Dreams and Summer Camp (NaNoWriMo)

In a place where the oak canopy opens and there is full sunshine, the Seminole-Wekiva Trail asks what you want before you die.

A little apart from the murals of Paint the Trail, a section is painted with chalkboard paint.  There’s chalk to write your dreams.  What do you want to do before you die?

I stopped when I first saw it, struck by the question.  It’s so big and yet so basic. It implies that you aren’t, yet, doing the thing you want to do.

Maybe the remoteness makes it easier to declare what you want.  The wall is covered in layers of writing.  People wrote who they want to marry, or just that they want to fall in love.  They wrote they want to become the best at something.  They wrote they want to move away from their home city, dreaming of the wider world.

Some came back to write that they did the thing they had written before.  These are written in large, victorious letters.

I wrote a dream earlier this year, and I think of my chalkboard heart often as I work towards it.  This year has been about editing my stories better, paying attention to how they are crafted, and submitting them.  With more submissions, I’ve received more feedback, and that is making me a better writer.

Happy first day of Camp NaNoWriMo to my fellow campers out there!  By participating, you’re making your declaration of what you want to do.  You’re carving out time to write, riding the thrill of a story coming together in your head, and pushing through the muck when it slows.  I’ll see you along the way at #5amWritersClub and near midnight, trying to get my daily word count.  Come say hi at Leaves and Cobwebs, and we’ll sprint together down the trail.

SWT-Before I die-heart

 

 

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74 Days Until Halloween – 75 Days Until NaNoWriMo

Summer is ending, and Autumn dates and deadlines are suddenly upon me.  It’s also:

14 days until the first 10 pages of my short story are due for the critique session at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Critique Session.

37 days until the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference.  This will be my first time attending this conference, and I’m especially excited that it’s in St. Augustine, which happens to be the location of my current WIP.  I can’t wait to run my hands over those coquina stone walls again.

58 days until the Florida Writers Conference.  Last year was the first time I attended this conference, and I was blown away.  Not only were the sessions varied and technically robust, but the attendees were incredibly welcoming and supportive.  It inspired me to jump into my first NaNoWriMo last November (and Camp NaNoWriMo’s, too), and to submit poetry and short stories for publication.

Fall is my favorite season, but we won’t feel it for a couple months here in Florida.  Right now, it’s nearly 80 degrees at night, and up in the nineties each day.  Right now, the nightly thunderstorm is blowing outside, and it’s getting the frogs in the swamp so excited that they’ll wake me up tonight with their croaking.

But Halloween will be here soon. Summer will be reined in, things will begin to slow down and droop, night will come sooner, and Fall will make everything crackling and mysterious.  The promise of it coming has me excited to get writing on a new spooky story on November 1.

Camp NaNoWriMo – Mosquitoes

Welcome to Day 20 of Camp NaNoWriMo!  How does your camp look?  Is your tent still dry?  Provisions well stocked?  Any interesting interactions with wildlife?

I’ve been putting all my writing energy into focusing on my novel, editing and adding scenes to improve its structure.  That’s resulted in me wandering off in the woods a bit, posting fewer blog posts and slapping away the mosquitoes of real life distractions.  I knew this would be different from the creative push of writing a first draft, but I did not expect how it would push my brain to work so differently and how much I would learn from the process.

Focusing solely on the novel is hard at times.  Real life has many distractions, but it also provides so much inspiration.  I see places I want to photograph; I think of poems and scenes for short stories that are hanging in the wings.  I’m  jotting down ideas when they come – the other morning I spent my #5amwritersclub time to write a scene for a short story because I woke up thinking about it and didn’t want to lose it.  But I’m pushing myself to always turn my focus back to the novel.

This focus is tightening the structure of my story more, which is a cool thing to experience.  I see gaps now that I’m reading some sections fresh after several months.   When I read a well-crafted story, there’s a thrill to how the characters and story elements move together.  My goal is to stitch my seams together so well that they don’t show.

Camp NaNoWriMo – Lurking in the Woods

Welcome Campers and lurkers!  Day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo and the day is full of activities.

As I’ve posted before, I’m editing and adding to my draft novel for Camp NaNoWriMo.  Most of the story is set in Florida woods next to a blackwater river.  It’s a setting I can see vividly in my mind – lush growth and dark water – and it’s a place I have great affection for.  And it feels delightfully full of living and dead things, as all the best wild areas do.

So as I work on it during Camp NaNoWriMo, I am doubly tickled that the novel has all sorts of camp-related activities: walking in the woods, swimming, eating outside, the vague dread that the river, or perhaps your relative, wants to do you harm.

And campers.  I am very lucky to be part of a cabin of smart, funny writers who post each day to share support and talk about writing.  I found my cabin by responding to a Twitter post by an author (and publisher) I follow.  Having folks to ask about formatting internal monologue and reminisce about 1980’s horror movies had made the experience even more fulfilling and productive and November’s NaNoWriMo was.

1980’s horror movies: also fond of happening in the woods.  Near the river.  *insert evil laugh here*

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 3 – Editing, Writing, Editing, Writing

So far, Camp NaNoWriMo is rocking along for me.  I’m working on editing my novel from November’s NaNoWriMo.  I’ve never edited something this long before.  I’ve printed it out so I can scribble on it.novel 1st draft - 1

Yep, this stack of paper isn’t imposing at all.

The great thing I’ve found is that I’ve had enough time away from the story (having just added bits and pieces since November) that I can scratch through the text freely.  The naively unexpected thing I’ve found is that reading through it makes me see gaping holes that I want to fill with more writing.

That’s good, right?  I’m going with good and letting myself write in those missing details or change exposition to dialogue, rather than limiting myself to cutting things.  I have read that some writers focus their editing that way, limiting it to pruning and making notes for parts to add after they are done.  But I’m writing as the inspiration comes, at least for now.  This is a big learning experience of me.

In a future post, I’ll talk about how I found my cabin mates for Camp NaNoWriMo and how much interacting with them is adding to the experience.

Happy camping!

Writing Talismans and Camp NaNoWriMo

This is my writing scarf.

It’s my writing scarf because it’s a little spooky and my family gave it to me to wear while I’m writing.  I wore it occasionally, and then put it on for the first day of NaNoWriMo last November – great for keeping warm in the chilly spot where I sit in the kitchen – and by the end of the month it was constantly draped over me or the back of my chair, a fixture like my tea pot.  It became code in our house, that if I was wearing it, I was writing, in my head or tapping on the keys.

I’m quite affectionate towards it at this point.

It’s been getting warmer and I haven’t been wearing my scarf as often.  But Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, so I grabbed it on the way out the other day.  I planned to fit in a couple hours on a short-story while my teen was at a school practice.

Wow!  I managed 1600 words in a couple of hours.  The words flowed; I twisted my magical scarf while thinking.  It was a productive morning.

Whether or not my scarf is imbued with actual magic, I believe our rituals make things slide into place in ways.  The hot tea, the scarf wrapped around me, pulling my computer up to the same spot on the table make everything come together and tell my brain it’s time to write.  It’s comfortable and exciting.

Anyone else going to Camp this April?  There’s one more day to sign up.  Come check it out here.  Come say hi if you do – I’m Leaves and Cobwebs over there, too.

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (II)

I’m continuing with my post about entering my first short story contest, and I’m sharing happy news. I attended the Lake County Bookfest last week, where they announced that my short story will be published in an electronic compilation along with eleven others. Though I wasn’t chosen as a winner or honorable mention in the short story contest, I’m very excited that my story will be included in the collection, and I have a couple more insights to share about the experience.

Fortune favors the brave:
For the first time in a long time, I was shy about having strangers read what I wrote. I write at work all the time. I have participated in writing groups and enjoyed sharing my writing.  So, I was surprised by how nervous I felt about submitting. It came at the very end, when I’d mostly finished editing and only felt like I needed to proof the story. Then I picked it up and suddenly had lost all perspective. I couldn’t tell whether it flowed well, or whether emotions and motivations were clear. I could blame this on being unexpectedly rushed, but it was more than that. I cared about submitting a good story, and I had to go on faith that it worked as well as I’d thought it had previously. Then, I proofed it, checked the submission guidelines again, and submitted.

Trying is the opposite of failing:
Ok, I knew this one. It’s a central tenet of my value system. I was short-listed, but I didn’t get the reward of that private meeting. I did get written critiques from the judges, though, and these were very insightful. I’m pleased that my story was selected for the electronic compilation, but I’m even more proud that I entered the contest at all.  Despite being nervous, despite feeling stressed and having to scramble at the end, I made the time and put my story out there for review. It won’t be the last time, but it was the first time.

Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (I)

I’m taking a break today from poetry and spooky shorts to share my recent experience with entering a short story contest. This was the first short story that I’d submitted to a contest, and I went into the experience thinking it was a good way to push myself to do something new, to take the next step. Now that the results are in, I realize I’ve learned more than I expected, and I thought you may enjoy my insights.

Plan to submit as early as possible:
I’d worked out most of my story edits well before the story deadline and put it away to simmer a bit. A few more things came to me and I’d planned to make final edits the week before the deadline. However, life threw some surprises at me that week. Suddenly it was the last day the contest was open, and I was driving out of town to take care of some unexpected personal business. When I got back, I holed up in a coffee shop for the last crucial hours. The whole thing ran way too late for my own comfort. Despite all my planning, I submitted nearly at the end. I don’t want that frantic experience again.

Be ready for unexpected emotions:
My last minute scramble made me realize that I was surprisingly emotionally invested in the contest. I didn’t care about winning, but the finalists won an individual meeting with an agent and published author. I was hoping to have that meeting. I was hoping for the validation of being chosen, being good enough, to warrant such a meeting.  And I was hoping to get objective, professional feedback on my writing.  The agent and author work in the genre I write, and so I was especially excited for that.

I’ll finish this up in an upcoming post. Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Writing Longhand, Editing with Doodles and Diagrams

Daniel Kraus’s recent article about authors who write longhand really struck me.  The authors describe how writing longhand slows them down and makes their writing tighter.  They describe the tactile satisfaction they get from the task, how the work they produce is tangible.  Their descriptions are compelling

When I write (fiction, poetry, or reports for my day job), I typically write on an electronic device, as I have since I was very young. My legal secretary mother used an electric typewriter since before I could remember, and I learned to type  on the QWERTY keyboard in elementary school. My early-adopting father brought home an Apple II when I was eight years old. I went to college in 1987 with a portable Zenith computer with a tiny green screen. I wrote everything on computers way before the elegant interfaces of Mac and Windows.

And I still write stories and poetry on my computer.  It lets me move text around quickly, or jot down several words to see what would work in a passage.  Scrivener lets me structure longer works, rearranging the order of sections and making notes to myself.  I use my smart phone’s touch screen when a poem or story idea strikes me away from a computer, and then I email it to myself for later.

But I realize I write differently at work.  I write meeting and field notes in longhand by necessity, with a shorthand of arrows and stars.  These are transcribed on the computer, when I can emphasize things based on my doodles and insert the margin notes.  Part of me has reservations that real-time electronic note taking could interfere with the intimacy of talking with people. The conversation, and hurried shorthand note taking, captures the organic interaction of the conversation.  Revisions can take place after, when things can be laid out with better structure.

This sounds an awful lot like what the authors said in the article.

Another realization: I edit my stories and poetry longhand. I have to see a piece compiled and printed to be able to truly take a knock at it. Then I write all over it with arrows and margin notes.  I draw diagrams of timelines. I doodle hairstyles and  facial expressions on character heads to describe them properly.

My biggest reason for not writing a story longhand? It’s too slow – my typing is faster than my handwriting.  I can’t get the ideas down fast enough.  But maybe that’s not what I should be striving for.  Maybe writing longhand would slow down some of the self-editing that come with typing.  Maybe the deliberate work of transcribing is a better time to work on structure and word choice.  Very interesting ideas for me to ponder.

Do you write longhand or type your drafts, and does it change for different types of writing or revisions?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Pushing

I’m editing a story I wrote last year, with the plan to submit it to a short story contest that’s looking for fantasy/paranormal/speculative fiction.  I’m happy with it, but I know it needs more in places…and also less.

The main character has been talking to me today, and it feels like we are catching up after time apart. I’ve been pushing into how something made her feel. I’ve had no problem getting her to talk affectionately about the other character or to describe the sequence of events, even the tough parts. But she hasn’t revealed much about how she felt when things started going badly. She’s cracked a little today, though.  She’s ready to share, and so even with a busy schedule, I’ve been squeezing in time to get the details down.  They’re messy, hand-written notes, and there are arrows and boxes drawn all around the pages.  But it feels right – the additional insight is going to make the story stronger.

The main character is warm-hearted, but practical, and she doesn’t lose it when something threatens her.  So how do I make a character like that admit she’s frightened?  Or that she’s in pain?  I can see her holding back her reactions, staying strong to get through the situation, but her stoicism could keep the reader from connecting with her.  She’s in survival mode, focused on the immediate future, and putting off her freak out until after things calm down.  But she’s going to have to break a little, I’m afraid.