NaNoWriMo, the US 2016 Election and Motivation

At the moment, I’m sitting at around 15,000 words on my NaNo project. On Tuesday and Wednesday though, I didn’t write.

It was a motivation thing. I had the need to write, but we all get to that place in our projects where it feels like you’re paving mud instead of bricks. You just don’t feel confident about the work that you’re slapping down and it’s hard to make yourself work on something if you don’t feel confident about the stuff that you’re putting down. Everyone was telling me to push through the suck, like just by hearing the words I was going to be able to find that inner strength to Do The Thing.

As a contrary person who dislikes being told what to do, I procrastinated. Instead of noveling I focused on national and local events. I focused on the 2016 Elections.

I live in the state of Mississippi. It is one of the most misunderstood and joked about states in the USA. At least, when you’re living in Mississippi, that’s how it feels. It feels like you are always at the bottom of everything. Our education scores are low. In my town, only 2 of the public schools scored an average grade, a C. All the others scored D’s and F’s on their last review. We still struggle with illiteracy, a slow economy and a limit in opportunities. Our main breadwinners are usually men and our main caretakers are usually women. Traditional roles are the backbone for most visible successful families and values other parts of the country consider outdated are very much a litmus test for what makes a successful family.

The town I live in is service-oriented in most of it’s employment: Nurses, Doctors, Military staff from our little base. We’re full of servers and house cleaners. We have craftsmen and professors for our university. But the people that surround us make up the majority of the state’s population. They are the truck drivers, oil drillers, farmers, livestock managers and factory men and women. They are the people who bring America food, grow the food, find the fuel that lets the country run and the last of those who create American goods within the country’s borders.

They are deeply religious and hard working people who have been living in some version of the poverty scale for a long time and experience very little thanks for the work they do for the rest of the country. Yet they are also smart and kind; people who want to be friendly and to show courtesy. People who care, deeply, about the value of hospitality and good manners. People who watch one another closely to hold each other up to their values of their community and who, during disasters and crisis, reach out. Mississippians are proud and independent.

I often feel like a bit of an oddball where I live. I don’t have the same values, I don’t have the same interests as many of my neighbors and coworkers. I don’t have the same dreams. But I can’t help but be inspired by what I see around me. I even set my current project in a Deep South city because I wanted to show others the dichotomy of living a progressive and modern world view in a society that values different things.

Yet the last two days have struck me hard. The division that is in our country is so much more than just who was elected. It’s a division of values and focus. There are amazing and excellent people in the Urban zones, and by Urban I mean  big cities, who have found community in focusing on education, accepting that not all families look a certain way and comforting themselves by vilifying those who live differently. Communities that do no rely upon the weather for their job, or who need to spend week and weeks away from home just to make ends meet. In the Urban zones, (of which I grew up in) you can go to the store and your things are nicely lined up. There isn’t as much a need to cook because you can find tons of restaurants at decent prices all around you. Eight years ago, those urban people reached out through their grassroots and called upon the people to rise up and help them make a change. And so the world did. And when it did it ignored and shucked off the things those rural people found important.

In 2008, I was on my way home from college with a cold and stopped at a restaurant for food when I saw my country elect it’s first black president. When they happened, I was so proud. Because here were were, making progress.

Yet here I sit, eight years later. A full-time and working home owner in a state that has seen very little help or progress from the change I wanted in the world as a college student. I see people who I work with and live near and exist harmoniously with presented as two-dimensional on all my media. I see the outrage of the LGBTQ community, of which I am apart, at anyone who reached out for the message that the candidate Trump had and paint them with one color: Hate.

“They Hate Us” is what I’ve heard. “This was an election based on Hate!”

Yet for years, all we have done is mock them. For years we have held up their beliefs and mingled in our message with scorn and disdain.

“It’s time to step out of the past,” we’ve cried as we fought for equal treatment. “It’s time to put away your bigotry and your close mindedness.”

But if, for the sake of example, I am a Mississippi woman who’s husband is an oil man and gone for weeks at a time, if I’m a mother, do you know who helps me? My church. My christian church who supports me and loves me. My God who I have been warned others will scorn and try to get me to turn against. If I’m that woman, I don’t see a group that is trying to give love a chance, I see the devil wrapped in the clothing of lies because that was what I would have been taught to guard against. Who is going to listen to the lies that a stranger is telling them when around them they are surrounded by voices protesting on their side. They are in a bubble of acceptance and ignore the message that the left is giving them in favor of standing by the people they know and trust.

And we, those people who voted in the change and who voted in the new updates never took a single moment to think of how to connect with the people we were changing. We dismissed them and put ourselves in a bubble to try and be ‘Safe’. We created echo chambers in the name of ‘Feeling Okay’ and ‘Protecting ourselves’.

I’m done with the safe places. I’m done with the echo chambers and done trying to use simple terms to explain and understand complex problems. I haven’t written in two days because I’ve been digesting and processing what this new development in the setting of my life is going to mean. I’m not going to stand for unacceptable behavior. If I see racism, I’ll call it out, but now I’m going to try and figure out how to do it in a way that actually changes the behavior instead of insults the person behaving. If I see sexism, I’m going to try and make the conversation. If I encounter bigotry, I will deal with it but that extends to both sides. That extends to my side as well as their side. Because at the end of the day, we’re all on the Same side. The side of the United States of America.

For the next two years, I’m going to be connected. I’m going to absorb and focus on what I can do without alienating those I need to stand beside me. Make no mistake, we need each other and we need to stand alongside one another. I’m going to keep writing as well. Because just like the soggy bit of my novel where everything seems a mistake, I have to keep living in the world that feels like a mistake. I have to move forward in both prose and life.

Thank you for being on this journey with me. Keep breathing and keep writing.

NaNoWriMo 2016 – The Prep

I went and checked my NaNoWriMo stats and I have attempted this challenge since like, 2010.

Six years, y’all.

But you know, despite feeling like a nano ‘failure’, I don’t feel like I actually have failed in the final goal of being a better writer.

The first year I tried to do Nano I went into it with no prep. I had discovered the challenge a few weeks before it was going to start and got really pumped up. I came up with an idea and I just WENT for it, no planning, no prep, no characters, no plot… just a story idea that moved forward.

And I made it about 6 to 10k (I sincerely can’t remember) into the challenge and quit after about a week because November is a hell of a month for a college student to try and write a novel. Between papers and school and work? Nah bro. Didn’t happen. My story had no tension, had no real conflict and basically just curled up and died on the page because there was nothing there to hold it up.

The next couple of years I’d try again and I’d inevitably fail.

I believe I say ‘screw this’ last year, but I tried to just keep writing…and got disappointed and gave up.

That was frustrating as heck. I keep trying and I keep failing. I keep attempting this project that I’ve witnessed thousands of people complete around me and…this year it clicked.

For me, it will never be about completing a 50,000 word story in 30 days. It WILL be about the journey. It WILL be about not giving up. It WILL be about taking a deep breath and reviewing what doesn’t work from the past. And it will be about forgiving myself for not being like everyone else and accepting that I’m like myself instead.

This year I have a story I’ve been working on for a while that I’m going to work on. I’ll log my words and push myself to get beyond where I stalled out last time. This year will be about not letting those around me rush through but also about letting the mistakes happen and just getting through the book. This year will be about running the race.

My NaNoWriMo prep goes beyond the preparation of a book and about the prep of the writer.

Current favorite Podcasts

Happy Monday fellow writers.

Part of the road to making it towards full-time writing means working full time at a non-writing job. I’m grateful for my office job, but much of the work I do is data entry and info-checking. Doing it in silence is mind numbing so, to keep my connection to my literature roots and my writing time is Podcasts.

Here are my current top three podcasts in no particular order.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I talked about podcasts but if you want to see what my favorites were for December please click here.

1. Ask A Clean Person

Not all of my podcasts are writing related. After all, to write, we need to be around lots of different stimuli so that we’re always keeping our creative earth fertilized. Jolie Kerr, blogger, advice columnist and author of the New York Time’s Best Selling Book, My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha is an expert on all things Messy and Gross and how to handle them.

I started reading Kerr when she was on Deadspin because she gave very good advice for cleaning roller derby gear and I’ve been hooked on her frank and honest style of advice ever since. Plus, the stories she gets sent in on the weekly all seem to have great character building behind them. After all, since cleaning is my favorite form of procrastination, doing it well makes the satisfaction from it extra wonderful.
2. Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics is a radio station that updates regularly, has interesting ‘huh, I didn’t know that’ feel to it. The program focuses on finding interesting connections between two things that I had no idea were related. That is always worth the time to me.

Plus, the variety of their coverage makes the day an interesting one and forces me to examine the way I feel and think about things. For example, in their latest episode as of the publishing of this blog, they examine Boycott’s and the true effectiveness of this method of pushing for social change. It reveals the amount of story-doctoring with public stories and seeded some great idea of a marketing character.
3. The Roundtable Podcast

Last but not least, Dave Robison’s Roundtable Podcast. If you love brainstorming, this is the podcast for you. The structure is entertaining but simple. Dave and his cohost invite a guest onto their podcast, the guest pitches them an idea, then they team takes it apart and puts it back together in hopes that the guest will be able to run off and finish a book with the suggestions and story advice they’ve given.

Y’all, I found this so helpful, because as a neo-pro writer, someone still working on breaking out with her own fiction, listening to others point out what sounds flat or undeveloped has really given me the ability to examine my own work without prejudice. The other great thing is that the Round Table is open to accepting new people on their show to workshop. So, again, excellent resource for those of us who are still trying to iron out that pesky outline (or if you’re like me, the mess of notes that pretends to be an outline) into a proper, well beat-driven story.

 

So those are it. These are the people who have helped me keep my motivation as I work through finishing my WiP. These are my own opinions, as always, and I’m not receiving any compensation for recommendations made on this blog.

If you like what I had to say, let people know. Come follow me over @dracoangelica on twitter. Tell your friends about this little writing blog and email me at aprilshowers1987@gmail.com if you have any questions, suggestions or comments on things you’d like to see me talk about OR if you have podcast suggestions that you think should be on next month’s top 3.

Happy Monday lovelies and good luck with your writing.

Mondays, Perseverance and Clean Starts

Every year I think, “This time, this time I’m going to do it better.”

Maybe its the clean calendar, full of open days that have no obligations or memories attached to them yet. It makes a new year feel like a new notebook. Pages fresh and clean, no blot outs, no torn pages…everything has the potential to be new.

But those new notebooks come with a lot of pressure. You are taking a thing that is beautifully pure, unvarnished with your mistakes and you pour yourself into it, ink drop by pencil scratch.

New Years are like that.

2015 brought a lot of changes into my life. We bought a house. We got a Roommate. My location for my Wage Labor job changed. My husband made it through another semester of college. We got Star Wars. My roller derby team disbanded. My parents moved. My sister brought a new man into our family. I’ve gained pets with my roommate. I’ve had to throw away old things, relocate the things I have, and then turn around to get new things to replace the things that no longer fit.

Writing is like that for me. Always changing. Always moving. Most of the time, forward, as new ideas and new stories come to me. Sometimes backwards as life gets in the way of the thing I really Want to do.

Yesterday, after returning home from the holidays, I began to re-organize my kitchen. My kitchen is the hearth in my home. We all have to eat after all, and if you’re going to eat, you’re going to need a tidy place to make the food.

I also reorganized my current work in progress. My process for both is similar.

For my kitchen I took out everything that I had in each cabinet, looked at it, matched Like with Like and returned it, stacking it neatly so that I could find what I needed. For my novella, I pulled up Scrivener, and then copied and pasted in my project, scene by scene, labeling each card with the character’s POV and folding them together so as to make better sense of where the heck these two crazy kids are going.

Every year is the year we’re going to do it better. And it starts with doing better every day.

It’s so much easier to take it a day. A page. A cabinet at a time. And that is my goal for 2016.

One word.
One step.
One day at a time.

Writing Parties

It’s very difficult to quantify writing in a regular way. Often, writers are completely solitary creatures who lock themselves in corners so that they can hear the imaginary people in their heads easier. Yet that can get really lonely and very frustrating. Especially when the people in your head are NOT playing nice with one another and are ignoring you to do their own thing except they aren’t telling you what that thing is.

Then it’s wonderful to have a friend to talk to who is also familiar with the frustration of imaginary people going about their lives. So, as is often known, so was born the Writing Party.

I am blessed that some of my two best friends are writers, trying just like myself to get some work done. Of course, I’ve already interviewed the fantastic Elizabeth Belyeu on my blog before and I enjoyed this weekend as she plodded her way through the first draft of her current work-in-progress, a sequel for the very excellent Secondhand Shadow.

My other very dear friend Aimee is working on her own book. She and I are in the “I’ve been writing a book forever but haven’t finished it” club.

Still, it’s handy to have people around you who understand the struggle and work to keep writing no matter how hard the words are to put on the page.

Starting Over

So, as has happened multiple and many times (and unfortunately will probably happen again) I got behind on writing and my update schedule.

I don’t have anything to blame it on except for the fact that it’s part of who I am. I forget things. I am bad at sticking to habits and I’m constantly having to push myself to keep going.

Whatever. Forgive the gap, dear readers, it’s a new months with new goals and new progress!

I did not get past 14000 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which is frustrating and unfortunate. BUT I’ve decided to let it teach me something. One: No matter how much I want to be a person who can finish ONE PROJECT AT A TIME I am not there yet. If that means taking breaks and going back to a project, I’m just going to accept that about myself and move forward. No guilt. Two: I have quite the long list of works in progress right now and while I did manage to finish the first draft of the next short story I’m going to submit to Writers of the Future, I haven’t gone through my second pass on it yet. I’m going to do that this week and by Sunday submit it to WotF for their 2nd quarter entry period.

The good news.

I GOT THE HONORABLE MENTION FOR Q4 OF THE WRITERS OF THE FUTURE CONTEST!

I’m pretty proud of that. It was my first time and to get an HM means that the judges READ MY WORDS and DIDN’T THINK THEY WERE BAD.

Which, for me, is pretty awesome.

Rejection

I started this blog last month after I submitted my first story to The Writers of the Future contest.

I am not published. I have a hard time finishing what I start and over all, am not someone that you should take advice about being a professional from. However, if you’re here because you’re looking to see what it takes to one day GET there, I’m happy to have you around.

My friend who entered with me just got her rejection letter Monday and now I’ve been checking my inbox on a thrice-daily basis just waiting for a response.

My hopes for this contest were not to place first. Not to be negative or to ‘not believe in myself’ but while I feel that my story was the best story I could have submitted at this time, I don’t know if it was really good enough to place. But we can’t just hang onto our stuff forever. We have to start somewhere. My goal and my hope is ‘Honorable Mention’ more than anything else. HM means that I made it past the first round of crit and am stepping in SORT OF the right direction.

Everyone gets rejected. I’m sure that I probably will too, despite my hopes. It’s the act of accepting it and moving on to submit again that makes you a writer. So here is to trucking down the writer road littered with those ‘Sorry, but this story is not what our publication is looking for’ and onto the steps of publication.

On Being Stuck (Or: Another NaNoWriMo Update)

I’m extremely behind on my NaNoWriMo today.

And yesterday.

And the day before that.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve made any significant progress for days. Which is hard because I want to be doing well and I want to be putting those words in, but I am suddenly hitting all those road blocks that hit me every time I try and get through a project like this.

I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. Other than not writing which is always the wrong option.

My first trip up came with hardware. The tablet that I use to write away from home is called Winston because it, like the great Churchhill for which it was named, has narcolepsy and will shut itself down whenever it wants. This is also a busy time of the year at my day job along with the pressures that comes with the holidays.

I keep telling myself not to give up. Reminding myself that I’ve pulled off bigger wordcounts in less time before. But it, so far hasn’t been great.

It’s very tempting on this blog not to report my struggling. I feel, like Facebook or any other version of social mediums, that it’s best not to air your ‘dirty laundry’

But let’s be honest. All writers have these moments. Moments of sitting where the words won’t come or where we just type at ourselves and make no sense and get frustrated.

I recommend that if you are in this situation that you NOT follow my lead which is binge watching Parks and Recreations on Netflix while playing ‘Bejeweled’ on Zen mode for four hours. Or, as I did today, bake and cook for the entirety of the day. (Though, at least if you’re cooking you get bread, brownies, glazed chicken, as well as a side dish of rice and gravy). I think that’s why I turn to games and cooking when the writing gets hard. It’s a place where I can see tangible results instead of a muddy stream of words.

My plan for tomorrow is dictation. Maybe if I can speak the story and type it out, I can break through the string of no writing days. We shall see.

When you’re going through the muddy middle, don’t sit in the middle. Just keep walking.

Poetry V. Prose

Saturday, at my writer’s group, one of our member read a fantastic poem that dealt with the metaphor of child abuse and catching mice. The images were striking, poignant and brought chills to my arms. After we went over her work though, she stated with frustration that she ‘didn’t want to be a poet’ because she was actually working on her novel right now.

Well, to her and to all I say, there is no reason you can’t be both.

The form of Poetry is usually pretty different from prose, yet without the beautiful language that we develop IN poetry, how are we going to give our prose those moments of emotional engagement that they need to survive? Kristine Katheryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith both are fond of pointing out that readers are going to like what they like and the only thing us writers can do is to make what we’re putting out available to them. Yet I find that I want when I am looking for a new book IS that emotional connection, that moment of self-identification in another character. When I read a book, I want to be the one who feels what they are feeling. To write that out, we must communicate the images. What better way to achieve that than to boil it all down in a few sentences and produce the essence of the emotion.

When you cook, you have to add flavoring, or your food will not taste bland. Whether you marinade the food before you cook it or season as you go, there should be some flavor element to the dish or you’ll forget it. The most delicious steak I had this weekend had been seasoned well and cooked to a tender perfection. My favorite chocolate experience was a cake that had been properly iced. I had a potato casserole that was infused with cheesy goodness and without that, the dish would be lacking.

Poetry is how we develop our flavor palettes in writing. It’s how we find our seasonings and how we make those scenes memorable. Don’t be afraid of the poetry and don’t be afraid to use it to make your prose even stronger.

Nano Update Part 4

Well, just like a business has it’s dips and peaks, my NaNo is now officially in what I believe professionals call, “The Swampy Middle.”

My protagonists are struggling to find their purpose and since I am not much of an outline writer, we are having issues staying on top in the composing and drafting process of writing. I have a basic road that I’m following, but as overall structure of my novel is something I am coming up with as I go, I’m running into problems with keeping everything on track. Tangents happen at this stage in writing for me.

I think I’ve used the metaphor of gardener versus architect before and this part is the most apt to compare the two. As I am letting my little seeds sprout and watering them and tending them, they have all decided that they are going to lean to the right at the same time. So I have to figure out a way to get them to straighten up OR make up my mind if right is the way that the story is going to go.

In short, I hate this part.

Writing is fun. It is the process of creating and sharing what is in my head with people who live outside of it. Yet, when I get to the hard parts like this, it’s easy to let the distractions of the outside world interfere more with the creation process. After all, no one is going to tell me that I’m not being productive if I spend my non-writing time cleaning my house or cooking. If I’m focused for an hour on the household budget when I should be digging into the word garden, only I know that I’m procrastinating.

Heads up everyone: I’m procrastinating.

Right now the benchmark for NaNoWriMo should be 16067 and the last I checked, I’m sitting in the 11000s. So, welcome to the land of catching up.

I’d be more worried about it if I knew I had less time. My new goal for writing is to pound out at least 2k a day until I catch up and then TRY and have a day where I have some word slack so I can enjoy the holidays without knowing that my word count is going to kill me. I have had some technical challenges in using a tablet to write instead of a laptop. (Another story…).

How is everyone else doing? If you’re participating in NaNo, please leave a comment and share your woes. We’re all in this mess together after all and it’s ok if you’re also stuck in the trenches of the swampy middle. Just as long as we keep walking, we’ll eventually get out of here.