How far are you into your NaNoWriMo?
This song is so much mood. I can’t even.
How far are you into your NaNoWriMo?
This song is so much mood. I can’t even.
I have to admit, it creeps up on me every year.
We spend a good six weeks in Happy Hallowe’en mode around here. We even throw a huge annual bash, usually the Saturday before Hallowe’en (unless the 31st is on a Friday or Saturday, and then it’s the actual day). This year was our 20th annual Masquerade. And when there are several days between the two — as there were this year — it can feel like our party is the big event and it’s just limbo until the 31st after that. It’s a pleasant sort of limbo, though, one in which I can appreciate the other things going on in my life a little better — or get a little more work done — until trick-or-treating time.
So I have to admit my focus isn’t entirely on NaNoWriMo when November 1st rolls around every year. But oh, I do love it when November 1st is here.
If you’ve been following my blog a while you know that I’m not a traditional NaNoWriMo participant. I don’t actually even attempt to write 50,000 words during a month which includes a busy time in the semester and Thanksgiving break. (We host at our house, so no rest for the blissfully weary. Also, every holiday from school is, in one way or another, a working holiday. It just is.) But I do make the commitment to work on my writing in a meaningful way every day or night for the entire month of November. This looks a little different each year and depends significantly on what my current writing projects are.
I like to post about it here on my blog for accountability’s sake, among other reasons. So here we go, my ambitions for 2019’s NaNoWriMo:
* I’m working on revisions for my next book in the Animal Affinities series, and I need to get it very much finished up in the next few weeks. If you enjoyed Finis., you will also probably love the next story. The working title is Homecoming, although my editor might change that. This story revolves around a girl named Raqia. She’s in eleventh grade, she’s a Lebanese immigrant to Texas, and she’s navigating some very weird stuff. Also, if you were intrigued by the wolf packs in Finis., you should know that Homecoming features the wolves quite prominently. And that’s all I’ll be saying about that for now…
* Once Homecoming is out the door, I’ll be back to working on my next novel, which at the moment I’m about a fourth to a third of the way through. I put it on hold while I edited another novel (currently on submission) and Homecoming and put together my next collection of poems. (I mean, yes, it’s been a busy year. But honestly, when is it not?) But I have made a promise that I will get back to this novel as soon as possible, and so that’s on the horizon as well.
* I participated in the August Poetry Postcard Fest again this year, which has been awesome yet again, but I admit I am still a handful of cards behind. (No shame, though. Last year I was still getting cards from other poets all the way into February. So.) Anyway, I need to finish those up. I’m really close to that, so I’m calling it a NaNoWriMo goal and that’s that. (And once those cards are all out the door, I will register for next year’s fest!)
Some people might feel annoyed that I’m using the month this way. I am not concerned about that. One day, I am confident, I will be able to approach the NaNoWriMo the way the creators of it intended. One day. Not today, though. *shrug*
Onward and upward, shall we? Yes!
You might have noticed that November — and the NaNoWriMo — came and went without much in the way of updates here from me this year. Back around the end of October, I had really good intentions and a lot of excitement about the project I was planning to work on. But things, sometimes awesome things, got in the way, as things do, and I want to comment on that. I’ve seen several authors online recently discuss how we as an industry don’t talk enough, publicly, about failure. Even the hashtag storms about acknowledging and persevering through failure in the writing industry ultimately turn into humblebrags that make people feel even worse. It can be easy — for me, at least — to get caught up in what I haven’t accomplished, even when I know that’s neither logical nor rational nor helpful. Sometimes I need to recast the way I think about success and failure and the practical realities of them both.
One thing my colleagues and I strive to do, as teachers, is to help our achievement- focused and strategic-learning students appreciate the importance and value of failure as a step in the process to success — but more importantly, also as a step on the path to increased understanding. So many don’t want to pay attention to this. But failure is necessary in order to grow, to learn from mistakes, to winnow away things that don’t work and understand why they don’t, to emerge with a more solid process or product or epiphany, to develop. If we never have to confront the hard stuff, we never really learn how to overcome it.
Okay, so, great. And what does that have to do with my NaNoWriMo this year? Well, I failed at it. I did basically no significant work on my new novel, and part of me feels like an utter failure for that, feels like a complete loser who can’t do anything right or accomplish anything of value.
And as I would tell my students, that’s a completely bonkers response.
A normal one, maybe, because that’s the culture we live in. Because being “busy” has become our toxic but normalized social currency. Because I’m disappointed that I couldn’t carve out half an hour each night to write 350 words and move the story forward. But let’s be honest: November is a terrible time for this project; the only worse month would be December! As a high school teacher and mom, I’m swamped. Routinely on Sunday nights I climb into bed, far too late for how early I have to be up on Monday mornings, and can’t stop myself from mentally ticking off the list of things I wanted to take care of over the weekend but failed to. At some point, I’m sure, I will come to internalize the fact that a Sunday isn’t forty-seven hours long, and then my emotional expectations can catch up to my intellectual understanding of just how much one person can get done in a day.
What all of that calculus fails to appreciate is what I did in fact get done. And therein lies my problem: I’m focused, like some of my students, on the exact wrong thing.
So let’s switch gears away from my failure and talk about where things went well over the last month.
The third edition of Finis. came out, and holy canoli, it’s gorgeous. If you’re looking for a really great holiday gift for the readers on your list or a stocking stuffer for that smart adolescent who likes urban fantasy or animals or both, then you can’t go wrong with this new edition from Odeon Press. The physical book has been redesigned in a lovely way, with a better size and a butter-velvet soft matte cover, and in the back of the book you’ll find a lot of new bonus content, including some nonfiction by me and a preview of the next story in this series set in Elsa’s world.
I finished running my first Kickstarter campaign, and it was a resounding success. (Thank you to everyone who joined the community for the new book!) My project is my new book of poetry, The Sharp Edges of Water. (Click here to view the KS and all of the updates and bonus content posted there.) Some of the backer perks are a little slow rolling out — not behind schedule, but just slower than I was hoping to get them moving — because school has been really busy for me lately. But I’m back to working on those this weekend.
As for The Sharp Edges of Water itself, this week has been all about proofing galleys, making sure everything looks as good as it can, combing through for errors. This book is in production, y’all! And it’s looking wonderful so far. I’m excited to be sharing it with you! The ebook will be available very soon — in time for Christmas — and if there aren’t too many slow-downs in the last stages of production (where we are now), maybe the print version will be as well! I promise to update here when you can start buying it.
So those projects really took up all of my NaNoWriMo time, and I have to give myself permission not to beat myself up over it, even though I didn’t make any progress yet on the new novel. I know I’ll get back to writing the novel as soon as my new book of poems is out. I’ve had to reorganize my priorities and make peace with the harsh time mistress of my teaching job, and that’s okay, too. When it boils down to it, on Sunday nights I have to remind myself to count my blessings. (Because let’s be honest again: that’s the only way I can fall asleep when I’m thinking about that infernal to-do list.)
In the title of this blog post, I promised transitions. Well, let’s talk about that too. The Monday Earworm is going to take a little vacation until the new year, because you know what’s coming up later this week? The triumphant return of 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck! I know, I know, contain your zeal. I’ve been curating this year’s playlist and have encountered some new music that I hope you will enjoy. And aside from various types of announcements here and there, that’s probably all you can expect from me on this blog until the holidays are over.
And that’s about all I’m going to say about this for today. Have a good one.
We have found our way back again to the realm of November. I like it here.
It has been a busy time in Angélique Jamail, Author Land. If you’ve been following along you’ve likely noticed several developments:
* Finis. was picked up by Odeon Press, who is issuing a 3rd edition with expanded back matter and a slightly new look. Expect it very, very soon.
* My new collection of poems, The Sharp Edges of Water, is becoming a real live book! And in a fit of lucky brilliance or insanity — not sure which — I let Adam Holt persuade me to do a Kickstarter for the launch. And I’ve been thrilled and humbled by its success so far! To those of you who have already contributed to it, I offer you my sincerest gratitude. (About half the backers’ names are hidden from me until the end of the campaign, so I actually don’t know who all of you are yet.) If you want to take a look at the video and content-rich updates, click here. And if you want to join the community of this project, hurry! It ends in just over a week! (It would be amazing to unlock the stretch goals, but even just to fund this all-or-nothing project, we still need a few hundred more dollars.)
* I took the plunge and have begun an official newsletter via Mailchimp. I found it to be a fair amount of set-up on the front end, but otherwise things are looking nice and moving smoothly, so hopefully that will go well. Here’s my first newsletter through there, in case you aren’t on the mailing list yet and want to see it. You can subscribe to it from there, if I’m not mistaken, or you can leave your email address here in the comments for me to add you. My intention is to send out newsletters about once a month or so, and it won’t generally be the same as this blog.
And now, we have reached November and my inevitable modifications on the NaNoWriMo. Since it would be folly for me to attempt to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days (which, I might add, include a major holiday!) while also being a full-time high school teacher and mom, I tend to just focus my commitment on writing something meaningful and substantive every day. Sometimes (like last year) I give myself daily word count goals. I try to stay flexible, and generally this all works out pretty well.
So this year, I’m doing it again. Tonight I’ve done a lot of front and back matter work on The Sharp Edges of Water and written, well, this blog post. I’m also going to be spending some time tonight working on the new novel I’m drafting, which fills me with joy. I’ve had to put it on the back burner for a while since I’ve been bringing the new edition of Finis. and this new poetry collection into the light, but now it’s time to dive back into Fairuza’s world — she’s my protagonist — and see what supernatural and steampunky excitement she’s unwittingly gotten herself into now. (Hint: it involves an awfully charming historian.)
Okay, enough spoiler-licious details on that!
What else can you expect here this November? I intend to continue with Monday Earworms and the occasional Kickstarter news while the campaign is still going, as well as some other treats and tidbits here and there.
Sally forth, yo. (And if you’re in the US and haven’t voted yet, better get on that, friend!)
So today is the last day of November, and I’m ecstatic to report that my NaNoWriMo project is worth calling a success.
You might remember my post a few weeks ago when I launched my NaNoWriMo project for this year. In case you don’t, I’ll recap: it’s utterly ludicrous for me to expect, with my current life circumstances (teaching high school full-time, two young kids), that I can write 50,000 words in 30 days. I don’t even try that. (You can listen to an interview I gave, which aired on November 23rd, about this subject on the Pacifica radio show LivingArt by clicking here, but the archive will be easily available for just a few weeks, so I suggest you do it soon.)
So what do I try, if not the traditional NaNoWriMo? I attempt to make a commitment to writing something significant or furthering my writing career every day in November. This year my goal was to write 350 words a day on my current WIP (a new novel) or some other manuscript. A couple of those days I made or supplemented my word count with a blog post, and I took a few days off — one after my grandfather’s death and a few for Thanksgiving, which I hosted for my family. These were just things I really needed to do.
But the rest of the time? I made (and usually exceeded) my word count. I added almost 7,600 words to my WIP, which brings my current total to almost 22,000. I’d say I am good and well writing this book now, even if the plotting has been spotty at best. I’m suspect I’m just a pantser at heart, and trying to manage 350 words a day, allowing myself to write weak sentences now and then and stopping myself in the middle of a scene when I hit 400-500 words, has really facilitated the ease with which I’ve been able to meet my daily word counts. I learned this nifty trick from my dear friend and writing partner Sarah Warburton: if you stop writing in the middle of a scene, when you start up again, you already know what to write; the added bonus is that you’ll have the urgency to keep going if you had to interrupt yourself in the middle of things the day before.
Well, dear reader, it works.
Aside from the solid and satisfying progress on my novel, I also wrote an essay about Grendel, which still needs revision and editing, but which I then hope to be sharing with you relatively soon.
So all of this progress is lovely, of course. But now what? With the end of November, is that the end of my writing for a while? Holy canoli, I hope not.
Much like a Lenten fast or a fitness challenge can be used to cultivate good habits and purge unhealthy ones, my bigger goal in doing my modified form of the NaNoWriMo is to make myself get into the daily habit of writing practice. It’s all kinds of miserably hard to write books while you’re also teaching English and Creative Writing and raising kids. I mean, if you also want to sleep. I spend what sometimes feels like an inordinate amount of time grading papers, but I also recognize that’s the job. Understand, though, managing creative, generative energy is tough when I’ve pushed that part of my life, the artistic self, to the end of my to-do list. It’s not tenable, and it’s not healthy. As much as I love and appreciate all the other aspects of my life — and I do — I need that artistic pursuit if I want to be a whole, healthy person.
My hope is that when November is over, I will still keep trying to write 350 words a day (or night, as the case may be). Will I be successful every single day? I can aspire to that, but I also have to give myself permission to be human. That means not a robot. That means not rigid and inflexible. That means that sometimes I will make a compromise or two: I might not write 350 words every night; some nights I will write 475 or 632 or a thousand. I’ve even been thinking that perhaps a weekly goal might be better.
We’ll see how it goes. I mean, look at tonight: I just wanted to do a blog post to wrap up this project, and I’m already at nearly 800 words. And maybe that’s enough for tonight. After all, I’ve still got some grading to do.
Happy December, tomorrow. You’ll get an earworm on Monday, and later in the month you’ll get 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck. Probably one or two other blog posts as well, if things go smoothly.
I will get some writing time in, as often as possible.
I have never been one to write a garbage first draft of a short story or novel, going from beginning to end in one long vomit of mediocre writing, with the intention that I can fix it all later.
The very idea of that feels like giving up on craft. Yes, many have advised me, the best thing to do is just to write it all down, get the whole story out, and then fix the bugs later. And perhaps if I were the kind of writer who can churn out a few thousand words a day, this might be a feasible option for me.
But that is not the world I live — or write — in.
I deeply appreciate Anne Lamott’s advice about “shitty first drafts,” that they are children on a playground, carelessly exploring the world of the manuscript to see what treasures lay buried in its leaves. And I fully acknowledge that I have never, in my adult writing life and possibly not even in my adolescent one, given myself permission to write terrible first drafts all the way to the end, and that perhaps this is an error.
But to keep writing away on something I know in my gut is terrible seems an awful lot like wasting time to me, and if there is one commodity I do not have enough of to spend it willy-nilly, it’s time. I write slowly. I have all the usual demands on my attention of the modern wife and mother and career-woman (i.e., with a day job). I write slowly, thoughtfully, paying attention to the words I’m using. Blame it on my being formally trained as a poet. Or blame it on my attention to detail. Or blame it on my taking pride in my work, even my first drafts.
Or blame it on my not wanting to be a writer of crap and on my persistent efforts not to be. (I acknowledge I don’t always get it right, but at least I try.) I see very little value in writing an entire story that I know isn’t going to be good, or in writing an entire draft of a story and then throwing it away and starting over. This might be a viable option if I were immortal and had an eidetic memory. Neither of those being likely, well… I try not to waste any more time or effort than necessary.
When I write a story, I want to make sure to get the foundations of it right, to weave the texture in a way that sets up the rest of it for competence, if not success. Most of my fiction lives in the fantasy genre — magic realism, urban fantasy, literary high fantasy, paranormal steampunk — and I know that if I haven’t done at least a little economical world-building in the first chapter, my story won’t teach its readers how to read it. They won’t know the genre or the rules they’re dealing with, and the story could be confusing and end up a non-starter before we’re even out of the first chapter. (And if anyone thinks an agent or editor reads more than a few pages of a manuscript that appears not to know itself, well, that optimism is worth its weight in gold.)
Getting the voice right takes work. And once you have that, the other narrative vectors (like point-of-view, conflict, setting, pace, etc.) had better be on trajectory. This is a jargony way of saying that you need a strong foundation for a story if you want it to stand on its own. For a succinct explanation of the building-a-house metaphor, read this piece by George Dila; it’s a counterbalance to Anne Lamott’s treatise.
So I’m doing the NaNoWriMo again, or a modified version of it that makes sense in my world. My goal is 350 words a day, because I don’t often have more than thirty minutes a night to work and because the level of my creative energy by then is in in the basement. So I’ve set a generously low bar for myself, and so far I’m exceeding it nightly. (May this ever continue.)
But I realized about two days into November that I had to give myself permission not to write beautifully every time. I’ve been struggling lately with writer’s block — as well as Writer Brain (TM) — and sometimes the thought of sitting down to write stuff that I know isn’t going to be beautiful can paralyze me against writing anything. I’m a literary writer, a poet: words fucking matter. And the way I arrange them for others’ consumption is not a responsibility I take lightly.
So I’m trying to find a balance between shitty first drafts and publishable awesomeness. I recognize that’s a wide spectrum, so I’m feeling pretty good about hitting the mark somewhere in there.
Tonight I wrote about 100 new words on the latest chapter in my WIP. I also edited the whole thing (a good seventeen pages) and sent it off to my critique group. They will workshop it next week, and then I will revise it before I get too far into the next chapter, because I work too hard to weave the elements of a story together to have to unravel that tapestry every time.
After that chapter went on its merry electronic way, I wrote (and revised) this blog post, which is almost a thousand words. That means I’ve exceeded my word count again for tonight. Is any of what I’ve written tonight worth its weight in gold? I sincerely doubt it. But I’m not trying to be a perfectionist in a rough draft or a blog post any more than I’m allowing myself to write crap.
I’m just trying to write. And according to my word counts — and my growing readership — I’d say it’s working. Onward and upward.
Ready for go? Hardly. But who ever is?
Tomorrow is November 1st, and after what I think I can safely call a successful Hallowe’en in our household, I’m going to tuck in on my writing again tomorrow.
Not gonna lie, the last few months have seen some Serious Writer’s Block, worse than it’s been the whole last year. But I’m tired of that ish and ready to reset. I teach high school full-time and have two children in middle school, so the idea that I will churn out 50,000 words of anything that aren’t work emails or comments on graded papers is utterly bananapants. But I do like to commit myself to my own informal brand of NaNoWriMo every year, and that involves just promising to write something every day: work on whatever is my current WIP, write a poem or a blog post, do some important writerly career stuff, significantly edit. And often I do manage it — last year (when my work came crashing to a horrified halt the second week of November) notwithstanding.
So I’m committing to it again. I’d like to make at least 350 words a day on the new WIP, or more if I hit a stride. I’d also be satisfied if some of those days involved a substantive blog post or a poem or some serious editing. I’m going to try. And because I’m the type of person who needs external deadlines and accountability to really make sure I get it done, you can follow my daily updates on my Facebook page here. (Like the page and turn on notifications to see the updates in your news feed.)
I’ve come to an understanding of myself that there are three things I need in order to keep my stress at bay. (Well, okay, three things other than my excellent marriage.) I need to exercise regularly. I need to read something for fun. I need to write. All of this is most successful when each of them is done every day, or nearly every day. I have found I can handle quite a lot when I have those activities in my routine. So I’m participating in a fitness challenge at school, I have a book picked out that I’m excited to read and which is sitting on my nightstand, and the next chapter of my WIP is outlined and ready for me to draft it.
Let’s hope this works out the way I want it to.
Writer is ready for go.