Tag Archives: writers

Writer’s Snow Day: A One-Act Play

The Scene, Outside: 

Thick snow is falling fast, 5 inches already on the ground and 4 more inches predicted.  Wind is blowing hard, sending the temperature nose-diving below zero.

 

The Scene, Inside:

A one bedroom apartment, bookshelves lining the walls and the hum of the furnace running in the background.  A young woman sits curled up on the sofa, slipper-clad feet peeking out from beneath the blanket she’s wrapped in.  On her lap is a small laptop computer; on the table beside her is a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  A stack of paper, just scraps with hastily scribbled notes, rest within reach on the sofa cushion.

 

The Writer:

She smiles to herself and places her hands on the keyboard, typing a handful of words so fast that her fingers on the keys sound like machine gun fire, only to stop abruptly.  She frowns, sips from her cup, and frowns again.

            She places one finger on the delete button and presses until she erases all she just wrote.

            She begins again, and the process repeats itself a dozen times, her frown gradually deepening and the pressing of the delete key morphing into slamming.

“SON OF A BITCH!”

            She jumps up, nearly knocking over her hot chocolate, and stomps out of the room to take a nap instead.

 

            Focus on the computer screen where the cursor blinks on the blank page.  Lights fade to black.

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The Year of Wordsmithing

            Success depends on more than just acknowledging a goal with a glass of champagne in one’s hand at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st.  Resolutions—shed some pounds, kick the cigarettes, drink less caffeine, avoid speeding tickets, go 365 days without being arrested, etc.—are easily made and even easier to cast aside.  One can’t just spit out a resolution; one must also have the ambition and obsession to achieve.

            Let’s define these:

 

            Resolution:  the act determining upon an action or course of action, often made at the beginning of a new year and abandoned two weeks later.

            Ambition:  an earnest desire for achievement and the willingness to strive for its attainment, an element often missing from New Year’s resolutions.

            Obsession:  the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea or desire, the presence of which elevates resolution to ambition and gives one a chance at success.

 

            Okay, I might have tweaked those definitions but they’re still solid.  2014 is probably not the year I’m going to give up nicotine or caffeine, although I do plan on maintaining my “never been arrested” status and keeping a sharper eye out for radar-running cops than I did during 2013.  I do, however, have plans for myself.

            Not resolutions.  Plans.  Ambition + obsession > resolutions.

            All word-based.  Words require attention, sometimes hyper focus.  Words are beautiful, the love of my life, but they don’t come easily.  One must keep ambition foremost and feed the obsession that leads to success.

            So here are my writing, reading, and word-focused goals for 2014…

 

1. Read 80 Books.
            GoodReads promotes a yearly reading challenge, where members set their own “I’m going to read [#] of books in 2014” goals.  Setting the bar too high would be doomed to failure—I have the real life, adult world responsibilities like everybody else.  But setting the bar too low would be shameful because books are awesome and I have a massive stack of unread books waiting their turn.  So in 2014 I will read 80 books.

 

2a. Complete My Work-in-Progress.
            I began writing The O’Shaughnessy Reputation:  Put on Your War Paint as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I finished about half by the end of November and have kept putting fingers to keyboard since then (occasionally for frustrated keyboard-mashing).  When I wrote the first part in this series (You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid), I started in 2011 and didn’t finish until early 2013, and I won’t allow that to happen again:  I will finish this WIP at all costs.

 

2b. Complete an Edit of My Soon-to-be-Finished WIP.
            I will not only finish this novel, I will do at least a first pass, rough edit on it before November 1st.  I can’t start Kiss the Ring, part three of this series, for NaNoWriMo ‘14 until the events in part two have been smoothed into something resembling a coherent story.

 

Speaking of NaNoWriMo…

3.  Participate in National Novel Writing Months, including Original Flavor NaNoWriMo (November) and both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions (April & July).
            Providing concrete goals, a fast-approaching deadline, an active community of writers, and a nifty progress graph, NaNoWriMo has been one of the best things to ever happen to my writing life.  It’s a kick in the ass, a kick so hard I’ll put said ass in a chair to avoid the hit.  And half of writing is, after all, simply sitting your ass down to do it.

 

4.  Begin Work on Charm of the Pavement.
            The idea for this novel has been haunting me, bouncing around in my head for at least six months but doing little more than mocking my attempts to wrangle it into a coherent story.  No more avoiding the pen, you brat; the time has come. 

 

5.  Increase My Writer Circle
            The most successful writers seem to be those with a solid, expansive community of writers they consider friends.  The interaction acts like an injection of word-adrenaline, promoting creativity and keeping a writer focused.  I know several writers, a couple of whom are quite serious about it, and I’m determined to welcome more into my life.  Because writers are awesome…and other writers are the only ones who share my special brand of ‘not quite right’.

 

I have my pen.

I have my vices—coffee, booze, cigarettes.

I have my ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’ mug.

I’m ready.  Let’s fucking do this.

 

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Words on Words

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”

Seamus Heaney


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: The End of Days

November 30th:  it may not be the apocalypse but it’s certainly the end of days.

The last day of the month, the day all WriMos dream of, strive toward, and alternately fear and love.  If we’ve done it right (or even done it badly but miraculously managed to get out the necessary words despite that), we hold 50,000 words in our hands at midnight on this, the last night.  Some victors can hold a sheaf of papers above their heads and cry, “Lo!  I have a completed novel!”  Other winners can point proudly to their words and say, “I’ve got a pretty damn good start, with my 50,000!”  And still others triumphed word-wise and then quietly burned the results, too bad to even contemplate continuing that hot mess of a story.  This time I am a member of the second group:  50,269 words but the novel is only about a third of the way completed.

Without exception, however, we all verify our word count and then, upon seeing that beautiful purple winner’s bar, promptly collapse into a pile of whimpering, tears, exhaustion, and aching fingers.

I have a wrap-up post planned, an overall look at the NaNoWriMo experience, so I won’t gush here.  Here I shall just post my victory pages from my Chronicles notebook, because a girl needs to brag without any need for coherence.

Consider yourselves warned:  much of this is merely me squeeing in ecstasy at having finally crossed the finish line.  Less a pat on the back, more of me bragging and waving my metaphorical dick around because I’m a writing bad ass.

theend1

Because damn it, the official NaNoWriMo winner badges don’t tell me I’m awesome enough! More dancing! More bad ass-ery! More victory arms! AND MORE DANCING!

theend2

A slightly more coherent declaration of my win, also explaining the benefits of writing a few hundred extra words before midnight. And see what I did with the dashes there? Ha ha, I crack myself up.

And now a mini Q&A session to finish this off:

Did I write 50,000 words and thus ‘win’ NaNoWriMo?  Yes.

Is the novel actually finished?  No.

Do I still have a lot of work to do?  Hell Yes.


Surviving the Holidays: A Writer’s Guide

Ah, the holidays:  a time for family, friends, cliché pilgrim hats and bright strings of lights, pine needles stabbing your feet, leftover Turkey that sits in your fridge until you remember to throw it out sometime after New Year’s, carolers and midnight mass, and eating way more than your stomach can actually hold.  Some people love the holidays, some people hate them, and some people drink it all away no matter whether they love them (celebratory drinking) or hate them (relieve the pain drinking), but there’s one thing nobody can deny:

The holidays are a social time.  Very social.

And for many writers, this massive amount of social interaction poses a problem, mainly because we’re not really the ‘very social’ type.  We’re more the ‘hide under the blankets’ type.

Point is that the holidays can be a very draining time, especially for writers and other artsy types who value spending time alone with words.  There just never seems to be enough downtime to replenish the energy you’ve expended.

Note I said ‘expended,’ not wasted.  The family meals, the parties with friends, taking a few (or many) moments to be thankful, cursing when you step on those pine needles from the Christmas in the middle of the night again:  none of those things waste energy, only use it.  Those things are important.

But for writers, artists, and other introverts, the only way to survive the emotional energy suck that is this time of year is to go into it with a game plan, specific ways on how to muddle your way through without tossing yourself off a cliff by New Year’s Eve.  (Of note:  the holiday season is not, despite popular opinion, the time of year when suicide rates are the highest.  That would be springtime.)  And so my friends step away from the mistletoe, put on your gloves and ear warmers, and let me present to you a few tips that I’ve learned for handling this season of joy and resulting exhaustion:

  1. Do not simply skip any and/or all family functions.  Like I said, family is important, so put in some effort to show you care about and value those related to you.  And always keep in mind that the resulting lectures from mom and the guilt trips from grandma will suck up more energy than simply going to that family gathering in the first place.  (Trust me, I know these things.)
  2. Find that one friend you can occasionally go out to dinner with for the express purpose of commiserating.  They’re suffering just like you, and there’s nothing better than a small support group.  This is social so you can count it towards your socializing quota for the year, but if you select the right friend then you won’t be drained afterwards.  You might even find yourself with a bit more energy.
  3. Wine.  Lots of wine.  (If you don’t drink, I support and admire you.  However, I do not have a substitute option to offer.)  My family tends to divide itself into two groups:  the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers.  Both are acceptable.  Key here is moderation, because too much alcohol results in disputes or knockdown, drag out fight that will carry over into the New Year.  While amusing to watch, they’re embarrassing to be involved in and tiresome for everyone present.
  4. Do not start a family dispute.  Again:  tiresome.
  5. If an argument does erupt through no fault of your own, then remained uninvolved.  I highly suggest sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, because hell, why not?  A form of entertainment and if anyone questions it, just point out that you’re using it as a character study.
  6. Observe the people and activities around you.  You’re a writer; observation is always good for your art.  Watch, take notes, and learn more about human interactions and personality traits, the little quirks that people have.  This is particularly easy for me, for while I’ve never been able to decide if I have a large family or just a medium-sized family consisting solely of large personalities, there’s plenty of material to be gleaned either way.
  7. Watch the weather reports.  Dealing with snow and ice during a drive to your host’s place will only add additional stress.  (Also enough snow and ice are a perfectly good excuse to stay home, especially if you live thirty miles or so away like I do.  But with respect to Tip #1, a few snowflakes are not a snowstorm and should not be used as a justification for avoidance.)
  8. Plan ‘You Time’.  The holiday season can get crazy with family celebrations, parties, office functions, visiting friends, preparations, etc.  Making time for yourself—write it in your day planner or set an alarm on your phone—is key.  Use this time to recuperate and regain some of that limited energy so you can make it through the next one.  Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you relaxed and happy:  read, write, sleep, whatever it is.  Delve into your art.  No matter what, make sure you take time for you.  (I highly recommend sleep.)
  9. Write.  Keep writing, no matter what.  Write the words during your ‘you time,’ take a notebook with you to family dinners so you can scribble when you need a break (perfectly acceptable to hide out in the bathroom for this one), write on your lunch break during work, write whenever you have even a minute’s chance.  You write because you love it, so don’t stop.  Let the words help you.
  10. Post-Holiday Boozing.  I say boozing because that’s what I do, but you can replace that with anything your heart desires, like a quiet dinner or a particularly energetic session at the gym (weirdo).  I’ve actually made this a tradition over the last several years.  Depending on how the final holiday falls, I go out either the night after or the weekend after Christmas and have a few drinks with the calmer of my friends, usually no more than one or two.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive:  after all, you’ve just used up your finite energy supply on all those other holiday functions.  Hear me out, though.  This planned night of drinking is something to look forward to, something to get you through those holiday celebrations, a way of celebrating the fact that those celebrations are all over for another year.  I’ve done this every year since I was 22, and my God has it helped me keep my sanity.

There you have it, folks:  my suggestions for writers or any other introverts trying to survive the season.  Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and when you get close to the point of ‘fuck this,’ take a nap.  Naps always help.  And maybe eat some pie.  Pie is delicious.

 


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week Three

Ah!  Week Three of the adventure that is NaNoWriMo!  (Yes, I’m aware that I’m actually posting this on December 2nd.  I’m a little bit behind due to focus on the writing of actual story words.  Don’t judge me.)  From my many sessions of NaNoWriMo Original Flavor and Camp NaNoWriMo I’ve learned many things, one of which is that Week Three is really tough.  Why, you might ask?  Because the adrenaline of Week One is gone, the determination of Week Two has worn itself out, so by Week Three it’s a battle of will, pure momentum and desperation pushing a writer forward.  There’s a flash of brilliance the beginning of the week:  the halfway mark.  25,000 words, it’s the downhill side of the mountain from here on out but the end isn’t quite in sight.  It’s easy to give up.  One is tired, the brain is starting to go on the fritz, there’s static and the words get stuck.  Even the very best outline can’t always help when things start to stall.

Case in point:  I seemed to have given my own outline the finger and for some reason subconsciously decided early on in my quest not to pay attention to the little details that become absolutely essential later in the story.  And when did I hit that point of “absolutely essential”?  Why, during Week Three, of course!

Cue facepalming until my face turned black and blue.

Enough talking.  Let me show you.

week3a

25,000 words! Celebrate, for thou art halfway through! And be a-feared of the dreaded slump (far more dreaded than thou expects, as thou shalt see).

week3b

As for the 16th, a day of rest. Sometimes reality supersedes writing, and this was one of those days. The 17th? Well, I intended to write 3500 words to make up for lost time, and yet Mother Nature interfered like a vicious bitch. I did manage to write 2000 words but only after spending some time on my balcony watching funnel clouds, considering how fucked I was if any touched down, and mourning the loss of my town’s Starbucks due to a direct tornado hit. Ah, such is life.

week3c

A letter to a certain government agency assuring them that my series of, ahem, ‘curious’ Google searches was merely story research, not evidence of dangerous crazypants.

week3d

Finally caught up on word count, and I learned something new! The average men’s shoe size = 10.5 The third result in the Google search to find this out: a shoe size to penis size conversion size. The answer to this unasked question: 8.5

week3e

Because my main character finally got the firearm he demanded after being shot in the course of his work.

week3f

November 19th: the 4th write-in. Really fucking cold both outside and inside the restaurant. The 20th: realization that I missed key parts of the information timeline, having apparently paid little to no attention to my own outline, and would be utterly, completely, extremely fucking screwed if I tried to write the next scene, a keynote scene that requires precision and delicate handling, if I didn’t fix it.

week3g

After much agonizing, I decided to go back and edit the four jacked up chapters, thus breaking the NaNoWriMo “rule” of no editing until December.

week3h

More hair pulling over the need to edit and risk getting far behind on word count. More facepalming.

week3i

My master plan for ‘Operation Make the Story Not Suck So Much’.

week3j

Cari’s Personal Rule for NaNoWriMo Editing: while editing, make sure to write MORE words than were in the original incorrect version. (This worked surprising well, despite my trepidation.)

week3k

Notes to myself.

week3l

Edit notes for Chapter 5.

week3m

My list of necessary edits for Chapter Five, the first of the scenes with info imperative to the timeline. LIES! SO MANY LIES WITHIN THAT CHAPTER.

week3n

This, my friends, is what a printed story page with hasty handwritten edit notes look like. Don’t read the story snippet itself; it’s terrible and not indicative of my usual writing quality.

So there you have it:  proof of how Week Three destroyed my brain.  Everything worked out okay in the end, by some miracle I managed to stay current with the daily word count, but holy freakin’ crap was that ever difficult.

Cue another facepalm just for good measure.

Until later, my dears!

 

 


A Quote for the Aspiring Writer

“Many an aspiring writer is just in love with a glammed-up idea of being an author, but not enthused about the actual work. Well, the only way to learn to write is to write (and to write a lot). Sit down and get started. Even if you just type, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Writing is wretched, discouraging, physically unhealthy, infinitely frustrating work. And when it all comes together it’s utterly glorious.”

Ralph Peters


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