Monday, October 26, 2015

Inspiration Monday: Problem Solving

Yesterday, I posted about how I plan to solve my plot problems for this year's NaNoWriMo challenge. I wouldn't exactly say I accomplished it, but even small progress is progress just the same.

Today, this is how I decided to solve another one.

Hello, 2001! Welcome back to the future!

Gotta love the good 'ol CRT refresh prison stripes.

Yes, I've posted before about computers I've used for many happy hours writing, and my "regular" desktop and laptop setups are more than satisfactory.

They also internet. They internet very, very well.

For all but the barest technicality, this Indigo 500mhz iMac G3 running OS 9.1 cannot internet, and therefore will not allow me access to lolcats, Buzzfeed lists, email, or let me zip across wave after wave of Wikipedia surfing in the name of "research."

It can word process, though. It can do that like a champ.

It is just old enough that I can't use it for much except writing, but new enough to directly transfer an intact document file to my regular computer. I'm hoping it will be a distraction buster like my beloved typewriter, but maybe with its own flavor and a little more utility since it affords a modern digital format. Naturally, I'll have a good fountain pen and notebook nearby at all times.

Sometimes solving a problem doesn't mean ripping your guts out and examining what's wrong with you. Sometimes, it is as simple as modifying the environment to accommodate your needs. In this case, I'll always find distractions, but the better I know myself and my habits, the easier it is for me to place obstacles in just the right place to keep myself on task. Take a look around at your own creative space--what works? What doesn't? What works a little too well? 

Bring it, NaNoWriMo 2015. I'm ready.

(Well, if you don't count not having a novel idea yet. There's still that.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Let the Planning Begin

I've taken the NaNoWriMo challenge annually since 2007. I have "won" in every attempt, but only once did I ever actually continue the novel to the end after crossing the 50k word mark. Even that novel has had to undergo significant restructuring and rewriting, and remains stuck on the operating table, its organs splayed out and shriveling while I figure out what needs transplanting and how to go about it.

Usually, even if I put a fair amount of planning into a concept, I end up completing the challenge as a "pantser," one who writes by the seat of his/her pants. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. In the past, it has allowed me to take a relatively thin concept and flesh it out as I go along, sometimes with remarkable transformation. I might have thought I was setting out to make a cookie, but ended up with some kind of souffle. That is a good thing, but usually leads to significant rewrites to make the whole piece consistent from beginning to end.

The last few attempts at "pantsing" have been less fruitful for me. I got a few characters and concepts I can tease out and use, but more importantly, I never found myself "on fire" for the projects. There wasn't enough backbone to engage me, or to center me when I would drift off the path. I ended up getting in all 50k words each time, but even in all that prose, I never got a clear path to where I was going, or even if I knew how I wanted things to end, how in the world I was supposed to get there.

This year, I don't want to spend a month wandering in the woods. I don't want to get lost. I need a novel GPS to keep me on course. I need to...
Outline. There. I said it. (Shuddering, cringing, and smacking my mouth to get used to the taste.)

It's not that I don't like outlines. I think outlines are fabulous. I just think I'm slightly allergic to them.

Most of my outline attempts end up being just enough catalyst to send me off writing page after page of narrative idea building that never actually turns into the road map an outline is supposed to be. I get ideas for who a character is, what might have happened in the past to bring them to this point, the history of the town, the neighbor's goldfish's name, how much money is in the main character's first cousin's savings account, and what "might" happen. I even write it like that: "...then she might end up going to his house and checking to see if he has properly insulated his water pipes for winter, as that would let her know he was responsible and ripe for picking from the husband-tree."

All of that writing can be useful--it actually is quite useful in determining motivation, making characters three-dimensional, and helping me get unstuck when I am not sure what a character would do in a situation. What it doesn't do is keep me tight to a plot or tell me how to navigate transitions.

Transitions are the worst. (Any writer who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted. Unless they're willing to tell you how to breeze easily through perfect, tight transitions, in which case you listen to them and come right back here to tell ME.)

This year, I will probably do some of my usual narrative outlining, but I'm trying to be more disciplined with it. I am going to do an actual plot outline first, from beginning to end, before I let myself wander off the trail to find shiny objects in the weeds.

Every year I start a brand new notebook for my NaNoWriMo idea, and I'm about to crack open my birthday Moleskine to see what I can come up with. Right now, I don't have the first idea which idea I want to tackle, but between now and November 1, I intend to know where to start, where to end, and every twist and turn in between.

Unless the effort of outlining actually kills me.

It might.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Worth It

This week I have been sequestered in a Nashville hotel for an ASIST (Assertive Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Train the Trainer conference. It has been a bit grueling. It's a tough subject, and there's a lot to learn, especially the part about being able to adequately help others learn the material. There have been some long days, including this one. I'm sitting in the lobby of the hotel writing this post as I wait for a fellow trainer candidate to return from purchasing note cards so we can go over the material one more time. I'm tired, my back hurts, and I miss my husband and my pets.




This practice will save lives. Spending this week will allow me to go back to my community and train others to intervene with those who are having thoughts of suicide. Staying late to help my colleague learn material will help him to do the same.

Totally worth it.

It also doesn't hurt that there is free coffee in the lobby 24/7. Doesn't hurt at all.

I have also been working really hard to eat better and take better care of my health and nutrition (even if it kills me). When my friend Mandy made me an amazing peanut butter pie for my birthday, do you think that even entered my mind? Do you think I felt compromised? Nope.

Be jealous.
Worth it. 

I've been thinking more and more about the things I do, and what the result of those actions actually is on my life, and the lives of those around me. If I had to guess, I'm probably not alone in needlessly worrying about ALL THE THINGS when it is not going to impact ANY OF THE THINGS. Some of that is just written in the stars, my DNA, the book of life--however you want to put it. Still. I don't have to let that be the boss of me. I can start deciding what deserves dibs on my oh-so-depleted energy reserves by deciding if the outcome of that action is going to impact the world around me in a positive way. Basically, anytime I'm spinning my emotional wheels, I can ask myself that important question: is it worth it?

When it comes to feeling guilty over not spending as much of my time and attention on my writing as I would hope to do if I wasn't so busy these days, it's complicated. I do really believe finding a way to write despite my circumstances has value. Writing is important to me, it enriches my life, and the more I do it, the better at it I will be. The part that doesn't enrich anything is the guilt. It adds nothing. It isn't worth it.

If there's something in your life that is gnawing at your mind or your heart, take a glance to see what effect it is having on your life.

Is it adding to your goals, or distracting you from them?

Is it making your path easier, or harder?

Are you doing something for yourself, or against?