It’s (almost) that time of year again: NaNoWriMo

If you listen carefully you may be able to hear the distant chant starting: “NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo! NANOWRIMO!!!” Yes, word-loving folks are beginning to get fired up about the annual month-long, international writing marathon that is known as National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November, and it arrives on the heels of Halloween … eek! …  just one week from tonight.

The idea is to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

I know, I know, it’s insane. The quality of the writing is secondary to the quantity, and that very concept turns off people who consider giving anything but their best is a waste of time. Why write garbage? Why not slow down and make the effort count for something? Truth is, those who want to write a novel but over-think the details, often bog down before they ever get to ‘The End’.

A well-known line in writing circles is, “You can always revise a first draft, but you can’t revise a blank page.” I suggest adopting Nike’s motto: “Just do it!” Devoting November to NaNoWriMo gives us an opportunity to toss ideas out onto a page, and chase them along in front of us until a story is fully formed. Some multi-published authors use NaNoWriMo for this purpose, so who am I to suggest it’s not a valid novel-writing process?

FVRL PosterIn the spirit of encouraging those who have often thought they might like to write a novel but thought they didn’t have a lot of time to devote to the project, I’m presenting a lecture tonight, sponsored by the Maple Ridge Public Library. It’s called “How to Write a Novel in a Month”, and it’s an introduction to NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I’m an introvert and everyone knows I hate public speaking. Yes, I’m already having palpitations and wondering why I agreed to do this. It’s also going to help me kick start my own writing. Very public commitments have a way of motivating me forward — a little like getting a boot in the backside.

If you’re interested in joining me (either at the Library tonight, or in doing NaNoWriMo yourself), or if you have any questions that could use some answers, give me a shout in the comments below.

Oh, and on the NaNoWriMo website you’ll find me writing as Wildwood Gal. Come look me up and offer some sympathy.

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Blame everything on the weather!

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Streaks of clouds in pre-sunset peach and charcoal-purple cut through a cerulean sky. The weather is changing. There’s been intermittent light rain interspersed with brief sunny breaks through much of the past few days, but flurries are in today’s forecast.

I don’t fuss over the weather. There’s a saying here on the west coast, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Some folks also say, “If you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining. If you can, it’s going to rain.” The more optimistic of us point to how green everything is, thanks to the rain.

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My mood isn’t affected, whatever the colour of the sky. There are people whose mood is, and some who even experience S.A.D. — Seasonal Affective Disorder — during low light seasons. I tend to forget that it’s a very real, clinical disorder, and I can sometimes be insensitive to those who complain about the weather, or display negativity, discouragement and depression because of it.

During November’s NaNoWriMo my project was to rewrite the ending of a recently completed manuscript. As I rushed headlong through the words, instead of resolving my protagonist’s dilemmas, I ended up heaping more upon her. Nothing seems to go right for her, and I’ve realized a lot of the time it’s because of her negative perspective. The story happens between November and February. I’m beginning to wonder if she has S.A.D. That would explain a lot, but it complicates the plot.

The story is taking off in a direction I didn’t intend, and I’m not sure I like this feeling of losing control.

If you’re a writer, are you always in control of your story and its characters? What happens when your control slips away?

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It’s a long way to go (but it’s worth it)

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When our first daughter was married she went to live in the Yukon. It seemed very far away from our Vancouver Island home, and the next summer when we drove there to visit, we discovered indeed it was — some  2500 kilometres away. Yukon is in the northwestern corner of Canada. It’s sparsely populated, is the home of Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest mountain, as well as the world’s largest non-polar icefield (Kluane). The terrain is mostly boreal forest.

Where we drove, the climate was considered to be subarctic and for a time as we made our way over the ‘Top of the World’ Highway between Yukon and Alaska, we were in the tundra. I would never have broken off any of the plant life to bring home, but near the roadside I found this tiny three inch twisted bit of branch with dried miniature leaves. I still have it thirty years later.

Yukon Root

(To enlarge, click on photo)

I caught my first view of the Northern Lights in the Yukon, and heard my first wolf howl. All of the Yukon scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, but that Top of the World Highway was spectacular. It’s not my photography, but this video will give you a brief taste of what we saw.

The vast wilderness was almost overwhelming. We could drive for an hour and never see another vehicle, person or building. Reaching our destination was an exercise in faith. But it was so very worth it.

There is a writing analogy here. This is November 1st and many writers are undertaking NaNoWriMo — the quest for 50,000 words in thirty days. For novelists who find that total daunting, the journey is one of faith. Yes, it’s a long distance, but if there’s no start made, there’s no destination reached. We have to make the commitment, step on the accelerator, and be prepared for a wild ride.

I won’t be working from scratch this November, but have a revision I need to finish, and it’s a challenge. NaNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity to hunker down and focus on making my words better. What’s your goal for November?

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“The freshness, the freedom, the farness…”
[Robert Service]

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IT’S MARCH MADNESS TIME!

 

I wonder if there is such a thing as a literary masochist. There is a group of writers who tweet under the hashtag #wipmadness and spend all of March frantically dredging up words with which to reach writing goals during that span of thirty-one days. It’s something like a spring version of NaNoWriMo. Not only have they done it before, they’re about to do it again.  They’re crazy!

This is where I admit I’m one of them.

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Last March I committed myself to participate in Seekerville’s Speedbo as well as March Madness and I did NaNoWriMo in November. I should have been committed myself, period! It was frazzling! I’m not sure I’m up for it again this year, and yet… and yet….

March Madness

Life doesn’t skid to a stop just because I want to focus on writing my way through a month of days. To meet my oh-so-public goals means eeking out writing moments in between all the other ordinary daily demands. When I stop to think about it, I realize that’s a normal occurrence for most published writers. (If you doubt me, check out Jessica Keller’s guest post yesterday on the Seekerville blog.) If I haven’t the discipline to pursue my own proclaimed goals how can I expect to meet editorial commitments and deadlines if and when my publishing dream becomes a reality?

Talked my way right into that trap, didn’t I?

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So yes, today is the first day of thirty-one where I will settle down to work on specific March Madness goals. I’ve evaluated my resources, however, and decided it isn’t realistic to tackle both #wipmadness and Speedbo this year. I’ll sit in the stands, however, and cheer my fellow Seekervillians onward towards their goals, as I busily keep up with my own scribblings. Each Friday I’ll report here on my success (or lack of it – honesty is an important part of accountability).

Check in at Denise Jaden’s blog today if you also have writing goals to reach and would like to join our determined little band, or just leave a comment if you prefer the role of encourager. That’s an important job, too.

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It’s coming: a new month… a new season… a time of preparation

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday we begin again. Advent — advenio, “to come to” – is a four week period when we prepare for the coming of the Christ. We prepare for his birth at Christmas, his coming into our lives, and his eventual Second Coming.

For many, this preparation also means getting organized for the December 25th celebration… gift purchases, food preparation, home decoration. My hubby has put up outside Christmas lights already, although he won’t turn them on until this weekend. I can hardly wait! I love the special holiday lights that sparkle through December nights. But none of them can equal the glory of God’s light.

This was sunrise a couple weeks ago while we were at our Cariboo cabin.

I began my NaNoWriMo month of writing there, pulling out my laptop every morning soon after dawn when the men left for their day of hunting. Without my usual daily distractions I accumulated words in excess of the daily average and returned home to post over 18,000 words on Day #10. Since then… well, let’s just say I haven’t quite maintained that average.

November 30th, and its conclusion of NaNoWriMo, is creeping steadily closer. I may or may not complete 50,000 words by then, but I will have made significant progress on the first draft of a new novel. I will be ready to change my focus from intense writing to a more normal pace which will give me time to also concentrate on Advent.

I love all the different preparations that will come with the new month. The house will have evergreen boughs and twinkling lights, and the fragrance of sugar cookies and shortbread. There will be family and friends visiting, special music playing, and wrapped presents under a tree. I hope there will be a little snow, too, although I know better than to count on it.

And there will also be time — time to ponder the coming miracle of God’s personal Christmas gift to the world, to me. Oh, the wonder of it!

What’s your favourite part of this season of preparation?

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The Missing Bits

It’s not fair! I went on a personal writing retreat and while I was gone, all the lovely fall colours that had barely begun to emerge before I left, arrived and departed again.

In late October, for instance, the leaves of our ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple tree were their usual deep burgundy. While my back was turned, they turned… and fell. All that glorious colour is now merely a blood red puddle on the ground. I missed the best part of the show.

While I was pushing to craft my draft novel for NaNoWriMo, I had no thought for what might be happening back in my garden at home.  When I returned, it was a shock to discover a gap between what was, and what now is.

And as I read over parts of my budding manuscript I recognize a familiar truth: there are gaps in my storytelling, too. While I know what happened, my readers are not being given the privilege of seeing those rich details for themselves. They’re still in my head. Mundane bits can be skipped over, but there are some happenings that should be captured in the narrative to add spectacular colour to the story.

I may be back from my offline writing retreat but I still have almost three weeks of NaNoWriMo writing to do. When December arrives I’ll be doing major revisions on the new story that’s currently obsessing me, and I’ll remember the bare trees and all those leaves on the ground. My revisions will include the addition of missing details and description.

(A click will enlarge for a closer look.)

What kind of details do you think readers want to see? What kind would they prefer to skip over?

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“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about,
he may omit things that he knows.

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to
only one ninth of it being above water.” 

Ernest Hemingway
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All Hallows’ Eve

Some say All Hallows’ Eve has Christian roots, while others suggest they are Pagan. Either way, it would be hard to convince our little ones that there is anything but carved pumpkins, candy and costumes associated with their Hallowe’en traditions. As they traipse from door to door I doubt many of them  even know about the feast of All Saints.

But the children do feast… on candied apples and carmel popcorn, and a great assortment of calorie-laden goodies. (My scale will vouch for just how calorie-laden they are, too, after I indulge in the annual consumption of the leftovers!) We rarely have many youngsters find their way to our door, but that never deters me from buying a good supply (always of my favourite sweets) to have on hand “just in case” this year is the exception. I mean, it would never do not to have an adequate supply if more than the usual six arrived on my doorstep, now would it?

Tonight at midnight will mark the kick-off of the annual NaNoWriMo writing endeavour — November’s “thirty days and nights of literary abandon” in which I will once again join hundreds of thousands of other equally-crazy participants around the world as we scribble our way to the first draft of a 50,000 word novel.

It will also mark the start of another blogging hiatus for me, as I concentrate not only on my NaNo commitment but also on readying another manuscript for submission. I’ll return to posting here on November 12th. The scale will no doubt tattle about what I ate during my absence to keep my writing muse cooperative, but I don’t aim to discuss the numbers at all! Especially if trick-or-treaters are scarce around here tonight.

Happy Hallowe’en!

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