Reaping the Rewards of Rebellion


So NaNoWriMo began today (wait, where did October go?) and like great swaths of the blogosphere, I am once again trying my hand at penning the Great American… Short Story Collection.

Yeah, oops. While I respect those WriMos who personally hold the “novel” part of National Novel Writing Month as sacrosanct, I’ve had fifteen years worth of experience to inform me that, hey, maybe writing a novel just isn’t for me. As someone who both has tastes and talents better suited to shorter fiction, as well as a distaste for the (somewhat elitist) attitude that the novel, as a form, is somehow superior to all other types of writing, I have decided to shirk that particular aspect and focus on just getting to (and hopefully surpassing) 50k of literary short fiction.

If your ambition is to write a novel this month, awesome. If your goal is to challenge yourself to penning an epic work, congrats. But for me, NaNoWriMo is simply the one guaranteed time each year when I am allowed the opportunity to be wholly, self-indulgently creative; it’s the one time each year I find myself actually and reliably producing something. I see no need to miss the opportunity – and the social camaraderie that works so well as a motivator – simply because my 50k is destined to be spread across three or four narrative instead of one.

Plus – and I speak only for myself, but perhaps other rebels will chime in – there are other benefits to rebelling, as well.

1.  It’s harder to write yourself into a corner. (Not impossible, but harder).

Long-form fiction generally has multiple narrative threads, and while an ambitious (and talented) short fiction writer may well be able to incorporate numerous plot threads into their story, there seems to be less of an expectation to do so. Short fiction, in general, adheres to a singular theme or event; even when narrative events occur out of chronological order, they still tend to orbit one central theme. It kind of follows naturally that a single ploth thread is much harder (though not impossible) to tangle, compared to a novel that must carefully interweave numerous plotlines while reaching a joint and satisfying ending (speaking of endings: I find that ambiguity and ambiguous “resolutions” are much more tolerated in short fiction than in novels, over all. Just saying).

2.  You don’t have to make those impossible choices about which plot bunny to chase down the rabbit hole.

I see the complaint on the forums all the time: the minute you sit down to write your NaNoNovel, a hundred other plot bunnies (none of them your wily NaNo Bunny) come hopping out of the forest of your mind, all cute and cuddly and ready to be written. Ugh, did you make the right choice? Should this be the story you should be devoting your time to this month? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just write the story that comes to you in the moment? Well, if you opt to rebel, you can. Hell, you can start a new flash fiction story every time you sit at the computer, if you’d like. If you are open to doing something beyond the boundaries of a traditional novel, no plot bunny is every a distraction – they’re just more fodder for your word count.

3.  When you hit a block in one story, there’s always another one you can start and/or add to.

Sometimes, it’s not even really about doubting whether or not you chose the wrong plot, or the temptation of a shiny new story idea pulling your away from your novel. Sometimes, things are going well, you’ve got into a groove in your story, pieces are falling into place, and then you just – stop. You reach a sticky bit of plot, or a character just isn’t sounding right, or your outline didn’t cover a particular turn your story organically (but unexpectedly) took. Maybe you step away, take a break, have a snack resolve to look at it with fresh eyes. Maybe you sit there and rewrite sentence ten times before you ragequit for the night. Maybe, you lucky duck, you can just power through it, and if you can, congratulations. But for some of us, hitting that roadblock and having to step away from writing for any significant amount of time means a loss of momentum, especially if you don’t write regularly throughout the year and November is an attempt to build a habit. If you’re writing multiple stories, there’s always one you could start or add to while the one vexing you is sorting itself out in the back of your mind.

4.  You’re more likely to emerge with a finished product, even if you don’t hit the 50k.

I look at NaNo,even my NaNo failures, as generally positive experiences. I usually have fun, and I often enjoy looking back and rereading what I’ve written in previous years. But I have to admit, it feels so, so much better to have a completed product at the end of the month, and honestly – and again, I speak only for myself – it doesn’t much matter it that product is a novel or a couple of short stories. The reality is, once the adrenaline of November wears off, once my calendar hasn’t been cleared and I don’t have the camaraderie of my NaNo friends to spur me on, there’s good chance that my project is going to languish in whatever state it’s in on December 1st into perpetuity. I’m not proud of that, but that’s reality, and I know from experience that while NaNo is always fun, it’s far more satisfying to have actually finished something – or a few somethings – in November.

5.  You can expand on those half-formed story ideas without having to pad to reach 50k.

Some people get ambitious in November and spend weeks or months planning and plotting epic adventure stories with an A, B, and C plot, a romantic side plot, a massive and eclectic cast of characters, and a fully-fleshed out fantasy world, and to them – I salute you. You are genuinely awesome. But while I have definitely made valiant efforts towards planning over the years – and while I have sometimes even been fairly successful at developing a decent plot and cast of characters – I have a lot of fun ideas that would take a hell of a long time to expand into novels, but would make great little vignettes or free-form poems or flash fiction. Sometimes, I want to use the momentum of November to finally pen those scenes that live in my head, no padding, plotting, or world-building required – just sitting down and writing what’s in my head, just to see how it looks on paper. Just to get it out there.

In the end, I fully believe there is no wrong way to NaNo. If the event moves you to write, then it’s done something wonderful, and I think at this point, we all need something wonderful in our life.


The Highest Aspiration?


It’s nearly mid-October, and the hardcore NaNo Fiends – and if I’m being honest, I have to count myself amongst them – are gearing up for the November run of NaNoWriMo.

I love NaNoWriMo.  I’ve written about it extensively, chronicled fairly painstakingly my experiences with it the last two years, offered advice, reflected, pondered, and extrapolated on my faults and foibles in my yearly (and occasionally – but ineffectively – more frequent) attempts at writing a novel.  I’ve done it every year – minus one – since 2002.

But there’s something that always bothered me, not about NaNo in particular, but about our attitudes toward writing in general, that I don’t often think about until I’m facing down the task of writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days.

I feel like there’s a sense, at least in the general population of casual readers, that the novel is – and should be – the apex of writing ambition.  You don’t often hear people talk about their desire to write the Great American Short Story.  People don’t opine their “someday” dream of composing the perfect sonnet.  It’s always a novel.

Maybe that’s because the novel is marketable, or at least mass-marketable; there are literary publications – zines and blogs and journals – that have a readership, sure, but people don’t generally grab a good literary anthology to read on the beach.

Maybe it’s because of my own limitations, or maybe it’s simply a quirk in my tastes, but even as someone who makes an earnest attempt most years to write a fifty thousand word novel, I harbor a deep resentment towards this attitude that the novel is the zenith of literary aspiration, as though it is the only form of writing that has value or merit.  How you are only a “real writer” once you have your first novel under your belt.

I love reading novels.  I love being immersed in the world of long-form fiction, love the journeys – literal and emotional – you are able to embark on in 50k or 100k words.  I love the lyricality of prose, and the word pictures a skilled writer can paint.  I love a slow burn.

But dammit, sometimes I like something that hits me full-on with blunt force.  Or something thoughtful and atmospheric that I can bask in briefly.  Sometimes I want a story I can read in an evening, in an hour, over lunch.  Sometimes I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to read 200 pages.  Sometimes I don’t have the time.  Sometimes I just want something shorter.

So this is just a reminder, as we gear up for the 2017 run of NaNoWriMo, that if you want to write a novel, that is admirable and amazing and I honestly wish you the best of luck!
But remember, if you don’t hit 50k, or if you rebel and write short fiction, fanfiction, poetry, or vignettes, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a writer. It doesn’t mean your efforts and ambitions don’t count.

Camp NaNoWriMo and the Zero Word Count Week

(Photo by Thought Catalog)

The title is a bit of a misnomer; I actually have about 400 words, and with a goal of 20,000, I could easily knock my goal out in 10 days if I can get in a good groove.

I’ve always had a problem with starting; the beginning of anything is always anxiety-inducing (which is one reason I’m having heart palpitations at the mere thought of my summer program, which starts Monday – even though it’s literally an extension of what I do the rest of the academic year, even though I did it last summer, etc).

Beginnings mean a disruption of the status quo, it means venturing out beyond the comfort/stagnation (sometimes the exact same thing) of routine and doing/producing something new.  Often, it feels like a significant turning point, and as a result, the pressure to do it well – to get off to a good start, to create a memorable opening – is paralyzing.

I’ve finally settled on something I’m comfortable on opening with, so hopefully the “beginning” panic will soon segue into the “this is routine” placidity.

How have you chosen to open your Camp NaNo projects?  Favorite opening line, memorable opening scene?  Decided to skip that all together and start in at a totally different part of the story?  What are your favorite opening lines that you’ve ever written?


A Lonely Camper

So we are officially halfway through June, and people – myself included, though with reservations – are gearing up for the July run of Camp NaNoWriMo.

I’ve written before about my personal issues with the Camp components of NaNoWriMo, which have nothing to do with the events themselves (God bless the people who organize them and the writers who find real success in them!), but more to do with my personal inclinations and proclivities.  I tend to need more external motivation and more stringent rules, which Camp NaNo, in it’s admirable effort to be flexible (which I respect) lacks.

But something else that makes Camp a little more difficult for me is something I noticed especially starkly last year, when I put myself up for cabin assignment in April and got assigned to a random cabin where every other person, beside me, was writing sci-fi/fantasy.

Literally.  In a cabin of fifteen randomly assigned people, I was the only one not writing something on the sf/f spectrum.

I’d noticed before, on the forums, that NaNo seemed to skew especially heavily towards sf/f, or at least appeared to; there were always a proliferation of posts about elves and dwarves, or dystopian aliens worlds, and very little reality-based, real-world fiction.

And that’s not a bad thing – writers are free to write what they want to, and I’m glad so many writers have found a place where they are thriving and finding success and camaraderie.  And it’s not that I dislike sf/f, either; my husband reads it almost exclusively, and I dip my toes in and out of it’s waters, as well.

But I don’t write it.  And when I’m trying to find a writing community during NaNoWriMo, the genre that I tend to write in – literary fic (more character-centric than plot-centric) – may technically have a presence (i.e., there’s a forum devoted to it), but is functionally absent from the site.  Which, again, is not something I can place any blame for – the opportunity is there, and either no one is writing it, or they are writing and not socializing.  Either way, it’s no one’s fault, it just… is.

There are a lot of great tips to be learned about the writing business and industry from genre writers, and a lot of general writing advice that can be useful across genres, and there is a lot of good sf/f writing being produced, including, I’m sure, during NaNoWriMo.

But as someone who doesn’t write it, I do feel a little out of place.  I don’t worldbuild in the same way they do.  I don’t do the same kinds of research, or have the same plot structure.  I don’t scaffold with the idea that what I’m writing will become a series.  I respect the crazy amount of prep work and research that goes into writing a good sci-fi story, but I don’t find the same sense of unity or camaraderie I think I would feel were I also a genre writer.

Where are the lit fic writers during NaNo?  Where are the people writing purely in a non-genre genre?  I’d love to know.

Good luck to everyone participating in Camp this July, regardless of what you write.  I appreciate that all genres have value, whether it’s one I write/read or not.

On the Precipice, Prepping (Or Not)


This has been a hell of a week, but in such a way as to make it a boring as hell blog entry.  Nothing outstandingly or objectively bad has happened, but my emotional response to things, as well as the amount of mental energy I’ve expended in the last several days made today’s reassurances that, “hey, it’s Friday!” feel a little hollow.  Yeah, yeah.  You haven’t had the week I had.  It should have been Friday three days ago.

Not that I’m going to get much respite from emotional turmoil this weekend.

Thank God tomorrow, April 1st, is a Saturday.  Signing up for both NaNoWriMo and The A-to-Z Challenge has me hyped, but it’s going to be a precarious balance between staying hyped and falling headlong off the cliffs of despair.

Possibly aware of the anxiety/anticipation/excitement/despair percolating in the hearts of NaNo participants, the crew at Camp has been tasking us with prepping challenges, to ensure that all our anticipatory energy is put towards gaining momentum instead of just idling.  It’s a great idea, broken up into manageable steps

So of course, I’ve been doing almost none of it.

Tonight, the crew (can I call them counselors?) tasked us to reflect on what we love to see it stories, in order to craft our own literary arsenal to help combat those moments of writer’s block that will inevitably rear their heads this April: “Take 15 minutes and jot down your favorite tropes: everything you like to see or read in a story. Go for broke: the more you can come up with the better. Then pick out your five favorites for those moments of creative crisis.”

As someone who likes to read a variety of different things, it’s not really something I had considered before — I basically like reading anything in terms of genre (though I shy away from romance, I can’t say I’ve never read/enjoyed it).  I realized there are a number of tropes that I love that are completely disparate; things that I love seeing, but not necessarily in the same story.  There are also any number of thing that I love seeing in fiction that I am utterly incapable of (or at least ill-disposed to) incorporating in my own writing.

So while I’m not sure how useful these will be to me in term of helping me out of my “creative crises,” I’ll play along:

  1. Strong, complex characters who are queer, non-binary, and/or neuroatypical.  Not strong as in “kicking ass and taking names,” just strong as in, “here is a fully fleshed out character who is person in their own right and whose gender/sexuality/neurotype colors how they interact with the world, but does not fully define them.”
  2. Powerful visual descriptions; or, language that captures a feeling, sensation, or emotion I’ve felt but had previously not had the language to convey myself.  I love reading a passage and having that thrill of recognition shoot up my spinal column, like, “yes, this is it, this is that thing I’ve been trying to give a name to, I understand this.”
  3. Bittersweet, ambiguous, or straight-up downer endings.  It’s not that I don’t like happy endings, or that I have a moral/creative opposition to them, but I’ve never understood why some people loathe unhappy endings.  Because sometimes that’s just how things end – badly.  If you’re writing about life and you refuse to allow your stories the potential to veer down the unhappy path, you aren’t really writing truthfully about life.
  4. Stories told in vignettes, snippets, or as multimedia, incorporating drawings or music.  Granted, it’s only been in the last decade and a half or so that these kind of multi-media stories have been readily accessible, but I love seeing people put them together, especially when they explore little slice-of-life moments.
  5. Flash fiction, six words stories, list poems, etc.  Those things that blur the line between poetry and fiction, between gimmick and innovation, that force you to be very conservative and concise with language and really make every word count – I honestly think I love them so much because they seem so far beyond my own ability to do and do well, that I am honestly in awe when I read one that packs a genuine punch in so few words.

So, what about you.  The day is upon us – what will you draw from your arsenal when you need to fight off writer’s block?

Cheers to all doing both/either Camp NaNo and/or the A-to-Z Challenge.  I’m sure I’ll see you around the blogosphere.

I Am a Calm Blue Ocean… of.. Words?


Look, I just… Unflinching optimism just isn’t my natural state.  And statements of said unflinching optimism, spoken sans irony, bitter sarcasm, or weary sighs do not often from my lips spring forth.

But, you know.  It’s three days before the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, and today’s Prep Challenge (found in the Camp Care Package) is to write “three affirmations: one for each of your three biggest fears or anticipated obstacles in starting your April writing project.”

So.  Here we are.  I am the architect of my life.  I am worthy and deserving of love.  I am a calm blue ocean.  I am going to give this an honest attempt, even if this it sort of antithetical to the way my (admittedly) messed-up brain works. I radiate beauty, charm, and grace.  My nature is Divine.

What are my biggest fears about Camp?  Same as my big fears about embarking on any major creative project:

  1. That none of my ideas are original, and that nothing I have to say has any merit, or has been said before (and better).
  2.  That I’m hopelessly lazy and distracted, and won’t actually follow through and finish the project.  
  3. That I will finish the project, and it will suck, and I will be forced to confront the fact that I am a hack and everything I do/attempt/touch is destined to turn to utter shit in my hands.

These aren’t concerns unique to April; this is the overriding internal monologue that often dictates my life —  White, middle-class, able-bodied mom – ugh, yeah, that’s an interesting sounding perspective on the world.  That angle totally hasn’t been done to death.  

When was the last time you actually finished a project longer than blog entry?  Oh, and speaking of blog entries, how long did that last particular feat of literary brilliance take you? Eight days?  Jesus Christ, you’re pathetic.

You know you’ll have approximately 3.5 seconds of feeling good about yourself if you do finish, and then you’ll read someone’s summary and excerpt, and holy shit, did they really write this in thirty days, because their prose has the cadence and grace of a Bolshoi dancer, and yours… well, you remember those hippos in Fantasia?  Yeah, so, like that, but worse, somehow.  Why do that to yourself again?

And before anyone feels the needs to point it out in a misguided attempt to reassure me – I don’t fully believe any of that all the time.  I have good days and bad days, as does everyone, and those reactions are the worst of my worst days.  But there is a grain of truth to them that I think need to be acknowledged.

I am — demographically — a dime a dozen.  My perspective, on a broad scale, in not especially unique.

I have trouble focusing on and completing even the most basic, essential tasks — I’ve expounded on that at length.

I’m not a bad writer, but inevitably I stumble of fellow NaNoers who have a style or a flair for words that is enviable, and that always causes me to cast a critical eye on work that I would otherwise have been quite proud of.

So, I’ll try these affirmations.  They won’t be quite as pithy as “calm blue ocean,” but I’ll try.

Three Affirmations

  1. My beauty is in my details.  My experience in the world may be typical on a macro scale, but the microcosm of my life and thoughts are unique to me.  Every voice deserves to be heard (though I will try to both respect and not to speak over the voices of those who share fewer of my privileges.)
  2. A year ago, I would not have been able to complete even those blog entries – small steps forward are still steps forward.  One at a time will still get me where I’m going – if not in thirty days, eventually.
  3. That electric thrill I get when you read other people’s beautiful words can be harnessed and converted from envy to inspiration; I need to let it push me to get better, not give up.

Did I do the happy thoughts right?  Did I do good?

What are your affirmations for Camp?

Let’s Gather Round the Campfire and Read a Campfire Blog

I wrote a small reflection on my past experiences with Camp NaNoWriMo – what my expectations have been, and why I feel like Camp hasn’t, in the past, worked for me – and why it makes me a lazy shit.  Meh, I guess you have to read it.

On that note, thirty poems in thirty days seems more-than-doable from this side of April (expecially with a word goal of just 15k), but I feel like I should at least start drafting some skeletonic outlines, especially for the first few days.  The explicit acceptance (and encouragement) of Camp for works-in-progress means I really have no reason to be caught “off-guard” or unprepared on April 1st.

Who else is doing Camp, and what are you doing?