, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'll share a few:
A husband who gives me a reason to laugh just about every day.
A teen who challenges me to be the best parent I can be.
A tween who is deep and perceptive and loves to read.
A little guy who is generous with hugs and loaded with silliness.
Healthy and supportive parents who live nearby.
My warm and loving in-law family.
My wonderful friend who got me out of the house last night for bonding and recharging :-)
All of the wonderful Mommy friends who touch my life, in person and online / onphone.
Martial arts classes and the work they have done on my body and mind.
Our sweet dog who happily puts up with so much.
Freedom to structure my day (and the kids' education) the way I want.
Looking and feeling better than I have since... ever.
The new jeans - they still fit!
Just a sample - I could go on, but the little guy's about to turn on the TV so I should wrap it up.
Last night, my friend brought up the idea of a book for writing nice things about each kid as a way to encourage Kyle's reading. They do have gratitude journals of their own, but I've never done something like this, where I (or anyone, really) can write nice things to them. It's such a great idea - I'm starting them today.
I really shouldn't complain - we've been pretty lucky with weather this month, and we probably do need the rain.
But it's Just. So. Dreary.
I've been trapped in the house with unwilling homeschoolers all day. The older one got an essay written, but the younger one took - I kid you not - 5 hours to get one page of math and one page of sentences done.
He dropped pencils. He spilled water. He doodled all over his paper. He went to the bathroom - 50 times. He kept finding me, approaching with his arms outstretched, asking for a "huggie break?" I could only scowl at him and send him back to his chair, promising hugs when he got his sentences done. Eventually, I got frustrated and yelled at him.
This is not how I want homeschooling to be. Something needs to change.
Maybe he's not ready for this much work, or maybe he just needs me sitting there next to him, cheering after every word he writes and every math problem he does. I go back and forth, between what my gut tells me he really needs (less pressure, more maturity) and what the world begins to expect from you at almost 7.
It's easy to say, "Let them go at their own pace," when that pace is faster than average, like his brothers' were. It's quite something else in this case. It's not as if he isn't smart - he's extremely creative and clever and has a great vocabulary and a sophisticated sense of humor. But he can't be bothered with reading, writing, or math. He has only a mild interest in history, art, or music. He does like science - can I build a whole curriculum from that one interest? By the third child, you'd think it would be easy, but I've never had to make these kinds of accommodations before.
At least I'll have Thanksgiving break to think it over. I'm tapped out for today.
I haven't seen the show Flash Forward or the film 2012, but I get the impression that themes regarding making the most of the time you have and examining the path you're on are emerging in mainstream culture. And not just among us 40-something women. So I'm not going to interpret the underwhelming response to the bucket list question as a lack of interest in the topic, just a lack of readers and / or willingness to answer such a personal question.
So be it.
I have new jeans!
How exciting is this? I am officially down to my grad-school / working summers at high-adventure camp / hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, spelunking, scuba diving weight. Without dieting.
And no, Mom, I don't have an eating disorder. I'm just doing martial arts and eating good food. Drinking water and seltzer (and coffee). Treating myself in other ways. Listening to more music and less news. I think French Women Don't Get Fat made a big impression on me when I read it 3 months ago. The lesson I learned there was, enjoy life and you won't feel the need to overeat.
Just deciding to enjoy life a bit more has been good in itself - the weight loss was simply a pleasant side effect.
But it sure felt great putting on those new jeans!
Okay, so this year, this story just didn't work out. Feeling okay with moving on with my life sans regrets on this one.
Thinking ahead to a fresh new story for next year. One for grown-ups this time.
To tell you the truth, the main reason I wanted to write for kids is that I was afraid that if I wrote something not for kids, my kids would read it anyway, and, well, that might be embarrassing.
But that's actually assuming a lot. I researched and wrote about a quarter of the material in this book and they haven't bothered to read it. Why should I worry about them reading some book that isn't even written for them?
So, moving ahead to an idea for a grown-up book.
Question for all 3 of the people who actually read this: if the world were to actually end in 2012, (not that I believe it will, of course - if the Mayans were so smart, where the heck are they all now?) what's on your bucket list? What will you be really pissed if you die without having accomplished or experienced in your life?
I'm not talking about expensive vacations or anything like that - just goals for yourself, things to experience with your friends / kids, elements missing in your marriage / relationships, etc.
They were right about Week 3 - this is when the magic really starts to happen.
I finally came up with a premise for a novel that doesn't completely suck.
I don't think I'll try writing it in the next 10 days, though.
And if I do write it, you're not allowed to read it.
Even if it's Amazing and goes to #1 on the Bestseller List and I win awards and make a gajillion dollars from it. I'll buy you something nice or take you on a trip or something, but you're still not allowed to read it.
But I realize that now he's 14 and having Mom write stuff about you and post it on the internet isn't nearly as cool when you're 14 as when you're 11.
Of course, writing a cool tribute to his 11 year old brother and ignoring him wouldn't have been cool either. He was here first, after all.
I really did give this a lot of thought.
So I'll compromise and make this quick.
Michael is intense. There is never a dull moment when he's around.
He is smart, handsome, athletic.
He truly shines in a room full of adults. We get loads of compliments about his intelligence, sense of humor, manners, and maturity.
He questions with boldness. Everything. This will be a wonderful trait once it isn't us he's questioning and challenging, but my main reason for homeschooling him all those years was, after all, to teach him to think for himself. The fact that it comes back to bite me so often shouldn't have been a surprise.
Little known fact about Michael: he's an excellent cook and has been for years. And not just following a recipe, but knowing how to tinker with it to make it even better.
Okay, I've already said too much.
Happy birthday, big guy - you also rock very much!
I.E. insisted on taking a look, and she hates it too.
I think she's got the P.M.S. - she's crabbier than usual.
My options at this point: 1) Quit completely and walk away from the whole thing, 2) Start fresh with something that might not so totally suck, or 3) Grit my teeth for the next 14 days and try to finish this.
I don't really want to quit, and I don't think I have time to start fresh again. There are bits and pieces of this that I like - mainly the newer stuff - but mixing it with the older stuff has muddied it. Like that yucky color you get when you mix too many other colors in with your paint. Which is probably why they tell you to start NaNoWriMo with a clean slate.
Reading good YA fiction over the weekend didn't help, either. I thought it would inspire me, and in that respect, I was right. But it inspired me to write something good, not the dreck I'm currently writing.
I need to meditate on where I want this to go and decide if it's still worth the effort.
The good news: All the angst over this has made NaBloPoMo a breeze.
I know, I know. I'm not supposed to edit until January.
But I had to let the Internal Editor out just for a little while to make some sense out of it all. After combining the two drafts, my word count went way up, but all the redundancy was making it confusing.
She took care of it. My word count has dropped significantly, but at least it's coherent now. I'm pretty confident I can get the count back up provided the time to do it today. The creative juices are flowing.
I've spent quite a bit of time this month pondering the role of the I.E. in my writing, and all the other I.E.s in the other parts of my life. I could go on for quite a bit about it, and it probably wouldn't matter because no one reads this anyway, but again, a detailed analysis should probably wait.
Maybe it's just a mid-life crisis. Turning 40 and all. I don't know.
I'm also approaching my first belt test. Taking the writing seriously this month. Tweaking my approach to homeschooling and to parenting. I'm stretching beyond my perceived limits in all kinds of new ways and it feels really good.
But it's not always comfortable.
Today's lesson deserves some consideration, though. As much as I'd like to throw all the I.E.s out and just say whatever I'm thinking and do whatever I want to do, the I.E.s who stop me from doing that do serve a purpose and I do need them sometimes in order to prevent my life from becoming as chaotic as my novel.
Determining how much of a role I want to give them, and how much power they will have over me is the current challenge. There's a fine line between allowing I.E.s to hold you back from any kind of growth or change and allowing them to help, like a careful pruning, the growth to proceed in the optimal direction.
Another day of not much writing (yet, anyway) - but for a good reason.
Today is Ethan's 11th birthday!
Yes, Ethan came into the world 11 years ago today, through a beautiful natural birth attended by his father, brother and grandparents. We were all there to welcome him and it was an amazing and unforgettable experience.
Except for Michael, who was about to turn 3. All he remembers was the grape juice and crackers he got to eat at the hospital. And cutting the umbilical cord.
It's just as well.
Anyway, Ethan was a sweet and gentle baby, a constantly thwarted and tormented toddler, and is now a wise and loyal friend and playmate. His kindergarten teacher was the first to describe him as an "Old Soul" - having wisdom and perspective beyond his years. We think she hit the nail on the head.
Despite the abuse he took from his older brother, he would be right there to protect him when I really reached the tipping point and was about to resort to less-than-optimal parenting techniques. He was also the one to give me a hug and say, "You're a good Mommy," when I was crying and at the end of my parenting rope.
He chooses to surround himself with only the best of the best when it comes to friends, and his closest friendships go back 6 years or more. He is an empathetic listener, a patient and considerate playmate, and a creative and funny pal. Rarely have we had to intervene in a dispute between him and a friend - because he does choose such nice kids and because he's a nice kid himself.
His dedication to martial arts is inspiring. He is hard-working and humble, and well-liked at the Dojang. It is rare to see a kid his age work with this kind of steady discipline, but he is there 5 days per week, sometimes twice, and sometimes for 2 hours or more. He volunteers to help with the lower classes. He also practices at home.
He's a good homeschool student. He doesn't always like to do schoolwork, but at least when he's avoiding it, he's doing something productive with his time. He's a voracious reader (love that!) and he has no problem spending hours on end with his little brother, building and creating and coming up with wacky scenarios for their characters. When I finally do make him come and do his schoolwork, he does his best and does not complain. (Usually.)
We are so blessed to have such a stable and responsible influence in our sometimes chaotic home.
Week Two of NaNoWriMo is supposed to be the hardest. This is the point at which we've introduced our characters, established the setting, and are ready to dive into the meat of the plot - only to find ourselves floundering around, not sure where we want it to go. Questions and confusion begin to build, as does the frustration.
The NaNoWriMo gurus say to just plow ahead anyway. Get the words on the screen and don't worry if they're good or not. They assure us that the answers will come if we don't give up, and before we know it, Week Two will be over.
Week Three is when the real fun begins.
I'm looking forward to that - enough to do as I'm told and continue to write my 1,667 words each day, keeping the Internal Editor locked up, of course.
She's getting used to life in the Kennel, I think. Also, she's fairly comfortable with the fact that she's already spent ample time with all but the newest material, and any editing of the new stuff will require her to start at the beginning and re-read the whole thing - which would take an entire writing session at this point. So she's more content to wait until the end of the month to tinker.
As for the other Internal Editors I'm working to shed - maybe I'll delve more into that next month in a series on turning 40. First things first.
Okay, back to work. I have another hour without kids - I need to make the most of it if I want tonight off.
NaNoWriMo recommends that you use the month to write a new book, not finish one you've already been working on. So I took the story I started working on 4 years ago and started it over, in 1st person instead of 3rd, thinking maybe a fresh approach would work out better.
It was not working out better. In fact, I was feeling increasingly limited. And frustrated.
I took yesterday off completely. When I got back today, I heard the Inner Editor's muffled voice calling me from the Kennel.
It sounded something like, "The old draft was better!"
Or it could have been, "The bold giraffe will get her!"
Considering there are no giraffes in my story, bold or otherwise, I went with my initial hunch and uploaded my old 3rd person draft. Of course I.E. likes it; she's been doing nothing but editing those same 5 chapters for years now.
She's still not coming out of the Kennel. Even if she was right.
On the upside, my word count jumped from 6,715 to 15,363 in a split second. Also, now I can get back to moving my story forward instead of continuing to be mired in the beginning stuff. And now that I'm ahead instead of behind, I'm not feeling so miserable about the process.
Well, my count was supposed to be 6700 or so by the end of today, and I'm at a mere 4500 at 11:45 p.m. Now I'm going to be playing catch-up, which is not a game I like.
The scary thing is, I was not busy today. I had nothing to do today but write. My homeschoolers were even writing. I had to try really hard to avoid writing the way I did today.
I cleaned things that didn't need to be cleaned. Messed around on Facebook. Read a thousand old emails.
The only productive thing I did today was go to martial arts class, where at least I had a healthy outlet for my frustrations.
And I typed up my six-year-old's story, which was much better than mine. The Adventures of Old Papa Gator and Old Papa Residue will be appearing in book stores in the near future. Ethan read it out loud to him and we were all laughing so hard we were crying.
Maybe this was just a bad day and things will go better tomorrow. But if it still feels like this in a few days, I'm giving up.
At least the Yankees won. The Savage men will come home very happy.
Today I had the first "Oh, crap, now what?" moment. Seriously awkward silence. My characters have no idea what to say to each other. They've been frozen this way for almost 24 hours now and still haven't thought of anything to say. I need to go help them now.
They might be underage, but I think that if I have a beer, it might help break the ice a bit.
Sometime during the night, the dreaded Inner Editor must have become bored looking for typos in the newspaper and nitpicking the plot inconsistencies of TV shows in the Inner Editor Kennel, and she escaped!
Boy, was she pissed.
She was waiting for me when I woke up. I made some coffee, gathered my writing totems, sat down at the computer and there she was, arms folded, foot tapping.
I can see why my psychology students (and my homeschoolers) feared her so much. She immediately went to work on my draft, adding and deleting, putting little comments in brackets - things like [SLOW THIS DOWN - it's like a speeding train!!!!!] with capital letters and exclamation points, while I sat and pouted.
Now I can see why it is so important to keep these things locked up. I spent 2 hours working and increased my word count by a mere 251.
Sure, I listened to her - she's right, she's always right. And she did fix some serious suckiness.
But I sent her back to the Kennel with a stack of trashy novels and told her I didn't want to see her again until she was done with them.
She left, muttering something about how all of those trashy novels were Published and mine wasn't and probably never would be.
Not a bad start. It took about 2 hours to exceed my daily goal of 1,667 words. Granted, a lot of this was just introductory / background stuff, and fairly easy compared with dialogue and conflict and suspense, but it flowed and felt comfortable and fun, and was not at all frustrating.
In addition to the email pep-talks and video encouragement on the NaNoWriMo website, No Plot? No Problem! has a chapter for each of the four weeks of NaNoWriMo. In the Week 1 chapter, which I read immediately before starting, I was challenged to do something I knew would be very hard for me.
It actually says in the book, "I'll need to confiscate your Inner Editor."
The Inner Editor is described as "The doubting, self-critical voice that we all inherited around puberty as an unfortunate door prize for surviving childhood...happiest when it's tsk-tsking our shortcomings and weaving our past blunders into a rich tapestry of personal failure."
Mine is HUGE.
But I agreed to turn her over for a four week stay in the NaNoWriMo Inner Editor Kennel so that I might write my first draft "in a high-velocity, take-no-prisoners, anything-goes style that would absolutely horrify" her.
And that's exactly what I did, at least on my first day. I have not gone back to read over what I have written. I have not changed a word here and a sentence there. I have respected a strict No Tinker Zone throughout the evening.
And the first 1797 words were practically effortless.
Were they crap? Maybe. But that's for my I.E. to decide, once I let her out.
IF I let her out.
Sending her packing felt really good. It makes me wonder what other Inner Editors are lurking about in my psyche that I could purge.
I had a whole two and a half hours to myself this afternoon. No kids, no responsibilities and two and a half hours to do the one thing I keep saying I'd do if I only had more time.
I immediately got to work - looking for ways to avoid writing.
The house was already clean due to my birthday weekend. Scraping up a load of laundry only killed about 5 minutes. I headed for the kitchen - always something to do there - but there were two pots of homemade soup already simmering on the stove. The anxiety began to build. I unpacked the new mixer I got for my birthday, made room for it on the counter and considered baking something, but with all the leftover birthday cake and pastries from the weekend, that really didn't make any sense.
Nothing to clean, nothing to cook. Now what?
I delivered two containers of soup to friends. Tried to think of more errands to run. None came to mind. I went home to face my anxiety and finally sat down at the computer for a small bit of pre-writing for NaNoWriMo. Then I took a power nap until the kids were due home.
Realizing that this is normal and to be expected, I tried to just be with it and not fight it too much (Be the water, not the rock... be the water, not the rock...), but it was harder than I thought. Making time for writing instead of just vowing to get to it when everything else is done is going to be an uncomfortable stretch for me.
Hubby has just assured me once again that he will be helpful and supportive next month, but I'm beginning to think I will need to be pushed to even take him up on it. While not particularly exciting or rewarding, doing laundry and cleaning up the kitchen is a lot more comfortable than the temporal and psychological investment inherent to a serious writing project.
I'm remembering why I failed at this before.
But hey, this is a time for pushing the boundaries, breaking out of the comfort zone, trying new things, being brave, being strong! I just turned 40. I'm testing for my first belt promotion in martial arts in December. I'm doing things I never thought I could do. This is just more of the same.
It's the middle of October. The weather is crummy, soccer is canceled, the house is (relatively) clean, and the kids are watching Saturday morning TV. Faced with a morning of no pressing matters or excuses to procrastinate further, I am at my laptop, surrounded by my writer's journal, my special pen, and my copies of No Plot? No Problem!, Creativity Rules, The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style and When Good People Write Bad Sentences. I just made a fresh pot of coffee.
And here I sit.
According to the countdown clock on the website, NaNoWriMo begins in 14 days, 16 hours, 21 minutes and 7 seconds. This time, I'm determined to win.
For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, it is essentially a writing marathon, with over 100,000 participants from all over the world sharing the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (roughly the length of Brave New World) in 30 days. Quantity is encouraged over quality, which is why this is great for someone like me, whose crippling perfectionism keeps me writing the same chapter over and over, unable to move forward until every bit of suckiness has been fixed - which, of course, is never.
According to the NaNoWriMo webpage and the companion book No Plot? No Problem! it is okay to write a lot of crap. A first draft is supposed to be crappy - the idea is to get it written and worry about the editing and polishing later. With the November 30th deadline, there is no time to tinker; you just write as much as you can, as fast as you can, with your obnoxious internal editor stuffed in a box, padlocked into a second box, and jammed under the basement stairs behind all the Christmas decorations, not to be let out until January.
This will be the hardest part for me. Stephen King says to write your first draft "with the door closed" - meaning without concern for who is going to read it and what the response will be. Plagued with insecurity as I am with regard to my writing, my door has never been completely closed. I would rather write nothing than write something people might consider sucky - which is why my blog has morphed into a picture album over the last few years. Blogging is the epitome of writing with the door open - wide open - which is why I have so much respect for the people who have the courage to do it, and who do it well, while I flounder at it and finally give up.
But I'm blogging now, right? And you're reading it, and maybe it sucks, but that's okay. I'm just stretching. Finding all those kinks and tight spots I'd forgotten about, waking them up and stimulating the blood flow to them. In my previous attempts at NaNoWriMo, I didn't bother stretching first. I jumped right into the event, unprepared, and proceeded to fall flat on my face.
This year is different. Starting now with the warm-up stretches. I also have 4 amazing characters I care deeply about and am eager to let loose, and a rudimentary plot for them to follow. With one child in school and two homeschoolers who like to sleep late in winter, I have the potential for 2 uninterrupted hours of writing time after the morning school send-off. My hubby has promised to be supportive and helpful to help me find some evening writing time.
I also have a writing buddy in the house for the first time. Ethan, who is turning 11 next month, has decided to join me by participating in the NaNoWriMo Young Writers' Program. He has a lower word count goal and a cool workbook to help him plan and organize his book, but otherwise it is much the same for kids. Like the adult website, the kids' page has a variety of forums where you can meet and share ideas and encouragement with other writers, a place to upload your work to be counted, and a graph to track your progress. Remembering my own passion for writing that began at around his age will no doubt spur me on, and hopefully loosen my inhibitions enough to make it to the finish line this time.
Okay. That felt good. It reminded me of running or taking martial arts class - the first few minutes are the hardest, but if I push myself past the painful stretching and the first few minutes of the workout, it gets much easier from there. I'll try to spend the next two weeks limbering up for the big event which now starts in 14 days, 14 hours, 31 minutes, and 24 seconds.