Sunday, December 6, 2009

Post-NaNo Blog

It can be said that intense activity is the theft of time, or at least our awareness of its passing. No better proof of this for me than what happened on December 3rd. I woke up that morning, rubbing my fuzzy head, and thinking (I am not, as Dave Barry would say, making this up) “Wow, November already, where did October go?” only to feel like I’d been hit over the head as I realized that November was also already gone, given over to my baptism into the craziness known as NaNoWriMo.

Now, I worked my part-time job through NaNo. I took my son to school, talked to my other kids by phone, even fed them Thanksgiving Dinner. I spent time with my husband, AND I wrote. I did, by the way, pass the 50,000 word mark but not the 90,000. I let myself off the hook after 50,000, refusing to drive myself totally to distraction. But I made a respectable 63,069, finishing over 2/3s of the book. Once I’ve caught up on other writing projects, I will take up the rough draft again, complete it, and move on to the next phases of revision.

So, enough said about quantity and about losing track of an entire month. What else did I get out of NaNo? Well, I got a renewed sense of my family’s support, especially my husband’s.

See, Dave has long had good cause for a love/hate relationship with my writing. He likes it – he especially enjoys my blogs (thanks, sweetie). But, the man had to put up with my bringing a typewriter along on our honeymoon so I could finish a story for a contest. He is an early riser, mainly due to his work, but that forces him to be an early sleeper as well. I’m a night owl through and through. When it comes to writing, I am clearly still on college time. And being a mom got me used to going several days on a few hours sleep each night before I collapse into catch-up coma. So…. I’m staying up when he would much rather I retire. The man likes me in the same room when he turns out the light.

We have also collaborated on writing projects, and it’s always gone surprisingly well, um, almost always. But again, that means we get to critique each other’s words and that can be ---- well, dicey.

This all goes to say that having him agree to my trying NaNoWriMo and then to go through the entire month without complaining about my writing, nay, the man cheered me on, is major proof of his support. Add to that the encouragement from sons and daughters and all their significant others, and from other friends and colleagues ---well, it makes a grown woman cry.

NaNoWriMo also showed me how quickly I actually can work, and that was a big surprise. I’ve always been a thoughtful writer. Thoughtful in the sense that I had to think a lot about what I was writing. If I wasn’t sure I was in the mood, or if I wasn’t satisfied with the last segment, I often didn’t push myself forward. That word count hanging over your head in NaNo makes you move forward. Sometimes in your push, you don’t notice when your plot takes a swerve or is hi-jacked by one of your characters. Even though I had chosen a theme and style that had a fairly well-laid-out direction, I was still taken by surprise a few times during the writing. I found, however, that so long as I had a direction I was going in, I could write rough draft material at the rate of 1000 words per hour. To me, that is amazing. Realizing that is like conquering driving long distances. When you realize that you can actually cover 500 miles in just a day, suddenly driving across the country isn’t so daunting. Same with writing a book. Assuming you have something you want to say and that writing is your thing, learning you can work at high speed grants you confidence you can tackle large projects.

Then there is the tangible benefit. What I had at the outset was a concept and a bunch of notes. What I have now is most of a rough draft of a perfectly good novel. At least, I hope it’s perfectly good. It will be eventually.

I’m glad I did it. I will do it again. And, I might even try other writing marathons. Especially if I have a project ready to start. It’s a great way to get it going.

Should you do something similar? Set a crazy goal and try to live up to it? Work in overdrive on a major project and see if you can accomplish it in record time and manner? Sure! Go for it! Challenges are good, particularly if they are genuinely productive. This one has been terrific for me, and I’d love to see the same for you.

Meanwhile, enjoy your family and the holiday season. Never know when the urge to drop it all for one of those challenges might strike.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNo #5

I haven’t had time to blog much this month. While my NaNoWriMo count looks fine, I’m not quite on target for what I wanted. On the other hand, if I don’t make 90,000 words, it won’t be that bad. I’ll still have a great start on this book.

It’s curious. It still seems like one long dialogue, or maybe conversation, amongst the main characters. And it keeps stretching. I don’t know if it’s because I write in small doses broken up by leaving my desk for a drink of tea, petting the cat, checking ‘So You Think You Can Dance'. stirring the fudge, etc. or if it’s just this story. As I’ve said elsewhere, we’re talking a road trip with five sisters, there’s going to be talk, even mostly talk.

When writing this way, moving ever forward, it’s harder to keep track of where you’ve been and where you are. I don’t mean in an organizational sense. I have notes and lists and all of that. More like real-life time, events keep piling on, and eventually it all becomes one long blurry stream. But, to mix a metaphor or two, the way it’s stretching, I’m going to have to take an ax to it to get a reasonable final draft. Maybe it’s a mini-series.

I’m losing some steam as I get closer to the 50,000 words I’m actually committed to. I think this says something, too. I didn’t completely commit to 90,000. I didn’t want to scare myself, since I wasn’t even sure I’d make the 50,000. So, while my determination to hit the 50k is paying off, my less-than-determination to hit 90k is also showing. There is something to be said for officially committing to a project.

Real life is interfering, too. My job picks up towards the end of the month; Thanksgiving, with its round of transporting the college kids back and forth and its mounds of food, is coming up; and I still have work to do on my other wip. So, if NaNoWriMo begins to take a back seat when I’m at 46,000+ words, I guess it’s okay. So long as I hit that 50k. Let ‘er roll.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNo #4

Aahhh. It is officially Day #7 in NaNoWriMo-land. I haven’t written on Nano yet today, but that time is coming later this afternoon. I did promise to post about it, so that’s what I’m here for.

On most of my blogs, you can find a little blue icon that will show you my updated word count. For those of you who don’t want to search it out, the count stands at 21,345 words. I am officially on-target for my unofficial goal of 90,000, and I’m way ahead of where I need to be to meet the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000. Go, me!

Here’s the thing: I don’t find it that hard to sit down and write this way. Since I work part-time, and since I find it incredibly easy to ignore mundane things like housework (note to old friends: I am getting better at doing my housework as a rule, really!), spending the time is easy.

Even more so since we are all computer friendlies at our house. It’s common for hubby and me to be in our office, back to back, working/playing on our computers. We share interesting information we find, TV stuff (hubby has a TV card), and swap pictures and writings. It’s one of the cool things about our marriage. Teenage son is also on the computer a lot. He’ll wander in and out of the office occasionally, but where many families spend an evening with the TV or games, we spend it with computers (okay, TV, too) and books.

As for the writing itself, I’m making myself only write. I have to plot, yes, but much of the book’s direction is dictated by a map. Literally, since this story is about a road trip. I compiled a lot of material before Nov. 1st, too, so a lot of general planning was done. I knew the premise for so long that it’s pretty well embedded in me. Subconsciously that seems to be driving things.

I’ve found myself foreshadowing almost without thought. Nuances of character and dialogue have crept in. Conversations between characters have naturally flowed in the direction I needed.

Now, there was a plot turn that took me by surprise, and to be honest, I had to write it twice because there was a fundamental discrepancy that needed correcting or it would just confuse me. But other than things of that sort, I’ve not gone back to change – or even re-read anything. I do have an unresolved POV problem. I keep trying to write in third person, and the book keeps tricking me into writing in first

Forcing myself to move forward and simply keep going seems to be the key to making NaNoWriMo work. As for finishing the process and turning it into a ‘real’ book, I’m not that daunted by it. I know how easy it is to work with material already written and reshape and revise it.

Okay, maybe easy isn’t the word. But, revising is working with something that already exists. It has become tangible, and it cries out for modification, polish and completion. That is different from the story simmering inside you that can be ignored for a while, or the one partly written down that can be dropped for months because ‘you’re already working on it.’ There is something about getting a complete draft down that compels you to work on it until you have the final version.

That is why NaNoWriMo works, children. It motivates you to do one thing: get words on paper. Those words take on a life that demands attention until it is full-grown. And then, if you’ve done a really good job, you can demand that it go out and earn something.

[*okay, okay, apologies to those out there who think I’ve oversimplified the process. Of course, I did. I want those who are seriously thinking about writing, seriously, mind you, to move past the fear and enter the realm of adventure and possibilities writers inhabit. There is a great deal of work involved in those simple steps I described. However, if you’re serious and willing to put the work in, it is eminently do-able.]

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNo #3

I swear, this is true. I’m not just stringing random words together. These actually make a story. And I am at:

10,021 words!!

I can’t believe it either.

Will this pace last? Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nano #2

Nov 1 – Well, it’s 9:00 EST, and I’ve made it through the day. Besides taking my son to investigate the Society of Creative Anachronisms, I’ve written 4 chapters for 5562 words. At this rate my book will be even bigger than the 90,000 I anticipate. I know I’m getting plot down, and character, but I’ve a feeling I’ll be doing some backfilling on place and description. We’ll see.

I’m having to use whatever time I get to the fullest, as I don’t know when other things will interfere. But this has been a great start. As to plot twists, it’s a little early yet, but I seem to be moving in a direction of possibilities. Pretty good for right now.

Best of all, this is fun!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

NaNo #1

Hello Facebookers, Twitterers, and Readers of My Blogs:

As noted, you’re all getting the same updates, at least for now. Maybe I’ll rotate them thru the week as I go.

Oct 31 – final countdown. At 12:01 am on Nov 1 (remember, we don’t officially change clocks until 2am) I will begin writing. I plan to go until 2:00 am, just because I can. Then bed and back to writing in the a.m. I’m excited about this… and I’ll let you know how it all goes tomorrow

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Long Time, No See

So I have to admit it's been way too long since I posted. However, I've been working madly on several fronts, including finishing, polishing, and submitting to first readers my novel. Based on comments by the readers, I've also been adding material, revising, polishing, and -- in some cases justifying -- my work.

And that's what this post is about. Justifying. Many people would -- or would like to -- say, "Never justify." Certainly a finished work should stand on its own. After all, you're not going to be draped over your reader's shoulder explaining the text to her. And a story too weak to stand on its own isn't getting published anyway. However, at this stage, justification is part of the process, as is validation.

My reader has pointedly put questions to me about aspects of my book. Is the locale important? Is the time period necessary? Does one character need daughters who are triplets? Why does one couple deserve any kind of empathy at all? How can people drop in and out of each other's houses all day long?

At one point, even I had to laugh when she said, "I don't see any young people, and does anybody have a real job in this town?"

Of course, I had answers for all these questions. Or, I thought I did. I found I came up empty on some of them. On others, the answer I thought I had ready didn't stand up to inspection. It seemed that in my enthusiasm for story, I'd ignored whether or not some things were possible, or what background certain conditions might require. My reader's questions forced me to provide sufficient backstory. And if what I came up with didn't cut it, then changes were made.

I've not really lost anything. In fact, in underpinning the weak parts, I've learned new things about my characters and their stories. They are deeper, more real; and events are knit together more tightly. In having to justify the story to my first reader, I was forced into making it a better book. At least I think so, and I really, really, really hope my readers think so, too.

That's where validation comes in. Besides critiquing the fine points, first readers are able to tell you if you have a book at all. They let you know if you're on the right track. They validate your reason for sitting down with those messy, pesky words all day long. If, sorrowfully, they can't validate you, then it's either time to scrap it all and start over, justify 'til you're blue in the face, or get a new set of readers.

About it having been so long since I posted: it may be a while again. I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. From November 1 to November 30 I will join other demented writers as we all try to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. Personally. I'm using this to jumpstart my next project, and I'm actually going to try for 90,000 words. First draft, uninhibited, headlong unedited writing. I will try to post a couple times with my progress, but I'm not making promises. So, you'll either see me when I come up for air, or possibly a couple times in between. And, hey, why don't you come try it, too? They have a special one for teens and kids, and sign-ups continue through the end of October. Come on along!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In The Mood

Yup. There it is on my to do list. Write blog. Uh-huh.

Sometimes I think the only thing harder than sitting down to write out a self-assignment is sitting down to write thank you notes. And my family can tell you how bad I am at those!

Of course it’s always easiest to hide behind some sort of task. Writing for work leaves me uninspired. I have to get the mail out. I have to take the trash out. I have to put the cat out – oops, Sorry. Cats stay in here.

As to the first – writing for work leaving me uninspired -- well, surely that’s true some of the time. Yet I have to admit, writing for work sure seems to have inspired my audience.

I put together the church newsletter where I work. I write a small column, and the rector addresses the parishioners with a full page. My predecessor, who still attends the church, can be counted on for another column most of the time. Then there are the Vestry members, all of whom periodically report to the parish via the newsletter. Some of them are writers, some are not, but generally speaking they have to be asked/reminded to write something. It’s easier for them if I do that. BUT…. Since we’ve been including three regular columns, something strange has happened. More people have found they want to write something for the epistle. People going off on vacation write to say how they’ll miss everyone, and what they’ll be doing while they’re away. One person – who is a writer by trade – reviewed a book that had inspired her. Another person wrote up the special study of prayer they’d just completed. One lovely lady wrote about her feelings for the U.S.A. for the 4th of July! Many of them said how they were inspired to write by what they’d read the previous month.

Wow. Spreading the Word AND the word! If they can be inspired by what they read that we wrote (hang in there with me), can we be inspired by what we wrote ourselves? Can we –okay, I – use that writing as a priming of the pump and write more?

I tend to think I can, if I don’t let myself cave in to the myth that I’ve tired myself out. Of course, I carry several projects at once – partly to keep from being bored. Sometimes that is overwhelming. Sometimes it means finishing a project drags out because I keep switching up. Usually, however, it means that I can find something I feel like working on. Something that will take inspiration from whatever writing mood I find myself in.

Do you have those? Writing moods? A day when you want to create, unfettered by previous chapters or outlines? A day when all you want to do is tighten and sharpen and refine, not dream up anything new? A time when you simply want to have your say? Tell me about them. And tell my how you put that mood and that time to good use.

I’d really like to know I’m not in some little boat by myself…because, of course, my boat is so small, and the sea is so large…..


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Champion Vignette Writers

I’ve been blessed. Without sounding too much like a bragging parent (which I am) I have to say that all of our six children are vignette champions. They write them well, with creativity, good grammar, and a fine sense of emotion and scene.

I should probably define vignette. Some people refer to it as ‘snapshot writing’. This is a current term, but it is very descriptive of what vignette writing is all about

A vignette is a short piece of prose writing that evokes a mood or emotion. It is a snapshot in time of a scene, sometimes relying heavily on description, that manages to convey something to the reader much in the same way a poem does.

This was a category of writing in an annual corporate-sponsored contest held in Nashville, TN. There were 12-16 categories, usually 12, for students in grades 3-12 to enter. Grades were paired, 3 with 4 and 11 with 12, for example. Judges -- local writers, editors, professors -- judged entries that were first culled at the school level. The vignettes could be from 40 to 300 words long.

Ones our children submitted involved a ballerina dancing across a floor (that one was only 40 words long), the inner feelings of a performer making the big time, a batter stepping up to bat, and waking up in early morning. One written by another child was more story-like, describing the interior of a toy store as the character was tempted to lift a small toy. Each of these vignettes was written with care to bring the reader into the scene, exposing him to the emotions the writer wanted him to feel.

Why am I so pleased about our children doing well at this? Not just because it’s another success. Not just because I write myself. Not just because of the prize. More, it is because succeeding at vignette is a step on the road of writing strong pieces of greater length. It is the start of good short stories, compelling novels.

We write to communicate, but also to move. We want to place our readers in the scene we create. We want them to leave our writing feeling certain emotions. In essence, we want to have an effect on the reader.

A vignette is much like a scene. String some successful vignettes together with some plot and action, and you have the beginnings of a story, or even a novel. It’s a generalization, but anyone can come up with a plot. Anyone can get a character from here to there. To do so effectively, however, creating pictures in the reader’s head and touching the reader’s heart takes the same skills that successful vignette-writing takes. And so I am proud of the kids I know – our own and otherwise – who have mastered this important technique. I am proud of any writer who can touch the reader’s heart.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writing is a Strange Business...

I have found myself in a curious situation; one of those it-can-only-happen-now type things the Internet has created. I invite you to hop over to my blog at and check out "When Is a Book Not a Book?" I hope some of you will comment on this quirky situation, and maybe help me in my dilemma.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm Somewhere Else Today...

I'm actually working hard this weekend spitting and polishing, so while I have my next post in mind, I'm saving it for now.

Instead, I'll direct you to Meanderings and Muses where Kaye Barley graciously requested I 'guestblog'. Check out my post there and read some of the other guests' posts as well as those Kaye wrote.

Enjoy yourselves, and I'll have my new post here soon.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WC, TS, and DW

I haven't spent too much time in this blog talking about my Young Writers' Guide.

That would be because I haven't been working on it lately, and it's still not done. Its title is: Word Catchers, Tale Spinners, and Dream Weavers. Sounds familiar, huh? In fact, this blog was actually started to accompany the book. Of course, now it is a precursor. But, at any rate...

The book is majorly complete. It is based on my experience of 16 years coaching writing in elementary and middle school. It is NOT an English or grammar book, but a book that talks about writing and forms and inspiration. It has writing games and exercises and easy-to-understand analyses of what goes into, say a short story or poem or persuasive essay. It is geared, as this blog is, to the writer who is young in writing experience.

I have some more organizing and arranging to do. And I also have to write a couple more sections. Then I'll have to create a pitch, and find an agent or publisher to query. Then, if I'm lucky, I'll get to send it off.

Now, I'm no famous writer, and I'm not a great teacher. I am an adult, with some writing experience (paid), and a love for creating. I developed my ideas 'in the field' with students who were already somewhat interested in writing. And I have writing success stories among my students. I have to think that sharing these ideas is a good thing. Like any other writer, I have to believe in myself. And then I have to convince someone else to believe in me, too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Haiku for the Writer's Soul

writing in the sand,

the salamander teases
castles into life

next generation
of words descending to earth
bends twigs to face sun

dragon-holders rise
to capture truth of meaning
stories flame from tongue

~~~rjm 2009

Now write me some of yours......

Write ANYTHING...with caveat

I belong to the 'learn writing by writing' school. The more you write the better you get at it. This leads, somewhat logically, to the idea that writing anything is good practice. And that's true. Almost.

Writing letters, blogs (duh!), journals, ads, reviews, even fan fiction can help you hone your writing skills. But not if you are just writing willy nilly. You have to be writing your best. Don't just cram words on a page, supposing that it will help you improve. Work at it. Select the right word. Polish the phrase so that it turns gracefully, or with force. If you're telling an anecdote about something that happened to you, enliven it with dialogue, capture the sound of the interaction and help your reader be in the moment. If you can't put the picture of the event in their head, what is the point of sharing the story?

Put another way, make this an exercise that really works your writing muscles; don't just mess around with words. If you do your best at any writing you do, personal or professional, you will be more satisfied and proud of the result and you will do better.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Creativity Tools

WEBook - TechCrunch Elevator Pitches

Posted using ShareThis

If you 're interested in alternative publishing methods or working with writers on-line, check out the above. It's an explanation (or pitch) of the site WEBook. Of special interest is the tool page: 911 Writer's Block.

My daughter showed me this site, pointing first to the 911 Writer's Block page. It looks like a cool tool, and the site overall may be an interesting alternative. I haven't verified this yet, so I don't know how well it works. If anyone tries it out, let me know. What appeals to me about it is the cooperative effort similar to live writers' groups. If it lives up to its potential, this could be great.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Book Review Posted

I've posted a review of Lorna Landvik's Tis the Season on Bookstove. Great read.

Feel free to check it out at


Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Beginnings

January, the month of new beginnings. We're getting a new President, new Senators, new Congressmen, I've got a new job. But I'm not starting any new projects. Instead I'm moving on to new phases in old projects. Still, that's progress.

I've been reading a lot about blogging lately. Morgan Mandel's blog carries posts about it. Kaye Barley at Meanderings and Muses talks a little about her adventures getting started with her blog. I maintain 3 blogs in addition to this one, and I've been asked by Kaye to guest on hers in March. So, what use is blogging?

Totally aside from the social networking aspect, blogs are a great way to get in some 'practice' writing. All the skills you use in regular writing should be used when you blog -- even if you're just writing about the cute guy in Math and what he said when he finally talked to you after class. Blogs also get your writing some exposure. Write something profound or entertaining, and you'll develop a following!

I'm sure you have opinions. That, and an interest in writing, plus signing up someplace like this are all it takes to get started with an online blog. If you haven't done it yet, give it a shot.

Drop a comment on other things you do to develop your writing, or what kind of blog you've started.


My other blogs: Blackwater Tales, Dreamweaver6 Leavings, SunOasis

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Create Your Own Tools: What works for you?

People set great store by how writers work. It's a question often asked at writer's conferences and panels.

Whenever I hear someone ask this question, I just giggle to myself. Because it would take me forever to answer it.

I must get bored easily, because I am forever changing up how I work. Unlike my daughter who is permanently glued to writing on a computer keyboard, I like to take a pad and paper and find a quiet spot -- in the hammock, in the car when I'm waiting to pick up someone, in the bathtub -- and write the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately my handwriting, bad as it was, has worsened as I've spent more time at the keyboard myself. But changing my tools helps stimulate my brain.

I've been known to work on legal pads, school notebooks, looseleaf paper, 5 x 7 white cards, butcher paper, oversize drawing paper, poster board -- even white board when I was stuck in a classroom with no students. I've used colored pencils, plain pencil, fine-tipped markers -- sometimes switching the colors for different characters or styles, ballpoint pens, and dry erase markers for that whiteboard I mentioned. Or, I've written on computers.

I even change them up, switching from a Mac to a PC to a laptop. I use MS Word when I'm working on a formal manuscript, but I also us Final Draft for plays, and various outlining, brainstorming, and drawing programs to make diagrams, trees, and notes for my stories. These include OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, ColorIt! and Adobe Illustrator. WritersCafe is another program available online with interesting tools, such as virtual index cards that can be used to create a story line. While these cost money, there are many open source programs available for free that do the same things. The point being that I use something different to help get my brain rolling, something that will entice me to get words and ideas down because I like the method.

I might make charts. I might use a notebook, or just a folder to hold together all the papers I collect. I might make a virtual folder on my computer, and save articles from online in pdf form as I research topics. I've drawn floor plans, designed logos for my characters' business (oops, that used a logo-creating program), and made pdfs of eBay pages featuring items my characters would buy.

See, you can do just about anything, work in any medium, try any tool you like to stimulate your creativity. If it takes a paintbrush and barnboard to get you writing your masterpiece, that's fine, just do it!

Now, what works for you?