Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009, A Minion's Year...

Ok, so 2008 wasn't a fabulous year for my blogging. In fact, it was disastrous. I think this had a lot to do with my feeling stagnated in many aspects of my life (most notably creatively). Now that we are into the third week of a new year, I'm officially ready to make my 'resolutions' with the understanding that this year I'll be able to keep some of them.

However, the only way to go forward is to look back at what worked for me, and what didn't:

2008-- Personally
Outside of my creative life 2008 was a very difficult year for this minion. I lost a very beloved member of my family a courageous battle with cancer. This forced me to take a very harsh look at my life and make some very important decisions (more on those later).

2008-- Professionally
I decided towards the end of last year that it was time to move on to another stage of minionhood. I was very sad to leave my last position, but I knew it was time to go. With the current economic climate I managed to time my move perfectly and snag another job before many employers decided to place hiring freezes on their businesses. I am very happy in my new job. I'm learning new things, and I finally feel like my years of minionhood many be paying off. So, hurrah!

2008-- Creatively
Oddly enough, this year was incredible for me creatively. After years of moaning about not getting enough writing done and not feeling like a writer I finished the year with over 100,000 words in two different projects. I had a NaNo win (hurrah!) and a writing habit that seemed to produce results (and yet, was realistic). I was finally in a place creatively where I felt loved (thank you husband and my writing buddies!), supported, and capable of producing something. I also lowered my expectations on what I was writing. I allowed myself to write crap, I allowed myself to use clich├ęs. I eliminated perfection and relegated excellence for something to aim for in revisions. In other words, I freed myself from all the things that were holding me back and was still surprised when I soared forwards. Wow.

2009 and beyond....

So, with all my lessons from last year, here are the resolutions I'll be committing to this year (yes, I know, 18 days later, but there you have it!):

1. I will write 130,000 words this year (that's only 2500 words each week, which was my goal for last year).
2. I will update this blog at least twice a month (but hopefully weekly on Monday/Tuesday). I am setting small goals as I know that I stick to small goals a lot better than big ones.
3. I will write more blogs about writing/reading and less about moaning/whinging.
4. I will beat my 'books read' record of last year (which was 41 books).


I think that's about all for the moment. I hope everyone is having a good January! Welcome to 2009!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buddies, Challenges, and NANOWRIMO

Challenges and friends to write with are important when you're writing with a day job.

Humans seem to be, by nature, competitive beings. We are not truly happy unless we have goals and someone we can share them with. Minion and Maverick are among my writing buddies. We rail together, cheer together, laugh together and cry together. We work out small challenges for one another in order to keep us all going. This helps in a normal week to keep focused and keep on track with writing, especially with so many other things going on that otherwise might be put first. For some people, these writing buddies are a loose conglomerations of friends, like ours, but can be as organized as attending a full writing group weekly or monthly. It really depends on what works best for you.

NANOWRIMO is a whole other level of challenge from a the one presented by friends. It ups the ante. As Minion has said, it offers a freedom to be limitlessly creative and a challenge to do a high volume in only one month. While it's difficult for the first time NANOer and it never becomes a complete breeze, it gives you a reason for -- as they put it on their website -- “literary abandon” that normally you wouldn't dare try. Actually, I find it opens eyes to what's honestly possible for you to do creatively, even if you have your day job.

If you don't already have a group of writing friends to work with, ask around. Find a couple of people you trust and whom you work well with. Set challenges and goals for each other. I'd say that the following are the only real rules you need:

- Keep in mind some people work well with structure, some don't. Work with your friends to find a happy medium and create something that keeps you working creatively.

- Keep it simple. Different people have different restrictions on their time. Some people can't afford to spend much time during the work week, some can't afford to give up the weekend. Remember that if you make a challenge to difficult, no one wins and no one enjoys the game.

- Keep it fun. This is supposed to be something you all enjoy.

Until next time!

-The Odd Angle (20096 and counting)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NaNo Stole my Life Week Two...

I am an unstoppable writing force.

Or so I have been chanting for the past week. I've been knee deep in the most dreadful, obsessive, and haunting story I've ever worked on. What started off as a paranormal lark had me in tears (mostly from exhaustion) earlier this evening when I came across a revelation about one of my characters and a necessary plot point.

I am not sure why I have become so addicted to NaNo this year. Last year I fell behind within the first week. This year I am well ahead of my targets and generally continue writing for the thrill of the word count. Everything I'm writing feels rushed and feverish and I know that in a month I will scratch my head in frustration at my sloppy writing and incomprehensible plot.

So, why am I foraging on? Why not just keep a more humane pace and produce a better quality of writing?

A very good question. The only answer I've come up with is that NaNo has created for me an urgency that I normally lack in my average writing life. Most of the time I aim to complete between 2500-3000 words a week. I have been writing about that much every day since NaNo kicked off. I have been befuddled with my own progress. I think NaNo has reminded me that it is possible for me to write an incredible amount in a short time. It has rekindled in me a passion that I haven't felt for writing in well over three years.

I think that's the secret to NaNo. NaNo reminds us (much like a recent election campaign slogan) that “yes we can”. Anyone can write a novel (I didn't say anything about the quality of the novel in question). All you need is staying power, a good (or bad) idea, and the time to devote to your novel. NaNo asks for one month, a mere thirty days, to be dedicated solely to indulging in your literary asperations. If you follow the timeline and writing guidelines you soon realize that you have a million hidden moments in your day that you can reclaim and turn into productive writing sessions. I find myself brainstorming on the train, plotting as walk down to the corner shop to get my lunch, and creating scenes as I wash my dishes. My creativity has been at an all time high this month, I think this is because I've been forcing myself to be receptive to all the ideas that have passed through my brain. While I am sure that one I had about jump roping unicorns will probably not see the light of day, the rest of my ideas are all jotted down in my notebook for a future day/plot/story. Ready for when NaNo ends and I have to return to a much more reasonable pace and may not be as receptive to my own creativity.

So, if I appear a little distracted or unfocussed this week I ask you to bear with me. Next week I will write about something non-NaNo related. I've already got a title for you: When to Go: A Minion's Tale. So bear with me for this week.

Yours Minion (21579 and counting)

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Novel is Like a Marriage

Writing a novel is like falling in love. First, you have an idea of a story--like you have an idea of a person you see from far away. It's love at first sight. You imagine those heady scenes in your mind--the stand-out scenes, the scenes where you and the person in question have an amazing romantic life together.

Then you set down the first few paragraphs. So far, so good. But after a while you realize this story isn't what you thought it was. It does things to disappoint you. It doesn't live up to all those expectations. Like someone you've been dating for a while, the rosy romantic glow wears off. Sometimes it's all you can do to drag yourself to the computer. Sometimes you just don't want to deal with him.

It happens around page 100 for me--and maybe around the first year of a relationship--when the romantic glow wears off. Sometimes, you realize your story (or relationship) just isn't what you dreamed it would be, and you move on. Other times you try to stick it out. You try new things. You spice up your sex life. You start writing in coffee shops, wrapped in American flags, just to feel different. You take your characters in whole new directions. You never know; it could work.

Once I walked into a room with a woman who read tarot cards for a living. She told me later she took one look at me and said, "she's not the marrying kind." I asked her what she meant and she said, "You're just too independent, honey. You'll never settle down." Maybe I'm not the kind of girl who finishes a book, either. To be honest, that keeps me up at night more than the other. Maybe I'm too flighty to settle down with just one book idea. Maybe, as with my relationships, I just can't handle being disappointed. I hate it when my brilliant idea comes down off the pedestal.

I've never married, and I've never finished a book. My aim is to do the latter this month, with a book I've been working on for a while. We haven't sealed the deal yet, despite repeated promises to myself and others that THIS one was the one. The one I'd finish. But I've stuck with it and I think maybe, just maybe, it really could be the book I've waited my whole life for--the one with an end in sight.

Maybe I'm the kind of girl who finishes a book after all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Best Friend, My Writing Journal

The writing journal concept has been done by both Minion and Maverick before. But, for anyone with a day job, they're vital.

You never know when a thought or an idea might strike, which makes this an important tool for writers with day jobs. I'm rarely without mine, because trust me, you tell yourself you're going to remember that brilliant bit of dialogue that pops into your head while calculating expenditures or that idea to research strong female figures in Spanish folklore while you're in line at the bank. But you won't. It's gone like so much ephemera.

I wasn't much for journaling until college. I'll admit it. I was one of those kids that attempted to write diaries, but was never really successful. They, like my travel journal, were things I lost interest after a few daily entries before forgetting it altogether, and only picked up again after I found it moldering in some pile. But then, my life was certainly not as interesting as the stories I had in my head, and those I went about writing out other ways, but certainly not in a diary.

The professor who insisted on the journal as part of the class told us that once we were out in the "real world," we would "never have time to write the way you do now."

I didn't believe her until I was in the "real world" and a journal was a far easier way for me to keep hold of all those notes and ideas than endless pocketfuls of Post-it notes. Or, forbid, straight out remembering the idea. Not that there aren't loose pages and Post-it notes tucked into my current journal, but it gives me a place to put all that... well, stuff.

I write over lunchtime, on the side during meetings, or when a thought strikes throughout the day, my best friend, the journal, is there to help collect it all.

If you don't believe me, I want you to give it a shot. One month. It doesn't have to be fancy. Small is good, something purse or pocket sized, but don't rule out a good old-fashioned composition book. Take it with you everywhere. Whenever you get an idea, instead of reaching for a napkin or a sticky note, grab your book. At least once a day, put something in it. Something creative. A list of character names. A plot idea. Keep it close and when you have an errant thought, get it down.

You'll find, just as I did, how invaluable that small book can be.

And if you're using it this month, for NANO, watch how much higher your word counts are with it than without. Without it, I'd never be able to work on NANOWRIMO successfully or participate in writing challenges with Minion and Maverick. But more on this next time.

Next time: Secrets to Staying With It: Buddies, Challenges, and NANOWRIMO

Monday, November 3, 2008

NaNo and Common Sense (mutually exclusive?)

Its the first week of NaNo, and unlike last year I own a computer. Which means that I am taking this writing experiment very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. This weekend I managed to write an overwhelming 5033 words in two days. This has been my reach goal for a full week period-- so to actually achieve it in two days is incredible. Its taught me that it is possible to actually achieve the word goals that NaNo has set out. Its also taught me why I don't write 2500 a day.

See, I have a full time job, a social life, and a patient husband who are all clamouring for my attention. Over the past few months I've been learning to put my writing first, which has been a very slow and arduous lesson. Firstly, because I had to convince myself that my writing was worth my time (and believe me, many days my writing is rough, raw, and full of craptitidue-- yes, I am now making up my own words). It took a few months, some very determined writing buddies, a supportive husband, but finally I started to put my writing in perspective. Now, I have a modest weekly writing goal, 192 pages of a novel, and a good healthy attitude towards my writing (even if I do still believe almost all of it is rubbish!). Which has made all the difference between an almost finished novel and another year of useless procrastination.

NaNo, offers you the prize of a nearly complete novel in a month. What's that catch? Forsaking all your friends, family, and spending all your spare time writing. I'm not saying that for everyone NaNo offers this sort of trade off, I'm just saying that for me, in order to get my word counts in I have to make severe cutbacks in my life. While I am still in the thrall of NaNo this sacrifice seems logical, sensible, even something necessary for my 'art'. However, as the month of November stretches before me I am thinking of my social plans, which will eat into my writing time and wondering how I will keep up the pace I've set for myself. I know that today I am a little bleary eyed and worse for the wear, but I'm also happy. Will I be able to trade off time with loved ones, out with friends, and sleep in order to produce a crappy first draft of a novel? Right now, I'm just not sure. I'm going to take things step by step-- and that includes getting back to my 'novel'. So, for a change I'm posing a question to you, do you have any advice for a sensible NaNo/Life Balance?

WritingMinion (5533 and counting!)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Importance of Writing Friends

Just now, I got a package from my dear friend Minion. In it was a writer's survival kit: a cheesy romance novel, a bar of dark chocolate, and a mix CD full of songs to inspire writing. Just add a glass of red wine, and instant sanity.

I am going through a huge period of upheaval in my life right now. A relationship that has been absolutely pivotal in my life is changing. I've left a place where I was very happy for a future that's uncertain. Some days, writing is my only escape--and other days all I want to do is huddle in a corner and cry. My writing friends keep me sane--and keep me writing even through troubled times. Here are a few reasons why you need good writing friends.

They keep you grounded. A good writing friend brings you down to earth when you get caught up in your own mind. She reminds you that you rock when you're mired in self doubt. She convinces you that your dreams are possible when you're sure they're not. She keeps you from feeling overwhelmed with your own puniness in the face of your goals. A good friend reminds you that success happens one page and one word at a time.

They keep you inspired. A good writing friend shares her writing mix and her first drafts. She commiserates with you on your worst sentences and shows you work that keeps you going. She suggests readings. She keeps your mind on your writing even when you become uninspired.

They keep you on track. In my writing circle, we have weekly contests. Whoever gets the word count first gets a prize. It really gets my competitive streak--I'm committed to a word count every week, and I'm answerable if I fail. If you're having trouble being productive, a group of committed writing friends who care about your progress can be a godsend.

There's a cliche about writing being a lonely life--and in a way, it is. But a writing community is often essential to success. A group of reliable writing friends may just make the difference between another unproductive year and your first novel.