...about NaNoWriMo

Another November has come and almost gone, and with it, the opportunity to participate in a wild, crazy activity called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, or, NaNo, for short). And, since I "did" NaNo this year, I now have 50,000 words of another novel, titled "Scribbles," "under my belt," so to speak.

NaNo, the brain-child of Chris Baty, is one of the best things to have happened to me as a writer since I began writing about two years ago. I was a total novice, feeling my way along in the writing dark, with fits and starts and stumbles. And then came NaNoWriMo, 2006.

I learned to throw writing caution to the wind, to forget about perfection, to forget about anything except getting words on the page. I thought at the time that what I was writing must be drivel, since I was writing so fast, allowing whatever came from the depths of my subconscious to splatter, raw and uncensored, onto the page (or, in my case, onto my computer screen).

But, wonder of wonders, when I went back and read it after I "won" the 50,000 word challenge, I found it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. I finished "...And Night Falls," tweaked and edited it, and had a readable tale to show for my experience.

Not bad for a month of frenetic typing, huh?
...about keeping up with a blog.

My blog entries tend to be few and far between. I'm dilatory about posting, because I post only when I have something to say.

When a number of things are going on in my life, they take up my time and my energies, leaving little left for writing an entry for my blog which few people are likely to read, anyway.

As a matter of fact, at the present time I'm finding it difficult to keep up with the writing I really must finish. I currently am tweaking novels I've finished (finished? ha!), writing the rough draft of another and preparing to outline yet another novel for NaNo. (I don't usually outline a novel, but I do when I'm going to participate in NaNo -- I have to get some elements in mind before I begin writing or I wouldn't have a ghost of a chance of finishing. Not that those elements appear in an outline -- or even in the story. My outlines are more of a "getting to know you" session with my characters.) Not to mention the screenplay I wrote in June which needs editing. Sigh.

So, writing an entry for my blog gets pushed down low on my list of priorities. Don't know when that list will change. Not in the foreseeable future, that's for sure.

...about critiques.

Writing is a solitary activity.

I retreat to a quiet place, put on my music, don my earphones, find that "door" in my mind, open it and let the story out.

However, the product of writing, for most writers, is intended to be read and enjoyed by others. That's the reason the real work in writing revolves around editing, rewriting, cutting, adding and tweaking to make the story appealing and enjoyable.

When I write, I have an emotional investment in my story, in my characters, in my words. As one respected member of my writer's group says, we writers love our words and are loathe to cut any from a WIP (sometimes, I find that it's the word or phrase I'm most in love with that most needs cutting).

That's why critiques from other writers are so valuable. Other writers don't have the emotional investment in my work that I do. They can see if it's interesting, moving, or if it slogs along too slowly. They can pinpoint areas that need work, that need clarification -- the point I may have intended to get across (and thought I did get across) may not be apparent to others. Critiquers can let me know that my point is missing-in-action, that it needs to be made in another way so that the reader gets it.

Good critiques are a valuable, sometimes painful, sometimes affirming, part of producing the best story I can write. And will help give me the best chance that my novels will be enjoyable to read and will, therefore, be read.

...about Script Frenzy.

I did it! I completed the Script Frenzy 20,000 word challenge today. Whew!

My screenplay, Crawdads and Co-colas, is not complete yet, there are a couple of scenes that need to be written, but I reached the 20,000 word requirement today. As I did with NaNo, I'll take a short break, catch up on some things and then finish it.

And then, I'll edit it. And edit it. And edit it.

I know myself, I know my history. I will edit, and edit, and edit....

...about screenplays.

A screenplay is not a short story, although it tells a story.

And it is not a novel, although it shares some common elements, i.e., characters, a plot, scenes, dialogue, description.

Having written two novels and several short stories, I made the assumption that writing a screenplay would be no problem. As a matter of fact, I had read advice from writers who assure other writers that it's easy to make the transition, and that novels are harder to write. "If you can write a novel, you can write a screenplay," they said.

Really? Hmmm.

I'm just over a week into the Script Frenzy challenge, and I can't say I agree with that advice. Right now, anyway. My screenplay, "Crawdads and Co-colas" is developing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Part of the reason, I think, is the formatting. The other part is, it's just a different animal, one I'm not accustomed to.

But, talk to me in July. I may have changed my current opinion by then.

...about insanity.

I have to be insane. Yes. That's the only explanation that makes sense.

When I wrote my murder mystery, ...And Night Falls, during NaNo, I'd never tried that genre before. And I said when I was finished with it, after the dust settled, never, NEVER again would I write a mystery. Too much work. Too much like being a juggler, so many elements to keep in the air at the same time, without dropping any of them. I also recognized the folly of writing an untried genre in a high-pressure situation like NaNo. Never again, I said. And meant it. At the time.

So. I have signed up to participate in Script Frenzy 2007. And my genre? You guessed it: it's a mystery. But not just any old mystery. No. I, in a fit of self-punishment, have allowed my brain to develop a mystery/comedy.

What's the matter with me? Have I taken leave of my senses? Am I totally insane?

Ah, well. Please spare a pitying thought for me over the next 30 days as I struggle through the experience of learning to write a screenplay. And a mystery/comedy screenplay, at that.

Arghhh!!

...about cornbread.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of putting sugar and eggs into perfectly good cornbread and ruining it, but, I have a bone to pick with that person. After all, a soft, crumbly, sweet substance is not bread…it’s cake. And who wants to eat cake alongside beans, potatoes, collard greens and fried green tomatoes?

Certainly not I.

Cake has its place, of course: at the end of a good meal with a steaming cup of dark roast coffee.

But cake is just not up to the task of accompanying a mouthful of beans and bite of raw onion, washed down with a big swig of sweet tea. It takes a good, solid chunk of buttered cornbread, broken from a round, cast-iron-frying-pan-baked pone of crusty, savory, stick-to-your-ribs cornBREAD to stand up to the likes of satisfying fare such as that.

...about word count.

When I participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge last November, the important thing was word count. Don't worry about the plot, the characters, the advice went, as long as the word count is advancing properly.

As a matter of fact, the originator of NaNo has published a book, "No Plot No Problem." In it, he stresses the importance of just writing. Get that word count moving up. And up. And up.

And he's right, I think. As long as you have words down on paper (or on screen, as the case may be), you have something to work with, something to edit, to knead, to work into shape, into a story.

So, in spite of all the roadblocks I'm encountering in my drive to increase my word count in this personal "MayNo" I've undertaken, I continue to slog along. I suppose I'm hoping that I'll soon have a burst of energy that will occur simultaneously with a reduction of demands on my time, and that I'll get my word count moving in the right direction.

...about genre.

When I first began writing last year and experienced writers asked me, "What's your genre?" the answer was easy. I had one story I was burning to tell, and it was historical.

Now, though, the question is harder to answer, because, after I wrote that first novel, the next novel I wrote was a mystery. (At least, I think it's a mystery. It has blackmail, a murder, a hitman, a couple of villains...but it also has a romance in it. Confusing.)

Ok. So, now my answer became, "historical and murder mystery."

But writing short stories using writing prompts lately has muddied the waters. I've written fantasy and horror stories, and a couple that I can't classify.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, please don't ask what genre I write, because I don't know any more.

...about the language.

It should be a given that writers, like other craftsmen, should know how to use the tools of their trade: words.

It should be a given, but it isn't.

In my own work, I sometimes find grammatical errors, misspellings and other evidence of lack of expertise with the language. And that is so unnecessary.

Books abound which contain advice and instruction on proper grammar. And dictionaries, both print and online versions, are readily available to help the writer with spelling and with selection of the proper word to use in a given instance. (Spellcheckers are of some help, but they cannot always determine which word is appropriate, i.e., "there," "their," or "they're," and are, therefore, unreliable.)

Since one of the first pieces of advice editors give regarding submissions is, "Make sure your manuscript is free of typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes," one would think writers would make working to acquire proficiency with the language a number one priority.

One would think so, but......

...about research.

Write what you know, they say.

But what if the story you are burning to tell is set in a place where you have never been? Or in a time not your own? What if you don't "know" the location or time period?

The answer to your dilemma is: research.

And while the research can provide valuable knowledge of the details you'll need to include to make your story believable, it will also give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the "world" of which you will be writing, to get to know the people of that time and place, to understand something of how they lived and what they did. And, perhaps, gain some insight into how they may have felt and what they may have thought. Which can lend an authenticity to your writing.

The amount of research necessary to write "High on a Mountain" seemed daunting when I started. But I found that the learning became an adventure in itself.

Now that the story has been finished, I'm beginning to delve again into the discovery of facts about another time and place and people, to prepare myself so that I can write the sequel to Ailean's story. But this time, I know what an adventure the research can be, and I'm diving into it joyfully, whole-heartedly.

...about writing prompts.

They look innocuous. They can seem somewhat flaky when taken at face value.

But they can be powerful.

I'm speaking of writing prompts, of course, those little spurs to creativity, those little words which get your story-ball rolling.

I've been so involved over the last few months in editing, rewriting and rewriting, in putting together pitches, in crafting what I hoped would be knockout query letters and synopses, that I'd forgotten what my primary desire and mission is: to write fiction.

So, I started last night, with the help of a couple of writing prompts, to loosen up those rusty writing muscles, to warm them up, to flex them and strengthen them in preparation for my personal NaNo in May. And while the results are not perfect, I've made a respectable start with my first two pieces.

It's time to drag out the old thesaurus, make a pot of coffee and put on the earphones.

...about characters.

Who are those people, anyway?

I'm speaking of the people inhabiting the shadows of your half-envisioned story. Those people, who, if encouraged, will take on form and substance, will become real in that shadowy story world of your mind. Those people, who, if given half a chance, will come alive, will make your story real, will make it believable and enjoyable to read.

The first time one of those cardboard cutouts, who I'd stood up in a scene for the benefit of my main character, said something I hadn't planned for him to say, it freaked me out. I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear the men in white coats would be making an unscheduled visit to my front door. But I tentatively told a trusted confidante, who is a writer, and she assured me that it happens to writers -- a character becomes real and takes on a life of his/her own, says or does things you, the writer, had not planned on.

Since that time, I've enjoyed the process of watching these imagined people become real in the story, and I've become attached to some of them, have come to know and like them. And have been reluctant to bid them "goodbye" when the story was finished.

And now, I'm starting the adventure again, coaxing each of the characters in my new story to come out of the shadows, to take on substance, to show me who they are and what they are like.

It makes the writing process seem more like a discovery than a creative venture.

...about writers.

Writing can be an unusual undertaking.

And writers are, in some ways, unusual folks.

In most fields of endeavor, one encounters shades and nuances of rivalry, competition and, sometimes, even outright jealousy between contenders for a given prize. For writers, the sought-after award is usually publication of a piece of writing.

In working to attain that "reward," I have not found rivalry nor competition among other writers who are also striving to be published. I have found, instead, that other writers form a built-in cheerleading squad, urging each other on, giving helpful advice and encouragement, and celebrating each milestone, each achievement.

How unusual that seems when compared to some human endeavors.

And how refreshing.

...about plots.

There are 36 or 37 of them, they say. Or maybe only 7. And some say there are as few as 2, with many variations.

Whatever.

I don't really care how many there are. I don't care what they are. And I don't even care which "plot" defines the current story I'm writing, just as long as it has a plot and it's interesting. The important thing to me when I'm writing is the emotion a story generates in me as I write it, and, hopefully, the emotions it will stir in those who read it.

What brought up this topic? I've started the process of writing my next novel, the first sequel to "High on a Mountain," and I'm beginning to get involved in my characters' lives, to see their faces, to hear them speak, to watch their actions, to understand their thoughts.

And that is what engrosses me as I write -- watching these people "come alive." More than the plot. More than the "arc." More than the beautiful turn of a phrase (do I even have any of those?).


Granted, there are some technical aspects to writing, and without a plot, there isn't really a story. But, for me, those technical things seem to apply after the story has been told, and their purpose is to make the reading more enjoyable, so that writing mistakes don't stand between the reader and an interesting tale.

So, Ailean and Aodh and Cootiyah -- I'm watching and waiting. What plot are you going to give me this time?

...about writing.

Ah, that inner editor. That stumblingblock to creativity.

One of the best things I've learned during the short time I've been writing is the value of silencing that built-in critic, to write the first draft unencumbered, unshackled by the inner voice which tells you what you've written is wrong, bad, laden with mistakes.

Of course there are mistakes. You wouldn't be human if you didn't make mistakes. BUT. They are correctable, fixable, root-out-able. No problem.

The real problem in writing, for me, is to allow the spectre of the mistakes flowing from my fingers, through the keys and onto my screen, to stop me, to allow it to slow the torrent of that first draft, to keep it from pouring out.

Because, I WILL edit. Forever and incessantly, I will edit. I just have to get my story fully told first, then I can allow myself to meddle, to whittle, to strike out and to add.

As a matter of fact, if my novel is accepted for publication and sees the light of day in print, I will probably be at the bookstore, chasing down the people who buy it, pen in hand, saying, "Please, please, just let me fix that one word. You'll be glad I did....."

...about the writer's conference.


I began writing this blog post while at the conference. And, yes, I brought my laptop with me to the conference. (My laptop and the motel's wireless made it easy to feed my computer/internet addiction and keep the cybermonkey on my back happy.)

The conference was great -- there were great speakers, it was great meeting fellow writers and it was a great opportunity to pitch my novel to editors and literary agents (who, it turns out, are such nice folks, kind and gracious). If you are a writer and haven't attended a writers' conference, I recommend doing so.

I approached my pitches with fear and trembling, but, surprise, I received requests for synopses/sample chapters.

To say that I am bowled over is the understatement of the year. I am stoked. I am excited, delighted, elated, and exhilarated (check your thesaurus for other synonyms of the word "exhilarate" if these words I've chosen don't paint a clear picture for you). And I say a big "THANK YOU" to my friends who prayed for my success this weekend.

...a second post. Wow!

Ok. So I've set up a blog. Of sorts.

Not being an inveterate bloggee (or should that be, "blogger?" -- no, it shouldn't be "blogger," because...oh dear, I've lost my train of thought; where was I? oh yes...), not being a person who regularly visits or reads blogs myself, I'm at a loss as to what a bloggee (oops! I'm not getting into that again)...I'm not sure what a person who regularly visits blogs expects to find, so I'm unsure what I should write. Maybe, if I keep at it long enough, I'll learn.

Hmmm. How about a little news about me? (ha! as though that would be interesting to anyone else...)

I'm finishing my preparations for the upcoming writers' conference this weekend. I've honed, shined, rearranged and reworded my pitch for my novel "High on a Mountain" a dozen times. I'll be so confused when my turn comes with each agent/editor that I'm likely to forget my name or the title of...of...what was that title again?

If, on the off-chance that someone should read this post before March 23, please give me a passing thought and a wish for success as I make my pitch. I'd appreciate it.

...her first blog posting

Everyone else has one, I'm told.

So, I have to have one, too, if I'm to be an effective, noticed writer of professional proportions. (I have some proportions of another kind...but we won't talk about that.)

But if I have my own blog, I ask, what am I to say? What should I write? What pithy words, earth-shaking advice or droll, ROFL comments can I make that haven't graced the blogs of writers far more experienced and respected than I?

Ah, well, gentle reader (or ungentle, as the case may be), perhaps I will find those wonderful, bring-tears-to-your-eyes-they-are-so-beautiful phrases you are breathlessly awaiting. Or not.

Only time will tell...