Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

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Need a Break

And sometimes it is good to allow that. There’s a lot going on outside my writing life, and sometimes the writing goals are the ones that need to give. It’s been 41 days of my 1500 words per day writing goal. The last three in a row I haven’t made it. However, my work-in-progress is at 64k words. It’s nearly done, and I promised myself to sketch out the remaining scenes today. Should push me over 65k, and I can live with that.

Preschool begins today. Different activities for my daughter also begin this week. I traveled over the holiday weekend, and we had fun.

But I also remember it is 58 more days (including today) until NaNoWriMo begins. And I want to write another novel in that time, probably at the same pace I wrote this one. Even if I get it to the point I have drafted Book 2, Book 3 will be in decent shape for rewrites. My outline for Book 3 is stronger than Book 2’s was before writing. I think I can give myself a few days – at least until after the weekend – until I start the next book.

I Need More Fences in this Blog

Fences, you ask? I’ll get to it.Next week, preschool begins. It will be September, and it’s also a new session for my daughter’s activities. I’m looking forward to a new routine, though it always takes a little bit to figure out how to get everywhere at the right time.

I know a few moms who changed the sleep schedule so kids get up earlier, but my kids slept in the past two days and I’m enjoying that. In my house, sleeping in is defined as me staying in bed until 7 am.

Last night, I spent an hour catching up on social media, changing a few passwords, and adding a picture where it needed an update. The picture was the tricky part, because for some reason there aren’t that many pictures of me that I want to share. Most of them are old. Many of them have only my daughter. And it’s very rare these days for someone to take just my picture. It’s always with one or both of the kids.

My project is going well with 1500 words a day. Have 54,743 words and expect to spend less than two more weeks on Book 2 before moving to Book 3. The trick will be to find the writing time with the new schedule.

If I can wear my daughter out enough to nap, I could get some good writing time in. If I can focus, I can also get some editing time in when the kids go to bed. If I can find some quiet time, I can blog and catch up on social media, too. There are a lot of ‘if’s involved, but I think it’s worth doing, and I’ll find the time somewhere.

I even find time to read, because that’s the best way to get my brain to relax to sleep. I want to curse the authors who keep me awake past bedtime to finish one more chapter as much as I hope my readers feel the same about my work someday. At least if I read, I’m much less likely to be remembering new thoughts for the work-in-progress an hour after the lights are out, tapping them into Evernote in my phone.

But back to the pictures. I think I put too much thought into pictures. What should I use to describe editing? Writing? Some other activity? Do I put something else in as visual interest?

Visual interest reminds me of art class in high school. My teacher always had us trying new things, even though our artistic vision might differ. Once, a friend had a painting of a snowman, with skaters on a lake, and a few trees dotted around. The teacher said she needed a fence. It was supposed to draw the eye around the painting. After that, whenever we finished anything – we always joked that you needed a fence in it. I thought of that last night when I read about adding images to posts in Google+. It’s just something to draw in the eyes when you’re trying to get them to read your text.

So here’s my fence:

Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo
Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo

To Critique

Sometimes the deadlines just make whooshing sounds as they go by. I had a personal goal to try to get the notes made on a story for a critique partner today. I’m not sure I’m going to make it because my schedule keeps changing. [Seriously, who would drive 4 hours away for the weekend and not leave at naptime if given the choice with a rowdy toddler? However, naptime is generally when I catch up with all my personal goals.]

I read the story and enjoyed it. I marked a bunch of places where I want to make more comments. I’m close, but I’m also afraid if I don’t finish it before I leave for the weekend that I won’t work on it when I’m away, and it’s always good to give it back to someone on a weekend, especially if that other person has a day job.

On the other hand, I really don’t want to rush it. I want to take some good time to dig into the story and tear it apart the best I can to help the author make it awesome. That does take time. It really help that I’ve marked the places to comment, but on the overall I keep losing my train of thought. No excuses there – it’s an off week around my house and I’m doing good for what I’ve managed for the week.

Just don’t check it against my to-do list. That thing always spirals out of control with the number of things that need to be done. It’s like that old saying, “Man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Not that it’s necessarily man’s work versus woman’s work, but somehow the domestic chores are never completed.

Probably because they get in the way of the writing.

I’m sure that’s not true for every household. Not everyone is a writer tucked away masquerading as a housewife. (Or not, I have too many part-time jobs for that as discussed previously.) But there’s always something.

I’d much rather critique a story than do the dishes, which is why my sink is piled high again. And while I catch up with them, I’ll be trying to get my larger comments in order to type in before I leave, if I get a chance.

Sometimes it amazes me how many ways we try to critique stories. Most of the groups I have attended take the position of reading the piece aloud, or part of the piece during each meeting, and then taking notes or simply remembering the parts to critique. The turnaround is immediate and there is often little time to think. It took me a long time to get accustomed to the process, and listening actively for that amount of time can be a challenge.

I’ve also had trouble not grimacing when someone makes up a word like “scramblingly.”

Over time, I have learned a bit more from dealing with people online for critiques. Somehow the written word comes through very well and there is plenty of time to figure out exactly the parts that need to be tweaked. It’s also easier to take larger chunks at a time without worrying as much about the time requirement for the room.

There are groups out there who hand out pages each meeting, take them home, and discuss them at the next meeting. I haven’t been part of that to see how it works, except for the Summer Writing Festival, but I’d like to see more of that in action. The other issue with some of that is finding people who are good at your genre and also local in geography. The in-person group I attend now has very little experience in speculative fiction, as well as a few other things like poetry and children’s literature.

What do you do to critique? How do you manage to get around the daily obstacles to get it done? Is it in person? Is it a group? Do you find people online? How have you worked with others within your genre and outside it to make the best of the criticism you receive?

Balance versus Focus

Sometimes, it feels like the two are definite opposites. I’m curious how other people handle the many irons in the fire. Do you follow one, the most important, and let the rest fall as it will? Do you just not worry about it? Do you manage to keep each one just far enough from the flames to keep it from burning?

I’m struggling with my goals for the school year and where to place the emphasis. I always have too much going on to just let one thing be my entire world. Funny how easy it is to roll with the school year for goals when I tutor students. It’s nice to have the summer, then get back in gear for fall.

A Working Schedule

Schedules don’t have to be bad things. Work has to be done, and it’s better to do it when you’re fresh – or at least when you’re ready to do it.

When I sit down to write, it’s when my daughter goes down to nap. I suppose it doesn’t really matter what time of day it is, it’s just very difficult to concentrate on my book when she’s awake.

I hear a lot of advice saying to write before she gets up, but I don’t normally get up before she does. I often keep at it after she’s asleep, but that’s only because I can’t get myself to sleep at 8pm when I make her go to bed.

If I could, I might wake up early enough to get stuff done before she wakes.

I find it interesting that one relative – her children are about my parents’ age – thought it was good to take away naps to get them to sleep better at night. I wonder if her kids were cranky. Mine would be, if I tried that on her. I’d just as soon she had her naps in the daytime when I get a chance to be productive.