Quitting NaNoWriMo

2014-Participant-Facebook-ProfileIt hasn’t even started and I’m quitting. At the beginning of November, I always feel a push, urge, desire, impulse to jump into the NaNoWriMo waters.

Some of the reasons I’ve loved joining this movement of National Novel Writing Month:

  1. Love saying NaNoWriMo (Nanno Wry Moe!). It’s fun to say. It’s hip.
  2. Dig the curriculum for the young writers’ program for my afterschool creative writing classes. They’re so funny! Kids love the worksheets and lesson plans.
  3. A social and structured movement that gets people to write and write fast?! — What’s not to love?
  4. All the Twitter #amwriting hashtag love. #writesprints and timed writing. I write well with a pack of writers. I’m a woman who runs with wolves (and words).

But I ain’t gonna do it. Instead,

  1. Going to clean my tiny little closet, stuffed full of clothes from so many seasons.
  2. Support my darlings — the girls are in a play and H.’s applying for college.
  3. Plan Thanksgiving and Christmas road trips. (If we have friends or family stay at our place, it’d also be nice not to leave our apartment such a disaster.)
  4. Might organize some holiday parties.
  5. I just completed another writing challenge — the blogging challenge (posted almost every day for 31 days). Phew.
  6. I already finished one novel this year and I’d like to shop that baby around before I produce more literary crap.
  7. Want to embark on a week of querying for possible magazine articles. I’ve had good luck when I did this before.
  8. I don’t like waking so early or staying up so late just to push my word count up. I love sleep.
  9. I need some time to update my websites.
  10. Want a haircut; maybe an eyelash extension. Manicure?
  11. Freelance work pays; NaNoWriMo doesn’t.

But for anyone who enters NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you happy writing. Fun times. New friends. High word count! And much coffee.

Gone Fishing

boys fishing

The boys were fishing and my creative writing students were supposed to be writing. It was a surprisingly gorgeous December Day, balmy.

We were discussing plot. This is tough to teach, especially for me. I like to meander in my writing. For guidance I consulted my trusty NaNoWriMo young writers’ curriculum guide. There, the teacher offered a suggestion to start the discussion of plot with a viewing of the final few minutes of an episode of SpongeBob Square Pants. Apparently, SpongeBob does plot well.

But instead of watching the cartoon, we went for our neighborhood walk to our secret spot in Central Park, a most beautiful little cul de sac where rock meets pond meets beauty.

This is where we met our young fisherman.

They waited.

They waited.

They hooked a big fish.

My eight Middle School writers stood in a circle around the two little fishers. They reeled a fish in. It was a mighty big carp.

I would not have known the kind of fish, but one of the boy’s babysitters told me.

“How old are the boys?”

“Eleven,” she said.

We watched the boys pose for camera phone photo shots with the fish. The fish seemed to be tiring.

One of my writers yelled, “Throw it back!”

“We will,” the boy said.

And he wrestled with the hook in the gaping mouth.

20121205-222243.jpg“I’ve never seen anyone fish before,” another of my writers said.

“Hurry! Throw it back!” the girl said.

“We will!” The boy was getting angry. The hook was not coming out of the downcast mouth.

Up to this point, students, you are witnessing, in literary parlance, “Rising Action.”

Now, we have reached the moment of “Climax.”

My creative writing kids yelled, “Throw it back!” I offered to help remove the hook. Thank God, the boys ignored me. But the boys could not ignore the yelling. And one boy, attempting to remove the hook from the carp’s mouth, looked up and spit out a load of curse words at my students, including a line about how my kids were making his life “a living hell.”

Then he went back to work, finally freeing the fish from the hook.

He set it free. The fish wagged itself back into the murky Central Park lake or pond.

The boy asked the nanny for a napkin to clean his dirty hands. She had none. I handed him a tissue from my pocket.

“Thank you,” he said, “And I’m sorry I called your kids so many names. I apologize.”

“It’s okay,” I said. (And I later told my kids that he’d apologized.)

Now, students, this part of my story is, “Falling Action.”

20121205-222414.jpgThe boy set to baiting another hook.

“He’s very polite,” I told the nanny.

“Yes, he has some anger issues, adopted from Russia and all, but he’s a good kid.”

“Yes,” I said. And I was thinking, he’s a good teacher too. He has taught me and the kids about rising action, climax, and falling action.

And he did it far better than even SpongeBob could.


All my online friends are doing it. Here it is November and that means National Novel Writing Month. I have won NaNoWriMo in two out of the last three years. That is, I’ve written 50,000 words and completed a novel in 30 days.

I am NOT joining the writing frenzy this year. Even though I feel a tug to start. When a crowd takes off running near you, you feel like taking off too. My problem is I love to start stuff.

As Beth in writing class said the other night, “You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner.” (That’s a bad analogy since there are no NYC marathoners this year. And that’s a lot of disappointment from my fitness friends here in NYC!)

I love starting stuff so much more than I love finishing stuff. I love creating new characters in NaNoWriMo. I love running out of words and then writing up crazy, surreal dreams for my characters. I love weaving their dreams into plot points.

As Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWrMo, said, “No Plot? No Problem!”

I am using the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program curriculum for teaching my middle school creative writers. Kids love conflict. They love creative characters. They need to know the arc, or plot, of a story.

The national novel writing month curriculum for my middle schoolers is fun and gets kids talking about the best way to tell stories. I feel so lucky to have this resource (for free, no less)!

No, I am not running the marathon known as NaNoWriMo this year, but I plan to start it and win it every other year for the rest of my life! I am cheering those nano marathon runners from the sidelines.

Wait! I feel lonely and eager to join from the sidelines. So I plan to join another online competition or campaign. I am going to join NaBloPoMo. (National Blog Post Month).

So far, I’m on track. I have posted on this blog every day of November. And the theme is: blogging for blogging sake.

Now, team, get out there and write!


pages from my art journal

I love the creative process. I love the brilliant idea as bright as a candle flame. The revision process? Not so sexy.

I wish I could fall in love with rewriting. These tips for writers as they revise at Necessary Fiction really got me thinking. Here are a few useful ideas from the post:

  • write the plot on sticky notes then organize in columns
  • retype the whole thing
  • change fonts
  • make sure what your character wants is an impediment to what others want
  • raise the stakes
  • get rid of introductory clauses

I am in love with the short form. I love blogging. I sit down. Write for 20 minutes. Add a photo or two. Hit publish. Done! Go about life.

For me revising is endless. There’s no Done!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have two half-baked novels written during the months of November (2011 and 2009). Due to their unwieldy length, slightly more than 50,000 words, I can’t bear to open the first chapter. Just maybe if I set out the plot on colorful sticky notes or cut up my scenes with scissors, the story could emerge more like a work of art, a collage, than a mess of incomplete plot points.

collage – perhaps upside-down?

I have been crazy making collages lately. I get into a Zen mode and throw paint and color and images down on paper or on discarded library books.

Done! I love the haphazard process and the chaotic result. Maybe I could see the process of revising my writing as a visual art project.

As the blogger Matthew Salesses says, “a lot of these thoughts are about seeing. Remember: re-vision.”

I, too, can repurpose, rewrite, rethink, rewind, rework, and revise. Re-vision.

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Keep Practicing

I love a daily discipline of writing. I loved doing NaNoWriMo in November. Writing is a solitary experience. So a shared blogging platform, like PostADay2011, made writing a communal experience in 2011

work in progress, my book for book of days

Today I signed up for 365 Grateful and Book of Days for 2012. I like a push, a reminder, shared misery, and shared joy.

I respond well to a gentle and encouraging nudge.

If I’m creative on a daily basis, then I have a vessel in which I can dump my creativity when something really cool pops into my head.

It’s good to keep practicing. Writing is a practice. I love that Buddhism is considered a practice, not a fixed religion. The practice of a religion or creativity is not idolizing an icon, but living creatively and staying open to the creative spirit.

Somewhere in my brain there’s a quote about the reason that firefighters shine the pole in the firehouse every day. It needs to be smooth for that one day a year when there’s actually a fire. That is why I write daily, for that one day a year. That”s why I practice.

Finished NaNoWriMo

I loved when I validated my word count at the NaNoWriMo website and a dozen nerdy people on a video clip applauded me. Their applause made me cry. I love them. I love all my cyber and real friends and family who supported me during my month of extreme novel writing. Thanks!

When I finished NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) two years ago, I was in the small office at my husband’s family country house. And I cried then too. My tears surprised me. I didn’t realize that you could cry when you impressed yourself by doing something great. I thought tears were for extremes sadness or happiness, not novel writing. Why did I cry?

I cry all the time during commercials or at certain songs at church. I’ve cried twice today already (in a deep conversation with a work friend and then due to some family stress!)

Crying’s no biggie. I tell my kids, It’s good to cry; tears clean your eyes.

So, yes, I love my tears and my achievement. But I doubt I’ll embark on the adventure to write 50,000 words in one month again next year.  (FYI, that comes out to about 175 double-spaced pages.) I think I’ll do it every other year for the rest of my life.

See, this year, I ignored my family, let my house fall into disrepair, and blew off my work peeps who wanted to chat by the water cooler! I’ll take December now to pay attention, to make repairs, and to chat.

Oh, one more thing, please don’t ask to read the novel, because it’s total drivel. It’s a sketch that needs hours, days, months of detail work. And I don’t know if I have that kind of attention in me.

Whether or not, I return to that novel, I’m extremely proud!!

Art and Sunset

Along the Hudson walkway, there is so much art. This one reflects the water and the buildings in the distance.
The sky was beautiful tonite. It is a walking meditation along the Hudson River any time, but especially at sunrise and sunset.
Haven't been blogging much lately, because I'm planning a party and trying to finish my NaNoWriMo novel. NaNoWriMo=National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo Progress

I’ve got 7,200 words and no plot going on my NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) novel. To win I need to write 50,000 words by the last day of November.

In 2009, when I won NaNoWriMo (yes, that’s right, WON!), I wrote a young adult novel, but this one I classified as literary fiction. Yes, LITERARY fiction. Not, crappy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fiction.

Oh, wait, that is what I’m writing. I have no idea what is going to happen next. Let’s say a song about diamonds comes on the radio as I’m writing, I put a diamond in that scene.

On Sunday morning, I read a New York Times article about a drunk roller, a pickpocket who slices into a drunken and passed-out subway rider’s pocket with a straight edge razor. So I added a scene with a drunk roller.

My protagonist is a crazy, overworked mother of three, a writer, teacher and New Yorker with a benevolently neglectful husband and an active fantasy life. A stretch for me? Not really. As they say, Write what you know!

I wish I had time to write thousands of more words today. After all, it’s quantity, not quality that counts with NaNoWriMo, but I have to get to work. Two of my three children are home sick with a flu today.

Perhaps by tending to my real life, I will find some direction and plot points to share with my protagonist. And, in turn, by writing my novel, I will create a cycle of adventure and creativity in my real life. (This fits with my Rule Number 2: Escape through reading literary fiction.)

Why I Write

We do not write to be understood. We write to understand. – C.S. Lewis

This was one of the quotes from Writing for the Soul, a workshop led by Rev. Lynne Hinton in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. She has written 14 novels. Yes, 14! Oh, to be so prolific.

Tomorrow, Nanowrimo starts so I’m hoping to write one more novel this month!

In Rev. Hinton’s workshop, we began with free writing à la Julia Cameron’s admonition in The Artist’s Way to write three morning pages — which I have been practicing for about 15 years. Every morning, I hand write three pages of brain drain. But give me free rein later in the day to tap into my unconscious and I’m, oh so happy.

Lynne gave us an exercise where we chose random words, picked like wild flowers from our unconscious, to add to word prompts, like these (but not these, exactly!):

Diamond _____

Shelter _____

Instant _____

Prayer _____

Barcelona _____

Boo _____

Avoid _____

Teacup _____

Angel _____

School _____

Write _____

Create _____

Ocean _____

Sun _____

Venice _____

June ____

Moon _____

You get the idea. We wrote our own couple of dozen words down the page on the blank lines. From our written words or the provided prompts, we made sentences on bits of paper. Then we shuffled our sentences and wrote them down in a poem format.

How fun! Our internal censor didn’t even know we were writing a poem, we were just playing around! Writing is play!

It’s impossible — at least, for me — to attend a writing workshop and not make new friends. I find the adage so true —  A stranger (or a fellow writer) is just a friend I haven’t met yet.

Often in writing workshops, my friends and I drop into such a deep level of sharing that we cry when we hear each other’s work. I felt this way hearing the poems of my fellow writers, Jessica Connor, Beth Buchanan, Kerry Wood and Isaac Broune. I was blown away as they unearthed playful and meaningful poetry from their unconscious.

I am so grateful for the wisdom of fellow writers, writing teachers and my own ability to tap into my unconscious on a regular basis. Going a little crazy in my writing keeps me sane!

Getting Help

No one does it alone. No one.

I am terrible at getting help. So bad. I would much rather be the help than the helped. Having a husband with Parkinson’s Disease, I find his ability to help is diminishing. Of course he still pitches in and cooks dinner, but the quality of his work and the time it takes to get things done is very frustrating. For me. I need help.

On the flight home from Florida, I began to compose a letter to some church friends asking for their help with my darlings while I am going to be away for a few days for a worktrip to New Mexico. But then the plane hit turbulence and I put my laptop away. I have not opened that file. A part of me felt ashamed that I needed help.

In a city and a country of rugged individualists, I felt stupid and weak for asking for parenting and family support.

However, a few recent events in my life and in the world have reminded me that human beings need one another. We are social animals who like to live and work in community. It takes a village. We all need help – coping with an ill spouse, raising children, writing a book, organizing a demonstration or running a marathon. Here are some examples:

1. Occupy Wall Street — if you demonstrate alone, you look crazy. If you demonstrate with thousands of other people, you look like you have a cause.

2. NaNoWriMo — even the loneliness of novel writing can be ameliorated by thousands of on-line and real life friends cheering one another on. Creating small daily goals adds up to big accomplishments.

3. My Daughter’s Soccer Team — it’s much more fun to celebrate a win in a group than to win alone.

This weekend I saw this performance art piece at the foot of the High Line. The women were cutting each other's hair.

4. Haircuts — they just look better when someone else does them. In the same way, you can’t set your own broken arm.

5. My Family’s Well Being — I’ve met with a former colleague who started her own eldercare business and is helping us with Chris’s caretaking and I’ve also met with a lawyer to learn about protecting our family assets. These were huge and difficult calls to make and conversations to have. There’s more work to be done, but it’s a start.

Someday I may get back to writing that letter to my church friends to see if anyone wants to watch Charlotte’s soccer game or share a meal or prod the children to homework while I’m away. But I hesitate to finish and send the letter.

What if no one can help? Then I will end up exactly where I am. And it’s not such a bad place to be.