Tag Archives: writing

Call Me Crazy – NaNoWriMo

So I’ve been living in picture book world for a few years, now.

And while I’m still busy analyzing and perfecting my craft in that arena,

(Mini craft lecture: Great picture books are as compressed as poetry, containing a world in about 500 words or fewer, leave 50% of the story to the illustrator, are paced strategically through language and page turns, evoke emotion through image, active voice, and characterization, and end in way that’s surprising yet inevitable. Easy, right?)

I could no longer ignore that tiny voice in the back of my head that wasn’t a picture book character, but a character from a YA/new adult novel.

She’s been bugging me for years. And now that her whispers have turned to curses, I’ve decided to listen. Five years ago, I tried NaNo as a pantser. I failed. Miserably.

This year, with a little encouragement from another blogger and writing coach, Kate Johnston, I decided to take the plunge again.

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Only this time with a little planning. I know who my characters are, but five years ago I just let them run wild. So that’s what they did. They rambled. They wandered. Aimlessly. They got lost.

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I got lost, then I wadded up my Scrivener file and tossed it in the trash. Failure.

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This year, I’m going to start with a plan. A structure. A beginning, a middle, and an end. How I get there during November will look more like pantsing, but when I’m finished, that pantsing will be contained within October’s plan. Call it plantsing.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!

Luck

And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m afraid of failing. Gulp. But it’s like that with all challenges, right?

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If you, too, would like to take this on, give Kate’s website a look. I think you may find a tool or two to help you out.

Happy pantsing, planning, or plantsing! Cheers!

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Nobody Will Die, Maybe—Scaling El Capitan

The flickering headlamps halfway up the wall of El Capitan caught our attention as we stopped to look at the full moon shining across a meadow in Yosemite Valley. It was Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, and the climbers appeared to have covered about a third of the 3,000 foot wall since they started eight days ago.

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If you haven’t been following the story in the New York Times, two climbers have been planning and practicing the free climb ascent of El Capitan for the past ten+ years. This is now the real thing. If you’d like a better perspective of the size of this monolith and their undertaking, the NYTimes article provides a terrifying composite image showing the climbers on the wall.

Anyone see a parallel between this ascent and writing a book? Our advantage over climbers?

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We can’t see the size of the wall in front of us.

We’ve planned and practiced and tried and failed on numerous attempts. We’ve achieved smaller goals. We’ve said that if we don’t make it this time, there won’t be another. We’ve faced odds that would make a grizzly bear shudder, and still we are on that wall, refusing to give up. OK, so maybe we’re not facing death should we make mistakes with our climbing harnesses. For we climb WITHOUT harnesses.

We’ve got shredded fingers reminiscent of carcasses put through the meat grinder. We’re swaying in gusty winds. We’re facing the uncertainty of our uncertainties in the blackness of bitter, star-filled skies.

The night we saw the climbers, the moon underscored just how insignificant their goal was to the universe.

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But it was important to THEM.

So that’s what I take away from this effort. A refusal to give up. A determination to do something that leaves others shaking their heads in disbelief.

Why climb the wall? Because it’s important to ME. When it’s no longer important, I’ll stop.

Until that happens, you can find me taping my fingers, casting a shadow, tapping away, and laughing at the man in the moon and his distorted sense of reality.

That’s MY new year’s resolution.

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Overcommitment

Just returned from the annual August tour de famille on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Well, that’s not really true. We’ve been back since August 26. Really late in the evening on August 25, but our keys were with my husband, and he wasn’t with us. So we arrived at baggage claim at SFO only to realize that it was midnight, and we didn’t have keys to our humble abode.

This event symbolized our August. But now that we’re back, what is my excuse for being late to the post?

Overcommitment. You know you’re overcommitted when you can’t recall what you’re supposed to do next because there are too many things competing for “next.” And overcommitment stalls my forward movement.

I’m working on picture book fiction and nonfiction and literary short stories in addition to giving my novel-in-training some gas. I’ve got two kidlit writing groups in addition to the dogs at the patch. I’m taking a nonfiction picture book writing class where I’m supposed to have a first draft to critique in two weeks. But I just discovered last night that my topic is too complex (or at least the way I’ve envisioned it right now) to move forward, so I spent the evening last night looking for a new subject.  When I originally signed up for the class, I was going to do a biography, but it turned out that the living person I want to write a biography about is wary of saying “yes.” Sooooo, how many times can I go back to the drawing board?

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And it’s a new school year with many library liaison activities, including planning for an author visit, creating a new library “wish list,” and getting new library volunteers up to speed on working with classes.

And new afterschool activities every night of the week. And….I’m supposed to be volunteering for Litquake and visiting my new writing group that meets North of SF.

And then there was the unexpected death of my mother-in-law the night of my father-in-law’s memorial in mid-August that continues to haunt me. I’m not sure if haunt is the right word, unless an intermittent replay of the middle-of-the night knock on the window and subsequent events qualifies. It does explain why my husband wasn’t with us when we returned without keys. He (the guy with the keys) took a side trip to his parents’ home to get things in order.

But I’m a writer, right? And I’m supposed to be getting something done. But at the moment, I’m not doing anything well. Getting anything finished, polished. I run from one thing to the next, often without making a single edit. Just enough time to get started before I’ve got to move on to something else.

The center cannot hold. And I wonder if there are writers out there who work best like this? If there are, I wish I were one of them. But I am not, and I have to make some changes. I hope everyone else out there is being more productive than I am right now.

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Writing and the “Personal Brand”

I found some photos while cleaning my office the other day, photos from a l-o-n-g time ago. They were taken during a hike through Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains on the north side of Tucson, Arizona. The canyon contains some spectacular rock formations and a dessert ecosystem where water runs freely during the rains of winter/spring. And it was a fairly secluded place when I lived there. That’s an important detail.

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Sabino Canyon in the Sonoran Dessert

I’d show you some of my photos, but they’re not digital, they’re not appropriate for a PG website, and I’m not sure they’re meant for anyone’s eyes but my own.

The photos were taken by a boyfriend, and they were “artistic.” Skin and stone and water and light and shadow.

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No skin, but you get the idea

What could be more beautiful? And while they have meaning for me, I’m not sure they would have value for anyone else.

An aside: The top of Sabino Canyon did have the nickname “nipple peak.”

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I’m not a photographer, and I do not have the ability to step outside myself while viewing the person I once was in the photos that I’m NOT going to show you. In other words, I cannot judge them with any objectivity, so I’m going to stop talking about them now.

But I am a writer, and when I find old work from my youth stuffed in folders or boxes, my editor steps in. Does this piece strike a chord solely with me, or will others find value in it? Is it purely for the confessional, or can it be shaped to create some sort of universal experience?

Can I now step aside and write about an event as if it had happened to someone else? By removing my ego, can I go more deeply into the story or the character and find things I wouldn’t have been able to see had I not stripped my “self” from the work?

Is stripping the “self” from any work really possible? Is “self” stamped all over everything that I have ever written? Does a writer’s work bear a lasting imprint that can never be washed away? Do we want to wash the imprint away? Do the best pieces of writing contain that indelible imprint?

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Is the idea to strip the writing of self when writing while at the same time making sure the writing contains the self that becomes the lasting imprint? And does any of this happen consciously?

I guess I’m just one half of a pair of crows today, the question woman. The answer woman has gone missing. Maybe she flew south for the winter.

That’s it for today, folks. I used up all my energy writing not-so-pithy sayings to fill 600 fortune cookies for our school’s auction tomorrow. “Good fortune comes to those who support the library fund-a-need. Give generously.” Uninspired, and not really a fortune, but to the point, yes? If you’ve got any better suggestions for fortunes—or questions, or answers to questions, I’m all ears.

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I’m listening

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Thoughtful Readers/Reviewers

I’ve been reading Fiction Fan’s book review blog for quite some time, but a recent post piqued my curiosity about why she found a particular novel wanting. For those only interested in writing “literary fiction,” I believe the discussion here is instructive for all writers despite the genre.

I asked in my comment:

Since it didn’t work this time (sounds like the subplots detracted from the tension), I’m curious to hear about when you think it does work for a book to reveal the “what” or “who” and then discover the “why” or “how” throughout the rest? Would it have worked without the subplots/length? Are there other flaws (you mentioned implausibility, but sometimes a little of that can be overlooked if the rest of the book receive high marks, yes?) that kept it from being engrossing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I’m struggling with this issue in my own work.

Her response, as I should have expected, was insightful: Continue reading

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Notes From Squaw Valley Writers Workshop – Day 1

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View of Lake Tahoe from Squaw Valley in Winter

As promised, I’m sharing a few notes from this summer’s Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Continue reading

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Literary vs. Genre Fiction – The Plot Thickens

Hear ye! Hear ye! The Surgeon General recommends you take a daily dose of literary fiction whether you like it or not!

For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov,” reads the headline of an October 4, 2013  New York Times article. Scientists find literary fiction improves readers’ abilities to feel empathy, perceive social situations, and respond with higher emotional intelligence.

Lady with a Dog and Chekhov

Apparently, “popular” fiction (implying that literary fiction isn’t popular) and “serious nonfiction” create no beneficial effect. To be fair, the article points out that “serious nonfiction” was not of the “All the President’s Men” variety but more along the lines of “How the Potato Changed the World.”

My thoughts? Continue reading

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