Watch Out! Here comes NanoWriMo!

Okay, confession time.  To this day, every time I hear the word “NaNoWriMo,” the first image that pops into my head is a miniature rhino that goes bulldozing headlong through a page of words.  Letters flung everywhere.  K is clinging for dear life to the top corner of the page; R is knocked on its back on the bottom left.  Chaos everywhere.

And that can be exactly how National Novel Writing Month feels.  Chaotic.  Especially when you have to crank out a given amount of words each day.  Think about it: let’s pretend that 50,000 words is your writing goal for the month of November.  There are 30 days in November.  That means you have to churn out 1,667 words per day.  If life gets in the way on any given day, then you get to double your word count the next day.  And that, my friend, is a LOT of words.

Last November I finally bucked up and committed to doing NaNoWriMo.  “Why,” you ask, “would you subject yourself to that much stress?”  First, as an artist, I thrive under pressure.  The creative juices just start pumping when I have a deadline staring me down.  But second it was one of the best things I’ve ever done to jumpstart my writing.

You see, I’m notorious for sitting in front of my computer and fussing for an hour over what the right word is.  While that’s fine for the editing process, I can easily find myself consumed with word choice over actually getting the story down on paper.  Writing the story is the fun part!  It’s where the characters begin to become flesh and blood and the action gets your heart pounding.  But if you’re too caught up in the minutiae, you miss all the fun.  And that’s where NaNoWriMo is an awesome tool.

You don’t have time to worry if the scene is flowing or if you used just the right lingo.  You have to write fast and furious.  You have a deadline; you have motivation.  Something to keep you accountable to write.  If you take up the challenge, you’ll get the story down on paper, and that’s half the battle.  Once it’s down, you can edit to your heart’s content.  Sometimes getting it down in the first place is the hardest part.

So I challenge you: if you’ve been procrastinating on writing your novel (or any other work for that matter), sign up for NaNoWriMo.  It’s a fabulous writing exercise if nothing else.  And you may be surprised and the direction your writing takes you, and how far along you are in just 30 days.

Here’s your next stop: www.NaNoWriMo.org .  Good writing, and good luck!

 

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On to a new chapter…

I sit and stare at my keyboard like it’s some alien device with incomprehensible runes.  I stare at the computer screen.  I’ve already checked my email and Facebook three times.  But that’s not what I came here to do.  I need to write.  I haven’t written in a day, a week, a month.  The words are bubbling and brewing just beneath my shell, begging to overflow.

I reach out.  My finger traces the square plastic keys.  I pluck at the “M”.  And stop.  I can’t.

I can’t do this.  Not without her.

I draw back as though the worn keys have suddenly bit me.  Salty tears well in my eyes.  I try again.  It’s a no-go.

She would whap my nose if she knew how silly I was being about all this.  She’d call it silly, anyways.  But for me, the loss of my cat had grieved me to the point I couldn’t do the one thing my soul craved most: write.

I’d never seen a cat who loved to read so much.  Every time I had a book in my paws, she would nestle up under my arms to read it too.  And when she discovered that I could write, she was tucked down beside me every time, offering very apt “cat-tiques” when I jotted down something that was crap.

And we’d come so far.  We had been working on the final draft of our book when the cancer had set in.  Cammie refused to let it deter her.  We would sit on the floor together and I’d read a chapter at a time to her.  She never failed to offer an opinion.

The last weekend was so tough.  She felt miserable and had taken to hiding under the papasan we always curled up in to write.  I knew what we would have to do come Monday morning.  But how was I to get her through the night?  I tried singing – which no one on the planet except Cammie seemed to appreciate – and tucking her favorite toy in next to her.  Nope.  Nothing helped.  I tried a last ditch effort.  I got out the notebook and a few books.  Her ears pricked up.  Then she sat up.  Wiggled toward me.  I pushed a book under the papasan to her.  Her eyes lit up and she pawed it, drawing it closer to her and using the book as a pillow as she watched me write.

I feel a soft pawing at my foot as it dangles over the edge of my papasan.  Then hear a soft mew.  I look down and see a pair of blue eyes set in fluffy white fur looking up at me.  Antoinette.  A thumping of paws rumbles through the room as the all-black Gypsy comes bounding into the room.  It’s writing time and they know it.  My new “cat-itors” in training.  They have a lot of learning to do, especially about not sleeping on the keyboard while I’m trying to type, but they seem enthusiastic enough.

I smile a little as they tuck in nearby.  Gypsy tucks in next to me in the spot mirroring where Cammie used to lie.  She paws at the keyboard.  She knows what it’s for.  She looks up at me in anticipation.  “Well?”  I can see it on her face.

While it will never be the same without Cammie, I know she’d want me to carry on as usual.  I’m glad for my two new little friends to keep that encouragement going.  On to a new chapter… with permanent paw prints on my heart from the last.

 

 

A Paws-itively Purr-fect Match

Behind every great writer is a purr-fectly brilliant cat.  At least, that’s what I always told myself.  From the time I was just a fuzz-ball of a kitten, knocking my human’s books off the shelf so that I could paw through them, I knew I wanted to be one of those cats.  You know the ones I’m talking about: the ones that belonged to Ernest Hemingway or Neil Gaiman, Sylvia Plath or Ray Bradbury.  I wanted to be one of those cats who not only belonged to a writer, but the type who inspired.  And gave occasional feedback by knocking the mouse off of the desktop when the writing was crap.

Okay, so the fates were against me.  The human who picked my white and gray fluff out of the litter was Jenny.  She was a nurse: logical through and through.  But that didn’t matter.  I loved her – especially cuddle time, back scratches, and reading before bed – and I loved her book collection.  The medical journals and textbooks made better scratching posts than reading material, but if I tested my skills and actually made the jumps to the higher shelves (instead of occasionally biffing it… what?  Cats do miss the odd jump and land face first in a wall…but always, always on our feet), I would land in glorious fiction.  I was a fast learner; reading was easy.  If only Jenny would let me get through more than two pages before shooing me away from my reading with chides of “bad kitty.”

I had pretty much resigned myself to this, never giving up hopes on a book left out or Kindle left unattended, for seven years.  That’s when Jenny met Peter.  And Peter flat out didn’t like me.  I’ll spare you the unpleasant details but let me tell you – if you abuse a cat or yell at it, throw things at it, or are just flat out unpleasant toward it – the cat will reciprocate.  And we can be clever, evil villains. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but I’ll never forget the way my fur rippled on my back when I heard him yell, “It’s either me or that cat.  One of us has got to go.”  Peter ended up in Jenny’s bed.  I ended up at the shelter.

Month after month passed and I just cowered in the back of the cage.  I felt so alone and so afraid.  How had Jenny just given me up like that?  She was my human… wasn’t I her cat?  I watched as little humans came by, wanting to pet me with their sticky hands.  Grown humans came by too, but since I wasn’t so friendly, they ignored me mostly.  Besides, I didn’t want any of them.  And they smelled funny.

Then one day, she came in.  I couldn’t tell you why, except a sixth sense perhaps, why I pushed up to my paws and gingerly stuck my nose through the front of the cage.  The woman leaned down and held her hand out for me to sniff.  I put my paws up on the cold metal of the cage.  She unhooked the latch and reached in, giving me a good scratch behind the ears.  Oh, man, could she scratch!

“Don’t you want to see some of the other cats too?” the man who was with her asked.

“Nope,” she answered, her fingers wandering down to my back.  She hit the sweet spot.  The purr-machine turned on full blast.  She giggled.  “This is the one.”

I quivered with excitement and terror as she bundled me up in a cat carrier and took me home.  I tentatively explored my new castle and all its new scents.  I wandered into one of the upstairs bedrooms and stopped dead in my tracks.  My paws kneaded the carpet in elation.  Books!  A room full of them!  And on some of the shelves, notebooks spilling with written on pages.  And a few books about writing technique… could it be true?  I had found a writer?  My purr-fect match?

No way.  Too good to be true.  Right?  I moseyed over to a book that was on the floor and began to paw my way through it.  My new human giggled and sat down next to me.  “You like to read?” she asked, stroking my fur.

Yes.  Yes I did.  This started off years of cuddling in bed every night with a book.  When my human got very sick, she was home every day.  She couldn’t do anything but shuffle the few steps from the bedroom into the library.  She’d pick up her laptop and curl into her papasan to write.  Her brain was as sharp as my claws, but her body wasn’t in as good of shape.  So I’d tuck in next to her and watch her write, an aptly given “Erh” when something didn’t flow.  It got to the point where, even once she was better again, she wouldn’t sit down to write without me.  We were the dynamic duo.  A paw-sitively purr-fect match.

Well, just recently, it’s been my turn to be playing hide and seek with the guy in the dark robe.  I’ve never seen my human so worried.  She laid on the floor with me for 3 days after they brought me home from the hospital, holding my paw or stroking my nappy fur.  I don’t think she slept, but I’m not sure.  I was zonked out more than half the time.  I was a miserable wreck and neither one of us was sure I’d pull through.

One day, “Ma” did the only thing she could think of to help.  She sat down and printed out the draft of her novel.  She read it out loud to me as she scribbled edits on the page.  I even managed an “erh” or two when it really was crap.  She’d let out a shaky laugh and make notes to that effect.  I don’t remember if it was the same day, or the next, but she picked me up in her arms at some point and cuddled me.  She kissed my forehead and told me, “You can’t die, little girl.  I need you to help me finish writing that novel.”

My ears pricked up.  Okay.  If Ma could be scrappy and fight through her illness to get better, so could I.  Besides, we had a book to write and, hello, I wasn’t a famous author yet.

I’ve scratched and kicked and clawed my way back to a semblance of health.  Yeah, some days it’s like boxing a prickly pear, but I just pull out the barbs and get back at it.  It’s a long road yet, but I’m not giving up.  I’ve seen Ma completely forget about her writing, shove it to the back of the priority list, just so that she can take care of me.  Now that’s love.  I have to remind her every now and again that it’s okay to type out a page.  I’m right here next to her.  She can keep an eye on me and crank out a story.  Or a blog post.  As long as she’s writing, and I’m supervising, I’m happy.  So, please forgive Ma for being absent from the blog for awhile.  She’s been getting her writing buddy back into shape.

Studio Cat

Life’s Too Short for Doubt

I am participating in the Writing Contest: Writers Crushing Doubt. Hosted by Positive Writer. – See more at: http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-2016/#sthash.X1qSm6vJ.dpuf


Ten.

Nine.

Eight.

I choked on the air. It reeked of the thick plastic mask that was clamped down over my face.

Seven.

The sharp scent of anesthesia made my nose prickle and my eyes burn. My heart kicked frantically in my chest as I lay on the operating table. The emergency surgeon stepped up next to me.

Six.

Panic consumed me. Chances were fantastic that I was going to die right there on that table. But that wasn’t what was stirring my blood. It was the fact that I hadn’t made an attempt at starting, and very much less publishing, my book.

Five.

I hadn’t taken my life’s dream seriously.

Four.

All because of doubt.

That night’s emergency surgery four years ago was the jolt I needed to bring me back to my senses. Why had I been letting doubt rule my life? Why had I allowed it to keep me from my dream of writing? It wasn’t just the singular doubt that I couldn’t do it. No, it was a myriad of a thousand others: the crushing despair that I wouldn’t write anything that mattered, that readers wouldn’t love what I’d written, if I even made it past the slush pile in the first place.

Doubt became Enemy Number One pretty darn quickly. And with plenty of time on my hands during recovery where my body was limited to bed but my mind was sharp as a sword, I set about the process of slaying the beast. Keystroke by keystroke, word by word, I began the novel that had been chewing through the restraints in the back of my brain. It was completely freeing to at least get it down on paper. The first draft was worthy of lining the cat’s litter box. But I wasn’t going to stop there and let doubt creep in. Polishing to perfection, well, that’s what editing was for. The beautiful thing about it was that I wasn’t going into battle alone.

I sought out valuable resources. I hooked up with a local writer’s group and made it a point to show up at their monthly classes and critique groups. I even signed up for a writer’s conference. At these events, I met other writers who were just like me: struggling with all those doubts and fighting them just as hard as I was.  And together, we started arming each other for the war against doubt. We shared battle tactics and cheered each other on through successes or the epic and inevitable swing-and-a-miss.

And somewhere in there, I realized that I had a voice. I had something important to say to the world. My novel was not only a compelling story, but one that could encourage someone out there reading it. It could help someone struggling through the same health issues I myself had faced, and that the book regarded. It could help someone face the doubts in their own life, if I could just overcome the doubts of writing.

So I persevere. I have devoted time to write each day. Every word I write is an act of defiance against the doubt that would try to defeat me. And as I approach the moment that I begin to pitch these words I’ve written to agents and editors, I square my shoulders and hold my head high knowing that I’ve got the stuff it takes to succeed. Life is too short to spend it cowering under the shadow of doubt. Fight back, get out from under it’s shadow and do that which your soul is longing to do. And don’t wait so long that you’ve missed your chance. There are no rewrites in the story of life.

But he started it!

This place was a Book Addict Jr.’s heaven.  I wandered around, wide eyed at the shelves that stretched taller than I was and the rows and rows of children’s books.  When I was a kid, I would have entrenched myself here and would have never left.  As it was, my adult-self didn’t want to leave either.

I was on a mission.  If I had just wandered into the kid’s section of the bookstore after all these years thinking, “Oh I’ll just buy a few books for the baby shower” I might have been rather intimidated.  There was everything from fluffy bunny bookies to monster trucks.  But I knew exactly which book I was aiming for: the one that had set me off on a book addiction that nearly needed therapy.

I found it – the hot pink and orange cover of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  I smiled as I picked it up, my fingers running carefully along the edges of the pages.  I had a copy for myself at home.  It would be perfect to start the library of my friend’s soon-to-arrive little man.

As I flipped through the pages that Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault had penned so many years ago, my mind wandered back.  It was that dynamic duo that had started all this; it was those two men who had fueled my addiction not just to write, but to craft stories.  I was little more than a tyke when those two had stopped by our small town in rural Indiana for a visit.  I remember sitting in the front row on the floor of the gym, looking up at tall John Archambault as he told stories and jokes that sent us into fits of giggles.  I wanted to be that clever, that witty.

I raced home that day and began filling up note books with drawings and stories as well as I could with my limited 5-year-old writing skills.  The next day in school, we made our own hardcover books.  I still have mine on the bookshelf upstairs.  It’s crap.  But it started something fantastic.  A fever to find a story wherever I look.  A desperation to write them down; spinning and crafting those letters into words and words into worlds.  And a hunger to read, to learn, to expand my horizons as far as I can stretch them.

So thank you, Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.  You encouraged me to love reading at a young age (and writing too) and that has made all the difference for me.  And thanks to all the other authors out there. You’re making a difference for some person  – young, old or in between – out there somewhere.

And if you have kids – get ’em started early.  Put a book in their hands and encourage them to read, to learn, to grow.  You won’t regret it if you do.

Springtime in the Rockies

Ah, springtime in the Rockies.  The winds blowing down off of the mountain peaks are not only bringing with them rapid shifts between 80 degree sunshine and snowy blizzards, but they are bringing a serious spring fever.  That bug that gets under your skin and into your core, making you itch like crazy for change, for adventure.  For some, it means throwing out all the old junk piling up around the house and getting organized.  For others, it means strapping on the backpack and hitting the trails, seeing which mountain peaks they will summit this season.  New adventures, new challenges, new dreams.  What are those springtime winds blowing your way this year?

The gusty Colorado winds have blown the writing bug my way this year.  And last year, and the year before.  Finally, however, it has worked its way through my skin and lodged itself firmly in my heart.  I have written since I could hold a crayon in my stubby little fingers.  I spent hours daydreaming up stories, sending Barbie and countless stuffed animals on wild adventures before scribbling them down on every piece of paper I could find.  Not much has changed, except that the stuffed animals sit on a shelf instead of partaking in wild epics.  I still fill up notebooks and flash drives with countless stories, and can barely keep up with the stories that crowd their way into my mind on a daily basis, begging to be written. This year, I’ve decided to finally put writing at the forefront.  I am digging out all the old creative writing books that have become slightly dusty on my bookshelves and re-reading them.  I am experimenting with different genres, reading AND writing things I never thought I would dabble in.  And I am determined to take one of those notebooks off the shelf, polish it to perfection, and see it in publication.

This blog is all about writing.  I’ll share my heart, my knowledge, and thoughts in this forum.  I’ll share snippets of my writing with you, and hope that you’ll share with me.  One thing I’ve learned is that while writing is usually done in solitude, it is not a solitary game.  Having friends and colleagues to support you, proofread your work, give you feedback and knock you on your head when you’ve threatened to give up mean the world.  Let’s be friends, colleagues, fellow writers and readers together.