Dear 2015:

Well, hello, 2015, you brand spanking new year, you. What have you got to say for yourself?

I know what you’re thinking, 2015. You’re thinking, “Hey, lady, I hope you’re not planning to launch a list of New Year’s resolutions like the rest of the blohgosphere when  you’ve obviously forgotten to compose a 2014 in Review post, you lazy slag.”

See, we’ve only been acquainted for a matter of hours and already I know you better than you know me, because for your information I totally didn’t forget the review post. Not doing isn’t the same thing as forgetting, let me remind you, and not doing is exactly what I did. Or didn’t. Um. That could use a bit of an edit. (Also something I’m not doing.)

It’s not that my year was a write-off. I’m actually quite pleased with it on a number of fronts. I finished the first draft of my first not-utter-shite novel. I took two writing workshops that inspired and improved my writing. I started writing poetry again. I went on the first real vacation I’ve taken for years.

Other aspects of 2014, though? So very much not something I choose to relive, however briefly. Those aspects will remain stuffed away in a trunk in my own personal dark attic, waiting until I need them to inject their special misery into a particularly nasty story that I’m trying to make particularly nastier. (And the plot bunnies start breeding like mad…)

So, there you go, 2015. You can stop staring at me with that j’accuse expression, and you can also fold up your worry pants and tuck them away in your dresser, or chest of drawers, or highboy, or lowboy, or wherever units of time choose to stash their emotional wardrobes these days. (I’m not drunk, not even drinking, I swear.)

As for the resolutions, well, they’re pretty simple: I will write more and I will get my literal and figurative houses in order. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the trend in goal-setting is for specificity and measurability and time-boundedness, but guess what? I couldn’t give a rat’s nethers. When my life turns into a corporate wonderland, I’ll start composing resolutions  that fit the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. Or shoot myself. (One of my resolutions was going to be that I’d think fewer cranky/shitty/unkind thoughts, but then I wrote the last couple of sentences and realized I had to either delete it or fail right out of the gate.)

And there we have it. Lovely to meet you, 2015, and I look forward to spending the next twelve months discovering what you have in store for me, for those I love, and for the planet. Be kind, okay?

NaNoWriMo: Researching la vida loca

Ah, yes, here it is, November 11, and I’m clocking in at word 10,048 of my National Novel Writing Month story–only 8,000 words or so shy of where I should be if I were the type of person to worry about these things. Which I really am, truth be told, but worry isn’t the same as blind panic, so let’s just imagine me tossing my head in a devil-may-care manner and laughing merrily in the face of pressure. Or tossing back a stiff scotch in an oh-crap-time-you-are-an-evil-cow manner and whimpering less than winsomely in the face of cold, hard truth.

Or maybe let’s not imagine me at all. That might be easier.

Let’s talk instead about research and all that simply fabulicious advice that gets tossed around about how important it is to avoid diving into the Google brain-suck pool while trying to hammer out that first draft, even if you desperately need to know whether a Sig Sauer takes a magazine or a clip or if you load it by gripping bullets the size of fingers between your teeth and spitting them into empty chambers. Even if you want to know whether it’s possible to perform a Bilateral Cingulotomy on a brain with only a paring knife and a couple of toothpicks (not recommended, by the way).  Even if you think your story is doomed to explode into a million shards of fictive splatterosity  if you don’t discover right this very exact minute how many times a day Spongebob Squarepants has to take a poop.

The preponderance of interwebby advice seems to be, “Stop! Don’t jump! Step away from the Google and keep your eyes on the story. The gaps will wait till later.” (Tell that to Spongebob after he’s stuffed his spongy self with prunes and Metamucil.)

It’s good advice. Obviously. Why waste precious noveling time trekking through the webbyverse to find out whether the frontalis or orbicularis muscles are responsible for lifting the eyebrows and making the forehead all crinkly (it’s the former); or refreshing your memory regarding the more entertaining names for the highly poisonous Caladium plant (Heart of Jesus or Angel Wings; good grief, who names these plants?); or trying to nail down that perfect shade of blue for your villain’s eyes (ultramarine? viridian? glaucous? International Klein Blue?–go on, I dare you).

Obviously your story can wait for you to plug in those pivotal bits of plotterificness at a later date. No brainer, right?

Except–and you had to know this was coming–except sometimes the story can’t wait. Sometimes the story plonks its butt down on the big comfy couch and refuses to budge until you feed it a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, of lore and legend, of nourishing Google esoterica. Sometimes the story wants the facts, ma’am, and nothing but the facts will do to get it moving again.

And the other part of the “except” is this: sometimes this weird and wonderful detour into the land of rollicking factoids brings unexpected gifts, new directions, a previously uncontemplated story angle. Sometimes that “waste” of times pays off in unexpected ways.

Of course, that could well be one of the reasons I’m 8,000 words behind, too, so you might want to go with the experts on this one.

Linky goodness for NaNoers and non-NaNoers

At the last moment–yesterday evening, in fact–I decided, oh what the hey, why not dive into National Novel Writing Month again. It’s been a year or two or more since I’ve participated, and I always feel this little (okay, biggish) stab of jealousy when I read all the angst-ridden November posts about plots gone rogue, late night typing frenzies, and the general woe-ishness that comes from being 10,000 shy of the weekly target.

I’d considered it early October but thought, no, not this year. I don’t have a strong enough story idea bubbling away on the back burner waiting for the chance to upchuck itself all over the keyboard in 30 fun-filled days. But then last night I thought, well, so what? No percolated plot? No problem! I wrote a (very short) series of flash pieces several months ago, maybe 1,200 words in total, set in a dystopian not-too-distant future, and I’d always kinda, sorta thought of revisiting that world one day. Why not now?

And that was that. I’m in.

What about you? Are you dipping your toes in the NaNoWriMo waters this year for the first or the eleventy-first time? Well, if you are, and you’re looking for a little distraction or inspiration, I have some very tasty links to share with you. (And, if you’re not NaNo-ing, click anyway, because these sites have nothing to do with NaNoWriMo, and everything to do with being yummy brain food. Eat up!)

largehearted boy offers book reviews, contests, interesting articles, and (saving the best for last) a section called Book Notes where “authors discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.” In some cases this might be a playlist of the music the author listened to as she or he wrote, in others it might be the music that influenced the writing, or in still other cases the connection might be something else entirely. It makes for fascinating reading, whichever way you slice it.

The Public Domain Review was a new find for me this week, “an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to promoting and celebrating the public domain in all its richness and variety.” Here you’ll find books (such asThe Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man [1845] or A Dictionary of Victorian Slang [1990]), films (such asÉmile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie [1908]), essays, images and audio collections, all of which have made it into the public domain. It’s a gold mine of inspiration. Not to mention an almighty time suck, so enter with care.

Finally, if you’ve run out of stultifyingly boring dramas and brain-sucking sitcoms to watch on TV or on Netflix, check out Unplug the TV. Here you will find approximately a bazillion and four videos to nourish your noggin and help you wow your co-workers with your ability to pontificate about antimatter (does it fall up? Well, does it? Go on, watch and find out); dogs (and the three things they should not be doing), and the science of laziness.


Of milestones and gratitude

Way back at the end of March when I was dithering about whether or not to sign up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, two someones (and, yes, I’m looking at you, Chris James and Jo-Anne Teal) suggested ever so politely that perhaps it would be a good idea to stop being such an asshat and to concentrate instead on wrapping up the first draft of my novel. Well, okay, the asshat part was entirely a matter of (mis-)interpretation, but the message was clear.

I have to admit that my first reaction was a bit of a knee-jerky “Wait a second, mister. Who says I can’t do both?” That lasted for approximately two seconds, and at the end of the two seconds I was mightily glad  I hadn’t embarrassed myself by voicing (so to speak) the question, because the answer was obvious: “No, clearly you cannot do both, you dizzy goombah, or you would have done so last April, or the April before, or at any given time over the last decade when you were futzing about doing everything possible under the sun instead of finishing your freaking novel.”

After pushing my petulance to the curb with a mighty, muscle-stripping heave, I began to have a long, hard think about all the things I’ve allowed to get in the way of my writing. I realized that all those many (many!) things could be reduced to just one thing: me. Me and my remarkable avoidance capabilities. (And those capabilities really are magnificent. If I could bottle them and force the entire planetary population to imbibe, every imaginable activity on earth would grind to a whimpering halt within a fortnight.)

My novel wasn’t languishing unfinished because the plot had become an unresolvable quagmire of triteness and unreadability, or because my characters were riding roughshod over their carefully crafted scripts, or because I couldn’t find the perfect way to describe the sound of rain thwacking against a dumpster. My novel was languishing because I wasn’t writing it.

Obvious, right? Honestly, sometimes I could smack myself into oblivion.

So, yes. That’s where I’ve been for the last bunch of weeks. Writing. Shunning the interwebs, except for the odd bit of research and to pin the occasional staircase on Pinterest (because that’s therapy and I deserve it, so there). I’m not going to lie to you and say I’ve been writing the whole time. I have a full time job that frequently punts my gnawed and useless brain straight from my roll-y office chair onto my comfy coma-inducing couch at the end of the day, and being gifted with special talents in the skiving department, I’ve often found myself lured from the task at hand by a host of other distractions (none of which, sadly, involved housework). But I refused to allow myself to dive back into the quicksand of social media. No blogging, no tweeting, no Facebooking, no reading of blogs, tweets or Facebook. The (almost) all or nothing approach.

And this Sunday I finished the first draft of my first full-length novel. I ripped the last scene out of my reluctant brain, word by bloody word, and at 2:38 p.m. I typed the magic words “The End.” It felt astonishingly good. Oh, yeah, it did.

I do realize that the first draft is commonly referred to as “the vomit draft,” and mine would definitely mesh with that description. Great whacks of extensive editing loom on the horizon. But, hey. It’s going to be so much easier to edit something that actually exists.

So, thank you, Chris, and thank you, Jo Anne, for seconding Chris’s advice. If you hadn’t shoved a stick through my spokes, “the end” would still be miles out of reach.

And, also? Yay!!!! First draft down! Only eleventy drafts to go! Tastes so sweet, I tell you.