Decision Point. Set. Match.

Anyone else feeling overrun with decisions that need to be made lately? What’s the perfect holiday gift? Do we invite the family to stay with us, or travel to them? It’s not just the holidays, though they seem to make it all a bit more anxiety-inducing. Personally, I’ve been staring down my mental decision trees for so long now, all I see is brambles. For example, with five days of NaNoWriMo remaining, I was noodling through the following: tether myself to my computer, coming up only for life-sustaining necessities, in order to churn out approximately 5,0000 words per day to make the 50K finish line; OR be (relatively) normal, but fail to qualify as a “winner” this year. 

For some of you, this isn’t much of a conundrum. For me at the time, the decision wasn’t straight forward. In retrospect, it felt like a microcosmic reflection of a number of decisions that have been tripping through my mind lately, and which, like the cosmos itself, are expanding ever outward in scope and importance. Should Julie and I continue feeding energy into this blog or use that time and effort for other writing goals? Should my family stay the course on limiting screen time for the kiddo, or use the electronic babysitter to create more time for my husband and I to get work done? Do we continue here in New York or once again go adventuring? Etc., etc. And I always wonder, even when the issues appear entirely disparate, how will any one of these decisions impact the others? 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Back to NaNo and my pie-in-the-sky goals, the last five days of November this year included Thanksgiving, complete with family commitments (and actual pie), not to mention a host of other seasonal temptations. Perhaps these facts are enough to drive you firmly in a certain direction. For me, though, the pull between “winning” and “family” is stronger than I should probably admit. Even though I do really believe that every word written is in itself a win, the decision to give up going for the gold was still tough. 

What pushed me over the tipping point, however, wasn’t family, nor missing out on Black Friday (which turned out to be one of my higher word count days), but the needs of my story. Sure, I could have rushed it. It wouldn’t have been the first time (hello, NaNo manuscripts from 2014-2017). While I still believe there is a certain dark logic in the adage, ‘don’t get it right, get it written,’ admittedly, it can make the revision process not just longer, but hairier . It’s one thing to realize you have a plot hole or two, or a character that isn’t fully developed, or an internal inconsistency – it’s another thing all together to realize you’re staring down all this AND MORE as you start your revisions. So, in the end, I decided discretion was the better part of valor this time and I’d let my story continue to spin out at its own pace. Which is to say, I’m hoping to be done with the draft before Christmas, but I’m willing to give it the time that it needs, even if that means I’m still plugging away at the first draft into 2020. 

Continue reading “Decision Point. Set. Match.”

The 12 Days of NaNo

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNo, as it’s commonly referred to, check it out here. The goal is to get 50,000 words down on paper in the month of November. It’s November 20th as I write this, and, well, let’s just say I’m not on track to hit that number.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll hit my NaNo word count maybe 12 days this month. Are you in the same sinking boat? Take heart! I’ve written a little parody to cheer up all of us NaNo-not-quites. I combined my NaNo failure with the excitement of the upcoming holidays. I present to you…

The 12 Days of NaNo (Note: In writer world, MS = manuscript.)

On the first day of Nano

I managed to achieve

an outline of an MS.

On the second day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

two hundred words

and an outline of an MS.

On the third day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

On the fourth day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

four storylines,

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

Continue reading “The 12 Days of NaNo”

Go for it!

What you’ll look like doing #NaNoWriMo 2019

Welcome to November! Just as Julie returns to sporting themes periodically, I seem destined to return to NaNoWriMo around this time every year (see Ready, Steady, NaNo or Eeking out time to write). If you’re not participating in NaNo 2019, don’t x this article out! While NaNo was what got my gears turning, this article is aimed at anyone who’s been wanting to do something creative and new, but hasn’t…yet. To those of you who find yourself thinking, “I’d love to try, but…”, keep reading. 

First, a brief aside; I promise it will all come together by the end. I LOVE NaNoWriMo (in case you hadn’t already figured that out). This is my 7th year participating, though, if I’m being honest, two of those years were total flops. Maybe this year will be a flop too – it’s too early to tell. So, the question is why do I love NaNo so much, especially if I can never be certain if I’m going to be a “winner”? 

It’s because NaNoWriMo is one of those opportunities in life that is ALL win. 

Let me explain. 

Outcome A: You work really hard and you find out that your story only has 40,000 words to it (not the 50K required to ‘win’). YOU WROTE A STORY! A WHOLE STORY! (Ok, at least two-thirds of a story.) That’s amazing! You’ve just birthed art into the world and you’ve exposed a part of your deep dark consciousness to the light. How can that be anything but a win?

Outcome B: You have the best of intentions, but life is overwhelming and you only manage to write 5,000 words of a story that you know is going to be a blockbuster one day, if only you had the time to write it. FANTASTIC! You’ve tapped into that inner muse, the genius of the universe, and as a result you WILL come back to this addictive idea another time. November is a weird month, sandwiched between back to school frenzy and holiday insanity. My kid doesn’t have a single full week of school this entire month. It is NOT the ideal writing month, from my perspective. So give yourself credit for unearthing an award winning idea and allow yourself to be excited about getting back to it in January, February, July, or whenever it is that YOU can make time for it. 

Outcome C:  You write 10,000 words of something that feels totally frivolous. You’re writing in a genre you never thought you’d write in, that maybe you don’t even read in, and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going with it. It has no place to occupy on your short-list of professional goals. WHAT A GIFT!! You just learned something new about yourself. Or maybe you knew, but you’d forgotten and allowing this part to have a little time in the sun feels like a reconnection with yourself. Maybe your brain needed to do something different in order to be able to knuckle back down to the hard tasks you demand of it all the other hours in the day. Whatever the reason, take a moment to honor how it felt, and to reflect that perhaps not every minute of your day needs to be task oriented.

Continue reading “Go for it!”

Eeking out time to write

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

It’s mid-November and the scent of NaNo is in the air. No matter the chill northerly breeze pulling the last leaves from skeletal trees, I keep getting whiffs of that funky mixture of exertion, stress, and self-doubt that fogs high school locker rooms at half time.  And the scent of hope – of potential victory – tingles at the edge of our senses.

But you’re against the clock! The minutes seem to fly by in the blurred manner of hundreths of seconds. You’re frozen by the escape of time, watching the flock of numbers wing south, while you gape at the white expanse before you.

No fear! You’re already deep in and the only way to truly overcome this challenge is to slay it. YOU CAN DO IT! Even if it feels like time itself is arranged against you, here are some bona fide cheats that can help you bring your manuscript (whether it’s a NaNo enterprise or other) home before the clock runs out.  And because the holiday season is practically upon us (another period when writing time runs thin as deadlines draw near), think of these tips as gifts you can give to yourself.

1. Give yourself five minutes. If the average writer can hack out 50 words per minute, then five minutes will give you 250 words. Now, clearly 250 words per day isn’t going to get you to 50,000 words in a month. But if you can give yourself 5 minutes to write, 5 times per day, that’ll get you to 37,500 words by the 30 day mark, which is getting pretty close. So even on the days when you feel like there is JUST NO TIME to write (or do much of anything else besides survive), challenge yourself like this: get up five minutes earlier and use that time to write. Stay up five minutes later, in order to write. See if you can squeeze five minutes of writing into each meal, and voila – you’re on your way. (Don’t believe me – check out Jeff Somers’ great article “The 9-Minute Novelist” in Writer’s Digest. The numbers don’t lie.)

2. Give yourself a break. It’s true that you can’t do everything – at least, not until you get your hands on Hermione’s time turner. You’ve got to focus on the thing you want to win. Every coach and every player – every fan even – knows that you’ve got to have your head in the game if you’re going to stand a chance. The player thinking about that school assignment, or the crush of their dreams, or whether they’ve got the ingredients to make mac n cheese from scratch, because even though it’s yummier, the mac n cheese from the box is probably loaded with chemicals – THAT PLAYER – is going to miss the chance to shine. So order take-out for the family (bonus if you can get someone else to pick it up), let the dust bunnies frolic for another week, and focus on what counts (your words!).

3. Give yourself permission to say ‘yes.’ We all know that kids aren’t supposed to have unlimited screen time anymore (even though Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest were my after school nannies and I think I turned out fine…more or less). But that doesn’t mean that if you let them binge on a little extra TV or game time in the next two weeks that their brains are going to be forever damaged. In fact, isn’t this why you regulate their electronic consumption the rest of the time: so that you’ll have the spare hours to toss at them when you need it? Well, your need is now. Spend that credit.

Continue reading “Eeking out time to write”

Ready…Steady…NANO!

“Patience” is a word my five-year old meets with a face like someone who’s just licked dish soap. I’m pretty sure that in his world, “patience” is equivalent to a four-letter adult word. Now and again, I’ve heard him creating dialogue between his toys, and one will counsel the other to ‘just be patient.’ The toy being counseled usually responds by knocking down, jumping on, and otherwise assaulting the toy that sounds a lot like me.

I smile to myself and try to remember how hard it is to be patient when you’re small and all the world is a great adventure full of mysteries to be explored. I pack him off to preschool with a hug and a kiss, and then I sprint for my writing nook, anxious not to waste a second.

Alright, alright. I do NOT generally sprint for my nook. I want to. Desperately. Sometimes it feels like my brain makes the mad dash, and the anguish when it hitsthe end of its tether and recoils back into the reality of what my body is doing is no joke. Some days, it’s enough to make me want to cry.

At least, that’s what life’s been like for me since July.

It’s one of those ‘seasons of life’ things we all read about. One of the fallow ones. Like early spring, when the ground is still too hard or too mushy, the night air still too fickle to put the seeds in the ground and expect anything to actually grow. This one is taking waaaaaay longer than I thought it would when I planned to take some time off from writing this summer. It’s time filled with 1000 other good things. But between all that good stuff, and challenging schedules, and a perpetual need to address the other issues that have also been neglected for months, I’m lucky if I manage to creep to my desk for five quiet minutes to reflect on my day or make a to-do list (and we’re talking the ‘no-kidding-do-this-today-or-suffer-the-consequences’ kind of list) in my daily planner.

Having read and reflected and counseled others through these periods, I know I’m supposed to grant myself some grace. That life sometimes takes us on surprising detours, and with grace that exceeds the merely human, the detours usually end up having greater meaning than we realized they did at the time.

But as I was sitting in my nook for 30 hectic minutes — each of which I spent gritting my teeth and telling myself that if I could just get through one more to-do list item THEN I could reward myself with writing time — I felt like my son must every time I ask him to do a chore before getting to the thing he really wants. And I just wanted to smash the obstacles that are keeping me from writing.

That’s when I realized: it’s mid-October already! For once, the recognition of time having passed isn’t accompanied by harsh self-judgment of all that I’ve yet to accomplish. Instead, hope hangs on it like the hint of rain in the wind.  Mid-October hold the promise of unbridled creativity the same way the scent of September always spurs me to run, the smell of wet earth and cooler weather triggering the Pavlovian instinct to lap the soccer field or rugby pitch. Only, mid-October is the time to clear the deck to make the time in November to put everything else to the side in order to write a new novel: NaNoWriMo.

Continue reading “Ready…Steady…NANO!”

Give to Get

It’s here! Back to school time! How many of you were counting days until your little loves were officially elsewhere for a consistent period, five days a week, so that you could get back to your routine? Raise your hands high now, it’s okay; there’s no one there to see you! You’ve finally got the house to yourself. Your writing nook is quiet. No one is there to disturb the Muse, should it decide to drop in.

If you’re like me, your to-do list is long. It seems like it was all I could do this summer to even jot down new ideas before I forgot them. Now we’ve got the time to dive into our plans and goals. HOORAY! Time to get back in the swing of things and let your creative juices roll.

Just one sec. Before you start researching your next WIP, or scouring for the right agent, or hammering out the word count, I’d encourage you to stop and consider doing this important thing first:

Pay it forward.

Or if you’ve been fortunate already…

Give back.

Before you run away, I’m not soliciting for anything. I’m here to point out the value of getting involved in your community/communities, because it’s a fine point that I think gets brushed over by lots of professional advice columns. The industry is big on encouraging your to develop your author website and social media presence, but I believe there’s nothing like building personal connections. Sure, not everyone in the PTA is going to buy your future book, read your forthcoming article, or have a friend in the publishing industry that they’re dying to set you up with. But more of them will be helpful to you if they know you personally and want to support you because you are supporting something that is meaningful to them. Personal connections are the bedrock on which all your other platforms will be based.

There are so many benefits to getting involved in your communities. Let’s start with mental health. Writing can be a solitary occupation. Spending days alone at your keyboard and evenings surrounded by family can be very comfortable (or not), but it’s isolating. Sometimes you need other adults to talk to who aren’t family members. When you’re stuck with a problematic scene, have gotten your umptieth form rejection letter, or are facing (God Forbid) writer’s block, it’s good to go think about/do something else. Sometimes having a different task is helpful for unclogging the mental drain. Sometimes you meet people along the way who are happy to lend a sympathetic ear.  Sometimes it’s good to hear about the challenges others face day to day. It can help keep it all in perspective.

Taking it one step further, getting involved is a great way to acquire new material. I collect the best snippets of life in a small town when I’m packing lunches for our local Backpacks for Food program. The volunteer work itself is pretty repetitive, but that means the conversation is usually pretty good. And since this is a charity program that draws on a cross section of interests, it also brings out a fun variety of people – all of whom have kids near and dear to their hearts. For a pretty minimal time commitment, I always come away with a smile, usually having learned something new as part of the process. Plus when I’m sitting in front of my keyboard snacking away, I can feel better about it knowing I’m helping a kid enjoy the ability to snack too.

Continue reading “Give to Get”

Off on a Tangent

We opted to call this blogspace ‘The Space Between” but it could just as easily have been called “The Path Forged.” One focuses on the knowns – the place you were, and the place you aim to be; the other focuses on the unknowns – the new terrain you have to traverse to get there. Both are necessary for the journey. Sometimes, though, you find that you’ve meandered from the path less taken to a dense jungle that requires a machete. This article is about one of those side paths I accidentally found myself on a couple of years ago, and which still occasionally spirals back over the more comfortable ground I prefer to tread.

I’m talking about prepping. Not sure what I mean? Think how-you’re-going-to-survive-that-doomsday-scenario planning.

Whoa! I hear you saying. How did we get HERE?

Yes, exactly.

That’s the same thought that went through my mind as I found myself purchasing MREs and stashing them in my basement. I imagine it will be the question that plays on continuous loop in my head if any of the several dozen apocalypse scenarios that get Hollywood excited come to pass in my lifetime.

The answer is that sometimes the things that invite us to step from the known path in the first place end up take us on some really weird routes. For me, that was deep into the world of post-apocalyptic literature. My first novel ended up being a young adult post-apocalyptic tale, evolved from the fertile concoction of NaNoWriMo, my second full month as an unemployed SAHM, and reintegration into the U.S. during one of the nastiest Presidential campaign seasons I’ve ever experienced.

It was great fun to write. As I stared out the kitchen window at our back yard, deciduous trees in the full thrall of a warm fall, it was thrilling to imagine what it would be like to try to survive in this mini-wilderness with no electricity, no running water, no grocery stores. A world in which political turmoil takes a back seat to actual survival. It felt like a puzzle that needed to be solved, and my new mom-mind was hungry for the task.

I’ve got basic survival skills. I’ve been a Girl Scout and been through land navigation and emergency medical courses. I can fish, and if it meant not starving, I could hunt. But it turns out, my knowledge amounts to a hill of beans compared to those in the prepping community.

This is a thing I didn’t even know was a thing until I started to do my research. And then, OH! How quickly one can fall down the rabbit hole!

Suddenly I was faced with a raft of decisions to make and short-comings to address. Would my family and I hunker at home or would we bug out to some more secure location? I took a look at what was suggested for a BOB (bug out bag) and decided hunkering at home was the less challenging option (despite the fact that we have no heat source for our house that doesn’t rely on a functioning gas line and electricity). Besides, I’d read too many stories about people having to face the apocalypse while on the road. (Read One Second After by William R. Forstchen. Not for the faint of heart, particularly because it is just so plausible.) No thank you. It never goes well for the out-of-towners.

Continue reading “Off on a Tangent”