Well, I had my doubts, but here we are on November 30 and after two previously failed attempts, I can finally say I “won” NaNoWriMo. I crossed the 50,000-word mark on Thanksgiving. My novella turned out to be 43,000 words, so I picked up where I left off a non-fiction book to complete the 50,000 words.
Writing the novella in one month is a satisfying feeling. It’ll take me another month or two to revise it and I have plans to do that. But since it is a Christmas novella, I’m not in any real hurry. If I self-publish the book, I will have plenty of time to get it ready by next Christmas. If I go with a traditional publisher, I’m already too late for the 2014 Christmas season, so it won’t come out until 2015 anyway.
Speaking of publishers, a few people have asked me if I have a publisher for the book, and for the first time in many years, I can honestly say I didn’t think about that during the creation process. I know at least one publisher who will take a look at it, and I know two more who might, but we’re finally at the point in the publishing process in which a publisher is no longer necessary. I may just publish it myself. We’ll see.
Over the last thirty days I have learned quite a bit about myself as a writer.
I’ve learned I can work long hours during the day as an editor, but then still have enough energy to sneak away at night for a few hours to work on my own writing project. It means cutting back on TV and social gatherings, but cutting back on TV is probably never a bad thing and I still had time for a few social gatherings. I just had to be more intentional with my time.
I’ve learned I can indeed write fiction, and that thrills me because it has always been my dream. Selling fiction as a first time novelist is more difficult than selling a non-fiction book because you have to write the entire book first and then hope a publisher will buy it. It typically doesn’t work that way with non-fiction. But now that I know I can write a novella in 30 days, I might just make a habit – especially if my first novel sells well. By the way, it’s a series that can go on without end if people really like it.
I’ve learned I can write anywhere at any time and with more confusion going on around me than I ever imagined.
One of my NaNoWriMo writing sessions included standing at a table in an indoor soccer complex while my niece played soccer. I hammered out my remaining 300 words that night before her game started. Another included writing in a noisy restaurant late one night in which all of the customers were crammed into one section, presumably because it would be easier for the server to handle us. I slipped my headphones on and listened to nature sounds to drown out the noise.
Finally, I reaffirmed something I already knew – I can write on nearly any sort of equipment when necessary. In addition to writing on my laptop, I also wrote one scene on my iPad during a bowling league and a couple of more scenes on my AlphaSmart 3000 during halftime of a football game.
I have been going through writing withdrawals the past couple of days since completing my novella. That's a good thing. I need to harness that feeling to finish the revisions so I can move on to book two in the series.
In 2012, we had enough to buy 1,620 diapers
A number of years ago, a couple of my friends and I stopped exchanging lame Christmas gifts and instead pooled the money we would have used for those gifts to buy food for our local homeless shelter or diapers for the Lydia House – a shelter in Omaha, Neb. that offers emergency services and life-changing programs for women and families. In recent years we have shifted our focus solely toward diapers.
As others heard about our “Three Singles Dudes and a Diaper Drive” they began offering donations which allowed us to buy even more turkeys or diapers. In 2010, people donated enough for us to buy 596 diapers. In 2011, we had enough for 1,735 diapers. And in 2012, we were able to buy 1,620.
Those numbers are astounding to us. Not because we are doing anything special, but rather because of the number of people who have wanted to help with our little ole diaper drive.
We would love to make the 2013 diaper drive the best one yet, so I set up a page on the YouCaring.com website to facilitate donations. Here's a link
. No pressure though. We know times are tough.
Thirty thousand words is the magical number for NaNoWriMo participants as of the end of the day. I’m slightly ahead of schedule, and that’s a good thing since I’ll be traveling at the end of the week and may have to cash in those extra words.
This past week, I worked my way past the halfway point and that felt incredible. Although, shortly before that happened, I wrote my way into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. Wanting to press on, I put my characters in a room to see what might happen and one of them did something that was consistent with who she is, but I just didn’t see it coming. That fixed the problem.
The beauty of NaNoWriMo is, it doesn’t allow you to stop producing words. My natural tendency would have been to stop writing for a few days until I could figure out what to do. But I would have missed the opportunity to be in the moment with my characters to see how they would respond.
As a non-fiction writer, I should have known this, but for some reason it didn’t compute. If I’m on deadline with a newspaper, I can’t put the article aside to figure out how to shape it. I just have to dive in and fight my way through the fog until it lifts. And it will lift as long as I keep moving. Now that I know the same methodology applies to fiction, I’ll take full advantage of it.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, I would love to hear what you are learning.
Photo: Katie Tegtmeyer
NaNoWriMo veterans refer to this week as the second week doldrums – the time when many participants fall behind on their word count goals and then begin to stress over it, or even quit.
I’ve done it in the past.
But so far, so good this time around. The goal by the end of the day is 18,336 words. I just passed the 19,000 mark. My story arc is coming together. I know where it’s headed. Conflict is higher than expected. And the characters are settling into their roles nicely – even surprising me once in a while.
And when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about the characters and their world. The creative juices have nowhere else to go but on the page as I finally sit down to write in a restaurant or coffee shop each night. And I think that’s been a key factor in making more progress than I have in the past.
Some writers never talk about their work in progress. I’ve never been one of those writers, but then again, I've written primarily non-fiction, and that's a different animal. So I decided to keep silent about this novel, based on a theory I wanted to test.
When you experience a tough situation and talk it through with a friend, you release all your angst and then feel better afterward, right? What if that applies to writing fiction? What if talking about a work in progress releases all of your creative angst and then you haven’t nothing left to draw on when you sit down to write?
Writers are curious creatures. We find all sorts of excuses not to write. So we come up with theories like the one I proposed above to trick ourselves into producing words. NaNoWriMo itself is a trick designed to get us to produce words without worrying about revision or whether it’s good enough or not. Keeping my book to myself is the trick I’m using this year, and so far it’s working.
Photo: Daniel Oines
I attended the NaNoWriMo
write-in at Perkins in Omaha on October 31. Maybe 15 people showed up and we all got to know each other before the clock struck midnight.
Then it was on.
I ordered a pot of coffee and wrote nearly 900 words over the next hour or so. The group disbanded around 1:00 a.m., so I finished my other 700 words on Friday evening at Barnes & Noble—which may become my home away from home in November.
On Saturday, I split my writing sessions again, writing the bulk of my word count in the morning and finished near midnight.
Sunday looked much the same.
Routine is good. It keeps me going.
So far, participants need to have written 5,000 words to be on pace to finish by the end of November. I’ve written 5,183, as you can see in the sidebar. I need to be at 6,667 by the end of the day. My guess is, the magic will happen in a local coffee shop later tonight.
During the day (I write and edit for various publications and publishers), I’ve been listening to writing podcasts to keep the creative juices flowing. Here’s what I’ve been listening to:
- I Should Be Writing: NaNoWriMo Special Edition. Host Mur Lafferty is uploading one short podcast a day, pushing writers to hit their NaNo word counts, offering writing prompts and helping writers push past their mental barriers.
- NaNoWriPod. Hosts Ben Alexander and Jim Markus are offering NaNo tips as well, including motivational techniques, how to structure scenes and how to divide your writing sessions throughout the day.
- The Creative Penn. Host Joanna Penn isn’t focusing solely on NaNo, but she has been mentioning it during her recent episodes. Her interviews with authors and other industry experts are always insightful.
I've also been friending writers on the NaNo website so I can see where they are in the process. It's always helpful to know that others are walking the same path. Feel free to friend me
if you want to.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what are you doing to stay motivated and to keep the creative juices flowing?
Photo: Terry Johnston
If I appear to drop off the grid during November, it’s because I’ll be busy writing a novella.
I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo
(National Novel Writing Month – during which novelists write 50,000 words in one month) and you can follow my progress, or maybe lack thereof, on the sidebar of this page where you will see my total word count.
Writing 50,000 words in one month breaks down to 1,667 words per day. The daily word count doesn’t scare me. What scares me is not having the plot line come together well enough to write 1,667 words per day.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo twice in the past and failed miserably – partially because I did not plan my plot or characters well enough and partially because I have a difficult time turning my internal editor off.
I don’t follow the standard writing advice that says to just crank out a first draft as quickly as possible and then go back and revise it. Whether I’m writing a book, a newspaper article or a blog post, I edit as I write, so by the time I finish my first draft, it’s probably a third or fourth draft. It works for me, and I learned long ago that you have to go with what works.
But for this book, I’m going to turn off my internal editor and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, I may end up only writing 25,000 words. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially given that I’ll be writing a novella. Either way, it’ll feel great to write fiction again. I’ve put it off for far too long.
One of the fun aspects of NaNoWriMo is the built-in community that is available both on and offline. In addition to online forums where writers can gather for support, the website lists various places to gather in your local community for “write-ins.”
Tonight, NaNoWriMo participants in my city will gather in a reserved room at Perkins for a write-in to socialize and then, at midnight, to stop the socializing so they can write. I imagine some will crank out two or three thousand words, which will give them a great head start. I’m contemplating attending this event. I’d love to wake up Saturday morning and know I’ve already written my 1,667 words.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, friend me
on the official website and we’ll encourage each other throughout the month. If you are not, then please excuse me if I’m even slower than normal at returning email, phone calls, texts, etc.
Looking out my windshield at white puffy clouds, contrasted by a wide expansive blue sky as I made my way north on Highway 81 in Kansas yesterday, I considered something Alan Alda said in an iTunes “Meet the Author” podcast I was listening to.
He was talking about the power of now, in the context of his search for meaning. First he made reference to something Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “All we have is the present moment.” He connected that with something a neuroscientist told him recently: “Our experience of now only last about five seconds. We’re in now for just that long. And everything before that is a memory.”
Alda’s goal is to keep up with the now because he sees colors and hears sounds he wouldn’t otherwise notice. He sees multiple colors in a person’s face when he’s in the now – hints of blues, greens and browns. Presumably, he doesn’t just hear a conversational buzz when he’s in the now, but instead he hears every word, every syllable, every tone inflection.
For him, being fully present is the closest he believes he can come to finding meaning. While I disagree with his conclusion – I draw meaning from living for God, glorifying Him and enjoying his presence – Alda is on to something, especially in our present age in which it is common to see friends gathered around a table at Applebee’s, all of whom have their heads down texting other friends.
I tend to live two hours from now, or one day from now, thinking about everything I need to do, and I miss the leaves swirling toward the ground in my front yard. I miss two squirrels chasing each other. I miss the brief look of loneliness on a friend’s face.
The fifth chapter of Ephesians has been on my mind a lot lately. I may write more about that later, but in part, the apostle Paul said: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV). Some translations say “redeeming the time” rather than “making the best use of the time.”
The overall consensus regarding the meaning of this passage is, we should be more diligent about works directly related to the kingdom. I see the truth in that. But Matthew Henry goes a little deeper in his comments about this passage:
“It is a great part of Christian wisdom to redeem the time. Good Christians must be good husbands of their time, and take care to improve it to the best of purposes, by watching against temptations, by doing good while it is in the power of their hands, and by filling it up with proper employment – one special preservative from sin. They should make the best use they can of the present seasons of grace. Our time is a talent given us by God for some good end, and it is misspent and lost when it is not employed according to his design.”
I love this notion of making the best use of our time because our time is a season of grace. The five minutes you took to read this post was a season of grace, or five mini-seasons of grace. Being present in the now is so much better than being lost in the cares and concerns of tomorrow.
Photo: David Ip (Creative Commons)
Spoiler alert: I will be referring to the end of the movie in this post, so proceed at your own risk.
“Gravity” is billed as a movie that will leave you thinking about it long after the credits roll.
For me, that turned out to be true.
But initially I was disappointed in the ending.
“It felt incomplete,” I told a friend on the way out of the theater. “The movie ends with Ryan’s (portrayed by Sandra Bullock) safe return home and that was compelling, but it should have gone on to show us what she did with her second chance. It needed to be 30 minutes longer.”
I wanted to know if she found a way to honor fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (portrayed by George Clooney) for giving up his life for her. I wanted to know if she found hope after the death of her four-year old child. I wanted to know if she learned to reconnect with people rather than pulling away from them. I wanted to see hope.
Jesus showed us what redemption looks like.
He told us to turn the other cheek, and then did so as he was nailed to a cross. He told us to love our enemies and then forgave his own enemies as he hung on the cross. He told us that possessing great love means a willingness to lay down one’s life for his friends, and then he gave up his life for us while we were still lost in our sin.
Twenty-four hours after seeing “Gravity,” my mind drifted back to the scene in which Matt let go of the tether line so Ryan could live. It seemed liked an easy decision for him.
That’s when it hit me, I’d been focusing on the wrong portion of the movie.
As Matt drifted away from Ryan toward death, he wasn’t frantic or fearful. Instead, he spoke in a loving, controlled tone, walking Ryan through the various steps she would need to take to find safety. Once she grasped that, he took in the beauty of his surroundings. “Oh, you should see this,” he said, looking down at the earth shortly before he presumably died.
We never learned a lot about Matt. We did learn he was on his last mission and he had hopes of setting a new spacewalking record of sorts. But we didn’t learn a lot about his background. Instead, he was more focused on learning Ryan’s background – even before the crisis occurred. He was the veteran, she was the rookie, and as such she needed his calming presence, so he found ways to get her to talk about herself, even though she clearly wasn’t comfortable doing so.
That leads me, and maybe you, to consider how he got to the place in his life in which he was able to make the ultimate sacrifice, without any reservation, when the situation warranted it. Prompting such contemplation is the real power of the movie, in my opinion.
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I glanced at my watch. I needed to leave in five minutes so Allen could go to work.
“I might go another six months without having a conversation like this,” he said.
That’s the kind of friendship we have. We live 350 miles away from each other, but we can go deep in a matter of minutes, even though I only see him once or twice a year. It didn’t hurt that we were on his enclosed front porch – in an environment that was created for conversation.
We sat facing each other in wicker chairs. His taped up Bible lie on the table next to him. He does his devotions out there each morning, which means it is his holy place – the place where he meets with God.
I felt grateful to be welcomed in.
His toy dachshund wasn’t so sure if he should welcome me or not, so he alternated between begging for my attention and barking at me. But ultimately, he seemed to decide that if I was good enough for Allen, then I was good enough for him.
As I glanced at my watch one last time, I was reminded of what John Sowers wrote
recently about front porches in Portland being built outward-facing for relationship and communal living. Go check it out if you have a chance. It’s a good read.