A Shift in “Motivation” (I hope…)

So, remember back when I was all “I need a course to motivate me to write” blah, blah, blah…? And I was all excited about the course I had enrolled in?

Well, I dropped it.

But, I did so for good reason.

I’ve totally jumped onto the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year. I even have some ideas about what I’m going to write. My original intent was to just “pants” it (look at me, all swinging around NaNoWriMo lingo like I know what I’m doing), but then I decided to take a short story that I wrote (which never really felt like a “short” story) and work with it. I came up with some ideas about how to frame it and what shape the chapters/sections would take. It began to feel like something that could potentially develop into a novel-length work, but would also work as a collection of interwoven short stories. I began to feel excited about the possibility and started plotting out how to plan my time for the month of November.

I’ll be cutting down the rest of my schedule to the bare bones where I can, and I just no longer saw how the course could fit in. My original intent was to use the course as something to help me with NaNoWriMo. My original writing plan for NaNoWriMo was to just crank out as many short pieces as I could to reach the 50,000-word mark. I had no real goal of them being connected or related in any way, I just wanted to use NaNoWriMo as an impetus to write a substantial amount of writing in a brief period of time (something I’d never done before). My original thinking was that the course (which focuses on short-form writing, i.e., flash fiction, prose poetry, and micro-memoir) would work to guide me in my writing and inspiration. I thought that a double-dose of motivation (assignment due date! NaNoWriMo! everyone is watching!) would work for me.

But then, reality sunk in. The course was going to require reading and participating in discussions and giving feedback to others. Granted, it’s not for credit, so I could have totally coasted through it, “phoning” it in, but that’s just not my style. I’m a rule follower. A grade grubber. If work is assigned (even recommended!) I do it. For me to take the course the way I would want to complete the course, it was going to take more devotion than I have to spare for the month of November.

The course will likely be offered again in 2014, but my first NaNoWriMo is now. I’ve made some “buddies” on the NaNoWriMo site. I’ve interacted with a few people who are local participants, and I plan to attend some of the write-ins that will be in my city. So, while I had thought that I needed some form of external motivation to accomplish writing, I’m hoping that a more internal motivation will work instead.

My motivation is knowing that I’ve wanted to tackle NaNoWriMo for several years. I told myself I would never attempt it unless I honestly believed I could do it.

And, I think I can. (I think I can… I think I can…)

Monday Quoteday

It’s not possible to advise a young writer because every young writer is so different. You might say, “Read,” but a writer can read too much and be paralyzed. Or, “Don’t read, don’t think, just write,” and the result could be a mountain of drivel.
If you’re going to be a writer you’ll probably take a lot of wrong turns and then one day just end up writing something you have to write, then getting it better and better just because you want it to be better, and even when you get old and think, “There must be something else people do,” you won’t be able to quit.

Alice Munro

Excitement and Acceptance

Today, another story of mine was accepted for publication.

I tried to be excited. But something just felt off.

The story was one that I wrote almost ten years ago, while an undergraduate. That particular fall semester, I was taking both a creative writing fiction course and a seminar on the American War Novel. That seminar was one of the most influential and wonderful experiences of my undergraduate education, and it bled into my writing that semester. This particular story was my favorite that I wrote during that creative writing course, and my instructor had given some solid, positive feedback. I had submitted it for publication back then, but it was rejected.

It sat on my hard drive all these years, and I only reopened it this past spring when I had begun writing again in earnest. I could see some weaknesses and flaws right away. I worked with it and revised it numerous times. I was happier, but there still seemed to be something off. There were things about it that still didn’t ring true, and it just continued to feel a bit “amateur” to me. I convinced myself that it was because I’d originally written it so long ago.

Then, I sent it out again to three places. The first rejected it within days. But, today, one of them accepted it—with some edits.

When I found out they had some edits and suggestions, my stomach immediately dropped. I almost didn’t even open the document they had attached. Instead, I wanted to just revel in the feeling of acceptance and avoid reading what was “wrong” with the story. The thing is, though, I knew there were some things wrong with the story.

So, I opened the document. And, behold, they nailed it on the head.

The issues that I’d been struggling with were identified right there in front of me. While I didn’t necessarily agree with 100% of their edits, the main crux of them were so directly spot on, I could have wept with joy. It’s so difficult for me–as an editor myself–to accept and recognize that I can’t always be objective in my own writing. I struggle to edit myself effectively, and I have to remember that this is okay. I need to focus on the writing and let someone else give me feedback and ideas because without them, stories live in a vacuum and I’ll continue to be bothered by these little bits of, “No. That’s not quite it…,” on and on.

So, now, not only will this story that means so much to me be published, but it will be published in the best possible version imaginable.

Now, I’m really excited.

Writing Advice

Because I am excellent at procrastination, I’ve taken to reading a lot about writing lately. Basically, I have signed up for every email list imaginable that involves writing advice and lessons, and I’ve also signed up for the email newsletters from every online publication I can find that publishes work I like or that I would like to emulate in my own writing.

In the interest of sharing the wisdom I uncover, and sharing the beauty of procrastination, with others, I thought I’d post some of the stuff I come across that I like.

Elmore Leonard’s ten tricks* for good writing:

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”

Go Read Something!

I’m not much of a poetry person. It’s more often than not that poetry is confusing or sluggish to me as a reader. I enjoy it, but it’s not something I generally seek out to find.

Marianne Kunkel is the current managing editor of the University of Nebraska’s literary journal, The Prairie Schooner. When I had some recent interaction with her (she’s lovely, by the way), I sought out some of her poetry online. She’s quite talented, and one poem in particular left me in awe. There’s something so simple about this little poem, but it’s so strong. Enjoy!

“A Sloth First Hears Its Name,” by Marianne Kunkel

published by Rattle

National Novel Writing Month, 2013


NaNoWriMo. This year is my year.

“The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 14)

I’ve wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month for ages. I first learned about it when I was in grad school, and there honestly just wasn’t time. I was also knee-deep in a period where I wasn’t writing creatively at all, so it wasn’t something that “fit” into my education and career goals. But I quietly placed it in my back pocket and thought about it from time to time.

“…writing a novel simply feels great. Slipping into “the zone”–that place where you become a passive conduit to a story–exercises your brain in weird, pleasant ways and just makes life a little bit more enchanted.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 18)

When I made the decision to begin writing again, and when I discovered that I could carve out some time to actually do it here and there (yay for kids who sleep all night!), I began toying with the idea of embracing NaNo. But I kept chickening out.

My best friend did it last year, and she loved it. Well, she didn’t “love” it, but she was definitely proud of the achievement. She inspired me, and I vowed then and there to try again next year… although about ten minutes after I made that vow, I began to develop some excuses–ahem, “reasons”–why I might not after all.

“A rough draft is best written in the steam-cooker of an already busy life. If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 17)

I’m starting to realize that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to writing. I really can’t help it. I’m an editor and a writing teacher by profession, so I edit and critique everything I read. Even the words I am writing myself. But editing while you write is the worst possible way to get any real writing done.

“Exuberant imperfection allows you to circumvent those limiting feelings entirely. It dictates that the best way to tackle daunting, paralysis-inducing challenges is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then go ahead and make them.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 33)

So, I’m going to write a crappy novel. I’m going to write at least 50,000 words of new fiction in the month of November, and I’m going to finally conquer something that I’ve been forcing myself to avoid for a long time. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll end of writing something worth a crap.

“The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 32)

But probably not. And that’s okay. Because I’m going to do something that scares me, and I think that’s a valuable experience for life, in general, and writing, in particular.

“When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 88)

So, here’s to writing your joy. And deadlines. And exuberant imperfection. Care to join me? I’m signed up and ready to go on the NaNoWriMo website.