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.

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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.

Frankenerin

FRANKENERIN
by Victoria Nations

The girl smiled at me from the wall, and even before I saw that her mouth was stitched closed, she was in my arms. She was doll-like, with a sweet, open smile and black button eyes. A burgundy bouffant made her skin seem all the more pale. Her scars were barely noticeable.

Her mouth had been shut for her, and here the stitches were real, made from thick, black thread.

An artist named Chicho had written a love letter on the back of her canvas, naming her Frankenerin. He had drawn a heart and written, “Don’t remove the smile.”

The thrift store clerk rang me up, glancing between Erin and me. She slipped a bag over the painting and laid her face down.

“Better you than me, sugar.”

Erin moved to our new house, but she never selected a room and stayed in the garage instead. She oversaw house repairs and weekend chores, always smiling her encouragement.

I couldn’t remove her stitches. I mean, it looked like I could – it was just tape and thread. But I didn’t. Maybe Chicho had spoken metaphorically, and maybe he hadn’t.  Who am I to doubt what he knew?

ErinI didn’t want anything to happen to that smile.

After a year, it was time for Erin to live somewhere else, somewhere she would want to move inside and settle on a wall that suited her. I propped her up on a bright red chair at the yard sale.

Erin didn’t sell at the sale.

And I had to move her off the chair before someone would buy it. They said they would move her, but they just kept standing there looking nonplussed until I did it.

Erin left in the backseat of a friend’s car.  My friend promised she knew a good home for her, though it definitely won’t be with her. Erin sat staring out the side window as my friend drove away.  She seemed delighted to be traveling again.

The Words

THE WORDS
by Victoria Nations

The little girl held up her hands and willed the books to come to her. When they stayed on the shelves, she wasn’t disappointed. She figured it might work someday, the way the words came to her. If the words came to her, perhaps someday whole books would fly to her outstretched hands.

She didn’t call the words to her. They just came.

When she told her parents the words crawled on the pages like ants, they took her to an eye doctor. The doctor found a minor correction at the pressing of her parents, so she wore glasses with thin lenses.

When she bent over the words, the glasses slid a bit down her nose. When they got too far, she lifted her hand to push them back up. But she had to be very careful not to smudge them with ink.

The words didn’t frighten her. Nothing she read really frightened her. Sometimes the words made her giggle, the way they scampered over her fingers. Sometimes she could feel her heart race when they startled her and all ran at once. Sometimes they made her sad, the way they stumbled after running for too long. They moved slower and slower, until they lost their shape and covered her fingers.

She tried to keep the words with her as long as she could, until her parents clucked at the dirt under her nails and made her wash them clean.

Probability

A lively group of teachers in a coffee shop where I write some nights, and an imagined discussion about their lesson plans

PROBABILITY
by Victoria Nations

“So you’re saying we’re going to use poker chips and a Crown Royal bag. In the science room. With the kids.”

“Right. The kids will love it.”

“The science room at the temple. In the main church building.”

“Right. So we’ll write on the board, ‘What pizza toppings do you want?’”

“I don’t think she’s listening. She’ s not getting it.”

“The red chips will be the pepperoni, and the white chips will be the cheese.”

“Will they be labeled?”

“We can’t bring a Crown Royal bag into the church!”

“Or poker chips.”

“Sure, they can be labeled. That way the kids can keep track of what’s on the board and what’s at their desk.”

“What do you mean, a Crown Royal bag? What is that?”

“With all the toppings and crust options, we’ll have seven different versions of pizza. And we’ll ask them to figure out the probability of them getting a cheese and pepperoni pizza.”

“You know, that purple velvet bag? With the drawstring?”

“Wouldn’t it be 100% probability since they ordered it?”

“No, it’s pizza in boxes and they can’t see which one they picked.”

“I don’t care if it’s pizza. It’s still booze and poker.”

“Next, we can use dice for the pancake exercise.”

“Now we’re using dice in the church?”

“It’s a pancake, and there are different combinations of toppings.”

“Now pancakes I understand. Can the six be chocolate chips? I want more of those.”

“The probability is the same for each of the six sides. The number of dots doesn’t matter.”

“Are you sure this isn’t gambling? Should we be teaching the students how to predict what they roll on dice?”

“They’re just going to have fun rolling dice.”

“We can flip a coin for the next exercise, so they can predict the percentage of heads vs. tails.”

“And there’s the betting money.”

“They’ll be playing craps in the corner by the end of the day.”

“I’ll give you a 50/50 on that.”

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.