November is National Novel Writing Month when writers across the country and around the world will embark on an exciting 30-day, 50k writing adventure and… I won’t be joining them.

I am a firm believer in daily word counts. I have the Excel spreadsheet to prove it. And I find great motivation in externally imposed deadlines. But for some reason, NaNo doesn’t work for me.

I’ve done NaNo twice. Both times I hit the 50k goal in the allotted time period. And then I went dark for the month after. Not good. Partly I think it’s the timing. I make a lot of my Christmas goodies, which cuts into my writing creativity. Also, I think the validation of having done the 50k in 30 days is a false pressure relief on my writing brain. 50k is only half a book for me. That’s halfway, and halfway is great, but it’s not done. So the celebration doesn’t feel quite right.

But I still love NaNo, for the enthusiasm and the camaraderie. If you’re not taking part, here are a couple ways to enjoy NaNo:

1. Call all your NaNo-ing writer friends with fake urgent messages from their day jobs.

2. Post tweets at 10:30 a.m. saying you already got your 3k done for the day.

3. Tell your family you ARE doing NaNo and disappear from their lives while they cook turkeys and do the Christmas shopping.

No wait, those are all evil ways to enjoy NaNo. You can use NaNo for good even if you can’t NaNo all the way.

1. Follow the #NaNo tag on Twitter and cheer your fellow writers. They’ll cheer you when your time comes.

2. If you only have a couple days free in your schedule, dedicate the same energy the NaNoers do, just for those days. Or, if your writing schedule didn’t work out for first drafting, brainstorm or revise with that same intensity.

3. If you’ve never tried NaNo but would like to, use this month as a training session. Learn how to plan your days so you can get 1667 words done. And most importantly, take what you learn and apply it to the OTHER 11 months of the year. Then you’ll be ready for NaNo next year.

4. And remember, writing is a marathon. A zombie marathon, where you have to keep moving or they get you. But it is also sometimes a race-to-the-train sprint. And sometimes it is a grizzly attack where all you can do is curl into a ball and hope the pain goes away before you die. Mastering all the speeds of your story is the work of a lifetime, not just one month.

Happy writing, whether it’s 50k or 50 pages!

Dreams and death

death of a grandfatherMy Pop-Pop died yesterday.

This did not exactly come as a shocker to us. He was 94, after all. He’d been in a skilled care facility for the last year. He’d been sick since Christmas. He’d gone to the hospital with pneumonia and then moved into hospice just a couple of days later. The progression was obvious and inevitable.

And yet…

Death is a funny thing. (Not necessarily funny ha-ha, of course.) On the one hand, life has no respect for death. Life barrels on with a decidedly callous disregard for The End. While my sister and I were talking about Pop-Pop’s passing, she was multi-tasking, trying to get the kids’ homework done in the background, while I was frosting brownies two thousand miles away.

Homework, brownies, LIFE stops for no one.

And yet…

On the other hand, a death does inevitably bring about an End that we are forced to acknowledge. And not just the end of our loved one, but our own ends, as obvious and inevitable as the fate of frosted brownies.

I read that Orson Scott Card recently suffered a mild stroke but released a statement promising not to leave any series unfinished before he died. (That’s one of those ha-ha funny death moments.)

Pop-Pop had mostly finished his version of his life series before he died. He’d lead a full and good life, with adventures in Africa and South America. He’d met his great-grandchildren. He’d harvested epic tomatoes in his time. Maybe nobody’s book of life is ever truly ready to end, but he found a good place for a chapter break.

Now, inevitably, I’m looking at my own story. Do I have the clear paths like he laid down as a civil engineer? Do I have the sweet scent of gardenias like he grew in his garden? Of course, my story is different, but I do hope I tell it half as well as he told his.

Love you, Pop-Pop.

Sticks and stones

(Crossposted from Silk And Shadows
This week: Good and bad reviews)

My XY, a musician, is a champion heckler.  His theory is that since the audience shows up with money in one hand, they’re allowed — even obliged — to threateningly heft a proverbial rotten tomato in the other hand.  Comic Auggie Smith out of Portland, Oregon, made an equally painful observation about working artists when he said (I’m paraphrasing here) “It’s not a healthy thing that I go out every night seeking the approval of strangers.”

Yeowch.  Don’t we get any credit for sharing?  At least writers, unlike comics and musicians, perform at a polite (or should I say safe?) distance.   Thanks to the dubious miracle of Google Alerts, however, you can be instantly informed whenever anyone says anything about you.  It’s the high-tech version of “your ears must be burning.”  No, just my inbox and my ulcer.

Google Alerts is how I received the first — and so far only — review of my debut novel.  For maximum effect, do note that my book doesn’t come out until October and no one has received any advanced copies yet.  The review was this:



Yeah, that was it.  Meh.  That faintly — but only faintly — damning analysis of my pweshus work was based on the Publishers Weekly one-sentence recap of recent transactions in bookworld.  Sob.

The urge to reach out and connect is intrinsic to humanity, I think, and part of the secret to our survival.  To be rebuffed, ignored or reviled is to be denied our very existence, to be banished from the tribe, where we will surely starve.

Hmm, that comes off a touch melodramatic, not to mention self-pitying.  So I should also share the best review I’ve ever received for a work-in-progress:

More, more, we want more!

Isn’t that sweet?  It was from my mom.  Tragically, moms are not to be trusted as book reviewers.  Although I love the idea of an all-mom review site.  They could do their rating system in mom-code:

Hotness scale:
Sexy = “I suppose I could let my of-age daughter read this.”
Smokin’ = “No way am I letting my mother read this!”
Erotica = “Really?”

Great book = “I’ll call my book club about this one!”
Okay book = “I’ll pass this one to my sewing circle.”
Terrible book = “Well, at least you tried. I’m sending you cookies.”

There could also be a mom-based music review site:

Great album = “Look, I brought my own custom earplugs!”
Okay album = “Iron Butterfly had a drum solo almost that long.”
Terrible album = “You could play at weddings! Have a cookie.”

Ah well, cookies are better than rotten tomatoes.  What’s your comfort/celebration food?