Still here

Hey fan base! I’ve been busy, but not too busy (in other words, no all-nighters). Here’s my progress so far:

Screen shot 2014-11-16 at 9.50.05 PM


Once they get their system set for a few hundred thousand users, NaNoWriMo does a great job of keeping track of how much I’ve written. That graph on the right is just what I need to force myself past the moments of thinking I’ve made a huge mistake. As long as that brown bar stays above the grey line, I know I’m on track.

There are plenty of moments when I think perhaps this writing gig is too much like work, but I’ve learned to ignore them. NaNo provides advice from pep-talkers like Tamora Pierce (she suggests making your protagonist do something stupid to see how they cope), and several dozen discussion forums with writing prompts such as this one from “Pachelbel”:

Imagine your character going about his or her mundane daily tasks and finding something unexpected that brings about a strong reaction. It must be a physical object that creates either a physical or mental threat, or a mystery, whether real or imagined.

Pachelbel has another 200 or so of these suggestions, enough for 6 per day if needed. NaNo is about discovering your story and who your characters are, so everything is acceptable, even if later it gets edited out.

Anyway, I’ve passed the halfway point, so I encourage myself by saying the rest is a downhill ride. Yet halfway isn’t all the way, I have two big scenes coming up, including the obligatory battle between the goodies and the baddies, and I know that days of grinding away with no idea of where I’m going are still ahead of me. And then I get to edit it into a novel!

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading: 5 Mapp & Lucia books (including 4 not written by E. F. Benson!), a bit of Thurber, Augustus Carp, more Thurber, and now Diary of a Nobody.

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A Turning Point

Lizzie Ross:

From Julia Lee’s blog. She’s the author of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth, STILL not available in the US. What is her publisher waiting for?

Originally posted on Julia Lee Author:

autumn leaves of London Plane tree

The leaves are falling from the London Planes. I always notice them. They are quite unmistakable – pointy-fingered leaves in clearly differentiated shades,

bright green, or the colour of lemon peel, or at most a light golden brown, like roast potatoes. And all the size of plates – tea plates, dessert plates, even dinner plates. His eye, as he walked down Kilmartin Road, scanned to find the biggest – and yet bigger – leaves upon the pavement and in the gutter between the parked cars. He longed to pick up the biggest he could find and take it home. That would be an autumn leaf.

Why am I writing about this, and what am I quoting?

The fall of the plane leaves always reminds me of my first experience of publication, and prize-winning (writing as Julia Widdows). It was a turning point on my path as a writer and such…

View original 473 more words

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Day 5 of NaNoWriMo

Courtesy APOD, NASA

Courtesy APOD, NASA

I’m giving myself a star — actually, a few billion stars — for today. 3350 words.

I’ve been trying word sprints, which are similar to wind sprints (athletes should recognize that term). I set the timer for 30 minutes, write until the timer beeps, and then give myself a break of no more than an hour while I think about what to write next.

The writing isn’t smooth or without pauses, but I’m not allowed to get up from my computer, answer the phone (which keeps ringing! drat those robo-calls!), or look up a word in the dictionary. This is writing focused purely on idea — on watching it develop on the page as the words seem to magically appear. It’s like developing a photograph, the only difference being the photographer knows what to expect.

I’m at a point in my novel where I know what will happen in a few pages, but I have no idea what the few pages that take me there will look like. When I started this morning, I thought “a few” pages meant 3-4. By the end of the day, they were 10, and I still hadn’t reached the point where I know what’s going to happen.

I have to assume I’ll get there eventually. I just don’t know yet by what route.


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The Seven Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 7

The last item of the list.

imagesThere are no rules.

A member of my writing group said today that he had signed up for NaNoWriMo but was still undecided about participating because he didn’t like that he wasn’t allowed to edit.

At first I tried to argue with him. “Read my blog post about that very thing. Editing gets in the way of writing. The point isn’t perfection. The point is to get a first draft.”

Then, taking a different tack, “No one’s looking over your shoulder to disqualify you if you do edit.”

As my voice got shriller, I suddenly realized that I was being an idiot.

Writing isn’t about copying other people’s successful strategies. It’s about finding what works for you. NaNo works for me because it gives me an achievable goal, with a few hundred thousand other people around the globe supporting me in spirit as they take up the same challenge. I know plenty of writers who, for whatever excellent reasons, hate it.

Fine. No judgments. People wrote good stuff before Chris Baty and his colleagues turned budding authors into rheumy-eyed word hounds for a full month, and people will continue to do so. NaNoWriMo doesn’t want to kill that. It wants to encourage people who’ve been thinking about “writing a novel” (I believe there must be a billion of us by now) to finally sit down and do it by bringing that first draft into the realm of the imaginable.

So, NaNoWriMo or don’t NaNoWriMo. Edit or don’t edit. Get a critique group or be that lone artist in the attic. There is no such thing as cheating (again, excepting plagiarism) when writing a novel. There is only getting it done, whatever it takes.

Next up: NaNoWriMo Progress Reports. Don’t know when, don’t know how many — let’s just say at some point next month you’ll be hearing from me.

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The 7 Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 6

Nearly there!


Thus the calming blue of today’s number.

Today’s post is easy, because I don’t need to convince myself to get more sleep. I’m already a believer.

The problem is the computer, calling to me late at night. The bright screen, those colors scintillating across my retinas, movies at my fingertips, games galore, websites that connect to other websites, Netflix, Twitter, blogs upon blogs. It’s the black hole of time!

It’s a wonder I get anything done at all. The other night my daughter moaned, “I sat down two hours ago to write something, and all I’ve done so far is read Facebook posts.” I tried not to look parental when I said, “Gee, I wonder how that happened.” But I’m just as guilty. My latest time-waster was watching NBC’s 30 Rock for the 5th time — the entire series, in about 3 weeks. There went October.

Several years ago I canceled my cable subscription and was stunned by how much work I was able to accomplish when I didn’t watch TV programs. That was before Hulu and Netflix. Now that I can watch programs online, I’m once again spending far too much time in the vast wasteland that is electronic entertainment. On top of that are the studies reporting that using electronic devices late at night interferes with sleep patterns (see this NYTimes blog post for details). Yes, we got Trouble in River City, with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Computer!

NaNoWriMo gives me the reason I need to cut the cord and use my time for better things. Cold turkey. It’ll be painful, but the results linger well into December.

Thus, my pledge: During November, I’ll use my computer for writing only*, turning it off at midnight, no matter what. I’ll read for an hour, and then fall into blissful sleep (with a notepad on my bedside table, for those middle-of-the-night brainstorms).

*Sadly, this has to include email — work and personal. I can’t yet completely cut myself off from the rest of the world, but I can limit time spent doing those social media things. I’ve put a timer by my computer and will set it for 1 hour of non-NaNo work before I start each day’s writing.

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The 7 Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 5

The antepenultimate post of this series!

3150494-7873411214-5.jpgGet outside.

Everyday. I mean it. Like the mail carriers: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Even though it might be raining here in NYC on NaNo’s first day, and even though I’ll have no urgent errands to complete, I’ll start the month the way I hope to finish, with an early morning walk. (This way I won’t have to worry about the “gloom of night” thing.)

Getting myself outside isn’t really my problem, but with a well-stocked grocery store about 100 feet from my front door and the subway entrance at half that distance, sometimes “outside” entails about 30 seconds of scurrying from shelter to shelter. (What happens at the other end of the subway ride doesn’t count.)

Come NaNo, this will change. Ferris Jarr, in a recent New Yorker essay, writes about how walking helps us think. According to Jarr,

Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion.

This struck me as interesting because I bike on a fairly regular basis. I’ve trained myself not to think about my writing while cycling since I usually forget what I’ve thought about. (Same problem occurs in those moments at night just before sleep descends — any brilliant ideas are irretrievable in the morning if I haven’t written them down.) Also, since most of my rides are to and from work, work is what I’m thinking about as I ride.

Dickens walked every day, sometimes as much as 15 miles (northwards, that would get me into Westchester County). According to Jarr, Wordsworth (and his sister, ahem!) hiked the varied terrain of the Lake District, his lifetime pedometer showing nearly 200,000 miles. (Think of Dorothy Wordsworth as a 19th Century Ginger Rogers: in high heels and backwards.)

The point of all this is: I have to unleash myself from the desk whereon my computer sits and get myself out to the wilds of upper Manhattan. The Hudson is a 15-minute walk from my apartment (25 coming back, because the only route home rises 200+ feet above sea level in less than half a mile). Inwood Park’s minimally managed woods and the New Jersey Palisades are each less than 3 miles distant.

Or I can walk Broadway and get inspired by architecture old and new (see some truly lovely photos here).

Actually, why wait for November 1st? It’s still morning. I’m outta here.

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The 7 Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 4

More advice to myself, during which we pass the half-way point of this not quite endless list:


(sounds of throat clearing) Try that again, please.


Much better.

Yes, yes, we’ve all heard that writing is hard work. Anything can be hard work if there’s something else I’d rather be doing. When it comes to writing, sometimes I’d even rather be cleaning house. But that doesn’t get the writing done (see Part 1 of this series).

So, to encourage the reluctant me to sit down and do the hard work, I need to have something else to look forward to. Ironing out a difficult turning point in the plot is rarely its own reward. Yes, I may feel like a genius when I succeed at this (until I reread it and realize it’s all worthless tripe), but pats on the back administered by self are very unsatisfactory. Rewards, tangible and tasty, are for me the embodiment of the metaphorical carrot.

Although chocolate ranks high on my list of carrots, there are other options: take-out delivered from one of my local restaurants (Mexican, Thai, Indian, Italian — NYC is the greatest!), homemade chicken soup, toast, even gorp (my recipe: roasted salted cashews, roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted pecans, dried cherries).

And there’s my shopping list to replenish my pantry in preparation for next month. Chocolate, of course, will top the list.

Final word: Click the links for the health benefits of chocolate, cherries, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts like cashews and pecans. Rewards that feed the body as well as the soul!

Posted in Chocolate, NaNoWriMo, writing | 4 Comments