Monday, November 30, 2015

Just Checking In

So, it’s the last day of November, which means I’ll be scrambling to write as many words as I possibly can before NaNoWriMo ends. It also means that, soon, I will be more active in the blogosphere. I have been pretty much AWOL all month when it comes to commenting on all your blogs and answering all your lovely comments on mine. Starting tomorrow, I will once more begin making my rounds, though it may take some time to get to all of you.

I will also be reading more (consequently I will resume posting reviews on Monday), and I will be binge-watching TV shows as I detox and recharge my brain. On Wednesday, I will give you the breakdown of what I have been up to all month. In the meantime, if you’re feeling like a stalker and you want to follow my writing progress today, here's a link to my NaNoWriMo stats page.

I haven’t written as many words this month as I had planned/hoped, but I have still succeeded in doing more than I had begun to think I could manage with all the other things I’ve got on my plate. As always, your support and encouragement have been invaluable, and I want to thank you for that.

And now it’s time for me to step out and get back to writing so I can finish with a bang.

Well, my little coffee beans, for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, I hope you have a wonderful last day. And for all of you, how was your November?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Embracing the Crazy

During NaNoWriMo, it’s not uncommon to go a little crazy. Sometimes you find yourself writing a scene where your characters mock you and question your parentage, or when they discuss all the plot holes and the reasons why you shouldn’t be a novelist. And you’ll find yourself agreeing with them. It’s great.

Even if that doesn’t happen to you, at this point in the month, you’re still bracing for the home stretch. If you’re like me, you’re probably tired and ready to take a good long break over the holidays. You may not even feel like you can make it to the finish line without collapsing into a pile of words along the way. Rest assured, this last bit can be just as enjoyable as the rest, provided you recognize the humor in it.

You’ll find yourself typing sentences like, “I see Jude, sitting on a log, rotted and covered with leaves, the log not Jude.” Instead of being a responsible adult (if you’re an adult), you may put off washing laundry until the last possible moment. You may even forget what day it is. Every time you open your word document, you’ll remember something important like the fact that you haven’t flossed your pet barracuda’s teeth in far too long, and maybe you should go do that instead of writing. Or you may suddenly recall the fact that you have something called a family (which doesn’t like to be ignored), and another thing called a social life (which must be maintained somehow—or so they say). Like a greedy dragon, you might catch yourself spending an obsessive amount of time staring at your word count graph and thinking about how you can make it OH MY GOODNESS SO MUCH TALLER before the end of the month. 

At some point, you may be ill-fated enough to glance at the date and realize how little time you have left between now and the thirtieth, which might lead to a (minor) panic attack. So you’ll get to work and you’ll write a few hundred words. Then you’ll realize that you haven’t checked your Facebook messages in, like, five minutes. After that you’ll remember you should check your email, and also your watched threads on the NaNoWriMo forums. You’ll drink coffee and more coffee and at some point you’ll wonder when you decided to skip the mug and start drinking directly out of the coffee pot. Eventually you may find yourself eating the coffee grounds themselves because it’s much quicker that way.

Or you might sit down to write and find yourself accidentally opening Netflix instead. It happens. No doubt your fingers are forgetting how to type properly by now, so you’re probably really proud when you manage to spell at least every other word correctly. When you compare your word count with other people’s, you freak out because it seems like everyone ever is ahead of you and you just want to beat them (and I’m not talking about stats here). You realize that as much as you’re loving your novel, it’s not loving you back. So you drown your sorrows in more coffee, and you spend ages finding new music online.

All silliness aside, I get it—this is the hardest part of the month. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, you’ll have to balance writing and eating and socializing, and that’s especially difficult if you’ve fallen behind. Not to mention (again) that you’re probably super tired already. And December is calling to you from just around the bend, reminding you of all the crazy busyness it has in store for you. So sprint now because you’re on the homestretch and you need to kick this novel’s bum. You can take a break from writing in December, but this is not December. Show the world who’s the boss, first. Then, and only then, do you have my permission to go insane.

Well, my little coffee beans. How is writing coming along? Are you looking forward to December, or would you rather petition the government to add thirty more days to November so you can write a bazillion more words?

Monday, November 23, 2015

For Your Procrastination Pleasure #4

Writing Status: Well, this has been a busy month—much busier than I had expected, so I’ve had to lower my NaNoWriMo word count goal from 505,505 to 408,804. Sad face.

Now that we’re nearing the final stretch of NaNoWriMo, we’re practically dragging our exhausted bodies in a desperate attempt to reach the finish line. Nothing makes sense anymore. All our thoughts are getting muddled and strange, like we’re listening to two conversations at once, and we haven’t figured it out yet:

You might feel the urge to rush through to the end of your book, to cut corners and gloss over important details. For some, that’s how you draft anyway, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But if you’re just getting tired, I urge you to stick to it and flesh out your story a little more, even though you may not want to. When it comes time for editing, you don’t want to end up in the same predicament as these people:

That would be unfortunate.

For music, today, I offer you C’est la Mort by the Civil Wars. Despite the reference to death in the title, this song always makes me happy. And I’ve never been sure what to think of Desperado by Celtic Thunder, but I do know that Ryan Kelly has one of the best voices ever. Forget the rest of the band—I could listen to him for hours. Last but not least, here is Moment by Nate Ruess, and you should listen to it because it is so beautifully sad.

In keeping with la mort, here’s an article on the Black Death, because what is more fascinating than plague, I ask you? (Probably you could list dozens of topics, but research on the Bubonic Plague will always hold a special place in my heart. And I will leave you to wonder why. Muahahaha.) Also, please enjoy this piece on an interesting book mix up. You’re welcome.

Discussion time, my little coffee beans. Did you like the funny videos? Do you have any musical suggestions of you own? Have you read any cool articles you’d like to share? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how is your novel coming along? Have you noticed I’ve been asking pretty much the same questions every week?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Knocking that Word Count Dead

Ah, welcome to the third week of NaNoWriMo, where everything gets just a little bit more interesting. At this point, you’re probably tired, and, if you’re like me, you’re running behind on your goal (whether it’s the official 50K or whatever goal you’ve set for yourself). Others of you may be breezing ahead, throwing your cares to the wind, and having the time of your life. Wherever you’re at, it doesn’t hurt to think about getting some extra words written in case you find yourself unable to make significant progress over Thanksgiving.

Let me just say, as a disclaimer, that everyone’s brain is different. So the advice I’m about to give won’t necessarily work for all of you, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember what I said last week? The ultimate goal is to write the story. Your final word count at the end of the month will not be a meter by which you should measure your self-worth, or even your successfulness. Some people write slowly, and they need to write slowly, and that’s totally cool. Writing slowly doesn’t make you a failure. That being said, if you’re as numbers oriented as I am, here are some tips that might help you beef up your word count.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that writing, like a professional sport, requires a lot of practice and training. If you’re just coming out of the gate, you probably don’t want to count on pulling a 30,000 word day. Push yourself, yes, but don’t be angry if you fall short. Those just beginning training for a marathon shouldn’t expect themselves to be able to finish the whole race on the first try. If you’re new to writing, or new to writing thousands of words in a month, please don’t make this a miserable experience by forcing yourself to produce more than you’re able to. And don’t expect it to be fun all the time. Like long-distance running, it takes a lot of sweat and effort and focus, but the end result will be worth it.

My first NaNoWriMo (2012), I didn’t officially participate. Instead, I just kept track of what I wrote during November, and my count came to about 36,000 words. At that point, 36,000 words was a big deal—the most I had ever written in such a short space of time. When the next November rolled round, I decided to push myself a little harder, and I came to 160,000 words at the end of the month. Last year, I went into NaNoWriMo intending to one-up myself and write 250,000 words, but after a bit of warm up, I found I was able to go above and beyond that, and I reached 404,404 words total.

Now, my point in mentioning these numbers is not to make those with lower word counts feel bad in any way whatsoever. So let me put some things into perspective for you. In all of those NaNoWriMos, as with this one, what I wrote was pretty nearly junk and I would die before I let anyone read those rough drafts. But, I would never have even reached the 50,000 word official goal had I been writing something quality. Which brings me, at long last, to my next point. If you want to beef up your word count, and you’re like me, you need to lock your inner editor up in a maximum security penitentiary for the month. Be aware that if you’re going to go for the higher word counts, you don’t have as much leeway to second guess what you’re writing. One of the biggest rules that I set for myself is that I can never go back and reword something, even if I absolutely hate what I just typed (although I may also write the alternate wording down so I don’t forget it). If I’m in the middle of a scene, and I decided it’s really not what I’m going for, I make a quick note to myself about it and then pick up wherever I left off before things went wrong. But I don’t delete anything.

One of my greatest joys in writing comes from the editing process, so the messier my first drafts get, the more fun I’ll have on the second. I try to keep this in mind as I vomit words all over the page. Remember, the official goal for November is to write 50,000 words—just 50,000 words—not 50,000 polished words, not 50,000 words of publishable manuscript. At the end of the month, no one has to read what you’ve written (or at least, I hope you’re not under that sort of pressure.) When trying to beef up your word count, type the first thing that comes to your mind, and then the next thing and the next thing. You’re allowed to stop and think, but you’re not allowed to stop and overthink, and you’re going to have a lot of trouble making headway if you spend too much time second-guessing yourself.

Another important aspect is good time management. I can be guilty of way too much procrastination—in fact, I don’t think I’d be as far behind my goal as I am if I’d spent more time holding myself to task. Part of good time management is taking advantage of every spare moment you have. Can you write on your phone? Do that when you can’t access your computer. Do you have five minutes while you’re waiting for someone to vacate the bathroom? Use that time. Are the kids napping? Write. Do you have ten minutes while the cookies are baking? Well, don’t just stand around doing nothing—TYPE. Do you feel like slacking off? Write anyway. Squeezing in five or ten minute segments whenever they crop up may not feel hugely important or helpful, but you may find you’re able to salvage more time than you think that way. Even if you only manage an extra thousand or so words, at least you’re farther along than you would have been. Remember that, like spare change, spare moments add up.

Now that I’ve talked about writing all the time, let me reverse directions and advocate taking strategic breaks. Let’s face it, your brain and your fingers are going to need rest, and if you deny them that, they won’t work for you as well as they could. Set a word count goal that you want to reach (something reasonable, maybe anywhere from 100-2,000 words), and write that amount. Don’t pause until you’ve written that. Then take a quick break to read something or visit your favorite social media sites or walk around a little. Then set another goal and make sure that you hold yourself to it. Don’t let yourself take a break until you’ve met that goal. And so on and so forth.

As for my final point, it may seem a little counterintuitive to a lot of you, and again, it might not work for everyone. But my advice would be to make sure that you get enough sleep. In fact, during NaNoWriMo, I let myself get at least an extra hour of sleep each day if I can manage it. The reason for this is that your brain will start losing some of its ability to function properly if you’re depriving it of rest. Even if you manage to snatch a few more writing hours by delaying bed time, you may not be able to accomplish much more than you would have if you had let yourself recharge. And let’s not forget that your word count won’t seem as shiny and awesome at the end if you don’t even survive NaNoWriMo.

When it comes down to it, whether you get a super high word count or a rather low count, if you have put the time into writing this month, I wholeheartedly applaud you because you are amazing.

So what about you, my little coffee beans? Any tips or tricks of your own that you’d like to share? What is your target word count for this month?

Monday, November 16, 2015

For Your Procrastination Pleasure #3

Writing Status: Well, I'm still struggling to get back on track for my 505,505 word goal for NaNoWriMo, so I won't be as active on all your blogs this month as I would have liked to have been. But I will be making the rounds come December.

So it’s been a few weeks, and you’ve probably been writing your little heart out. But, at this point, your brain might be starting to get cloudy and vague, if it hasn’t already. You may feel a bit like a zombie. That’s okay, you’re still a fearsome creature: 

Or not.
Either way, with your head turning all mushy and gross on you, the fictional world you’ve been living in is becoming your reality. Or maybe your reality is becoming fictional:

Oh no. GASP. And to make things worse, your characters are probably misbehaving and ruining all your lovely plans:

Speaking of music…

In keeping with the theme of this first song, your novel’s ending may seem beyond reach, and you might be begging the universe to shatter you so you won’t have to write anymore. Rest assured, this month will be over sooner than you think.

Just drink plenty of coffee, and you’ll be fine. Or, if you’re not convinced that coffee will help you write at this point, take a break and read these interesting facts about coffee. Or, you could check out some random tidbits on chocolate, if that’s more your speed. Oh, and here’s an article on the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Maybe you’ve heard of it before?

Discussion time, my little coffee beans. Did you like the funny videos? Do you have any musical suggestions of you own? Have you read any cool articles you’d like to share? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how is your novel coming along? Have you noticed I’ve been asking pretty much the same questions every week?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When Life Eats Your Word Count

When it comes to National Novel Writing Month, I am an overachiever. But, despite my best efforts, I can’t write all the time. Throughout November, I have to take care of the basic necessities, such as sleeping, bathing, and making coffee. Sometimes it’s possible to multitask and write at the same time, like while eating, but most of the time, there will be periods of hours or even days when life gets in the way of writing. And that has to be okay.

This month, I’ve encountered multiple obstacles that have interfered with my word count goal (505,505 words, in case you were wondering). As is always the case with NaNoWriMo, I wanted to have a really solid first week. I wanted to knock that word count dead. And even though I’ve already more than reached the actual 50,000 target word count on the website, I’m not pacing well for my own goal.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had to pack and clean and sort in preparation for moving, and that has involved a lot of time-and-energy-consuming work. It has also been emotionally stressful for me, as choosing what goes with me and what stays behind for now taps into some of my negative emotions from leaving Africa. (I’ve talked a little about this before.) And while writing can be a great way to blow off steam, it also requires brain power and endurance, and sometimes those two things just don’t come in abundance. Which means my word count is going to suffer.

So, what I’m saying is, you never know what’s going to get in the way of your progress in November (or whenever you choose to write your book, although I’m mainly referring to NaNoWriMo participants here). You’re not a failure if life grabs you and spins you around and keeps you so dizzy you can hardly pound out half of what you would like to.

Let yourself pick up the pace slowly. Ease yourself into this. You have a whole month.

Let me put it this way. I participated in Cross Country for multiple years when I was younger, and one important, invaluable thing I learned about long distance foot races was that I couldn’t afford to start out sprinting. In order to be able to run the whole race, I had to pace myself until I got within sight of the finish line. Then I could pull out all the stops and run at my top speed. Now, this isn’t a perfect analogy, since many NaNoWriMo overachievers will start off with a bang, but don’t feel bad if that doesn’t happen for you. It’s important to let yourself adjust so you don’t get burnt out. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not as far along right now as you’d like to be.

Don’t break your sanity, or your health, because you want to reach a certain number. I will tell you right up front that my word count is very important to me, and I would rather do most anything than admit I can’t always keep up with some of the more aggressive overachievers. But it’s important for me to accept my limits. Where I’m at is where I’m at (deep, I know), and getting frustrated with that is not going to change anything. It won’t help me write more words. It won’t help me have more ideas. What it will do is distract me from my ultimate goal, and that is completing the rough draft of a novel (or, in my case, at least five novels).

In the end, even if my word count falls short, and even if I have to finish drafting one or more of my stories in December, that’s still okay. I will have written. That is the main point of NaNoWriMo. Sure, you must reach a certain word count in order to win officially, or, if you’re like me, a certain even higher goal which you must reach in order to feel like you have won. But the goal is just there to keep you moving and putting words on the page. So please, try to remember to take pride in what you do accomplish, and please don’t let an overly competitive spirit prevent you from having a good time.

Let yourself take breaks from your writing when you need to. Wash the dishes. Short sheet someone’s bed. Visit the NaNo forums and commiserate or celebrate with other writers. If you can, please promise to have a good time, and I will promise to do the same.

Let’s chat, little coffee beans. How are you doing this fine November? What does your word count look like? Are you doing well, better than you had expected, or worse? If I could, I would jump through the screen and give you a giant mug of coffee to help you along, but I guess I’ll just have to give you this virtual pat on the back instead. Happy writing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

For Your Procrastination Pleasure #2

Writing/Life Status: I am officially (mostly) finished all the packing and moving craziness! Hopefully this means I’ll have time to beef up my word count a bit more. Also, some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been answering comments or reading blogs for a couple weeks, but now that life is (a little bit) less hectic, I plan to do something about that soon.
Welcome back. I see you didn’t learn your lesson the first time. Too bad for you. Don’t worry, I’ll save the “torture” for this week’s first video.

Speaking of weighty matters, I’ve mentioned before that I really like ice cream. But be cautious when buying ice cream—this could happen to you:

*evil laugh*

You’re probably hoping for some music suggestions right about now. (If you aren’t, I don’t care—or maybe I do…but only a little.)

This first song really fits with some of the themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, including Gatsby’s rather unhealthy obsession with Daisy as well as the harsh dichotomy between the perfection he perceives and the reality he experiences. So you should totally listen to it.

I grabbed this song from the playlist Stephenie Meyer used while writing THE HOST, and I must say, it does fit the book. Also, the plus side to this song is that it’s one of those pieces I can listen to for hours (because I do that when I’m in the zone).

Okay, I don’t have any personal brain condition anecdotes to share with you today, but I do have this article on punctuation and this article on cannibalism. Enjoy.

Discussion time, my little coffee beans. Did you like the funny videos? Do you have any musical suggestions of you own? Have you read any cool articles you’d like to share? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how is your novel coming along?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Letters to My Fellow Wrimos

Writing Status: Unfortunately I haven't been able to get ahead as much as I would have liked, but in a few days packing and traveling will be over, so I'm hoping I can make up ground toward my goal then.

Note: To anyone confused about National Novel Writing Month, here's a link.

To: The Discouraged Writer Who Would Like to Get Published

Dear Writer,

I need your book. I need your words like I need coffee (and that’s a lot, in case you were wondering). You may be sitting there, at your desk or in your recliner or wherever, thinking sadly to yourself that no one will ever care about the stories you want to tell—that no one will ever recognize the beauty of the landscapes you craft in your mind. Not true.

I own hundreds of books, but my personal library remains incomplete without your voice, your inspiration, your insight. It’s missing the unique way you see and process the universe, the reflections and emotions that only you know how to express. It’s missing your heartbeat, and your soul. Without your contributions, the bookish world is a hollower place. Maybe some people don’t notice the void, but I do.

Whisk me away from this reality. Show me something better, or something worse—I don’t care. Just take my hand and lead me through your mind. Whisper about buried secrets and long-lost love and pain and joy and that feeling you get when you jump in mud puddles like a little kid. Tell me about leaves blowing in the wind, or your character’s first breakup. Demonstrate what it’s like to lead a kingdom or fight an illness. Help me view the world in a different way.

True, yes, I am addicted to many forms of story, and no, I cannot say you are the only one for me. But you are the only you. No other writer could replace your distinct vision. So please, don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourself or doubting your skill or second-guessing your choice to write in the first place. Every moment that your fingers fail to type those wonderful words is another moment we all miss out.

Please don’t deprive us for much longer.


A Reader


To: The Writer Who Writes only for Personal Amusement

Dear Writer,

Hey, you. Don’t worry—you haven’t slipped through the cracks. While I would love to see your beautiful words on the shelves someday, I totally respect your desire to keep your writing to yourself. You may never edit your books, or you may—but you don’t feel the same need/pull to get published, and that’s fine. The fact that you write just for the sake of writing, and for nothing else, says a lot. It says that you understand writing, that you appreciate it for what it is, not just for what it might get you. It means that you won’t feel that same pressure to conform to popular standards, to write more quickly, or to face the constant feedback that might sap your writing pleasure. It means you get to enjoy writing in its most pure and unadulterated form. In some ways, I envy you, not because I don’t want to get published, but because you will always be freer than me.

So, enjoy this month. Write that wonderful novel, the one you’ll keep tucked away in your hard drive and in your heart, the physical takeaway from a month well-spent. I hope you make the most of this time. I hope you discover new and exciting things about yourself, about this world, about everything. I hope you never lose your untainted love of writing, and I hope your personal appreciation of literature deepens. And, if you ever decide to venture out into the publishing world, then I will find a place on my shelf for your masterpiece.

Best Wishes,

A Reader

Monday, November 2, 2015

For Your Procrastination Pleasure #1

Writing Status: What with packing and all, I'm a lot busier than I had expected to be, so I may not reach my ultimate goal. But, I'm still enjoying my novel so far, and that's always a plus.

So, you may be wondering why I’m not writing a review today. Rest assured, I won’t be discontinuing that feature permanently. I’m just taking a break to do something different during November because National Novel Writing Month deserves lots of attention. (Come December, I will return to my normal Monday reviews). In the meantime, you can expect a post much like this every Monday and a pep talk every Wednesday. (Some of you may remember my pep talks from last year.)

While every writer, in the end, needs to buckle down and avoid all distractions in order to get words on the page, let’s face it—it’s fun to procrastinate. And because I’m (only slightly) diabolical, I figured I’d do what you probably don’t want me to do. I shall be the little devil on your shoulder offering you all sorts of lovely diversions.

But maybe you should listen to this shoulder angel instead:

See what I did there? Really, though, I’m probably a lot more like this guy:

You’re welcome.

Okay, I’ll try to be serious now.

Many writers enjoy listening to music while drafting/editing, and I know it can be a struggle to dig up new and interesting tunes when you’re on the clock. Here are some songs I’ve enjoyed: I always fall back on this one if I can’t think of anything else to listen to, and I just discovered this one a few weeks ago. Feel free to play them while I talk—I won’t be offended.

All set? Okay, let’s keep this ball rolling. Despite my mild maniacal side, I really don’t want to sabotage your entire day. Or maybe I do.

I realize you just put in your ear buds (or perhaps you didn’t, it’s all the same to me), but here’s another goody you might enjoy, if you find white noise is better for getting you into the writing zone.

Now, I like to read interesting articles that give my brain something to munch on, so I figured I’d throw a couple more links at you. But first, story time: When I was around eight years-old, I told my mom that I see letters, numbers, weekdays, and months as having color. I actually referenced this in a post a while ago, but I didn’t go into a whole lot of depth with it. For a long time, I thought it was this weird OCD tic of mine, and that no one else was like that. Recently, though, it has come to my attention that I am not going crazy (okay, maybe I am, but that’s beside the point). I have a condition known as synesthesia, which basically means some of the things that trigger only one part of a normal brain will trigger two or more areas in my brain. There are many symptoms of this condition—people with synesthesia might literally taste sound, smell color, feel music (as a physical sensation), or any other sensory combination. If you would like to read a better explanation than my poor attempt, here’s a link, and I highly recommend that you check out the article because it’s super fascinating. Here’s another, if you want even more information on the subject.

Well, I’ve probably held you up long enough, so I’ll just leave you with this article about Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority. And I will be back on Wednesday with a pep talk for all those participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Discussion time, my little coffee beans. Did you like the funny videos? Do you have any musical suggestions of you own? Do you have synesthesia/know someone with the condition? Are you writing anything for NaNoWriMo or do you plan to sit this one out?