Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NaNoWriMo to the Rescue? #amwriting @LucyBurdette

“Write every day, just to keep in the habit, and remember that whatever you have written is neither as good nor as bad as you think it is. Just keep going, and tell yourself that you will fix it later.”  Jane Smiley

“Hold your nose and write.” Hallie Ephron

LUCY BURDETTE: NO, we are not talking about the election today. I'm sure we've all voted, haven't we? If not, take a minute now to run down to the polls--we'll wait here! 

Now, it's on to writing. Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo

Photo by Lainey's Repertoire
I have never participated in this as a. it seemed impossible to believe a person could write a decent book in a month and b. I didn’t think I needed this kind of structure. (Can you hear the writing gods rubbing their hands with glee?) And I should also say I’ve heard lots of stories from aspiring writers describing how they dumped 50,000 words on pages and then found the lump of exposition impossible to shape.

Lucy's going crazy while her sibs look on!
But on the other hand, I was stuck and sluggish. Yes, there were good solid life reasons I wasn’t writing—the annual trek down the east coast to Key West with two elderly animals takes a lot of planning and perseverance. And reading and worrying about the election could suck the life out of any creativity, right? Especially these last ugly weeks, no matter what side you were on.

But there were real writing issues too: What I’m working on is very different from what I’ve done before. Dark, for example, like the darkest pages of my Rebecca Butterman trilogy. Not cozy or quirky at all. And the food? Well no one’s eating anything in this book, except for nibbling at some ruined wedding food and a dish of macaroni and cheese that’s pretty much spoiled by the tension around the table. I’m working with almost all new characters too, with none of the warm familiarity of my Key West gang. And some of them are teenagers, so I have to really think about how they’d react and what they’d say. (It’s been a while since I’ve been in that age range.)

Photo by Paul L
And speaking of characters, I’m juggling multiple points of view, not utilizing the first person POV I’ve grown so comfortable writing. How many people do I need to tell the story? And how will I entice the reader to connect with each of them? It’s a challenge, I’ll tell you. I thought you might be interested in a tiny snippet where the two major protagonists meet…and no, it’s not located in my Key West paradise,  but rather the bowels of the New York City subway:

A train whooshed by, then another screeched to a halt. The doors of the subway car remained closed. One woman waited to disembark, tapping a leather-gloved hand on the window. Through the glass, Addy’s gaze locked onto the woman’s face. She had enormous blue eyes and blond curls and diamond earrings, like a princess. And she wore an expensive-looking gray coat—cashmere maybe—and a gray beret, shot through with silver threads. Though she seemed sad, she didn’t avert her eyes as most people did when they saw a homeless girl. Back when she’d first come to the city, after a few weeks on the street, Addy began to understand how they thought: She’s a druggie, a prostitute, a thief—she deserves what she gets.

And she knew she looked awful tonight—worse even than usual—frightened and pale and way too thin except for the bump in her middle where the baby had been, with streaks of blood on the coat and her sweatshirt. She looked at the helpless lump in her arms, then back at the woman on the train. She sent every ounce of sorrow and panic she was feeling through her gaze, then ducked away into the crowd.

So that’s my story for now! And I’m using the excuse of NaNoWriMo to force myself back into writing 1000 words a day. So far so good, I’ll keep you posted.

And by the way, if you’re interested in piling onto the November writing binge, beware of falling into the trap of googling writing tips and sites for NaNoWriMo (there are many!) I’ll share this one called the NaNoWriMo triage center, which includes lots of help for the many different ways a writer might get stuck. None of this is big news, but isn’t it funny how something you already know perfectly well can feel like a bolt of lightening when you see it at another time?

What tips do you use if you get stuck in a project?


  1. Ooh, now I’m so intrigued and I want to find out more about Addy; I wish I could read the rest of your story!

    Sometimes, if I find myself stuck in a project, I walk away from it for a bit. Of course, if it’s something for work, then I can’t do that and I try setting it aside for a bit and doing something else [there’s always something else to do!] for a little bit. But I try to keep on keeping on and usually I can work my way through it . . . .

  2. Good for you for stretching your envelope, Roberta/Lucy. And that's an amazing snippet. Good luck with the book - I can't wait to read it.

    If I'm stuck, I often take a few steps back (literally) in my office to sit in the rocker with pen and paper. Brainstorming in a different writing mode springs up all kinds of ideas. The other is my tried-and-true plotting walk, phone in hand, talking out loud to myself, dictating the ideas that arise. Never fails.

    Every month is NaNoWriMo for me. This morning before I got up I was wondering if I could write 5000 words/day before Crime Bake and finish this damn first draft. No, I'm not that productive, at least not at home! But 1500 words/day is a must. Except at Crime Bake...

  3. Lucy, I LOVE THIS OPENING! I just spent a day in Ohio giving feedback on people's opening pages, trying to explain how to put the character AND the setting AND the situation on the page as fast and compellingly and economically as you can BEFORE you let all hell break loose... all I needed was this example. Brilliant!!

  4. Roberta/Lucy, I want to read your book! Addy and the helpless lump and the elegant woman drew me right in. Good for you for challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone into deep and dark waters. The jolt is working! I'm also doing Nanowrimo to experiment with writing something completely different for me and I'm trying to have some fun while doing it. Let's just say, my local librarian raised an eyebrow at the last book I checked out for research.

    When I'm stuck, I usually try to get out of my head by experiencing a new place or activity. I'm a big fan of those Artist's Dates where you open your senses to the world outside your foggy brain.

  5. Thank you so much Joan! You will be able to read it, just not sure when yet:). And good idea about stepping aside for a moment and doing something else. Usually the back brain is still working on the other project, right?

    Edith, you amaze us all with how much you're doing. I simply can't imagine 5000 words a day--1000 can feel so grueling, though it definitely gets the story on the page. Your ideas for getting ideas are great!

    Thanks Hallie! Now here's where I confess that it isn't the opening. Or I should say, IF IT IS the opening, I've got some cutting to do!

    Michele, good luck to you too! We can commiserate at Crime Bake. If you stop back, say more about the artist's dates??

  6. Lucy/Roberta - oooooh, I love it! and good for you for trying something so different and doing it so well.

    I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, and it's my first time. But, I was stuck. For way too long. In the meantime I've had some short stories published and have fallen in love with writing in that form, but now - time to get back to that book, and NaNoWriMo is helping - Yay!! I'm not making their goal every day, but that's isn't as important to me and just getting some words written, not a set number of words.

  7. Exactly, Kaye! My goal too is get out of the rut and pick up some momentum. Hope your month is big success.

  8. Brilliant excerpt, Lucy!
    I've never tried any kind of writing exercise. Maybe it's because my life is a continuous example of needing to write this many words by the end of the month. I've just finished a first draft so I'm taking a month's breather. Which feels strange!

  9. Such a departure, Lucy! And changing from first person to third is such a task it was so difficult for me, but now I feel much more comfortable. If there is such a thing as comfortable :-)
    If I can't decide what to write, I give myself 10 minutes. So I will come back in 10 minutes. The moment I stand up, I think of the idea. I think it is a question of taking the pressure off yourself.

    The flight attendant is making me turn off my phone! Xxxx

  10. Lucy, what a great excerpt! I felt like I was right there on the subway and could see the characters clearly. I really need to catch up on your books!

    I am attempting NaNoWriMo, as I can really use the discipline. I spent the first week working on a story that just wasn't flowing AT ALL. Yesterday, I read an old post by Susan, where she described being 30,000 words into a manuscript and realized it just wasn't right. Mine only had less than 10,000 words, but I had the same feeling. So I put it away and started writing on another idea I had and bingo! I could scarcely write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.

    Now I have to go back and think about characters and setting and all because I hadn't prepped for working on this idea at all, but that's okay. I should trust my gut, right? I still love the other idea and the characters, setting and theme, and I may get back to it at some point, but I don't think I'd make it through NaNo with it. I barely made it through the week!

  11. What a terrific snippet, Roberta/Lucy! So full of tension, emotion, and sensory flavor! Can't wait to read the book.

    When I'm stuck (which is a lot lately, as I've been attempting to plot a new book--always the toughest part for me), I take the dog for a walk or go on a bike ride and brainstorm. But it's hard to take notes on a bicycle, so then I have to makes sure I remember any ideas I get...

  12. "Growth happens at the end of your comfort zone" so congrats on stretching that envelope, Lucy/Roberta.

    I love NaNo, no so much for writing a book in a month, but for those looking to develop a good writing habit, be it either through words a day or time in the chair.

    When I get stuck it's generally a sign that I've been at it too long and I need a break. Get up, stretch, do something else. I almost always come up with at least some sort of idea that let's me move forward.

  13. Thanks Rhys! So glad you get a month off. You deserve it, you work sooooo hard!

    Hank, that is brilliant. Allow yourself to leave and the brain says..."but wait!"

    Thank you Mary. Hope the new idea flourishes for you. It is so brave to give up words you've already written...

    And thanks Leslie! I find plotting hard too. Tonka gets a lot of walks when things are not flowing:). It also helps to talk things over with someone. This week I had dinner with a friend who knew nothing about this book but instantly had a solution to what I thought was an insurmountable problem...

  14. Lucy, that snippet is absolutely gripping!!!! I can't wait to find out Addy's story, and I applaud you for jumping off the deep end into something completely different. (Up for brainstorming any time!)

    I've never done NaNoWriMo, and I can't this month because I'm in the UK researching, but I'm going to make December my very own NaNoWriMo month. To get unstuck, I do chores, go for a walk, take the dogs out for some play in the garden. Or I brainstorm with a friend, or with myself. I brainstorm on paper, listing questions about the story and the characters, then answering them. Amazing how well that works.

  15. Congratulations on participating in NaNo. You never know until you try where something great will happen. Good luck!

  16. Oh, Lucy, what a delicious tidbit! Dark and gripping. I'm looking forward to reading Addy's story and will pre-order as soon as it becomes available.

  17. Lucy/Roberta I echo, brainstorm with me any time. When I get stuck like to change my mental scenery. I sometimes pull up a museum site and look at artwork. Then I meditate for a bit. If that doesn't work I do household chores. That always motivates me to get back to the key board.

  18. Thank you Debs! So smart to do your own December NaNo. I've certainly written 1000 words/day in other stretches, but this was a good kick in the butt. Thank you for the offer of brainstorming--that would be amazing:)

    Vicki, you are so right!

    Kathy, you're the best, thanks.

    Coralee, thank you too. Changing mental scenery sometimes works, though not so much for this election season! I have to admit that household chores can seem very appealing, depending on how hard the section is...entirely new chapters=hard slogging.

  19. So Lucy /Roberta, Addy obviously meets Hank on the subway, cashmere and all. How long do we have to wait to see what happens next?

    PS check out my picture on FB at the grave of Susan B Anthony. Not to reference the election of course. Just happened to drop by there today.

  20. LOL Ann, Hank is a princess! I don't have a date for when you might see this--must finish it and sell it first...

    Now off to look at your Facebook page...

  21. Omigish, you sure left us hanging, Roberta! I look forward to this story.

    NaNo is tough for me, because it's November, a super tough time for me to carve space for myself. We'll have house guests at both houses, for more than a week, and Thanksgiving, and so many end of season outdoor projects. Thanksgiving is our Christmas, too.

    But I think I will also do my own writing month in December. That's a great idea!

  22. Lucy, WOW, I wanted to turn the page and keep reading. I never knew you did dark. Revelation! Can't wait for the finished product.

    When I'm stuck I do two things, Scapple (which I'm just learning-its a Literature and Latte product that is basically a mindmap). It lets me see the relationship among characters and plot and sometimes it can provide just the spark that sets the gears rolling again. The other thing I do is write. By hand. The old fashioned way. It's a trick I learned from the days when I did morning pages. I may start out writing I have nothing to say over and over, but then I discovery my pen is writing characters, dialogue, plot, story, and I'm unstuck.