‘Twas the week before NaNo

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So here’s my NaNoWriMo check list:

1. A plot map. Otherwise known as an outline. I’ve done NaNo “pantsing all the way,” and the result wasn’t pretty. Or even usable. Hat tip to Tonia for sharing A Plot Outline in Six Acts, which I will be following to the letter.

2. Larger-than-life lead characters. I am using NaNo to draft the next Mercy’s Embrace novel, so I’m good here.

3. A rocking bad guy. Because as Steven Pressfield says, “The middle belongs to the villain.” And the muddled middle is where we run out of ideas.

4. A clean house. Seriously. Haul out the vacuum, the mop, and get that bathroom sparkling. NaNo is all about minimal zero housework.

5. A clear work area. Clutter is like static on the radio, right? Make room—a clean, physical space that you can see—for new ideas.

6. Supportive WriMo pals. (That’s what we NaNoers are, WriMos, ha.) I could not believe the difference this made during July’s Camp NaNo.

7. Did I mention pre-NaNo cleaning? This is not a waste of writing time … yet.

There’s nothing like a sailor man swabbing the deck. So now you’re inspired to do the same.

Because you want to neglect the house with a clear conscience. And joyfully, right? Clean now, ignore later.

Photo Credit: USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT  Airmen Day and Mc Duffie  swab the deck (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Official USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT photo
Airmen Joseph Day and Alexander Mc Duffie swab the deck
(Creative Commons)

Why English Teachers Die Young

CalvinHobbesBrainTuesday, as my students read aloud these lame and painfully bad analogies, they laughed until they cried.

This list is comprised of entries from, I think, the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest. And it’s as much fun today as when I first snagged it from the Internet years ago.

I offer it in celebration of Friday. And also, you know, because everyone can use a good laugh.

*   *   *

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Benjamin Zander and Reducing the Impulses

Sometimes it helps to cross-train with artists from other disciplines. Today, a TED talk from conductor Benjamin Zander.

As always, he is a delight. He transforms the way we see classical music. And, I hope, the way my students see the craft of writing.

“Observe his performance of Chopin,” I tell them. As writers, what can we take away?

But first, a few quotations to ponder.

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak  (Public Domain)

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

“The desire to write grows with writing.” (Desiderius Erasmus)

Get started and watch what happens.
Learn from Mikey: “Try it, you’ll like it.”

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you grow.” (E.L. Doctorow)

Writing is all about discovery.
What lurks in your creative mind?
If you don’t start writing, how will you know?

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” (Benjamin Franklin)

So don’t be stupid.
Because stupid is a choice.

“Everyone who works in the domain of fiction is a bit crazy. The problem is to render this craziness interesting.” (François Truffant)

Guess what? If you write a boring story, it’s kind of your fault.
And Benjamin Zander would agree.

Come discover why ‘Reducing the Impulses’ is important.
How can we do the same thing with our writing?

We’re in this writing thing together

I am a collector of quotations. Who better to comment on the writing life than those who have struggled through it, right?

Ah, but my high school students aren’t so sure, especially at the beginning of the school year. They don’t get it. I share a quotation and get blank looks.

“So what does this mean?” I ask. They hesitate, thinking that I want the “right” answer. As you know, there there kind of isn’t one.

Oh, an opinion question? That changes everything. Feel the relief. And listen to the ideas pour out.

Care to try your hand at this? Here are some from Monday’s class. What secrets of the writing life are laid bare?

Last year's purple book shows how thick each of these will be.

I make fat “writing textbooks” for my students

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” (Joseph Heller)

You are not alone in your struggle with the blank page.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

You’ll never feel quite done.
And you’ll always notice your mistakes, even in published work.

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

Ah, inadequacy.
Yes, that feeling is part of the deal.

“My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people second.” (John D. MacDonald)

Make sure that one person likes what you write—you!

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”(George Eliot)

So somebody has to write the books, the movies, the television shows for the next generation. Might as well be you, right?
Oh, and you’ll never feel quite adequate for the task.
Write anyway.

Do you like this idea for a series? I do. I’ll share more over the coming weeks. Or months.

In each of us, a hero

The evacuation of lower Manhattan

The evacuation of lower Manhattan on 9/11, the largest sea evacuation in history

When do we see the nobility of men and women? In the most tragic circumstances of life. It is then that we step up and show that we are, indeed, created in the image of God.

To honor the heroes of 9/11, today I am sharing this video with my students. I was raised in a sailing family, and it warms my heart to see how hundreds of skippers rushed to help.

In each of us, there lives a hero. This short video shares some of their stories.

When the need arises, will your inner hero step up to the call? Yes, I think so.

How to Write 3000 Words

This summer I have been in Turbo Writer Mode. Basically, I have July to finish my comic novel, Darcy By Any Other Name. It’s a wonderfully funny romp. But it won’t write itself.

So Mondays through Wednesdays I write 3000 words a day. The rest of the week I’m also writing, but not new material. I tell you what, by week’s end my brain feels stretched like a wrung-out sponge! But the chapters are mounting up. Definitely worth it.

Here are some things I’ve learned about pumping out words.

1. Set aside time. You need time for writing. And for thinking. Ah, but remember this: You will do your best thinking as you write.

Set aside time to work

Quiet, dedicated time is important.

2. Don’t forget that morning cuppa. A hot drink both comforts and empowers. But too much caffeine is not your friend.

Caffeine helps.

Some is good. A lot, not so much.

3. Gather your tools. For me, this means finding my best pair of reading glasses. And then not setting them down “somewhere.”

Find your glasses. And the backup glasses. And the backup to the backup glasses.

A backup. And a 2nd and 3rd backup.

4. Stay on task. It takes time to warm up the flow, so keep throwing words on the page, willy-nilly. Make lists of ideas, walk through a scene “telling” it. No editing, no backtracking.

Yes, sigh, I use a timer.

Sigh, I often use need a timer to stay focused.

5. Carry a notebook everywhere. Words beget words, and ideas can strike at any time. If you’re not prepared, you’ll write on scraps and napkins. Try not to make notes while you are driving on the freeway…like I did here (the receipt!).

Be prepared for ideas.

Be ready for ideas…or else you’ll do this.

6. Accountability helps. Fellow author Susan Kaye and I check in every single work day. Same with my pals at My 500 Words. Because time is not yours to waste, not when there’s a book to write. Find others to help you stay productive and growing.

Give and receive encouragement

You don’t need to go it alone. Join us!

7. Above all, keep your sense of humor intact. As you write, entertain not only your future readers but also yourself. The first draft is all melodrama anyway, so dare to go over the top.

The Foster Farms Chicken Impostor.

My very own Foster Farms “Chicken Impostor.” Because I need a smile.

8. For heaven’s sake, back up your work. Daily. And don’t lose the flash drive like I did. (I have no idea why I wrote “2 of 3″ on this one. There must have been a reason.)

Back up your work.

Back up your work. Just do it.

“Never give up, never surrender! Words of wisdom from Galaxy Quest, right? Don’t lose heart. Writing is all about stopping and starting again. You only fail if you quit for keeps.