It Seldom Gets Any Better Than This

No Telling

My glowing post on the fine gathering of Conway NaNoWriMo scribblers has been preempted for breaking news straight from the Log Cabin Democrat. This is certainly the mother of all hijacks, and it happened in my own backyard. Practically.

Two shipping containers full of Kotex and baby wipes and whatnot, whisked away by feminine hygiene pirates in the dark of night. Local police feel certain they were stolen for the shipping containers alone, as it’s unlikely they’ll fence the goods. As one official noted, “It isn’t like a trailer load of flatscreen TVs.”

Do tell.

I‘d prefer to imagine a whole band of young mothers, desperate in these tough times, clipping padlocks and absconding with the goods. Gals sitting around the dinette table in some double-wide, drinking box-wine and splitting up the loot – that sort of thing.

Five days before the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, this is a gift indeed.

Is it Sunday Night Already?

No Telling

I‘m well into a string of six-day work weeks and no end in sight until mid December. How did I over-extend myself this way? It sneaks up on me. One week I’m working at a steady, relaxed pace, then one Sunday night I flip the organizer book over to the next page and it looks like Armageddon.

I bring this on myself. Please tell me I’m not alone.

There are a gazillion commitments this week – everything from throwing a NaNoWriMo plotting workshop to advising the November online issue of the Vortex. In the next two days I’ll rake in around 80 freshman essays that need grading, I’ve got a novel rewrite due, judges for a freshman comp essay contest to wrangle, and the 2nd Edition of the Easy Street Carnival of Writing and Art to judge and post.

Halloween is coming and I have no candy.

So is NaNoWriMo and I have no plot.

Clearly I’m suffering from Sunday Night Panic. Just so you know, the antidote is writing this blog post. Short of knocking myself in the head this seems to be working fairly well. Mainly because I just put blogging on my to-do list so I could check it off with a flourish.

Ta-da, y’all.

I’m Just Here to Help

No Telling

I‘m not entirely sure what to do with these tidbits from the Log Cabin Democrat’s Police Beat, but I’m unable to keep them to myself.

“Residential burglary at [deleted] Highway 89 South (about a mile northeast of Mayflower). Victim reported on Thursday that someone had broken into a residence and stolen a water hose and water hose reel, a Marlboro bag, a box with 500 magazines in it, some camping supplies and some iodine.”

Sounds like someone’s on the lam. Because it creeps me clean out to think otherwise, I’m going to assume that box held back issues of Field and Stream. Regardless, that’s one heavy box to tote around and I’m surprised the thief didn’t take a little Bengay with that iodine.

And this typographical house-guest mystery:

“Theft of property at [deleted]block of South Boulevard. Victim reported that at some point between 11 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 a.m. Monday, as the victim slept, someone stole an ACER computer. The victim told police that a guest known to her only as “E” had stayed at the apartment on that night, and was gone before she woke the next morning. The letter “U” was reported to be missing from the computer’s keyboard.”

The point is, anyone looking for NaNoWriMo material need look no further than this fascinating link. God bless the Log Cabin Democrat and all who scribble there.

I just shake my head.

National Novel Writing Month: Plotting in the Dark

Fresh Ribbon

I‘ve made the commitment, and sworn to do my duty as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison. No going back now – I’m writing a novel in “thirty days and nights of literary abandon.” Why am I doing this to myself? Because last year I wrote over 50,000 words in thirty days and it made me happy.

  1. It was the finest writing experience of my life.
  2. I found out just how far I could push myself despite grading and conference-hopping and other general must-do business.
  3. The mad month redefined me as a writer and forced this poet to sling out a story that held together.
  4. At the end of the month, I had a novel in hand and the giddiness of it floated me until, well, just now.

I‘m exactly where I was last October – no plot, no plan. Just a character I’ve been carrying around with me for a while. My strategy is simple: Start writing and let the character tell you the story.

I do tend, as I slam the thing out, to have an idea for a direction or scene. In order to keep those handy, I create a file, name it, then close it and get back to writing. When I open up the Novel Folder each day, the scenes are listed right there. I simply click on one of them and begin. At the end of the month, I piece the puzzle back together and it’s ready for rewrite.

That’s it. No note cards or agonizing character outlines. No plotting maze. I let the characters be and they go where they wish, committing all manner of lovely and unlovely acts. The critters walk around with me and whisper in my ear all day. By the morning write, there’s story.

I can’t wait to see this year’s novel roll out from under my fingers. I’m not sure I have the muscular fortitude of the Typewriter Brigade, a stealthy group of miscreants who manage to produce their NaNoWriMo Novels purely on typewriters. I’m going to slam out part of it on the old manual machines, though, as long as my fingers hold out. We’ll see how that little experiment works.

If you feel you can join us, do. If you can’t, grab some pom-poms and start cheering on November 1st.

Call Me Crazy

No Telling

But I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year. 50,000 words in thirty days, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t you dare scoff, because last year I managed to write over 50k words and have the best writing experience of my life. Seriously, by Day 25 I heard the angels singing my name.

For those of you willing to jump in the deep end with a laptop strapped to your ankle, this figures out to roughly 1,666 words a day. I tell you, it’s doable. You can’t ache and whine over every line, you can’t edit as you go. You need a devil-may-care daily slam with no going back. It’s delicious and freeing and there are, of course, the angels near the end.

Just so you know, my slam-it-out daily prayer produced what may be some of the best writing I’ve ever put together. By the end of Week One I was able to write my quota in a little over an hour, typos a’plenty. You can’t care about those either, and that in itself is gift enough for a gal like me.

Join me in November. If 50,000 words sounds like a mountain too high, then make your goal 25,000. If that’s too much, then just keep visiting here and cheerlead. I plan to sling out bits and pieces of my daily slam here and there – some of which I plan to write on a manual typewriter.

You heard me.

It’ll be like Houdini in the glass tank, without the water. My wrists tied snugly with typewriter ribbon, I’m going to run out the clock and reach 50,000 words. Novel in a month.

Who’s in?

Someone Needs to take this On The Road

Fresh Ribbon
(click to enlarge)

Yes, it’s a portion of the original On the Road scroll typed frantically by Jack Kerouac back in 1951. With a little pharmaceutical aid, he was able to slam the novel out in three weeks. The scroll, by the way, is on tour and probably lounging around Dublin right about now.

I won’t go on and on about Kerouac or On The Road. Most women I know (of a certain age) find the book fairly appalling and Kerouac even more so, but Kerouac is not the point here. The scroll is. It’s morphed into an art installation and by the miracle of technological wizardry, a very large typecast.

The thing is, I know a lot of people who can slam out a novel in a month. Maybe they aren’t all Kerouacs, but they do it and there’s a die-hard group of Luddites blowing the top off the NaNoWriMo word counts via manual typewriter every year. You know who you are.

While taking a little paper-grading break today, I hopped on Ebay and found the perfect ditty for a NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigader. Or for a Kerouac wannabe, makes no difference. It’s a big roll of three-part carbon paper – that’s one original copy to keep and two canary copies to send ’round to the art installations in Dublin.

Eighteen days left on that auction, and a chance to make a legend. Who’s up for it?

Headgames for Editing

No Telling

What have I gotten myself into. That’s not a question, it’s what I continually say aloud to myself between sips of coffee and staring hopelessly at the computer screen.
I wrote over 50,000 words of my Chesaleen story and did it in 28 days. NaNoWriMo was an incredible writing experience for me that alternately ate up my brains and opened possibility. Wouldn’t trade those 28 days for anything. At the end of the ride, though, there’s this pile of words that needs serious revision. Serious. Re-vision.
Step One: Since I wrote the entire thing in unconnected, nonlinear pieces, the first order of business was order. Cutting and pasting the whole mess was interesting and I’m still not quite sure that’s how it should be. Doesn’t matter. The beginning is at the beginning and the end is somewhere near the last of it. In between are some Very Big Holes. Good enough for now. I also made some big cuts of scenes too dreadful to read and left notes to myself in the empty spaces.
I’ve honestly never revised anything longer than twenty or thirty double-spaced pages in my life. And those were papers written years ago for my MA in English. Scholarly business. My creative output tends toward the brief – poetry, flash fiction, short creative nonfiction, blog posts, that kind of thing. I know how to edit a moment, what I’m drowning in right now is editing/chopping/revising/developing a whole series of interconnected moments. It’s a “can’t see the forest for the trees” kind of thing, only more so.
The best advice I’ve found so far was on the National Novel Writing Month website itself. One piece of advice is to sit down and write a 5-7 page synopsis of the novel before doing anything else. The objective here is to nail down the plot tightly so there’s no wallowing in sentences (trees) without first finding the damn forest on the map. Good advice. No one can ache and writhe over a few words or a line quite like a poet, and that’s just wasted energy on a project like this. Plenty of time for that later, after the culling of superfluous scenes and plot confusions.
Step Two: What is the book about? That’s a loaded question and I had to answer it in the synopsis. I thought this would focus things a bit, but instead it amplified the size of Very Big Holes I’ve left willy-nilly all over the story. This is good and bad, I suspect, because I keep opening the synopsis and staring at it, zombie-like, drinking more coffee and hoping for lightning or brilliance or sixty muses dancing on the head of a pin to release what needs releasing onto the pages. That’s not going to happen, though. I’m making peace with that right now and it’s going to take some time.
Step Three: Find some music. I know this sounds like a great way to put off the whole rewrite just a little longer – and it is a delightful procrastination – but without all those dancing muses and electricity and such, I need a little something to put my head where it belongs. In other words, I want to make sure my forest is still filled with loblolly pines instead of wandering off and becoming redwoods. This is not a redwood story. It matters. So here is my playlist thus far. I have to say it helps me slide quickly into the deer woods. If it doesn’t show up like to should, just click on “pop-out player.”

That’s where I am right now. A map and some music and more early-morning hours. With Christmas Break, I’ve got a little free time. All I need now is absolution.

My God. It’s December.

No Telling

November is the cruelest month. Finally, the grades are turned in, National Novel Writing Month is over, the fabulous National Writing Project conference in San Antonio is history, and while I still feel a tad shell-shocked, I am back.
I’m entirely too old for this kind of pace. Really. Since November 1st I’ve been rising at 4:00 just to get my 1,700 or so words written for the NaNoWriMo madness – a joltingly delicious writing experience for me. Those early morning hours became extra grading time in December so I could wrap up those final essays pouring in just before exams, and then the exams themselves. At the end of this rainbow is a 50,000 word novel, five classes taught, graded, and put to bed, all punctuated by an impromptu ice storm.
Nothing quite like Arkansas weather. Shirtsleeves one day, two inches of ice the next. Although I’m a little confused by this morning’s warning:
Issued by The National Weather Service Little Rock, AR 3:51 am CST, Wed., Dec. 17, 2008

Have you ever heard of such a thing? I swear they make these things up just for us.
Despite the weather – or because of it – I’ll have an opportunity to catch up on all things unfinished. Books to mail, decorations to flung about, shopping for presents if there’s anything left, rewrites for the book – I might even go a little crazy and dust something. I don’t know. I’d hate to kick up all that dust in the middle of a freezing fog advisory. There’s no telling what kind of mayhem could result.
Christmas Break. Ahhhhhh.

Word Counts and Plot Twists and Whiners…oh my

Fresh Ribbon

I put this graph in because it simultaneously irritates and encourages me. I can be proud of my NaNoWriMo word count, and at the same time completely aware that I’m a tad behind.

All word count aside, writing this novel at breakneck speed has been a fascinating writing experience. There are Those Who Scoff at all these furiously typing novelists as rank amateurs who have no right to call themselves anything but typists. As a creative writing professor I have very little to say to such people, because I know their pathology. When you’ve spent your life kneeling before the Gatekeepers of Academia and kissing their asses for a lousy publication in some university literary mag no one’s ever heard of, it can make you a little cranky. Fine.

I’m not including links to such unhappy writers for a couple of reasons. First, because they want us to. Throwing an elitist and edgy bomb out into the the blogosphere and then turning off the comments forces others to respond by writing on their own blogs and LINKING. It’s a nice way to manipulate the old Technorati count and fluff one’s overinflated ego. Second, these writers clearly haven’t been reading contemporary creative writing pedagogy. Separating the acts of invention and revision is standard operating procedure. And academia has been throwing cold water on the fiery hoops of The Graduate Workshop Model for years now. When Those Who Scoff do a little more research and turn their comments back on, I might consider linking. The blogosphere is not a fiefdom. If the serfs don’t want to fill your larder, they don’t have to.

In the interim, I’m having a very good time with this National Novel Writing Month business and so are my students. We are all learning a lot about how the creative process works under the stress of meeting word count deadlines and the pure magic of letting the story BE. I’m even looking forward to rewriting this bad-boy in December when there’s “world enough and time.”

I began with a character and nothing else. The story twists and blooms right in front of me every time I sit down to write. My students are blooming as well. They’re writing Shitty First Drafts. They’re woefully behind or stunningly ahead of everyone else. They’re sitting down every single day with the words.

They don’t have to write the Next Great American Novel. The NaNo provides writing community so there’s no need for the tortured-novelist-in-a-garret scenario. That’s just a myth anyway. I’m proud of their fortitude and epiphanies and what they’re learning about the work and craft of noveling. The real lessons in craft, of course, always come in rewrite anyway.

So those of you out there frantically slamming out your novels, keep writing. Those of you out there scoffing, keep on telling those damned kids to get out of your yard, I guess. I won’t be reading your crankiness or linking up so others can, but it’s a free blogosphere and you have every right to say what you want. Knock yourselves out.