Inspiration, Censor, Editor, Pet

Inspiration, Censor, Editor, Pet
Miss Mouthy Mouse

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Countdown to NaNoWriMo

How many blog entries are devoted to this subject this week? I've looked at dozens, so the number is large. Mine won't be as insightful or as useful as most of those. I won't offer the "12 Best Ways to Prepare" or "5 Ways to be a NaNoWriMo Winner;" nope, I'll just be giving freshman commentary on my own experiences.

Mindset 3 days out: 
Mixed. I am excited to get started. I've had to hold myself back from writing like a maniac as many, many ideas about my characters and the scenes have been bombarding me. I've got notes on scraps of paper everywhere. I picked all those up from their various piles and put them in one folder last night. I am sort of irritated that I don't plan better as far as outlining. I'm just not an outliner--in school I had to write the paper first, and then outline it to find out where my holes were. The only reason I'd like to plan is to be able to set out the chapters to get a sense of the pacing. Of course, that's just me trying to control something that should probably be left to the characters and unfolding of the story. It should be more fluid than my brain wants to make it.

I don't care if I don't make the 50,000 words. I don't expect to have a useable first draft. I won't be disappointed if the story is a bit clunky. My goals are to 1) give myself permission to add writing into my life as something worthy of priority--even if my "work" isn't done; 2) find out how I write--what's the process I need to use; 3) to follow through with a project and become invested enough to finish a manuscript; and 4) to explore Burgey and the people who live there.

I don't have classes on Friday, November 1--so my plan is to celebrate the beginning of NaNoWriMo by taking myself out to breakfast (perhaps I'll invite a friend--or not) and then go to an undisclosed location to give myself some dog-free writing time. Then, on subsequent days, I'll do my best to balance writing time with grading/class prepping so that I'm not being a hyper-focused freak who cannot function. I do plan to have no less than 1 hour per day where I am doing nothing but working on the "novel."

To Do List: (in no particular order)
  1. Type all those tidbits into a document so I don't lose them.
  2. Use Scrivener corkboard to plot out the scenes I know of so far
  3. Finish reading Secure the Shadows so I have the notes I need for the Victorian post-mortem photography.
  4. Finish reading about placental abruption for the miscarriage scene.
  5. Finish my map of Burgey so I can picture where people are and who they might run into in town.
  6. Clean off my desk and make file piles of school stuff, February presentation, and other piles so I don't lose anything.
  7. Pay bills online so I don't forget to after I get started on the novel.
  8. Finish folding laundry and clean the bathroom so the house is as good as it's gonna get for a bit.
  9. Buy more Diet Dr. Pepper and Dingos for the pups.
  10. Wash and cut up the veggies in my fridge so my snacks will be ready to go.
  11. Grade those 1.2 papers so students have feedback, and I have an empty "to grade" folder.
  12. Make a list of my NaNoWriMo buddies who I'll be checking in with during the month to cheer on and be cheered on by.
  13. Decide when I'm going to the gym and commit to it--no sense in making writing a priority without making health one too! 
  14. Continue writing a love letter to someone every day. 

So, that's it. My deal for the next few weeks. This post is just for me--because if I read it on the internet, it must be true. Right? :-)
What I'll try hard to do. Thanks Mr. Bradbury, thanks for the reminder.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I got excellent news yesterday. My dad DOES NOT have lung cancer. Yet, today, I'm still feeling sad, still feeling a little out of sorts. I should be jumping up and down, celebrating. So what is it that causes this heavy, dragging weight on my chest today?

I think it's the pull of home--those apron strings that I added elastic to as I moved almost 2,000 miles from where my family has lived since the 1700's. That South of contradictions that so many of us want to escape from while at the same time longing to throw our arms around it and give it some sugar. Under the neck, where the old lady sweat smell of our great-grandmother lingers. That cloyingly sweet, familiar smell of cherry pipe tobacco mixed with the musk of coondogs. Daddy's breath filled with eye-burning secondhand smoke of a Vantage cigarette tinged with yeasty Miller Lite. Watching Mom's hands with the blue dye of denim worn into the weave of adhesive tape that wrapped around her fingers as she sewed loop after loop of gold thread on back pockets. The feel of bare toes sinking into red mud so strong that it sucks at my feet to keep them from moving forward. The grit of soil that scraped my lips as I bit into a thick, sun-warmed strawberry just picked from the plant. The way my butt felt sitting in a perfectly curved apple tree branch, bark imprinting itself into my back as I read The Secret Garden.

This was childhood - the romanticized memory of it. Filled with people, places, sounds, tastes, fears, expectations, and not-quite-true truths. It's what I  choose to keep of childhood that I draw my stories from, and not all those stories are true. Some of the stories I create are to show what it was; others are to tell what I wished it had been, and yet others are to smudge the truth to what I can bear to remember. It's the heart of the story that is usually the truth--even if it's just the truth I choose to believe.

I didn't leave my home because I didn't love it. In leaving my home, I think I found it, understood it, and actually valued it more. Thomas Wolfe's title says "You can't go home again." And that's true insofar as that it won't be the same place, time, and situation. Moreover, you won't be the same person. That's where the mistake is, isn't it? Expecting that memory of home to be frozen in time----to be the truth--where the definitions and boundaries of relationship and place and family  are clearly defined. To go home, you have to accept that the people, place and yourself have changed. That the love of family doesn't necessarily mean that you know them anymore--they don't completely know you anymore either. So, we need to keep talking, keep telling stories, for in telling stories of what was, we better understand what is, and we can hope for and work towards what will be...could be.

So this week, I miss that place and those people so very much. Yet, if I still lived there, I would not be me; I would be a different form of me--the one I can't imagine, but that's another story.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Poison & Wine Inspiration

This weekend was filled with all the usual to-do lists, and high on the list was continuing the planning stages of my NaNoWriMo novel. I've been reading about how others prepare, their "survival kits," and their playlists. I haven't really written to specific music before. I'm fortunate in that I can write in silence or amidst the hum of everyday noise. Yet, I find myself looking for ways to NOT WRITE the way I have in the past because those habits have led to much unfinished work.

So, as I've measured myself against the other WriMos in the forums, I began to think about making a storyboard--a map of my fictional town, Burgey; a cd with cool songs on it that somehow fit the tone and mood of the characters; and a poster of pictures of houses, businesses, faces of characters.

Next, I moved on to jotting down all the different tidbits of information I know about my characters: hobbies, aspirations, fears, relationships. I decided on names for peripheral characters who own businesses in town that my MCs will meet and get to know. I listed scenes I think that will need to happen. I threw out some pivotal moments that will move the plot forward, and then, it was really quite cool--my MC, Jen finally showed me what she looked like. I've been waiting for about three weeks for this.

Now that I know what my girl looks like, I sat down and talked with her about her friends, her husband, why she's so disengaged from her life, and she spilled her guts. One of the things we talked about was how she and her husband were growing apart--but he doesn't really know it. Then, music filled my mind, and I realized that I had a song for my playlist. This is the song for Jen & Will during the struggle. I hope their song by the end of the book is a much happier one. These are two great people; I want them to be happy.

And so, the first song officially on my playlist for NaNoWriMo is "Poison and Wine" by the Civil Wars. Here's a link to the official video on Youtube.

Monday, October 7, 2013

NaNoWriMo, Me?

What would possess a person to commit to an attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days? Right now, according to the NaNoWriMo website, there are more than 50,000 folks signed up and ready to go. (So, does that mean if everyone wrote one word--everyone would win?)

For some people--it's the Viking horns.
For others, it's the competition to churn out a novel-sized, novel-like piece of text.

For me--it's a carrot dangling at the end of a stick to continue my goal of claiming my label of writer. I don't think I can write a novel in 30 days. I do think I can have a heck of a skeleton created. There may even be parts that remain useable through a couple of drafts.

I've waited far too long to BE this thing that I think that I am, have always been, but self-doubt, low self confidence, and some fun-crushing belief instilled in me since before I have memory that "until your work is done, you cannot play" have held me back.

So, as I work through October, I'll be doing my usual school related duties, volunteer activities, and I'll be planning. Talking to my characters to find out their backstory. Scouting out the locations that matter to them, the homes they live in (yes, Joseph--what that damn kitchen looks like so I won't have anyone reach into the dishwasher when they meant to reach in the salamander), and the places where they find happiness. I plan to take my characters to dinner, let them pick the tv shows, and invite them to trust me with their stories.

Then, come November 1--I will be getting up early and going to bed late, trying my best to jump off cliffs and write approximately 1667 words per day. So:
  • if you don't hear from me,
  • if you notice that I'm pale and tired looking,
  • if you think my clothes are wrinkled a little more than usual, 
  • if you catch me talking to myself, 
give me a hug, a fist bump, a knowing nod--hell drop a fiver in my hand for a burger! You'll know what I'm up to.

Ask me how it's going, but don't ask me what it's about. It's about me trying to prove to myself that spending my time telling tales is an acceptable use of MY time.

I expect a great dinner out with some of you during the first part of December to celebrate the first draft of Lifelike Pose by Jill Snyder Hughes.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Always a Student

A friend and I were discussing writing this week. I was asking questions and expressing some doubts about how my ideas were coming together for the novel I'm working on. At one point, he rolled his eyes and began to get that "are you honestly saying this aloud to me" look. And I realized what he was about to tell me.

I can't read his mind, although it would be a fascinating parlor trick, but I knew he was going to say,"So, what do you tell your students when they feel like this?" And he did.

Then, tonight, I received a critique on a short story that I've been polishing for a contest. My peer reviewer is a stranger to me; she's someone I "met" in an online forum for a professional writing association. She's a published author.

The critique was honest, straightforward, and respectful. My reviewer actually had personal experience with the ordeal my main character was encountering. She told me what she believed were strengths and weaknesses in my prose. She was professional, supportive and friendly.  She was all the things that I ask my students to be when they do peer reviews of  essays in class.

Now, here's the rub. I am now unsure of my handling of my character in the scene? I see that she can feel the way she does and think about the things she does--but my critic felt that it would be unreasonable for the main character to do/say what she does in a few areas of the story.  So--if a real reader sees this and thinks it--does that make the writing weak and disconnected? Or can my character be what I want her to be --what she told me to write about her? At what point do we as writers have to let our readers decide what something should mean or what our characters should do?

After we release the story to the world--of course a reader can interpret it anyway he or she chooses, but before it's done--is that fair? How can we get critiques and opinions on our work (which we definitely need to do) and then be sure the path we're taking is the right one?

The good news is that I'm not doubting myself--I'm not scrapping the idea of entering this into the contest I was planning to; I'm not shutting down and quitting. I love this character, and I want to do right by her, so should I take the advice, ignore it?

I may share this experience with my students next week--for they'll be working on their first peer review session. Maybe it might help them to know that a writer is always a student.

In the meantime--what do I do about my character Jen? I guess I'll be still and listen for her to let me know how she feels about everything.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hungry College Students

I teach developmental reading and writing at a community college. This semester I am teaching a new course--integrating the two courses into one 5 credit course. In the years that I've been teaching these folks, I've learned some thing:
  1.  They are smart! They have critical thinking skills like nobody's business.
  2. They think. 
  3. They want to know "stuff." 
  4. Their underpreparedness often has little to do with ability, public schools, laziness, lack of support, poverty, a sense of entitlement, or other characteristics that have been tagged to their shirts.
While  all these things do play a part in why they ended up in no-credit, below-college level classes--the biggest thing I've seen is that they have a hard time connecting. Connecting their lives to the outside world, other people, what they've read to what they know. They don't get that examining relationships between seemingly different things leads to better self knowledge and an understanding of things outside of themselves.

Students often don't know what to write about. They don't want to read anything that isn't "interesting." How would they know what they are interested in when they've lived in cocoon? Each semester, I have picked topics and prompts, readings and videos for them to use as a springboard into writing. Each semester they try to do only the obvious--rarely reading between the lines.  

So, when planning this new class, I thought--what would be a topic that all of us have some connection to, in some way? The answer: FOOD.  This semester, we're exploring Food & Memory; Food & Identity; Food & Culture; and Food & Controversy.  No one is cutting class. Ninety percent of them are talking a couple of times a week. A few are even willing to argue. That's winning. 

Monday night, I cooked for them. I roasted 15 pounds of pork to make a Lexington Barbecue pork sandwich with red slaw for them. I stayed up until 1am roasting, chopping, mixing, and cleaning. 

Today, our class met in the college's teaching kitchen to eat with one another. We discussed the reading assigment (sort of). We talked about food we love and food we hate. I am not tired today because I fed my hungry students. I shared with them something of my Southern roots, something that I must have first thing when I get back to NC--even before seeing my grandma! 

I told them my food stories: my grandfather's last meal of a peach milkshake and being with him when he passed; the steaks my father grills that are made with a quarter pound of butter per steak and are never to be tarnished with sauce, and my story of how a simple plate of cornbread with a pot of pinto beans is more than food. 

I saw some of them connect. They saw that I cook for them because they matter. Now I will ask them to write.