Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Different Sort of Rat--One Last Pep Talk

Here we are, wrimos, on the final stretch—the very last leg of the race. And though we are exhausted, we are determined to sprint across the finish line with all the grace we can muster before we pass out on the grass at the end of the track. Likewise with our characters. All through this month, they have fought monsters and obstacles and deadlines of their own. This is called the RAT—the race against time—and it’s something that most books need. Usually they have goals with teeth—save the world in twenty minutes or it burns, become queen or the kingdom breaks apart, save the endangered owls or the housing development seals their doom.

You have not been immune to this rat race yourself. December is closing in, bearing with it promises of presents and holiday pounds and too much pie for anyone’s good. At the beginning of the month, you probably felt excited. Thirty days can seem an eternity to the hopeful writer’s mind. So much can happen within that span of time; books can develop and spring to life; love can begin and end. All of eternity seems encapsulated in this November collection of moments that has become all yours.

Yet, here and now, looking back at the preceding days, no doubt you wonder where they have gone, why they have rushed away in such a flurry of fluttering paper and clacking keys. The potential of time resources that you foresaw has now been tapped nearly to the fullest. Coffee is scarce. Nerves are taut. For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, schedules are packed. But if you’re like me, you have so many stories left to tell—not even half the words in your head have been committed to paper thus far. This month will end, and it seems that with its demise, the glow of creating will fade, and life will return to its normal mundane routines locked tightly in the spinning of the world. All those bright moments in your head will fly off like faeries once the month is passed. A tough pill to swallow, huh?

December will come and snatch away the thousands more words that you so wished to write but couldn’t. Your work of genius will sit abandoned in the dusty archives of your computer—finished or unfinished, it matters not. The window has passed for fantasies such as these, and it is time to move on and answer the call of reality. Can’t you already hear the phone ringing? Perhaps you believe that if you don’t get those words in your head written down before the close of November, you may never get another chance. For some, that may encourage you to write like your life depends on it. Because it does. (That was mostly a lie.) But for others, and sometimes I hold myself among your group, the fear and the gravity of this reality is enough to freeze you in your tracks with dread. And while you sit unmoving, time rushes by in the never ceasing whirlwind of commitments and obligations.

Regardless of where you stand on this matter, November is almost over. Nothing can change that—not even coffee. Our kitchen is filled with smoke from my German apple pie, and the strawberry rhubarb is sizzling nicely. Soon pumpkin bars will join the mix. And the cooking, yeah, it’s eating my word count. So is blogging. That’s life. The thing is, you’ve worked yourself hard all month. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy family and these moments that, like this NaNoWriMo, you will never be able to retrieve or redo if you miss them the first time.

At this point, you may be asking if this is a pep talk or a stress talk.

Here’s the crux. No one (at least no one important) ever said that you couldn’t keep writing after November. Many of you already plan to. Good on you. Sprint to the finish line—yeah—but the race doesn’t have to end there. Oh no. After all, you wrote a novel, and I’m sorry to tell you this (not really), but it’s not over yet. Unfortunately, if your work of genius is anything like mine, it has a face only a mother could love. You may think it’s fresh and exciting, but it is probably going to take many drafts and tons of revisions before anyone else will see it that way.

But in the end, where’s the fun without a challenge?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

News from the NaNo Front

Hello wrimos, I see you made it out of week two alive. Congratulations. Sorry to say this, though, but it’s not over yet.

In fact, we’ve only just begun. Because week three…

Oh yeah, I lied about week two…

Week three—there’s the kicker.

All the way through week one, you probably soared on the winds of an exciting beginning and a fresh mind ready for adventure. Then, of course, week two came along—right out of nowhere—and boxed you around the ears a bit. I imagine your head is still ringing. Dreadful sorry.

Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing some rather disturbing news from the writing front. From the snippets of tattered notes brought to me by my fearless carrier pigeons, I have caught wind of a desperate situation. So I stand before you today, observing how nice you all look in your NaNo uniforms, designed specifically to help you blend in with your room and disappear from normal society. Bravo for your ingenuity! And I especially love the Viking helmets—nice touch, those. But I also see something else that reminds me of my own reflection in the mirror, all gaunt from lack of sleep, with those over-caffeinated eyes that seem to stare into my soul. *shudder* Most of you look a little battered, a little down for the count, if you ask me. Sure, some of you have a charming freshness about you and a ruddiness to your cheeks. You’ve been running full tilt, having the time of your life, and the exercise suits you. It really does. So I would like to award you an honorary medal for your bravery.

But war is never as glorious as they make it out to be, and many of you understand that, now more than ever. Come, sit. I’ll grab bandages and cocoa—we can talk about it if you like. I hear the forces of writer’s block have been converging on our location—I suspect foul play on the part of a few inner editors. Also, I realize the plague has been sweeping through this camp and taking down our numbers. Last week, I myself became a statistic. After all, there’s nothing like a good old head cold to wreak havoc on your word count.

So today, troops, I would like to address two issues. Afterwards, you will be free to line up for the chocolate buffet. (I hear there will also be coffee, but don’t quote me on that.)

The first problem smacks of OCD. You see, if I write a certain number of words on one day, then for goodness sake, I will—I must!—write exactly that many words (or more) the next day or else THE WORLD WILL END! I admire those of you who can skip a day without suffering an aneurysm. Unfortunately, I am not like you. On Thursday, I looked ahead at THE ARMY OF COMMITMENTS that was blackening the horizon, and—fueled by the sound of distant, clanking armor and the feral snarls of word-count-eaters—I wrote almost double what I normally write. As I did this, I told myself that I was building up padding so that I could relax on Friday.

But is that how it worked out? No. Of course not. You are talking to Liz, after all, not Superman. Because the next day, I looked at my graph, saw how much ahead I was, and decided to up my goal (for like the fifth time this month). The surplus was nice, but my brain wasn’t going to let those extra words go to waste. And this whole new dynamic started to throw a wrench into my enjoyment of NaNoWriMo.

So you know what I did? I slacked off—I made myself. I went to bed early, having written just about half my normal daily count. Did it bother me? Yes, of course—but not as much as I would have expected. Far less, in fact. I almost felt good about it—lighter and freer. And the next day, rested and invigorated, I popped out of bed, wrote extra words that more than made up my deficit, and enjoyed my time immensely. On Sunday, I slacked off again. Then—wonder of wonders!—I did better on Monday.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. If you’re feeling tired or trapped—take a break, read something, rest. Treat yourself like a human being rather than a workhorse. Eat ice cream and check your social media platforms and dance while washing the dishes. Make cookies. Procrastinate with intentionality. Writing takes discipline—yes, of course. But working yourself to death isn’t going to do you any favors. And if you don’t make your goal of one million or whatever…? Let me let you in on a little secret. You are not going to die. Not from that.




The second, and more disturbing issue that I have been hearing about is the sad malady of novel malnutrition. Like scurvy, this seems to be a common occurrence during war. Chances are, you may have started out with a robust, beefy storyline that really tickled your fancy and made your fingers fly. But at around 25K, some of you came to the realization that your wonderful book was actually going to be a novella. You suddenly felt as though you were choking and drowning and spontaneously combusting at the same time. I feel your pain. And sometimes, the sad truth is that your fantasy trilogy really is only a short story.

But in many cases, all you need is a simple vitamin injection. You’ve been writing fast and furious. Now it’s time to slow down and look at what’s gone wrong with your novel. Your story of a frog trying to find his way home after escaping a little boy’s room may have had so much potential in your mind. But Ferdie found his family in chapter eight, and now your only recourse seems to be writing a 25K epilogue in which you meticulously describe the party thrown for him upon his return.

I’m here with the daring suggestion that maybe your novel doesn’t have enough conflict. Yes, Ferdie got home—yay, Ferdie!—but did you really make him work for it enough? Sure, there was that part you especially liked about the housing development and the belligerent construction workers, and that other bit you didn’t like so much about the swimming pool incident and the rabid pelican. (Seriously, do birds even get rabies?) But, he pretty much just hopped along and weathered these issues. And then he got home, 25K words too early. Stupid Ferdie.

But what if he gets to his little rotten log, and he finds that no one’s there? What if his whole family has been captured—by the same boy!—during his absence, and now Ferdie must save them as well? Or, what if Ferdie returns to watch his family celebrating at his funeral, to see his fiancĂ© marrying another frog, to find his possessions stolen? Or what if they are happy to see him, but, mid-celebration, those construction workers from the housing development come along and start surveying his nice little woodsy habitat? Or! What if Ferdie has come back angry, plotting his revenge on the frogs who made it possible for the boy to capture him in the first place?

I realize you’re tired, and at this point, it’s easy to rush to the end, write the climax, and call it a wrap. But I’m challenging you, today, to call your story’s bluff. What you have might be a false climax. There might yet be plenty of good stuff to come. You just have to dig for it.

So that’s your assignment for today, troops. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to dredge up all that ammo from the slushy ground of the battlefield where you dropped it when you beat a hasty retreat, because you’re going to need it in a few minutes. Writer’s block is swarming the camp, and it’s up to you now to save us all. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to the Land of No Return

No doubt you’ve discovered week two of NaNoWriMo, my current home. In fact, I see those muddy footprints you tracked all over the carpet, and I also see the discarded pile of coffee cups that seems to be growing even as I look. Oh my. Of course, I would offer to give you a tour, but since your laptop looks quite natural plunked onto that desk in the corner with the inspiring lava lamp, I realize I might be a little late for that. Well, welcome anyway. And next time, make sure to wipe your feet on the mat—that is actually what it’s there for. Or so I’m told. I, for one, do not venture frequently into the great outdoors, because why would I do that when I could merely rule a hundred realms within the confines of my comfy chair?

Oh, you say you’ve already been here five days? How embarrassing! Still, I’m not surprised I didn’t notice you sooner. You see, I’ve been shunning all forms of real civilization and carrying on conversations with nonexistent people in my head. But I digress.

Perhaps, though, you don’t know your way around this place quite as well as you think. Allow me to point out some interesting oddities. For instance, come join me in the kitchen, and we’ll inspect the contents of the fridge. See this coffee creamer? It’s Pumpkin Pie Spice—no surprise there. But you may not have noted the brand. International Delight is rather lovely, don’t you think? It’s much better than Coffee Mate, which I call Paper Mate because it doesn’t actually taste like a substance I should be ingesting. There’s also orange juice, and grape juice, and V8, plus lots of milk. Frankly, I think there might be a cow living in this fridge somewhere, because that is seriously a LOT of milk.

Ooh, come take a look at these cupboards—aren’t they marvelous? Let’s look at the tea—Earl Grey, Raspberry Royale, Pomegranate Green, and Chocolate Mint Oolong! They are a caffeine rush just waiting to happen.

But we’ve lingered too long down here, and I’m sure you’re eager to return to your laptop. Or your notebook. Or your papyrus scroll or cuneiform tablet or… Perhaps it would be better if we moved on.

When I am writing, I like small enclosed spaces and rainy days and that perfect blend of darkness and brightness, like the wedding of moonlight and shadows. Here’s a handy dandy tool to help with the mood. Be mindful, though, the thunderstorm can be rather frightening when cranked too loud. Cozy, huh?

Somewhere in this house, there is a newspaper I would love to show you, but the page with the article in question is the only one in the entire pile that I seem to have misplaced. Though perhaps I had help from the gremlins who also stage a multiplicity of phone calls during lunch break. Who needs phone calls? (If you haven’t read “The Murderer,” a short story by Ray Bradbury, I suggest you do so posthaste.) What was I saying? Oh yes, newspaper. I was procrastinating yesterday—a fine art that was developed long before NaNoWriMo but only reached its true glory when the site began in 1999. First I read an article about con men in the early nineteen hundreds. Then I skimmed one about Ebola. And then, I stumbled upon this little jewel. I mean, seriously—I live in Maine. Maine is full of deer. Due to an unfortunate grocery shopping incident, our new Subaru Forester now answers to the name Deerslayer. But shooting a doe with a rack is about as common as meeting a woman with a beard. Though not quite as awkward.

Well, you’ve been kind to me on this abbreviated tour of NaNo week two, also known as THE LAND OF NO RETURN. The inertia of a new and shiny story idea has probably begun to wear off, like the thin nickel plating on that expensive bracelet the salesman assured you was solid silver. You may well be rolling in great vats of words or struggling just to manage twenty. Regardless of where you are, you are most likely getting tired. I know I am. Even though I’m maintaining a steady speed, I still feel like I’m losing ground. This is because I’m forging into the wilds of a rough draft where anything could happen, which could be either good or bad. And right now I’m thinking bad. A few days ago, I accidentally began the long slow process of killing off one of my favorite characters, and now I need to think of a clever way to save her life, or else a meaningful way to let her die. So you see why sleep and sanity are absolutely out of the question right now.

Usually I’m calm, laid back, chill—except when it comes to answering the phone and killing massive spiders the size of mimics. But I’m starting to get anxious now. The newspaper is calling to me. My music collection is begging me to come sing along. In a great feat of avoidance, I made cookies yesterday. And then I walked for forty-five minutes to “clear away the cobwebs in my head.”

So I’m really saying this for my benefit as well. While it’s nice to distract yourself reading about the Bubonic Plague (which is still around, by the way), and the bloke who wanted to get swallowed by an anaconda (we must be terribly bored people), your novel is calling to you. Or maybe that’s just the trance induced by twelve too many cups of coffee. Be that as it may, now is the time when fear is at its strongest. And now, when you most want to quit, is the time that you cannot let doubt win. Because if you walk away today, in the height of your glory, you will regret it forever. All those unwritten words will eat a hole in your brain. Literally. (Okay, not really.)

So go out. Write. Conquer. Make a glorious mess, because with no mess there can be no further glory (or so I tell myself). Drag that book kicking and screaming into this world if you have to. Show it who’s boss. And together, we’ll make it through this. Then, when it’s all over, we can eat as much ice cream as we like, right before we sign up for rehab to treat our caffeine addictions. Wait, what?!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Avengers, NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Writing Two Books at Once—A Message to my Fellow Wrimos

Status:  Since no one asked me to write a NaNoWriMo pep talk, I have taken it upon myself to do so. And to my non-writing readers, I promise, come December, I will write about something other than books for a change. But for now, it’s November, and this is what’s on my mind. Also, be forewarned of mild Avengers spoilers.


Glossary of relevant terms: 
Wrimo—An intrepid adventurer on the path to 50K words.

Nanoverse—The universe of NaNoWriMo, known for its magical properties and slightly insane inhabitants.

NaNoing—The act of participating in NaNoWriMo.


Yes, it’s that time of year again, that magical month of crazy and unexpected happenings. Which reminds me of the day I actually found the end of a rainbow (with no pot of gold—of course.) But let’s not talk about that.

I’m sure most of you have seen The Avengers. If you haven’t, now’s the time. Because today, the Avengers are going to give us a pep talk about writing…  Or something like that.


1)      The world is in peril. (But isn’t it for every wrimo in the nanoverse?)

2)      The stakes are high. (Um…because…50K, and then you have overachievers like me who are then overshadowed by the over-overachievers who make 100K on the second day. Shame on you, whoever you are.)

3)      Failure means consequences. (No success—no book. Those are pretty steep consequences if you ask me.)

4)      A superhero (because let’s face it, that’s what we wrimos are) must join with his friends (writing buddies anyone?) to save the world from destruction. (Here is where I refer back to my original point.)

See, it’s all there. You wrimos have embarked on your dangerous battle against Loki (your inner editor) to save the world from the…okay, so it begins to break down here. But hopefully you get my point.

Not only does The Avengers parallel your journey this month, it also applies to your novel and its plot. No doubt, your characters are striving against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The stakes are high, with tangible consequences. (And I’m generalizing here, because literary novels are different, and also much harder to write in a shorter period of time.) At some point, your character will go through “the long dark night of the soul”, in which he feels he will surely fail. (Spoiler alert:  I’m thinking of Agent Colson’s death and the following events.) You yourself may feel that way somewhere between 25K to 35K (or try anywhere in your novel, when you’re me and you realize that you’re not freaking out and you probably should be freaking out because THAT’S TRADITION, ISN’T IT?)

Though I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, since we all have different writing habits, I personally am working on two books at once. Tada! I have now revealed the true depths of my insanity. But here’s what I have found. At first I was seriously concerned that I was off my rocker, that writing two novels at once was akin to eating two pies at once—delicious but deadly. However, come Day Five at 50K plus, I know something I didn’t on Day One. By adding another story, I have more than doubled my efficiency, for this reason. Last year, I spent ages staring agonizingly at the screen, wondering why the muse was taking so long on her coffee break. I mean, seriously, ten minutes is plenty. I had one story on which I focused all my energy (which wasn’t a bad thing—I got it done), but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened next, getting mired down by doubt and dry-brain-syndrome. (It’s totally a thing. You’d know that if you ever did NaNoWriMo. Am I right?)

This year, though, when I get stuck on one book and need to take a step back, I don’t have to walk away from doing what I love. I can simply switch to my other story, tap away at that until my brain cramps, and then switcheroo again.

Before I leave, because yes, I am in a hurry to get back to my NaNo baby (sorry guys), I would like to make a tie-in. When The Avengers came out, the movie makers had built up to it with Captain America and Thor and Iron Man and The Hulk. While one movie comes out, another is in the works. There’s some overlap. Here’s the part of the show, I know, where you’re expecting me to make some deep comparison between this and my dual-NaNoing strategy with a swift last-minute tie-in to something coffee-related. But all I have is this—the different movies kept us interested, kept us waiting for the next one. That’s what happens with my two books. They feed off each other, like little baby piranhas (or not really). They are their own entities, of course, with different characters and different plots, but they keep me intrigued—they keep me moving. So happy NaNoing you wrimo Avengers. And knock that word count dead.