FIRST NANOWRIMO ACHIEVED!

NaNoWriMo pics Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 4.25.59 PMWhat’s that feeling called when you’ve finished a half-marathon? When you’ve successfully selected, put up and decorated your first Christmas tree? When you’ve made one of your mom’s recipes and it tastes just as good as hers? (Haha, ok, not quite as good. Let’s not get crazy!)

It’s joy/thankfulness/relief/thrill/and a tiny dose of pride.

Thank you so much to everyone who encouraged me to participate in NaNoWriMo and write a 50,000 word novella in 30 days! “Wedding 3000,” (its working title) is happily sitting now at 50,558 words a day early.

Going to go help the family get a Christmas tree and sing carols in the car on the way now, then a blessed reprieve from writing with reading a new book (“Divergent” by Veronica Roth) tonight.

THANK YOU ALL!

 

-Susie

a thankful heart is a happy heart

gracias.

cám ơn.

grazie.

Ευχαριστώ. (“Efkharisto”)

xie xie.

 

These are the words for thanks that I know. I’ve been taught to say thank you in any language I’ve tried to learn. As far as I’m aware, there’s a way to express thanks in every language humans have.

So why don’t we say thanks more often?

I love the Spanish phrase for Thanksgiving – el día de acción de gracias – the day of the action of giving thanks. Giving thanks can be a thing you do, not just feel. Tell somebody you’re thankful for them. It might be the thing they needed to hear.

 

proof’s in the pudding – if you’re thankful, you’ll likely to be happier

Plus, there’s a benefit for you. You will probably be happy you said thanks.

I learned from Madame Blueberry in VeggieTales that “a thankful heart is a happy heart.” (Ok, I might’ve learned it other places, but their songs were so darned catchy as a kid, I still can’t get the ditties out of my head.)

In 2010, Time Magazine published an online article on “How Feelings of Gratitude Breed Happiness and Well-Being.” Erin Skarda, the author, said this:

Dr. Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology and lead researcher of the new study, surveyed 1,035 students ages 14 to 19 and found that grateful students reported higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration and less envy and depression than their peers who were less thankful and more materialistic. Additionally, feelings of gratitude had a more powerful impact on the students’ lives overall than materialism.

I think it’s held true for me so far. When I dwell on the kindness shown to me, unbelievable opportunities to be with those I love, the safety and everyday joys around me, it far overshadows any time of doubt, fear, want or fright that I’ve experienced. Focus on the good. Strive for that “attitude of gratitude” (just as I should strive to avoid cliches!).

 

you are loved

I wanted to let you know, in case you didn’t or didn’t believe it. God is good. He loves you for who you are and always has. Give thanks to Him. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Being called to His purpose? That’s all of us, whether you know it or not. Only for the good of those who love Him? That’s up to you.

And this Thanksgiving day, este día de acción de gracias, let your heart be happy. Thank those around you and focus on all the blessings you’ve been given.

And hey – I’m thankful you read this. Thank you for all of your encouragement as I go for my dream of writing.

 

the constant to do list

There are a few of us who wake up in the mornings and wait to see what the day will bring.

Then, there are folks like me who wake up in the mornings, get out the pad and pen, and write a to-do list.

making a list, checkin’ it twice

sample, stock photo image of a to do list

Yes, this is just a sample, stock photo image. First of all, my handwriting is nowhere near this neat! Second of all, cigarettes are on this list!! Not me!!

Not sure if it’s right or wrong, or a happier way to be, but it sure keeps me edging towards my goals. I accomplish a lot more when I’ve got a list to check off. It gives my open-days structure. It helps me prioritize. Scratching off items gives me a little woo!! of happiness that I’ve done something good and productive.

This has been both a strength and a struggle. A strength, in all the ways I listed earlier. A struggle, in that it limits spontaneity, other people’s input, and can make things kind of intense if I don’t get to check everything off.

 

how intense is this list you speak of?

Below is today’s list. NOTE: I took today off from work originally for bridal portraits which were rescheduled, then for a family trip that was canceled, so now I was left with 12 blissfully unclaimed hours. *squeals with nerdy joy* Imagine the possibilities!!!!!

List for 11/27/13:

  • email cousin to let her know I’m drinking the awesome coffee she brought me from Cambodia
  • pick up mail
  • redo nails
  • start laundry
  • unload and reload dishwasher
  • pick up packages from apartment office
  • update wedding guest list addresses
  • call car dealership
  • plan dish for Thanksgiving feast tomorrow
  • go to grocery store for Thanksgiving dishes’ ingredients
  • write 3 book reviews (read these ages ago and have been meaning to write up reviews)
  • write the daily 1,667 words for NaNoWriMo
  • work on the freelance job through Elance I was contracted to do
  • finish “The Book Thief”
  • pay bills/rent
  • cook the Thanksgiving dish(es)
  • exercise/running
  • wrap early Christmas gifts (product of a previous day’s to do list of shopping for items on sale!)
  • call Mom about wedding invitations

 

Result? 8am through 1pm, pure accomplishment! After that time, pure exhaustion. What’s not listed on this list are other musts, like making coffee, eating lunch, showering, writing this post and watching “Sister Wives” on Netflix. (just kidding!)

So what’s the best thing to do? How can we accomplish all that we want to in the limited amount of time we have, while still being flexible and spending time with others?

Every day is a challenge of prioritizing – notice how my writing was near the bottom of the list. Gotta move it up if it’s going to get done! The “must-haves” should be pushed to the top, and “nice-to-dos” nearer the end. Easier said than done!

how do you manage your rare free days?

pushing for the finish line

Epiphany: You CAN reach your goals with the help of mini-goals!

I’m days away from the finale of NaNoWriMo, which I’ve undertaken to write 50,000 words by November 30. My current total? 42,025! That’s…*mentally calculating, stopping the pantomime of mentally calculating, pulling out my calculator, typing in numbers, finding the result* 84%  With Wednesday off from work (a dedicated writing day) and Friday off for the Thanksgiving holiday, I believe I am going to make it! Woohoo!!

So what have I learned thus far? The mini-goals thing, oh yeah.

lewis and clark's map of america

Lewis and Clark’s Map of America. About as clearly sketched out as my plan to finish this novel! Image from Americaslibrary.gov.

How did Lewis and Clark explore America? One step at a time. How did Sir Edmund Hilary climb Mt. Everest? One treacherous foothold at a time. How did I finally wash that gigantic, bacteria-covered nasty pile of dishes I left alone while writing? One dish at a time. (Don’t ask me about the laundry, though.)

Setting the goal of 1,667 words a day was manageable for me. I might even be able to set a slightly higher goal, now that I’ve learned I can do this. Maybe 1,700. Or 1,800.

Ok. Let’s not get crazy.

But by sometimes choosing not to go to a movie and instead spending that time writing, or planning to go to a coffee shop with a friend (friends who have goals alongside you help you to accomplish yours!!!), it is finally happening.

 

 

Out of interest, I looked around the Internet to see if there were some infographics people had made about reaching your goals. Here are two great ones below. I liked the first, because it brings in some good points about how emotional the process can be – don’t compare your goals to others or you may start to wobble, and you may need to “fake it” or pretend you have more confidence that you actually feel, until you get there. The second one is great because it’s simple and clear.

now to never give up infographic

Image from FundersandFounders.com

infographic on reaching goals

Image from DynamicHQ.com

So when this novella grows up, what happens next?

I’m toying with the idea of now doing something with this story afterwards. Perhaps filling out the story more to a more novel-sized length of 70,000 words and editing the tar out of it. I think it’s pretty good and interesting now, but that could be the happy, blinded glow of reaching a goal clouding my judgment. Editing the novella with more perspective and increasing it slightly could be the ticket to stating yes, it’s my second novel manuscript! (The first one is jealously waiting for this one to be finished so I can go back to it and do the real work: editing.)

NaNoWriMo sponsors have jumped into the fray, offering interesting deals to have the manuscript edited or published. I’m looking into the website CreateSpace, a branch of Amazon.com, as a potential way to self-publish this novel. Who knows? Could be fun and a faster way to get the book to market than through a traditional publisher. From what I’ve heard from more established authors, often working with a traditional publisher can put just as much of the onus of marketing on the author as self-publishing the book.

Thinking about it. Until now, I’m pushing for the finish line! Huffing and puffing like the pig in this picture, but excited to see the finish line loom larger.

pigs racing

Go number 3! Image from Morguefile.com

 

Got to finish the race before you can contemplate what kind of foot rub you’d like, just as I’ve got to get this up to full wordcount before thinking about its future!

Teen fiction go!

I’ve discovered a disappointing truth about myself.

I LOVE SCI FI/FANTASY TEEN FICTION.

teen fiction display at a bookstore

A teen fiction display at Barnes & Noble and a lady walking by.

Go ahead, judge me. I deserve it. But it remains a fact that I’m drawn to the roller coaster of emotions as bildungsromans and world-questioning and budding relationships that is the world of teen fiction. There’s something that makes teen fiction easy to sink into. It evokes a whirlwind of lively emotions and often vents frustration of the flaws of the world and people around us. Every person – whether they figure this out when they’re a teen or earlier or later – has to go through a process of figuring out what matters to them and what their contribution to the world will be. The world does have problems – big ones. We need teens to recognize the world’s flaws and realize their personal potential to work to fix them.

Teen fiction posits that teens know best. Look at Hunger Games – Katniss fights back against society and inspires the benumbed adults to foment a real revolution for change. Look at Divergent – Beatrice isn’t categorized into one of the 5 factions (reminiscent of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, anyone?) so she aids a rebellion against the adults’ societal structure. Ally Condrie’s “Matched” series has a young gal named Cassia and her pal Ky to resist the sordid practice of the government deciding who was to marry whom based on statistics. In the “I Am Number Four” series, John is one of a handful of teens endowed with special abilities who secretly battle against aliens infiltrating the earth.

What themes do you see in those examples?

  • resistance/rebellion/uprising against societal structure
  • teens know more or can do more than the adults who are stuck in their ways

No doubt there are more themes out there, and also there are teen fiction books that break the mold. But these themes are present in the books that are tip-top of the reading charts right now.

And they aren’t new – when I was a teen, the Animorphs series was hot hot hot. I read as many as I could, voraciously absorbing the battles and drama between teens with secret abilities to change into animals to defeat an insidious alien race. Even earlier and in the non-sci fi genre, the Nancy Drew series inspired teen gals to take charge of murder investigations and scoop the adult detectives. Harriet the Spy worked much the same way.

But there’s a core theme throughout recent mainstream teen fiction which I struggle to reconcile with my own worldview. Something’s changed with teen fiction, especially in the sci fi/fantasy arena. It’s become epic. Teens must now destroy society to fix its flaws rather than working within its confines.

 

What is it with teen fiction feeling the need to destroy society in order to fix it?

Why aren’t there teen books out there that seek to improve society through its channels, rather than overturning the entire kit and kaboodle?

In high school and college, I was inspired by kids my age who got involved in political campaigns. Kids who worked with nonprofits to go overseas and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, preach to the hopeless. These are kids who were actively working on solutions THROUGH society, rather than wrecking society in order to fix it.

Do we really need to teach teens through literature that the only way to fix society is to destroy it and rebuild? Are there teen fiction books out there about remodeling the current structure by collaboration and building upon the wisdom of other generations?

Nancy Drew mostly worked within society, as did Harriet the Spy. But lately, the teen heroes and heroines, the Johns-Cassias-Katnisses-Beatrices and others, must topple the government in order to resolve its issues. In short, this says that the government is so corrupt and malformed that it must be entirely obliterated.

 

Could this mostly be an American issue?

In its roots, our nation has celebrated the power of the people to change their government. The thirteen colonies revolted against English rule to establish their own rights to make or modify or break their own societal rules. Over time, individuals in the government have reworked and rewritten and re-interpreted the rules to (ideally) support and prosper American citizens.

We’ve got a framework that has worked since 1776. But in light of recent disastrous issues, such as the looming danger of insolvency and extremely low participation in politics, are we discovering that the framework is hopelessly broken or in need of repair?

Is teen fiction a reflection of a widespread concern over our government’s ability to function? Can we fix it within its current structure, or do we wipe the slate clean?

My personal feeling is that we ought to work with what we’re given, recognizing that our government is doing some things right. I’d like to see some teen fiction that works along the same lines with the fictional societies that are there. Because otherwise, we’ll have a whole crop of teens who were weaned on revolutionary, anarchist attitudes. 

Save your bookstore

A horrific tragedy has struck my home in South Carolina. (Ok, that’s overstating it a bit, but it’s still sad!)

The local bookstore, Barnes and Noble, in Harbison, is closing its doors in January, leaving the entire area with no traditional bookstore other than a used bookstore.sad book

This bookstore was our study spot for Cal-clueless and Physics torture and Engalissh classes in high school. (Those titles are jokes, FYI.) I went on a date there. We had youth group and Bible studies there sometimes. I interviewed for a college there. Countless summer reading books were purchased there. It was a prime place for hanging out before going to a movie, or walking around with friends after dinner. It is also the same place where I informed my fiance that I would begin looking for jobs in North Carolina near him rather than taking a promising career opportunity else.

And now it’s closing, purportedly because of decreased sales due to e-book sales. I feel partly to blame, (A) for moving to NC and taking away my considerable business (I LOVE books!) and (B) reading lots of books on my iPad rather than buying ol’ paper pages.

So this is a plea – you can buy e-books, but please also buy some paper books from time to time! At least until stores like Barnes and Noble can figure out how they can successfully profit off their Nooks. Which may be never.

Store Closing in Black and WhiteIt’s a capitalist conundrum for me. Yes, weak businesses that can’t adapt should falter and fail, either becoming absorbed by better businesses or exiting the market completely to free up space for stronger ones. But this is Barnes & Noble! It isn’t a weak business. They’re actively trying to market their Nook and reach consumers by adding what they like (I enjoyed some Starbucks there today for a few hours).

In the meantime, while Barnes and Noble figures out their strategy, what will the good readers of Chapin/Irmo, SC do?

What do you think?

halfway through NaNoWriMo, halfway through my engagement!

The halfway point. Cue the song, “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi.

Oh we’re halfway there
Oh, living on a prayer!
Take my hand,
We’ll make it I swear!

It’s halfway through the marathon month of writing a novel. Happy to say I hit 30,000 of the target 50,000 today! “Wedding 3000” has been full of surprises for me, and each time I write it threatens to veer off the sci fi satire genre into a dramatic romance against a sci fi backdrop. It’s like my book was trying to earn its Ph.D. and decided to quit and become a comedian. Alas!

In other news, planning a wedding is also speeding along and full of surprises! We’re four months in with four to go. It’s time for selecting his wedding ring and creating registries, styling invites and getting the dress fitted.

(Click here for an image of me in the wedding dress.)

 

So far, I continue to be overwhelmed by the kindness and good wishes of those who support our commitment to each other and God! Thanks everyone; it means more than you know.

Just like writing, wedding planning takes time out of each day to ponder, plan and communicate. Rather than set aside entire days to plan (which often end up in being overwhelmed with the flood of decisions), it’s helpful to take it in small pieces. What’s the old adage? The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time?

At any rate, we’re halfway there!! More on that later!!

NaNoWriMo: First Week Down!

Hello wonderful people! This is a message from an exhausted but exhilarated writer. It’s day 8 of NaNoWriMo, and I’m glad to be able to say I’m on-target with my numbers.

But it’s cost me. With a full plate at work, The Junior League of Greensboro (awesome organization! Check them out here.), and wedding planning, my usual writing time has been midnight-2am. That’s technically…the next day. Yes. I’m aware.

We are going to change that this week! I’m planning to start working on my writing earlier tonight, and when I go visit my cousin Rebecca this weekend, I’ll try to find some time to write a little earlier then, too.

 

What have I learned?

(A) Caffeine is key. My productivity improves roughly 1000% when I’ve got a pumpkin spice latte or honeyed green tea kickin’ around in my system.

(B) Try not to focus on the word count. Even though it’s the goal, focusing on it seems to detract from the quality of the writing. Sort of like when you open up a YouTube video and there’s an ad in the beginning. You aren’t watching the ad; you’re focused on the “Skip Ad in 5 seconds…4 seconds…3 seconds…” etc.

(C) Instrumental music directly affects the writing. Epic song, I’m writing an epic scene. Sad song, somebody’s about to suffer. Triumphant song, I’m probably going to give the character what they want. Instrumental music is definitely better for me than music with lyrics. Not true for everyone, but at least for me, it helps me focus. As a musician, I can’t tune out the lyrics, so I’ll actually start writing what I hear!

(D) Even when you’re focused on word generation rather than editing, you still have to do a little editing. I mean, c’mon. This has to be readable later! 🙂

More learnings to come. For now, FIRST FULL WEEK OF NANOWRIMO IS DONE!!!

“literature loves difficulty, thrives on conflict”

Should your fiction characters be happy? Really happy?

I was captivated by this incredible video by Ian McEwan on having romantic happiness portrayed realistically in fiction. Ian McEwan, six-time Man Booker Prize nominee and prolific, brilliant writer, shares his ridiculously well-articulated thoughts on traditional novels’ approach to crushing the dreams of happy characters and the rare ability to convince readers that characters really are happy.

Sadly, we as humans salivate over darkness and despair in literature. This truth was present even in the realm of journalism, my major from college. Readers are drawn to articles on tragedy more so than copacetic stories of success and joy.

pollyanna coverI want my characters to be happy (ultimately), even if they have to go through a war to get there. I think some people would argue that happy characters are forgettable, but that’s not always true. To me, one of the most memorable characters from my childhood books is Pollyanna. The reason she was memorable was her optimism, positivity and exuberance in the face of abandonment, disappointment and hard times. In Christian fiction, we want to show that the joy of knowing God and His love pervades all, including the worst of times.

I get called “Pollyanna” by people sometimes, and I hear “you’re just too happy.” I know that this comes from knowing the Lord, enjoying time with Him, and having the peaceful assurance of knowing He’s got this crazy life all figured out already and gives good gifts to us out of love.

They say books reflect the author (how could they not?), so if I had to guess, I’d say the books I write are going to feature characters who do know happiness and joy. But then again, we inject disaster and disappointment into their lives, so the characters grow and learn, or break and transform.

 

 

The BIG Question

This mixed stew of thoughts brings up a pivotal question for me as a writer. Should I choose to give my characters happiness (a happy ending, to appease the commercial, mainstream reader and myself), or a sad, non triumphant resolution to their troubles to speak to the way life really is? Should books imitate the way life really is, or should they draw a picture of the way life could be, given the right attitude? Is my role as a novelist to reflect life as accurately as possible, as a nature photographer captures the world, or to help readers imagine a better world or living better in this world?

 

Write Right Now

McEwan’s video also spurred me on that NOW, despite all of the other happy chaos in my life, is the right time to write. Here’s another powerfully motivating quote from Ian McEwan for writing NOW:

“They [aging writers] accumulate more life, more love, more of everything. What they lose is the fabulous energy of one’s late twenties and early thirties. And the thought richness perhaps declines.”

 

I’m going to keep feeding my writer’s mind through Aerogramme Studio and encourage you to check it out, too. They are a vast and insightful source for reaching the wisdom of successful, talented writers! They have an RSS feed that’s really handy – brings the heady genius of these folks right to your email doorstep.

NaNoWriMo! Wait, what’s that?

Ok everyone, I hope you’re sitting down…because I have big news.

I SIGNED UP FOR NANOWRIMO!!!

NaNoWriMo image

 

 

 

 

CHALLENGE

The significance of this may be lost on those of you unfamiliar with this annual phenomenon. Every year coffee-fueled writers, ranging from ambitious and inspired and intrepid and uncertain and  unfocused and unsure, take on this challenge. Right now, there are over 270,000 writers participating!

What’s the point? The point is writing every day to end up with 50,000 words by November 30.

What does it take to be a writer? Just writing. Not being published necessarily. And what does it take to participate in NaNoWriMo? Just signing up for free!

 

coffee cup

mm mm good

COMMUNITY

I’m especially excited, because NaNoWriMo provides tons of supportive advice from some of the great writers today in the form of video pep talks and informal emails. Local chapters of NaNoWriMo participants get together for “write-ins” at nearby coffee shops or bookstores or libraries. It’s a fun way to meet fellow writers and get that social push to GET THE NOVEL DONE.

At any rate, I’m powering through and have connected with some really wonderful folks who are also taking the writing plunge. Look for us in coffee shops and bookstores near you, vacillating between bleary-eyed, exhausted, mechanical typing and buzzing, exuberant, maniacal typing! Some of the writers I met at the recent ACFW conference in Indianapolis are participating, and some friends from work are, too!

 

 

CHECKING YOUR PROGRESS

Stats snapshot

Writing 1,600-ish words per day for November gives you a manuscript in the ballpark of 50,000, which isn’t technically a novel. They say as much on the website. BUT it’s a valiant step forward towards completing a full-size novel!

For the non-mathematically-inclined such as I, there is a handy words-tracker on the website. The Stats tells you things such as your average words written per day, how many words you have left until 50,000, how many words per day you need to write to finish on-time, etc. I’m sharing my own stat snapshot from yesterday here below. It actually really makes me wonder if I could use other tools like this post-NaNoWriMo. I’d tried other apps such as StoryTracker, but this interface works really well!

 

 

 

COMING SOON…WEDDING 3000

What am I writing about? Well, this is one of the first times I’m not mapping out the entire plot of a novel. We’re just taking our mental machetes and hacking through the jungle of ideas, carving out a path to a cohesive story.

Hmm…

I just made that sound really hard, but it’s actually freewheeling and fun! Maybe a better metaphor is getting into a bright-red Mustang without a map and a full tank of gas, then just driving across the country to see what you find. It’s a bit scary, but inspiring and exciting!

I CAN tell you that it’s a futuristic first-person tale of how absurd wedding planning could be…a sci-fi satire romance, if you will. Here’s the description:

Starry sky

A cover I threw together – Yes, that was originally Mario and Princess Peach. 🙂

Weddings in the year 3000 are more extravagant and absurd than ever. Video gamer Vin is marrying Penelope, the woman of his dreams and a talented intergalactic events planner, but their Earth wedding planning is taking over his life and sanity. Will he grin and bear the tide of decisions as Penelope wants, or will he lose his cool and lose her, too? Will they discover real love in a world that is built on appearance?