The Glories of NaNoWriMo 2015

National Novel Writing Month 2015 ended yesterday and I hit my 50,000 word mark in the early evening. The story isn’t done, but the construct is there and I’ve had a blast writing it so far.

This was my second NaNoWriM0. I knew I could do it, having done it before, but it was still an exhausting thrill ride. The story went places I didn’t expect and the (apparent) ending was a surprise. And I’ve learned a lot this year. Below are some insights, fresh from my 50K.

Life may be crazy busy, but there’s still time to write. There are people who do NaNoWriMo and double their goal, shooting for 100,000 words. There are people who have lots of free time to write each day. I am not that person. Most of the folks doing NaNoWriMo aren’t.

My non-writing November was busy, and sometimes my mental and emotional energy were drained.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure I could fit in creating a story, too.  But writing is time and space you give yourself to create a story. My writing time was just for me, to step away for a bit, regroup, and look inward.

If the words aren’t flowing, try a writing sprint. I wrote about writing sprints in a recent post, when you set a timer for 15-30 minutes and push yourself to write as many words as you can. It sounds ridiculously simple, but I relied on sprints the year. I think the reason they work for me is that I’ve learned I can crank out 500+ words in a 20 minute sprint. That means three sprints = 1 hour = most of my daily word count. I sprinted by myself most of the days I wrote.  If you want company, @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter has an enthusiastic following.

Attend NaNoWriMo write-ins when you can. Writing is a solitary activity, and I relish my alone time to make up stories.  This year, though, I attended several write-ins that made my writing stronger.  During the write-ins at Writer’s Atelier and BookmarkIt, we sat around a room, someone kept time, and we sprinted together. There was lots of gabbing about tools (journals vs. computers, Scrivener vs. MS Word, favorite snacks), but I cranked out the words, too. I hit my daily word goal in a couple hours each time. A core group of writers showed up at multiple events, and we had a lot of fun celebrating (and lamenting) the writing process. I learned from them, how they crafted their stories and what they focused on with their characters.  A final bonus last night: cheering for each other as we each hit the 50K mark, and toasting each other when we were all done.

 

IMG_0300My plan is to finish mapping out my story, and then put it away for a month. I have a fun story idea in a totally different genre that I want to play with, and I need some distance from this one. Then I want to come back and edit.  It’s going to need lots added (to flesh out the scenes) and lots cut (because the supernatural creature talks so much).

A final thought: I’m very lucky to have a family who tells me to “go write,” because they know I need a break from real life things and to get back to the story.  They’re right – writing is work, but it’s wondrous work.

#SpookyAllYear

The Midnight Society – a wonderful collection of horror and paranormal writers and literary folk –  is hosting #SpookyAllYear, a blog hop to add a little horror and spooky fun through the year.  And today is the first day!  Folks posting creepy stuff on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month will be linking to their site.  They like their books a little bloody.

I’m by the lake again today, the lake that I keep returning to.  It’s sunlit and lovely, but the rays only go so far into the water, because it is also deep.

Crows are flying over the lake today and calling to each other.  You don’t expect to see crows along a lakeshore.  This one should be the backdrop for majestic wading birds, frozen as they watch the water for fish.  If you’ve watched a blue heron hunt, you know they spear their prey with their sharp beaks, and then gulp them down whole.  If you watch closely enough, you’ll see the creature moving in the bird’s neck as it slowly makes its way down.  What must the bird feel with something alive wriggling in its throat?  What must the prey feel, bleeding to death, as they are swallowed?

The flock of crows means something is dead in the water, just past where I can see.  It’s drifted in, and the crows are cawing to warn me away from their meal.  If I walk a little further down the shore, I will be able to see it.

I imagine seeing a form, long hair trailing around it, turned so I can’t see its face.  Only the head is visible, and an arm, reaching in front of it, the hand floating limply in the water.  The form looks vaguely human, but it’s not.  There’s something wrong with the shape of the head, and the long fingers extending from too small a hand.  Once I see it, I won’t be able to ignore it.

Once I see it, I could walk out into the water to investigate what’s floating there.  The water is shallow, and still warm enough to wade in.  I would be able to see my feet most of the way, until I got close to the floating thing.  But that far from shore, I wouldn’t be able to pull away if something curled around my ankles and pulled me in deeper.  Then there would be two things with long, trailing hair floating in the water.

The crows are warning me away, and I understand that it will only be a mystery until they reach it.  Once they’ve eaten, once all the creatures that eat the dead have eaten, the thing will be gone.

So there is my choice.  Do I walk further down the shore?  Or, do I listen to the crows?

Spooky-All-Year-banner-4

Disciplined Porch Writing – Day 6 of NaNoWriMo

This week, I’m spending a few days writing in a mostly empty house on a bluff above a lake. People have passed in this house. I walk the halls with my laptop, listening for them. But all I hear are the waves lapping on the shore.

Sounds magical, like the perfect writing spot, doesn’t it?

Actually, I’m spending time at my parents’ house while a work crew helps clear out the last of the housewares, furniture and trash. There are people working hard around me, and they make bangs and thuds, and sometimes they need to talk with me. I’m doing some work remotely for the day job on my phone, and I’m running errands to take care of house things. And amidst that, I’m writing on a giant porch overlooking a lake.

It’s magical. It’s wonderful to have stretches of time when I can write.

weirsdaleporchnanowrimoAnd it’s hard. It takes discipline to make time to write. It seems especially challenging since I’m not used to having this much time available to write. My usual writing schedule is day to day, dependent on family time, work schedules, and whether the weather is too good to miss out on a bike ride to get my body moving along with my mind.

NaNoWriMo puts out a constant stream of support and ideas during November, including prompts for writing sprints. That’s how I’ve been getting myself to focus on writing, rather than the myriad other things happening around me.  In between I can make notes of where to go next, write down any additional characters that have popped up that I want to keep track of.  And then, it’s on to the next push.

For a writing sprint, you set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, and then write. No looking at the clock. You let the scene unfold as you go, or work on the scene you’ve planned to write next. You make it something exciting, where something important HAPPENS. It’s amazing how much you can crank out in small bit of time like that. Yesterday, I managed 800 words during a 20 minute sprint, and I had a great time writing about my main character and her bloody shovel.

Best of luck on your journey to your 50K. You can totally do this, you know, whether you’re holed up in a corner at home or looking over the water and straining to hear ghosts.  I’d love to hear how your writing is going, so leave me a comment and tell me what tricks you’re using to keep the words coming.

Christmas Is Creeping Up Behind You – 1 Day Until Halloween

The Halloween shelves are shrinking with the last of the cackling skeleton brides and tombstones.  There are some turkeys overlapping them, but Christmas and winter holidays are coming on strong.  I see you, giant nutcrackers and elves, just on the other side of the shelf.

RIP carolersHalloween is almost here, our last revelry of this spooky season, but the creepy celebration isn’t over.  I’ll be writing about scary things through November for NaNoWriMo.  And I’ll be finding inspiration in my beloved swamps, like these carolers guarding a grave.  Are they singing songs of celebration or lamentations?  Or an endless, hellacious round of Jingle Bells to torment the poor soul?

A Monstrous Love – 4 Days Until Halloween

In the movie Crimson Peak, Lucille Sharpe (the dark sister who holds the keys to the family manse) tells the gothic heroine, “It is a monstrous love. And it makes monsters of us all.”  Her version of love is menacing and possibly mad, as the best monsters are.

My favorite monsters pursue their victims with a deliberate and threatening drive.  In a presentation at the Florida Writers Conference, Sidney Williams posited that a monster is only frightening until you see it, and I think this is true.  You know it is there, that it will come, that it is hunting the others. The anticipation is suffocating. You squint into the darkness trying to see if you can make out its silhouette.  You wait behind the door with the gothic heroine, the original final girl, listening hard for its approach, desperately wanting to bolt, trying to hold your breath so you won’t be heard.

You want the monster to find her, so the final girl can face it and survive.  But the monster is never more threatening than right before that breathless moment.

The Little Man – 6 Days Until Halloween

The Little Man
by Victoria Nations

There’s a little man
crouching by the fence past the stop sign.
He’s bald and wearing a shapeless coat,
and he reminds me of Uncle Fester,
but he’s grinning a little too wide.
His teeth are very long.
And he looks much too menacing to be an Addams.

He’s shaking the split rail fence.
Maybe he’s trying to pry one of the boards off,
though it would be easy enough to crawl over
or even through the fence.
But perhaps he’s just doing it to get my attention.
He’s catching my eye, and he’s grinning wider now.
And he’s pulling the fence with greater force.

Bang.
Bang.
Bang.

He pauses for a moment and looks to see if I’m reacting.
I’m trying to hold my face still.
I’m trying to look as if I’m not watching him.
And I’m wishing that I could drive past him faster.
He’s obviously tracking me. He knows what I’m doing.
His head swivels around, and his smile is wider.
I can see the gums above his teeth.

I lose him in my blind spot as I pass closest to him.
When I look in the rearview mirror,
he’s not at the fence anymore.
The board is still in place.
I can’t see him anymore,
and it’s worse than watching him follow me.
I wonder how fast he can move, or jump.

I think about him clinging to the roof,
his face raised to the wind.
It’s causing his lips to pull back from those long teeth.
I think about him waiting there.
He’s waiting for me to get farther down the road.
I hear his grip shift on the roof, before trying to pry it off.

Bang.
Bang.
Bang.

Hallow-WriMo – 11 Days Until Halloween

NaNoWriMo begins at midnight on November 1. I’m often up then, closing down the house after the last trick-or-treaters and eating Halloween snacks in front of a late night horror movie. I’ve usually gotten most of the makeup wiped off, and I’ve transitioned to ghost socks. I’ll be dreaming of starting my NaNoWriMo story.

I’ve actually already started because it’s been building in my head for several weeks now. Characters are fleshing out, and I am starting to see how they look, though they haven’t all revealed their names yet. A few locations are coming together.  The antagonist is starting to talk and he’s pretty grumpy. The main character is pretty antagonistic, herself.

My writing will begin later on November 1, after the sun has come up, but I’m excited about it already. I want to get to that scene I see in my head, where the main character is exasperated about cleaning up the blood. I can’t wait to hear her pitch a fit as I write about her.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, look me up and send me a note at “Leaves and Cobwebs.” I’d love to hear how your stories are going, too.

Quiet Horror – 12 Days Until Halloween

I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and I still adore them. Some day their language is overblown, but I love how their lavish descriptions overwhelm me. Their stories are more horrifying for how they make me feel crushed beneath moldering walls and surrounded by alien angles.  Something monstrous is usually threatening to overtake their narrators, and I hold my breath waiting for it to come.

When I see old buildings, their windows covered, my mind runs with the possibilities of what could be lurking behind them.  The buildings may be abandoned, but somehow they don’t seem empty.  I want to see the curtain twitch.  I want to see a shadow move behind them.

One of the presentations by Sidney Williams at the Florida Writers Conference was on quiet horror, those stories with a feeling of creeping terror.  It’s the form of horror fiction that I love to write (and read).  I want a reader to sense something is off, something wrong is happening. They’ll sense something is waiting for them to come closer, but they won’t be able to identify it in time. The unknown, the inability to escape, will make it even scarier.

Sunday Chores, Again – 13 Days Until Halloween

Two of my favorite sessions at the Florida Writers Conference were today.  I spent the morning delving in to how characters respond to supernatural elements and geeking out over writing horror so it fills a reader with dread.

But there was time this afternoon to check off a Halloween task: pumpkins!  They were so bright, so huge, and in all different shapes.  These will be very good jack-o-lanterns.