It’s that time again!
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
And I didn’t yet finish that epic Alice books spin-off project, my vision of Lewis Carroll’s classic story from the Jabberwock’s perspective. In fact, following a fellow writer’s advice, I took a long break from it entirely after I got stuck in concept analysis and rehashing the outline for the umpteenth time. It felt as if it had became too unwieldy to manage, so from late May to mid-October 2017, I set it aside.
The story started at the July 2016 Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), then I continued to develop it during NaNoWriMo last November, and I even managed to attend to it roughly weekly through early 2017. Après tout cela, le déluge. . . .
A lot has happened in the four and a half months since (in well-blended order):
- read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- tutored English, essay writing, career help, and social studies through the summer
- shopped for a dog
- became addicted to Gold Peak green tea
- read Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire and watched Brando in film version
- gardened and weeded all summer
- took a memoir writing class; planned and drafted the start of a memoir about teaching
- took on more responsibility with my local writers group
- hiked the Glens Trail at Gorge Metro Park for the first time
- started a new endocrine medication
- watched the scandalizing History Channel documentary series America’s Drug War
- painted a portrait of Texas bluebonnets in vases
- traveled to Pittsburgh to meet a puppy for adoption
- same weekend, in Cleveland: Gold Cup double-header, nature hiking, Hofbrauhaus
- adopted the cutest puppy in the universe two days later
- nearly lost the puppy, who escaped his harness, in a plaza parking lot during the 1st week!
- watched the affecting A&E documentary series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath
- discovered the puppy had worms (gross) and fleas; got him de-wormed and cleaned house
- worked with financial advisor to improve our finances
- bought some new, softer bed sheets—nice
- fell in the garage, bruised/scraped up my right side (mainly knee) trying to corral the puppy
- rehabilitated and trained a fearful puppy in a month-long, self-imposed boot camp
- dealt with 4 dogs who got loose in our neighborhood at different times
- bought a new lawn mower after the handle on our old hand-me-down broke
- consulted a dog trainer for the first time—helpful
- fell in love with Panera’s green goddess salad and chipotle chicken avocado melt
- took the puppy to an art festival only to discover no dogs were allowed
- wrote a few journal entries
- became less motivated and energetic for writing once we got the puppy
- experienced and photographed the solar eclipse
- watched the classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby for the first time
- exercised a lot more because of the puppy, lost a few pounds
- enjoyed a Labor Day party at our nephew’s new Columbus apartment
- discovered new hiking trails and parks because of puppy
- discovered we have a grub problem—evidence of skunks digging in the yard
- took the puppy to a local mum festival (first time going)
- saw Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman (both great) in theaters
- learned some agility basics and obedience training for the puppy
- had several massage, chiropractic, and doctors’ appointments
- replaced our ancient water heater after losing hot water
- wrote a couple of poems, drafted some political essays
- bought a UV light to kill mold and VOCs in our house
- decorated indoors for autumn and Halloween
- met lots of new people because of our puppy, including a neighbor friend
- weaned myself off daily ibuprofen per my rheumatologist’s instruction
- created a template permission contract for others’ use of my creative work
- tried a few new recipes, including a great one for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
- stopped tutoring social studies after a trend of low ratings from students
- wrote some blog posts and reblogged others
- considered but decided against participating in volunteer community theater production
- Droughtlander finally ended and an excellent Outlander season 3 began
- attended some pre-NaNoWriMo meet-ups with our municipal liaison, seeing friends again
- started feeling more pain in my left hip and left knee after stopping ibuprofen
- signed on to help a writing teacher guide her students through NaNoWriMo
- cooked a new turkey and white bean chili we enjoyed
- started reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck for classics book club
- made oodles of to-do lists and one done list like this one; took tons of notes
Not exactly achievements for a traditional resume, but I wasn’t a bump on a log either.
Now, I’ve returned to the same Jabberwock novel to finish the story I started, and all that outlining is paying off. Having an established story structure–plus all my previous character development, world mapping, analysis, and storytelling–has prepared me to pick up where I left off. Now that I’m reoriented, it’s much easier just to show up at the computer, find my place, and write the next scene. I am free to be more creative and explore what remains: the story itself.
The following poem is a sample of my latest work on the novel during NaNoWriMo 2017:
To the Ray Harvesters from Cheshire Cat’s Pub
Let me sell you some sunshine
from the broad eastern plain
so you won’t have to reach so high up that tree
to catch the sun’s rays, blocked by dense
branches and lofty foliage from harvesting.
They have plenty of sun back east
where drought is too long creating
mirages in a soon-to-be-desert
and the drunkards stumble to the tavern’s threshold
only to find invisible smiling cats.
The sun is not useful there
where they block it with blinds
of thick wool and old wood planks
in the one building where infamy lives,
but barely, while liquor flows and cats nap.
The ground there is golden
with burnt grass and bright dirt, mocking
the yellow of sun beams wished
for growing green things, which you have
in abundance in your abundant shade.
Could we make a trade, perhaps,
a bargain of sorts? Rain for sun,
damp for dry, and a stoop of rum
or a sprig of thyme, for good measure
and good faith, or if you’d prefer,
some visions ground from your own toadstools?
It won’t be long now before you’ll
pale in the dearth of light on your western earth
and we’ll shrivel in the hot white searing
of sod and sand and roof on this edge of things.
We must take care of each other, or what are we?
Somehow, I rattled that one off in about 25 minutes after drafting a scene that takes place at the Cheshire Cat’s pub, a place I invented. It probably helped that I came fresh from studying poetry and contemplating the craft of verse writing as part of my responses to a friend’s questionnaire for profiling me as an artist on her blog.
The great thing about NaNoWriMo, which started midnight on November 1, is that there’s always another one around the corner for creative fuel injection. Now a global phenomenon, nearly half a million people are participating in this, its 19th year.
The NaNoWriMo Mission Statement:
“National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.”
The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel between November 1 and November 30. As the website explains, “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”
It sounds like a lot of work, which it can be, but it can also be as enjoyable, enriching, and fruitful as you choose to make it. In the organization’s press release for this year’s program, they describe their enterprise as “one part boot camp, one part rollicking party.”
People unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, or the impulse to write long-form fiction, often ask why on earth anyone would schedule such a project during the busy holiday season, but there is method to this writing madness. Also, as part of that “structure, community, and encouragement,” there’s at least one article on time management tips by NaNo novel writers (see the sources at the end of this post). Authors whose NaNo novels have been published include Sara Gruen, Erin Morgenstern, Hugh Howey, Rainbow Rowell, Jason Hough, and Marissa Meyer.
I’ve blogged about the NaNo program and my involvement a few times since I started my blog in 2013:
As I explained in my April 2016 post about my writing progress after the April camp:
“winning” [NaNoWriMo] is a formality and having some semblance of a recognizable tale when you reach the 50K happens only by the honor system.
[Unless you want them to,] no one reads the final product you upload for official validation to be classed among the winners. It’s all self driven.
This will be my fifth year participating since 2011. (With 2015’s fall workplace stressors, I opted for doodle-and-loiter therapy at those write-ins.) Raising a puppy this summer has worn me out a bit and thickened my usual brain fog, which always makes regular writing a challenge, but I’m hoping for an air-cleansing lightning storm from this year’s NaNoWriMo. There certainly is no shortage of resources for planning, pep talks, and inspiration. It has also helped that the puppy is more comfortable with us after almost 4 months and doesn’t need quite as much attention.
Here’s another excerpt from my first week of NaNoWriMo noveling:
Scene: The White King and Queen confer after the murder plot she has overheard.
The White King sat at his writing desk with yet more papers to go through from the post and the cabinet members’ council meeting of the previous day. The piles were piling up, and these clandestine rendezvous and illicit assassination pow-wows were starting to take their toll on his schedule. His large lower lip pushed out into his usual pout, though it was thin and hardly did a monarch’s pouty face justice.
The eyebrows were another matter. Bushy, white streaked sparely with silver, and often scowling. He brooded over the documents, with one pudgy hand rubbing the barely touchable stubble of his rounded but well-proportioned and well-positioned chin. No one would have seen the stubble from across the room or even a few feet away. The King himself was conscious of it mainly because he had a hand on it, and because he knew he had one of those clandestine rendezvous not long into his future.
The white robe of the White King was made of mink and studded with onyx pyramids projecting from their impossibly soft surface and lining the length of the hem up over his pot belly and all the way around behind his white heeled buckle shoes, usually at least two feet in front of the draping train of the robe.
The White King wore a ring of the monarchy on his right pinky finger, this time a pearl set in 14-carat gold etched with mountain-range like ridges and curving round the stocky little finger with delicate scroll work in bas relief, projecting out like the studs on the robe. The pearl was bulbous and large, comically large against a little finger, however stocky it may be. It resembled a boil or a corn or some other nasty protuberance one does not want to see growing on the skin of a finger or anywhere else.
As she entered the brightly lighted room full of tapered candles and the elaborate royal chandelier just out and above the desk top, the White Queen’s eye fell instantly on that boil of a pearl she always felt compelled to lance, at least for that flicker of time before she again realized it was not illness or injury, but simply jewelry.
She looked up and stopped, raising herself to as majestic a height as she could muster in her diminutive stature, with a neat button nose, silvery hair not yet fully white and a smooth pallor to her facial skin worked in concert as an ensemble complexion that belied her significant age, near to the King’s own.
As was her custom, she folded her hands diagonally to one another, keeping her elbows bent above the hips, her chin up and back, shoulders back and low, elongating that petite frame in the neck and torso so that it almost did perceptibly increase her height. And there she waited for her husband to look up.
Concentrating as he was on the papers and matters of state demanding his attention, he neither heard nor saw her enter. See this, she subtly shuffled her slippered feet laterally beneath her long straight gown, and this did the trick. With almost a jerk, and possibly a shudder, the White King’s head turned up and to his left as he sat in his masterly chair.
“Ah, my queen,” he said mildly, attempting to conceal his startlement. “A word.” He had not summoned her. She had arrived of her own volition and initiative. But he behaved as if his will dictated her every move, even though he knew it did not and never had.
Amused, she waited for the “word” from her lord and master, neither approaching closer nor changing position nor slackening her dignified air. She simply blinked and smiled slightly.
Unperturbed, the King began. “Yes, I am glad you are here. There are some matters I would like to discuss with you, matters of some urgency that we must attend to, my dear.” His round chin drew up into a polite smile but his bushy brows remained concentrated and serious.
The White Queen replied with a soft, silvery tone, like a sword quietly unsheathing itself. “What is it, my lord?”
“Come here. I have something to show you that I need your opinion on.”
The White Queen suppressed a sigh, as was frequent, while she approached the King at his desk throne. She thought to herself, Ah, if only you had consulted me sooner, I would have steered you rightly. She was of course thinking of the plot to kill Jock Warber, which she had overheard her husband, not an hour before, assisting Humpty Dumpty to arrange with the White Knight.
“Yes? What is it, my dear?” she inquired, smiling as she reached his side and brought her hands with open palms on graceful limbs down to the desk surface, tilting her head to see what it was the King was looking at.
I’m a member of the Canton Region of Ohio’s NaNoWriMo participants, also known affectionately as Cantowrimo. Our municipal liaison has kept the Canton group going strong for 15 years. I enjoy attending write-ins, but just knowing the group is there keeps me honest and motivated.
This year for the first time I’ve been asked to join a local middle-grades writing class as an experienced NaNoWriMo participant and cheerleader. We’ve had two classes so far, and the kids are a true inspiration with their massive word counts and clever story ideas.
NaNoWriMo might just be for you, too.
Write on and on and on.
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
About NaNoWriMo: https://nanowrimo.org/about
Press Release – September 25, 2017: https://d1lj9l30x2igqs.cloudfront.net/nano-2013/files/2017/09/Press-Release-2017.pdf
8 Best-Selling Books Written During NaNoWriMo That Show You It Can Be Done: https://www.bustle.com/articles/192069-8-best-selling-books-written-during-nanowrimo-that-show-you-it-can-be-done
7 Time Management Lessons from People Who Write a Novel in a Month: https://www.fastcompany.com/3038045/7-time-management-lessons-from-people-who-write-a-novel-in-a-month