Water Usage Skyrockets as NaNoWriMo Novelists Take Extra-Long “Thinking Showers”

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Public officials brace for peak November demand as participants attempt to meet word counts.

BOSTON — Town and city water departments across the country have been unsuccessful in their quest to stop WriMos from overusing public resources during long, leisurely novel-plotting showers, news outlets reported this week.

With several regions of the United States suffering from drought conditions exacerbated by excess bathing and a marked increase in coffee consumption, officials in New England are even considering instituting mandatory restrictions.

“We would like novelists to limit their shower usage to one plot twist per day,” said the Boston Water Department in a press release.  “If you’re really stuck on how to get your main character out of a deadly situation, running a bath actually uses less water and is likely to produce the same ‘aha moment’ results.”

“But ideally, writers should consider procrastination and thought-generation alternatives like leftover Halloween candy binges, sitting sadly in the corner of a coffee shop staring at a blank screen, or deep-cleaning household items they wouldn’t ordinarily touch with a ten-foot pole.”

WriMos have lashed out at the recommendations, calling them creatively limiting and potentially catastrophic for earning their winner’s badge.

“I do my best thinking in the shower,” complained Harvey Purdue of Allston in a blog post.  Purdue typically grabs a towel and scurries over to his laptop while still dripping wet to sketch out his newest ideas before he forgets them.

“It isn’t fair to expect us to act like normal people during NaNoWriMo,” he said.  “Admittedly, it’s a stretch at any time of the year, but it really is different during November.”

Local businesses, like Wilson’s Bath Shop in Woburn, MA, are also opposed to the proposed reduction in shower-related thought time.  “We always hit our loofah sales quota by the end of the first week of November,” said manager Meghan Boyle.  “It’s really good for our employees.”

“And some of the scented shower gels just fly out the door,” she added.  “Outer Space Breeze, Triple Berry Mango-Dystopia, and Unrequited Love Triangle seem to be the most popular this time of year.  We don’t start selling too much of our Smell of Desperation product line until after Thanksgiving, but the lines wrap around the block when the holiday is over.”

In a statement released by non-profit organization WriMos for a Sustainable Future, spokesperson Cathy Georgio called for compromise.  “Just close your eyes and pretend you’re standing under the hot water,” she suggested.  “Think about it really hard.  You’re a writer, aren’t you?  You should be able to use your imagination.”

At the time of publication, neither Purdue nor Georgio had hit their wordcount goals for the day, prompting observers to question whether they had spent too much time procrastinating by drafting statements in response to a non-existent issue for marginally humorous effect.

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Out for the Count

First of all, hello to all my new followers!  Thank you so much for joining my little circle of readers.  Normally, I write a lot about fantasy novels, creativity, and self-publishing matters, but today I’m just taking a little detour to make an unfortunate announcement.  Aren’t you glad you signed up just in time?

Anyway.  So, do you guys remember that time all the way back in August when I fell down the stairs?  I hurt my wrist quite badly, though the doctor I saw at the time seemed to think it was all in my head.  It’s been bothering me since then, to varying degrees, but I’ve been doing my best to ignore it.  After all, doctors know what they’re talking about, right?

Fast forward almost exactly three months later, and guess what?  I was right.  There’s something really wrong with my wrist!  Yay!  No, wait…

This is one of those occasions where I’d like to be wrong, but a second opinion from a second orthopedist has confirmed what I diagnosed myself with several weeks ago.  I’ve got trauma-induced De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which is basically a very painful inflammation of some of the tendons and things that run along your thumb.

I won’t get into all my medical details, partly because you don’t really care, and partly because it’s unpleasant to type with the big, clunky, cast-like brace they gave me.  I’m supposed to wear it all the time for the next three weeks, and then see how I feel.  If it’s still very painful, there are a few more options I can pursue.  But I’m hoping I won’t have to.

Sadly, the next three weeks include the second half of NaNoWriMo.  While I hate the idea of quitting one of my favorite events of the year, I think it’s best if I take care of myself as best I can.  I’m going to bow out of the rest of the month, and conserve my limited typing power for the nine-to-five stuff I actually get paid to do.

Just like with my attempts to keep Oliver off this chair, I give up.

Just like with my attempts to keep Oliver off this chair, I give up.

Even though I have been struggling mightily this month with the novel I started, and I’m not sure it really has the wherewithal to become something worthwhile, it’s upsetting to have to put things on hold for such an annoying and frustrating reason.  I hate feeling crippled, and I hate being unable to pursue the things I want to do just because of happenstance and accidents.

This also means absolutely no archery for the foreseeable future, which might be even worse.  Once again, circumstances stop me in my tracks, taking away so many of my few pleasures as time just drains helplessly away.

But if I don’t commit to resting the stupid limb now, I may be setting myself up for an even longer time-out in the future, should surgery become my only remaining option.  So this is what has to be done, and I’m going to try to do it cheerfully.  Or at least not miserably.  Or at least not so miserably that I’m tweeting about it all the time.

So I’m sorry in advance if I’m a little grouchy over the next couple of weeks.  We are turning over our house at the end of the month, both my mom and my dad are going to be moving to new places, and it’s getting cold and nasty up here already, which makes everything that much harder.

For those of you continuing on with your November adventures, I salute you.  Write some great words for me, will ya?  Let me know how it goes!

Ready? Set? Wait for it…

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If you’re reading this two and a half days from now, feel free to yell “GO” whenever the clock strikes twelve in your particular time zone.

Yes, we’re only a few short hours from the annual literary marathon known as NaNoWriMo, and I have to tell you, I wasn’t even sure I’d be running this year.

I had some grand ideas earlier in the month, which promptly crumbled in front of me when I sat down to sketch out my opening scenes.

Normally my novels start out a bit on the slow side, with background and introduction instead of bang-boom-crazy action.  I’m generally okay with this (after all, I’m the one who’s writing it like that), but every time I send a manuscript off to an agent, they tell me the story didn’t grab them the way they wanted it to.

So this time, I tried making something explode in the first sentence.  That’ll do it, right?  Well…it turns out it’s hard to establish the right tone for your sensible, intelligent, domestically-focused character when you blow up her house without giving her a chance to say anything about it.

The subsequent confusion, blood, and urgency may be flashy, but it left Abigale Calloway with nothing to do but scream and be shocked and get rescued in her very first scene, since she didn’t know what the hell was going on and would not have the training or experience to do anything except panic in such a situation.

I have enough trouble writing female main characters (a subject for another post, maybe) without turning them into damsels in distress on page one, so I scrapped those thousand words.  Then I wrote another scene, where someone else’s house exploded instead, but that didn’t work either.  The logistics were all wrong, and Abigale would have had to run into a village under attack to do some things that would be entirely out of character for her anyway.

So I scrapped that one, too.  Twice.  I changed Abigale’s history; I changed the setup of her world; I changed the potential outcome of the story in an effort to get myself excited about writing it, but it all seemed dreary, dull, lame, and lackluster.  And this is all a fortnight before NaNoWriMo was even going to begin.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have seen my angsty post about potentially throwing the whole notion out the window (where it would promptly explode in a dissatisfactory manner, no doubt), but as soon as I published something about my conundrum, I realized what I was doing wrong.

Wishful thinking?

Wishful thinking?

You know, sometimes in archery, I will start off the hour doing very well, and then something will shift without my notice, and I’ll end up with six or seven rounds of off-target garbage.  I’ll get mad at myself for sucking, and try to fix one thing or another, and nothing will work.

Five minutes before I get so frustrated that I’m about to give up, I’ll realize that it all comes back to the one fundamental thing I lose sight of sometimes: my grip on the bow.  I’m so busy worrying about the dynamics of pulling the string back and aiming each time that I forget how important it is to have a solid start.  When I reposition my fingers and relax my arm, suddenly everything comes back into alignment and hitting the gold is easy again.

It’s the same thing with writing.  When I grip the story wrong, nothing else works.  I had planned to write The Night Heron’s War as a stand-alone novel and market it traditionally while I continue to self-publish the rest of The Paderborn Chronicles, just to see what would happen.

Agents tell me my openings are boring, so I was trying to wrestle my novel into a mold that would sell to them.  I wasn’t writing for myself.  I was gripping way too hard, approaching it from the wrong angle, and wrenching my storytelling out of alignment.

I’m all for listening to feedback and incorporating it appropriately, but this particular piece of advice just doesn’t work for me.  If I don’t block out the world sometimes, I succumb to my inferiority complex and end up floundering around in a sea of self-pity.  Some writers like to be pushed to write a best-seller, because the pressure inspires them.  For me, it just makes me want to cry.

Maybe my stories do start off a little more slowly than commercial publishers like to see, but I feel like I do better work when I can do a bit of world building that puts the action into context first.  Maybe this isn’t what will grab the attention of someone who skims through a hundred queries a day, but it’s what makes a good story, as far as I’m concerned.

So I pushed the explosion back a bit, and let Abigale say some intelligent, character-defining things first before I ruined her life forever.  My excitement about the story is back, and I’m looking forward to writing it in a meaningful way.  The rest comes later.

During November, it’s the journey that matters, and I’m ready to get as far as I can in the next thirty days.  Are you?

The Call of NaNoWriMo: November Approaches

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I don’t know about you, but I’m having a little trouble with the fact that it’s already well into October.  My summer has been filled with activity – and inactivity, unfortunately – and it seems like the warm days passed me by before I was even aware.

I think that happens every summer, but I never stop being surprised by it.  One moment it’s all flowers and oceans and walks in the park, and the next I’m tripping over decorative gourds and dodging Christmas tree displays at Kmart.

Autumn isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite things.  Massachusetts is the best place on earth to get your fill of orange leaves and apple orchards, cider and hay bales and cool, misty mornings rolling in over the hills.  There’s something in the air that makes you want to invest in some oversized, locally-spun wool garments and take a hike somewhere.

Whatever it is that makes me hoard sweaters and try to find where I put my Crock Pot also flips the switch in my creative brain that starts the wheels turning again.  It takes a little while to get the gears going, but as soon as the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) site boots up again and the tweets start pouring in from friends brainstorming their next novels, I can’t help but get excited.

I didn’t know if I was going to participate this year, actually, because I’m in the middle of trying to edit and finish the last two books of The Paderborn Chronicles.  Book 3, Dark the Chains of Treason, is in relatively decent shape for the moment, but the last volume, Dark the Wayward Dawn, is suffering from some structural issues (not the mention the fact that I need to write the last 20,000 words).

While I’m not morally opposed to patchwork NaNoWriMo participation, I didn’t want to write the ending to Wayward Dawn and then have to launch into 30,000 make-up words on a new project without a breather.  It’s not really how I work, and I want to do a thorough overhaul and edit of the first part of the book before I sketch out the climax.

So, seeing as how I just released Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow two months ago and almost no one has actually read it, I’ve decided to give myself a short break from the world of Arran Swinn, and take this November to indulge in creating a new fantasy.  I think it’ll freshen me up to come back to the editing process over the winter, and it won’t seriously delay my (tentative) release schedule.

What am I going to be working on, then?  Well, I don’t have all the details fleshed out just yet, but it’s going to be a standalone novel preliminarily titled The Night Heron’s War.

As I mentioned on Facebook a few days ago, I’m thinking about taking elements of the American Revolution (colonies in fractious rebellion; underfunded guerilla combat; a middle/upper class torn in both directions) and approaching them from the viewpoint of an Abigail Adams type character: a smart, shrewd woman who ends up being much more than a good housewife and hostess for a well-connected husband drawn into dangerous circumstances more or less against his will.

First stab at a cover (no pun intended)

First stab at a cover (no pun intended)

She’s one of my favorite historical figures, and while I don’t envision that the story will be an alternate history of the Revolution or anything like that (it’s not set in the real world, for starters), I think she’d make a great fantasy character.  Her relationship with John and her steadying hand had such a huge impact on major events – it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if you throw a little sorcery at someone like that.

So that’s the plan for now.  I’ve done some very basic hands-free plotting (i.e. using my phone to record myself talking in the car on the way to work), and I’ll probably be working on a more solid outline over the next few weeks, before the fun really begins.

As usual, if you’d like to join me on the creative rollercoaster, please feel free to add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo website.  If you’re not sure you want to take the plunge, but want to follow along as I gripe and grimace and grin my way through the month of November, consider a Twitter follow instead.  You can have all the cat pictures for free.

Who’s going to be jumping in this year?  What ideas do you have swirling in your heads?  Let me know in the comments!

Life After NaNoWriMo: Taking the First Look

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Check out my feature in this month’s issue of Shelf Unbound Magazine, and take a look at all the winners of this year’s best indie book contest! And don’t forget to post a book review of Dark the Night Descending for a chance to win an awesome prize!

Can you believe it’s only been two weeks since the end of November? With Christmas carols ringing in our ears since Halloween, a pile of holiday party invitations slowly creeping over the edges of your inbox, and a bank account dwindling alarmingly as the gifts get stacked underneath the holiday emblem of your choice, it’s not much of a surprise that writing isn’t top priority during this hectic month.

I know it hasn’t been for me. Insomnia has still been hammering at my ability to do anything more than drag myself to the couch and sit there with a stupid look on my face as I try to think about all the things I’d rather be doing. While I’ve seen a specialist and I’m in the process of coordinating all the tests and things I need to solve the problem, nothing much is getting done in the meantime.

This past weekend, however, I forced myself to dig my neglected USB drive out of the bottom of my purse, plug it in, and open up the manuscript of Book 4 for the first time since November 30. I like to give myself a break after the month ends in order to clear my head and reward myself a little, and that means that I have to deal with the ambivalence of coming back to the rough, rough draft I left behind.

It’s always equally thrilling and dreadful to look through unedited words I wrote in a hurry. I like to do a quick read-through just to see how I got to wherever I left off without fiddling with anything. Sometimes I see things I really like, or that I forgot I’d written. Sometimes I see new avenues in older words that I can jot down for later. But it takes a great deal of self-control not to stop every two sentences and fix something, or expand something, or cut out great swathes of horrible purple prose that I had crammed in there just to meet my word count for the day.

Why not start editing at this point? Because for me, editing can’t happen until the whole first draft is finished and settled and has a chance to gel in my brain for a lot longer than a fortnight. It’s like waiting for a cake to cool. You might not want to have the patience, but if you try to put the icing on too soon, you’ll just be left with a gooey, half-melted mess that isn’t very appetizing to look at (although the metaphor goes no further, as half-melted cake still tastes delicious).

The first look at the manuscript is about breaking the ice again, and diving back into something that I wasn’t too certain about when November kicked off. It’s about reassuring myself that not everything I wrote is crap – that there are little gems here and there that made that whole month of hard work worthwhile. It brings me back into the story so I can pick up where I left off, and helps me remember that my inner editor can stay locked in her jail cell for a while longer until I get the rest of the words down on that page. After that? She’s got free reign, and rightfully so.

Is taking that first look hard for you, too? Do you give yourself a rest after the deadline, or have you been working this whole time?

The Post-Thanksgiving Catch-Up

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Hello, dear readers!  I am here again to let you know that I have survived the Thanksgiving holiday, though the same cannot be said of the sweet, delicious turkey that I helped to devour.  The long, long weekend came at the end of a long, long NaNoWriMo, but I’m happy to say that both tasks have been handily conquered.

It was a near thing with NaNoWriMo, I have to say.  Between a chronic and painful lack of sleep, a frustrating lack of direction with my novel, and the extended travel time, I just barely squeaked by the finish line on Sunday afternoon with no more than 100 words to spare.  But by the end of the endeavor, some big plot points had been navigated and some important new ideas had been jotted down for later.  I’m actually very pleased with what I accomplished, even if it needs some reworking down the line.

November was busy, and December is shaping up to be the same way.  I’ll be making a few awesome appearances in web media this month, which will be a great way to send off 2014 with style.  And I hope to finish the rough draft of Book Four in the next month or so, which means I can start getting the second volume in shape for publication sometime this spring.

And don’t forget that you can still enter my book review giveaway contest until January 15! Now that NaNoWriMo is over and the tryptophan hangovers are starting to wear off, there’s no excuse not to get back to your reading.

How did all my fellow NaNo participants do in November?  Did you cross the finish line?  Did a burned stuffing disaster derail your plans?  Tell me in the comments!

Mouse Trap

Disclaimer: For those of you suffering from rodent-centric phobias, you might want to skip this one.

Hail the conquering hero.

Hail the conquering hero.

Oliver killed a mouse last night.  A real, actual, fuzzy little mouse that I almost stepped on when I came in the door after a long and dismal commute.  As I gaped in horror and confusion, he told me all about his adventures with a series of very proud, excited meows.  I think he was rather puzzled that I didn’t immediately praise him for heroically slaying the invading foe, but I was too busy running away as fast as possible.

It was very clearly dead.  It was dead when it was lying on the doormat, and it was dead when Oliver started batting it around, tossing it up in the air and catching it like one of his squishy balls as I shrieked at him to stop.  It was dead when I took to Twitter to compulsively share my anguish, and dead when I tentatively reached out to trap it under The Creature Cage (the top of a big glass vase that serves as a temporary containment facility for beetles and other creepy crawlies that I have to work up the courage to dispose of).

I know this marks me as the wimpiest of spoiled suburban girls, but I really hate creatures that don’t belong in houses.  Houses are places for civilized things that I choose to put there.  Houses are safe places.  They are human places.  They are, in my idealized world, impenetrable.  I have never encountered a rodent in any of my previous living situations, and I hope that my landlord will ensure that I never encounter one in my current situation again.

That being said, I’m very glad to have Oliver as my champion.  He can’t really be bothered with ordinary spiders or bugs, and even jumpy crickets only hold momentary fascination, but he certainly did his feline Viking ancestors proud with this one.  He already has a great deal of practice when it comes to hunting big game (read: he grabs and chews on my arm while we are watching TV together), and I was told when I adopted him that he had already vanquished a dragon (read: some sort of small garden snake that had found its way into a basement).

He was so pleased with himself that I couldn’t really be angry that he had brazenly taken the life of a small, squeaky, innocent creature that had likely just come in for a nibble of cat food and an escape from the cold.  I don’t think I have any real reason to be angry.  He’s a cat.  It was a mouse.  We’ve all seen the cartoons.  What else was going to happen?

Oddly enough, the only thing I could think about for the rest of the evening (besides the worry that there were even more mice lurking in every quiet corner) was the strange dichotomy between Fantasy Writer Jen and Real Life Jen, who was afraid to approach the stiff little corpse, equally terrified of its blank, foreign lifelessness and of the possibility that it might spring up and run off.  Fantasy Writer Jen doesn’t fear mice.  Fantasy Writer Jen tortures, maims, and kills with little compunction, describing blood and gore and horror in great, poetic detail.

Yes, things are getting pretty tense in Book Four, which is coming along nicely thanks to NaNoWriMo, and there is plenty more murder and mayhem to come as I wrap up the series.  As writers, we often let our imaginations take us into dark places – we often force them into ever darker and darker places, inventing new and horrible ways to cause pain and misery just to ramp up the tension and raise the stakes for our hapless puppets.  But how many of us are too afraid, in real life, to approach a dead mouse?

Fantasy can be funny like that.  We want to make our imaginary worlds as brutally realistic as possible,  and we happily tap away at our keyboards when there are vicious battles to recount or terrible plagues wiping out thousands of innocents, secure in the knowledge that most of the time, any small creatures we might happen to encounter on our way to Starbucks do not carry yersinia pestis.

How fortunate we are in our imaginations, which let us dip a sterile-gloved finger into grimy, bitter, violent worlds where pest control is far down on the list of major concerns.  And how fortunate we are to have keen-eyed cats in our homes who take great pleasure in reminding us that without them to protect us, the modern world could be a whole lot worse for someone as squeamish as Real Life Jen.

"Did you hear that?  I definitely heard that."

“Did you hear that? I definitely heard that.”