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/

To Free or Not To Free…and Bookcover Update

Sorry, just had to grab that title. I’m debating whether to give my book away for a day or two. There are pros and cons.

Pros: More downloads. Who doesn’t like free? More readers, more reviews, maybe. More exposure leading to more sales. Do people who download free books write reviews? I do because as an indie author I know that’s what is needed to sell books. I suspect most people don’t. Free boosts your ranking on Amazon’s things temporarily and sales get better for a few days. You can try out new genres and authors with no dollar commitment. Libraries are good for that, too, although mostly limited to traditionally published authors.

Cons: I worked hard on my book! For literally years. I want people to read it, sure, but I also want to make a little money. Some people have thousands of free books on their ereaders. And dozens, if not hundreds more free books become available every day. I have downloaded a few of varying degrees of skill and genres. If people get used to free books, will they ever buy one from an unknown writer? Are indie authors jeopardizing our futures by giving things away now? I know some authors who have given away tens of thousands of books and sold a few hundred. Granted, much more than I’ve sold…

I guess time will tell on that one. Indie publishing and marketing is still relatively new and most readers still rely on paper books so the dust has yet to settle. There are at least three pages on Facebook that post free Kindle books. I think they somehow make a little money with their sites.

Right now, I’m thinking when I get my next book out there–probably Whatever Doesn’t Kill You–I’ll do the free thing. Then, if someone likes it, I’ll have another book they can buy that will have a sequel in a few months. I’m not very business-gifted. I don’t know how to play in that sandbox.

But, in the meantime, I finalized the cover for Another Place on the Planet. I went with the pink, but rearranged and added a flower and used the cubism effect. I really like it. Using GIMP, it has 10 layers, if you know what that means. I’ve improved my skills on that program all by myself, using the little  couple people showed me. I’ll utilize the same model for the other two books, using different lily varieties and colors.

So, that’s the latest mental wanderings of this indie author. Have a great weekend!

Non Internet Procrastinating

Photo by Brittany Anderson, my lovely niece.

As I promised this won’t mention He Whom Shall Not Be Mentioned (boo. Can’t wait for Prometheus on 6/8). And I don’t mean Voldemort.

2. Using Your Basic Computer to Put Off Doing What You Love Doing.

a. Games. Ones you don’t need the internet for. I used to play Spider Solitaire a lot. Lately it’s been Majong Tiles. I almost snabbed my mom’s Hoyle games disc when we had her yardsale here last fall, but I knew the Gravity Tiles on that would be my undoing.

b. Cleaning up the desktop. This is actually useful. I moved all the photos of He Whom Shall Not Be Mentioned to the trash. Painful!! I trashed other lesser things, as well. Created new folders for homeless documents and even put some folders in folders. Now it’s easier to find folders and to see the lovely photo of a Maine beach that my niece took and posted on Facebook.
c. This is really cool. I shortened the bookmark titles on the bookmark bar. These are places I go to often like Goodreads, my website, this blog, Netflix, my bank. All I have to do is click on the bookmark…I put them there by dragging them from the address box, but some were long. To shorten, I went to the website so I could copy the URL. Then, I right clicked, chose new book mark, pasted the URL and added a shorter name, like Nano for National Novel Writing Month. The cute little icons came back when I restarted Firefox. I’m able to get many more on that way. You would need the internet for that, but it’s not like you’re messing around on it.

d. Pin icons to your task bar to take them off your desk top and make them easier to find.

e. Organize photos and music.

f. Edit photos and videos.

g. Change your desktop background using your own photo.

h. Learn how to use a program that’s sitting on your desktop that you don’t use because you never took the time to learn.

i. Write something that’s not your WIP (Work In Progress. That;s writer insider lingo.)

This is a shorter list, but not sweeter because it’s missing You Know Who.

I Want to Be Ready

I’ve had a busy writer week. Wish it was a busy selling week, but…

Here’s some things I did or that happened:

  • My interview was featured on a friend’s blog here.
  • I opened a Tweetdeck account, the usefulness thereof is still to be discovered.
  • As of this writing, I am 5 away from 300 Twitter followers. I’ve gained a bunche since I announced there I’m an indie author.
  • My book is scheduled to be featured here on Tuesday, 4/30.
  • I have liked/friended several authors.
  • I set up a meeting with Youngtown’s library manager to discuss writing programs for children and adults this summer.
  • I’m in contact with a wonderful woman who is helping me with research for What Doesn’t Kill You.
  • I made some nice progress on WDKY.
  • Added pictures to website and this blog. (I’m getting better at basic image manipulation!)

I don’t know where any of this is leading, if indeed anywhere. I read a blog this week–wish I’d saved it–by a man who was achieving what he wanted. He said he was ready when it happened because he kept working on it.

I want to be ready.

Needed: Procrastination Techniques

I’m looking for new ways to put off writing. I love writing but lately, since I published my first book, my mind has been wanting to take more time off. It’s like I was so focused on accomplishing that goal and once I did, I have failed to develop another all-consuming mental activity. Or, I haven’t renewed a prescription with the beneficial side-effect of the ability to focus better. Yes, there is such a pill!

I have started a list of different categories. Some of these activities are hated by me, but for some unknown reason, at times I find them preferable to doing that which I enjoy most.

Today’s technique will be the easiest. I’ll save the harder ones for later. Feel free to adopt any of these as your own to put off what ever you like to do.


Technique 1: Employing the Computer to Procrastinate

This might be every writer’s favorite, except for those who write by hand. I know several who do. I make lists by hand, and doodles. Not much else. This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope to have more to add in the future.

1. The Internet provides numerous ways to fritter away your life. I won’t include online games here because I don’t play.

a. Facebook–Of course. Do I have any new notifications on my personal page? My authors page? How about posting a status update. “My cat just yakked up a hairball.” No, not really. He’s snoozing with my husband.

b. Twitter–Tweet something writerly so people following me because I write will think I am productive and talented and so the filmmakers (how did I get filmmakers following me? Oh right–I mentioned I’m writing a screenplay) might think I’ll have a novel to adapt. One can hope.

c. Click on links on FB and Twitter. Lots of writing stuff, movie stuff, lots of stuff stuff.


d. Look for pictures of Michael Fassbender.

e. Check Kindle to see if I sold any books recently. Same for Smashwords and CreateSpace.

f. On Amazon, read excerpts of Fifty Shades of Grey (okay, I did that once–for a long time. I think they took out the most juicy stuff, which is really all right with me.)
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g. Check Gmail to see if I have any new Twitter followers.

h. YouTube–start off with something of value then digress in any direction I choose–usually comedy and parody.

i. look for and download free e-books.

j. Check Goodreads to see how many more people signed up for my book giveaway.

k.Sign up for newsletters.

l. Look for a job.

m. Look for more pictures of Michael Fassbender.

n. Check regular email. This is a double one because then I can read the stories on the Yahoo feed. None so far have mentioned Michael.

o. Then there’s always good old fashioned research.

Wait-I have a new FB notification. Okay. Nothing exciting.

p. Watch movie trailers. Watch those with Michael several times.

q. Go to Huffpost women and read the sex articles.

r. Look for new movies to add to queue on Netflix (wish they had more Michael movies).

s. Write a blog post.

t. Go to Script Frenzy site and play with plot maker.

u. Tweak author website.

v. Look at blog stats to see if anyone read my last post.

w. Check bank account and clear away cobwebs to see if there is a positive balance.

x. check to see if I sold any more books than the last time I checked. Check to see how much I have to sell before I get a royalty payment

y. Go check the substitute teacher’s chatboard I used to frequent.

z. Look for another pic of Michael.

Next post will be how to use your computer without the internet to procrastinate.

How do you procrastinate online? Share, please!

(I promise NOT to mention Michael Fassbender once in the next blog post)

Overwhelmed

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.

One Good Thing About a Full Time Job


–besides a paycheck.

Stress.

When I worked full time, I had limited time to write. I would dream about writing at work, wish I could turn off the 35 children I was trying to teach and tune in to my novel’s characters.

Now, I have ALL day, minus time to job search, which I should be doing more of. I’ll look at my work in progress, then stare at it, then look at Facebook (again) and Twitter (again) and play Mahjong (again). For some new and different procrastination technique, I could figure out the wonders of Google + which I’ve joined. It’s something about circles.

Stress from the job made me want to escape real life. It fed my creative energy and my motivation to dream and do something to hopefully get me out of the need of a “real” job. Now I don’t have that. Might be coming soon, as we run out of money.

I like staying home too much. Our house is small and comfortable, slightly untidy and lived in. I like hiding away, especially in this hellish summer heat. It doesn’t bother me if the only time I open the door is to get the mail or take the trash out. We go to church on Sunday. Isn’t that enough out for a introverted dork like myself? Well, maybe not.

There were other good things about my job. I loved the kids-a few at a time. And I did have some good times with whole classes and I think one or two kids actually learned something, even if it didn’t show up on the AIMS test. I worked with some good people, too. People I will miss.

The structure the job gave my day was useful. I’m a “whatever, whenever” kind of gal. I’ll go to sleep whenever, day or night, cook food whenever. Write whenever, wear whatever when I’m hanging around home. Working told me “If you want to write, you have to do it between these hours, and no, you can’t stay up until two just because your muse wants to.” So, I wrote during those hours. I needed to. My sanity depended on it. And that’s not much of an overstatement.

My husband works nights and his four workdays vary every week. He doesn’t sleep for six or seven or eight hours straight. He’ll get up late morning, go back to bed in the afternoon and wake up again in the evening. That doesn’t help either one of us. About the only regular thing we’ve been doing is watching the Diamondbacks in the evening.

I need external expectations to help me be productive and I don’t really like that. I’m kind of wishing I could come up with a series of gigs to make money, different jobs to challenge my mind, meet new people and learn new skills. But if I can’t structure myself to be productive, I’m setting myself up for trouble and failure.

Or possibly, as far as my novel goes, maybe I’m scared to finish it and put it out there for e-sale or to be rejected by agents. Maybe I’m afraid it will be good and I’ll have succeeded at something and make a little money and be compelled to do it again.

I have the time I dreamed of. Now, I have to learn to be productive and use it wisely.