The Muse, The Zone, vs. #buttinchair

Many thanks to my online writing friends (which the vast majority of my writing friends are) for the topics for the NaNoWriMo series.

 

museThis week, a few of my writing buds sad they haven’t found “the zone,” or that their muse wasn’t showing up when they tried to write and they got nothing done on their NaNo novel.

What creative person hasn’t been there? Creativity is the most fun when every part of me is singing along to the same song–in 4 part harmony, even. I see the path ahead leading to a place I’ve never been before. If writing, I know where the scene will go, the theme, the end, the deep thoughts of the characters, the witty repartee, the biting sarcasm. If drawing, I see the lines on the paper before I make them, my mind sees the entire picture before my hand is laying out before it is complete. If singing, my voice has the next notes ready and my musically challenged brain doesn’t have to search for it as the sound leaves my throat. (This only happens in the car though. Alone.)

But what if your muse takes the day off of to climb Mt. Everest? Or your zone isn’t about writing, but thinking about how you maybe should go back to Facebook and delete that post about your dumb co-worker, although you never used her name. Or even that you should get up and go clean out the cat box.

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A muse is a romantic notion and usually involves an unreliable fictitious entity.

Since NaNo is all about the word count, you don’t have time for your muse to come off Everest (if she ever does–that hill is littered with bodies, much like peaceful small towns where TV sheriffs and mystery writers live). You can’t wait for your zone to move to your writing place. You have to put down words. Dec. 1 waits for no one, my friends.

It’s time for #buttinchair.

Sit. Turn off the internet. Block out sound. Close the door. Start typing.

Don’t wait for the perfect sentence. Don’t search around the vocabulary junk drawer for just the right word.

Just write. #buttinchair #amwriting

“She walked into the room. It was dark. She didn’t like dark rooms because when she was small her brother scared her in one so bad she pees her pants and he joked about it until the zombies got him.”1-siyWsgezvPaCuBmhNgLoqA

There, 40 words. Pretend they’re related to your story. Do that again and again and again and pretty soon you have 250 words. When I get stuck, I make myself write 250 words about what could happen next in my story. By the time I get to 250, an idea has usually sparked. Maybe the light shines on my Zone and my Muse is ready to talk to me again. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep the words in revisions, maybe not. But they’re words. They count. And most importantly, I forged ahead and made progress.

Sometimes, lots of times, really, writing is like your job. You don’t feel like flipping that damn burger, but you do. You don’t feel like cutting into that skull to relieve intracranial pressure, but you do. You don’t feel like changing yet another wet diaper. But you do. Some hungry person gets their food, some patient’s headache gets better, and your baby won’t get diaper rash. It wasn’t fun, but it was done. Progress was made.

The Muse, the Zone, are romantic ideas, and when they show up, they’re fun to be with. But they’re fickle and you can’t depend on them to write your novel.

 

So, here I am, #buttinchair, writing words. No, blog posts don’t count for NaNo. While I’m writing, maybe my muse for mopping the kitchen floor will show up. He’s been quite elusive this year and I can’t mop the floor without him.

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NaNo Tip: First Drafts Are Shit

The first draft of anything is shit–Ernest Hemingway.

The Ernest Hemingway said this and his shit (revised and edited) is so good we’re forced to read it in school. (I preferred Steinbeck to Hemingway. I’m sure Steinbeck’s first drafts were shit, too.)hemingway shit

This is true. If you, oh novice writer, expect to dazzle the world, or even yourself, by what comes through the tips of your fingers and onto your screen, or paper, or whatever the first time, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Failure, I tell you.

You may be a literary genius waiting to be discovered. Your mind may be gestating the next Lord of the Rings, but with aliens and zombies, just what the world and Hollywood are dying to get their hands on. You may have imagined it in scintillating detail while bored in class, at work, with your friends when they’re talking about reality TV and sports. You’re there, staring off into space, creating the perfect battle, the perfect sex scene, crafting the perfect snappy comeback. Maybe you lose sleep over it at night.

And then you go to write it down. The words flow like wine at an ancient Roman feast. Many, many words. You get goosebumps from the elation of creation or the emotion of the scene. You are in the zone, living those orgasmic moments every writer dreams of.Feast_of_the_Gods_with_Marriage_of_Bacchus_and_Ariadne_0

Then you lose your steam because it can’t be maintained forever. You go back and read. Maybe the words are really good words in a great order and you say out loud so your cat looks at you, “Wow! These are really good words. I like–no–I bloody love these words. What happens next?” Your cat asks, “Meow?” And your mind goes blank. For days. Weeks. Lifetimes.

Or the words really suck. They’re stupid words, rudimentary and awkward, not coming close to what you imagined. It’s like you’re back in 3rd grade. “Hi! My name is Theresa and I’m going to tell you about zombies and aliens.” And you think, “And I have a degree in __________________?” So you give up, pour a glass of wine and remember The Bachelorette is on TV. Your cat yawns and stays put.images

Or the words don’t come. Like sitting on the toilet. You know there is shit in you, but it’s stuck. You stare at the white screen and think too hard. You don’t know how to begin because you know whatever you write, it will be, well, shit. So you don’t write. You don’t push. You don’t want hemorrhoids in your brain. Your cat is nowhere to be seen. Besides, The Bachelorette is on.

Here are some things to know:

  • Every writer has been there, some are there now, even experienced bestsellers. Even the ghostwriters for some of those bestsellers.
  • Everyone who has written a novel was a beginner once.
  • Every novelist writes shit, but goes back and fixes it.
  • The more you write and study the craft of writing, the easier it will be to write less shit and easier to recognize and fix it during revisions.
  • Your novel will NEVER be as great as you want it to be. Eventually, it may come close with lots and lots more work (known as revising.)
  • You have to write the shit. You have to write when you don’t feel like it. You know how crappy you feel when you’re constipated? That’s how you’ll start to feel. And you’ll be grouchy. And the people you have to see will think you’re weirder than usual. And people who know you will know you’re constipated and give you prunes. And your writer people will tell you, “Just sit down and write the shit.”

Writing a novel is a long, huge process, and you’re doing it alone. But you’re doing it! Don’t give up on your story because it’s not behaving like you want it to. You didn’t listen to your parents all the time, and they still fed you, right?

Remember, shit happens. It has to happen. It’s called the first draft.

How to Win NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer and use the internet (duh) you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo. (Well, maybe not. Today I mentioned it to a co-worker who’s a writer and he never heard of it. But then, he still uses Juno for email and he’s not even as old as I am.) If not, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month where writers of all ilk strive, struggle, and sacrifice to write 50,000 words in November. It’s how the writing bug bit me and has yet to let go. It’s become more and more respectable each year since its first in 1999. If your an introverted dork like myself, it’s the social event of the year. Some folks write because they just like to. Some, like me, besides the like part, write to share their stories through traditional or self-publication.

Fifty thousand words average out to be 1667 words a day. I write all the time now and sometimes I write that much, but often I don’t.

NaNo is like a writing marathon you run around your day job, your family, obligations you can’t put on hold, and Thanksgiving. Some years, I worked full time, other years I had no job. This year I have a parttime, I’m judging films for the local film festival and I have person/people coming for Thanksgiving. I also like to do my Christmas decorating by the end of the month.

To succeed, it’s important to be willing to make changes to your lifestyle for these 30 days including:

Coffee: Or caffeinated beverage of choice. Mine is coffee. Morning, noon and evening. when writing at home, it’s a good reason to extract my butt from my chair. Pepsi is great, too, but I have to limit that.

Write-ins: When you sign up for NaNo (here) you’re encouraged to connect with the region where you find yourself. Municipal Liaisons (self-sacrificing NaNo heroes) set up and run meetings where WriMos (NaNo writers) get together and conduct word sprints and other challenges to get your word count up. They are motivating and a lot of fun. You get to meet people who are crazy and dorky in your kind of way and they become your friends. You can also set up your own if the MLs times and places don’t suit you. Most regions have Facebook groups, too. Some hold virtual write-ins that are fun and helpful, too.

TV: Plan on giving it up for November. DVR The Walking Dead or whatever you think you can’t live without. You know how you mindlessly watch one show after the other without thinking? Stop it and write. Whoever wrote what you watch didn’t watch much TV at the beginning of their careers.

Tell a few trusted people: Most people are going to think you’re crazy. Seriously, they will. The kind of people who don’t have a story burning a hole in their brain. They’ll want you to keep showing up at work, to keep cooking and washing their clothes and changing their diapers. They won’t care you’ve decided to write a book. Tell people who will understand that. If you don’t have any right off, tell people you’re close to and maybe one or two will care. Well, tell them anyway so when you say, “One more sentence,” before you get up and cook dinner, they’ll know why.

Facebook Groups: As I said earlier, your region probably has a group so you can connect with local peeps. You can search “writing” and such on FB and see what you find. Also, look for groups who write the genre you’re in. Some pages belong to associations you have to pay money to join, but there are plenty others. Like all FB groups, there are some filled with negative people, and others brimming with lovely folk. Keep looking until you find your tribe or two. But don’t spend too much time in November looking. We all know what a timesuck FB is! NaNoWriMo has an FB page, too.

Late Nights and Weekends: You can’t be a writer and not lose sleep and not give up social events. It’s against the rules of the secret NaNo Writers league. Art is suffering (often). Suck it up, make fresh coffee, grab some M&Ms and stop thinking about going to bed or that party where everyone is only making small talk, anyway.

Snacks of the healthy and unhealthy variety. It’s important their easy to handle and don’t make your fingers sticky and messy. Like my favorite, Crunchy Cheetos. That orange craps sticks to my fingers. Healthy snacks could be celery sticks with peanut butter to dip in, veggies of any kind. Dip makes them less healthy, but make sure yo control it so it doesn’t blop on your keyboard. I like lightly salted nuts, too. For the unhealthy stuff, I like M&Ms, Skittles, jelly beans, licorice all sorts. Those aren’t too messy. It’s good to drink water while you write, too. Ice, lemon, fruit or veggie infused, all good.

No Editing: One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is to turn off your inner editor. Put it in a soundproof room. Pretend it’s your high school Comp. teacher who fussed over commas and dependent clauses and the subjunctive tense. Lock that fool up so you can’t hear her/him. You never paid attention anyway so you still don’t know if it’s who or whom. You can’t write 50,000 in 30 days if you keep going back over the ones you already wrote. There will be time for that before next November.

Save Research For Later: Some people (usually plotters) will plot out and plan their novels and begin researching long before November 1. Not me. I’m a pantser–I write by the seat of my pants. Searching on Google for the largest alligator ever of how do they use the bathroom in Japan doesn’t add to your word count. I usually just as a note in the text, bold it so I can find it later, then write on. Or you can make something up and bold it, adding to your word count and fact check starton on Dec. 1.

Cheat a Little: For the desperate. Copy and paste the lyrics to the song your character has in her head that may or may not pertain to her current situation. Write meaningless dialogue that won’t make the final cut.

And Did I Say Coffee? Also chocolate, wine, beer, and booze at the right time.

You’re not going to come out of November with 50,000 shiny words publishers will kill for at an auction. At best, you’ll have a very rough draft that will need more than a month of TLC to get ready for anyone to want to read. But you have more than you started with. And when you tell people you wrote a book, they’ll be awestuck and find you the most amazing person they met that day, even if they haven’t read a book since high school.

Because of NaNoWriMo, I have 4 completed novels and 3 others in various stages of drafts. Two, I have self-published, one I am shopping for an agent with, and one is my very first NaNo novel that I revised but haven’t decided to go further with. NaNo is how I write my rough drafts. I love the fast pace, the time challenge, the way the characters show up and tell me their stories.

No, I’m not a best-seller. Yet. But National Novel Writing Month has shown me I can put my stories on paper, I can learn the craft of writing, and I can finish large projects for myself.

If you have questions, post them here, or on my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/tamunroe/

Connecting

Woman and boy working on homework togetherI spent the last three weeks making connections. Very temporary connections with very young people of various races and cultures. I, a total stranger, stepped into their classroom and walked them away to another part of their school’s campus to read tiny stories, ask questions and do brain-related activities. They all came. The vast majority stayed with me the 35-45 minutes it took to do the assessment–they all had the option to refuse. They didn’t know I checked out okay with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and passed a security check performed by their school district. I said, “Come, please.” Their teacher said, “You go.” Children are very trusting.

view detailsI learned a little about each child in our short time together. One boy with long braids wanted to learn more about creatures (insects.) I knew right off that a little girl was too scared to stay for the assessment. She was very withdrawn, more than shy, like something scary was going on at home. Some kids were reserved until I showed them a page of 30 lines of small pictures of puppies, soccer balls and coffee cups where they were to circle a certain arrangement of the pictures. Often, their eyes widened at the seeming enormity of the task. I said, “Dunh dunh dunh…” in an ominous way, and they smiled and embraced the task. That made it fun for me, too. I liked seeing their reactions.

One little kindergartener slipped her hand into mine as we walked back to her classroom. How sweet! That was like the highlight of the three weeks for me. Somehow, we touched hearts in a way we probably can’t explain and won’t remember. It was special though, and affirming.

view detailsI also reestablished a few connections made in the fall when I did this job then (field research with Harvard U. and U. of Michigan.) And I made some new friends. Some of us connected on Facebook as soon as we got home!

I used to be a very shy person. I could walk into a room and be totally unnoticed. Quiet, overweight and ignored, it’s a good position to observe people. Beware, the quiet ones are watching and listening… But that kind of treatment confirmed my self-talk that I was an uninteresting bumbling dork, condemned to life in a society that didn’t acknowledge my existence, let alone my worth.
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I credit writing for bringing me out. And maybe middle-age. As a writer wanting to improve, I reached out to a critique group and organized write-ins for NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy. I’ve met writers and others online I wouldn’t hesitate to meet in person. Talking about my writing lights me up and gets other people excited, too. People express awe when I tell them I wrote a novel.

Following this dream, accepting and using my God-given creativity has given me a new door to life. A wide French door with a beautiful view of people, ideas, emotions, dreams and experiences. And a door I can also close for awhile to create alone, as most writers do. That’s a time I still crave and cherish. Each fuels me for the other. It’s a glorious thing.

How do you connect with people? How do your personal giftings help or hinder forming new and improving old relationships?

Shut Up and Write

 Just sitting here on the love seat, looking out the door ar the sky filling up with clouds. Listening to the roar of jets from Luke AFB as they land and take off a few miles away. The sound of freedom, someone at our yard sale said last weekend. And waiting for the doctor to call. Adventures in healthcare without insurance. A new learning curve.

And just a few hours and a week away from NaNoWriMo. I have to look at my outline, but I’m not concerned yet. My main concern is it’s going to take me another 3 years to complete a book. But it won’t. I spent a lot of time on character exploration and research, and with that information at hand AND an outline, it should only take one year, tops, to write the sequel.

Nano is becoming pretty popular in the writing business world. Writer’s Digest offered a set of books and tools to help write a novel in 30 day. Writing software offers free trials. Writing expert hold workshops to help people be successful. There is money to be made.

There’s a few things I wish I could afford for writing, mostly conference and workshops. And now, someone to design my book cover. Books, workshop, conferences help us learn, but nothing helps us sit down and do except having a goal. Nano is good for that.

When I sat down at my computer on Nov. 1, 2008, I had NO CLUE what I was going to write, No character, plot. Nada. And it was thrilling. There was a blank page with a blinking cursor glowing on the screen representing a whole new adventure waiting to be experienced, characters waiting for life and conflicts waiting to tortrue them. I was a god who had but to type a world into existence.

And I typed and typed as often as I could. I was a bit disappointed when a romance came out. Not a bodice-ripper, but something developing between two people not quite ready for it. Once I accepted the fact it was what it was and not literary fiction that would change the world, it was fun. I couldn’t wait until the characters told me what would happen next. I loved thinking of new plot twists and writing out the drama. I ended that year with 62,000 words. I had written a book.

A bad book, a shit draft, but worthy, in my mind anyway, of further attention. That’s were the books and blogs came in for me. No workshops or conferences yet. I learned some things I needed to learn. I learned I knew some things I didn’t know I knew.

Lots of people have more money to spend on stuff than I do and if someone wants to support fellow writers, God bless you. But, if someone wants to write, SIT DOWN AND WRITE. There are so many distractions and some of them are about writing. I believe there is only so much research a person can do and not apply it before she ceases being a writer and becomes a researcher. You can only rewrite the beginning so many time before it becomes a means of avoiding the end. You can only say you want to write so many times before you’re no longer a writer or a wannabe writer but merely a parrot saying something you think sounds cool. Only writing makes you a writer.

Why and How I’m a WriMo

This is the first of what I hope to be a series on my experience with National Novel Writing Month orNaNoWriMo. It had changed my life, for the better. I hope.


Since I’m not working, I thought it would be a good year to be a municipal liaison for Nano. So I’m a co ML, which is great because Phoenix is a large area to take care of. So far, most of my job has been coordinating with my fellow ML and sending and responding to emails. We have someone interested in planning some meetings for an area in the nether regions, or at least far from where we are based. Yay!

My first November of literary abandon, as Nano is described, was 2008. I finally relented to my sister-in-law, Jean and decided on the first of the month I would attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I was teaching full time at the time, so it would be a challenge in several ways.

The first challenge, of course, was time. Teaching 6th grade took up all my day and much of my evening and weekends with planning and grading. But I found the writing to be stress-relieving. No one had to see it or read it. You’re not supposed to edit as you write; the focus is to get the story down. A Wrimo (Nano writer) is encouraged to silence her inner editor. A monster was created. I couldn’t stop. I had to force myself to go to bed so I could teach in the morning. I had to force myself to do what I needed to do at home for school. All I wanted to do was write! And housework? Didn’t happen.

Another challenge facing on November 1, 2008, was what the hell should I write about? I hadn’t a plan. I hadn’t a clue. I decided to take a slice of my life as it was then and start with that. I ending up flying with it and very little turned out to be autobiographical. At least in my opinion.

Something else I already knew was that I didn’t really know how to write, how to structure a novel, how to develop characters, how to outline, etc. I figured I could learn if I wanted.

I always thought a writer had to outline, like they tell you in school. I’m not much good a planning ahead. I have since learned that  many writers simply set out and write by the seat of their pants. It didn’t make me a bad person to not outline. What a relief that was!

The first step in a journey of 50,000 words is the first word. I wrote that word and have been writing ever since.

Here’s the link to NaNoWriMo. Check it out. Perhaps there is a writing monster in you dying to be let loose.

NaNoWriMo

Yes, National Novel Writing Month. If you ever thought you wanted to write a book, this is for you. Thirty days of literary abandon. 50,000 words in 30 days. Turn off you inner editor. Writeordie.

This is my third year. In 2008, I wrote my first novel, slightly over 50,000 words titled A Box of Rain, named after one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs. I joined a critique group a few months later and didn’t get laughed out after my first submission. It was fun to write and edit. I created an alternate ending that morphed into it’s own book, Another Place on the Planet. I just finished it–for the second time although it still needs much editing and revising. I hope to submit it for publication by, lets say, the end of 2011. On top of that, I have about 1000 pages and scores of scenes which will hopefully find their ways into sequels. I love the characters, I really do.

in 2009, My Nano Novel was The C Word Can Make You Cry. I don’t really like that title anymore, but… I cheated a little on it. Last year on Nov. 29, I had about 400 words left to write and I was so tired and having a bit of trouble with the end so I said, “I’ll finish tomorrow. What can possibly keep me from it?” and went to bed. A lesson in hubris. I left work early the next day with severe abdominal pain and midnight approached on that Nov. 30, I thought, “Oh, I didn’t finish. Oh, I feel too crappy to write, no biggie if I don’t finish and win.” But it was. So, I borrowed a few pages from Another Place–it was all written that month–and copied and pasted and had my 50,000 words. And won. And went to the hospital.

This year my novel is called Subculture. It’s actually an idea I got for Another Place, a movie the MCs were making. It’s going a little slow. I’m only at 31,000 and should be at like 40,000. Yikes! But five days off is upon me. I can only write any kind of volume with Write or Die, a website where you select a word amount and a time and if you stop typing the screen turns red and annoying sounds go off. Otherwise, I write, but take lots of time to think or pluck my eyebrows or go on Facebook or clean off my key board with an artist’s paintbrush. I have ideas. Have several choices for the ending. Guess I’ll just choose one. Can always change it.

So, novel writing wasn’t enough and in April, I did ScriptFrenzy, by the same fine folks that bring you NaNoWriMo, the Office of Letters and Light. 100 pages of sreenplay in 30 days. I did much reading about screenwriting, joined a website and started following blogs by Hollywood script readers. I figure selling a spec screenplay has the odds of winning the lottery without buying a ticket and getting struck by lightening on the same day, but with a whole lot of work going in before hand. If nothing else, I’m learning to appreciate the art of film more, like playing an instrument helps you appreciate music. Plus, I save time and money avoiding movies I know I’ll hate. Novel writing and screenwriting are two different forms and while certain understandings apply to each, it’s important to not get the two mixed up while writing, especially the screenplay.

My April script was based on the third book (drafted but unwritten) of Another Place. I finished in plenty of time and started to edit it, where it remains until this day. I go back to it and diddle around from time to time. I also started one based on The C Word.

So, two years ago, I began writing and haven’t stopped. I gave up watching TV and crafting because I do that when i watch TV. One bad thing is I don’t read as much, except books about writing. It wasn’t hard to give up cooking and cleaning because I never did much of those things. If only I could give up my day job…

The end is near–if only I could write it

I have until Sunday night to finish my book, Another Place on the Planet. I just have to hack it out to get it done. I don’t have a flair for snappy endings. Heck, I’m not even sure I have a flair for decent writing, but I try.

Another Place is an alternate ending to my first novel, A Box of Rain, which I wrote for my first NaNoWriMo in 2008 when the the writing bug bit and I became infected. I think some parts of the story were good for my first attempt, and I had some nice compliments from my critique group, (Glendale Writer’s Critique Group) although none of them liked the main character’s love interest. It had an ending. But as I thought about it, I wasn’t satisfied. After all, it’s a romance and all the ending promised was stability with a nice guy. As escape material, I thought, “Boring!”

So, I had the MC meet another potential love who was a bit more interesting. And I liked that and hopefully had the reader wondering who was going to get the girl, the MC. But then I took it one step beyond and Another Place on the Planet was born and has grown and grown and…

I have enough material for at least three books. I started last May and spent almost a year writing scenes, rewriting a few, taking different twists but couldn’t get it all focused so this summer I said, “Trilogy!” We’ll see what a publisher, if any, says.

But first I have to write the end of the first book. Then I have to revise and see if it all makes sense and where I can improve conflict and sexual tension, etc. I have to focus on the unseen details that make it tight and readable, that make it flow. It’s quite the learning process. Not as much fun as devising new situations for two characters I’ve come to love. But any good writer knows that most of writing is rewriting.

I’ve been finding if I get bogged down and can’t move the story forward I need to take a short break from it. Maybe work for a day or two on my current screenplay or watch a few movies or read some fiction or a combination of all of the above. I do have a couple of Netflix I’ve been looking forward to viewing, Precious and Through a Glass Darkly. So, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Also must edit my critique group submission for this week and critique the submissions from last time.

My free time is rapidly drawing to a close. I went into my smelly new classroom today and filled up my desk and put a personal-type bulletin board up where I hang important papers I need often and things the kids give me. I’ll have 90 kids this year instead of 70. Besides Science and Social Studies, I hear they’ve tacked on Writing, so I’ll have 90 kids to read for. Hmmm…I’m not going to let it cut into much of my writing time. Keep it short, stupid. KISS.