This is what it takes.

My poor little blog has been dormant for almost a year now, but I guess this is what it takes to wake up.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year, after my first failure in Year 11 last year.  I failed because I stopped writing after my seven-week-old daughter spiked a fever on Day 3, which meant I abandoned all my plans and spent the day in the ER, feeling helpless and terrified as they pierced her brand-new skin with needles to take her blood, held her down to X-ray her lungs, and stuck suction tubes down her nose.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, understandably.  Rose, we found out later, had caught parainfluenza virus, likely from her brother, which is common and not a big deal at all, as long as you’re not a seven-week-old newborn who hasn’t yet had any immunizations.  I spent the next week up every two hours, trying desperately to get my girl to drink milk or at least Pedialyte, to avoid dehydration.

Some things trump writing, but only for a time.

I didn’t work on my novel Tuesday evening.  I still had 1300 words to go to meet quota, but I just couldn’t write about this fantasy world where the biggest problems were two star-crossed lovers who desperately wanted to be with each other.

But I also couldn’t not write.  So I wrote a letter to my children.

8 November 2016

Dear Pippin & Rose,

I’m supposed to be working on my NaNoWriMo novel right now, but I just can’t. I don’t know how to write when the world seems so precarious.  I should say, I don’t know how to write anything other than how I’m feeling.  I think it’s important — vital even — to write and make art and find hope when the world seems like it might be crumbling.

I have to believe that everything will be OK, no matter how this election ends up.  But I do think it’s important for you both to know, for posterity, that your parents stood on the right side of history tonight.  We voted for hope and progress and empathy, and that’s what we’ll keep seeking.  No matter what.

But tomorrow isn’t here yet, and tonight I’m scared.  You’re both asleep and have no idea what’s going on in the world, and I’m thankful that you get to be innocent for a while longer.  I worry about a country that was a paragon of hope and optimism finding itself on the precipice of electing a demagogue, a fascist, a man who has built his empire on the backs of others who deserved better.  He is quite literally the opposite of everything I could ever ask for in a president, and I cannot understand how so many can stand behind him.  It is a wake-up call for us here: there is still so much work to do.

It’s always good to look for lessons, to find out what we can learn from a situation, whether it’s gone our way or not.  And here, I’ve seen ignorance, much of it willful, turn people’s eyes and even hearts to a demagogue.  History has shown us it can happen, but we did not know it could happen here.  So what do we take from that?

My loves, please think critically.  Always question your assumptions.  Always look for the other side.  Always try to find the story behind how something came to be.  Recognize propaganda for what it is, good or bad, and learn to see the facts through the emotions.  Propaganda is a tool, nothing more, but in the hands of the hateful or ill-informed, it is dangerous.

My loves, please find empathy.  Humans are multi-faceted.  Read broadly.  Reading cultivates empathy.  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Ask them how they came to where they are, and look for a glimmer of yourselves in their stories.  Offer grace and mercy, and accept them when they’re given to you.

My loves, do your best to stand on the right side of history.  Be kind.  Offer help.  Be generous when you can, and sometimes when you can’t.  Consider both the many and the few, and try to do the best you can for all.

My loves, take care of each other.  Protect each other.  Trust each other.  Never lose sight of each other.  Your mama and daddy love you, but you two also share a unique bond that only you can cultivate.  I see how you play with each other, how you get frustrated with each other, and how, ultimately, above all, you love each other.  Keep doing that.

I do not know what tomorrow holds, or what will come after that, but I know this: I love you both an unfathomable amount, and so does your daddy.  That means a lot in this world.  So whatever comes, we’ll be here with you, together, holding you close, and hoping for a better world for us all, but mostly for you.

Love always,

Mama

More than half the country’s voters vote against this, and yet here we are.  We have work to do, and it’s more important than ever that we do it.  Yesterday, after a night spent having panic attacks instead of sleeping, I let myself feel everything I needed to feel.  I let myself be depressed.  I managed to eat a piece of toast but mainly just drank tea all day.

Yesterday, when I went to bed at 6:45 p.m. (because self-care is important), I didn’t know if I would pick up my NaNoWriMo novel again.  I didn’t know if I could.

And then this morning, I woke up, and I felt the fire burning again.  I made coffee, and I WROTE.

I wrote about those star-crossed lovers because passion is important.  Love is important.  Art is important.  How we treat each other, even when — especially when — we disagree, is important.  Finding common ground is important, but also letting people feel how they need to goddamn feel for a moment is important.  Honest and earnest discourse is important.  Speaking is important, but so is listening.  These are things I’m writing about as well as living, as long as I have the opportunity.

The world has not ended.  It has challenged us to rise up and do better by one another.  Now more than ever, my friends, we have work to do.  Let’s go.

 

[Around Here] Getting Hitched & Gearing Up

First and foremost, top news in my life is that this happened:

Married Folk

And I mailed off the executed marriage license today, so now he’s officially stuck with me.

We had an afternoon wedding (and the weather, rather kindly, turned out absolutely perfect), and afterwards we took our kiddo to my parents’ house, put him to bed, and then headed out to a movie with our now-combined siblings.  And if that doesn’t say “made for each other,” then I don’t know what does.  (The movie, by the way, was Gone Girl, which is kind of hilarious, we know.)

The next day, we jetted off to New Orleans for a few days, where we ate way too much, and drank way too much, and heard a lot of amazing street musicians, and saw a lot of weird and/or beautiful things.

And now we’re back and trying to get back into the groove of everyday life, which is equal parts bummer because I have to go back to work on Wednesday and pretty great because we generally enjoy our everyday life.

I’ve been working on several pieces of fiction with the goal to submit to Fireside Mag and finally made my choice and sent off the one I liked best today.  (The first two issues of Year 3 are currently free to read online, by the way, and feature some great stories [not to mention accompanying artwork], so they’re definitely worth checking out [and supporting!] if you’re interested in good fiction written by authors that actually get paid for their efforts.)

One of my goals in the coming year is to submit to more anthologies/magazines/etc. and to maybe even (gasp!) get paid for some fiction.  It’s a funny thing to talk about trying to get paid for creative endeavors, but artists do have bills to pay, and while I’m lucky to have a day job that supports myself and my family, it’s nice to think about being able to live on one’s passions some day (or at least get help living on).

And that brings me to NaNoWriMo, an endeavor for which I never expect to receive a dime, which is OK because there are forms of credit beyond cold hard cash.  I’ve written before about why NaNoWriMo is so important to me, and this year, Year 10 as I mentioned in my last post, is no different.  As it turns out, I’ve decided I’m doing neither the story that haunts nor the new idea, but the NEW new idea that grabbed my attention about a week ago.  Creative energy is a weird thing, isn’t it?  And with something like NaNoWriMo, I really believe you’ve to go with whatever’s exciting to you in the moment.

So that’s what’s going on around here.  Settling back into life for a week before we jump on the rollercoaster of 1,667 words a day for a month.  Life is good.

 

The Story That Haunts

NaNoWriMo is sneaking up on me this year, which isn’t very kind of it given this will be my tenth year.  You’d think by this point NaNoWriMo and I would be like old friends, comfortable slipping back into our old patterns and inside jokes even after months apart.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant Badge

Alas, Year 10 is throwing me for a loop like usual.

I’d been planning for months to write a story idea that popped into my mind thanks to a logline competition over on the GITS blog.

But then, just in the past week or so, an old idea has been nagging at me.  It’s an idea for which I’ve done many, many drafts in screenplay form.  But I’ve never been able to sufficiently break it.  It’s the idea I’ve come back to the most, the one I’ve never been able to sufficiently capture despite the fact that I always feel so close.  And it’s whispering in my ear again, haunting me again, trying to convince me to try giving it the novel treatment instead.

So, it’s the age-old question for me: write the new thing, or write the thing that haunts? I try to alternate, and I have been slowly working on a new idea over the past few months.  I’m planning to wrap up Draft Zero before I head into November. And after that, I’m thinking more and more it may be time to visit the ghost once again.

My 10 Commandments of NaNoWriMo, New Parent Edition

I’ve thought long and hard about attempting NaNoWriMo this year.  There are plenty of reasons not to do it, but let’s be honest — there are always plenty of reasons not to write 50,000 words in one month.  This will be my 9th year, and in the end, I decided I would feel better about trying and failing than about having not tried at all.

I’ve been out of the daily writing habit for a long while now.  In the midst of my pregnancy, I was saddled with an overarching lack of desire to write.  Which really sucked a lot.  And while I’ve churned out a few short stories since Pippin was born, harnessing the energy at the appropriate time has been a struggle.  So, if for no other reason, NaNoWriMo contains the potential power to get me into a daily writing habit again.

NaNoWriMo 2013 Participant Banner

My 10 Commandments for Surviving NaNoWriMo as a New Parent

Here are the strategies I’m hoping to put into place to get me through the month and to 50,000 words.

Commandment #1: Trade Off Parenting Duty

I’m very lucky that I have a super supportive partner, who has also participated in NaNoWriMo the past two years.  This November, he’ll be starting a new adventure — returning to school to get a teaching degree — at the same time I’m buckling down for NaNoWriMo.  We’re typically pretty good about taking shifts watching Pippin while the other one goes off to do whatever we need to do — work out, create something, sleep, etc. — and that will become even more important moving forward.

Commandment #2: Take the Writing on the Road (or the Kiddo Out of the House) At Least Once a Week

A subcategory of trading off, we’re going to try to ensure that we both get distraction-free time each week.  We can drop into our local Starbucks, or one of us can take Pip out for an adventure at a play place or a trip to the grocery store.

Commandment #3: Stop Wasting Time on the Internets

I know, I know. This is old advice. I tend to have screen-induced ADD, to the point where I tell myself it actually helps my productivity to pop over to facebook or twitter or Candy Crush (Dear God, why did I ever download that awful, terrible, horrible game?!) every five minutes.  Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right?  Well, there you go.  If I have 15 minutes of downtime, I should use it to tap out a few hundred words instead of messing about on something useless.

Commandment #4: Get Some Exercise

My brain works best when I get my workouts in, so I need to continue making those a priority.  I’ve already lowered my expectations for what I consider workouts these days, but if I can manage to fit in something active just about every day (a very brisk walk with Pip in the stroller, a 15- to 20-minute strength workout after he goes to bed, etc.), then I’ll be in good shape (both mentally and physically).

Commandment #5: Don’t Throw a Healthy Diet Out the Window

Our crockpot is going to see a lot of action this November.  So are our freezer and our oven.  It turns out babies and school are expensive, so ramping up the eating out isn’t really a great option for us — plus doing so generally tends to work against my previous strategy.  But our budget can handle some frozen stuff we can just pop in the oven, like healthy fish, organic burritos, or pre-frozen casseroles from Costco.

Commandment #6: Write in the Morning; Write in the Evening

I get up at 4:15 a.m. in the morning to pump before I go to work, and during that pumping time, I am basically tethered to my computer.  Same in the evening before bed.  Those are also the times when Pippin is (usually) sleeping.  If I can knock out 1,000 words at each go, I’ll be in very good shape.

Commandment #7: Jot Down Ideas All Day Long

Whether it’s scribbled on a piece of paper, hastily typed into my iPhone, or inarticulately blabbed as a voice memo, I will do my best to capture thoughts so I can incorporate them into writing later.  No more ideas lost to the ether.

Commandment #8: Know What I’m Going to Write Next

I’m going to make an effort to plan the next bit I’m going to write whenever I’m getting ready to wrap up a writing session.  I don’t think I need to go so far as stopping in the middle of a sentence, but knowing what I’m going to do next will enable me to jump in more quickly the next time I have a few minutes.

Commandment #9: Write Every Day

Even if I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form I can hit the 1,667-word quota, I can still write something.  One hundred words are better than zero words.

Commandment #10: “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.”

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how having a hobby and actively pursuing it in the midst of his other “real” projects improves his creativity.  I think it’s important to stay engaged with the world in as many ways as possible, which is one reason why I take so many photographs.  It helps me see things I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been looking for an interesting photo — and that in turn leads to interesting things popping out at me because my brain is trained to do that.  And the hope is that that brain elasticity transfers to my writing.  So I plan to keep taking photos during November (I participate in #fmsphotoaday every month, sometimes more fully than others), and I plan to take the time to make some physical art.  I’m also going to hang out with my kid, watch some TV shows and go on a few dates hopefully.  Because the best writing comes from what we discover while living life.

Join the Challenge — Sign Up for NaNoWriMo

The best and worst fact of NaNoWriMo is there’s always someone busier than you.  If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, stop making excuses and take the plunge. It’ll be a grand adventure and one you most certainly won’t regret.  No time like the present, so go sign up!  If you’re planning on participating, I’d love to hear (and potentially steal) your strategies for making it through the month — leave me a comment!

Existential Crises and Pregnancy-Induced Mania

Can I be honest with you?  After completely zeroing out on all the contests this year (the first time that’s EVER happened since I started this whole screenwriting pursuit), I was ready to totally give up on writing.  I had excuses.  I have a full-time day job.  I spend another 10-15 hours a week (sometimes more) on freelance work.  And there’s that little item about getting ready to have a kiddo in 5 months.  It would have been easy to justify giving up on writing for myself and my own dreams.

Except when it is your dream, what you feel put here to do, you just can’t.  Not without sacrificing a part of who you are.

And so after a good eight hours of teary-eyed existential crisis and a good talking down by my boyfriend, I started thinking about what to do next. I definitely wasn’t ready to start anything new.  I knew I could reach out to a few people for notes and thoughts on scripts I’d already written.  And I knew I could focus some energy on finishing my short film that’s been in post-production for something terribly embarrassing like a year and half now.

And then LEON stumbled into my life by way of a link to an open writing assignment for Amazon Studios.  I’ve historically had mixed feelings (like much of the screenwriting community) about Amazon Studios’ spec opportunities, but the terms of the OWA looked inviting, and it was a relief to be able to focus on a story that didn’t come directly from my own heart and soul.  And I figured, if nothing comes of it, it’s good practice in writing a treatment and learning how to respond to OWAs, in case I ever do make it anywhere in the industry.

Ditty Writes a Treatment

An actual scene from Ditty Writes a Treatment. Because writing treatments (just like screenplays) includes taking breaks to take instagram photos of your coffee and iPad and notebook. (And if you’re wondering, that is a Venti Decaf Nonfat Half-Pumpkin Spice, Half-Sugar-Free-Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which I’ve earned the privilege of ordering without enduring massive barista hate by ordering plain coffee for something like 700 days out of the past two years. Pay your dues, folks. Pay your dues.)

I’ve never been a fan of treatments for my own specs.  It always seemed like my time would be better spent outlining and then actually writing the thing.  But I did enjoy the process of creating a narrative version of my take on the script, and I think it’s a nice way to work out a story you don’t really know too well yet, as well as a story you’re not quite sure how to fix at first glance.  So now that’s submitted, and I’m back to staring at my own projects.

So, here are my goals for now through the arrival of the stork.

NaNoWriMo in November. – It’ll be Year 8 for me, which is ridiculous, and also makes me feel like I can’t quit now despite everything going on. Besides, the No. 1 rule of NaNo is there’s always someone busier than you.  Plus I’ve got a story up my sleeve I’ve always thought would make an excellent screenplay (in fact, I’m baffled it’s not been done before), so it’s a good chance to do a super thorough treatment version of that.

Finish post-production on STILL. – If I don’t finish this thing before the baby is born, then I just don’t know, guys. Post-production is hard. I’m really not a fan of it. But it’s kind of a necessary evil if you actually want to show people your film, which I do.  I’m hoping the Independent Filmmaker Track at the Austin Film Festival will both give me some inspiration as well as some practical tactics on how to make this process go more smoothly in the future.  (Tip No. 1: If you don’t like doing post-production, maybe recruit someone who actually does.)

Choose a script to write whilst on maternity leave. – Now, this may seem kind of nuts, and it may be kind of nuts, but I’m going to have 8 to 9 more hours in the day than I’m used to having. If even three-quarters of that is taken up by the kiddo, then I’m still coming out ahead.  I know folks who have done it and more, so I’m going to do what I can.  (Alternate goal: Plan and shoot another short film, which I think is the crazier option of the two.)

And that’s it. Not so bad. Leaves plenty of time for the pregnancy-induced mania* that’s starting to hit. I’m not going to admit how much time I spent on Pinterest today. But I also spent a couple of hours on a screenwriting project today, and I’m going to call that a triumph, my friends.

*I am not a bird and thus refuse to call it “nesting.” Come on, people.

NaNoWriMo: Why It Matters

One of the best things about NaNoWriMo — if you’re serious about winning anyway — is it forces you into a daily writing habit.  After five years winning without a novel to show for it, I still hold that buckling down and writing an hour or more a day for a month straight has been nothing but beneficial.

I’ve been pulled in a number of different directions, creatively speaking, for the last half of this year, between several stops and starts on screenplays, writing/directing/producing a short film, and making an attempt at writing a stage play, I’d begun to feel pretty disjointed as a writer.  Throw in a major health/fitness/weight loss effort on top of that, and you’ve got a recipe for creative ennui.

Oddly, I felt much the same way going into November last year, too.  And while I pretty much hated what I ended up doing with a premise I still like, I came out of the month with a renewed desire to focus and create something quality.  I’m beginning to feel that way again, and, to top it off, I don’t completely hate what I’m writing this month.  I’m not a huge fan of how I’m writing it — I’m pretty out of practice when it comes to prose — but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever written (that’s a tie between my first script and my second NaNoWriMo novel, if you were wondering).

So, why am I rambling on like this? For one, that’s just how things go in November.  For another, with all the NaNo-related criticism and discouragement that seems to be floating around this year, I wanted to throw out my two cents for why NaNoWriMo is incredibly valuable, no matter what level of writer you are.

If writing is your hobby, then NaNoWriMo is a month when you can have a free-for-all, roller-coaster ride of a time reveling in said hobby.

If you want to take your writing from “hobby” to “serious effort,” then NaNoWriMo is the perfect way to get in the habit of writing daily — something the majority of “serious writers” will tell you is very, very important.

If you’ve been making a serious effort for a while and are feeling creatively blocked, NaNoWriMo gives you the freedom to write whatever the hell you want without abandon for 30 days straight.  While you may end up tossing everything you’ve written, the key point is, YOU’VE WRITTEN.  Once the month’s done, you can celebrate your breaking through the creative block by writing something quality again (and maybe even taking whatever you ended up with from the month’s adventures and taking it to the next level).

The point of NaNoWriMo has never been to have a novel ready to hit the bookshelves of your nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble on Dec. 1.  The purpose of NaNoWriMo is, quite simply and quite profoundly, to free writers to write — no matter their skill level, their experience, their aspirations, or their hang-ups.  For one month, we get to write without consequence and with no strings attached.  And it’s my opinion that, at least once a year, there’s no greater gift for a writer than that.

NaNoWriMo: A Call to Action

November is my favorite month of the year.  It has it all: colorful leaves, usually a sprinkling of snow, the beginnings of seasonal cheer and décor, Thanksgiving, and (last, but definitely not least) my birthday.

As if November weren’t fantastic enough, the folks at The Office of Letters and Light had to go and pile on National Novel Writing Month.  So, that makes November’s official tagline “How much awesome can you handle?”

This will be my fifth year participating in NaNoWriMo.  I’ve “won” all previous four years (hitting my personal goals of 60k in 2007 and 75k in 2008, I might add, in the interest of tooting my own horn), but I have yet to come out of the month with a baby novel. To recap:

  • In 2005, I wrote about a slightly fictionalized version of my five weeks of hell working at Wal-Mart right after I graduated college.
  • In 2006, I wrote a truly horrible (if complete) supernatural-mystery-thriller featuring the worst dialog and the biggest Mary Sue of all time.
  • In 2007, I wrote what a story about a young man who chooses not to speak and realized about 20,000 words in that it was supposed to become a screenplay.  I finished it, but no one will ever see that version.  Instead, it served as a very broad and early conceptual version of MUTE.
  • In 2008, I tackled a huge concept I really had no business tackling: a collision of the modern and fairytale worlds on a ridiculously epic scale.  It remains unfinished.

Despite having no novel to show for my four wins, I wouldn’t change my experience for anything.  It was NaNoWriMo that reawakened my desire to write for a living after school and life had dampened it a bit.  It was NaNoWriMo that proved to me that I could write something novel-length, even if I had a long way to go as a prose writer.  With a little (or, on some days, a lot of) effort each day, I could be a writer.

So, here’s my advice.  If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of writing a book, because it sounds like fun, or you think you have a story to tell, or you want to say you once did, or — God help you — you want to be a writer, then November is the perfect time to take the plunge.  At no other time during the year will you have the same support you get from the NaNoWriMo site, its tools, and all the other crazies partaking in the rollercoaster adventure of writing a novel in a month with you.

Even if you think you won’t have time to write 50,000 words, I’d still encourage you to give it a shot.  Even if you end up with 40,000 or 20,000 or 2,000 or 500 words, it’s likely more than you would have written otherwise, and that, my friends, is a victory.  So, if you’re up for the challenge, head on over to the NaNoWriMo site and sign yourself up.  If you like, feel free to add me as a buddy (you can do so easily by clicking on the participant icon on the right side of my blog).  I’ve got a feeling that November 2009 is going up to be the best NaNoWriMo ever, so don’t miss out!