National Novel Writing Month 2019

So there’s this crazy thing that some writers do. They try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, during the month of November. For some writers, 50,000 words is a full manuscript, but sometimes it is only part of a manuscript, since some genres can be up to 100,000 words.

There is an entire organization (NaNoWriMo.org) that has sprung up around this endeavor, to help authors track their output and connect with other writers for camaraderie and support. If you “win” NaNo (reach 50,000 words) you get a badge to place on your website and a lot of kudos from your fellow NaNoWriMo participants.

Now, you don’t have to officially sign up for NaNoWriMo to participate. I have wanted to do it for some time, but I felt like I could never realistically do it. 50,000 words breaks down to 1,667 per day, and I balked at thinking I could do that.

But this year I decided to be crazy, and try it. Unofficially, so no pressure. I’ve been wanting to write the second book in my Oz series, but never seem to be able to get to it. My Oz books are middle grade, which are about 50,000 words generally speaking. My first book was just under 60,000 words, and I tend to draft short, so a 50,000 word goal will likely encompass an entire first draft of book 2.

I’m making good progress, much to my surprise. This is certainly not a pace I could keep up for the entire year, but it is helping me see how much more I could be doing than I am.

Anyone else doing NaNo—officially or not?

Happy Halloween!

Today is Halloween, so I wish you all spook-tacular fun!

This has been a crazy week for me, and today is no exception. I am frantically cleaning for a party we are hosting tonight.

I did manage to finish a read-through of my YA sci-fi rewrite. It holds up, except in one spot where I need to figure out how to fit it together around things I had cut out. So that’s good!

Since this week has been tricky, I am giving myself a treat by taking today off from blogging.

Although since that means I have to go clean the bathrooms, I guess it;s not much of a treat, LOL.

It’s a cloudy, rainy day here, so we are in for a wet and wild Trick or Treat tonight. Everyone enjoy their holiday and stay safe!

5 Lessons about Writing from Recess Runners

My daughter’s school has a program called Recess Runners. It is a totally voluntary program where kids can come at recess and run or walk around a 1/4 mile track. When they amass a mile, they get a token to hang on their necklace.

Now, if anyone had told me in school that I had the option of running a mile at recess for fun, I would have told them “No way!”. But the program is very popular. Lots of kids running/walking. And I realized I could take some writing lessons from those kids.

1. Find the joy

These kids are having fun. Some are running because they love to run. Some enjoy walking and chatting with their friends. But it is fun for them. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the business side of writing that I forget to have fun. Or I lose the fun of writing under the constant worry that this book won’t be good enough. I need to find the fun again—feel the wind in my face as I write.

2. Go at your own pace

They all start at the same line, but they all go at their own pace. Some zip around 4 or more times in one recess. Some make it twice. For some it’s a struggle; for some it’s easy. But they all made progress. It can be hard not to compare your own career to other people’s. Some authors are prolific, pouring out books like coffee. Some are snails, a book every few years. My journey is different from theirs, and I need to remember that.

3. Remember this was voluntary

The kids don’t have to participate. They don’t even have to participate in every session. It’s a choice for them. Writing is, too. Well, maybe not the urge to write, but the choice to write for publication. I chose to go the extra mile to continually improve my craft and pay for workshops and conferences and edits. I chose to seek representation and the rejection that inevitably comes with that process. So if it ever becomes too much, I can choose to reassess and see if it’s still where I want to be.

4. Set your own goals

Every kid has a different reason for being there. Some just want to run and get energy out. Some are competitive and want to rack up as many tokens as they can. Some are there because they want to be healthier and get more exercise. Some just want to walk and chat with their friends. Every writer has their own goals, too. Some only have one book and just want it out there. Some don’t care about the money and just want to see their work available. Some want to make a living at this writing gig. My own goals are modest, realistic, and so far largely unattained. But I am working toward them, just like all those kids are.

5. It’s the effort that counts

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this, however, is that it’s all in the journey. The striving is what needs to be applauded. We can’t always control the outcomes of our efforts, and we won’t always reach our goals. But we are in control of our effort, our dedication, and our attitude. I won’t use the platitude that the work is its own reward (although sometimes it is), but sometimes the effort leads to opportunities and rewards we didn’t expect, if we are open to them.

So kudos to all the kids having fun running, and I hope to incorporate the lessons I have learned from them in my writing life.

Celebrating 50 Years!

No, not me. (Not yet.)

This month is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. That’s a long time to spend with the same person. Given that the expected lifespan in America is not yet 100 years, that is more than half of your life. My parents have spent almost twice as much time married as single.

It takes a lot of commitment and a bit of luck to last 50 years. I think we will see fewer 50 and 60 year marriages now, because so many of us are marrying later. I married at 14 years older than my mother did. I would be 86 when my marriage hits 50 years.

I wanted to give a shout out to my parents for the wonderful example they have set for me and my brother. They weren’t TV-family perfect, they had their moments of disagreement, but always there was respect and love—and laughter, too..

Here’s to many more happy years for them!

The Value of Looking Back

This past week I have had characters from the past haunting my thoughts. Way back in the day, in high school and college, my best friend and I cut our writing teeth on fan fiction. Miami Vice fanfic, to be precise. It was the characters we created for this series that kept pushing their way into my mind last week.

Finally, on Monday, I pulled out one of these old stories and read it all the way through. The world and the people leapt to life for me like they had all those years ago. And the thing is, it wasn’t bad. Sure, it had a glaring plot hole, and our POV did some head-hopping, but the bones were there. The plot and subplots worked together, and the characters were strong and real.

I don’t know why I felt so compelled to revisit these stories, these characters, but I am glad I did. I saw how much my writing has improved, for one thing. But it also reminded me of when writing was fun. No deadlines, no criticism, just me and my best friend spinning tales.

And maybe it was my best friend sending a message to me. She died in 2004, and I lost my writing collaborator as well as my best friend. Perhaps she was reminding me of who I really am. It is so easy as an adult to lose yourself in all the roles you play—wife, mother, daughter, volunteer positions, organizations you are involved in. If you’re not careful, you lose yourself in all the noise. I admit to feeling a bit unmoored lately, wandering in the wilderness of busyness and anxiety.

Looking back at old work has a great deal of value. First, you gain perspective on how far you have come craft-wise. Second, it grounds you in who you are. And third, it reminds you why you used to write in the first place—for joy and excitement.

Have you ever gone back and read your early work?

October is Boooo-k Month

October is always a crazy month for me. Lots of personal milestones in there. My parents’ wedding anniversary—50 years this year!—as well as my own. My daughter’s birthday (and the requisite party) and of course Halloween and its constellation of activities: pumpkin picking, hayrides, bonfires, trunk or treat, and school parties.

Oh, and I am running for the local school board, and elections are November 5th.

So I’m always a bit busy in October.

But October is also smack in the middle of book event season, and I have 3 events in the next 3 weeks:

October 5th: Collingswood Book Festival, 9 am – 4 pm, Collingswood, NJ

Collingswood 2017

October 12th: Indie Author Day, Galloway Library, 1 pm-3pm, Galloway, NJ

Indie Author Day 2017

October 20th: VPL FanCon 2019, Vineland Library, 11 am-4 pm, Vineland, NJ

VPL FanCon 2017

Whew! That is one packed month!

How is your October shaping up?

Empathy, Creativity, and Negativity

I am what people call an empath. Not in the spooky Star Trek type of way, but I am a person who is hyper-sensitive to other people’s emotions. I not only read people well, but I am personally affected by their emotions. At funerals I rarely cry until I see those close to the deceased crying. At weddings I cry happy tears when I see the joy of the couple.

Not only do I feel what others feel, but it sticks with me. There’s a reason I can’t watch certain films even though I hear they are fantastic—because I know the emotions will haunt me for weeks, perhaps even triggering an anxiety spiral because of their intensity.

I am not alone in this. Many creatives are also highly empathic. It’s what allows us to walk in other people’s shoes as we write characters different from us, inhabit and perform characters different from us, and envision a world different than ours.

And I know that many creatives, like myself, have been very off their game the past few years. In my case, my anxiety disorder has flared up, and everyone knows that when you are anxious you have difficulty focusing and therefore completing tasks. The past few years have been stressful for creatives, and for empaths in particular.

Darkness is everywhere we look, oozing over everything like a thick oil slick. The anger, the bitterness, the despair, the pain, the rise in hate crimes, the never-ending gun carnage…the list goes on and we empaths suck it all up like a sponge, whether we want to or not, and it infects us like a disease.

I think now that my creative slump is not just from my high anxiety. I realized the other day that I have been seeing so much darkness that I have had trouble seeing any light. My books contain some darkness, but in the end the light always wins. But I couldn’t see the light in real life, and I therefore struggled to find it in my work. I seemed caught in a black tunnel that had no end.

But a few days ago I watched Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech and I saw hope. And I heard Alex Borstein urging women to “step out of line, ladies”. And I realized that I had been seeing something else these past few years, too. Something I hadn’t really noticed.

Women. Women coming together for a purpose. Women moving outside their comfort zones to make things happen. Women finding their voices and taking up positions of power. Women saying, “It’s our turn now.”

A change is coming. I do not know exactly what it will be, or how it will play out. But I feel it. A wave is cresting, sweeping in something new.

Maybe that is why I’ve seen only darkness for so long.

Because the darkest hour is always just before dawn.

A Bookish Week

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year—the Spring Book Fair! This year’s theme is “Chill Out at the Book Fair”. Given that it’s still pretty hot here, that is appropriate. Our library looks like the North Pole, with snowflakes, icicles, snow blocks, and a polar bear.

While the youngest grades are the most work, they are also some of the most rewarding to work with. Today, as I helped a group of 1st graders fill out their book lists, they would eagerly ask me, “How many more can I get?” over and over, as they brought me book after book to add.

The kids pick their books in all different ways, too. Some kids want every book on the shelf, hardly able to make any sort of choice. Some browse through each book very carefully before they decide whether to add it to their list. There’s no right way to do it—they always end up with a good list.

The Book Fair began Monday, and will wrap up on Friday. But my Bookish Week doesn’t end there.

I have my first book event of the season this weekend!

On Sunday I will be at the New Providence Book Festival. I enjoyed myself the first time I was there in 2017 and look forward to hanging out with the authors in the pretty area around The Salt Museum in New Providence. The weather seems like it will be quite nice, so I’m hoping for a good crowd of book lovers.

New Providence 2017

I will undoubtedly be exhausted by the long week of bookish events, but I revel in it anyway. Spending time with book lovers, whether they are in Kindergarten or are fully grown, is always a pleasure.

Please support your school’s Book Fair, and if you are in New Providence, stop in and say hello!

9/11, A Generation Later

So yesterday was 9/11. Anyone above a certain age in America, and in many countries around the world, knows what that means. A day of horror and grief as terrorists attacked America, flying commercial airliners filled with passengers into buildings. The day the Twin Towers of Manhattan became twisted rubble, the Pentagon lost a side, and a plane full of heroes plunged into a field.

That was 18 years ago. Almost a full generation. I remember it like it was yesterday. The horror, the pain, the tears, the rage, the grief. My daughter is 9 years old. She’s in 4th grade. This is the first year they really talked about it in school. Honestly, I don’t know how the teachers do it, as I know they all feel the same emotions I do when I think about it.

My daughter came home and started asking questions about my experience, but it soon turned to the events themselves. She was very impressed with the people on Flight 93. “They didn’t fight to save themselves, but to save other people.”

And we talked about why the Towers eventually fell, and why they didn’t right away. We talked about why the firefighters and other first responders kept going back in for more and more people even as the likelihood of structural collapse rose.

We discussed why the terrorists targeted the buildings they did (“Why didn’t they crash into the Statue of Liberty? That’s a symbol of America.”). The heart of our military and the heart of our business sector. And why they attacked America and not other Western countries.

For all that we talked, there were some things I did not tell her.

  • I did not tell her that people jumped from the Towers rather than burn to death.
  • I did not tell her there were babies on Flight 93, and likely on others.
  • I did not tell her that even today people who were at Ground Zero are dealing with the illnesses contracted from the toxic debris.

I did not tell her because she is only nine, and there are some things she doesn’t need to know yet.

Some things I wish I could un-know.

So instead, we talked about other parts of 9/11.

  • The rescue dogs that patrolled the debris searching for survivors.
  • The motley flotilla of boats that raced to Manhattan and ferried people to safety.
  • The generosity and compassion of Canada as they took in flights full of frightened and bewildered Americans.

We talked about those things, because that was the progression of the day: Horror. Grief. Pain.

Hope.

Hope for a better future—a future I see in the face of my daughter and all of the current generation. We will never be able to fully transmit to them the terror of that day.

But we can give them the hope.

Lady Liberty’s torch shines on, and they are the ones to carry it next.

Beginnings in Autumn

I have been thinking about beginnings lately. Which may seem strange in September, as summer comes to an end and the earth slowly goes inert throughout the fall and winter. But for many of us in the USA, September is also a beginning.

Yesterday I helped out at our school’s Kindergarten orientation. That is a beginning for so many. For some families it is their first child in school. For others their final child has finally flown the nest. For the kids themselves it is often the beginning of their schooling. Even if they had been to preschool it is a new school with new teachers and sometimes many new classmates. A world of beginnings.

We also “chalked the walk” yesterday for all the kids starting back to school today. Words of welcome and encouragement. A bit of beauty to brighten the morning. A new grade. New teachers. New challenges. For some kids it’s a new school, with new social pressures. Another beginning.

My daughter is back to school today, in a new wing because she is no longer with the “little kids”. It seems somehow more serious this year. She was still “little” last year. Third grade, still in the 1st-3rd hallway she’d been in for 3 years. She gets a locker this year. She’s been in this school for 5 years now, but this year seems transformative. New. A beginning.

For many adults, this is a time of beginning, too. Teachers and aides are back to school. Parents adjust to a new schedule now that the kids are back in school. I, too, am adjusting to the new schedule. It is a beginning. The beginning of my writing season. I hope I can make the most of it.

I expect many of you are experiencing a beginning, and if you aren’t, perhaps you can take this time to begin something new.

Rebirth in September. Who knew?

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