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Posts from the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Category

NaNoWriMo 2014 Word Tracking Spreadsheets and Tools

I found these NaNoWriMo word tracking spreadsheets design by Svenja Gosen.

NaNoWriMo Tracking Spreadsheets

Scroll down in the post, and you will see four options you can download in Excel format.  I’ll be using the Steampunk theme this year.  I like these because they are actually word tracking files for the entire year. After NaNoWriMo is over, you can keep tracking your progress for the remainder of the year.

Here is a great roundup by Tracy Lucas of writing meters you can use on your website for NaNoWriMo or any writing goal:

Free Writing Meters

I’m creating my word tracking desktop calendar for this year and will post it as soon as it’s finished. Happy writing!

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

A lot has happened since I started this blog back in 2011.  It was just about this time of year, and it was this post (Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011) that launched it all. It seems that every 2-3 years is the magic number for me because I’m gearing up for a third NaNoWriMo this year.

Let me catch you up on my writing life before and after NaNo 2011. I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2009 with 51,000+ words and promptly threw the virtual manuscript in a virtual drawer.  Then in 2011, I tried again with a historical fiction novel.  I still love that novel’s concept, but it was a slog to make it to 8,589 words that year. Needless to say, the novel was abandoned and lies like Frankenstein hoping one day to be shocked back to life. In 2013, I began reworking the 2009 NaNo project–this time with first-person narration. Let’s call this project, Project A. The new point of view really worked for me, and I pitched the first page at a writers’ conference page reading session.  What happened?  The agent was enthusiastic about my writing and asked for 50 pages at our private pitch session the next day.  She also asked about any other projects I had in the works. I pitched another idea off the top of my head. Let’s call that Project B. The agent gave me her card and asked for 50 pages of Project B, also.

Here is the problem… the hide-my-face-in-the-sand problem that I am almost too embarrassed to admit.  Although Project A was going well, prior to pitching I had only rewritten approximately 25 pages of the book.  Project B was an idea… in my head!  No words on paper, no character names. Nothing more than an idea. But I pitched it anyway.  Don’t ask for what you can’t handle.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I couldn’t handle the pressure.  What was I thinking? I came home from the conference and frantically worked to rewrite 50 pages of Project A while frantically working to create 50 pages of Project B and an entire synopsis for this book.  What happened?  I never sent either to the agent.  Chalk it up to putting the cart before the horse and a hard lesson learned. I still have the agent’s card sitting in my office as a reminder to NEVER PITCH A PROJECT THAT ISN’T FINISHED.

There it is–my dirty little secret I’ve been stewing about for quite some time.  Meanwhile, fiction writing went on hold (yet again) as I took on even more writing projects for work, and I took on even more volunteer opportunities at my boys’ school. I did have one more foray into the fiction world in the fall of 2013. After the impromptu pitch, Project B, although it wasn’t close to finished, took flight in my head.  I wrote almost 100 pages, polished up the first 10 pages, and submitted them to a writing contest last fall.  Although I didn’t win the contest, I did have some very helpful comments back from the judges. I was pleased with the new experience (submitting to a contest) and lots of great advice from the judging responses. Another notch carved in my fiction writing bedpost.

Then out of the blue in April, I got an email from one the contest organizers. I will quote the email correspondences below because although they may not seem like much to most people, these are the emails that keep me going when I think about throwing in the fiction towel.

Email #1:

“Hello Sara,

Below is a message I wanted to pass along from one of your contest judges.”
The Message from the contest judge:

“I judged this submission, and would love to talk to the author about his or her work a little more. It’s a story that stuck with me. If he/she is open to that, can you pass on my information and have the writer email me?” [NOTE: She says his or her because the contest is blind judged so she didn’t know anything about me except the name of my manuscript.]
Am I open to that? Heck yeah! I did a little research and discovered that the judge is a published author whose name I actually knew. So, I emailed her. She was really nice and very encouraging.  Here’s a snippet of her note:

Author’s Note:

“I mostly just wanted to say that I looked for your manuscript on the winners’ list and hoped you’d place in the contest. Contests are so subjective and I know I felt crushed after a few, so I just wanted to tell you that your voice and writing were strong and that I like to think I know a little something about the biz. Is your manuscript complete? And have you started querying it? I wish you the best with it and any other writing you do! :)”


Let’s put this in perspective. I am fully aware that agents ask for sample pages more frequently at writers’ conferences than they do from the unsolicited slush pile.  Even though I was dancing a jig when the agent asked for pages from two projects, I know that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I am also aware that nice words and compliments from one judge do not get a manuscript finished, let alone published.  (No, it’s still not finished!) HOWEVER, it’s the little things that keep you going when you are new to fiction writing.  So, these little things are what keep me going. Thus the reason that I am using NaNoWriMo 2014 as an excuse to take the plunge back into fiction. During the hiatus, the characters and stories haven’t stopped pestering me, I just did a better job of keeping them locked in my brain.  November is the time to let them out again and FINALLY FINISH A DARN BOOK.

The Research – Write what you know OR know what you write: Novel Writing Prep Series

I love research!  As a little girl, I used to dream of being locked in a library overnight surrounded by all of my favorite books – fiction and non-fiction.  The makings of a horror movie, I know.  But I was confident that as long as I had light and no scary spirits or monsters, I could indulge my love of reading and research all night. Along with hours spent at the swimming pool and playing “Smear the Queer” with my older brother, I spent my summers writing reports.  Nerdy! I know.  I prefer the term “Intellectual Badass” when referencing my self-admitted nerdiness.  The reports were handwritten pages filled with facts about unicorns or Armenia (not sure where that idea came from) or the humpbacked whale.  I got great satisfaction out of popping my dime into the Xerox copy machine and watching the green-glowing light glide slowly underneath the lid. I’d cut out my grainy black-and-white pictures of medieval triptychs depicting unicorns and paste them on my lined notebook paper.  The final step was gathering up my fact-filled pages and inserting them into the acetate report cover.  Ahhh… such satisfaction for a nerd intellectual badass.

My love of useless and useful facts has continued as an adult. It benefits me greatly in my non-fiction writing life.  Digging up remote facts about the mountain goat pictographs in the Sierra del Presidio area of Mexico, is often just what I need to bring interest to a magazine or newspaper article.

The realm of fiction is where research gets a little dicey.  Many writing teachers and writers will tell you to, “Write what you know.”  If I only wrote what I know, my stories would be populated with 30-something mothers who attend endless PTA meetings, shuttle their kids back and forth to ski lessons and have ongoing battles with their treadmills.  Oh… and maybe sneak in a few hours to write after everyone else is in bed.  Not the makings of a best-selling novel.

I’m a firm believer that knowing what you write is just as beneficial as writing what you know – and more interesting.  Research can give you a solid backdrop against which your novel unfolds.  However, knowing when to say when is the key.  You can spend months searching for just one more fact, but in the end all the facts in the world won’t get that novel written.

With that said, I believe some research is vital to any good fiction writer’s repertoire. In knowing what you write, you can write what you know. Here are a few of my favorite research methods:

1.  Interviews: Maybe it’s my background as a journalist, but whenever I need to know something, I go straight to the source.  Maybe you can’t always write what you know, but you can write what other people know intimately.  My historical fiction novel takes place in St. Louis in 1949.  A dear friend’s mother grew up in the late-30s and early-40s in St. Louis.  An hour spent on the phone with Mrs. W. gave me a notebook full of recollections that I couldn’t find online or in any books.  I spent hours poring over history books, but none had information about the horserace track which was two blocks from my character’s house in University City, Missouri.  Mrs. W. not only recalled the details of the racetrack, but she could describe the ice cream cones she used to buy at the corner drug store on her way to the races. Through interviews with others I was transported back to a time almost 25 years before I was born.

2.  Social Security and Census Records: Did you know that the Social Security Adminstration and the U.S. Census Bureau make their records available online? These are great resources for placing you squarely in a particular time or place.  Let’s say your story takes place in New Orleans.  Your protagonist’s father needs a job. You could guess at iron worker or musician.  OR, you could visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s records for 1932.  The records will give you population, nationality and employment statistics for each ward of the city.  You might stumble upon the one person, an Italian immigrant who was the city’s agricultural manager, supervising the shipments of soybeans and hogs that were exported out of New Orleans to Asia.  What a fascinating job! Just what you need to bring your story to life.

Maybe you need a name for a main character.  Your story takes place in 2012, but your antagonist was born in 1983.  Visit the Social Security Administration’s records and sort by birth year.  You’ll discover lists of the top 20 names for boys and girls in 1983.  Jennifer or Jessica might be just the name you need for your snooty retail clerk who is sucking up for the management position.

3. Newspapers: My favorite!  Newspapers chronicle the daily life of people, providing a glimpse into the everyday minutiae that make our world interesting.  If it were possible to preserve microfiche for millions of years, future anthropologists will have riotous fun studying our daily and weekly newspapers.  Head out to a library and dig in to some issues from the correct time or location.  My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel takes place in a small farm town in central Illinois.  In reading local newspapers, I discovered a pumpkin carving contest that was the perfect setting for my MC’s first paranormal experience.  Thanks to one photo published in the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, Illinois, an entire scene took shape within minutes.

Newspapers are good for more than just the articles.  I needed products to populate the shelves of my corner drug store in my historical fiction novel.  Old copies of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided plenty of advertisements for Amident Toothpaste and the introduction of Cheer no-rinse washing detergent which helped bring my MC’s place of employment to life.

4.  Prospector: My inter-library loan uses Prospector. This program provides access to over 10 million titles from around the U.S.  Books that I can often have shipped right to my local library.  And true to its title, Prospector really is like digging for gold.  Searching by keyword might only produce 40 or 50 titles on a particular subject at my local library.  However, when I push that Prospector button, it’s like waiting for Christmas morning.  I have been rewarded with some of the most obscure titles – dusty, old books read by only a few and shelved away for years.  Those are the books that give me insight into particular time periods or cultures.

5.  Library Archives: Sometimes books and records are too precious (or flimsy) to survive the transport of inter-library or cross-country loan.  that’s when a trip might be in order. We’ll talk about that more in Part 12 of the Novel Writing Prep Series (“The Setting – To trip or not to trip?”).  There’s nothing more fun than squirreling yourself away in library stacks for a day and discovering hidden gems for your story.

For example, one of my characters, Ivy, was taking a train from St. Louis to New York City in 1949.  I could stick her on any old train, but what did I really know about trains and routes in the late 40s.  Instead I was lucky enough to visit the John W. Barringer III National Railroad Library within the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.  I stumbled upon an old issue of a railroad magazine.  As a result I could put Ivy on the NY-STL Express (Train #11 which left St. Louis at 7:40 a.m.) or  I could put her on the STL-NY “National Limited” with air-conditioned carrier sleeper cars.  These facts might not be important to some, but I never would have assumed that sleeper cars had air-conditioning in 1949.  This fact turned out to be key to the scene.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t make the research trip just to determine which train Ivy should take.  Two days at the Merc Library gave me pages of facts and figures and the base of research I needed to launch Ivy’s story.  It is this type of research that helps me feel like I know what I’m writing so that I can write what I know.

What about you?  Do you research your subject matter or your characters before you sit down to write? How do you conduct your research? How do you know when enough is enough?

When to dig up that dusty, old manuscript… and when to let it die

Sunrise at my house yesterday – Beautiful!

On Monday, I mentioned that one of my writing goals for 2012 is to resuscitate Sliver of Souls. Sliver of Souls (SOS) was my 2009 NaNoWriMo project that I threw into a drawer promptly upon finishing it.  Here are the misguided reasons why:

  1. No one sells their first novel. SOS was my first completed novel, and who gets their first novel published?  I believed it was a training-ground – the perfect experiment in discipline and long-fiction writing so that I could dip my toes into the world of novels. I figured I would write a few more to build my skills and then try to sell my second or third novel.
  2. The subject matter doesn’t fit my personality.  SOS could be called a paranormal romance.  No ghosts or vampires, but it tells the story of Maggie, a girl who believes she’s displaying early signs of long-term schizophrenia, but is actually experiencing visions from her past lives.  I’ve always wanted to write literary fiction or historical fiction or historical literary fiction, but never dreamed of writing paranormal fiction, let alone a paranormal romance about a 19-year-old girl.
  3. I’m not a YA author. How would I spin it? Young Adult? Paranormal? YA Paranormal? I never set out to write a YA novel, and technically SOS doesn’t have to fit into this category.  However, the age of the protagonist and the “coming of age” themes that are woven throughout certainly lend themselves to this genre. To be clear, I love YA fiction, I just never thought of myself as a YA author.
  4. It’s too complicated.  It’s too cliche.  Every writer fights this fear.  It’s that damn internal editor again.  Of course it’s cliche.  It’s a first draft!  Three-quarters of the content in first drafts is cliche drivel that is cut and reworked into something more original. And, yes it’s complicated, but the ideas were clear in my mind when I set out to write it.  So with some massive revisions, couldn’t it be reworked to make the ideas more clear.

Now let me dispel those misguided myths and fill you in on the reasons that SOS has been pulled out of the vault:

  1. Lots of people have sold the first novel they ever wrote. Google “authors who sold the first novel they wrote” and you can read multiple success stories.  Take The Help by Kathryn Stockett as an example.  It was the first novel she ever wrote and she banged on doors, sent out queries and revised until she was blue in the face. Look at the success that book has had.
  2. Maybe I’m not giving my personality enough credit.  During the four busy and tenuous weeks of 2011’s NaNoWriMo, I thought back to 2009.  It should be said that I cleared the decks for my novel project in 2009, and this year I was juggling multiple projects. However, SOS came easy to me back in 2009.  I was excited to sit down every night and write.  Maggie and her band of present-life and past-life cohorts flew onto the page.  In 2011, I was excited about Ivy and her quirky mother Delilah, but it was much more like a dental extraction to get them out of my brain and onto the page.  I chalked it up to the challenge of writing about events that occurred 25 years before I was born.  But, there may be more to it than that.  I woke up a week ago with a whisper in my brain, “Maybe writing SOS was easier for a reason.” Maybe I shouldn’t pigeon hole myself as a literary/historical fiction writer.  Who says I can’t or shouldn’t write a paranormal romance? Stranger things have happened.
  3. I’m not a published fiction author – so who am I to say that I’m not a YA author? I’m a published non-fiction writer, but this fiction thing is new to me.  So again, why should I limit myself in the fiction world before I’m even out of the gate?  Maybe YA is my niche and I didn’t even know it.  I had a realization a few months ago that the majority of my fictional protagonists are females between the ages of 16 and 20. I currently have six fiction projects either on paper, in notes or swimming in my brain.  Four of the six protagonists fit into that 16-19 year old category.  Hmmm… maybe there’s something to this YA genre after all.
  4. Revision can solve many problems.  Maybe the story is too complicated – right now.  Maybe parts of it are a little cliche – right now.  But SOS also has some gems hidden amongst the blather. As much as revision terrifies me (such an overwhelming project), I also love it.  There is nothing better than pulling out my red Uniball fine-point pen and my stack of Post-it notes and getting to work tearing apart a manuscript and putting it back together.  I love the fact that I get as many chances as I want to get it right.   In the case of Sliver of Souls, I think it’s time to take advantage of those second chances.

What about you? Have you ever revived a retired project? Do you struggle with defining your perfect writing genre?

Setting Your Writing Goals for 2012

I mentioned last week that I spent an afternoon in late December setting a few writing goals for my 2012 writing career. As I looked back over the list, it turned out to be more than a few goals. I’ve seemingly created a complete strategic plan for the next 1-3 years of my writing life. Stick around for a while and you’ll find that this is my modus operandi. I dream big and bite off a lot more than I can chew. The dark side of this is that I’m constantly busy …juggling 8 million more things than are humanly possible. The silver lining is that I’m a prolific worker. Even if I don’t accomplish all 900 things on the list, I get a heck of a lot more accomplished than I ever thought possible.

So without further ado, the next 1-3 years of my writing life.  I’ve divided this up by focus area to keep it a little more organized:


  1. Plan editorial calendar for newspaper columns. (The worst feeling in the world for a columnist is to feel like you’re phoning it in and generating sub-par articles because you didn’t plan ahead. I always try to start off the year proactively. 2012 is looking good with articles planned consistently through the end of May. There are a few holes to fill, but those last-minute stories are always easier when I feel on top of my game with the rest of the articles.)
  2. Finish articles on Thursdays.  (My newspaper articles are technically due on Sunday evenings.  Sometimes I even push this deadline to Monday mornings.  In spite of all my planning in life, I’m a consummate procrastinator when it comes to deadlines.  I usually spend every weekend stressing about finishing [or starting and finishing] my article(s) for the week.  This makes family time less than fun.  A stressed mommy is an inattentive mommy.  In 2012, I’m committing to finishing my articles on Thursday.  I can submit on Friday mornings and have the weekends be dedicated family time.)
  3. Expand client base and publication list for non-fiction writing.  Including my regular newspaper gig, I have five clients for which I consistently write.  I’d like to expand this list to include at least two new outlets or clients this year.  How? See numbers 4-6.
  4. Focus expertise areas (My current areas of focus include performing arts, visual arts, mental health/suicide prevention, dogs and cats [scientific and human interest], Colorado history and architecture/engineering.  Pretty broad, eh?  I told you I’ve had quite the writing journey.  Jack of all trades and master of a few.  In 2012 I’d like to focus more closely on a few of these areas and expand my client base within my established markets.
  5. Research and pinpoint at least five targets for the three areas in which I’d like to focus my efforts.
  6. Query at least 10 publications/clients in each of these three markets
  7. Write proposal for next non-fiction book.  (I’ve been mulling over ideas for two non-fiction books.  There’s one in particular which seems realistic and in line with my goals of finding that balance between the writing life and the family life.)
  8. As part of the proposal, create a marketing plan for the book including a list of comparable/competitive books


  1. Blog 5 times/week for 50 weeks.  I started off strong on this blog and then faltered when the going got busy.  You can trust in the fact that posts are planned, and I’ll be cranking out the content and keeping you updated on the writing life more consistently in 2012.
  2. Continue to discover new writing blogs and let you, the reader, know about them.  Two months ago I started WWW(W) – Writing on the Web this Week about Writing.  I’d like this to become a weekly feature on Fridays.  Not only does it give you a great place to find out about people and places in the writing world, but it keeps me inspired and makes the writing world a little more like a community one week at time.
  3. Figure out my place on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve experimented with Twitter and my Facebook fanpage, but I’d like to feel like those social outlets are useful to me rather than time sucks.


  1. Write 1000 words/day on fiction manuscripts (This is always the daily word goal, but things falter over the holidays and when non-fiction work gets busy.)
  2. Finish SBU* Draft #1 by March 15. (SBU = The Spaces Between Us, the working title for my “failed” NaNoWriMo project. Failed, but certainly not forgotten. Ivy and her post-WWII family are too interesting to abandon now.)
  3. Edit and revise SBU Draft #1 by June 30. (This also includes time for my first readers to take a look and deliver initial feedback.  If this sounds fast to some of you, you can trust that I’ll be editing for months after, too.)
  4. Query at least 30 agents regarding SBU finished manuscript. (The second half of 2012 will be spent sending the manuscript out into the great big publishing world to see how it stands on its own two feet.)
  5. Finish revisions on Sliver of Souls* (This is the working title for my completed novel banished to the dark corners of my virtual drawer. The reason for resuscitating this previously abandoned project deserves a separate post of its own. For now, let’s just say that NaNoWriMo 2011 made me realize a few things about my first long fiction darling. More on this later in the week.)
  6. Start outlines, notes and binder for Book #3.  No working title for this book yet, but the story has been kicking around in my head for about a year.  Once the smoke clears on my writing and revising frenzy, I’d like to spend November/December throwing together the first round of notes for this book.
  7. I know that I said that the musical would be finished in 2012, but I never intended for Sliver of Souls to come back to life.  Given this development, the musical is getting pushed to 2013. November/December will be a great time to revamp the scene outline and get organized for completion in 2013.


  1. Attend 2 writing conferences.  Already signed up for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs in April.  Now I need to find another one that fits my budget and my family scheduling.  Any suggestions?
  2. Start writers group.  My “writers group” is a virtual group scattered across the country.  Much as I love the intermittent camaraderie that this far-flung group provides, I’ve been feeling the need for a local group that will challenge me and hold me accountable in the fiction world.  I’m reaching out to my local contacts to see if I can find the “right” group that will gel and have common goals.
  3. Re-print business cards.  Sounds simple, but there is so much thought that goes into the design and printing of business cards.  I’ve been putting it off because I suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to designing my cards.  (What’s the right color?  What’s the right paper? You get the gist…)
  4. Compile print/digital clips.  My portfolio is very alive and very disorganized.  I’ve spent the last few years writing, but not collecting and compiling in a user-friendly portfolio that represents my best work.  With the above non-fiction goals, it’s time to get this marketing tool organized.

Let’s talk about you.  Have you set any writing goals for 2012?  Any great writers’ conferences you can recommend?  How do you juggle family time, writing time and “other” time?  Have you found Twitter and Facebook beneficial to your writing life?

Plan vs. Mission

In the immortal words of Seth Godin:

There is nothing wrong with having a plan.

Plans are great.

But missions are better.

Missions survive when plans fail, and plans almost always fail.

My mission is to get back to regular blogging tonight.  Meanwhile, it’s off to a day in the life of a freelance writer: interviews, conference calls, drafts and lots and lots of copy.  And 4,700 words to write tonight to catch up on my NaNoWriMo goal.  Whew!  Happy writing, y’all.

5 Tips for Finding the Right Writing Buddy – Novel Prep Part #3

I bet after yesterday, you were all a little concerned that I’d jump ship.  Worried that NaNoWriMo and the Novel Prep series posts were all taking off with me on a plane to the Seychelles islands where I could soak up the sun and drown my failed fiction sorrows in a fruity drink.  Believe me it was tempting.  But, one bad day doesn’t make a writer.  You’re going to have thousands of them, and the true writer is the one who knows how to keep typing in spite of the dreck. In fact, here’s how the emotional rollercoaster breaks down for me – and I would guess many of us who make a living writing:

Writers’ Spectrum

After NaNoWriMo Day #1 I was definitely hovering in the purple section. 

So what do you do when you’re thinking of tossing the writing life and taking up residence in a cave with no electricity?  My answer to that question is Tip #3 in our Novel Prep Series:

Call your writing buddy!

Writing buddies are those people who keep you going when the going gets tough.  Your internal editor is screaming at you and your spouse has gently kissed your head, but walked to the farthest corner in the house because he knows the signs of a writer’s fit.  You’re pacing in front of your computer with Chips Ahoy crumbs flying from your mouth and ranting about how you’ll never make it as a writer.  What, that doesn’t happen to everybody? Oh…  Well, if you ever catch me stocking up on chocolate-chip cookies at the grocery store, you’ll know to steer clear of me for the next several days.  I’m preparing for a writing frenzy. 

How does my spiral into writer’s insanity relate to you.  Well, after I vacuumed up all of the cookie crumbs and safely secured my computer so that I wouldn’t toss it out the window, I called my writing buddy.  My writing buddy is a dear friend who’ve I’ve know since college.  She is an amazing writer in her own right and juggles kids, husband and a job of her own.  She knows when to listen, she knows when to push and she knows what my hot buttons are when it comes to writing.  The key to most writers’ success is having a person like this who can keep them going. I was lucky enough to fall into this relationship with my Writing Buddy thanks to the close confines of a college dorm room.  Some people aren’t quite so lucky.  Many people have to search for a writing buddy.

Here are five things to keep in mind when you’re trolling for a Writing Buddy:

  1. Consider your geography:  Is picking up the phone or trading a few emails with this person enough to calm the writer’s storms?  Or do you need a buddy who can drive to your house at two in the morning and whisk you away to a coffee shop for a pep talk and a latte?  You might consider a local pal if your tendency to disappear into the hermit cave requires physical yanking to get you out.
  2. Swallow your pride:  My writing buddy has known me for years.  We’ve cried over lost loves and celebrated marriages and kids together.  We’ve known each other’s writing for years, too.  To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I’m not afraid to be stupid with her.”  Your writing buddy needs to be someone with whom you’re not ashamed to say, “I suck right now.”  It’s tough enough to bare your soul on the page.  Admitting to someone that all those words add up to a pile of dreck is even more difficult.  This is not the time to buddy up with someone you need to impress.    If you’re searching for a new buddy, this type of relationship needs to evolve.  Take it slow and listen to your gut.  Trust comes with time.
  3. Know your temperament:  Sometimes I respond to emotional coddling and other times I need someone who tells me to quit being self-indulgent and gives me a swift kick in the pants.  My writing buddy does both of these things for me.  It took me years to admit that I needed both of these things from my buddy, though.  If you stick around you’ll learn that I don’t deal well with “stewing in the muck.”  Sitting about and licking my writer’s wounds doesn’t work all that well for me.  I need a plan.  I need goals.  I need action to make me feel better.  But after many years of plans and goals, I finally had to admit that a little emotional coddling feels good (for about five minutes).  After that it feels like a hug from your giant great-aunt with the sweaty biceps and perfume that singes your nosehairs.  But nonetheless, my writing buddy dutifully coddles for five minutes and then tells me to get over myself and get on with it.
  4. Set some goals: Concrete goals are best. After the coddling has subsided, it’s time to get to work.  Create a plan.  I’ll write 2,500 words before Wednesday.  I’ll create three scene outlines and write two character sketches before I’m allowed to freak out again.  I’ll call you when I have two chapters drafted.  Hold each other accountable.  A writing buddy should be someone who will encourage you, but also make you feel the slightest bit guilty if you have nothing to share at your mext meeting.
  5. Do not make this person a first reader, critique partner or anything besides a writing buddy: In my world sharing with my writing buddy means telling her, “Yes, I executed the plan.  Two chapters are down on paper.”  It doesn’t mean shooting those to her in an email the minute they’re finished.  You will have lots of partners on this writing journey – critique groups, editors, first readers – and they are all useful members of the writing team.  It behooves you to have one person who can stay out of the fray and cheer from the sidelines.  The minute your let your Writing Buddy into the specifics of your story (particularly if it is still in rough form), is the minute the relationship can fall apart.  Given a new manuscript from friends, it’s human nature to offer up opinions and ideas.  However, if your Writing Buddy starts a conversation with, “Have you thought about changing this..” she will quickly join the ranks with your Internal Editor.  Your first draft is still a fragile creation.  It’s not time to rip it apart; it’s time to get it done.  Your writing buddy’s job is to make sure that happens.  Allow yourself one individual who offers up nothing but unconditional support on this writing journey.  When it’s time for the manuscript to bleed red ink, don’t call your Writing Buddy.  Call your critique group, or better yet, your editor!

NaNoWriMo Day 2 Wordcount: 3,338

Morale: Off the charts – the words rushed like a water from a broken pipe and Chapter 1 is complete. (Can you believe I the “broken pipe” simile just came out of my mouth? NaNoWriMo has reduced me to comparisons like that!)  

Have you found your perfect writing buddy?  What is the most important thing this person does for you?

NaNoWriMo Day #1: Has it always been this difficult?

Day 1 Wordcount: 1,681

Day 1 Morale: Discouraged and excited all at the same time

After a tough night of writing, I felt discouraged.  I finally got the kids in bed, got a fire going in the fireplace and sat down to write. I promptly spent 90 minutes checking the results of our local elections, tracking the location of the incoming snowstorm, and doing everything I could to avoid starting this novel.

I made the word count (whew!) – not my planned 2,000, but at least I tipped the scales slightly above my NaNo prescibed 1,667.  During NaNo 2009, I could dash off 1,800 in 45 minutes, but tonight it took me well over two hours.  I’ve been wracking my brain to determine why the mental blocks went up tonight, and why my internal editor was tramping around in my head all day begging me to abandon this journey before it even began.

The reason, at least as far as I can figure, is that I love this year’s story with every ounce of my being.  I love the characters and the plotlines that have tumbled around in my head for seven years.  My first NaNo novel (the one that lies quietly jilted on my hard drive), was fascinating, but the idea was conceived in a bandwagon moment after I finished reading the Twilight series.  No, it wasn’t vampires, but it was young, beautiful characters who were on the brink of a paranormal crisis.  It was fantastical, it was easy and it was…well, lame. (For all you Twilighters out there, don’t get your undies in a bunch. I am in no way implying that Stephenie Meyer’s books are lame.  I’m stating that my attempt at creating a paranormal coming-of-age scenario just wasn’t the right fit for me.)

My current story is so different from NaNo’09. It is emotional and complex.  The characters are real – not the swooning MTV Teen Choice Awards characters that dappled the last NaNo manuscript.  The situations are funny and heartbreaking (oftentimes in the same breath).  My greatest fear is not doing them justice on the page.  Just as dogs can sense fear, so can Internal Editor Barbie, and boy did she do a number on my psyche today.  After two years of sold non-fiction work, my fiction chops are stiff.  I need to work out the kinks.

Here’s the good news: I powered through, and got the words down on the page.  I made some major discoveries along the way.  In spite of my careful planning I still had those unanswered questions that can only work themselves out in drafts.  Within the first 30 minutes I had solved the burning question of my MC’s career goals.  I discovered that my description has come a long way since the last novel.  Dialogue is typically my comfort zone in drafting fiction, but tonight, the dialogue was tight and the descriptive passages led to a few pretty remarkable images.  Themes and symbols that I didn’t even know would be part of this story began surfacing left and right.  And as I always say, even during the hardest writing session, these tiny gems of promise are what keep me coming back for more.

Am I scared that tomorrow’s session will be as tough as today’s?  Absolutely. But tonight I typed through the fear and somehow emerged at the other end. Things happened in the scenes that I could never have predicted. A character took on a personality that I hadn’t imagined.  Standing on the other side of fear is much better than being too scared to give something a try.  I may not always feel talented or creative at the end of a writing session, but at least I feel brave.  And when it comes to greater life lessons, brave means a lot more to me than creative.  This is why I love NaNoWriMo.  Happy writing!

How about all of you? How did your first day of NaNoWriMo go?

Happy Birthday to me and Happy NaNoWriMo to you!

I can’t think of a better way to kick off another year in my life than celebrating the first day of NaNoWriMo with all of you.  I wish you fast fingers, open minds and stolen moments of sleep when you need them most.  Be sure to blow out 24 candles for me today.  Or maybe 30-something candles is more like it.  Have a great first day and happy writing! I’m off to have a cupcake and crank out my 2,000 words.

Silencing Your Internal Editor

Search the blogosphere and you’ll find lots of posts about befriending your internal editor – that voice (or voices) inside your head that never shuts up.  I’d like to go on record as saying I DO NOT support this ‘befriending’ theory.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a friendly and very accommodating person.  You have two items and I have ten items at the grocery store?  I usually say, “You go first.  You have less.”  However, when it comes to my internal editor, I have no intention of letting her cut in front of me in line.  And I certainly don’t intend to add her to my holiday card list or “like” her comments on Facebook.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it’s time that we reveal the truth about internal editors.  They suck!  May I introduce you to mine?  She doesn’t have a name, but she does have a face.  My internal editor is a snarky eighth grader who rears her flowing blond hair, annoyingly snippy voice and size 2 jeans every chance she gets. 

She’s been with me since I went to college, and in the eternal pursuit of published work, I’ve discovered a few ways to silence her.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Back in the days of my pre-college schooling, I was blissfully ignorant about my internal editor.  Maybe I was too worried about the real life girls with flowing blond hair and size 2 jeans to notice the one that lived in the right side of my brain.  Regardless, I wrote those Shakespearean knock-offs starring purple crayons and melodramatic (albeit, heartfelt) essays about a visit to the Vietnam wall, with nary a thought about what others might think of my writing.  

In my junior year of high school, I was trained to be a tutor in our school’s writing center.  I spent hours helping others rework, reword and rewrite papers about Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” and the history of professional wrestling.  I suppose it was all that time carefully guiding others toward genius (or simply toward a halfway readable essay) that I realized the importance of editing.  And that’s when it all went terribly wrong.  That’s when the little twit took up residence in my mind.

Anytime, I put pen to paper (and later fingers to clunky word processor keyboard), I froze.  Masterpiece Barbie wouldn’t even let me get a full sentence out before I could hear her voice.  With a flippant hair toss and a curl of the lip that only Elvis or my best gay friends can pull off, she would say, “This is blather.  Do you really think that anyone will read this stuff?  Did you actually just write that?”  In the days of pen on paper, it wasn’t so bad.  I would simply cross out what I wrote and try something new.  And if you’ve ever seen an original Hemingway or Woolf manuscript, you know that even cross-outs can be deciphered if there’s genius to be found in those tossed-off phrases.  However, once the Brother 5000 word processor came into my life, the DELETE key became a deadly weapon of war.  Even so much as a sigh from Barbie would send me into a backspacing frenzy.

Once I graduated and began a life in corporate America, the internal editor hibernated for a while.  The only writing I was doing was brochure copy, press releases and radio ads.  When you’re writing about fly fishing rods or corn seeds, there’s only so much the internal editor can criticize.  A fast-action saltwater fly rod is what it is.  Barbie didn’t have much purple prose to criticize.

However, when I dove back into the world of subjective writing – things like theater and art that required a creative turn of phrase – the voices came back.  We all know that an internal editor is nothing more than the insecure psyche of a writer expressing self-doubt.  If I’m honest, that self-doubt can lead to some great self-soothing.  “If I never finish this, I won’t have to worry if it’s terrible.  If it never sees the light of day, no one can tell me it isn’t good.”  We’ve all been there.

But producing weekly columns is a tough job when Masterpiece Barbie is screaming in your ear.  I had to devise some coping mechanisms.  I don’t know about you, but I actually consider and respect the opinions of my friends. Consequently, befriending wasn’t working for me. All that did was give merit to the doubts swimming through my head. Barbie wasn’t a friend.  She was an insecure, jealous teenager who loved nothing more than sabotaging my writing.  This was no time for friends, it was time for enemies.

I tried everything.  I timed my writing – cranking out as many words as possible in a short amount of time.  Write or Die is a great program for this.  I shut off the internet.  Distractions like nail trimming, floor polishing and the latest post on Pink is the New Blog were so much more tempting when Barbie put doubt in my head.  I created playlists.  It’s been proven that the human brain can only focus on a finite amount of things at one time.  A cranked up iPod made it difficult to hear my internal editor when I could barely hear the words I was putting on the page.

Finally, I discovered the secret – an unwavering belief in the power of a first draft.  For many new writers, ‘first draft’ is a scary term.  “It takes enough effort to get the words down on paper.  Do I really need a second draft?  Not just a revision for typos, but an actual second draft?”  The short answer is, yes.  The longer answer is that a first draft gives you power over your internal editor.  When she says, “That’s awful.” You say, “I know, but there’s always the second draft.”  When she says, “You’ll never make it.”  You keep typing and say, “I just did.” Now instead of shivering at the thought that Masterpiece Barbie might speak up while I’m typing, I start each writing session with the equivalent of the writer’s serenity prayer.  I take a deep breath, utter these words:

Grant me the sanity
to know that my first draft will suck;
the courage to continue writing even when I cringe at my own words;
and wisdom to know that I’m not making magic – I’m just writing from “Once upon a time…” to “The End.”
The magic will come in the second (or tenth) draft. So screw you, internal editor!

And then I start typing.  Happy writing!

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