Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Just The Beginning

In the beginning, I read some of the criticism that was flying around regarding NaNoWriMo. Having participated and finished (YAY!), I have decided not to listen to any of the nay-sayers.

Writers have different reasons for pledging to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Some say that it's no big deal. Well, it was a big deal for me and who are you to minimize my achievement? I had a few reasons for chaining myself to my desk for a month. First and foremost, I needed a push to move beyond the realm of short stories. I also needed to get myself into a writing rhythm. With three small children and a job, writing every single day wasn't part of my schedule and I needed it to be. Finally, I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. It didn't hurt that I proved it to a few other people either.

Some of the writers will never look at their 50,000 words again. They will file them in a folder on their desktop and let them collect dust, so to speak. For my manuscript, NaNoWriMo was just the beginning. I have created a character that I really like and I think I owe it to her not to drop her into the abyss of my hard drive.

I am sure that on my first readthrough, I will find that I wrote a lot of crap during NaNoWriMo, but I wrote it. I plan on finishing it, editing it, revising it, polishing it and getting it to a point that someone else's eyes are ready to see it. NaNoWriMo got the ball rolling and I am going to keep it rolling, just not at the insane pace that November demanded.

The nay-sayers can keep on nay-saying. I am going to keep on writing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo So Far

I had heard of the curse of week two, but man, it really kicked my ass!

I got off to a strong start and managed to stay on course through week one. The first weekend arrived and my children decided to share their cold germs with me. This was not your typical cold. This was a body-wrenching, head-aching, phlegm-making super germ that I am still grappling with.

Despite my best attempts, I have fallen behind in my word count goals. One night this week found me having nightmares about my word count. I woke to see my digital clock and thought that the numbers were my count. Horrified at the low number, I tossed and turned all night at my lacking performance.

But all is not lost, I have written over 14,000 words so far and my story is beginning to take form. I have some great characters, some interesting conflicts and the humorous quips and lines can be found in abundance (it helps here to know that I am writing a comedy).

Today, I am off to a write-in with the Chicago chapter of NaNoWriMo in Schaumburg. I think a good, long writing session will really put me back in the game - both in word count and confidence!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Final Hours Until NaNoWriMo Kick-Off

Less than six hours until writing for NaNoWriMo officially begins and I am still putting the final touches on my outline. I am afraid if I don't finish, I'll lose focus on what I am writing and hit a wall. If I have the main points plotted, I can jump around if I need to.

I have ten chapters plotted so far, but I honestly can't tell you what the final tally will be. I get the sense that, when I start writing, my chapter breaks won't even remotely resemble what I have planned. So, I am going to guess that my ten chapters will be more like eighteen on paper. They only look short in summary form.

I might be starting to over think this outline just a bit! That is what happens when you can't start writing when you are ready! Come on NaNoWriMo, let's get this show on the road!

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Finding the perfect writing atmosphere can be tricky. I am a coffeehouse writer. I like the background noise, the mellow music, all of the accessible caffeine. But finding the perfect coffee locale is made more difficult when your search takes place in the suburbs.

In my glory days of city living, I had an endless selection of quiet, but not too quiet, hip, but not too crowded options. If I were in downtown Chicago right now, I know exactly where you would find me (assuming that someone else was watching the kids and I had already done the grocery shopping). And if my first choice was too busy, I can think of five or six suitable back-ups that would provide everything I look for in a writing location.

Alas, I am no longer living in the city. While I do adore the area in which I live, my choice of coffeehouses has been significantly reduced. I live near a couple of large coffee retailers, but the closest independent coffeehouse is a good 20 minute drive. Is it worth the trip? Yes!

I am not one of those people who refuses Starbucks or Caribou because they are too established, but most of their locations just don't have the right vibe for me. In fact, one of my first choices downtown would be Argo Tea, which has become quite a prolific chain since I lived in the city.

The little independent coffeehouse I frequent has a feel that I like. The chairs are super comfortable. The music is good enough that I am not too annoyed that I have forgotten my headphones (I always do). The barista knows that I like my drinks scalding hot. Most importantly, I seem to get a lot done when I am there. I get bursts of inspiration and venture off on little writing tangents that take my stories to places I hadn't anticipated.

Do I make the trip whenever I write? No. I have to save it for special occasions or desperate measures. If inspiration is evading me, it is a great place to go, but sometimes I have to settle for a nearby Starbucks or *gasp* stay at home and write.

Being a parent means that I can't always get away. I have had to adapt my writing and thought process to allow for a different ambience that includes screaming children and my regular desk chair. At least I still have access to caffeine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Short story: Daily Dose

Sabine was too young to remember the Enlightening. Too young to remember the chip being implanted in her neck. Too young to remember her father being taken away for refusing to hand her over willingly. The Mothers didn’t like dissenters, so he was removed and replaced with another man. Other families were torn apart entirely. Many parents fought and lost to the Mothers. Single parents were considered unstable. Same-sex couples were blasphemous. Love was a thing of the past. Everyone had to have a Mama and and a Papa. She knew that Mama was her actual mother. There was a smell that was familiar to her, that identified her as the right fit. Papa was a stand-in. His glances did not carry the tenderness or concern of her mother’s and his words always sounded level and scripted.
She had been twelve when her older sister, Jenna, was taken as well. Papa had caught her trying to dodge her dose and reported her to the Mothers from the intercall system in their parlor. A collection team came to get her within the hour. Jenna screamed up until the moment they stuck her with the syringe full of sedative, putting an end to her defiant tantrum. She crumpled like an old doll and they carried her out to the van for relocation. Sabine still hoped that she was out there somewhere.
She and Jenna shared a room and, after bed check, Jenna would let Sabine crawl into bed with her and tell her stories of what the world had been like before. She told her about candy and cartoons, baseball and dancing, movie nights and sleepovers. Some of the things that Jenna told her were so far from Sabine’s world that she thought Jenna was making it all up. As Sabine got older, the stories transitioned to tales of how the Enlightening came to be and of how things were not a serene as they seemed. Sabine was still young to understand such things, but she would carry Jenna’s words until they came to make sense.
The first time Jenna told Sabine about what had happened to their father, Sabine grew scared and her heart began to race.
“Don’t be scared,” she whispered in a panicked tone, which gave Sabine further reason to worry. “Try to steady your breathing or the Papa will come to check on us and we could be sent away for insubordination.”
They heard footsteps approaching the stairs. “Get back in bed! Close your eyes and start mumbling, like you are talking in your sleep. Now!” Jenna hissed.
Sabine scrambled back into her bed and did her best to look like she was sleeping. She didn’t know what one might say in their sleep, so she tried to sound like she was restless.
The sliver of light under the door showed Papa’s feet at the door. Sabine tried to lay still as the door opened, but she was sure that the sound of her heart pounding filled the entire room. She didn’t want to be sent away like her father.
When he was certain it was just a dream, Papa closed the door and returned to the parlor to report back to the Mothers. Sabine sat up in bed and whispered back to her sister, “What was that all about? How did he know to check on us? We were so quiet.”
“It is the chip in your neck. We all have one. It monitors our vitals. Someone in a building somewhere can see if we are sick or scared and even where we are. If your heart was racing, it could be because you are nervous about trying to escape or just because you walking up the stairs too fast. Somewhere along the lines, they decided to track our vitals instead of installing cameras everywhere.”
Sabine didn’t know how she felt about being monitored all of the time. Was it better or worse than being watched all of the time?
It wasn’t long after that night that Jenna started being more closely monitored. Papa would ask her more questions and take note of her responses. The intercall system buzzed every few hours for reports on her behavior. 
After a few weeks, a large box was delivered. Papa signed for it and carried it into the small den off of the parlor. Later that afternoon, Jenna was made to sit in the den for an hour for mass therapy.
“What was it like?” Sabine asked after bed check that night.
“It is crazy. The therapist is on the television and I have to wear this headpiece that checks my brainwaves or something. They ask questions and read our thoughts to see how we really feel. Having something under my skin is bad enough and now they are in my head.” Jenna’s voice cracked. She turned over and pulled the covers up over her head. Clearly, Sabine would get no more answers tonight.
Everyday, Sabine watched Jenna trudge into the den and emerge an hour later looking even more defeated than when she went in. Their bedtime chats were now entirely about what was wrong with the Mothers and how they watched everyone, wouldn’t tolerate anyone who stepped out of line or spoke against them. Sabine wanted to hear more about games and love, but Jenna only had unhappy tales left to tell.
After three weeks of mass therapy, Papa presented Jenna with a small pill one day at breakfast. “Doctor’s orders,” he said, a bit too cheerfully. Jenna had no choice and took the pill obediently.
There was no telling how long Jenna had been skipping her daily dose. Sabine had not noticed any changes in her sister. She was as quiet and sullen as ever. Papa seemed pleased that she was being so compliant.
It was mass therapy that morning that was her undoing. Fifteen minutes into her session, the intercall sounded with an alarm and Papa listened as he was instructed to hold Jenna for collection.
She didn’t even make it to the door before he got to her. He pulled her hands behind her back and tried to cover her mouth, but she wriggled and squirmed to keep herself from being silenced.
“Mama! How can you let them do this to us? Can’t you see they are all crazy?! No one should live like this! LET ME GO!!!!” Jenna screamed, her face red with anger. She turned away from her mother, breath slowing and her voice now calming to a more resigned tone, “Sabine, fight them! Remember that I love you and Daddy loved you too.”
Sabine looked to her Mama who stood stoically as she watched her oldest daughter being drugged and dragged away. “Why would you let them just take her like that? Don’t you care about her?! Do you care about me?”
“What good am I to you if they take me away too?” Her mother turned away from her and began to climb the stairs to the privacy of her room. The Mothers usually made an exception for grieving, as long as there was no fight. Sabine realized that her mother was protecting her in the only way that she could, but she was also broken. Her spirit had been stolen along with her husband.
It was then that Sabine came to understand the terrible powers of the Mothers and that everything Jenna said against the Enlightenment was true. But, unless Sabine wished to be drugged, her dissent would have to be a silent one, which was fine with the Mothers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Expanding Horizons: Tackling A New Genre

As a new writer, I have learned that one way to get better is to write as much as possible. One way I have broadened my horizons, is participating in the monthly challenges put forth by the On Fiction Writing group over at Goodreads. While I haven't been happy enough with most of them to post for the group, I still get the experience of writing in different genres, in different POVs, showcasing different methods.

I was talking to my mother about how much I enjoyed a couple of the different genres that I hadn't anticipated liking and she inquired as to whether or not I had chosen a genre on which to focus my writing. I guess I was surprised by her question, as I hadn't really thought of "choosing" a genre.

I have ideas that come from all over the place. My moods, which vary widely from day-to-day, inspire different tones and themes. The first pieces that I was confident enough to submit to OFW for critique were extremely dark. Dark enough that I did not allow some of my close family members to read them for fear that they would have me committed. Those of you who have visited True Tales of a Slightly Crazed Mama, have seen the lighter, more humorous side of my writing.

So, my response to my mother was that I have not picked a genre to adopt as my focus and I really don't intend on doing so. I may in the future, if I find I excel in one particular area, but I like to think that I'll always dabble in new and different areas to make myself a better writer. I may keep that work to myself, but I'll still do it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Start With The Soundtrack

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I high school, I was the quintessential choir nerd and my after-school job was at a music store where I also took voice lessons. While I quickly realized that singing would never be more than a hobby, my love of music had already gained quite a stronghold in my life.

So, it was no surprise that it was music that brought me to writing. I was listening to a song while I was driving and it made me think of a scene. When I got home, I started to flesh out the story in my mind and created what I thought would be a kick-ass soundtrack if my story was ever made into a movie. The end result was a playlist that took me where I needed to go whenever I got the chance to sit down and write.

Since I have a wide variety of music in my library (my sister-in-law thinks that I have the music library of someone with multiple personality disorder), my playlists are completely different for each of the projects that I have in the hopper. That comes in handy because I like to jump between pieces. I decide which project to work on, start up my playlist and go to the place in my brain where that story lives.

We all have to start somewhere. I have found that my blank screen or white piece of paper doesn't stay empty for long some good tunes to get things going.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gearing Up For NaNoWriMo

Some part of my delusional little brain seems to think that I don't have enough to do. Between three children, a part-time (usually full-time) job, a home that I stuggle to keep tidy, reading and writing, I barely have time to sleep.

That did not stop me from signing up for French lessons on LiveMocha and deciding to take on NaNoWriMo this November. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge with a goal to write a 50,000-word project in a one-month period. It isn't about quality, it's about quantity - a practice in motiviation, stamina and determination.

This writing project has to be a fresh start, so I can't just pick up one of the many projects that I already have in progress. I have started kicking around some ideas, but I think I may just boot up my computer on November 1st and see which idea gets to the keyboard first.

I am desperately trying not to go into this challenge with the expectation that I could never in a million years finish with all of my other responsibilities, but keeping that thought out of my head has been difficult. A lot of fellow writers in the On Fiction Writing group of Goodreads are participating and I am sure we will push and encourage each other as we strive to get those words on paper. There are more than a few members of the group who have participated and finished in previous years.

I hope to join their ranks come November 30th. I may have to give up sleeping, eating and cleaning, but I want to see that word count pass 50,000. If I do, I get a nifty certificate and I may even treat myself to a NaNoWriMo Winner t-shirt!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wise Words From A Wise Friend

When do you become a writer?

Is it when you are published? Is it when you are paid for your work? Is it the moment you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?

A few weeks ago, I missed an opportunity to grab my first publishing credit. A group project, to which I submitted three pieces, was slated to be published as a collection of flash and drabble stories. In the end, the final submissions would have made a very nice pamphlet, rather than the very nice book that could have been created if all of the original submissions had been sent for final consideration. So, the project was put on indefinite hold.

I don't know that one of my pieces would have made the final cut, but I thought that I had a pretty good chance and was eagerly awaiting the chance to see my name on paper. Well, paper that I hadn't typed up myself anyway.

I called my best friend for a gripe and moan session. I told her how disappointed I was that I had come so close to being able to call myself a real writer.

She listened patiently to my sob story, as she always does, and then told me that being published isn't what makes a real writer. Writing is what makes a writer. Needing to write is what makes a writer.

"If you want to be a writer, then write."

Her little pep talk was what I needed to remember that being able to call myself a writer isn't why I write. I write because I love it and I can't stop myself from writing. Not that I would want to stop. Ever.

Writer I am and writer I shall be.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Critic & An Ego-Stroker

I am a writer who likes to share my work with a select circle of people. Some of my initial readers are helping me to edit, some to polish and some to just float a test balloon of the likability of my project.

The group with which I share my unfinished work is small, but if I had to choose two people and only two people, I would have a critic and an ego-stroker. You need two separate people for this job, unless they have a Three Faces of Eve thing going on.

My critic tells me what is good, what can be better, what I should just throw out and start again. This person is absolutely necessary in many, many ways. I don't think there are many writers out there who can write so perfectly that the first draft is the final draft. I don't know if those writers even exist. Writing requires tweaking, fine tuning and finessing. Knowing when to take the advice of your critic is an art in itself, but having a critic or two can make all the difference to your writing.

My ego-stroker tells me that they really like everything and that I am a great writer. This person may be flat out lying to me, but I don't really care because they are serving a very specific purpose.

This would be a good time to point out that I have a very vain streak and I have many a moment that I seek validation for the things that I do. A deficiency? Probably, but I have to work with what I have and what I have is a need to be told that I am decent at what I am doing and not just wasting my time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ideas Aren't The Problem, It's The Timing

I have no shortage of ideas for projects. I have new ideas all of the time. The problem that I have is that I usually have these ideas in very inconvenient places or at very inconvenient times. For example, my best ideas come to me in one of four places:

- the shower
- while driving
- on the way to or at the park with my kids
- those last few moments before I fall asleep

The quick fix would be to have paper and a pen or a recorder on me at all times. I am lucky if I remember all of my kids when I leave the house. I do try to have a notebook or something useful to capture my thoughts, but it usually doesn't work the way I hope.

I also have the short term memory of a fruit fly, so trying to remember until I get to paper doesn't cut it. I remember to look for paper, but I can't recall what it was that I needed to write down. No joke.

I do keep a journal and pen next to my bed. Last time I needed it, my pen died halfway through taking my notes and I didn't have the energy to look for another pen. With three small kids, sleep is like quicksand, once I start down that road, I am done for - not that I would try to get out anyway.

Just one of the many challenges I face in my quest to get words on paper.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


As I am new to the writing game, I am still trying to find which techniques work for me. I am sampling different approaches to structure, character development, etc.

One thing that I haven't yet been able to accomplish is a complete outline before starting the actual writing of a new project.

I know that a complete outline isn't necessary. But, since my biggest problem is knowing where I am going with my story, I think this is a discipline that I need to adopt. Quickly.

Today I sat down and started an outline for a new project. It is an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a few days, so I needed to write it down before it became a victim of my terrible memory. I have done the structuring for the first couple of chapters and I have committed to finishing the outline before I start into the writing.

While the entire story will probably change as I write, I think that at least having a possible place for my characters to go will help my ability to get them there. I have always been pretty good at rolling with the punches, so I can always change their destination as I go. I just want them to get somewhere!

Things To Come

I have been writing on and off (mostly off) for many years. I wrote my first poem, a lovely verse called "Dreams" when I was 10 or 11. For a long time, my version of writing was a series of strange turns that my brain took when an interesting topic peaked my interest, but they always remained private thoughts. It has only been in the last few years that writing has meant putting pen to paper or fingers to keys.

I am finding teachers in many places. My main source of education is reading as much as possible with three small kids running around. I do surprise myself at how many books I have been able to get through and I often kick myself when I think of all of the books I could have read before becoming a mother. All that downtime gone to waste! It sounds strange, but something about motherhood kicked my imagination into high gear. Just as hormones changed my tastes for certain foods, so was my drive to do something with the ideas kicking around in my head.

Other readers have taught me what I like and don't like and what I should and shouldn't do. Other writers have become my teachers as well. As a member of the On Fiction Writing group on Goodreads, I have been able to have others critique my work and review the work as others. I have seen rough drafts take on the rosy sheen of a well-edited story. Voicing my opinion and listening to the opinions of others has been invaluable to me and my writing.

Stay tuned as I bring you along on the many tangents of my imagination. I will write about writing, my pursuit of education from readers and other writers and the many random occurances that make up my life. All topics are fair game!