Friday, October 31, 2014

Making National Novel Writing Month Work for You, Even if You Aren't Writing a Novel in 30 Days

National Novel Writing Month is ambitious, something writers prepare for months in advance and takes dedication.

Or not.

I write this with the after effects of a sugar rush from Halloween candy on the evening before November. This isn't one of my favorite months. It is cold and bleak, with the trees bare of leaves and the winter gear out of storage for the longest season in Wisconsin. Later this month, people will be crushed to death, sleep deprived, or something trying to get a good deal at Walmart.

As far as I am concerned, NaNoWriMo is a welcome retreat from everything else in November. It is a reason to sit at the keyboard everyday and think about an imaginary world (or dig deeper into real life things, if that is your bag). It is a reason to look at Facebook groups, Twitter, Nano forums and other social networks more often, because they are inspirational. The vibe is fun. Writerly quotes command the internet. The idea of creating a story becomes important and public. People don't care if you refuse to see them so you can stare at your computer. It is ok. It is National Novel Writing Month!

And sometimes, all that inspiration clicks. I have never "won" NaNo, but plenty of others have. There are best selling novels that were born in the month of November. You will probably hear about them in the next 30 days. What I have done is make tremendous progress on first drafts, second, third or fourth drafts, revisions, plotting. All the emphasis on writing makes the writing part of myself more important for one month. Just one month. Then December hits and all the other important stuff takes the lead and I fight for writing time again.

So whether you are writing a novel, doing revisions, thinking about writing a novel, or doing research. Enjoy your month. If you are a writer, November is yours to ignore everything and explore your craft!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wild Backyard Adventures

Today was one of those beautiful autumn Sundays that demands you spend as much time outside as possible. The weather was a mild 60 degrees, the sun was shining and the leaves were on full display.

Too lazy to clean out the garden, I decided to take the cat outside. Otis begs to go outside all day and all night. I only let him out in the yard supervised, because he has a history of running away.  I regularly took him with me when working in my garden this summer, since it was infested with voles. Otis caught several this summer.

As soon as I took him out, it was clear that hunting was on his mind. He took a few swats at a butterfly and I stopped him. I like butterflies. Catch the vermin.  

After taking inventory of the landscaping around the house, Otis trotted out to the garden while I watched from my covered patio.

Cats are extremely patient. I could tell when he found something interesting. He leaped toward something, missed, then lay low in the grass. Occasionally I would see the white on his nose as he looked at me, then buried in the grass at whatever he was watching. He was a cat on the job!

The dog next door woofed a few times, then looked at the grass to see if she could find anything. Otis ignored her, although the dog was a mere six feet away. Otis is not threatened by the dog next door anymore. He barely acknowledges her, although the dog seems to want to be friends.  

I started to get bored, thought maybe I should clean the debris out of the garden. I contemplated where to put the tomato plants since I didn’t want them in my compost.

I nearly walked over there, to the garden, but then I saw Otis tense again, his shoulders curved in that cat stalking prey kind of way. I stopped my approach and ran back to the patio. I knocked on the patio door for my husband to unlock it in case I have to run inside when the cat finds something and brings it to me. Because that is what cats do, they bring you their prizes. Otis likes to catch, but does not like to kill.

My husband thinks I am crazy. That is nothing new. He did unlock the door.

Then it happened. Otis leaped and caught a vole in his mouth. He must have hit the mother lode, because he continued leaping around the grass, but only had one mouth. He did not let go his charge. At this moment, I was cursing that he is declawed. He might have taken out more than one vole this afternoon.

As predicted, he jogged toward the patio with his prize, still alive and wiggling while dangling from his mouth. I am inside the house now, hollering at my husband to get a bucket.

I noted that my 12 year old son is more swift and better prepared to collect rodents the cat caught. In previous scenarios, my son quickly appears in the back yard with a shovel and a 5 gallon pail from the garage. He then takes the catch to the ravine across the street while making no contact with the injured rodent. My husband took forever to appear again, giving Otis plenty of chances to let the vole go on my patio, then, thankfully, catch it again. I got a little worried about that. One got away this summer, and now lives by my patio.

Husband finally arrived armed with a small bucket and a dowel. Seems a risky choice, but I needed the rodent removed right now. I eyed that small bucket and asked if he wanted a lid. He said no, staring at it for awhile, wondering what to do.  He ended up driving away with a vole in a small bucket in his car. Again, not a choice I would make, but at least the thing is no longer in my yard.

One more down. Otis has been begging to go out for another round all afternoon. Can’t say I haven’t been tempted to let him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Writing Process

1. What Are You Working On in the Moment?
I do not like to talk about WIPs unless I am with my immediate family, a very patient muse or two and my critique group (who are probably sick to death of what I am working on!) Part of my writing process is figuring out what it is I am trying to do.  I need to work out what the story is about, what the character wants and what the character needs to overcome. Right now, I am revising a YA novel that is about that moment in life when your friends are everything. I also have an MG novel in the making that is getting a first chapter makeover.

2. How Do You Think Your Work Differs From Other Writer's In Your Genre?

I think the difference is regional. I have not strayed far in my sense of place when telling a story. Every tale is centered in a place I have lived, where I knew the community and felt the vibe. There are not that many other contemporary novels set in Wisconsin (save our homeboy Michael Perry and "The Art of Fielding"). I also think my stories have an element of the unexpected. Often when I read a book, even a good book, I have a sense of where the story is going. I am often surprised by my own work, even after the dozens of readings.

3. Why Do You Write What You Write?

I write when I feel compelled to tell a story. There is always a theme, or a feeling, or a general sense of discontent that needs to be translated into an entertaining story. Very often, I am inspired by people. Everyone has a story if you take the time to listen. Life is interesting!

4. What is Your Writing Process, And How Does It Work?

When I get an idea, I start doing a lot of research. I start a notebook to take as many notes of facts as I can. My background is in journalism, so I tend to investigate before I write. I read a lot of books with the same themes/characters/etc.... I investigate what I am trying to accomplish. I research my main character's problems and learn about quirks, behaviors, trends, perhaps even the science with that specific problem.

Once I feel I have a grasp of the facts, I start to explore the fiction side, starting with the character and his/her problem and his/her goals. I put together a rough outline and start writing. It doesn't always go as planned, but sometimes it does.

I sit on drafts for months and months and do multiple rewrites/revisions. This is where I feel I put in the most work. I may have a problem with that, but I want them to be perfect. There is a cadence to a well written story that carries the reader along. If I can achieve a cadence that carries me, I know I've got it and the first time reader would have an even more amazing experience.