Okay. So I’ve got just over 18,000 words, which is good, and work is mostly holding together, and I am insisting that this is not a cold, just a last burst of allergies, and there’s about a quarter of a made-from-scratch apple pie in the fridge. Things are hectic, but mostly good. I’m sorry I haven’t been around here, but basically every second I have I’m either writing NaNo or reading Madame Bovary for class. Fine, I am playing some Bejeweled as well, but only when my brain is too fried for more productive tasks.
There’s an impressively coherent new article up on the Canary Review about publishing NaNo novels, so probably check that out if you want to read something that’s not a total spazzfest. And now for a list of the things I bribe myself with in order to get words done:
- Slice of aforementioned pie (700 words)
- Episode of Dr. Who (1000 words)
- 1 and 2 together (meet daily quota even though I don’t feel like writing)
- Walk in the park (400 words)
- Bake something interesting (2000 words)
- Game of Bejeweled (350 words)
- Chapter of latest Discworld novel (400 words)
NaNoWriMo has officially begun! I stayed up for midnight last night and banged out my first 500 words before collapsing into bed. The hope (as it is every time I do this) is to get 2000 words done per day rather than 1667, so I have enough of a buffer to take the occasional breather day off. That hasn’t worked for me yet, but we will see!
Since I am trying to get 2K of fiction out daily, though, please understand I will most likely be posting less often here, although I’ll try and pop in from time to time (hopefully after meeting daily quota).
If you are reading this and happen to be doing NaNo yourself, feel free to let me know at any time what you are writing, what your word count is, and how the writing’s going! I am glad we are in this crazy thing together.
Word count: 1,890
I got my first flame comment this week! The email address was long and spammy-looking, so I’m not going to put it through (I don’t want to end up with loads of spam about Dell or watches or what have you), but the commenter expressed disappointment that I was whining about a problem I could easily solve if I wasn’t here on my blog, “looking for attention.”
It’s a fair point. My post last week wasn’t a great read, and I was whining about something as silly and frustrating as being too tired to finish writing a story, when I clearly had enough time to blog something about it. I could make all kinds of excuses about how it’s easier to write blog posts sentence by sentence in work downtime than stories, which I typically reread and mull over while I write, but that’s beside the point.
The point is that when I created this space, I wanted a place where I could recharge myself, be inspired, and hold myself accountable when I needed to. It’s a way to make it “official” that I’m writing, and thinking like a writer as often as I can. It’s been working better than I’d even hoped. I’m discovering new and exciting people, writing regularly (even if never as much as I’d ideally want to do), and making real, measurable progress. Getting comments–positive or negative–is the kind of tangible feedback that reminds me that ultimately I can’t just write for myself, but I have to hold myself accountable to others as well.
I was too tired again this morning to haul myself out of bed to write, so as soon as I had a few free minutes at work, I started working on the flash fiction idea that occurred to me in class Tuesday night. The story’s sitting in my inbox now, fresh and warm and 559 words–meeting my daily word goal. I can pretty much promise I wouldn’t have written it without this blog and my goal to have a story posted every Friday.
Even when I’m tired, even when I use this space to whine instead of put out interesting stuff, I’m learning to do something. Be flexible, show up, take criticism, let strangers read what I write, experiment. I’m getting to bring what I learn in classes into my day-to-day, one step at a time.
Feeling a bit better about the writing than I was before. I finished the draft of that story I was working on, drafted an article for Dumb Little Man and a post for the Canaries, and put together a flash for today. In honor of the impending holiday, it’s a ghost story (of sorts):
The Egyptian Mau is widely acknowledged to be the breed that’s closest to the cats the ancient Egyptians worshipped back in 5,000 B.C. They’re small-boned cats, gray, dark-spotted (the only breed to have spots). On their foreheads, you can see a pattern of stripes like a tabby’s. The ancient Egyptians thought it was the sign of the sacred scarab beetle—the dark smudge of the body, the angled stripes of the legs and antennae—making the cat doubly holy.
My Egyptian Mau is named Gregg, because the spirit of my ex has possessed it. Gregg licks the ash out of the ashtray and won’t touch tuna. He likes steak, seared rare on the stove. Doesn’t mean he gets it all the time. After his last life, having to eat a few bowls of kibble is what he deserves, and that’s being generous. He’s got the same walk he used to have, too, but he hulks less at 8.5 pounds than he did at 225.
Sometimes I get angry, when I come home from work and see Gregg outside. I should be the one pissing on fences and sunning myself all day. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I brought home a dog. Mostly, though, it’s okay, this relationship we’ve got now. At least I’m not the one waking up every day with a giant dung beetle drawn on my face.
I wrote on Sunday, which is good. I’m almost finished with the draft of story I’m working on, which is better. But for the last several work days, I haven’t been able to pull myself out of bed to write.
My schedule hasn’t changed. I’m working the same hours, have roughly the same amount of homework, run the same errands that I have been. It’s just that when the alarm has sounded at 7:05 or 7:15, I’ve burrowed back into the blankets instead of jumping (fine, crawling) out of bed, fresh words on my mind. And by the time I get home after working a full day and making sure I have food in the house or not too many library fines or talking myself into a quick workout, I really want to hang out for a while without doing anything that can be checked off a list.
I’m sorry, I know I’m whining. If it’s important to me to finish this story, I should take half an hour of my evening, sit down, and finish the darn thing. My body, for whatever reason, needs a little more sleep, and I should be reworking my schedule to accommodate both hitting the snooze button and getting a few hundred words written. I’m just irked to hit a bump in the schedule that was working so beautifully.
From what I can tell, there are two primary schools of thought on writing: writing as vocation and writing as craft. The Vocation-ists see writing as an unteachable art, an unstoppable force that consumes the writer. Writers talking earnestly about their Muse, characters who talk to them and stories that “write themselves” are, more often than not, Vocation-ists. Inspiration rules.
The Crafters see writing as a teachable skill, a practice in which careful study of other works can teach a writer how to write his or her own. Writers talking about getting your butt in the writing seat no matter what, writing “exercises” to sharpen dialogue or strengthen plot formation, or selling “writing coaching” are probably Crafters. Diligence and perseverance are their keywords.
This would all be perfectly well and good if the two camps could just say, “Well, what works for you doesn’t work for me, but you go ahead and rock out doing your thing and I’ll rock out doing mine.” Unfortunately, this is the Internet, and what tends to happen more often is you get people suggesting that there is a fundamental difference between Writers and People Who Write.
There is no difference between Writers and People Who Write, unless by People Who Write you mean People Who Send Postcards Sometimes And Jot Down Phone Numbers And Grocery Lists. There are certainly thoughtful and thoughtless writers, even good and bad writers. But to draw a distinction between Writers (read, “real” writers) and People Who Write is to reinforce a kind of exclusivity and snobbishness about what it is to be a writer.
The snobbishness goes both ways, by the way. Vocation-ists sneer at the word monkeys churning out lifeless prose, expecting something as chimerical and unpredictable as a good story to trot out patiently because you’re knocking words together. In their mess of outlines, they wouldn’t trust a good, spontaneous inspiration if it bit them. Crafters roll their eyes right back at the Inspiration Fairies who won’t touch the keyboard unless the sky is pink and the writing desk is sprinkled in pixie dust. When they do get an idea, they start wailing about characters not doing what they want them to, as if the y, the authors, are not the ones writing the damn thing in the first place.
The problem is that, in either case, the snobs are looking only at the writers on the other side doing the bad writing. Vocation-ists are ignoring Margaret Atwood, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, and countless others who write phenomenal, imaginative work by getting their butts in their chairs every day. Crafters are ignoring Lewis Carroll or Frank L. Baum, whose literature began as a whim to amuse children, or James Joyce, who definitely didn’t learn by stacking up what came before, but rode his own crazy muse.
The other problem is that if you read too much into writing as craft or writing as vocation, you’ll start to believe that false dichotomy. Writers don’t have to be one or the other. I’m a believer in striving for a daily writing habit, regardless of inspiration. I believe exercises are helpful and shitty first drafts are inescapable, except for a select few who have been writing for so long and have it so much under their skin that even first drafts are (at least to the rest of us) pretty good. I’m also a believer that there’s more to writing than studying successful writers and copying what they do. Sometimes if I don’t write for a couple days I get antsy and irritable, and writing a story soothes a side of me that has nothing to do with diligence and box-checking. I don’t always review my blog posts before I hit “Submit,” but I put thought into what I write, and I always revise my stories and poetry before anyone else sees them. I don’t fit neatly into either extreme camp when it comes to writing, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to dismiss me as just a “person who writes” because I’m not inspired or disciplined or professional enough.
As far as I’m concerned, a writer is someone who writes, and who cares about what he or she is writing. It’s that simple.
I just realized it’s time for another report! Three months is a long time, but it still catches me by surprise. As I recall (read: as I cheat by checking the Mid-Year Report), my goals were:
1. Write fiction 5 days a week
2. Submit more/regularly
3. Continue my good habits (blogging, class work, reading)
It’s been a good three months. I’m learning a lot at the new job, and the blog is going strong. I’ve done guest posts, and am actually going to be a regular contributor. I’ve got my first official regular assignment from the Canaries: a post about a particular annual reading tradition of mine, along with a book review. I’ll let you know when to look for it.
Writing is going pretty well. I’m getting up between 7:00 and 7:20 these days, depending on how tired I am, and writing a little bit before I go to work. On a good day, I’ll write over 300 words in a 15-minute stretch, on a bad day it’s more like 100. I’m trying to take evening mini-stretches, too, to get to that nice round 500. The word goal is a little elusive, but joining 750words was a great move. I signed up for the September challenge to write every day and, except for two or three nights when I copy-pasted a blog entry I’d written the day before, I kept to it. Only made it to 750 a couple of times, but I’m writing regularly again, and I can feel the difference. I’ve revised two stories, written two or three more, and I have another two in progress on the laptop. Plus, I’ve published two articles on Dumb Little Man and written an article on the forthcoming children’s book, Maggie Goes On a Diet. That article hasn’t found a home, but I got to interview people (it was easier to get ahold of experts to interview than I thought!), and it is completed, so it counts.
I’ve stepped up submissions, as well, although I’m getting close to tapering down again. I submitted to about 25 places over the last 12 weeks, averaging about 2 subs per week. Light for a “real” writer, but better than I’ve been in a long time.
I’m glad I’m doing this report now! I’ve been feeling so-so about my writing for the last few days–tired of my characters and tropes. We’re reading so many jaw-drop amazing books in the literature seminar that when I look at my stories, they feel thin and dull. It’s encouraging to think how much more time I’ve been devoting to getting my butt in the writing seat, though. So, my goals for next month are:
1. Complete National Novel Writing Month.
2. Arrive at and maintain 500 words at least 4 days a week (can be less on other days, except for November of course)
3. Challenge myself to write differently–different characters, genres, writing styles. I’m too young and too new at this to fall into a rut. Let’s see how many different things I can do by the end of the month.
4. Post Flash Fridays. Flash is already a different thing for me, and the weekly push should help keep me on my toes.
5. Update What I’m Reading! I actually have read 10 books since the end of August, but haven’t updated a single one to the blog. Let’s get some fresh material out there.
The baby blog is a year old! Last October, I was in a state of near-panic because my E-Pub professor wanted us to create writer’s websites for ourselves. It was the midterm, and I barely knew any HTML (and still don’t–I keep meaning to, but there are so many beautiful books I want to read instead!), and making a website was going to be a disaster.
Then WordPress came along. I actually already had a WordPress blog, which I have abandoned utterly. The thing is that I love the idea of blogging, but I am really wary about doing one of those diary-like, personal blogs. More information than I want about myself on the Internet. But a writing blog, with book reviews and thoughts about my relationship with words, fit much better. I’ve even been brave enough to branch out and share personal news on certain special occasions.
Far from being a disaster, running this blogsite has pushed me in a couple directions I definitely wouldn’t have gone without it. I’ve got over 50 posts here, which means I’ve been writing, on average, at least once a week. I’ve really written more frequently than that for a while now (the first few months here were very slow). I’ve done guest posts, and I’m now officially signed on as a regular contributor for another blog. I’ve even had two articles featured on Dumb Little Man, and I assure you that writing blog posts played a large part in teaching me how to write articles for the Web.
What this blog really is, though, is a constant reminder to myself to be a writer. I hold myself accountable here: to submit, to finish stories, to read thoughtfully. I’ve written a modest handful of stories and mini-essays without the push of class deadlines this year, and I am hoping to increase that number (hi, NaNo). I am delighted every time someone subscribes or comments, but much as I love the fact that I have some readers, I love that this blog helps me write.
I’ve added a few birthday features. You’ll notice a new, “Popular” page, containing links to the posts and stories here with the most hits. Most surprising one for me? Months after I wrote it, I’m still getting a regular trickle of hits for Nick and Sheila Pye.
Another feature is upcoming: Beginning this October, I’m stealing another blogger’s idea and doing Flash Fridays. Every week (I hope I hope), I will post an ultra-brief story.
So many thanks if you read what I have to say on this site, and here’s to another year! Have an e-cupcake, on me.
I’m up on The Canary Review again to continue the conversation on Banned Books. I think it’s important to consider why we ban or challenge books, and what that says about their power. Plus, tCR is a cool blog, with plenty of interesting thoughts on books, banned and otherwise.
So what’s cool is that it’s possible that there will be a new Canary appearing soon whose writing style bears a strong similarity to mind. Striking, even. This blog is going to keep plugging away, but you might want to check out The Canary Review twice a month or so. Just sayin’.