End quote

“I made a startling discovery. Time spent writing = output of work. Amazing.”

– Ann Pachett


Still Alive

The photo says it all.

If you check out the right-hand sidebar, you’ll see where I’ve been hiding. Check out that word count, baby!

I got off to a rocky start with NaNoWriMo. A serious cold blew through our house and laid me and the kiddos flat just as the month kicked off. I sat in the front of the computer doped up on Advil Cold and Sinus completely unable to write a bloody word.

It was very discouraging given how I’d prepared. I felt like there was a part of me self-sabotaging myself somehow. I damn near threw in the towel. But I’d publicly declared my intention to do nano and joined an accountability group with SiWC cohorts. I’d be a total loser giving up in the first week. So, I continued to sit there staring at the blinking cursor.

That got boring on day 4, and my head cleared enough for me to get some words on the page. Turned out they were entirely unrelated to the story I’d prepared a synopsis for (that’s a blog post for another day) but I’m having a hell of a good time with it. And that’s what nano’s all about. By day 7 I posted to my group that I’d caught up with the 1667 words a day target. I wrote 3000+ words a day to catch up and was feeling pretty smug.

November 7, my fast draft class with author Candace Havens started and she said you have to write 20 pages a day for the two weeks of this class. And I said, Huh, wh–?? No way, Jose. I’m happy with a consistent 2K+, putting me on track to “win” nano with a buffer built in. I don’t have time to do 20 pages. I NEVER write 20 pages in one sitting. I  can’t . . .”

But she said shut up and do it. And so I’m doing it! Okay I’ve done it three of four days. Grand total as of now (and still writing today) is 70+ pages in four days. This is a major breakthrough for me and I’m thrilled. Sure, there’s a lot of crap in there, but even if half has to go, it’s still beats my normal productivity by a country mile.

So far, the only downside I can see is that I’m never going to be content with a few hundred words a day again. I know now that if I just sit my butt down, turn off my internet and slap some duct tape on the inner critic, I can bang out about 1200 words in an hour. So, given my worst day scenario with the day job and kid commitments, I have no excuse for delivering less than 2K words a day of fairly decent stuff.

I’m going to post again in a couple of days about the breakthroughs I’m having in my process and the major benefits to fast drafting that I’m seeing so far. But for now, I need to get my 20 pages down (and catch up to a certain someone who is kicking my ass in NaNoWriMo).

Photo: Amanda Hatfield

A NaNoWriMo success story from Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote

Photo by Laura Sawchuk

At the Surrey International Writers Conference this past weekend, I had the good sense to get myself into the Boot Camp for Procrastinators workshop taught by author/performer Ivan Coyote.

Ivan is acclaimed for her warm, “kitchen-table” style and from the first words she speaks, you know you are listening to a natural, and gifted, storyteller. I’m pretty sure that was the most I’ve ever laughed in a writing workshop.

She had many insightful things to say about overcoming the fears that tend to hold us back and dealing with the trickster in all of us who is always plotting new ways to put off writing.

First, no surprise, is to develop discipline. We honor our craft by honing our craft. By playing with words and practicing techniques over and over the way a pianist practices scales.

Ivan strongly advises hooking up with a writing group or someone you can be accountable to. She asked a question that really resonated with me: “Why is it so much easier to disappoint ourselves time and time again than it is to disappoint someone else?”

On the accountability side, she also recommended National Novel Writing Month and I was really excited to hear her novel Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006) was a NaNo book!

Bow Grip by Ivan CoyoteIvan says she was teaching a night school writing class in the fall of 2004, and encouraged her students to sign up for NaNo as a means of developing discipline. They took her advice and when they enthusiastically reported their growing word counts in class, she was “guilted into” starting her own project – the novel that had been rattling around in her head for years.

She pulled an all-nighter to catch up with her students, who had a few days head start. After that, she has said, “I would just sit down every night when all my other work was done, turn off the internal editor, and write until I reached 2,000 words.

“I wouldn’t let myself stop until I was done. It probably took 10 years off my life, and it cost me a fortune in cigarettes and Red Bull, but I got a first draft out of it.”

Though she’d previously published three short story collections, Bow Grip was Ivan’s first novel. At 62,000 words, Ivan says it reflects “nearly word for word” that free fall first draft. Bow Grip is now in its third printing and has been optioned for film.

Ivan’s latest short story collection, her fifth, is called Missed Her. If you ever have an opportunity to take one of her workshops or see Ivan perform, GO! She’s great.

I’ll leave you with a funny story that author Eileen Cook recounted about Ivan during open mic night at SiWC).

A few years back Cook took Coyote’s writing class at Capilano College (holy alliteration, Batman), and one night Ivan asked her to stay behind after class. “She said to me, ‘You need to start sending out your stuff, it’s really good’.”

Eileen says she listed her fears about being rejected and not being published. “Ivan looked at me and said, ‘I hate to break it to you, Eileen, but you’re already not published. The worst that can happen is that you still won’t be published.’ That was such a light bulb moment for me.”

(Eileen has since published seven books. Her novel Unpredictable has been optioned by New Line Cinema!)

Tips to put you in a NaNo state of mind

National Novel Writing Month kicks off in 14 days. I’m participating for the first time and I’m super jazzed. Okay, make that was super jazzed.

Last week, the doubts started to creep in. What was I thinking? I haven’t finished any fiction longer than a short story, what makes me think I can do it in one month? I worry my concept won’t be strong enough when I dust off my underwear synopsis next week. I worry I won’t find the time. I worry. . .  Maybe you know how it goes.

Some of the motivation-sucking whispers I can chalk up to too many late nights at the computer and too many Hickory Sticks (evil, evil things). The rest is just the same old doubts that derail me every time.

Not this time. I went blog trolling to get myself back into a NaNo state of mind. Maybe my discoveries will give you a boost, too.

  • Remember, NaNoWriMo is an experiment, says best-selling author Roz Morris. “You are experimenting with your muse and your writing habits by setting yourself a challenge—and a difficult one. Experiments don’t fail or pass; they produce what they produce. Some of it will be nonsense, and some will be sublime invention. Stay the distance and see what happens. Enjoy the journey and the surprises.”
  • But is that professional? Yes, says Barbara Freethy, who had eight titles on the NYT Bestseller List this summer alone. When you’re published, and you’ve signed a contract, there is no chasing the shiny new idea or surrendering to your inner critic. Above all, you have to Make It Work.

To reaffirm my commitment to the spirit of NaNo, I’ve signed up for Candace Havens’ popular two-week Fast Drafting Workshop. (Check out her bio and how much shit this lady gets done and you’ll know why I signed up.)

It’s smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo, which is either crazy or brilliant on my part. I’m hoping I can use my NaNo writing for any assignments and that the lessons will keep me writing and help clear the mist.

Either that or my brain will explode.

Inspiration for writers in Jack Layton’s final words

Award-winning photographer and art director Stuart Thursby has created a wonderful series of posters based on the inspiring messages in Jack Layton’s parting letter to Canadians, published two days before his death in August.

John “Jack” Layton was a Canadian social democratic politician who led his New Democratic Party to achieve the status of Canada’s Official Opposition for the first time in its history—a victory he enjoyed for three short months before his death to cancer.

July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011

Layton was a career politician, one that made people believe it could still be a noble profession. He campaigned tirelessly for social justice causes, and earned admiration from people of all political stripes for his dedication to building a fairer Canada.

A couple of Thursby’s posters capturing Layton’s optimistic and hopeful words would make perfect Nanowrimo motivators. Ever a dreamer, I suspect Layton would approve.

Steve Jobs on following your heart

Original image: Jonathan Mak

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

This quote is from Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address (2005). Read the rest here: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html


Underwear synopsis for NaNoWriMo book done

Last week, I set the goal to finish the “underwear synopsis” (I’ll explain shortly) of my NaNoWriMo book by midnight Sunday. I closed the file this morning at 1:36 am. Not bad.

I’m feeling positive. The structure I’ve sketched looks solid. The support posts seem to be in all the right places. I don’t have a detailed blueprint yet, and there will still be much to unearth during the first, “discovery” draft in November but at least I know where I’m going to break ground.

Finding the balance between the left and right brain, the creator and critic is always the struggle for me. I can’t be a totally fly-into-the-mist pantser because useless meandering frustrates me. But over-planning is a joy-killer, too.

Right now I’m pretty jazzed about bestselling author and ghostwriter Roz Morris’ new book Nail Your Novel: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence.  

I haven’t finished it yet—a good thing. I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard.

The underwear synopsis mentioned above is task 5 in Roz’s plan to nail your novel. Designed for your eyes only it’s not at all like the selling synopsis you’ll write later. You write this one as though you were explaining the story to a friend (so like there’s this part where a lion’s looking at him and he thinks if I ever get out of here alive…).

The synopsis is populated with story events and character notes you come up with through a couple of brainstorming and index card exercises disguised as engaging games.

So far there’s nothing shockingly new in Ms. Morris’s book. You’ll have read much of the advice before. It’s her approach and engaging writing that stand out.

She knocks the whispering doubters and critics off your shoulders and stands behind you with practical, encouraging advice. She demystifies and simplifies the process of developing your story, testing the strength of your idea and flushing out characters. She helps you rekindle the initial excitement you had in your ideas and characters and makes you feel confident about carrying them through to “The End.”

I’ll report more as I work through my first draft. I’m following Morris’s advice to let the underwear synopsis sit for a month. I’ll review for major potholes in the week prior to NaNo.

I know I’ll be madly scribbling notes all month, though. I’m so energized about my book. I feel really connected to it and the girls in the basement are handing up lots of juicy stuff.

How’s your NaNo planning going?