Is Our Baby Here Yet?

The waiting is the hardest part. The Due Date is today. And I’m a web developer, so I did what web developers do.

I made a website: http://www.isourbabyhereyet.com/joshandliz/

Image Blast: 1 Yard, 24 Hours, 12 Inches of Snow

pano-february-1-2015

At the beginning of February, mother nature decided we’d had enough coddling, and that it was high-time to dump a buttload of snow on top of us, quick as you like. And that’s exactly what happened. In less than twenty-four hours, we’d gotten about a foot of snow.

This image was taken partway through the process in the morning, just about when the cabin fever was starting to set in. By this time it was already too rough to leave the house, but I got what I could standing on the steps of our side door. The lighting was just about perfect, so I got out my crappy DSLR and went to work.

The image is actually a composite of about two dozen images, stitched together with the power of Adobe Photoshop and then slightly brightened. It was also my second attempt: on my first try, I made the mistake of not capturing enough of the edge details near the top, bottom, and sides of the images. The software rendered this as empty space and made it nigh impossible to slice out a nice rectangle.

Oops.

I’m so glad it’s March.

Timewasters

I’m patiently waiting the yearly purging and reclamation of the NaNoWriMo forums so I can spam it with text along with about two thousand other people. But tradition is tradition, so I soldier onward.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep myself busy. Sure, I could be writing blog posts or plotting, but that’s too useful!  NaNoWriMo prep season must also include procrastination preparation, if only to get it all out of my system.  To that end, here’s what the Internet has served up for me lately to keep me occupied:

The Fox (Bluegrass Edition): If you liked the original video by Ylvis, you at least owe it to yourself to check out these country-style folk giving the tune their own little spin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brxVMvLSz8c

Cookie Clicker: One of the strangest “games” on the web, if you can even call it a game. Warning! This game could make you spontaneously burst into cookie dough. http://orteil.dashnet.org/cookieclicker

cmd.fm: Command line radio. It’s no Pandora or 8tracks, but it’s fun for a little while. http://cmd.fm/

 

NaNoWriMo Has Begun

Pencil and Book
Photo on flickr by jcarlosn

It’s November 2. Do you know where your novel is?

I decided to start the month with a bang and crank out 10,000 words on day one in order to keep my energy high and spirits up.  I’m glad I put so much work into my outline, because now I always know what happens next, and I can feel a little bit more free to play around in the text without too much fear that I’m running off the deep end.

Last night, too, I had something of a revelation: everyone’s a discovery writer on the sentence level.  I dunno.  Over time, I think, writers get better and better at knowing what they want to say and how they want to say it, but each sentence escapes differently from the fingertips.  If it didn’t , we wouldn’t need editors.  So, keeping that in mind has helped me maintain some of the spontaneity of the process.

Another thing that’s helped me keep energy and momentum up is that I love the story I’m working on, and I love the characters.  I’m not sure I could continue if I didn’t.  (And, really, in 2010, that’s what happened.  After three days, I switched stories altogether, because I just was not in love with what I was doing.)

If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, that’s fine too: cheer on someone who is!  I find it gets easier for me every year, but a lot of new writers struggle with tapping into that creativity vein.  The only way to get used to it is to keep on doing it, over and over, until it’s second nature.  And sometimes all we need to keep going is a little encouragement.

My Writer’s Creed

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.” –William Goldman

“I hate writing, but I love having written.” — Dorothy Parker

I believe writing is hard.  It’s not some channeling of magical forces or reaching into the dark recesses of the soul.  It’s work, and it takes time, and life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of it.

I believe anyone can write, and anyone can write well.  It’s not a mystical club only some enchanted few can enter. It’s a wonderfully large organization with lots of brilliant people in it.  I don’t feel threatened by other writers: I’m glad to be in such good company.

I believe inspiration can come from anywhere.  Good ideas can be mundane or exotic.  Sometimes the best ones are combinations of the two.  Whether ideas are worked-for or waited-for, there is no ‘right way’ to be inspired.

I believe my characters are my responsibility.  They don’t have minds of their own.  It’s my job to stay true to who they are, and it’s my job to fix it if I write something stupid or ‘out of character’.  It’s my job to be constantly on the lookout for cool things for them to say, and do, and be.

I believe good editing makes good writing better.   Nobody but Stephen King gets it right the first time, and I’m not convinced he does, either (no offense, Mr. King).  Editing is a totally different skill from  writing — especially self-editing — which makes this process even more maddening.

I believe writing is worth it.  The gratification so far delayed that the end doesn’t always seem to justify the means.  But I get a kick out of writing a great scene or writing “the end” or having even one person fall in love with a character that I made up in my head.  Sure, there are agents and contracts and guest blogs and book tours, but it’s these things keep me going in the face of adversity.  Otherwise, I would have stopped long ago.

…What do you believe?

Goldilocks Syndrome

I’m really picky about my workspace.  Don’t confuse this with ‘organized': Mrs. Caffeinated will be the first to tell you I’m anything but.

No, it’s a little different than that.  I can’t just write or code anywhere.  It has to be quiet, but I also have to have access to  music, should I want it.  It shouldn’t be too bright, but not too dark, either, with no glare!  And don’t even get me started on temperature (I’d rather be too cool than too warm, but not cold).  Basically, I have to have everything “just right!”  But who wouldn’t want the perfect working conditions?

As for clutter, well, we’re still moving in, but my office is almost put-together.  I’m still searching for the right balance of stuff-to-space among the boxes and other things I should probably donate or otherwise rid myself of.  I have my treasured writing books and fiction favorites on a shelf nearby, for inspiration.  (Some of my less favorites sit on the bottom shelf.  Also for inspiration, or more like determination, I suppose.)

I’m going to get it right, and soon.  November is only a week away!

What do you look for in an ideal working space?

NaNo Prep Day

I wrote the other day about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but today has been declared “NaNo Prep Day” – so I figured, it can’t hurt to revisit this a little bit. Even discovery writers (aka “pantsers”, which sounds a little degrading) can stand to gain with a little bit of preparation. Sure, you don’t have to know your whole plot on Day 1, but the more you know, the more you can hit the ground running.

So what can you figure out before you start down the road of fiction? Here are four things you can look into before setting off on your novel journey.

1) Know your Characters

Seriously, this is probably the biggest thing. Characters, characters, characters. The best plot idea in the world will fall flat without memorable characters driving it. They don’t have to be ‘morally’ good, but they do have to be ‘quality’ good. Well-thought-out. If you put ten times as much preparation into characters as you do into your plot, you’ll get a return on the investment. After all, plot is characters who face setbacks / don’t get what they want, working toward their goals. (Even if that goal is to run away from their problems, which is sort of a reversal on the idea.)

Furthermore, you can’t have dialogue without characters; dialogue is often a great way to set up or resolve conflict. The more you know about your characters, the better dialogue you can write involving them. You’ll be able to write from a place of personal perspective instead of cardboard-cutout, and that’s a win.

Either way, it starts with characters.

2) Know your Setting

My preferred style of preparation is a hybrid of discovery + outlining, so I’ve done my share of jumping in and getting my feet dirty on a new story right away on November 1. But whether I’ve prepared a 15-point outline or a two-paragraph summary or nothing at all plot-wise, I know where my story takes place. It’s hard to start writing without a setting, so decide the where and when, and then figure out what makes your ‘world’ vibrant.

Even if that world is a suburban household or a vibrant metropolis: consider the tone of your story. Hopeful? Gritty? Full of wonder or full of despair? That should be reflected in your setting. Or perhaps you want your setting to contrast the tone of the novel. That’s cool too! Make it work for you. The more work you put into your setting before November, the easier it will be to stage your story and add in the wonderful milieu details beyond the action and dialogue.

3) Know your Comfort Zone

NaNoWriMo is about experimentation. It’s about challenging yourself. Examine the work you’ve already done and be willing to try something new. Don’t be afraid to fail! NaNoWriMo is perfect opportunity to pursue the pure, unfiltered act of creation, and we should feel encouraged to move past our current boundaries into uncharted territory.

Keep on stretching, and you can only get better.

4) Know your Community

Hit up the NaNoWriMo forums to find out who else in your area (or your demographic) is working on a novel in November. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest boons of taking this project on at all is the sense of togetherness that NaNoWriMo brings to what is already a solitary career path / hobby / pastime. Don’t be afraid to drop in to the forums, or Twitter, or a local write-in. Participate in a word-war or two. You never know what kind of encouragement, feedback, and even friendship you might find.

Editing Is Important

I read this on the NaNoWriMo forums today, and I’m reasonably certain it was sincere.

 I never rewrite things, I don’t do multiple drafts, I really don’t even do much editing. What I pound out the first time is almost always the best. In school I would always do things backwards. I’d write the final draft first, then fill out the outline, and put in a bunch of mistakes for the “first draft” to turn in.

Talk about a downer for your Wednesday.  This is one of the greatest fallacies of a writer I’ve ever run across, and one I’m ashamed to admit I’ve believed in the past: that the first draft is good enough, that we need not revise or edit.

Yeah, no.  The first draft is for ideas.  For many people, it’s for exploring what the heck to write about in the first place.  Writing is  hard, hard work, and good writing — with good editing — even more so.  I’ve never heard an author come back and say, after the fact, “Finishing that book was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”  More often than not, I hear war stories about slavishly writing and revising.

But don’t just take my word for it!

Ernest Hemmingway himself said, “The first draft of anything is [crap].”  I can only assume that I need to do a little work in revision if even Hemmingway wrote bad first drafts.  Anne Lamott believes that first drafts are for getting the words out.  Two popular writers and a popular web comic artist agree that revision is a necessary piece of becoming a published author.

Even Dr. Seuss believed in the power of revision.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

The Crazies

Navi

Nothing injects more crazy into my life than taking stock of all of the crap I have amassed over the years, especially in the context of boxing it all up and taking it to a new location within the span of about two weeks.

Yep, we’re moving — not far, even.  But far enough that we have to go through the entire process of boxes and trucks and utilities and sorting out paperwork and trying to coax our cats friends into helping us.  And me preparing to write a novel on top of that.  You know, no big deal.

Better this month than next month, but it still makes me feel like I have a case of the crazies.

And plotting for Nanowrimo has got me all a-tizzy about my current projects again. In preparing a new project, I am overcome with a desire  to write ALL OF THE THINGS.  So this is a good outlet.  And once November is over, I’ll switch back to a longtime revision project that should have been done by now.  And then we’ll take stock of life, the universe, and my ‘in-progress’ folder, and by that time undoubtedly I will start feeling crazy again.

 

How to Prepare for Nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo is ultimately what you make of it.  Write like there’s no looking back and you have no backspace key.  It’s a time to create art.  And sometimes you need to get in the right frame of mind for art. So here are some ways you can get ready to go the distance this November.

1. Stock up on Caffeine.

Or chocolate or tea or incense or flavored water, or whatever substances get you in the writing mood.  The idea here is that you don’t want to move too far from your writing spot once inspiration strikes.  You want to have your Writer Juice at hand when you need it.  Whatever that may be.  I won’t judge.

2. Doodle

Or chicken scratch, or write poetry, or write a five-step program for conquering internet addiction.  The point is to get yourself acquainted with clearing your mind and flexing those creative muscles.  You’ll be doing a lot more of this in the weeks to come.

3. Plan Ahead

And by ‘plan ahead’ I mean, decide early how much preparation you want to do.  Some people freak out if they don’t have a novel idea by October 31.  Other people live by the ‘seat-of-the-pants’ method of noveling bliss.  I’m a huge fan of pre-writing, even if all it amounts to is “This is the year I write that novel about alien ducks invading Florida.”  But do plan.

(For more on planning ahead, see my post, “NaNo Plan Day“.

4. Google the Interwebs

There’s a treasure trove of auxiliary and useful information  beyond what you can find here, to help you get ready for November.  For your perusal:

25 things you can do before starting your next novel –  Another great list from the good people at Terrible Minds. (While entertaining, please note Chuck Wendig’s extraordinarily creative vocabulary may not be suitable for your workplace.  Or for your life.)

The Procrastination Station – Courtesy of nanowrimo.org, the best way to win is to resist the temptation to lose.  And since knowing is half the battle, here are some things you can resist doing.  Thank me later.

Scrivener – Forget Word and Notepad.  Nothing says “I’m writing a novel!” like software that helps you write a novel.