jump to navigation

Tips for NaNoWriMo October 29, 2008

Posted by LHK in NaNoWriMo, writing craft.
1 comment so far

(In case this is your first time on the Internet, “NaNoWriMo” is “National Novel Writing Month.”)

Every year, NaNoWriMo happens. And while I generally meet the 50,000-word goal for my annual NaNo project, I never fail to get behind on my writing, to get frustrated with myself for not having enough ideas in mind by the middle of the month, and to get mildly violent with inanimate objects for the amount of bad writing advice that gets tossed around on the NaNo forums. If you’re a cranky NaNoWriMo veteran like me, you might want to get on the right track for a saner November before the month actually begins. Here are some tips.

Avoid the general forums.

Do you really need to be the seventy-eighth person to weigh in as to where you got your novel’s title, or who you wish could play your main character (excuse me, your “MC”) in the never-to-appear film version of your novel? Do you really need to chime in on a game of Movie Quote Bingo or tell the world which song you’re listening to right now? What, exactly, do you hope to accomplish by doing this, especially when the likely result will involve all of the high school freshmen on the forums talking around you concerning their shared love of Vampire Weekend or Tokio Hotel? The song you are listening to right now is “The Ol’ Beggars Bush,” by Flogging Molly, or maybe Stephen Sondheim’s “Every Day A Little Death,” and you’re trying to tell people that your favorite novel is Catch-22 or Infinite Jest or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul… and no one will acknowledge you. This is not your fault. Do not keep feeding the meter. Move away. Subscribe to just a few forums — your genre forum, your regional forum. Stick to those. Interact and make friends there.

Let people make mistakes. This includes you.xkcd

A bit of an offshoot from “avoid the general forums”: you can’t help everyone. At some point, you might even give up on trying to help anyone. Because if someone posts a topic concerning the use of multiple first-person narrators, and you’re like, “Yeah, you should go for it. It doesn’t always work, but you should challenge yourself,” you’ll soon be drowned out by the sixteen other respondents who contend that first-person point-of-view is “experimental” and “not done very often,” and who encourage the original poster to write in third-person limited, past tense (because “that’s just how stories were traditionally written”).

Stop punching the wall.

You can’t save anyone from bad writing, or from using fanfiction-inspired terminology, or from spending the month of November writing 50,000 words about the Gryffindor kids meeting up with the entire cast of characters of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or from starting a new forum thread that’s written entirely in txtspeak (and which is, ironically, about how the poster wants to be able to expand her writing style so that she can reach the 50K. Here’s a hint: you don’t do it by writing “idk” all the time).

But you can use NaNoWriMo to try out a different point-of-view or genre, or to finally do that present-tense rewrite of the draft that just didn’t sound right in past tense, or take the supporting character from last year’s novel and see what he has to say for himself. Me, I’m mostly going to spend November doing the revisions on The Center of Gravity so I can get that blasted thing sent out, but if I’m able to do a NaNo novel, I’m definitely going to be doing a weird one. I’d originally planned on writing a YA short story cycle about my character Mercedes. It’s been rattling around in my head for a while. But then, when I was driving to work the other day (actually, sitting in the turn lane and waiting for traffic to pass), I suddenly wanted, more than anything, to write an adventure-caper about Rob Howington, one of the supporting characters from The Center of Gravity. And I wanted to call it Rob’s Day Out! With the exclamation point! I don’t know what it’s going to be about! Or where Rob will go on his Day Out! But I’m sure! It will! Be! Fun!

(Image from XKCD, of course.)

Learn how to do a 5,000-word day.

This can be done, even by slowpokes like me. I usually find myself needing an extra-high-word-count day somewhere around the end of the third week of November. Maybe there were a few days that I wasn’t able to write at all, and several more on which I only wrote 500 or 1,000 words. Rather than wind up with a 7,000-word deficit on November 29, it’s better to get yourself out of the hole as much as possible around November 21 or 22.

I try to do a 5,000-word day in sets of 500. And, yes, you really will need the whole day for this, not just a few hours after work. You’ll need to sit down soon after you get up and do that first set of 500 words. Set the tone for the rest of the day. Get 2,000 words down before lunch. Take a walk after lunch, and then come back to hit 3,500 or 4,000 before dinnertime. Cruise on in to the 5,000-word mark around 8 or 9 PM. By then, you’ll have earned dessert, a stiff drink, a Netflix movie, or another 1,000 words before bed.

What I did last year was grab some scrap paper and write out every single hundred-word multiple between my current word count and my goal word count. 38,100… 38,200… 38,300… and on and on. I’m the type of person who really likes to check things off lists. I tacked the list above my desk and kept myself sitting there, writing, until I could scratch off those first 5 numbers. My writing sessions tend to start out slow, crest to a quicker pace, and then begin to drop again. At the height of my productivity in a Crazy-High Word Count Day, I could get to the point where I’d write 600 or 700 words before I would look up, check the word count tool, and then scratch off the numbers I’d passed through.

Plot. A lot.

I’ve never done this; maybe one day I will. You’ll need a screenwriting book for this one: either Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! or Robert McKee’s Story. Both of these books are far more organized than all the organization I have had in my entire life. Snyder’s book in particular lays out the individual “beats” that make up a basic movie plotline. This can be pretty easily applied to a novel. In Story, McKee goes into great detail about the usage and placement of the inciting incident, the first and second act climaxes, the weaving-in of backstory, and other useful things. If you follow these books seriously, you can have a reliable roadmap for your novel before NaNoWriMo even begins. Considering how many drafts I did of my novel before realizing that the inciting incident and the climax don’t work well together, I sometimes have regrets about not attempting a Save The Cat!-style plot map before now.


Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 4: John Green Mania October 26, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

The guest of honor caught me snapping a photo from above.

Bookstores visited: Little Shop of Stories in Decatur
What I bought: Nothing, but Adam bought a couple of John Green paperbacks we didn’t own
What other people bought: Lots and lots of John Green books. Paper Towns, mostly, but Let It Snow (the recent novel he co-authored with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle) was also a popular choice.

What I looked at: Adam, who got to the bookstore super early and was milling around the second-story loft when I arrived (“Look up!” he called to me as I walked through the front door). John Green, who spent some time trying to connect to wireless Internet so he could webcast his presentation. He eventually had to give up on the wireless, and he started the book signing early. Well, as Adam and I were the only ones in the loft’s signing area at the time, we unnecessarily rushed John Green’s table and got a few moments to chat with him while he signed our books. Then, my pal M. arrived with a bunch of John Green books in tow. While he signed away, he asked her to call his editor to report the news about the canceled webcast. I watched, openmouthed, as M. used John Green’s iPhone to call the very esteemed senior editor at Dutton Children’s Publishing.

When she came back to her seat, I was like, “M.! Do you have any idea who you just talked to?” I tend to fangirl about YA editors and agents just about as much as I fangirl about YA authors. It’s a problem. It’s probably good that I was first in line at the signing table and not third, because nobody at Dutton Children’s Publishing needed to hear my squeeing over John Green’s iPhone.

Also, I had to observe the crowd. We were not quite the oldest people there. Some of the younger girls had brought their parents, and I noticed a couple of fellow SCBWI’ers sitting near me. Everyone else was pretty much highschool-age, though, and many of them had brought DV cams and were taping the whole thing.

Adam models some books, as well as his delightfully non-partisan "Everyone Poops" t-shirt.

Adam models some books, as well as his fantastic t-shirt.

What other people looked at: I should mention, though, that Adam and I were very much the weirdos of the crowd that eventually gathered in the loft at Little Shop of Stories. Adam with his delightfully non-partisan “Everyone Poops” t-shirt (isn’t he modeling it nicely?), and me with my knee-high-booted work ensemble, and our distinct lack of a camcorder. When the high school girls had their moms take photos of those of us sitting in the first few rows of seats in the loft, I felt kind of strange scooting in and smiling for the camera. They had such a sense of community, and we were clearly the outsiders.

(This is not to say that the crowd was not perfectly nice, though. I caught the girl behind me saying to her seat-neighbor, “Are you here by yourself? I don’t want you to be lonely. It’s hard to come to book signings by yourself.” And everyone else was swapping YouTube usernames and e-mail addresses and proposing future Nerdfighter meetups.)

Anyway, then Mr. Green himself took the stage. He read “the infamous page 23” from Paper Towns. (I connected page 23 with its subject matter immediately. I could have jumped up and said “BLACK SANTAS!” but I wisely stayed quiet and in my seat.) Then he spoke a bit about the themes in the novel and how he’d been exploring those same themes throughout his professional life – namely, ideas about human perception and how we filter our hypotheses about others through our own experiences. Also, he spoke about how he learned to tell stories by sitting on his roommate’s old couch and listening to other people tell stories and trying hard not to bore his friends by telling his own.

Then he took a bunch of questions. I can never come up with good questions to ask at author events or conferences until five hours after the event is over. Anyway, I asked John Green when Will Grayson, Will Grayson, his co-authored book with David Levithan, was coming out. Scintillating, I know. He said he didn’t know; probably sometime next year. Other people had much better questions than mine.

Bookstore (and author) notes:

If you don’t follow young adult literature, then you were probably heretoforth unaware of the existence of one John Green. That’s okay – nearly everyone I know pleads ignorance regarding the author of Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. But if you do follow young adult literature, then you’re entirely familiar with the fan cult surrounding the Green brothers, John and Hank, and their video blog and their gigantic Nerdfighters community.

Regarding the bookstore, I realized I needed to spend a lot more time at Little Shop of Stories. And I will! Laurie Halse Anderson is paying a visit there early next month.

A Busy, Nervous Day October 25, 2008

Posted by LHK in writing craft.

The Actual, Real New York Editor’s business card came in the mail the other day. I wasn’t going to believe it was truly coming to me until I had it in my hand. Well, now I’ve had it in my hand, and now it’s tacked to my bulletin board, which is just to the right of my writing desk, which you can see in the photo there. I’ve been working hard today, mostly making notes on my Luminotes wiki rather than actually diving into the manuscript and making changes there. Right now, the thought of going into the manuscript and doing anything other than minor line-editing makes me hyperventilate a little. And, you know, I don’t think there’s anything pathological about that. There’s no sense in starting to make any sort of big, plot-level changes until I’m entirely sure how they’re going to impact the rest of the manuscript. Everything is so frustratingly fragile at this point — knock out one piece and you wind up invalidating three other plot points.

Hence the glass of red wine, I guess.

In the center of my writing desk sits Old Blue, my Toshiba Satellite laptop. Old Blue has survived five separate novels, about two dozen short stories, six drafts of one novel, several rough plane rides, and a generalized addiction to the Internet. Old Blue has been with me since 2003. Old Blue still bears the scars of my circa-2003 habit of eating grapefruit while reading cnn.com and nytimes.com. Sticky little spots and smears that predate YouTube, but that now sit right on that area where the screen appears when you’re tired of writing and you start watching Stephen Sondheim-related videos at 2 in the morning. Old Blue has survived a lot of that. Don’t tell Old Blue, but he or she is about to have a nice rest. My new MacBook Pro is going to be arriving soon.

The two books to the left of Old Blue are a couple of useful thorns in my side. On the bottom is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, a book I like to thumb through every week or so, whether I’m working on a first draft or a seventh draft. It reminds me of those little things to try to avoid at any stage on a piece of writing – overdescription, poor rhythm, inappropriate pacing. My old boss gave me the book about a year and a half ago, and it’s taken a beating in the time that it’s been in my presence. The book on top of Self-Editing is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst, which I may have to sit down and read in full tonight. I’ve been paging through it for about a week now, and I know the general plot of it. I also know that it has some glaring similarities to my own novel. For instance, a character named Mitchell who’s about a graduate from high school with a perfect attendance record. And another character (the narrator, Kate) with a religious single parent and a senior-year schedule full of AP science classes and a habit of going running when things get tough.


Mitchell Waterson is the main character and narrator of my novel. He takes AP Physics and is a “good slow runner” on the cross-country team. His widowed mother is a Southern Baptist (and a bit of a kleptomaniac).  He’s never missed a day of school. And while I firmly believe that a good novel is “all in the execution,” and while I can see that my novel is stylistically different from Laurie Halse Anderson’s, and while the crux of the plot is entirely different from what happens in Catalyst, I can definitely make things easier on myself by excising some of these character similarities before the novel is seen by people who know other YA novels inside and out.

Just more revisions to add to the list.

Time to break for dinner. I’ll update again with my John Green (!!!) photos and thoughts either later today or tomorrow.

The List O’ Happiness October 21, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
add a comment

All items to be expounded upon later. But for now:

1. The Center of Gravity won first place in the middle grade and YA novels contest at the SCBWI conference!

2. An editor at a major YA imprint judged the contest. The whole thing was done anonymously, so she has no idea whether a nerdy girl, an old man, or a monkey with a typewriter wrote a novel called The Center of Gravity, but apparently she attached her business card to her comments on my work, and the contest coordinator is mailing it to me.

2a. (This item is an orphan from The List O’ Major Freakouts.) So now I need to get the full, polished manuscript ready to send to her. You may recall that I walked away frustrated from what I’d intended to be the final draft of the novel. Yeah. I need to get back to that, get my character arc in place, and come up with a way to end the whole thing that doesn’t leave my characters furious with me.

3. I think I comported myself fairly well at the conference. Only one or two babbly outbursts, and perhaps two or three conversations that went on too long and devolved into uncomfortable hmms and head-bobbing. Probably having M. there was good for me, as she’s the type to walk up to anyone she sees and say, “Hi! Who are you? What do you write?” I wound up meeting some local folks who are around the same point I’m at on my novel, including the other girl who was bestowed with The Business Card. I hope it’ll work out for us to get together.

Just in case you ever needed proof that I'm a dork. ("You look kind of crazed." -- Adam)

Just in case you ever needed proof that I'm a dork. (Adam: "Uh, you look kind of crazed.")

4. Tonight was the ever-important day known as JOHN GREEN (briefly!) Visits Atlanta Day. Hurrah! He wasn’t able to broadcast the show via webcam to New York as he’d hoped, and he had to rush out just after 7 to make his flight to Melbourne, Florida, but he was able to give a short talk, read a few pages from Paper Towns (including the hilarious description of Radar’s parents’ collection of 1200 Black Santas), take a bunch of questions, and sign books. Who was first in the signing line? Yep, that weirdo pictured on the right.

Conference checklist October 17, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
add a comment

This afternoon, my friend M. and I are heading out to Birmingham, Alabama for SCBWI Southern Breeze’s fall conference. Will my first chapter from The Center of Gravity place in the writing contest? Will I meet my critique partner soulmate? Will I get more than ten seconds of face time with any of the visiting editors? We shall see. What I do know is that a couple weeks ago I had a vision of attending this conference in a purple dress, and after a couple of fruitless shopping trips, I did finally manage to procure a purple (I mean, “eggplant”) dress earlier this week. The dress I tried on after it nearly got stuck on me. I had the first two minutes of an anxiety attack in the dressing room as I contemplated grabbing a pair of scissors and slicing the dress off.

But never fear. I’m a survivor. A good pull over the elbow freed me from the dress (which was ugly, to tell you the truth. I was drawn in by the woodland-creature-print that adorned it. I don’t have a squirrel-print dress, do you?). So at least I’m 100% sartorially prepared for this conference, if only about 70% mentally prepared.

See ya later. Updates on Sunday or Monday.

Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 3: Suburban Trifecta October 17, 2008

Posted by LHK in Atlanta, bookstores.
This isn't the Waldenbooks at North Point Mall, but they all look pretty much the same.

This isn't the Waldenbooks at North Point Mall (typo: "mal"), but they all look pretty much the same.

Bookstores visited: Barnes and Noble – North Point Parkway in Alpharetta; Waldenbooks – North Point Mall; Borders – Peachtree Rd. in Buckhead
What I bought: Paper Towns, by John Green (at Borders)
What other people bought: At Borders Buckhead, I stood in line for about 10 minutes waiting to check out. One register was occupied by two people who were buying a tall stack of DVDs, a bunch of chocolate bars, and two crossword puzzle books. The other register was taken up by a guy trying to exchange one copy of a coffee table book about African-American hairstyles for another copy of the same book. The DVD people were really amusing. For one thing, who buys DVDs at Borders? The idea that they might have won a “get 20 free DVDs from Borders” contest seemed more plausible than the idea that they were actually buying them with their own money, for their own entertainment. A price check on The Happening was needed. The ladies started eating their chocolate bars while still waiting to pay for their haul.

What I looked at: Plenty. The YA section at the Barnes and Noble was surprisingly massive, especially the shelves devoted to new books. I looked at C.K. Kelly Martin’s I Know It’s Over, which is supposed to be devastating in that most compelling of ways. Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters was prominently displayed; I really want to read that one, even though it veers way out of my usual fiction-reading territory. On the front table, I looked at a new Anne Roiphe memoir about what happened after she placed a personal ad in a literary journal. I browsed the bargain books. At Borders, the light over the YA section continued to flicker.

What other people looked at: At the front table in Barnes and Noble, a couple lingered over the stack of copies of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. The woman kept saying things like, “I just can’t — I can’t believe this book exists!” The man went on about the creative ways in which China was recycling its human waste. The woman fingered the top hardback on the stack as though the book itself may have been constructed from human waste in some small way.

Bookstore notes:

The Alpharetta Barnes and Noble is a store I know well. It sprung up in 1993, along with a whole mess of other stuff along North Point Parkway — the mall, a movie theater, and two strip malls that together span the length of the road. It’s your typical ridiculous but all too familiar American shopping corridor, but in 1993, so much of it was new. The stadium-seating movie theater. The mega-bookstore. And – gasp – one of the first Starbucks locations in metro Atlanta. My parents’ house is right around the corner from all of this; I was 13 at the time it was built, and at the time it all seemed very shiny and full of promise. One day, I thought, I would be 16 and I would have a car and I would drive my friends there, and we would all sit around at Barnes and Noble and sip coffee and talk about books. Such were my tweenage fantasies. (I suppose it’s worth mentioning that my eventual car was a 1990 Geo Prizm that I ran straight into a Chevy Suburban the seventh time I tried to drive it to school. The red welts on the side of my face that resulted from said collision didn’t much help with the friends factor.) At 13, I went to the new Starbucks in a blue babydoll dress and ordered a Frappuccino. I took as many sips as I could stand before handing it over to my friend. I don’t think she liked it much, either. To this day, I really don’t care for desserts masquerading as coffee drinks. Just give me my black coffee brewed at home, please.

Of course, before the days of the metro Atlanta chain mega-bookstore were the days of the metro Atlanta chain mall bookstore. Waldenbooks is a dying breed. It once occupied prime real estate in North Point Mall, but in recent months it’s been shuttled back to the Sears hall, cowering behind an escalator and playing submissive to Spencer’s Gifts, its upstairs neighbor. Its former space was taken over by H&M, and, actually, I was surprised that Walden had bothered to relocate rather than just vacate. Anyway, the place looks exactly like every other Waldenbooks I have ever known, from the 80s onward. It was very quiet, save for a reunion between a retired teacher and her former student going on at the register. (This was very sweet.) For a minute I thought I was the only other one in the store, but then I discovered the type of folks that lurked in the aisles. The YA aisle was an uncrossable gauntlet of silent teens reading manga. And in the cookbooks aisle, a white-bearded man wearing overalls frumpily made himself at home while he read about crock-pot cookery.

Next week I’ll be going to Little Shop of Stories in Decatur to see JOHN GREEN (!!!!!).

Progress, or Not October 15, 2008

Posted by LHK in writing craft.
1 comment so far

I’ve been trying to stay away from my novel for the last few weeks. Now I’m getting the shakes.

No matter what else I do, and how much progress I make in other areas of my writing life, I don’t think I’ll be able to feel accomplished until I get the novel out of lack-of-suitable-character-arc limbo. The sad thing is, I have made good progress in other areas that I should be celebrating — two short stories submitted recently, and three first drafts of totally new pieces finished over the weekend. That’s good! But it’s a bit like how I felt during my junior year of college when I had A’s in all my classes except my Faulkner class. Faulkner! Who I’d read and studied and emulated (badly) and memorized and cried over for years before that class ever showed up on my schedule. And I was doing well in the class up until the final exam. I got the flu that week, and I’m certain that anyone who touched my exam book likely got the flu as well, considering how much I coughed and snotted over it during the three-hour exam period. (My apologies.) It hurt. I was trying to write an essay about Jewel and the horse in As I Lay Dying, and all I could do was work myself into dizzy spells with the phrase “Jewel’s mother is a horse” careening on a loop in my head.

It hurt.

It hurts to love something that much and know something so well and not be able to prove any of that when it really matters. It hurts the same way with the novel because I feel like I could stand up right now and give a talk called “From Forever to Alaska: The Evolution of Language and Life in the Young Adult Novel,” but I can’t bring together the working pieces of my own manuscript into something that can survive on its own.

Are there therapists for frustrated writers? Is this the point at which some people dig into their bank accounts and hire freelance editors? I don’t want anybody who talks the loopy talk about unblocking your creative self, and I don’t want anyone to recommend a course in The Artist’s Way. I’ve thought about starting the search for a critique group, but I’m not sure if I can make the time investment it would take to find a group where the members really understand YA fiction. What would be ideal is a critique partner who’s at nearly the same point in his or her manuscript that I’m at in mine. I know that folks usually find these mythical critique partners on this here Internet, but I’ve spent so many months trying to detach myself from the Internet in order to progress on my writing that I haven’t made many connections among other YA writers.

Still, I look at acknowledgment pages in published novels and marvel at how people are able to acquire that sort of support network for their writing. Am I simply not recognizing the opportunities I’ve had to connect with people and ask for help? I will say that I’ve got plenty of first readers / beta readers lined up for whenever I have the just-about-polished manuscript ready, but I don’t think it’s fair to foist a broken manuscript upon those same people.

I guess the novel hiatus continues. I’m just too worked-up about its state of unfinishedness to try to dive back into it this week.

Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 2: B&N-ing with the best of ’em October 10, 2008

Posted by LHK in Atlanta, bookstores, Uncategorized.

grammatically-incorrect trash can

Bookstores visited: Barnes and Noble — Peachtree Rd. in Buckhead
What I bought: I didn’t buy anything, but Adam bought Jasper Fforde’s The Well of Lost Plots, the third Thursday Next novel.
What other people bought: I never made it to the register, so I’m not sure. One lady was really adamant about finding those “Klutz” books and games that had apparently once been displayed on a table near the kids’ section.

What I looked at: A new Garrison Keillor novel. The latest Best American Short Stories anthology (looks pretty unastounding. Mostly stuff from the New Yorker, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly). The latest Best American Non-Required Reading anthology (the introduction by Judy Blume puts it ahead of its Rushdie-edited, required-reading counterpart. Stuff from Pindeldyboz, Virginia Quarterly Review, etc. pushes it even further ahead). The new edition of David Sedaris’s Holidays On Ice. In the YA section: Bliss, by Lauren Myracle, Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger, and Impossible, by Nancy Werlin.

What other people looked at: The aforementioned Klutz books. The rather unnecessary display of Wicked-related paraphernalia (Wicked puzzles! Wicked journals! Wicked playing cards! The musical is coming back to Atlanta sometime this fall, hence the tie-in. Basically, there was a table of prime book real estate taken up with Everything But Books). Magazines. The Starbucks menu.

Bookstore notes: This is my oh-so-local B&N. It’s right across the street from home, and it’s an easy pit stop before Sunday afternoon grocery shopping. Generally, this is the place I visit every week or two to check out the YA new releases. I start to get the shakes if I haven’t physically been in front of a YA new releases shelf for a while. You are now glad you don’t know me, yes?

That trash can above is what sits right in front of the store. Until just a week or two ago, there was a whole host of them surrounding the building and leading down to the Publix supermarket. Someone seems to have decided to phase them out, at last. I’m sure the B&N employees heard their share of complaints about the grammatically-incorrect trash cans.

Bookshelf-O-Rama October 6, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

After putting our books through many years of suffering, we’ve finally given them a proper home. I admit there was something fun about having books all over the house (a stack on the coffee table, a couple on the dresser, a few on the mail table), but the state of our literary disorganization was getting ridiculous. We had one short and rickety bookshelf in our bedroom, and then, in the home office, one tall bookshelf with bowed shelves and one squatter bookshelf with non-bowed shelves. Nothing was in any sort of order. You’d find an old paperback of The Time Machine next to a David Sedaris book next to a Shakespeare anthology next to The Book Thief.

No more. We bought three tall shelves from IKEA and set them up in the office. Now everything has a designated shelf – poetry, YA, anthologies, memoirs, classics, cookbooks, SF and fantasy, contemporary fiction, all my blasted books about writing… and on and on. You can see a bit of it here: two shelves of contemporary fiction (plus a red robot, and the temporary home of my library books), plus my all-John-Updike-all-the-time shelf. I have hardback first editions of all the Rabbit books except Rabbit, Run. You can also see a bit of my YA shelf to the bottom left.

(As I’ve been organizing the books, I’ve had to face that some shelves don’t accurately reflect my literary taste. I mean, if you got a look at the whole YA shelf, you’d think I was a huge fan of Harry Potter and Edward Cullen, with only minor dalliances for Markus Zusak, Rob Thomas, and Nancy Werlin.)

Also, I finally got the chance to rescue a bunch of my old books from my parents’ house. I feared that a lot of them were still in the basement, but at least that wasn’t the case. Most were on the bookshelves in what used to be my bedroom. My mom was thankful that I freed up enough space for her to start buying books again.

But look what I did find in the basement! A copy of The Best Short Stories of 1918 (a bit sooty and dusty, but fine to read once you get past the initial sneezing fit), as well as Big Zachary*, the stuffed monkey that sat on my bed all throughout college. Here they are getting acquainted on the reading chair.

* = Big Zachary was missing for so long that Adam and I began verbally creating his Captivity Journal. “Day 678 in captivity. Still very dark and cardboard in here. Will continue to wait for rescue.”

NaNoWriMo, Year 8 October 4, 2008

Posted by LHK in NaNoWriMo, writing craft.
1 comment so far

It’s NaNoWriMo season again (that’s “National Novel Writing Month,” for the uninitiated. One novel, 50,000 words, 30 days). Funny how the formerly one-month noveling sprint has become a lengthier event — the October run-up to the event where everyone crowds into the forums and starts the same topics every year, the frenzy of November and how it seems to pass more quickly every time, and then the cool-down in December when everyone pages through their November work and decides if they’ve created anything worth trying to edit.

Adam referred to me in his introductory post on the forums as his “hardened NaNo veteran” wife. This is accurate. This will be my eighth year doing NaNoWriMo, and though I grumble about it a little more every year, I always do join up and write a new draft and learn new things about myself as a writer. I don’t claim to learn positive things, though — sometimes I just learn how babbly and annoying I am when I get the chance to talk about writing with other writers. Or that I hit my diminishing-returns threshold when I try to write past 2 AM. And both in and out of November, I keep running up against the realization that the problems I have with writing these days aren’t anything that can be easily solved with a Julia Cameron book or a workshop about character development. I’m to that point where I can write a solid draft but not a fully satisfying one.

I admit I’m sometimes resentful of NaNo because I applied its “when in doubt, just draft” philosophy to The Center of Gravity for too long. At some point before, you know, the last few weeks, I should have taken ten minutes to BREATHE and realize that slowing down and constructing a workable backbone for the story would have been more beneficial than blasting through draft after draft and expecting all the problems to work themselves out.

So I don’t know whether it’s right to ask the question of when NaNoWriMo will outlive its usefulness for me. It’s better to try to figure out how to adapt what it is to what I need from year to year.

And I hope I won’t be taking on too much this time around (by saying this, of course, I’m insinuating that I know I’m taking on way too much). I’ll be revising The Center of Gravity, writing a new draft of a YA short story cycle for NaNoWriMo, and organizing some events for the Atlanta group. Yee haw, wagons forward, et cetera. Let me use the rest of October to build up an energy reserve for next month.