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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

NaNoWriMo

I Can Feel It Coming. . .

Camp NaNoWriMo is almost here ! Just two more days before we hit the keyboards.  And I'm almost ready. My camp shirt hangs in the closet. My Scrivener files are set up with a chapter-by chapter tentative outline, character sketches, a few pictures that show the period, a historical timeline, and a collection of articles on relevant historical events. The opening chapters are written (in first draft form). Now I'm looking ahead, hoping to complete the 50,000 to 70,000 words it will take to finish an early draft of this manuscript. Will I do it? Who knows? But I'm going to try. I've been at this business long enough to know that nothing works as well as just applying seat of pants to computer chair.

But besides the novel about antebellum Charleston, I have a new idea bouncing around in my head this morning, and I'm thinking -- ever the optimist, she is! -- that I can accomplish both at once.  Here's what's cooking around the campfire.

One of the interesting highlights of doing the April or June Camp NaNoWriMo experience is the casual atmosphere. Participants write, but they also toast some imaginary marshmallows and exchange scary stories with the other campers. The program assigns us to "cabins," in which we get to know ten or twelve other campers. I asked to be assigned to a cabin with other writers of historical fiction, and then, hopeful to the end, to people who were close to my own age. The last time I did this, my cabin contained some thirteen-year-olds who got homesick or bored and disappeared after only a few days.  My match-ups this year are much better, although it's hard to find other writers in their late 70s. So my cabin holds mostly those who want to write historical novels. We have three or four other retired women, several in their mid to late thirties, and a few who won't talk about their age (maybe that's a give-away!) Four of us have already published; the others are still newbies.

And we have our own little bulletin board where we can share ideas, doubts, questions, and mutually-helpful ideas. Several of our newcomers have already expressed some anxiety about two areas -- not knowing what to write and wondering about the possibilities of self-publishing. i think, perhaps, I can be of help in both areas. 

I'm going to limit my cabin bulletin board postings to tips on writing and publishing. We're limited to 600 characters, so these will be short. However, I can link them to longer posts on each topic here on this blog. And who knows? Maybe by the end of the month, I'll also have a good start on that updated second edition of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese" that I've been thinking about and promising for a couple of years.

Can I finish the first draft of a novel in thirty days? Sure i can! Can I  do two of them at once? That remains to be seen.


My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo

I first met the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) folks back in 2011, when I was struggling with plans to write a biographical novel about the Yankee missionaries who went to South Carolina during the Civil War to serve a huge population of abandoned slaves. I had too many stories, too many characters, too many crises, and not nearly enough satisfactory conclusions. 

The NaNoWriMo instructions were clear: just sit down and write. Quit thinking and over-thinking. That comes later. Just write, as quickly and as much as you can. Take the month of November--30 days--and write at least 1667 words every day. At the end of the month you'll have written 50,000 words. That's almost enough for a novel. If you complete the task, NaNoWriMo will reward your win by printing your completed manuscript in paperback format so you can see your work in print. Then you'll know where to go from there.

I took them at their word and worked myself into exhaustion for a month. I did it and the result was a 176-page book called "Gideon's Ladies."  IT WAS AWFUL! But I learned. When I looked at my raw writing in print I saw every flaw. But I could also see where I had gone wrong and what I needed to do to correct it. So with an awful example before me, i started over, asked myself the right questions, and eventually published "The Road to Frogmore," a much improved version. (And by the way, CreateSpace still keeps that original manuscript in their listing of my works, although it is not available for sale.) 

As my writing methods changed, so did NaNoWriMo. They added smaller versions of their contests in April and July, These "Camp" experiences were more like writing retreats. Authors joined others in cabins, where they were more or less matched with others writing the same sorts of materials. The program kept tract of each author's progress but added the combined word counts for each cabin. Cabin-mates could chat with each other, talk about writing problems, or ask for help. Writers were also allowed to set their own word-count goals, which took some of the pressure off. 

After my first experience, I had decided that a November writing month was not for me. I had too many distractions that month--travel plans, Thanksgiving, meeting commitments. April and July suited me much better. I wrote a major portion of "Damned Yankee" in April 2013 and a finalizing section of Yankee Reconstructed in July 2015. But each time, I then swore off ever doing another NaNoWriMo marathon. I didn't need that kind of motivation any more, I told myself.

Flash forward to November 2016. My African-American genealogist friend decided to try NaNoWriMo for herself. Me? I was ready to start my next ambitious project--all on my own. And the results? My brilliant friend finished early with a blazing total of 74,450 words. Me? Well, as of today, after 130 days of planning, thinking, dreaming, and scribbling, I have written 11,525 words. 

I'll save you the trouble of doing the math.  That's 77 words a day. At this rate, I'll be working on this #$%^&  book for 1559 more days, with a completion date scheduled for sometime in May, 2021. Clearly, I need to stop hating NaNoWriMo and get back in that regimen.

Yes, I'm committed--again! Starting April 1--and the irony of April Fool's Day is not lost on me!--I'll be showing up for Sasquatch Camp 2017--where we will pursue the impossible and hope to find some bright ideas. I've even ordered the camp shirt.


NaNoWriMo Update: In Which I Award Myself a Badge






This year, the NaNoWriMo head honchos have made a bunch of new badges available. Some of them we earn by passing certain milepost word counts. For the others, the writer is put on her honor to award herself. So far, I have only had two -- a "Planner" Award for starting the month with an outline, and a "Tell the World" badge for blogging about my intentions. This week, I've earned my third -- the "Procrastination" badge.

I've now gone two whole days without writing a word, which has put me below the bar of expected performance. After today there are only six days left,  if I want to win this silly race, I will have to write 2,012 words or more on every one of those days.  That's doable, once I figure out how to stop this procrastination train I've been riding.

My "new and exciting ways to procrastinate" have included:

1. A search for a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau -- the first French wine to come out of this year's crop. The traditional release date in France -- practically a national holiday -- is the third Thursday in November (this past 19th). American distributors have always been quite good about having their supplies ordered so that they could be on the shelves on the required day. But not this year. My search had become increasingly frantic, until this morning, when I found cases of the stuff ready to be cracked open for Thanksgiving. One simply cannot write without the assurance that a glass of Nouveau awaits the completion of the day's production.

2. Weeks ago I had scheduled a "deep cleaning" of my kitchen and bathrooms. When the crew arrived Monday morning, I shut myself into my office to read page proofs while they worked. An hour so so later, I emerged to see how things were going, and discovered that "deep cleaning" includes the INSIDES of all cupboards and cabinets. Dishes, pots, pans, and foodstuffs were piled everywhere. "Don't worry," the head woman assured me. "We'll put everything back, except for stuff that is obviously dated "-- and she pointed to a package of grits marked to expire in 2004. I retreated to the office. But when they were gone, I couldn't find anything! And when I did an inventory of things I will need in the next couple of days, I discovered that they had discarded my newly-purchased bottle of pumpkin pie spices, along with the cloves, ginger, and cinnamon I always have on hand. So that required an emergency trip to the grocery store if I wanted pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

3. The third procrastination was the most fun. I received a check in the mail for a percentage of all the items I have purchased at Costco in the past year. It wasn't an enormous amount, but it counted as "found money" and therefore eligible to be frittered away, so long as I spent it at their store. So while on my wine hunt this morning, I stopped at Costco for "a minute" and spend a LONG time deciding what to buy. I ended up with a fuzzy bathrobe, a box of Belgian chocolates, and a huge Christmas wreath for my front door. And the afternoon was spent trying to figure out how to hang the wreath on the door.

The days have not been a loss. I have a  clean house, two bottles of French wine, the chocolates, and the wonderful smell of real pine every time I open the door. But tomorrow, I'll have to get back to work!



Stupendous Day (or Why i Can't See Straight)

 

I produced a grand total of 3598 words today. Recovered my edge, made up for all those days I slacked off, set a "personal best" record, earned a NaNoWriMo badge for passing 25,000 words (that's why today's bar is orange), and planned ahead for the next four or five chapters.  Of course my eyes no longer focus, my fingers are cramped, my back has a crick in it, and the cats are all mad because they've been ignored. But I'm ready for a new week of writing. Bring it on, NaNoWriMo!

Some Things They Don't Tell You about NaNoWriMo

I've uncovered two underlying fault lines in that rock-hard theory that a writer can sit down every day for a month and churn out a set number of words -- with the result that a book miraculously appears at the end of thirty days. Oh, there are any number of people who will tell you they've done it (Hell, I've done it!), and there are book publishers out there who are ready to turn those wonderful thoughts into printed pages. Sure there are. 
 
BUT -- there's always a but.
 
One comes from the assumption that the Muse is always on call. Often, she is. I have those days when the characters grab my story line and start talking to themselves in my head, as fast as I can hit the keys.  And if I'm interrupted--a neighbor drops by, an urgent request arrives in e-mail, or the cat food runs out, I can stop typing and take care of the problem without interrupting my line of thought. I can empty the dishwasher or fix a light bulb or take out the garbage while the characters keep right on talking in my head. 

Yes, yes, don't bother telling me. I know that's another one of those bad signs -- like drinking my coffee black or craving radishes -- that proves I'm a psychopath at heart. That's all right. It's those voices that help a writer write.

On other days, the same characters stick their noses in the air, fold their arms across their chests, turn their backs, and refuse to utter a word. And when they do that, there's no real cure. Any attempt to write while the Muse is on strike produces nothing but drivel.

The other fault line is life itself. The creators of NaNoWriMo sometimes seem to have forgotten that Life with a capital L is no respecter of the plans of ordinary mortals. Things happen. Power goes out. The computer crashes. Some clumsy four-footed monster knocks a glass off the kitchen counter and leaves hundreds of sharp splinters underfoot. And sometimes it's something delightful. A friend receives a prestigious award and invites you to attend the award celebration. A long-distance call re-awakens another friendship. Whether they be good or bad, some interruptions put an end to a whole day's production schedule.

All of which is to say, I haven't had a good week so far. Sunday and Monday were OK, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday the 13th were a total loss. Fortunately I have a couple of days' worth of extra words to cushion the lapses. And there's one more day this week to do some repair. Nevertheless, NaNoWriMo has taken a hit, and so has blogging. I'm posting this on both sites as a feeble excuse as I disappear and try to regain my momentum.