Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Novel in a Month -- Ready, Set, Go!

November is National Novel Writing Month. Seriously. A whole month dedicated to writing 50,000 words.

My local paper featured an article on this because 14 people in my area actually did this last year. Durango’s pretty darn small. What’s up with those 14 people?

The NaNoWriMo web site (I’m not making this up) explains the effort this way: Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with 21 writers. In 2008, there were 119,301 writers and 21,683 reached the 50,000-word minimum by November 30. (You have to register and then upload your work by that date to qualify as a winner.)

Many of these writers went on to successfully publish their books (after some editing and rewriting, of course).

I’m intrigued by the idea yet don’t want to stop writing on my current novel for an entire month. (Rules say you can’t jump in with a work in progress because you’re already too attached to it.)

Yet, what a great way to throw caution to the wind and write without emotional investment. I’ll let you know if I decide to try this. What about you? Interested?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Attack of the Query Shark!

No excuses for the long break between posts except that my injured knee and I have been throwing a pity party. The darn joint won’t cooperate and will likely keep me out of the half marathon in Moab, UT on Sunday. Oh well, I got tons of writing done in bed, knee propped up, ice pack in place, listening to tiny violins play in the background.

I also had some quality Internet time and found two great sites I’d like to share:

Both blogs are written by Janet Reid, a literary agent. She’s smart, funny and snarky as hell. The best part is reading her comments on poorly written query letters as well as those that made her want to sign the author.

Believe me, you’ll be entertained for hours and you’ll start to think you’re one of the greatest writers of all time after reading some of the crap that’s submitted. There’s also lots of great advice – so poke around and read posts like “7 Ways to Drive Your Agent Crazy” and “How to Make Sure Your Query is Instantly Rejected.”

I know, I know. You may not have finished your book or memoir yet. Write a query letter anyway. It’s great practice – you can always revise it later.

And before you send your query out into the big, scary world, send it to the Query Shark first. She'll toughen your skin and possibly help you turn a mediocre query into one that sings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Conjure the Dream

I've written several times about my intention board -- it has my calls to the universe for things I want to manifest in my life. Well, until today, they've only been words on Post-It notes; nothing visual.

I recently ran across a powerful exercise for first-time novelists. You're supposed to seek out an image you think represents your future book cover -- and then cut out words and paste up a mock cover to remind you of the dream of publishing that manuscript one day.

Can I just say HOW MUCH FUN it was to do this? I have some graphic design expertise so I did a pretty involved mock-up (see photo). Then, I did one for the two women in my writers' group. (We had breakfast today to pump each other for a Friday full of writing.)

The Artist's Way also encourages writers to imagine all the juicy details of their dreams. Not just stating "Publish book." The author suggests writing specifics about what it would mean to achieve that dream. My image is walking in downtown Durango past Maria's, our independent bookstore, and seeing copies of my book in the window with a sign, "Latest Novel from Local Author Mandy Mikulencak."

A former co-worker of mine would write her dreams/wants/desires on pieces of paper, fold them up and hide them in different places in her house. Another would write out her intentions and then burn them, sending the smoke up as her request to the universe.
Do you take time to conjure your dream, in all its glorious details? I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The POV Smorgasbord

I’m reading a fascinating book called "Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular" by Rust Hills.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the book but the chapter on point of view is especially compelling. He goes into the whole list of types (omniscient, first person, third person, scenic, central intelligence) but then goes on to say “It seems to me that the proper attitude for the writer is to leave the systematizing to someone else and just rejoice that there are so many methods.”

I liked that he outlined some of the limitations of certain POVs but encouraged writers to not be bound by certain rules and conventions. BUT BE SMART ABOUT IT. He describes the work of some authors who intentionally and thoughtfully break POV rules which can be mesmerizing and brilliant. But when beginning writers “break the rules unwittingly, with nothing accomplished by it, it harms the story foolishly.”

Part of the chapter discusses how authors ‘choose’ which POV to use. He proposes that most times, this decision is unconscious. The technique is second to the story that’s within you aching to be told.

The characters in my novels have pretty strong first-person voices and I wouldn’t go against their wishes to try out third-person limited or omniscient. But I think it’s worthwhile to practice other POVs. I’m considering writing a short story based on the true story of an elderly woman who was eaten by a bear because she refused warnings not to feed dog food to the bears in her neighborhood. Does her husband tell the story? Does the kid living next door? Or do I serve as a omniscient narrative of this tragic tale?

So many juicy choices. Hills is right -- let’s rejoice that we have so many methods at our disposable.

Which POV are you most comfortable using? Have you stretched outside that POV yet?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Inspiration as Writing Partner

Some people, when they learn I write fiction, say they’d love to do the same thing but they just don’t have a great imagination.

Until October 2008, I said the very same thing. I had been a non-fiction writer for more than 20 years; it felt comfortable and it paid the bills. Truthfully, I didn’t think I had a story in me so fiction held no allure.

When I started the first book almost exactly a year ago, I had NO CHOICE in the matter. I’m not going to get too woo-woo here but the inspiration and many times the words themselves came from somewhere outside of me. Pressed into service, I dutifully took dictation, sometime hours at a time.

Where the hell did THAT come from, I’d ask in disbelief. My characters would do and say the most extraordinary things, all of their own accord.

I’m not saying I don’t bring talent to the table. I just know I’m not writing alone and I’m more than okay with that. I don’t call my inspiration a muse. I believe I have a team of guides with me, especially for the writing. (Woo-woo Alert!) Sometimes, I welcome them with burning sage. I definitely say thank-you after a productive day of writing.

From time to time, I feel an intense pressure and burning sensation at the back of my head during fervent writing sessions – maybe just a friendly nudge from the team.

I’m fully connected to the characters in my books but I don’t try to force the story on them. Sometimes, they’ll say, “Mandy, I really wouldn’t say that. Try again.” I sigh and rewrite. When I get it right, I feel it in my gut.

The Artist’s Way says that creativity is an expression of the divine at work. I think it’s connectivity with our universe and all the creative energy we share, past and present.

Do you feel inspiration from outside yourself? How would you describe it?