NaNoWriMo: Update!

The stated goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in one month; essentially, a VERY rough draft of a novel. (See our previous posts on this event!) The volunteer cheerleaders from NaNoWriMo remind us that it only takes 1600 words/day to achieve this goal. The unstated goal is to build that oh-so-important writing habit. Writers love to talk about exercising their writing muscles, which is our way of saying that we’ve built a successful routine (habit), and it’s easier to get into the groove of writing when you can lean on that routine. Not to mention that fact that our writing gets better the more we exercise those writing muscles!

Sounds easy, right?

Hmph. Not so much. I struggle to prioritize my writing, to give myself permission to put the writing first – or at least second or third. Frankly, even fourth would be progress. (This might be why I haven’t published anything in three years.) But, for me, it’s also really hard to sit down and write when I have to re-read what I’ve already written each time to remind myself of where I’m at in the story – and more importantly, where I’m going. You’d think I’d learn!

Outlines have become this pantser’s friend, but even with an outline (mine are still very high-level), it’s hard to pick up the thread of where I left off, and rejoin the flow of thought I (hopefully) had going. In theory, NaNoWriMo is the perfect event to push me to prioritize my writing and build that routine.

Except, it requires me to prioritize my writing. Oops!

This month, I’ve written 4,199 words. That’s more than I’ve written in a while, and I love where my story is going. Those 4,199, added to the roughly 25,000 I had previously written, have allowed me to dive into this story in a meaningful and creative way. It would be lovely to say I’m going to crack that 50,000 target, and certainly the month is not over yet! (NaNoWriMo’s handy goal-tracker tells me that I only need to write 3,800 words/day to finish.) There are ideas bubbling, lots of threads in the story to tie off, and plenty of work to do.

I can do it.

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NaNoWriMo: An Update

Recently, Mysterista Mia Manansala wrote about this crazy event known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, community-driven event where participants attempt to write a complete novel (or at least 50,000 words) in one month. It’s a wonderful way to push a writer out of his/her comfort zone, write fast and dirty, and build a routine of putting butt in chair, fingers on keys. This is not the time to overthink, edit, or revise as you go – the goal is words, lots of words, down on the screen.

I’ve never won.

November is a terrible month for this.

And yet, here I am, giving it another shot. We’re four days in and I’m actually proud to say I got +1400 words yesterday. Of course, the goal is roughly 1600+ per day, so I’m a wee bit behind, but – I GOT WORDS DOWN! One of the things I love most about NaNoWriMo is that there’s a ton of enthusiasm. Volunteers do a fantastic job of communicating with participants, encouraging local write-ins or online conversations to help motivate and inspire. It’s a month of cheerleading and support for what is usually a fairly solitary endeavor. NaNoWriMo is a great reminder that there’s a whole community of lovely, supportive, encouraging people out there who are enduring the same challenges.

The program has expanded beyond the November event, too. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in the Spring (April and July), with a less rigorous expectation for word count – you set your own word count goal, but you don’t have to hit 50,000. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your writers’ community and keep that routine going, with a degree of flexibility. The aspect of Camp NaNoWriMo I really enjoy is the cabins. For regular NaNoWriMo you can have a buddy community, similar to the concept of an FB friend. For Camp NaNoWriMo, you can become part of a cabin community, either of your own choosing or you can ask the organization to assign you to a cabin. Either way, it’s another fun option for coming together with a group of people sharing similar goals.

My cabin group has branched out and created an FB group, as well, so we continue to communicate even after Camp is over. I love the on-going opportunity to gather my community around me, sharing successes and challenges, and using the group energy for motivation. This is where social media and technology really add value to life, for me.

I’d love to hear about other virtual opportunities to create writing communities – any suggestions?

 

A Writers’ Conundrum

Writers are many things – thinkers, philosophers, community members, friends – but perhaps the aspect of us that is most universal is that we are readers. Prolific, busy, attentive readers.

We love books. We love reading, writing, buying, reading, borrowing, stacking, organizing, and reading books. Which is wonderful! (Unless we’re on deadline, but that’s another post.) In today’s brave, new, multi-faceted publishing world, readers are more important than ever. Metrics on purchases and reviews (among other things) determine whether an author’s book will be offered for special deals or otherwise featured, and in many cases, whether the author will get to publish more books from that same publisher or platform. For new authors, reviews are even more critical, as the whole publishing model has expanded. (Here’s a great piece I found, with advice for new authors.)

However, changes in the way books are published (and by whom) have led to a paradox of sorts: if you review a book for an author with whom you are “connected,” your review may very well be removed from some sites. In fact, the author may be negatively impacted, as the site may view the reviews as the author’s attempt to game the review system. Certainly, there are those bad apples who do, indeed, try to game the system by offering incentives, falsifying purchase records, providing reviews that are less than honest, and so on, but, we also know the writers’ community is a broad, tightly connected, supportive one where authors connect with each other all the time, sharing both writer and reader perspectives.

We’re told as fledgling authors not to review, or at most, to offer only five-star ratings with no actual comment. This, to me, seems short-sighted and converse to developing and maintaining a healthy reader-writer community. If we all followed this practice, than surely authors would begin to notice when other authors, authors with whom they socialize or otherwise connect, don’t rate their books, and therefore will know one didn’t think the book worthy of five stars. There are fascinating perspectives out there. I found this one to be interesting.

So, what’s a devoted reader who also happens to be an author to do? There’s a strange combination of personal comfort and professional policy to determine for each of us. Perhaps the best thing the writer community can do is to help one another nurture a devoted, dedicated reader following; to share events and publicity where it makes sense; and to encourage and uplift one another as we navigate the crazy, complex world of publishing. Sharing ideas and approaches to building a broad group of readers is one way we can help each other, and sharing our positive responses to one another’s writing in a private venue is another.

What say you reader-writers? Do you feel conflicted at all? Is it best to be either reader/book blogger or writer in public?

Books, Books, Everywhere I Look – BOOKS!

There are so many wonderful books being published these days. With the expanded opportunities for writers – traditional publishing, digital publishing, self-publishing, and many more, as well as the wealth of formats (digital, audio, and physical books) – readers have an ever-growing list of possibilities from which to choose.

While I love my physical books, I’ve definitely been suckered in by the digital option of “buy next book in series.” Yep, that option is not good for my budget, but it makes my reader’s heart go pitty-pat! Series are my favorites, and I rarely read stand-alones. I particularly love finding a series that is well underway, and then binge-reading my way through three or six or ten books. (There are weeks where I’m very, very tired.)

But, I still limit my purchases to physical books for my very favorite authors, and I’ve held onto the most memorable books from my childhood and adolescence. This has lead to some storage issues (yes, I finally sent most of my college and graduate school text books off to the land of recycling and/or charity). My husband gave in and agreed to build a bunch of shelves for my books. I thought I’d share the evolution of our spare room.

A few years ago, we moved my daughter’s bedroom. Storage was a must, and she was (and is) a voracious reader. My husband came up with this:

shelves1a

In those early years, the books only took up a few shelves (that changed as she moved into chapter books). I loved how these looked, so I asked for more.

Lots more. There’s one unit that matches these located in the office (a single section). We’ve planned for at least one, if not two, units in the living room (those will have cabinets at the bottom for movies and board games). And then there’s the spare room, now known as. . .The Library.

shelves2
Organization in progress

My photos are terrible. My shelves are gorgeous. Once they’re properly organized an arranged, it will be a wonderful, wonderful space. (Right now, it’s a hot mess.) You can see the shelves on the left are more organized – there’s a whole shelf for Sue Grafton, two for J.D. Robb, a shelf for Catherine Coulter and Craig Johnson, and while you can’t see them in this photo, there are several shelves dedicated to Mysteristas and Sisters in Crime writers. I love those shelves!

Loading, arranging, rethinking

Ignore the clutter on the floor – I mentioned this was in progress, right? This unit is temporarily housing our family scrapbooks (they’ll go to the living room). The next shelf is all my Shakespeare reference material from graduate school, some of the only things I’ve kept, because, duh, Shakespeare.ย  Then there are two shelves of writing reference books and signed books. The top shelf is Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, along with Agatha Christie – I think of it as my inspiration shelf, because those are the books I read as a child that helped me fall in love with reading AND want to be a writer.

This room will have seven total shelving units when it’s done, and I’m so excited to get everything organized. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.ย  I’ve had to make some tough choices, too. At least 15 boxes of books have gone to Goodwill or Paperback Swap. It was time, and I only have so much space! But, I love how this is coming along, and I can’t wait to reread all of these.

How do you organize your favorite reads? Do you still have hard copies, or have you moved all digital?

Life’s About Changes

I’ve been MIA from this beloved blog lately – belated welcome to new members, appreciation to guest post authors and interviewees! – and I’ve missed you all, terribly. You see, IRL I work at a small not-for-profit, and we are currently merging with another small not-for-profit. It’s the right thing to do for both our companies, but as with most changes, there are challenges.

Many, many challenges.

There are two that are foremost in my mind right now. The first is managing the change, with all of the emotional peaks, valleys, twists, turns, frustrations, anticipations, and so on that come with change. Keeping my team focused on the operational work is tough during this time of anxiety and unknowns; tougher still when I don’t have the answers they crave. The second is the merging of two very distinct cultures. We’re a New England-based company. We’re merging with a southern company. Both are lovely, full of hard-working, dedicated employees who believe in the work that they do.

But, we do it very differently. We’re in different geographical regions, have compatible but different business models, and very different histories. It’s a fascinating, challenging, and sometimes (often) overwhelming process. Because we’re located in very different places, merging our cultures will take an extended period of time. We don’t have the opportunity to see each other much, exist in each other’s spaces, learn by observing and interacting. We have few departments that overlap, and while that’s good from a “I get to keep my job” stand-point, it also means we’re merging without merging. Relationships are growing more slowly than we might wish, and there’s a significant level of confusion while the executive team works out details in the background.

Which means that right now, I’m not doing a lot of anything that isn’t work-related. I work until I’m too tired to think, and then I read because I’m too wired to sleep, but also too tired to write. A few blog posts back, Kait talked about her challenging summer, and how she came to realize that it was okay to pause, to perhaps focus on reading instead of writing for a bit while she healed, physically and emotionally. My challenges are far more mundane and impersonal, but I realized that I too need to give myself permission to pause. It’s okay to just read for a while, and enjoy the many beautiful, amazing stories out there.

When it’s time, I know I’ll have a overwhelming basket of story ideas and characters and situations that will emerge from this crazy time at my company. Personal drama, potential intrigue (we have none, but I can see where it could exist), culture clashes – oh, a giant merger picnic, with everyone bringing regional dishes and then something goes wrong and. . .so many ideas! Suddenly, I’m envisioning a corporation-based mystery series, kind of Dilbert-meets-Key West Food Critic (that’s a compliment to the amazing Lucy Burdette, who writes the amazing Key West Food Critic series).

While I’m at this point of low creativity, I’m binge-reading. I’m behind on my Diane Vallere and Becky Clark books, and I’ve got a Kellye Garrett burning a hole in my TBR pile. Plus, the latest Hank Phillippi Ryan, the new Paula Munier, the. . .well, clearly I have choices. Suddenly, this time of pausing doesn’t seem so bad! I’m looking forward to having a more settled existence, but until then, I have plenty of reading to keep me grounded, entertained, and inspired. Aren’t I lucky?

Seasonal Magic

As summer reaches it’s end, seemingly more and more quickly with each passing day, I’m beginning to experience that anxiety that I often experience with endings. While I realize that the end of summer is mostly a calendar milestone and not a practical one, I somehow feel – yet again – that I’ve missed some monumental opportunity for. . .something. As I reflect on what I’ve done, I can’t help but think about all the things I didn’t do. Yes, our family spent a week at the lake, but we didn’t get out on a whale watch, drive up the coast of Maine, pick strawberries, or finish mulching the gardens. We read, but did we read anything meaningful or important? I wrote, but not nearly enough.

(Enough for what, or for whom?!? I’m so darned hard on myself, you see, and it’s a habit I’ve been unable to break in these first 45+ years of existing.)

Part of the magic of summer for me, is that it begins with what appears to be endless opportunity. The reality, of course, is that summer has no more or fewer opportunities in general than any other season; also, as a responsible adult who has not yet earned retirement, I actually have to work and earn a paycheck, which means summer is a finite number of weekends, only some of which will have weather worthy of grand, outdoor adventures. Yet, I can’t help but think of summer as this extended time of pause, rest, recharge, and enjoy, as it was when I was a child. My hopes and goals for the summer season are far from realistic, which in turn leads to end of summer disappointment – rather than celebrate of the amazing fun that was had, Anxiety says, “You’ve failed at summer, you didn’t do all these things you’d hoped and planned to do!”

However, autumn is actually my favorite season. I love the crisp, cool air. Agricultural fairs are bountiful in New England, and our family attends as many as possible. Sweaters and fleece emerge from the closet or the attic, and the softest, most faded, comfy blue jeans are once again appropriate attire. While the formerly bright flower gardens brown and droop, the leaves of the trees begin their rainbow journey, delivering reds, yellows, and oranges, brightening the forest as the flowers did the gardens throughout the spring and summer. Wood smoke travels on the breezes, spicy and sharp. Apples are ready to be picked and enjoyed as a snappy, juicy treat or baked into a cinnamon-y dessert after a day of raking leaves or hiking the NH mountains. Autumn is also a fabulous time to re-connect and re-commit to writing time, snuggled in a blanket on the couch or meeting with my critique group at the bookstore.

And suddenly, I’m looking forward to Autumn again, even as I begin the process of wishing summer goodbye for another year. Now, I’m moving to the place of happy, soft recollections of all the things we did do this season. (Autumn’s only drawback is its proximity to winter. We won’t talk about that today – I really, really hate being cold.)

Sorry for the late post! https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/why-writers-are-the-worst-procrastinators/283773/

Books that Travel

Lake Vacation 2018

Our family is on vacation. I’m one of those people who doesn’t realize I need a vacation until approximately a week after I should have taken a vacation. (You’d think I’d learn to recognize the signs by now.) This year, my lovely sister-in-law decided to rent a lake house, and asked her siblings and their families to join for a week of sun, boating, swimming, and not much else (no alarm clocks, no schedule, no expectations). Thank goodness the time to gather is here!

Today is our second full day of seven, and it hopefully will be as delightful as day one – because day one was amazing. We have twelve people, including six teenagers, and yet somehow we’re all having a marvelously good time.

My personal teenager has spent much of her time working on editing and revising a story she’s written. While I lament the fact that she’s using electronics on vacation, I love the fact that she’s doing something that’s meaningful to her and requires the use of her brain in a lovely way. (She did spend plenty of time swimming and boating, too.)

When packing for this vacation, I didn’t have much time to plan, so I grabbed a few books that were handy and threw them into my bags. It’s an interesting mix I’ve got: Craig Johnson’s The Highwayman; Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last; and Blue Ocean Strategy. I’ve also got my Kindle app, and recently finished Lucy Burdette’s recent entry in her Key West Food Critic Mystery, Death on the Menu (delightful!).

It appears, from reviewing my list, that I’m not quite as far into vacation mode as I would like. My usual vacation fare is a notable list of crime fiction, murder mysteries, and the like, and I binge read as much as possible. Favorites such as Craig Johnson, J.D. Robb, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Meg Gardner are typical travel mates for me. I love to bring along a selection of Mysteristas’ books, too – I’m catching up on my Diane Vallere’s this week!

What do you like to read on vacation? Do your choices vary by location? Any favorites to share?

Apologies for the brief post, but. . .I’m on vacation! Happy August everyone!