Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Being Okay with Not Making It: My NaNoWriMo Failure

It was clear pretty early on in November that I wasn't going to make 50,000 words this month. Once that would have broken my heart and filled me with ugly angst. But I'm taking it, well maybe not exactly in stride, but in step, without stumbling.

Fitting my writing in around a full time job and family responsibilities, I usually write about 35, 000 words a month (though they may not be ALL on a single project). An extra fifteen doesn't sound so terrible…and I've done it before. So, I thought I could do it this year, too.

But there are two things I rely on to get the extra time that I didn't get this year: Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving weekend.

I mean, I still *got* those things, obviously--the holidays still happened--but I didn't get them for writing. I spent Veteran's Day taking my favorite veteran out to lunch, then taking my quickly growing daughter shopping to replace all the vital things she'd outgrown. Also valuable uses of my time, but not uses that add chapters to my novel.

And my parents came in for Thanksgiving weekend. Visitors are not conducive to writing large word counts. They are conducive though, to happy memories and shared laughter.

Couple that with going to a fan convention (three days of more interaction than writing time) and doing a Book Fair, and I actually had less writing time than is average despite it being a month with four extra days off of school.

So, that's all the reasons. And looking at them, I feel good about what I did get done this month, while still making progress on my new novel.

But that doesn't change feeling like I failed. I'm mean to myself that way sometimes, not cutting myself the slack that I would readily offer others. I ask a *lot* of myself. Still, I am *way* more okay with have a NaNoWriMo fail than I ever would have been in the past.

My 2017 has been all about trying to find the balance, after all. After pushing hard to put out three
novels in three years, I decided it was time to take a step back and breathe a little. I was burning out and losing the joy. So, I didn't write the fourth novel in my likely five novel series. Instead, I wrote a lot of short pieces, accepted a lot of engagements and opportunities to network and promote my work, and wrote a completely different novel (well, I'm not quite done yet, but I'm hopeful of finishing before I run out 2017).

And I'm getting there. Having fun without driving myself crazy.

So, I failed at NaNoWriMo. What have we learned?

I'm learning to say no…to myself.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Wishes

Thanksgiving can be a pressure cooker of a holiday, literally and metaphorically.

Families get together, which can be lovely and affirming or harrowing and difficult or some mixture of all that.

The meal-preparer has considerable stress, accommodating all the various dietary restrictions, likes and dislikes, traditional must-haves, and just making a heck of a lot of food.

And all of that assumes that a lot of things went right, like having a family to get together with and enough money to be able to worry about whether you've got the prefect pie crust instead of worrying about whether you can keep the electricity on this month.

It can be even harder, with long hours off of work to linger alone and worry yourself about the state of your life. You can be separated from the ones you love, or dealing with a loss. It can be more a torture than a vacation.

Here at La Casa Bryant, we are fortunate in that we are healthy and together this year, with sufficient money to have a feast with our family, with whom we anticipate a harmonious time. We cut the stress by sharing the work, and by ordering some aspects of the meal ready-made from our food co-op. And we are lucky in that, too--for having the option.

May all of you find joy in the company you keep tomorrow, and pleasure in the food you eat, and find that your life offers you a multitude of things to be grateful for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

But for Grace: A #HoldOnToTheLight post

This quote was a favorite of my grandfather's. He was one of my earliest teachers in the most important of lessons: how to be a good person.

Grandpa Ray's empathy was legendary. It frustrated my grandmother no end. No matter how dire their own woes were, he always believed that others had it worse and wanted to be that person who lent a hand and helped to pull them up. I overheard many arguments over the years about one of Grandpa's generous acts that was going to make it harder on his own family. His response was always, "But they don't have what we have." He might mean something like a roof over their heads, or life skills, or siblings, or money, or a car, or any number of things that he was lending or giving away.

The quote is reminder that life circumstances are not always in your control, that even when we don't have many advantages or opportunities, there is likely some blessing in our lives, something that has kept us afloat when others have drowned. There's a humility and gratitude in the quote which touches me. Most of us live closer to disaster than we like to admit. How many paychecks could you miss before your family saw their lives change for the worse?

I'm more selfish than my grandfather was. There are hardships I won't put on my own family to help others--I pay our bills first, then see what's left to give from. But I still have a generous heart. Emotionally, at least, I still live by "There but for the grace of God go I."

Many people around me struggle worse than I do. Maybe they don't have a partner or a supportive family structure. Maybe they lack employment or inspiration. Maybe something within them doesn't work the same way it works for other people: brain chemistry, coping mechanisms, or positive outlook. Maybe we'll never know what the difference is that makes life harder on them.

Our society, especially when it comes to mental health issues, seems to want to regard these problems as moral failings or the results of bad choices. It's a weird and ugly kind of comfort, but nonetheless a common one to grasp: if the suffering person did or didn't do something they should have, then we can BLAME them for their own troubles, and believe it can't happen to us.

But it can. There but for the grace of God go ALL of us.

But we can make it better for each other, too. We can listen. We can donate. We can call others on it when they indulge in the blame game (and stop doing it ourselves). We can work to make a world that wants to see all of its people lifted up instead of a world that gets to the top by stomping down others.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Long and the Short of It

I've been experimenting a lot this year, at least in my writing. Trying new genres, new forms, new venues. I've been so focused on building a sustainable career as a writer in the past three years, that I was starting to feel burnt out. All this playing around has really helped me recapture the joy and fun of it.

"The End" is something novelists can wait a long time to be able to write. Even a really fast full-time writer needs a few months usually to write a complete draft of a novel. Some of us have been known to work on a single book over the course of years. That delayed gratification has stopped more than one would-be-writer from seeing a project through.

So, I decided I'd write some shorter things in 2017. Stories. A novella. I wanted to get to The End a little more often.

 In October, I wrote daily flash fiction. Some of the pieces were as short as three hundred-ish words, and others as long as fifteen hundred. But each gave me a feeling of accomplishment just because they were complete. This month I'm writing microfiction, which is shorter yet, with a word cap of one hundred. It's almost like writing poetry, in that you have to defend each word. There's no extra space for unnecessary clutter.

On the other hand, the novella I started earlier this year refused to say small. It demands novel length treatment, so has now become my NaNoWriMo project. I resisted expanding it for a good long while, but my critique partners finally convinced me I needed more space to do the story justice. Here's hoping it'll stay a single book story! I'm not really wanting to start another series…

What's your sweet spot for length when you write or read? Do you like an epic tome or a haiku?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#IWSG: NaNoWriMo and Me

It's the first Wednesday! Which means IWSG Day. Today's question: Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

After you see what I have to say, be sure to check out other posts and our lovely and generous co-hosts:  Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and Rebecca Douglass!
I love NaNoWriMo. One of my struggles as a writer is persevering when I hit a wall. I can dither FAR too long over small details and stall moving forward on the big picture. In fact, that's what I did for the first forty-two years of my life (okay, I probably wasn't writing much in the first six to ten years): I started things. But finished none. My daily writing habit, my critique group, and NaNoWriMo have all been a part of helping me start finishing things and see them into print.

I'm a four-time participant and three-time winner of National Novel Writing Month. Every year I think I can't do it in November: 50, 000 words during a school month? But then we hit upon the idea of ordering our Thanksgiving dinner from Weaver Street Market and suddenly, I had Veteran's Day, and a four day weekend full of writing time. I can do a lot with a day off school.

In 2013, I wrote the first draft of Cold Spring, a historical women's fiction book which will, someday when I finish it, become a historical fiction trilogy.  Though I feel good about the first book, I'm going to need to devote some serious time to historical research before I can finish this set of novels and I feel like I can't really send it out there for publication consideration until I've finished all three.

In 2014, I wrote the first draft of a middle grade novel: Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies, which I also plan to return to and whip into publishing shape. I still really love Rat, my main character. She just hasn't won the fight to the top of my to-do list again yet.

In 2015 I didn't win, but I wrote 30,000 words towards the book I finished as my 2016 project: Face the Change: Book 3 of the Menopausal Superhero series, which was published in summer 2017!

This year, I'm working on Thursday's Children, a new project (YA dystopian romance). I began the project his summer, hoping to submit it a novella into a book bundle some friends were putting out in September. But the story stalled, and clearly wants to be a longer, fully realized novel and not a novella. I've spent October thinking and planning and seeking feedback on the parts I've already written and I'm going in confident that I can finish this sucker in November. I'm a little nervous since my parents are coming to visit, which will leave me with less time, but my attitude is that even if I don't "win," I'll have more words than I would have gotten otherwise. I'll be that much closer to those magical words: THE END.

So, I don't know if four times qualifies me to speak to what I "usually" do. But I am a finisher, and I do plan to see all these books onto shelves and into digital readers.

What NaNoWriMo does for me is apply some external pressure to move faster, even when the project doesn't have a publisher waiting. It makes me write through, over, and around things rather than just closing the computer for the night when I get stuck. It shuts down my internal editor and charges forward, jumping canyon sized plot holes and knocking down doubts. The camaraderie of knowing that others are sharing the struggle at the same time as me helps. It's all over social media all month which builds excitement and a feeling of being a part of something larger.

What it doesn't do is give me a publishable draft. But revision is my friend. In fact, I LOVE revision (most of the time). I love taking my bare passionate lines and shaping and polishing them into fully realized stories with flow, pacing, and arcs. Now that I've traveled this road a few times, I understand how to revise my work effectively, and faster than I used to.

So, once more into the breach, my friends! See you on the other side!

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.