Bare List on NaNowWhat?

A week has passed since the #amwriting community closed on NaNoWriMo 2017. You’ve given 30 days of your life to pounding out words, diligently bringing your masterpiece to life. It’s gone from a concept dancing in your brain to a living document awaiting your love and attention. So, now, what do you? Your heart is racing with anticipation for the future of your manuscript. There’s so much work to be done, but where to start? Recruiting a critique circle? Beta readers? Editing? No. None of those. What you’re going to do now with that precious piece of yourself you’ve worked so hard to make happen is break up with it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Break the hell up with your manuscript. 

But why? I love my novel! I’m ready to dive in and make it perfect and watch the future of this perfect prose unfold! I know you are, and that’s why you’ve got to give it a break. You are too emotionally attached right now, too entrenched with your characters. You’ve been involved in a hot and heavy romance with your words and you need some time to cool off. You and your work are going to be involved in a super committed, long term relationship, so you deserve time to sow some wild oats before you’re ready to march down the aisle.

Right now, your work needs to sit. I know you have a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head and probably a stack of notes on what you want to improve, but right now, the work is best served by you forgetting it exists for at least 30 days. I know, it’s horrible to think about. You’ve not worked so hard on this to put it in a drawer and forget about it, but your novel will be better for it. Looking on your work with fresh eyes will give you the opportunity to have a truer sense of the story you’re telling and a more honest regard for the words on the page. You will be pleasantly surprised by some of your choices and mortified by others. That’s the process. If you delve into the editing while you’re still fresh on the heels of every decision you made, you will still have an attachment to those decisions, some of which may be detrimental to your work. You may be in love with something that needs to go or cut something you forced in for deadline that is actually really beneficial. Time helps avoid that.

I know everything in you is screaming at me. You’re already finding ways to sidestep this important part of the process. You’re objective enough, you only need two weeks, you can have beta readers be objective. No, friends. At least this first revision, the responsibility is on you to have that self-restraint and let your novel sit.

So, what can you do while your manuscript simmers?

  1. Write – Never stop writing. You established that you can put the words on the page, so keep doing it. Free write, join writing challenges. December is National Novel Finishing Month, International Plot a Writing Month, and International Story a Day Group. You can join those (and many more all year long) to keep you motivated or start your own.
  2. Read – The best writers are readers. There’s no better way to spend the cold winter months than snuggled up in a cozy chair reading, so hunker down and get to it.
  3. Research – If you want to stay involved with your work, spend your time researching its future. What does the market look like for your genre? How can you best promote your work? What agents best align with your novel?
  4. WIPs – This is a great time to focus on any other work you may have in progress. Edit a novel you loss interest in, expand on that short story you started in free writing last year, send out your older work to some beta readers.
  5. Workout – What? What sweating have to do with writing? A lot. Creativity, focus, and mental stamina are all improved by a healthy workout program. Writing is great for mind and spirit, but sitting at a computer all day is bad for your joints, circulation, and muscles. So, get up and get moving. Yoga is great for flexibility and focus, core training will help save you the back problems inherent of a career in front of the computer, and cardio will give you a chance to brainstorm your next work or get to know your characters a little better.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Share them in the comments.

Bare List on Nanover

Yesterday, I completed the annual challenge so many authors inexplicably take on despite its obvious opposition to better sense and reason. Yes, I’m talking about Nanowrimo. I wrote my way across the finish line yesterday, and despite the lack of trumpets and balloons, it was a thrilling moment for me. While it’s not my first victory, it was my most stressful battle, which is really saying something because past Nano’s I have been either a single working mother at a high level marketing job while also launching my own small business or the married mother of a two month old who just added a new baby to the mix. Now though, I am solely focused on writing and my small business, the is now a toddler in preschool, and the oldest is double digits. Also, I was super excited to use the event to get started on a narrative that had been nagging at me for a while.

“This will be cake!” I proclaimed on November 1st as I banged out the first 3,000 words without even breaking a sweat. Then God laughed and the trouble began. There were some expected obstacles, like the half-marathon I was running in another state. This was a relatively big deal because I am not a distance runner. I am very fit and active (strong body, strong mind, right?). I love 5ks, obstacle courses, and mud runs, but I can think of zero good reasons to run for 13.1 miles. Like, none. Even if something was chasing me, I’d just lay down and let it eat me around mile 6 cause I mean, damn. Unfortunately, one of my best friends created a good reason for me, or more aptly her sister did. You see, her sister, who was only a month older than myself, passed away entirely unexpectedly earlier this year. She left behind a husband, two children, and my devastated best friend. The sister had always wanted to be a runner but health issues kept her from it, so my best friend decided we would run a half and dedicate it to her memory. I would rather write 13.1 thousand words a day for the rest of my life than run 13.1 miles just once, but I did it. I braved the early morning on four hours of sleep, ran all the miles, and made the two hour drive home. Oh, and did I mention I did that while in pain and projectile puking because I have a hormone imbalance that is wreaking havoc on my person? Cause I did. I did that. What I did not do, was write.

So, there was day one with no words. Then a host of other things collided. There were holiday scheduling discussions, meal planning, co-parenting struggles with the oldest father, fall ball, etc. It was a mess, but we survived…until the plague. The stomach bug, that I can only assume is sweeping the nation because it is all over my Twitter, invaded our household via the toddler. This resulted in baby’s first trip to the emergency room and another lost day of writing for mom, which was especially hurtful because we were supposed to be traveling to see my family for Thanksgiving, so not only did I miss them, I missed those valuable writing hours in the car. (I feel like I should throw in here that in life, it hurt me entirely worse to have a sick baby and miss my family than miss the writing. I need for that to be clear, because I am a Nano nut, but I also have priorities).

Then, like it hadn’t done enough, it got my husband and took me down shortly thereafter. It was madness to try to keep the big one healthy while the three other members of his household and over half his class were succumbing to the vileness. Another lost day of writing, and honestly, Zofran was the sole reason it wasn’t even more than that.

Added to that was a litany of other obstacles of varying emotional and creative sizes. My husband worked from home on more than one of my work days, which doesn’t sound like it should interfere and he really does stay the heck out of my way, but just him being there breathing my air makes it difficult for me to get my rhythm. One of my best friend’s daughters has hit the teenage years and is making the WORST choices and we’re trying to band together to be a village in raising this child, but we have no idea what we’re doing because it’s been two decades since we were 14 and there’s obvious communication barriers, my son’s best friend’s mother has been going through a breast cancer scare and we won’t know if we can call it just a scare until tomorrow. The holidays are hard because I’ve lost a lot of super important members of my family in rapid succession and I’m still getting used to the new normal. It was just a lot.

I wanted so badly for life to just slow down, for clients to stop calling, for issues to stop popping up, to have a safe place to worry and grieve, and to not run 13.1 miles. But, those weren’t options. Which, I guess is why I share this with you because all of us are dealing with stuff we’d just rather not. Cancer is an asshole, empty seats at the holidays are heart-wrenching, raising children is scary, work-life balance is a fictional carrot at the end of stick, chasing your passion is a hard fought battle, and running sucks. These are universals. Okay, maybe there are some people out there that would disagree on that last point, but they’re wrong or on better drugs than me. For the most part though, we are all dealing with versions of these hardships. Your cancer may be chronic illness, your missing loved one may be a spouse you’re separated from, but we are all dealing with stuff and we all fight on and that’s kind of freaking awesome. Truly, it’s a victory that we all continue to get up everyday and not just survive, but thrive. It’s amazing that even after the days we fail, we come back for more. We keep getting up, even if we’ve got to lay down for a moment.

For NaNoWriMo, whether you won with 315,000 words (that is an actual number I saw, hand to gosh. That is not my number. My book is still a chapter or two away from being finished and even then won’t hit 90,000) or you didn’t hit the target and ended with 25,000 or less, you won. You won by putting words on the page. You won by breaking through all the shit we have to live through, work through, survive through everyday to put in the hard work to follow your dream. That’s impressive y’all, and I am so down proud of everyone that tried.

Bare List on Writing Through the Struggle

I’ve started this blog 17 different times because I cannot find the words to accurately express the heartbreak today has wreaked on my psyche. While it’s not the most devastating of days I’ve ever survived, it’s been a struggle. Not in the “oh hell it’s Monday” way but in the “oh hell, how am I possibly going to handle my life” way. Between scheduling meetings, working, and hauling the kids to school, I’ve had to make time to have a long and emotional conversation about blending families and holidays. Literally, I found myself in tears three times before 9 a.m.

By the time I sat down at my computer to write, I felt defeated. I was robbed of my inspiration and my anxiety made it hard to even sit still. I was at a pinnacle moment of my Nano novel, a piece that’s been nagging at my peripheral for months, begging for attention and demanding to be heard. I am so excited about this work and this scene is crucial. I looked at the words from last night on the screen and felt like there was no way I could do the story justice today. I wasn’t good enough. Everything I could say today would be worthless anyway and I have so much going on. Did I even have a right to be writing? Thanksgiving is upon us, it’s a short work week and clients want to check-in before they depart for the holidays. My family’s scheduling was a nightmare, I have checks to various charities waiting to be written. The kids have activities. The family calendar hanging to my right hasn’t been updated since SEPTEMBER. There’s laundry to do, decorations to put up, the list goes on. Why should I even be writing?  I’m failing at everything else, why not just fail at writing, too? I mean, I’m going to anyway. I don’t have what it takes to live up to this moment. Not now.

I thought about it. I thought about packing it up and letting today go. “You’ll have time later. You’ll feel better later,” I tried to lie to myself, but I knew neither was true. I’m not going to get any less busy, at least not anytime soon. So, I took a deep breath and I wrote. I struggled through the words, tears leaking from my eyes at the emotional torment of the early day as well as my story. I wrote until I had to stop for an emotional phone call and then I wrote again as soon as the business was handled. I wrote as the word count slowly ticked up-50, 100, 150. I wrote as I fought to piece together the scene the way I knew it deserved to be done. I wrote though I cried, I wrote though I doubted myself, and then…I wrote because I was in the scene.

Without realizing it, my writing switched from pain to purpose. The words came easily and as my stomach ached with hunger, I realized that I had written without pause, without thought of anything outside of myself or the story for almost two hours. Almost 2,500 words had escaped my fingers and I had only fought for maybe 500 of them. It’s not the most I’ve ever gotten through in a sitting. I’ve certainly seen more impressive counts from a host of fellow writers and Nanoers, but it was a count I didn’t believe I could reach when I sat down. It was an achievement my evil inner critic had berated me into thinking was unfathomable.

I share this with you, not because of the pride I feel, but because I know that we all have that doubt. Life throws a lot at us, more than we can ever hope to manage, and it’s so easy to start listening to our fears, depression, and anxiety. Writing can so often be the easiest thing to neglect when those negative thoughts invade our brains because we believe that there has to be this perfect mix of inspiration and desire to do our stories justice. I’m here to tell you, that is untrue. I wrote today, despite the fact I didn’t want to. Despite the fact I felt like I had nothing to offer, I gave myself over to my work because I know that the long term pride I will experience completing this outweighed the short term pit of yuck that I was experiencing. Bonus: I feel better. Maybe I am failing at everything else, but at least I won at writing, and that’s a start. It’s forward motion.

So, friends. Today, or any day, that you’re struggling, I hope you remember that you can write through it. Though it seems impossible, just get to the computer, grab a pen and paper, whatever. Just start writing. Just keep writing. I promise, it will get better.

P.S. I’m not actually failing at everything, my inner voice is just a real f*ckhead sometimes.

Have you been in the struggle? I will grab a drink a settle in to struggle with you.

Bare List of More Writing Prompts

The ides of November is upon us. For many NaNoers, it’s a day of raucous celebration: the halfway mark! The end is in sight and you’re excited to see the finish line coming into view, maybe you’ve already even passed it. For others, though, this day reeks of the betrayal faced by Caesar on that March day. Your inspiration has dried up, your brain has blanked, the cold fingers of writer’s block are choking out your voice. The situation may seem desperate, but I assure you, there is hope! Writing prompts are here to get your juices flowing. (If you’re unsure about using writing prompts, read this). Below is a list of words, phrases, scenes, and ideas to help you get over the hump. Some are ordinary, some are insane. Some are funny and some are serious. Hopefully, there’s something to appeal to whatever sparks the light in your creative mind.

Whether you’re stuck on your NaNo project, finding inspiration for NaNo2, working on your own, or just looking to flex your writing muscles, I hope these ideas can spur something in your brain to trigger the words to keep coming, because that’s all that needs to happen. Persistence makes success inevitable, so just keep showing up. JUST KEEP WRITING. 

Words

  1. Coupon
  2. Fracks
  3. Abject
  4. Supercilious
  5. Phantoms
  6. Promise
  7. Elongate
  8. Placesetting
  9. Coerced
  10. Hedonistic

Phrases

  1. I could feel the heat coming off of it as I approached…
  2. “Neither will do if it’s only us two. A decision must be made”…
  3. Gaping at the blood flowing from the arm, my heart raced…
  4. The canine stalked the edge of my field of vision, sniffing lightly and pawing at the damp ground…
  5. Thoughts cascaded across the void of my blank mind as I doodled the snippets of coherence into my notebook giving life to the words…
  6. “You can keep saying it, but that won’t make it true. A mockingbird may call like a blue jay, but she will be no less a mocking bird,”…
  7. “What is it?” I asked as she held up the strange object glowing red under the beam of the flashlight,”…
  8. The circacelias are tripeds common of our environment. They inhabited Earth for a quarter century but found the air excessively dry with a slight taste of nitrogen, entirely distasteful to their heightened senses…
  9. In the blackened stillness, a sound rose in the distance, quiet at first but steadily increasing in volume and intensity…
  10. “When there’s nothing else to do, you do nothing. Quicker you learn that, better off you’ll be,”…

Scenes

  1. A decrepit old barn on the outskirts of town
  2. A restaurant in the middle of a busy intersection crowded with people
  3. The small star a little to the left of the outer edge of the universe
  4. A luxury yacht, meant to sail the Atlantic Ocean, parked on its rig in the neighbor’s backyard
  5. In bed on a warm night in the middle of August
  6. The arctic tundra just after the sun has risen for the first time in months
  7. The odorous and dirty basement of an otherwise well-maintained mansion
  8. The smokey remnants of the latest town to fall victim of the robot apocolypse
  9. A tunnel leading from the base of an oak tree into the depths of the earth
  10. A pristine dinner table with ornate bone china and elaborate place settings awaiting the hostess to be seated

Ideas

  1. Your protagonist finds a red shirt
  2. Kill a freshly developed character
  3. Introduce an animal into a scene
  4. Your antagonist misses an opportunity
  5. Your protagonist makes a pun involving ducks
  6. A side character has a crazy dream
  7. The protagonist receives an unexpected package
  8. A realistic shared dream unites characters
  9. A male character steals a piece of cheese from a female character
  10. A female character has a conversation with another female character about the Bechdel test  (see what I did there?)

 

That’s it for now. I’m going to get back to writing and hopefully you are, too. If you want more writing prompts, click here. If you’ve got your own to share, please leave them in the comments. Otherwise, JUST KEEP WRITING.

Bare List on Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List of Writing Prompts

NaNoWriMo is upon us. With only two days left until you’re set to begin the greatest novel of our time, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of putting your words, your characters, into action. Here are some prompts to get you started.

Unfamiliar with prompts or afraid of starting with someone else’s words? Check out some great reasons for using them here

  1. Her brown eyes glared back at me with unrelenting fury and I knew I’d said the wrong thing again…
  2. A butterfly danced across the windshield as I put the car in drive…
  3. I’d heard the story a half a hundred times but still I listened as if it was all anew…
  4. Back on Earth, I’d never be able to talk about this stuff. Human beings shut down so quickly at the slightest glimmer of something truly interesting…
  5. A glistening pair of new Jordan’s were all I saw of him from my spot beneath the bleachers…
  6. A dirge played in the distance as I enjoyed a steaming hot coffee at the Downward Cafe…
  7. She could see the cars whizzing by on the main highway, feet away but oblivious to her pain…
  8. Of course we’re here. I knew we would be. It was the only possible place for us to end up…
  9. Lady Gaga again. We Pandora isn’t the even trying anymore. Turn it off and let’s go down to the Sixer…
  10. The absurdity of it all is that if I had to do it over again I probably would because I never learn and the ride was worth the story…

Bare List on Using Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a source of contention in the writing community. Some people browse for hours looking for inspiration while other’s look down their nose at the idea of starting their masterpiece with another author’s thoughts. If you’re in the second category, or utterly new to the idea of using prompts, I’m here to defend their worthiness. Nay, I’m here to cheer them on. Writing prompts are excellent tools for professionals and hobbyists, experienced authors and writing rookies. Here’s why:

They release what’s already in you. A great novel is in you, coursing through your veins and gnawing at your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind has already written it. You just have to get it down on paper, but when you sit down at the computer, your fingers freeze. The story churns inside you but it’s stuck behind those first words. Then you find it. The perfect prompt. Five, ten little words. You type them out, hesitant but hopeful, and the next thing you know you’re thousands of words into the story you’ve been dying to tell. A prompt is just that: a prompt to open your own floodgates.

They’re fun. My second NaNoWriMo I decided to embark in an adventure. Instead spending a month focusing on kicking off my next project, I would create a work exclusive to that month. It’s own entity based solely on prompts. November 1st, I found a prompt that spoke to me and I wrote. I wrote until the spark of that first great ember was nothing but smoke, over 12,000 words. When the emerging story hit an impasse and my inspiration ran dry, I found a new prompt. A radically different prompt that would change the course of the tale and take my story to exciting new places. Over 30,000 words later the end of the month and close of my experiment were in sight and I found one more prompt to see me the rest of the way through. I finished November with 70,000 words and a novel that I truly enjoy. Will it be my next published masterpiece? Maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I took my writing to new places and had a great time doing it.

They’re an excellent exercise. If you were/are a writing major or have been involved with any creative writing class, you’re familiar with prompts as a writing tool. If not, it goes like this: the teacher gives you a prompt (or maybe a small collection of prompts) and you formulate a story around it. The goal is to stretch your mind and adapt your ability to embrace inspiration. For a lot of us though, after school’s out we forget the value of prompts. Maybe you’re sick of forcing a story into a collection of assigned ideas. Maybe you’re so focused on writing your own words, you don’t have room for other people’s. Maybe you’ve just fallen into a writing routine and forgotten the value of exercising. But, like keeping a healthy body, exercise is a necessity to keeping a healthy mind. Use those prompts. Even if you don’t think you have time, browse for anything that piques your interest. Force yourself to write a page, even a paragraph. Throw yourself a few curves to get to the end of the story. You’ll be a better writer for it.

You can always ditch them. Alright, so you’ve written a work of art but you’re hung up on the fact you’ve got someone else’s words stuck in there. Or the end of the story no longer fits the beginning. That’s the glory of the delete button. You can let the floodgates open, see the story to the end, then go back and delete whatever doesn’t fit. You’ll be doing it anyway. No work is ever complete on the first (or fifth) go. Just delete whatever you’re not comfortable with or not proud of during the editing process.

They were created to be used. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a prompt. The creators put it into the world to be utilized. Their sole purpose is to inspire others to travel down this absurd but awesome road of writing. Let them fulfill their destiny. Let those bare lists of words be suggestive to your imaginative and excited mind.

Do you have experience with prompts? Share your story. Have prompts you’re looking to share? Put them in the comments to help others start their journey.