"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Every Author Needs a Dead Mule
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

making choices

I'm a Drop-Out and NaNoWriMo Hasn't Even Started Yet.

On October 8th, I posted a brave little proposal here.  I had decided to enter National Novel Writing Month, but since I already had my November dates pretty well filled up with a book tour and two other trips, not to mention a holiday, I had decided to start in October and simply designate 30 days out of two months to do the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel.

So how have I done? Well, I was trying to finish a manuscript that was already at 67,000 words, but nowhere near finished. I've been able to declare 14 writing days so far, and I've produced 22,433 new words.  That's not quite up to the goal of 1667 a day, but 1602 a day is pretty close.  I'm pleased, especially since there are still 4 October days to go. BUT . . .BUT. . .  I've been sitting here looking at what I have accomplished and where I want to go.  And the hard truth is that there's no way I can stretch this book out for another 28,000 words.  Not gonna happen!

My book manuscript now stands at 89,433 words.  That's already long enough to be a book.  And the story is wrapping itself up.  I'm not really very good at plotting out a story line from start to finish before I start to write.  I know there are a lot of writers who can do that, and I admire them, but I'm not one of them.  I'm not completely happy being a "pantser" either.  Pantsers just apply seat of pants to seat of chair and start writing without a clue as to where the story is headed.  I tend to start with a pretty clear idea of what's going to happen and how the story will develop.  But sometimes the characters surprise me and I find it's wiser to let them have their heads rather than force them into a preconceived mold.

That's what happened in this case.  I started out with the idea that I was writing about a married couple, one from the South and one from the North during the Civil War.  I knew what kind of troubles they would face. But what I didn't know was which character would prove to be the stronger of the two.  Oh, I had an idea, but it turned out I was wrong. (No, I'm not going to reveal which one it is!) Let's just leave it at this -- that the story has already reached a dramatic crescendo and then resolved itself into a surprising but highly satisfactory result. To carry it on for another 28,000 words (that's like 14 more chapters!) would be an anti-climax to disappoint everyone, including me.  There are details to wrap up, of course, and final resolutions of secondary story lines, but when a story has made its point, it's time to shut up.

"Damned Yankee" will end up being about 100,000 words -- long enough for a good juicy read but not so long that the reader will be mumbling, "OK, enough, already!"

I wish the very best of luck to all the people who are starting brand new books on Friday.  This experience will be an exercise in self-discipline, agony, sore fingers, tired butts, and aching backs, but it's also an exciting way to discover that --yes, indeed, you DO have a story inside of you waiting to get out.  Have fun, take it seriously, and produce something great.  Just remember that there is more to writing than a word count.  Listen to your story, to your characters, and let them guide you.  I'll be rooting for you even if I'm not slogging along beside you.

Why Can't October Become November?


Is anybody else being bombarded with messages from NaNo WritMo -- National Novel Writing Month, which is scheduled to begin November 1st? I get about three a week, and the guilt is overwhelming.  I've done this marathon several times, winning in 2009 and in 2010, before failing badly in the Summer Camp exercise in 2011.  Last year, I decided to do another Summer Camp, set my own goal of 35,000 words instead of 50,000, and had my own private victory party.  But every time, I vow never to do it again.

The premise is simple enough.  You have 30 days to write 50,000 words, which they say can be enough for a whole novel. Now, the writing goals are perfectly doable -- 1667 a day and you're in! It's the monotony of doing it every day without time to think and reflect about what you are writing that gets to me.  I also have trouble with the 50,000 word goal as equalling a whole novel.  In my own mind, I like my novels meatier than that.  100,000 words is more to my liking, although being offered a prize for writing half a novel  isn't as appealing.

Here's my dilemma this year.  I have the start of a big meaty story about a marriage threatened by the events of the Civil War.  By "start" I mean some 67,000 words, with the story still having a lot of disasters to go.  So this year's NaNoWriMo exercise would be perfect for forcing me to finish writing the first draft of the novel.  EXCEPT! Except that my November is already booked. I have a new book that launches in mid-October. We are scheduled to be out of town every blessed weekend in November--a trip to Nashville, another to Branson, and then a book tour of South Carolina.  And of course, there's Thanksgiving in there, too.

 Devoting the time to write 1667 words every day of November? Not going to happen! So . . . I'm making up my own rules. I studied my November calendar and found 9 days when I could be free and close to the computer to write those 1667 words.  What about the other 21? I've decided to declare 21 days in October as November days. Time is a human construct, right?  Julius Caesar re-wrote the calendar to give himself a month (July), and a medieval pope rearranged the calendar again to drop a bunch of days in October and make sure that winter continued to arrive in the winter. Why can't I do a little private rearranging?

 Today, dear friends, is November 2nd in my book world.  I've already written 3,737 words, which already puts me a little ahead of the curve. An added advantage is that in this manipulated schedule there are open days -- time to breathe, reflect, plot, and plan.
When the official November 1 finally gets here, I'll record yesterday's total words, and go from there. With luck, I plan to finish on the day before Thanksgiving . . . which will make me very happy, even if I did make up my own calendar.  Want to join my schedule? 


Lessons from a Snow Leopard



Friday was such a beautiful day here that on the spur of the moment we decided to visit our zoo.  Temperature was in the mid-70s, sky a brilliant blue, soft breezes, little puffy white clouds - - - - and a weather forecast for 5 inches of rain and freezing temperatures for the weekend and the week ahead. Excuse enough to take the afternoon off and engage in some recreational cat-watching before the local apocalypse.

Now I don't want to start a discussion of zoos here.  I know there are a lot of people who believe that it is wrong to cage wild animals and put them on display for gawking humans.  There are others who argue that zoos do important work by establishing breeding programs and preserving endangered species. If I have to come down on one side or the other, I'll have to point to the Memphis Zoo as a prime example of the good zoos do.  It has, in fact, been named the best zoo in America because of its natural habitats, its breeding program, and the innovative ways in which people become the caged ones while the animals run free.

It shouldn't surprise anyone who visits this site regularly to find out that we headed straight for Cat Country.  We hesitated for a few minutes in front of the window into the river fishery where two red panda cubs were playing chase and tag.  It didn't take much of a sighting for me to fall in love with Justin and Lucille. ( Or maybe I just liked the names.) Then we were off to view the black panther, the cheetahs, the Bengal tigers (including a white one!), and our newest Lion couple, who were behaving typically: The female posed daintily in front of the viewing window, while the male was sprawled on his back in the sun, sleeping the afternoon away.


But the highlight of our day was our visit with the snow leopard.  Here, too, the male was asleep while the young female dealt with the visitors.  Caching a moment when there were no other humans around to make fun of me, I called out to her, and much to my surprise she came right over to the vertical wire barrier in front of me. She stood on her hind legs, raised her front paws over her head, and pawed at the wire, both paws moving in unison. (Do you remember the YouTube video going around that showed  two cats playing pat-a-cake?  It was the same motion.) Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me, but this is the real Memphis snow leopard in the picture.

Then came the highlight of our day. Dropping back to all fours, she put on a tail-chasing display.  Now, if you know snow leopards, you also know that they have preternaturally long tails with a tuft at the end, so it didn't take long for her to catch it.  She was very proud of herself and looked to us for applause.  Then she tried to walk away. Uh-oh!

You can see the problem. With her tail in her mouth, her back feet didn't move in the same direction as her front ones.  All she could do was walk in a tight little circle, frustrated that she was not getting anywhere, but too proud to let go of the tail. Evidently, judging by pictures available on the internet, this is a common behavior of the snow leopard.

It was a delightful moment, but one that made me think of the lessons to be learned. How many times do we all set ourselves a goal without thinking about the consequences of our actions? And once we achieve a goal, does it stymie us, so that we find ourselves unable to move forward to something new?