Writing is Life

Looking Back at NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

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Sometimes inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. Back in the fall I was watching an episode of Castle, where Richard Castle (played brilliantly by Nathan Fillion) goes into an elementary classroom to try to find a child who witness a murder. Castle’s plan is to get the students to write stories, hoping one of them will reveal what they saw in their writing. When the children balk at the idea, Castle tells them, “We are all writers. If you can tell a story, you can write a story.”

This line from Castle stuck with me, and in many ways was my chief motivation in signing up for NaNoWriMo in 2014. The first thing I did before sitting down to in front of my computer on November 1st was write that quote on the white board on my wall, where I could see it from my desk. When I hit a rough patch or struggled with writer’s block I would look at the quote, and renew my determination to continue.

I finished my NaNoWriMo goal on November 26th – four days early – with 50,308 words written and I’m still going (though my pace has definitely slowed since November). When I first started the month I didn’t think I could really write 50,000 words in a month, but I ended up finishing four days ahead of schedule. Speaking as someone who has talked for years of writing a novel, it feels really good to finally accomplish just that much and know that if I can write that much, there’s no reason I can’t finished the entire novel. I learned a lot in November, and I thought today I would share five of the lessons NaNoWriMo taught me.

1. You don’t need to have a plan

When I was an undergrad I took a class on writing children’s literature. Part of that class involved creating chapter outlines for an entire children’s novel as well as writing several chapters of the novel itself. I had an entire 22-chapter book outlined, but never got past the third chapter of the book. In fact, I’m not even sure where that manuscript is now, as I haven’t seen that flash drive in a very long time.

My takeaway from that class was that it’s important to outline a novel before you begin writing. However, even though I had every chapter outlined for that book, knew exactly where I wanted to go, and every twist and turn, I still didn’t finish the book. I don’t know where the file is, but I still remember the characters and the plot of the story, and maybe someday it will get written.

In contrast, I started November of without any kind of plan. I didn’t even make the decision to sign up for NaNoWriMo until 10:00 at night on October 31, just two hours before NaNoWriMo officially began. When I sat down to write that first day I had an idea for a character, but absolutely no idea where what the story was going to be about, or what would happen to her. That process was repeated almost every day. I would sit down at my computer desk not entirely sure where the story was going to go, but I kept writing anyway. Sometimes the characters surprised me. I was expecting one thing to happen, then realized the story was actually going to head in a completely different direction. Even if I had planned out what I was going to write, I probably would have thrown out the outline by day two.

My novel deals a lot with Celtic mythology, something I hadn’t anticipated – particularly because I’m not that familiar with Celtic mythology. So I’ve also found myself doing a lot of research and reading during the month, discovering who my characters are and how they fit into the world I was building for them.

This process of discovery was one of my favorite aspects of the month. I loved not knowing where everything was going and what was going to happen. I felt like an archaeologists uncovering things as I went along. The story isn’t finished; I can’t wait to see what happens next and how it ends.

2. Just Keep Writing

One of my biggest problems in writing anything is my constant need to reread and revise everything I’ve already written. I would take forever writing the simplest paper for class because I was never completely satisfied with what I had already written; I was always coming up with a better way to word something. To me, the revision process is never complete.

I remember hearing one time that if it hadn’t been for friends like C.S. LewisJ.R.R. Tolkien may never have published a single novel because he was never content with the way it was written and was constantly revising. I can’t imagine life without Middle Earth, but I know that feeling.

Going into NaNoWriMo I forbade myself from rereading anything I had written previously. I would occasionally consult a certain place in the novel if I was concerned about a large continuity error, but apart from that I would not sit and read through everything until I was completely finished with the novel and ready for the first round of revisions. I even reminded myself that continuity errors weren’t that important at this point, I could catch them while revising. The important thing was to get words on a page and I would never do that if I was spending all of my time reading over everything I had already written. I would never make my word count if I was just revising.

So I didn’t reread or revise, and I still haven’t. I’m still going forward, writing and not looking back. I think this was really one of the keys to successfully completing the NaNoWriMo goal. I’m sure I would never have made it if I hadn’t set this restriction for myself.

3. Hold Yourself Accountable

On top of posting word counts to the NaNoWriMo website that keeps track of your writing, I also made sure I posted my daily word counts to my Twitter page, and occasionally to Facebook. I knew that if others were aware of my progress I would be more driven to be successful and not just slack off. I told all the people around me what I was doing, because I knew I wouldn’t want to face them on December 1st and admit I hadn’t met my goal.

There are a lot of people who sign up for NaNoWriMo but don’t meet the 50,000 word goal, and for good reason. Life can get in the way. But I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I possibly could to make sure I was on track to accomplish the goal I had set for myself, and the easiest way to do that was to hold myself accountable.

Another reason to do this is not just so you don’t have to tell your friends you didn’t make it. I had people cheering me on along the way. Encouragement can be a great motivator, and knowing I had friends tracking my progress and encouraging me helped me to work harder to make sure I didn’t let them – or myself – down.

4. Believe in Yourself

As simple as it may sound, you have to believe that you can do this. If you don’t believe you can write a novel, you never will. I didn’t believe I could do it. I talked about it all the time, and it’s one thing I’ve dreamed of doing for half of my life, but deep down I never really believed I was capable. I still don’t know if what I have written is anything anyone will want to read, but the important thing is that I have written it.

Right now it’s what I am sure Anne Lamott would refer to as a “shitty first draft” but hopefully future drafts will improve it. And even if they don’t, this is just my first attempt. I don’t have to get it right on the first try. The important thing is that I finally set my mind towards writing a novel, and if I can do it once I can do it again. If this one is bad, then hopefully the next attempt will be better.

Just believe in yourself. Believe that you can do it, and you will get it done. If you need writing encouragement there are great books out there that can help. A few of my favorites are Bird by Bird by Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King and The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Each of these books taught me that all the struggles I go through as a writer have also been dealt with by some of the very best in the business.

5. This is Just the Beginning

The goal for NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month, but 50,000 words is really only about half the length of novel (much less than half if you’re George R.R. Martin). So really, this is just the starting place. My goal is to try to double the current length of my novel and eventually I hope to publish this novel. If I’m lucky people will read and enjoy it. I haven’t even finished this novel but I’m already working on plans for a sequel, since these days publishers seem to want series, or at the very least trilogies. Whatever happens, this is just the beginning.

And there’s what I learned from participating in NaNoWriMo. I hope in sharing these lessons they will have encouraged some of you. Becoming a writer has always been a dream of mine, and NaNoWriMo has put me one step closer to achieving that dream. Whatever your dreams may be, I hope you are doing everything you can to make them come true.

An Exclusive Interview with the Creator of CW’s Star-Crossed

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Image ExclusiveIf you know me at all, you may know that I love television and I dream of becoming a writer. I would love to become one of those writer’s whose day job is to write about television, because really that’s just the best of both worlds. You have an excuse to watch all the great television being produced and you get to meet all kinds of interesting people in the process.

Last week part of that dream came true, or at least it was the first step. I had the opportunity to interview Meredith Averill, the creator of the CW Network’s new sci-fi drama, Star-Crossed for the online magazine Curiata.com. Averill has formerly worked on The Good Wife as well as Happy Town and Life on Mars. I’m really excited about this opportunity and I’m excited to be able to share this interview with everyone.

So, head over to Curiata.com to read our exclusive interview with Meredith Averill then make sure to watch Star-Crossed at 8 p.m. on the CW. The show also stars Aimee Teegarden from Friday Night Lights and 90210‘s Matt Lanter.

While you’re at Curiata.com check out some of our other pieces. I recently started a weekly column for all things worth fanning out over; there’s a wine column, articles on Batman, movie reviews – a wide range of material and we’re just getting started. So be sure to bookmark the page and follow us on Twitter (@CuriataDotCom). You can also Like our Facebook page to stay up-to-date on all our posts!

Introducing ‘Fanning Out’ on Curiata.com

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Good morning readers!

I’m excited to announce that starting today I will be writing a weekly for Curiata.com titled ‘Fanning Out.’ Topics will include all the books, movies, TV shows etc. us fangirls (and fanboys) love. Click Here to read the debut!

Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow @CuriataDotCom on Twitter! There’s lots of good stuff coming to the site, including a profile on Meredith Averill, the creator of the new CW show, Star-Crossed, premiering Monday!

 

Bits & Pieces: August: Osage County, Oscars Thoughts and Curiata.com

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This is going to be a rather random post about a couple different topics. You’ve been warned.

Last spring I had to read the play August: Osage County for a drama class I was taking. Some friends and I also went to see the play performed live and we all loved it. So naturally when I heard there was a movie being made, I had to see it (even before I knew Benedict Cumberbatch was going to be in it). The movie was fantastic – the cast was great, and even though a lot of things had to be cut out to get it down from 3 hours, it was still very close to the original and I loved it. I’m excited Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts received nominations for the film, but I’m disappointed they’re the onnly Oscar nominations it received. You can read my official review of the film here. Which brings me to my next topic: Curiata.com

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or if you’ve glanced over to see the logo to the right of this post) you may have heard me mention Curiata.com. It’s a new online e-mag founded by a friend of mine from college. It will be covering a wide range of topics – politics, humor, reviews, weekly columns, and more – and I highly recommend you check it out and follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, etc. I’m very excited to be writing for a site other than just my own blog. Within the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing Her and Dallas Buyers Club for their Oscars coverage.

And speaking of Oscars coverage, I’m more than halfway towards accomplishing my goal of seeing all the nominees by Oscar Night. I have now seen six of the nine films (for those keeping track, my 12 Years a Slave review will be coming later this week). The remaining films are Gravity, Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club. I’m also adding Blue Jasmine to my list; it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but Cate Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress and this way I’ll be able to make an informed prediction of who I would like to see win (though right now I am leaning HEAVILY towards Meryl Streep).

Honoring Our Veterans

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Good Morning Readers!

First of all, a little business to announce. After putting your names into a hat (all three of you) and drawing them out, the winners of the Let Hope In giveaway are Matt and Tiff! I’ll be in touch with you about claiming your prizes. Hopefully the next time I run a contest there will be a little more competition.

And in honor of Veteran’s Day today, I thought I would share a short story I wrote as part of my thesis project. It’s still only a rough draft, but I thought it was appropriate for the day. This story is based on true events (and a few of my readers, if you’re related to me, may remember this day) but as I was young at the time, so some of the details may not be 100% accurate. I dedicate this to all my family members – and all of yours – who have served.

Welcome Home

Thirty Isn’t So Bad

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I was doing so well sticking to my resolution to post a blog at least once a week, then these last two weeks I’ve completely failed. I’m going to blame it on being back in school (even though classes just started last week).

I should be spending my morning working on my lit review for my thesis, however I’m completely stuck. I have no idea where to even begin writing. I’ve spent most of my summer working on creative writing and blogging that I’m finding it hard to get into the mindset of academic writing. Then I’ve spent the last two weeks doing mainly reading and research for this lit review and very little writing. So I’m hoping this blog post will shake something loose and help me get back in the writing frame of mind (and for that reason I apologize if this post isn’t the extremely fascinating posts you’ve come to expect from my blogs; this is mostly an warm up exercise to get the juices flowing).

Last week I turned 30. On the day I turned 30 I wasn’t actually celebrating my birthday, not because I had anything against entering my thirties (because strangely I don’t) but because I was celebrating another occasion. A friend of mine since I was 6 or 7 years old got married on my birthday. Celebrating her wedding with her and her family was much more fun than celebrating my birthday (plus, there was free food, cake, music, dancing and an open bar – WAY better than any party I could have planned for myself). It was a great way to start a year that so many people dread. I am completely fine with being 30 – especially because so far my 30th year is looking pretty awesome.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances I should have this thesis completed and finish all classes required for my Master’s degree by December, which means I will be able to graduate in May. Since I’ll technically be completed in December I am hoping that means I’ll be able to find an adjunct position (or several) somewhere for next semester. I’ll finally be able to find a job that’s within my chosen field (don’t get me wrong, I love my current job and plan to stay there as long as I can make it work while still teaching part-time).

Last night I received a text from a good friend of mine announcing that she and her boyfriend (whom I also consider a good friend) are now engaged. I am so excited for them. I have no idea whether or not that wedding will happen during my 30th year, but it’s still something to look forward to, and I look forward to hearing all about her wedding planning, etc. in the coming months.

Also coming up during my 30th year is an 18-day trip to Europe and I can’t even describe how excited I am for this trip. We’ll be spending time in Ireland (oh how I’ve missed you!), England, Scotland, Wales and I just learned last night we’ll also be spending two days in Paris. I’ve never had a strong desire to visit Paris, with the exception of the Louvre and Notre Dame, both of which are planned stops for the tour so I’m extremely excited. Traveling is by far one of my favorite things to do (honestly, I wish I could afford to just travel the world without having to work, that would be perfect) and I’m extremely thankful for being given the opportunity to go on this adventure in June.

So, 30 isn’t looking so bad. I have a lot of things to look forward to (and I’m sure there’ll be many more as time goes on) and I’ve decided to embrace this new era of my life. Thirty is going to be a good year, I can feel it.

And now that I’ve rambled on about that, I should probably try writing some of this lit review. Does anyone have a good opening sentence about genre theory and using multi-genre projects in a Freshman Composition classroom?

Salem Witches and Grandma Mary

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The new semester begins in less than a month (my only class begins in exactly 3 weeks from today) which means I need to have the first draft of my thesis done soon. So naturally I’m suffering from writer’s block this morning and haven’t written anything that’s remotely usable. It’s getting close to the point where I’ll start panicking soon. But not yet. Instead, I just distract myself with other things (which I will probably regret in two weeks time when I’m really panicking about not having it done).

Today’s distraction? My 8x Great-Grandmother Mary Esty. If you look her up on Wikipedia you’ll discover that Grandma Mary (as I’ve come to affectionately call her) was hanged on September 22, 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts after being accused of witchcraft. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the idea of having an ancestor executed for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, but that fascination has increased since I learned we also share a birthday; I feel drawn to this woman and have a desire to learn everything about her that I can.

Over the weekend my mom and I spent several hours at a local library’s book sale. While there, my mom discovered a book on the Salem Witch Trials that included a letter that had been written by Mary Esty, an appeal to the court not to preserve her own life, but to take more care not to condemn any more innocent women to die.

This morning, while randomly searching for information about her, I came across scans of a book titled, More Wonders of the Invisible World which had been compiled by Robert Calef throughout the trials and published in the year 1700. Below are images of the book’s entry on Grandma Mary:

More Wonders - Mary Esty(click to view larger)

It’s fascinating to read words written by my own great x8 grandmother from over 300 years ago. I’d like to think that, based on the fact that she wrote such an appeal, she herself was a writer as well and that we have something in common, more than just our birthdays.

If you ever visit Salem, Massachusetts, say hello to Grandma Mary for me. There is a a statue of Mary and her sisters Rebecca and Sarah in the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers. I’m hoping to one day take a road trip up there myself and see what I can discover about Grandma Mary by touring around Salem.

Now I suppose I should attempt to get back to work on that thesis I’m supposed to be writing…