The Most Frenzied Time of the Year

Ah yes. November. Thoughts turn to Christmas shopping, and a good number of us Americans start thinking about Thanksgiving. Yet if you stand close to a writer there’s a fair chance you’ll see furrowed brows and a distracted look. Not to mention that undeniably distinctive smell of adrenaline and anxious longing. Clearly they aren’t thinking about presents and turkey. But you can’t blame us for that. After all, it’s November.

It’s time for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo-2018-Writer-Facebook-Cover

But For those of you not familiar with it, the idea is to write 50,000 words in thirty days–the standard size of most novels. If you win, you’ll come out with a draft of a novel and serious bragging rights. By the time you read this, we’ll already be five days in. Ideally by the end of today, we writers will have at least 8,337 words under our belt. Some of us (like me) will be behind, some of us will be on target, and some of us will be miles ahead. But we’ll all be having fun doing what we love. Writing.

Some people swear by NaNoWriMo, and others decry it saying you can’t get anything beyond trash if you try to write a novel in a month. Of course, both sides claim the other is spouting rubbish.

Then there’s me, firmly in the middle.

When I first ventured into the depths of NaNoWriMo in 2009, I won. What I came out with was…rubbish. To be fair, I was young, I had little to no experience with novel writing, and yes, I was quite idealistic. That idealism worked wonders for me while writing, but I was under the impression that I could bang out a draft and it would be set to go to the presses. Like I said, I was young.

I put my novel aside when November was over and pulled it out a few months later.

I was mortified. Oh, the idea was good. But any reader will tell you plot alone won’t save a story. My characters and dialogue had me baffled in places. It was too hard to tell who was who if I didn’t constantly name them, simply because I didn’t flesh out the characters enough. To be so confused by one’s own writing is quite embarrassing.

And yet, I still have that draft. Off and on for the past nine years, I’ve been doing the world building, the character sheets, and creating a full on outline for the book and the series it will be a part of.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo nearly every year after that, although I’ve only ever won one other time. But I’ve never considered those times a loss. I’ve come to find that no matter how awful the writing is, you still come away with something. Each time I’ve learned more about writing, myself, and my local writing community.

But the goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to get to 50,000 words or to even come out with a workable draft at the end of it all. The goal is to enjoy writing. To take the time as often as you can to write. To push yourself and your story forward. There’s no shame in not “winning.” You tried. You decided to take a chance. And heaven knows, there’s no shame in saying that this year there’s no way you can hold on to your  mental and physical health and write that much. The goal is to have fun, to write, and to take care of yourself in the process.

I personally think that anyone interested in writing and those who want to make it part of their lives (whether publishing their writing or work in the publishing industry) should give it a go. After all, the greatest adventure is to take a chance on yourself.

 

 

On Birds and Writer Blocks

The weather where I am is nice. When I’m not nearly drowning in all the rain that is. Yesterday was a lovely day though. Sunny, humid, but with a wind at just the right moments. It was a good day.

Namely because I got to hold a bird. Now I live in a house with many windows, in the middle of the woods. Birds tend to see their reflection in the windows, think it’s a bird invading their territory then charge, slamming into the window and sometimes stunning themselves. In this case a female goldfinch landed on her back, too stunned to right herself. I went outside and righted her, a towel and container for her to rest in at the ready.

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Female juvenile goldfinch; allaboutbirds.org

Usually if a bird is stunned, I set them right, make sure nothing bothers them, but leave them alone to let them recover.

This time around nature changed my plans. I picked her up, and tried to place her in the blanket so she could rest, but she would not let go of my fingers. I never realized that birds could hold on to something that tightly with such small and spindly legs. I sat with the bird for ten or so minutes, studying her. Letting her poop on my hand, look around, and recuperate. I didn’t think it was possible to bond with an animal in such a short time. But by the time the little one flew off I had a sense of peace that’s stuck with me ever since.

In a way, I felt the bird’s accident was a nice parallel to how I feel when I’m hit with writer’s block. I’m startled, not quite sure if my head is on right. I can see where I want to go, but can’t actually get there. My usual bout of writer’s block is not a lack of ideas, but too many ideas mushed together with the uncomfortable need to write something I don’t have an idea for.

Writer’s block is probably the most dangerous part of being a writer. It can be terrifying. The want and need to create is deeply ingrained. And then to feel as if we can’t access that part of ourselves? Sometimes writer blocks (or other creative blocks) can last for years. But it’s not the end. I’ve seen people stop writing for years, then start it up again, stronger and better at it than ever.

Writing is a solitary thing, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Isolation can only help one so much. Self care, friends who take part in creative activities, and taking time to explore (however you feel you explore best), can lead to getting back on your feet.

And of course, sometimes, you just gotta let the crap out before you take off. Rant, rave, throw a hissy fit at a wall, whatever it takes. But get the bad stuff out, then start slowly moving forward.

It’s something I’ve noticed when I’ve helped a bird after they’ve run into a window. Once they’re ready to fly they leave a parting gift (thanks, but ew), and fly off. Just a little ways. But within a couple of minutes of their first flight, they’re flying like nothing happened. It happens every time. It’s a good philosophy.

Being stuck is always a struggle. It can last for a brief time, or for years. My most recent bout was for a couple of months, although I went through a block for a period of years. I’ve seen it happen with my other writer friends too.

I guess all of us need to be a little bit of a goldfinch. Get the crap out and fly off to the next adventure.