Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaNo Final

Well, it’s official.

NaNoWriMo ends at midnight tonight.

There was a time, not too many days ago, when I honestly thought there was no way to make that 50K goal. At one point, I would have had to have 6 personal best days in a row. Yikes! Not likely!

But somehow, I pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute. I had three really awesome writing days in a row, one reaching a new personal best of over 3500 words, and that brought the needed daily average down to what almost felt doable. Then a writing spurt where I got several hundred words in less than an hour, plus many more that day, helped even more.

I have validated my document.

I did it!!

I am officially a NaNo winner!

The work is by no means done, though. There are many words in that document that will never see the inside of a published book. There are large sections of backstory that will need to be reduced to a sentence or two, notes to myself regarding things that need to be changed when I start edits, and notes about things that still need to be written. There is also a lot more to write: holes big enough to stampede a herd of cattle through.

So even though this challenge is done, there are more to come. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NaNo Update Nov 26

Well, there are only a few days left of the official NaNoWriMo writing challenge. I’m also almost halfway into my personal goal to be in better shape by January. I’ll be honest, there have been a couple times I thought I must be nuts to take on two big challenges at the same time.

The health goals picked back up this week. Even during the worst of the bronchitis I was drinking more water and fewer sodas. And those few pounds I lost have stayed off. Now that the breathing is back to almost normal, I’ve gone back to using the stairs at work when I can. I’m following the guidelines often given to patients: up one down two. In other words, if you have to go up one floor or down two floors, consider taking the stairs rather than the elevator. The big goal this week relates to Thanksgiving. The goal is to take very small portions of all my favorites so I am not denying myself, but don’t go overboard with huge portions or multiple helpings. And if I can get back to exercising soon, that would be good too.

The writing had both good and not so good this week. I had another personal best writing day at just over 3K! But it was followed by a day where I struggled for every word and only reached 1600. I knew I needed a super duper weekend to have any real chance at getting to the 50K mark by the 30th and put too much pressure on myself for that day.

But I showed up, I wrote on a day when I didn’t really feel like it. It was one of those days where I was working on developing the habit of writing even if the quality wasn’t so hot.

I’m at 37851 as I write this, and know that unless there is a miracle in the next few days I will not get to the 50K. It was a week I had to test my “I’ll be happy with any words” statement that I made to fellow writers.

But I can say I am happy with this challenge.

I proved to myself that 1000-1500 a day with a previous max of 3K for a full weekend is NOT my limit. I can have a much better writing day, and therefore writing weekend, than that!

I worked on developing a habit that I plan on making last.

I learned I need to show up every time I have planned to write, and I need to give it a serious effort, but if things are just not flowing, then close it down and go do something else rather than trying to force it.

And I learned that fast first drafts are not for everyone. I can do some serious writing in fast first mode, but I miss the feedback from my writing buddy and editor. I need a good balance of both.

But best of all, I will have a great start on a new novel and a pretty good direction for a full series!

That’s pretty awesome in such a short time!

How about you? Do you think you could set a high goal and achieve it in a month? Would you set a goal you know you can’t reach in that time just to see how far you can get? If you’re doing NaNo, what have you gained from it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaNoWriMo Update Nov 19

Wow! It’s the third week of my NaNoWriMo and better health journey and time for my Wednesday update again.

Health is still on the mend. Bronchitis and I have one of those relationships where it just loves to hang on and I would love for it to go away. The unseasonal cold weather the last week kept me indoors, but things are warming up back to normal, which should help the coughing, too. But I have managed, somehow, to lose a few pounds and keep them off in spite of the more sedentary week.

The writing, on the other hand, was terrific!

I had my best writing weekend ever! I wanted to reach a minimum of 5K for the weekend. Since that would put me a little shy of 22K, I was hoping to do those last 300 words to get me to that total.

I did it!

As of yesterday, I even officially passed the halfway mark! I’m at 25,102 words as I write this post.

And I had my best single writing day ever! It’s not easy for me to come close to that target of 1667 a day, which is one of the reason’s I’m nowhere near the 31.6K that would be day 19’s target. But I have had a few days over 2K. And Saturday I got to 2.9K! I was thrilled.

Some people are only participating to reach that brass ring of 50K, and others just to develop the habit of writing. Some are inspired by competition, racing each other to a daily goal or the overall finish line. But the only competition I find inspiring is me; competing against myself to reach new personal bests.

And I did it!

So no matter whether I reach the 50K in the 12 days left or not, I win.

Your turn. If you’re participating in NaNo what about it is working for you? And whether you’re participating or on the cheer squad, what kind of competition drives you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaNo Update Wednesday, November 12

Well, it’s Wednesday and time for another update.

Health goals: Wow! This side of things took a hit! I went from feeling great to having full-blown bronchitis overnight. Between that and the sudden switch from summer to winter (what happened to fall??), I haven’t done any more yard work or gardening. Exercise indoors is also out until I can breathe again. So the goal for now is to just get back to normal.

Writing took a hit, too. But that’s not a real surprise considering I dove under the covers and didn’t surface again for two days.

This is also when many writers participating in NaNo hit a wall. The excitement of starting something new fades and reality about how much work this takes hits home. I admit that the last couple of days there were times when my fingers stopped on the keyboard and my brain went momentarily dead. What now? Where do my characters need to go?

A quick look at my stats page on the NaNo site looks depressing. If I were keeping a steady pace, I should be over 18K words right now, and I’m not. At the average rate that I have kept as of last night, I either won’t get to 50K until December 11 or I have to average over 1800 words a day to finish on time.

But, when I look at it from a positive perspective, everything changes. I’m at 13.7K right now. That’s almost 14,000 words into a novel that I hadn’t even started twelve days ago! My characters have been talking to me and their story is taking shape. No matter what happens from here on out, I’ve made amazing progress in a short time.

And that is wonderful!

What do you think you could accomplish in less than two weeks if you really put your mind to it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaNo Update: Wednesday, November 5, 2014

 I did something totally crazy.

Not only am I participating in NaNo for the first time ever, I also made a personal commitment to be in better shape than I am now when 2015 rolls around. A big part of both is accountability – making sure to tell the folks cheering me on how I’m doing. Due to my schedule, I came into this knowing that Wednesdays would be the toughest days. But I thought that would be a good day for progress reports.

As for the health goals, excess stress in my life over the last year derailed a lot of habits and really goofed up the body. So the idea was to take small steps and make little changes each week that, cumulatively, would improve the big picture. The big thing for the weekend was to get up frequently and do something active. I did that working in my garden. For this week, I wanted to up my step average from 8000+ to 10000, and drink more water. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not there yet on the step count. I am doing well on the water, though.

Now for the more exciting part: NaNo. So far, 5 days in, I’ve done well and met my most of my word count goals. I came a little shy on yesterday’s target, but overall I’m at over 7300 words, so I’m still going strong! There is still a lot of time left. And I am sure I will have days along the way that are not so great.

But how do I feel so far?

I am loving this!

The biggest things that keep my progress slow when I write is the inner editor, constantly wanting to go back and revise and improve what I’ve written, and feeling like I had to write the scenes in order for them to really flow together well. I relaxed a bit on the scenes in order problem, but only a tiny bit. With NaNo, I knew I had to just write. I had to give myself permission to write a ton of backstory, write out of order, and leave it be regardless of whether it was a gem or a piece of horrible crap. Revisions won’t get the word count targets, and this month is about the word count, not the quality of each sentence or whether there is good continuity.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Problems can be fixed later.

My writing buddy and dear friend is probably sitting there right now thinking it took me long enough to get to this point. I’ve lost count of how many times he has said “Just Write!”

Okay. So it took me a while. But I finally get the idea.

If you’re participating in NaNo, what do you think? Are you meeting your goals?

If you’re part of the cheering section, feel free to post words of encouragement for ALL folks doing NaNo. And by the way, Thanks!! You’re the best!

Monday, October 27, 2014

To NaNo or Not to NaNo?

Ah. . .November. It’s a time of change – leaves falling and the air turning cooler, or the warmer weather and new growth of spring, depending on which hemisphere you live in. It’s also time for National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short. The idea is simple; write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and November 30th.

When I first entered the writing world, I had no idea what all the talk about NaNo was, but it was pretty clear that it was a love it or hate it kind of thing.

Folks who love it feel that it helps them kick-start their novels, provides an opportunity to connect with other writers (via forums), gives a little push to any who have competitive streaks, helps develop a daily writing habit, and forces you to turn off the inner editor.

Those who hate it cite that it takes longer than one month to really develop a solid writing habit, that the intense pace cannot be sustained long-term if you have any kind of real life, or that it focuses on word count only. I’ve also read that “serious authors” should have nothing to do with it because of the dusty gem/painted turd phenomenon. Basically, they’re pointing to the fact that some people will start their novel but never finish once they get to that magic NaNo 50K (the dusty gem), while others believe that the words they produce during November are perfect and too many unedited stories (painted turds) get self-published in December. (Some people call them “polished turds”, but let’s be honest, someone who thinks the first draft is perfect isn’t even polishing their work.)

It is demanding to finish. You have to average 1,666 words a day to make the 50K mark. There are no prizes, other than a certificate, for winning NaNo (aka reaching the word count goal). But there are sponsors that offer special deals to participants and winners. For example, Createspace will print 2 free paperback copies of the finished book and Scrivener offers a 20% discount to participants and a 50% discount to winners. (See the NaNo sponsor page for all this year’s offers.)

So is it worth it?

For me, I think it comes down to a question of whether the challenge will inspire me or whether the pressure will drive me nuts. Since the biggest thing that slows me down is my inner editor/critic, and this forces me to turn that off, I think it might be worth it. Besides, if I don’t try, I won’t know how well I can do.

What are your thoughts about NaNo? Are you participating this year? Why or why not?



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Picture Writing Prompts

The creative mind is rarely at rest; jumping from point A to point F so fast you hardly realize it took a couple of side trips along the way, not to mention the other dozen things going on. That can be great for the most part, but sometimes it’s more like an arrhythmia: the heart beating erratically and not pumping blood efficiently. Just like a shock can get the heart beating steadily, the creative person’s brain sometimes needs a little jolt to get it functioning smoothly again.

There are multiple ways this can happen, but one of the most common for writers is the 10-minute writing prompt. The goal is not polished perfection, just getting into the rhythm of putting words on the page.

Most of the prompts I’ve seen are sentences or scenarios that you use to start the story. But one evening I was sorting photos and wondered why pictures can’t be used instead.

A quick Google search of “writing prompt” gave me over 29 million results. Narrowing that to “10 minute writing prompts” reduced it to around 3.4 million. But “picture writing prompts” gave only 259 thousand, and most of those were aimed at elementary school teachers to use with their students.

Why stop at kids? Creative adults can look at a photo and come up with a story, too!

And I would like you to help me show that.

So here’s the deal. . .pick one of the photos below, then start a 10 minute timer and just type whatever story it prompts for you. Use any association you come up with. For example, if one of the pictures were a rose, your story could be about giving a rose to someone, a rose garden, a woman named Rose, a trip to flower shop, finding a pressed flower in a book – whatever.

Then, post your story in the comments (along with a note of which photo you selected). And come back to see what other people come up with and comment on their stories.

I am looking forward to seeing what you post!

Clowning Around
Young Cowboy

Furry Interloper



Monday, July 7, 2014

Print It!

I recently watched someone swiping the screen on their phone, showing off photos of their child. Cool. I have to admit that you can fit a whole lot more pictures on a smartphone than you can in a wallet. And most people always have their phone with them so they can capture those precious photos, the one-time opportunities that could easily be missed.

It’s great. Perfect even.

Or not.

There are problems with the trend of everything being electronic, and I’m not just talking photos here.

Technology changes. The newest, greatest thing is constantly surpassed by the next newest, greatest thing.

For example, I’m dating myself here, but I remember floppy disks: the 5 ¼ inch ones. If you were lucky and had double-density ones, they could hold a little over 350 KB! I have single files now that are bigger than that.

Now imagine if I had a poem or short story I had written back then and never bothered to update it or print it. There would be no way to share that with anyone today because there is not a computer on the market than even has a drive to read those. The next generation, or the one after that, would never know it ever existed.

“We can ‘store and ignore’ physical items such as books, paper photos, and documents under optimized conditions for years and expect that we can access them any time....But  ‘store and ignore’ does not work with digital files such as audio, video, photos and email because they are dependent on hardware and software to make them work. If either hardware or software is ignored for a significant length of time, it becomes obsolete, and the digital file will become difficult to access. It essentially becomes trapped.” From. The Library of Congress and Personal Digital Archiving

Another problem with everything staying on your computer, or smartphone, is technology fails. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when you’ll lose data. Hard drives crash, malware wreaks havoc with your system; and it can happen at the worst times. Just ask a friend of mine who recently lost about 80% of his manuscript.

And if you think you’re safe because you have it backed up to an online account, think again. The service providers have to rely on the same technology we do. They are not immune to the same hardware failures, malware, or hackers who revel in being able to find their way in just to be able to say they did. Yes. I know. Many services have “redundancy” built into their systems and regularly back up the data to another server, usually at a different location. But it’s still technology and can still fail or become obsolete. And what if they go out of business?

Yet another problem I see with never printing things out is the reaction of those you share them with. Someone watching pictures flash in front of them will often have their eyes start to glaze over. A person flipping through a stack of photos in their hands will, more often, stop and ask questions or comment on pictures they find interesting. But put those photos in an album, add a few journaling blocks to tell the story that goes with the photos, and they slow down, really look at the pictures, enjoy them. Same is true for stories. As easy as it is to read a document on a Kindle, Nook or any other e-reader, some people just like paper; the feel of holding a manuscript in your hands and flipping pages just makes people slow down a bit and immerse themselves in the written word.

“The Kindle certainly has its charms, but e-readers can never fully replace books.” Stephen King on e-readers.

Don’t get me wrong; I love digital. I take many more photos with my digital camera than I would ever have on film. It has helped me really experiment and learn what I can do with my camera. And typing on my computer is much faster than handwriting; easier to edit, too. But best practice is to have prints and follow the 3-2-1 principle with digital formats. Have 3 copies, using at least 2 different media, and keep 1 remote copy (in case of natural disaster in your area). Oh, and don’t forget to update your storage media every 5 years (or sooner).

So if digital is the only way you’ll produce the photos, or stories, by all means use that format. But please, don't 'store and ignore'!. Be sure to pick some of the items you think of as your best or favorites and print them out in order to share, and to pass down to future generations.


Your turn. What do you think about digital vs. print? Will print eventually be obsolete? Or will there be a place for hardcopies for generations to come?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blessing in Disguise

Sometimes life gets overwhelming; your whole routine goes to pot and you feel off kilter. I’ve had some of that recently. Make that I’ve had a lot.

I tried to fight it for a while, keep things as close to “normal” as possible, but that gets tiring. It was also selfish.

Yes, I said selfish. One thing that gives people a lot of satisfaction is helping someone else. But that means someone actually has to let them help. And in order for the givers to be of service, they have to know what you need, which in turn means you have to (gasp) ask for help or admit you need it.

Then there’s the other extreme. Instead of trying to do it all, there were numerous times I just wanted to curl up and do nothing; let the tide of life flow over me and hope it ebbed soon. But in a way, that’s stressful too. It’s hard wanting to go hide, but knowing that won’t earn your paycheck, without that the grocery shopping won’t get done, and if you don’t shop the pets (or kids if you have them) don’t eat, etc., etc., etc.

What on earth could that have to do with writing?

More than you might think.

At times like these for someone who has a “real job” (as if writing doesn’t involve work), the creative pursuits are often the lowest on the priority list. IF you get all the mandatory things done, and IF you still have energy left, then and only then do these extra activities get slotted into your day. Paradoxically, this is the time you need those activities the most! That’s because these are the things that are relaxing and relieve stress for creative folks, which is something you really need when life is piling on more than you can handle.

Time spent writing is our escape, a cave to hide in for a time, and a source of renewal. It is a way to express emotions and helps us make sense of the chaos.

You could also call this stressful time a blessing in disguise. Yeah, I got behind on my writing and have quite a bit of work to do to catch up to where I want to be. But I have great stuff I can draw on later; events, discussions, and feelings, all potential pieces of stories to be. More importantly, I know how strong my ties to friends are. I am richly blessed. This brought me even closer to some of those people. And relationships are important for the writer, for without relationships with others, our stories would become flat and the characters mere paper dolls.

The next time life gets a bit overwhelming, I’ll make the time for something creative, reach out and accept what others have to offer, and use it to give dimension to my stories.


Your turn. What have you gained from a tough time in your life? What are your blessings in disguise?

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Magic of Music

Even as a writer, words sometimes fail me. I hate it when that happens! But there is always magic in music. And the wonder of it is that this magic can be used in so many ways!

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. Victor Hugo
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Aldous Huxley
Music can be used to match the mood, help express it. When it is impossible to find the words, but your soul cries out to be heard and understood, music is often the answer. Whatever the emotion, there are numerous songs that will fit it. It may be the melody itself; the darker notes of a minor key or the peppy movement of a dance tune. Or maybe you just don’t feel your own words are eloquent enough, yet the lyrics of a song say exactly what you want to say. There have been times in my life when I wasn’t even really sure what I was feeling, but then just the right song finds its way to my ear, and my heart knows even before my brain registers it that this is the perfect song for the moment.

Music can change the world because it can change people. Bono
Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Berthold Auerbach
Music can often be used to set a mood. Think of all the movies you’ve watched in your lifetime and how the music seemed to set the stage for the scene. Artists, no matter the form of their art, often play music to get them into the mood for the piece they wish to create. Writers, too, use music in their craft; sometimes just to tune out distractions around them, but other times it helps them feel the emotion of the scene and makes it easier to find the right words.

Along the same lines of setting a mood, music can be used to change a mood as well. If you’re sad, listening to upbeat music can lift you out of those doldrums. Self-esteem taking a beating today? Try songs with inspiring lyrics. When I’m tired and just don’t have any energy, dance tunes get me moving. Feeling stressed out? Hello! Why do you think there are so many relaxation CD’s available? Feel like your life is one big rut? Ask someone who listens to a different genre of music to recommend some songs; you may find you not only break out of the rut for the moment, but you also add some new music to your own collection. So if you’re trying to change your current mood, turn on some music that fits the way you want to feel.

Without music, life would be a mistake. Friedrich Nietzsche
Music is universal. I don’t need to be able to speak the language of a song to be able to feel the emotion in it. Every generation in every nation has used music to express itself. Even nature is alive with music: the trill of a bird’s song, the rhythm of waves rolling onto the beach, the gentle sound of leaves rustling in the breeze. It is all around you – listen for it!

I thought about posting a playlist of songs that have really touched me, and maybe I will yet, but right now I’d rather hear from you. How have you used music? Is there a song that is speaking to your heart now? Do you have some go-to tunes for specific moods? Share them!

Please respect the artists and do not post links to pirated versions of the songs. Thank you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Get Your Creativity Flowing

“But I’m not creative.”

Does that sound like something you’d tell yourself? Well, that’s a bunch of bunk! Everybody has a creative side, some people are just better at tapping into it than others.

I’ll take my dad as an example. He loved logic, and the phrase “Let’s think logically about this” can still make my eyes roll. He was a genius when it came to writing computer programs. At first glance, that’s pure logic, right?

Yes and no. It is true that programming involves certain rules you have to follow and each program is a series of logical steps. But how to combine those logical steps in a new way to write a brand new program, now that can take some creativity. Especially when a client tells you they want it customized to their business needs.

Another counter-intuitive example is scientists. Sciences also have set rules you have to follow: certain chemicals will react in predictable ways when combined; the laws of physics cannot be changed, and so on. Yet there are innovations in scientific fields all the time, and that is because of scientists who tap into their creative side to solve problems.

The good news is that everyone can increase their ability to access that part of themselves. Both of the examples above use one technique – they both have to do something new within the limitation of specific unchangeable rules or limitations. Dr. Seuss used that technique, too, when he was bet that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. Anyone who has read Green Eggs and Ham has seen the proof that he succeeded.

Another way to stimulate your creative side is to think like a child. If you give a child an apple but they’d never had an apple before, they’re not going to eat it immediately. They’ll hold it, examine it, maybe even roll it around or try to bounce it. Kids are also good at bending the rules and pushing the limits. So next time you’re trying to solve a problem, think like a kid for a few minutes.

Photography and art teach you to change your perspective. Get up high and look down on an object. Get down low and look up. Step a few feet to one side and look at the scene again. Even if you’re not creating a picture, try doing that occasionally Even if it is something as simple as stopping and looking up at a building you pass every day; take a few moments to look at things differently. Use all your senses. How would you describe this item to a blind person? How do you express the sound of instrument to a deaf person? What does it feel like? What do you smell?

There are numerous other tips and tricks you can use. You just have to be willing to try. And you have to be willing to have some attempts not quite reach what you were aiming for. As writers, we face that every day. The first draft is never perfect, but if we keep striving for perfection in a scene or paragraph, we’d never move on to the next one. Keep experimenting!

Your turn. Do you have a favorite trick to share that stimulates your creativity?