Remember, Remember the First of November…Nanowrimo is here!

Emergency Candy

I am so completely surprised that November snuck up on me. I swear it was just summer. Actually, here in Oklahoma, it’s still been in the 80’s until recently so I can be forgiven for my confusion on that point. I’ve had my head down working in my writer’s cave so long, I’ve lost all sense of time and place. I almost missed Halloween. We didn’t even decorate the house this year – didn’t stop those freeloading cuties from ringing the bell. Good thing I did manage to buy some treats. (And extras of, course. They will be needed this month.)

I have so many things going on right now that I can hardly manage without skipping a night of sleep here and there – and that’s usually a bad idea because it always catches up with me. I become a brainless zombie that makes really bad online purchases. November is busy for me in a normal year, with Thanksgiving and my birthday week always colliding and then we usually travel to my folk’s place during that same time – it’s just nuts. Traveling with an autistic child and figuring out what to do with the two attention-seeking dogs is enough of a stressor alone. This year, I’ve added to the chaos.

I have a novel revision retreat this weekend that I’ve been preparing for all month which has meant reading and critiquing two other novel manuscripts, complete with detailed notes on plot structure, character development, dialogue, and voice. I’m just about finished, but there’s a few down to the wire things left to do. Once I’m there at the retreat, I’ll be able to relax and it will be an enjoyable three days of writing bliss with my friends along two editors from New York who survived the worst Hurricane Sandy had to offer and were gracious enough to rearrange their flights so they could attend our gathering.

Another major thing I’m working on is completing the final revision of my YA manuscript that an agent is waiting to see. I am so close and I really want to send it out this week, but I know I need to wait until it’s ready and in the best shape possible. So when I see another section that needs more work, it’s frustrating. I just want to be done already! Gah! I hope I can send out very soon.

Finally, I’ve signed up for National Write a Novel Month. Most of us just call it nanowrimo, or nano for short. It’s a really fun way to work on a first draft at a frenzied pace with a group of people cheering each other on. I need to get started on my next manuscript and once I send off the manuscript to the agent, nano will the best way to get my mind off of the agony of waiting to hear back from her. If you’re also doing nano, hit me up on your buddy list under litbeing and we’ll make it through this crazy thing together. I’ll be participating in #writemotivation this month as well, but mostly I’ll be keeping my goals related to nano, so that shouldn’t be too much of an added strain.

One final note of business, the die of fate were rolled for my Darcy Pattison book giveaway and three was the magic number. Sharon Martin won the signed copy of Desert Baths. Congratulations, Sharon! I’ll see you this weekend at the retreat and bring you your prize.

So are you doing anything crazy this month? Participating in nano? Let me hear from you.

The Art of Letting Our Children Fail and How to Apply This to Writing

Ours is not a society that embraces failure. We teach our children to reach for the stars, be number one. After all, the goal of a game, a contest of any kind, is to win, not to come in second. You don’t hear the national anthem for the team who wins the silver medal. No one chants at sporting events, “We’re Number Two!”(Unless you’re watching Whip It and you’re cheering for those lovable underdogs, The Hurl Scouts. Gotta love ‘em.)

We all want to be the winners; by extension, we all want to see our kids succeed.

And that means not repeating our mistakes.

How can we keep that from happening? How do we ensure that their road will be less bumpy than ours was? How in the hell do we insulate them, protect them from the big, bad world?

We don’t.

We can’t do that if we want them to grow.

According to a Psychology Today article: Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning, one of the worst things a parent can do is cover up a child’s mistake or correct their homework for them so they get a better grade. Even worse is to praise their intelligence. This actually makes them “less likely to persist in the face of challenges.” Kids praised for their intelligence see any mistake as a sign of failure and will give up early on whereas kids praised for their efforts persevere when they make mistakes and will try different approaches to a problem and succeed at much higher rates. Interesting, yes?

Still, letting your children fail is no easy thing.

Rationally, I understand this concept, but when one of my children is sobbing because she feels stupid after she’s failed spectacularly at something and doesn’t think she can suffer the mortal embarrassment another moment, I forget that encouraging my child to try again, to find her own solution is good for her. Instead, I want to give her the answer. I want to help her avoid the mistakes I made. I have to fight the urge to rescue, to solve the problem for her, to tell her that she’s smart.

Similarly, many writers find it difficult to let their characters fail.

It feels like a betrayal. We are like their parents, are we not? We create them, we coerce their deepest, darkest secrets out of them – what they want most in the world – and then we deny them that very thing, putting obstacle after obstacle in their path, hurting them again and again until their lives are beyond unbearable. We have to. Otherwise, we’re not writing a good story. There are times that we may be tempted to rescue our characters, to make life a little easier, to solve the problem for them. As with our real children, we’d be doing them a grave disservice.

Recently, it came to our attention that all of our efforts at trying to “help” solve our child’s problems were only creating more stress and pressure on our child and not allowing her to find her own solutions. We would have to let go and allow our child the chance to succeed or fail on her own. This had us both very worried. I mean, how far should we let her fall? What if she totally gave up on herself and never recovered? What if we were labeled: The Worst. Parents. EVER?

Amazingly, that didn’t happen. When the stress of our constant “helping” was gone and our child was given the responsibility of solving her own problems, she did it. She came up with solutions that we may not have chosen, but they worked. She was able to experience successes – her own successes. And we were there to cheer her on.

In all good stories, the character must learn something from their experiences – must grow or change as a result of what they’ve been through. That can only happen if they face their own obstacles; if they live through the gut-wrenching experiences and solve their own problems. No one else can do it for them.

Nobel Prize winner Danish Physicist Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

I like that.

I might reach that expert level in parenting. Maybe even in writing as well. I still have plenty of mistakes left to make in both fields, but maybe someday…

May is here and #writemotivation is back – I gotta have goals to score.

♫♪ You gotta have gooooaaals! ♪♫

Okay, I don’t sing well in front of others, so I should stop now. I don’t know about you, but I do better when I set writing goals, especially goals with deadlines, and tell others about them. Otherwise I can’t be trusted. It’s like asking me to give up eating chocolate and then leaving me unsupervised with a bag of peanut M&Ms. I’d find myself in the nearest broom closet scarfing down half the bag as soon as everyone’s back was turned. Besides, that’s a terrible goal. Who can live without chocolate?

K.T. Hanna is once again calling on us to shout out our goals for all to hear and then support our fellow #writemotivation participants as we valiantly leap forward and work our butts off to reach our May goals. Feel free to join in on our twitter chat at #writemotivation as we cheer each other on in our successes and help each other get through the harder times.

Here are the goals I hope to achieve this month:

1. Revise the query for my completed YA manuscript until it’s tight enough to bounce a quarter off the sucker.

2. Research prospective agents to whom I want to submit my completed YA manuscript.

3. Once items one and two have been successfully achieved, submit to at least three agents at a time.

4. Get cracking on the next YA manuscript I have planned so I don’t check my inbox every thirty minutes awaiting responses to my submissions.

I should add that I will need to keep my pantry stocked with emergency stress-reducing aids to make it through this process. Chocolate is the number one survival aid and wine has also been recently suggested, although with my tendency to get migraines, I think a collection of fine beers will have to substitute.  Are there any other stress-reducing suggestions out there? Let me hear them. This is going to be a long month.

The Fine Art of BarbieTossing and Other Games My KidsTaught Me

Chucking Barbies is Serious Fun!

I am at this tumultuous point in my writing life where my days vacillate between sad departures and happy beginnings. I’m wrapping up final edits before prying my over-protective hands off my newborn YA manuscript, kicking it out of the nest into the big, scary world to fly on its own where it will be rejected, requested only to be rejected some more, requested again, and then hopefully, FINALLY to be adored by just the right person. The more exciting, joyous parts of my days are when I’m moving forward on my next YA manuscript. I think I’m enjoying the beginning of this new manuscript because it is much lighter in subject matter than the last novel. No longer am I trapped in the psych ward with my main character, Sara, struggling through the ugly situations that I put her through. I do love her story, but I’ve lived with it for a very long time and, man, was I brutal. She should never forgive me. With this new novel I get to be funny and explore new things. I’m also I’m dying to try out what I learned while writing the last novel.

First, I want to write my rough draft without constantly editing myself. I’m going to follow some wise advice from a dear writer friend and give myself permission to write a very bad first draft. Although I’m not a big Hemingway fan, I did love this quote I read from him recently that said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Succinct and to the point. (Maybe I will give The Old Man and the Sea another go after all.) I want to have fun with my new manuscript without constantly correcting.

Second, I want to keep a journal of my ideas for changes and questions I have about plot issues or character motivation, etc. I believe I got the idea from Kathi Appelt when she spoke to our Oklahoma SCBWI group last fall. She keeps an ongoing project journal which are conversations with herself about her characters and the choices her characters could make. She writes out where her characters are going mentally and physically, drawing maps to keep directions straight. She turns to her journals whenever she gets stuck while writing to work through the rough spots. I tried something much less organized with notes in the margins of my last book and it wasn’t as easy to reference or to keep track of through all of my edits and it wasn’t remotely conversational. I really like her idea. I have a funky new spiral that will serve this purpose. I must write “hands off!” on the cover so my daughter doesn’t steal it – it is that cool.

Third, I want to handle my stress better. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I’m not going to sabotage myself or stop writing or start doubting that I can do this, I’m just going to take a break and play for a little while. Just play.

My inspiration for this final idea? I found some old pictures of my kids playing a game they made up called Barbie Tossing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Man, were those dolls aerodynamic! This was during a time in our lives when we didn’t have much money, we lived in a cramped apartment while I worked in a very demanding management position that required a lot of travel-time and my husband was still in nursing school, and we were still new to the whole autism diagnosis with our son  –  juggling all kinds of appointments with specialists and therapists to see what he needed – STRESSFUL! And yet here was this moment when the kids didn’t even notice any of that and just made due with what they had – a bunch of Barbies and a patch of grass right outside the apartment door. They tossed those Barbies for hours. (Finally, a way of playing with them that didn’t make me cringe. I even joined in – yes, I did my fair share of Barbie Tossing, too.) I looked at those pictures and then I remembered how those bright-eyed kids could turn a small corner of our tiny living room into the most fantastical adventure with a blanket and two bar stools and they always, ALWAYS invited me to come along. Once I’m done indulging my need for play, I won’t feel as stressed anymore and all the doubts and worry won’t be able to hold me back.

Barbie Tossing is for everyone...
Catch the craze!
Even your brother will like it!

#writemotiovation check in – where did spring break go? or how do you entertain the caged teenager?

Somehow I thought I’d already posted this. I blame the chaotic air of spring break on my scatterbrainedness.

Life can sometimes be unfair for our two children – not only because the lottery draw of life gave them to me and my equally insane husband. No, this week, when they finally got a chance to take a break from school, recharge their batteries, enjoy the lives of sloths and do what they pleased, Mother Nature threw them a curveball; four days of torrential downpours and gloomy, depressing skies. One can only watch so much crappy TV and soak up so much  Twitter and Facebook feeds – with breaks for reading one’s favorite books, of course! – before one’s brain goes numb. Two teens cooped up with only their mother for company? UGH!  And then the unpredictable spurts of energy and hormonal surges can make captivity even more unbearable. Inevitably every few minutes one of them would come pester me – during prime writing time – for something to do. Hard to concentrate under those conditions. Eventually I threw them outside in the rain and let them jump on the trampoline to exorcise their inner teen demons – who cares if they get soaked and the trampoline cuts trenches in the lawn if I can have a few moments of quiet? They came back in shivering and sated, if not just a little bit calmer. There were other moments of pure insanity brought on by the cabin fever that I cannot even mention as my daughter would die of embarrassment if I revealed them.

When I escaped in the middle of the week for my critique group, I pointed at my kids and said to my husband, “You’ve got to do something with them before they blow a gasket. Good luck.” Then I bolted. Hey, sometimes, it’s survival of the fittest, even in the family group. I knew my husband was strong enough, besides, he’d escaped most of the week at work. He’d been around other fairly normal adults and had somewhat intelligent conversations. I NEEDED TO GET OUT, DO YOU HEAR ME?  In the end, he had a brilliant idea of turning the house into a thumping rave party. He wore the kids out by cranking up the stereo and making everyone dance till they dropped. I’m sure the neighbors loved it. Everyone was worn out when I returned, so that’s all that mattered.

Today, all that’s left in our pantry are the last bits of granola bars, aging blueberries, some leftover stir-fry, and the rest of the (eeew!) healthy snacks – everything else was scarfed up days ago; no one wanted to venture out for more provisions. The dogs are getting wary of us. Finally, this morning the rain has stopped, the sun blinding our weak eyes. We are preparing to leave this place that has become too cramped and go anywhere else but here. Just in time. I think we might survive.

Under these conditions, I did not make as much progress toward my goals as I had hoped. Next week should be much more productive, and much more peaceful.

Goals for March:

  • Complete my novel revision - Closing in on the halfway mark at page 149 out of 325. Really need to pick up the pace in the final week! 
  • Post two blog entries each week – Goal met! At least one out of three still made, not ideal, but I’ll take it.
  • Update my journal project and keep it current – Not even close. No progress made on this goal at all. Notes in my head don’t count.

How are you doing on your writing goals?