National Novel Writing Month does not inspire me the way it once did. I’ve participated in the race to 50,000 words many times over, each time writing a new story that sometimes became something more, and sometimes not. NaNoWriMo is really an exercise in forming writing habits, though, not so much about the novel or story itself. At least, that’s what it’s been for me.
I’ve long since proven to myself that I can write everyday. I may not write the 1700-ish words you need to average every day in order to finish NaNo, but I do write everyday. Some days, it’s 1000 words. Other days, it’s no more than 100. But the habit is with me, now, and it’s one I can’t shake. I suppose I can thank NaNo for that.
This November, I’m concentrating less on writing from scratch and more on rewriting. Rewrites for the following stories, to be exact:
- Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: My sci-fi space western about a group of misfits searching the galaxy for freedom, adventure, and one lost love. This one has been in rewrite hell for almost three years, now, it’s time I got seriously cracking on it again.
- Finding Mister Wright: My coming-of-age not-exactly romance starring the original Mister Wright, Marshall, on his journey of self-discovery to be the better man.
- Number Seven and the Life Left Behind: My most recent political action story focused on a bodyguard torn between duty, friendship, love, and country.
I’m focusing my energies on making progress on all of these stories in one way or another. I’m already in pretty good shape! “Number Seven” is in the hands of my husband right now. His feedback should be the last step before I’m ready to upload that one to the printer. “Finding Mister Wright” has gone through a chunk rewrite, with the last chapter in its final stage of revision. “Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens” requires the most work, seeing as it’s a near 90% update edit, but I’ve had some plans percolating for a while now that I’m confident I can transcribe to paper.
I wish all of you out there pushing forward with your NaNo stories all my best. I know what a challenge it can be to make the time to write every day! But believe me, once you get yourself in the habit of writing, you’ll be a stronger writer for it. Here’s a blank version of the spreadsheet I’ve used in years past to track and calculate my NaNo progress: NaNo_calculations-blank. For those of you not joining the NaNo race, what are your writing plans for this month?
In late December 2017, a friend directed me to The Book Smugglers ‘Awakenings’ Writing Contest. The idea behind the contest – a speculative fiction short story/novella based on the theme of “awakening” – intrigued me, so I kicked around some possible ideas before one particular concept clicked. Here’s the very first original sentence I wrote for it:
At first, I thought I could pull it off before the December 31 deadline: a short story about agent Seven and his handsome young charge, navigating the adventures of first lay and first love. But, as so often happens when a character grabs my imagination, Seven’s story became larger, more complex, and demanded more words. And more time. The deadline passed, and I had written only a fraction of the story Seven wanted me to tell. A new character entered the mix. An existing character wanted a bigger role. The main supporting character had a change of heart. And everyone’s conflicts came to a joined head that put all of them in danger from a common enemy.
The things we do for love (of a story).
So, what happened? Well, I wrote it all: every character, every subplot, every conflict. I put it all down in my main document and kept pressing toward that goal of writing The End. Far longer than I’d originally intended – five months and three days, to be exact – I finished this story. It went through changes, updates, even some 180-degree turns. But, I love it.
I’ve always thought that stories are better when they’re shared, even the flawed ones. This one, no doubt, has its flaws, but in my experience, flaws are easier to see when you open them up to other eyes. So, I’m opening this story up to you, my friends and fellows. It didn’t succeed in its original purpose (that is, for submission to that Book Smugglers writing contest), but it did succeed in fulfilling my hopes for a new story.
~More than “Just a Job”~
My original thematic catchphrase for this story was “Just a Job”, and, if you decide to read it, you’ll probably see why. As the words – and weeks – went on, though, I decided that wasn’t the most descriptive title. In its place, I’m calling this one “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”. (My other idea was “More Than the Sum”…but that titles was already taken by somebody on Goodreads. And if I ever decide to post this story there, I want it to stand out.)
Over the coming month, I’ll be posting each section/chapter of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” here on this website. Starting June 7, you can read a new section every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you’re on my subscriber list, I’ll be turning off email update notifications for the individual story posts. But, I’ll be linking to them in my various social media feeds. At the end of the updates, I will collect all sections into a single document suitable for download or reading on your e-device. (psst! There’s even a chance I’ll put it into real book form, for both your and my shelf!) As for the story itself, you can “Like” or comment or not; that is always your choice. I’m just interested in sharing Seven’s story.
It’s a new year, and with the start of a new year, we traditionally make resolutions. Over the last several years, I have focused my new-year’s-mind on being kinder, listening more closely, supporting more causes in which I believe. I think I’ve become a (slightly) better person for those past resolutions. This year, though, I need to look inward.
I’ve been struggling with a kind of lingering depression for several years, now. It has not been clinically diagnosed, but I also know it’s more than just mood swings or the odd blah feeling. I function fine at work, and I carry on my family chores and responsibilities. My creative soul has been drowning, though.
I have known for a long time that I waste too much effort comparing myself to others’ success. Others’ popularity. Others’ epicness. I had thought that the best resolution for me this year was to be more accepting of others’ accomplishments, but it has to go deeper than that. The real answer came to me from a cooking show, of all things.
The show “Chef’s Table” (available on Netflix) did a portrait on Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist nun in South Korea. In her interview, she said the above, as well as the following:
“If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly.”
Jeong Kwan said these words in regard to her cooking, but I have taken them to heart for my writing. She equates the art of making wholesome and natural food to spiritual enlightenment. I believe that the same can be done with writing. Creating characters and stories has given me strength over the years. I’ve learned from the conflicts of those characters, and letting them speak, fight, and sing through my pen has opened my eyes to perspectives and ideas that might not have occurred to me otherwise.
I know my journey to this greater enlightenment and peace will not be easy, but every journey worth making takes effort. I hope to become a better creative, and a more well-rounded person, for that effort.
How do you deal with jealousy? Have you made any resolutions in the new year?
I’m one of the winners of 4amWriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”!
Head on over to Kate’s page and read her update, which includes all the winning entries. And, if you should be inspired to write your own wolf story, let me know. I’ll howl for you!
For those of you who are interested in how I approached this particular challenge, read on….
Whenever I set my mind to a writing challenge, the first thing I consider is what I can bring to it: style, scenarios, conflicts, maybe a plot twist for the ending. For Kate’s challenge – to write a short story or poem featuring wolves in a positive light – I knew I wanted to use description, to depict the beauty of a wolf in nature. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting my brain percolate, I came up with the not-very-subtle twist of a photographer using a sight and taking a “shot” much like a sniper might. The hunt of a photographer waiting for the perfect shot is much like waiting for the perfect moment when a target comes into the crosshairs. It would also allow me to tell a story in mostly-silent descriptive and action passages, a technique that’s been prevalent in my pleasure reading, of late.
Once I’ve got my scenario, I figure out who’s going to play my primary character. Given the plot I’d come up with, my PC needed to be a human. I’ve got a stable of go-to characters, but I wanted to do something a little bit different, this time. The main protagonist, Aksel, is a combination of bounty hunter Axton with a little bit of domestic dad Rob McAllister thrown in. Neither of those men can go anywhere without their respective partners, so I dropped in Aksel’s buddy Harald as something of a counterpoint to Aksel’s skill, and to give him someone to reveal his success to in the end.
Next, I just…start writing. Some images and descriptions flow fine, while other parts are obviously less polished. I even double-up on some phrases when I free-write, to play with the order of words and see how they fit. The picture below (click on it for the full-resolution version) shows my original draft in all its messy, stream-of-consciousness rawness.
As should be fairly clear, I don’t edit when I free-write; I just keep typing until I complete the idea. This free-write went on too long – almost 200 extra words too long – and it needed plenty of reworking. That doesn’t mean something good didn’t come out of it along the way, though.
This challenge’s tight word count confines – we were allowed 250 words max to tell the story – meant that I had to choose carefully what was worthwhile to the story as a whole. A lot of the setup and extraneous action had to go. For example, Aksel’s buddy Harald’s dump in the ice pond, as well as a slightly deeper explanation of the men’s relationship, neither of which did much for the main plot. I also really liked the idea of the protagonist facing down the white wolf alone.
The last bit – the reveal of the purpose of the photo quest – came about completely by accident, when I was typing out the men’s dialogue. I hadn’t even considered the relationship between Aksel and his father until those words came out from Harald’s mouth! I liked it a lot, though, even if it meant going back and figuring out a new lead-in for the story.
All in all, I like the final submitted version. It changed along the way, as stories tend to do. It even changed titles, from “White Wolf Hunt” to “Eyes of Gold Fire”. Since I’d already decided in my head that Aksel’s father had died, I could have had the primary character spend the entire story alone. But, I liked him having someone with whom he could share that tiny triumphant moment of the photo reveal. Because stories are better when they’re shared. Just like this one.
What’s your process for writing challenges? Have you submitted your writing to any contests lately? What did you think of my story of Aksel and the white wolf?
Last week, Kate Johnston, AKA 4amwriter, posted a writing contest on her blog. The contest involved writing a 250-word (max) story featuring wolves in a positive or hopeful light. Three entrants will be chosen as winners by Kate’s panel of judges on April 10, 2017.
It had been a while since I’d participated in a good, old fashioned writing contest, and this one was for such a good cause, I had to put down my editing/rewriting pen and give it a try. I’ll post my entry after the winners have officially been announced on the 4amwriter blog, so as not to potentially skew any of the judges, for good or ill. Not that anybody reads this blog anymore, let alone those judges, but I need to decide how to present my entry anyway (first draft with changes, or just final submission version?).
Part of Kate’s contest involved her donating $5 for every entry received. I was so touched by that endeavor, I decided to check out the site that prompted her to offer the contest in the first place. That site turned out to be the Wolf Conservation Center, a private, not-for-profit environmental education organization located in South Salem, NY. Per their webpage, the Wolf Conservation Center teaches people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.
I clicked through a bunch of the pages on the site, when I came to the Adopt a Wolf section. Now, I love looking at pictures of animals, and wolves have been a long-standing animal love of mine since the days of reading about the Wolfriders in Elfquest. I scrolled down the list of wolves, and then I saw her:
It seemed so fitting. Those sparkling eyes, that wily smile, and her name: Alawa, meaning “sweetpea” in Algonquin. For those of you who have read my “Finding Mister Wright” series, you’ll know that one of the principal cast characters, Paige, has several nicknames, most of them involving the letter P: peanut, pickle, and, as her grandparents call her, sweetpea. Nobody else would remember that little detail, but I did. The word sprung out at me from the screen, making me think of all of the happiness I’ve felt sharing Paige’s and her family’s stories. And so, I just had to adopt this gorgeous girl.
I’ve felt weighted down for a long time. Even my writing has lacked a certain spirit. But, this adoption made me feel good. Not just for the charity, but for the feeling of being connected to a greater whole. It’s naive to think that my writing can connect people that way, though that is certainly something I strive for. What this good feeling of giving gave me was a breather, a moment of openness to a world made more beautiful for this creature’s presence in it. I can only hope for me and my stories to mean as much, someday.
Did you do a wolf-write for 4amwriter’s Save El Lobo contest? What version of my own entry might you like to see? Who are your favorite wolves from stories?