Monthly Archives: November 2013

Crossing the finish line

NaNoWriMo crest.I did it! 50,153 words, and a certificate to prove it!

To all you WriMos who have “won” already, too, congratulations! And to those who haven’t crossed the finish line yet, good luck! Whether you’ve written 500, 50,000, or 80,000 words come November 30, if you’ve tried, you’ve won.

I’m busy with family and Thanksgiving and Chanukkah (oh my!), but I’ll be back next week with more stories. In the meantime, for those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo, what has been your reaction? What were your greatest triumphs? Your greatest challenges?

Happy holidays!

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It’s not you, it’s me…

Rejected. Everyone writes differently. Ask any writer, novice or professional, and you’ll get the same advice: figure out what works for you, and stick to it. For some people, this means eight hours of pounding away at a keyboard every day. For others, it means a couple hours late at night or early in the morning while the kids are asleep. For some writers it includes extensive outlining and months of planning before writing that first word, while others figure everything out as they go and then revise as needed.

Because I have high word counts most days, and because it’s an experience I think all writers should at least attempt, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It has been fun sharing this experience with novelists around the world, and my home region’s Facebook page always has something funny or encouraging when I check it. NaNoWriMo has pushed me several times to write “just 200 more words” that ended up turning into another scene (and over 1,000 words). And it has helped me write most of a first draft of my current WIP.

However, the pressure of NaNoWriMo to write 50,000 words in a month (or in my case, before November 25, when I visit family for Thanksgiving) has forced me to make choices I regret just so I can say that I “won.” NaNoWriMo champions writing without restraint, ignoring plot holes and inner editors and all other obstacles in order to reach 50,000 words. While I think this is great for those writers who struggle to quiet their inner editors, I don’t think this is the best approach for me. When I come across a problem that I know needs fixing, I’d rather stop and fix it now, especially if it’s something that I know will affect the plot later. I find myself coming up with extra characters and scenes that I enjoy writing, but that I know I’ll cut in the first round of edits, simply to increase my word count. And I’d love a day to just sit down and figure all those details out … but if I do that, I’ll fall behind on my word count. So I’m powering through, but the second I hit 50,000 words, even though I know I won’t have a complete draft, I’m stopping. I’m stepping back, and I’m fixing what needs fixing before I try to reach the end.

So, while I think NaNoWriMo is perfect for plenty of writers, I don’t plan to participate again next year. Really, it’s not you, it’s me…

NaNo Updates

NaNoWriMo crest. I’ve written a few novels, and I’ve done a few 50,000-word challenges, but I’ve never participated in an official NaNoWriMo before. Though I follow several agents and writers on Twitter, I don’t consider myself a “social” writer, but so many successful authors swear by NaNoWriMo that I thought I’d give it a shot.

The pluses:

Accountability. On multiple days, I’ve ended a few hundred words below my target and wound up writing another scene to meet that count. I’ve lost a fair amount of sleep and probably some of my sanity along the way, but I think both of those are overrated anyways. And in return, I’ve ended up with two great scenes that I’d been struggling to write.

Legitimacy. I consider writing a second career, but not everyone I know sees it as such. After all, I’m not getting paid for it (yet), so really it’s more of a hobby, right? Wrong. If I think of writing as a hobby, I won’t take it seriously enough to publish anything. NaNoWriMo gives me a chance to tell everyone who thinks writing is just something I do for fun that I take it seriously. (That’s not to say writing isn’t fun; rather, it isn’t just fun.) It also gives me an excuse to schedule social obligations around my writing time. When people ask, I can tell them more than, “sorry, I need to write then”; I can add, “I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, and in order to complete the project I’ll have to spend that night writing. How does the next day sound?”

The minuses:

Too much virtual socialization. I’m probably the only person who feels this way, but I’m overwhelmed by all the #NaNo interaction on Twitter, all the pep talk emails and videos and forums. Wading through all of that just feels like too much not writing. Maybe I’ll feel differently later in the month, when I’m really stuck and need those pep talks. But right now, it’s just overwhelming.

Not enough face-to-face socialization. Part of the problem with this is that I’m not in a city. My home region is “Indiana :: Elsewhere,” and so far the one meet-up I organized ended up being me and two friends who are doing NaNoReviseMo this year. (In other words, they’re revising like crazy rather than starting a new project.) I haven’t met anyone new yet through NaNo. This is probably my fault. Nano exists in part to provide a network of writers who support one another in their quest to write 50,000 words (or whatever their personal goals are) in a month. But I’m an introvert; I tend to avoid parties, and when I do go, I’ll either stick with the same small group of friends or find a quiet corner and observe. My Twitter feed gives me access to my virtual corner, and so far nothing has motivated me enough to leave that corner. Every time I think, “Hey, I should see if I can connect with someone through NaNo,” this thought is immediately followed by, “Yeah, but then I won’t be writing.” And that’s usually enough to keep me safe in my corner.

So, overall, I’m happy to be participating in NaNoWriMo. I just feel like I’m missing something or doing it wrong. Have any of you done NaNoWriMo before? Do you have any suggestions for a newbie?

Favorite apps?

Is there an app for that? Calling all smartphone, tablet, and other mobile device users!  I’m compiling a list of great free and inexpensive (under $3.99) apps to present at a series of Appy Hour programs at my library.  Each month will have a different theme, starting with health/fitness apps in January to help people track their New Year’s resolutions.

I’m really excited about the series, but I’m woefully out of touch with the mobile world.  I resisted getting a smartphone until my dumb phone gasped its last, feeble breaths, and even a year and a half later I’d still prefer to get online with a full-size screen and keyboard rather than bother with most apps. Remember that weird kid who moved from Florida to New York and tried to do things like go swimming after Labor Day or wear shorts in the middle of winter?  That’s me trying to navigate the Google Play Store.  So I’m asking you, readers, to introduce me to the wonders of down coats and seasons that extend beyond “hot” and “hotter.”  What apps have you found fun, useful, informative, etc.?  What do you recommend?  Please share your favorite apps, and the platform(s) you use them on, in the comments.

YA Book Club

The other day, a teen asked me for recommendations for a new book club at her high school.  Reader’s advisory questions are my favorite, and YA is my specialty, so I was thrilled to offer my advice.  After telling her about the library’s teen book club, I gave her a short list of titles that I thought could spark good discussions.  I could go on for pages, but I’ll limit this entry to a few of my favorites.

Thirteen Reasons Why. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Not one for your middle schoolers, but if you’re working with older teens, this is a great way to start a conversation about suicide, reputation, and misperceptions.  The premise alone is intriguing enough: Hannah Baker kills herself and leaves behind a set of audio tapes explaining why she did it, which are passed along to all of the people she feels contributed to her decision.  Though we know how it ends, her journey, and the journey of the boy listening to her tapes, is a fascinating tale that makes us question what changes could have prevented Hannah’s death and who (if anyone) can really be blamed for what happens.  (Also a fabulous audiobook.  Hannah Baker’s voice will haunt me forever.)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Junior is a Native American who recognizes that the only way for him to one day escape the depression and addictions of the reservation is to go to the mostly-white high school.  Though there’s some racism and colorful language, Junior’s powerful story will foster discussions about identity and ambition, and dealing with the tensions that arise from attempts to belong to two cultures.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  Set in the late 1980s, this tale of friendship and self-discovery is worth reading for the writing as much as the story itself.  Ari and Dante are complete opposites — Ari is quiet and uncertain, while Dante is loud and knows exactly who he is.  Their almost accidental friendship grows into something that shapes their lives and the lives of those around them.  As Ari tells us early on, “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”  His struggles to figure out and accept who he is will get teens thinking about everything from family pressure to peer pressure to the pressures we place on ourselves.

Other titles to get teens talking:
Looking for Alaska by John Green (or really anything by John Green)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (for older teens; great for those preparing to head off to college and wanting to know more about dorm life)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

These are just a few of my favorites.  What would you recommend for a high school book club?