The stories we have to tell — NaNoWriMo ’11

So here’s the thing. During National Novel Writing Month last year, I had this great idea for a story. I worked on it for a while, cobbling together pieces here and there, but I ultimately “lost” NaNoWriMo by not even getting halfway toward the 50,000 word goal. The year before that? Total failure. Though it was amazing time, my week-long trip to California completely derailed my attempts to write a book in a month.

I’ve gotten gun shy.

But I know it’s possible. This is my fifth year participating in NaNoWriMo. In 2007 and 2008, I cranked out books like nobody’s business, putting fingers to keyboard and flying through stories with breathless speed. I was super psyched to be a novelist, you see, and ecstatic that I had the capacity to create entire worlds. It was like playing God. And after years of writing poems and papers in college, just writing for writing’s sake was exhilarating.

But those projects were all abandoned, locked up tight on flash drives. Gathering metaphoric dust. Looking back on them now, I see how much my writing style has evolved — and those early projects? They’re . . . well, they’re just not good. Without redemption. A bit embarrassing, if I’m being honest.

As of Oct. 31, the night before NaNo was due to start, I hadn’t decided if I was committing to another year of writing debauchery. Did I have it in me to try again — and risk failing? How embarrassed would I be if I tried for the third year in a row to craft a book, then wound up with some piece of garbage I would bury deep on my hard drive?

But I’ve been thinking and thinking, plotting and scheming. And I’ve realized that, even if this latest attempt sucks — and even if I never finish at all — the greatest gift NaNo can give a writer is discipline, which is what pep talker Maureen Johnson is telling us. I’m used to writing on deadline at work, cranking out 500-word columns, but that’s nothing compared to the stamina writing a full-length novel requires.

I’ve changed and evolved and improved as a writer, and I know I have great paths yet to wander. I’m not at my peak. I’m still young and quick and maybe a little arrogant, as my hate-mail-writers are quick to point out, but that’s okay. Everything is, in fact, a learning experiment.

So I’m trying. I’m writing again. I’m vowing to myself that I will try to finish a novel — and that is enough.

I’m more than 12,000 words in and loving it. I’m scared and this book may be terrible, but that’s not what’s important at the moment. It’s just about getting the story out. I’ve begun scratching notes on slips of paper, keeping characters straight and developing their personalities. I’ve thought about conflicts and resolutions and all the things I love about the books I’ve read and cherished. I’ve thought about what makes a great heroine — and a great villain. I’ve thought about love lost and found. Most importantly, I’ve thought about the story I have to tell — the one that’s uniquely mine — and the pieces of it I can weave into something bigger.

We all have a story to tell. I believe that absolutely, unequivocally. I know with all my heart that is true.

I don’t know what I’m going to come up with — but it’ll be something.

And I hope someday I’ll get to share it with you.

EDIT: If anyone would like an extra writing buddy on the NaNo site, I’m megan_lynn. Looking forward to this grand adventure!

Losing NaNoWriMo — but winning a solid start to a novel

The bad news: for the second consecutive year, I failed at NaNoWriMo.

The good news: I actually love the book I’m writing.

Okay — maybe not love. Love is a serious word. Love develops after putting in some serious hard work with some(one)(thing) and succumbing to a sensation beyond our control.

Let’s say I’m heavily in like with my book.

So what went wrong in 2010? Unlike last year, I didn’t have the ready-made excuse of a mid-NaNo vacation to fall back on. There were no trips to California, no incredibly taxing projects at work — just little old me sitting at my desk, staring at a calendar that was quickly filling up and losing my motivation to keep cranking out the words.

To be fair (or to further bury myself?), I did quite a bit of writing in November — just not on my as-yet-untitled novel. I cranked out columns at work and reached out with my audience, asking them to send me their holiday traditions in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I’ve loved reading everyone’s letters and replied to all of them — not to mention the 40+ handwritten Christmas cards I sent to you, my lovely friends, and friends and family.

I’ve written lists and addresses, letters and book reviews. Emails, rebuttals and love notes. Hundreds of tweets.

But books? No books.

My final word count for NaNoWriMo ’10 stands at 22,277 words. In the days since the project officially ended, I’ve added a few thousand words and left Josie, the travel writer with a bruised heart (and ego), in the hands of a new editor at the paper where she’s taken a part-time position. Thinking she’ll avoid having to travel to New York and catch up with her snobbish ex-boyfriend, Josie channels her energy into helping the floundering Sentinel outside Washington, D.C.

And everything is peachy until the reporter’s notebook is suddenly turned around on her. When her ex-boyfriend’s nude painting is accepted into a prominent New York art gallery, the whole world wants to know the name of the seductive-yet-innocent nymph captured on his canvas — and Nathan, bitter and angry at Josie for ending their melting relationship, is all too happy to tell them.

And then Josie’s behind is all over the art scene.

And she’s none too happy about it.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going — plus, I need a love interest in here . . . and STAT. A women’s fiction novel without a love interest? Let’s be serious. It’s not that the romance needs to be the central focus of the story, but it certainly needs to be there. And since I’ve pretty well burned the bridge between Nate and Josie (or did they burn it themselves?), there’s no going back there. I will have to have some resolution between them, though; everyone deserves closure. But I’ll focus on that after I’ve actually reached the denouement!

In short, I’m not giving up on my project — not at all. I just didn’t have it in me to crank out a book in record time, though I heartily congratulate all those who did! I do plan on participating in future NaNos — and maybe tasting sweet victory once again. If nothing else, I love that NaNoWriMo gets me writing daily and thinking about a major project . . . something beyond my short blog posts and 450-word columns. I like plotting and delving deep into a character’s psyche — and having the r0om to really do that. I like space.

Now let’s just see if I can fill it up with another 27,000+ words.

NaNoWriMo wrap-up: Week one

In the midst of a chaotic first week of November, it was also the start of National Novel Writing Month — an international effort that asks participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (the month of November). Many of you have probably heard about it ad nauseum at this point, but I’ll throw in my own little status report — and update you on the role noveling as played in my life lately.

In college, I was all about poetry. When I wasn’t reading it and discussing it in class, I was penning my own. Long poems, short poems, sonnets, freeform, hiaku — I did it all and, most of the time, enjoyed the heck out of it. But once I left the University of Maryland with my shiny new B.A. in English, I went to work at the newspaper I’ve called my career home for the past three years. And in those three years, do you know how many poems I’ve written?

One. Maybe two. And both of there were embarrassingly terrible.

In these years since college, I’ve reconnected with my noveling roots — and NaNoWriMo has played no small part in that. A kid who would once while away entire afternoons writing epic “Star Wars” continuations in her father’s den, I’ve written no less than a dozen books in my lifetime.

Were they any good? Well, the early ones were written by a 10-year-old so, you know, I think they read the way you’d expect a 300-page tome from a fifth grader to read. But the more recent stuff, well . . . I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two from having thrown myself full throttle into my column and write meg! Blogging has helped me figure out a way to say things quickly, intelligently and, with any luck, humorously. So the three NaNoWriMo books I’ve written the past three years,while solid efforts of which I’m proud, aren’t the pinnacle of what I can achieve. Since last November and the start of my newspaper column, I see a major shift in my writing style and tone.

For the better, I hope.

This year’s novel, as yet untitled, is currently topping out at 11,772 words or 39 double-spaced pages. I wrote on my lunch breaks at work every day last week and quickly lost myself in the world of Josie, a freelance travel writer who hops off a bus in Brooklyn to discover she no longer carries a flame for her free-spirited, slacker boyfriend. While a talented artist, Nathan lacks a little thing called drive. And when he conveniently forgets to pick her up from a bus station in Manhattan, Josie is done and done. She slips onto the next bus back to D.C. with nary a text message to the man who once stole her heart. Then forgot he even had it.

In a fit of revenge after their cold break-up, Nathan decides he’s tired of covering up a certain canvas he toiled over for months. His most beautiful and ambitious work to date, Nate’s been hiding this beauty from a waiting art scene, afraid of what Josie would say should it appear in galleries, magazines and blogs around the world. He might not be that famous yet, but it’s only a matter of time . . . and this one? It’s one to get tongues wagging. A provocative, colorful and very nude painting.

Of Josie.

And — scene.

By the end of the week, I would like to hit 20,000 words and flesh out Josie and Nathan’s relationship. Right now, it’s all been told in dribs and drabs — a special moment here; a recovered memory there. I’m introducing peripheral characters like Josie’s pragmatic sister, Anna, and Anna’s wounded rocker brother-in-law. I have Nathan’s overachieving mama in there, too, plus Josie’s own parents — busy making new plans for life as empty nesters.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going, but I’m trying my hardest to bring in everything I love about a good women’s fiction novel: a powerful, independent and sympathetic main character; loving, colorful and well described friends and family; a moving plot which brings readers on a journey; a delicious love story which has me frantically turning the pages. I haven’t introduced all of those elements yet, but I’ll get there.

Writing is, above all else, tough work. And once the writing is done, we’re into the Edit Zone — which can be a scary, scary place. I’ll be chopping, rearranging, moving, subtracting, adding and crying. I’ll probably get disgusted a few times and want to give up. I won’t, though, and here’s why: with each book I finish, I know I’m getting closer to writing my own little masterpiece. I get better and better. And each paragraph brings me closer to my lifelong goal: becoming a published novelist.

But since life is all about the journey, I’m just enjoying this moment of creating.

And writing until my fingers ache.

That’s the only way to get it done.

A healthy dose of NaNo failure

So, friends, I didn’t make it this year. Compiling 50,000 words into some semblance of a novel for National Novel Writing Month just really exceeded my abilities — especially since I spent most of the month making scarves; gallavanting about with friends; stuffing hams (yes — hams); eating way too much with family; tackling work projects; taking photos; and, you know, visiting California.

By the time I got used to being back on the East Coast and realized I still had my life to tend to here — difficulties, chaos, excitement and all — I’d gotten hopelessly behind on my word count . . . and it was just too scary to try and catch up. I got to the point that I didn’t even want to log into my NaNoWriMo account because I knew how far behind I was — and seeing my miniscule number was disappointing!

But those are all just excuses. What it really comes down to is this: I didn’t make finishing my novel a priority this year. I’m not happy or proud of it, but that’s what happened. Once again, I let daily dramas keep me from doing what it is I love most: writing. Since I had such an easy go of it the past two NaNos, I definitely felt overconfident going into this year’s session! But it was different this November, especially considering I was trying to write a young adult novel (a first for me) and had so many other crazy things going on. In the past, my life has been . . . on an even keel, shall we say. But 2009 was full of all sorts of changes! And I’m sure 2010 will bring lots of great things, too.

I’m not giving up on the book I started last month, but I do feel like there’s still a story in me that I’m just not telling. Somehow I’m not getting to the core of the issue, not really writing from the heart . . . not telling my own story, I guess. I’m actually going to return to a book I started over the summer! I got 50 pages in, decided I wasn’t sure “where it all was going” (do we ever know where it’s going, really?), hit “save” and promptly buried it on my flash drive. But I’ve been thinking more and more about those characters . . . and I’m ready to rejoin them. Out in Los Angeles, as the case may be! (And I didn’t even know I’d be in L.A. myself a few months later. Life is funny!)

Congratulations to all of the NaNoWriMo victors out there — you guys are awesome! Grab your winner badges and proudly display them for all of the literature-loving world to see. And I hope to be back among you next year!

It’s time to get noveling!

Well, folks, National Novel Writing Month is officially underway! After getting home late from a Halloween soiree last night (more on that to come later), I forced my little kohl-covered eyes to stay open long enough for the first 500 words to get recorded in a fresh Word document.

For those of you eagerly (and perhaps not-so-eagerly) beginning this month-long writing adventure, I’ve written a guest post for the lovely Nicole at Books and Bards on surviving — and thriving — in our joint noveling quest.

Visit my guide!

Pumpkin pie, Vegas, rock stars — yes, it’s almost NaNo time!

NaNoWriMo 09Oh, November — full of delicious turkey, hot apple cider, stuffing, pumpkin pie and . . . wait, why am I only talking about food?

Because what else comes sailing in come November? Why, National Novel Writing Month, of course! Fresh off the heels of last year’s victory, I’m culling together characters, possible plotlines and awesome settings for the book I will complete in 30 days or less. The rules? We have to write at least 50,000 words to “win,” meaning you get an awesome badge to stick on your own blog and, you know, bragging rights. Because you wrote a book, gosh darnit! And then you can proceed onward with your — er — masterpiece as you see fit.

This is my third year participating — and I’m sure 2009 is going to be the most challenging session to date. First and foremost, I’m going to California the first week of November! Three friends and I will be partying in San Diego and Los Angeles because . . . well, just because. Because it’s fall, it’s getting colder and we had a strong urge to get away from it all — for a few days, at least! Sounds nice, right? And I’m sure it will be — in fact, I’m stoked and get nervous jitters every time I think about it! But what does my excursion mean? Five days of no noveling. Chris Baty, NaNo founder, recommends not going more than 24 hours without writing something; it’s so easy to get thrown off course or to lose your momentum. I’m certainly no seasoned author, but I think I’ve written enough — and for long enough — to know I’ll finish the project even with my vacation thrown in there. Still, I’m a bit nervous to leave my book for so long!

And beyond that? I’m not totally sure what I’m going to write about. I have a vague idea, sure — mostly just the setting (Vegas) and the characters (rock star, his first love, aging parents, new wife, little kids, probably a cute dog or something). Yeah, I know — making progress. None of my novels have ever been planned out ahead of time, so I’m hoping that my characters will just walk straight up, flash their devilishly white smiles and give me a series of hearty handshakes.

“Meg!” they’ll shout in unison. “We’re here — the population of your Pulitzer Prize-winning novel! Nice to finally meetcha!”

And I’ll push my hair over my shoulders, draw myself up to my full height and call back, “Yeah — and where the heck have you been?”


If you’re participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, be sure to add me as a NaNo buddy. We can bolster each other up when even the caffeine and chocolate aren’t enough to keep our little fingers tapping and even work out some plot-related kinks together. If you’re in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area, I’ll be on the look-out for some write-ins, too — with the shiny pink laptop, no less. Here’s to our next great literary adventure!

On keeping optimistic as fall approaches

Something about the fall reminds me of the cyclical nature of everything, I guess, and forces me to stop and think a whole year has already gone by. Now I love autumn — the gorgeous weather and bright, clear blue skies in Maryland; the leaves falling and blanketing everything in color; the awesome food; time with family. But something about it depresses me, too . . . thinking about the cold coming in again, having to be cooped up, putting away my heels in favor of bulky, closed-toe boots.

I’m not happy unless I’m barefoot. Fact.

laptopsSo I’m trying to stay upbeat and remind myself of all the awesome things approaching — and there are many! First up, I just ordered a new laptop from Dell. The dinosaur I’ve been using, est. circa 2003, still has a floppy drive and an exterior wireless card. I know — it’s craziness in motion. Plus it takes about 30 minutes to boot up, prompting me to throw things in an unmitigated rage. And my new one? PINK. PINK PINK PINK. And 4G of memory with a fast processor. YES. Power blogging and noveling, here I come!

And then we’re getting into another great birthday season — two uncles have birthdays in late September/early October before my grandmother and cousin celebrate at the end of October. This means lots of parties, fun and awesome food (yeah, that’s what I’m majorly looking forward to!). Then we have Halloween, one of the greatest holidays ever! It’s on a Saturday this year, so no dressing up in outrageously silly costumes for work . . . but that’s all right. It’ll probably be less damaging to my reputation if I don’t show up in a sexy witch costume — one of the few pieces of attire easily available to ladies (so true, “Sex And the City”!).

With November right around the corner, it’s time to gear up for National Novel Writing Month — always one of my favorite times of the year! The goal is to write a 50,000 word book in 30 days or less, and this will be my third year participating (and winning, let’s hope!). Last year was a big personal success for me, and I’m really excited for this year’s project. A vague outline is all set up and ready to be fleshed out; I’m just holding myself back until it’s time to rock. And come midnight on Nov. 1, you’ll find me at Sophia — the pink laptop’s new name, natch — already getting writer’s cramp.

john_mayerAlso in November? John Mayer’s new album “Battle Studies” hits iTunes and retailers near you on Nov. 17, according to his official Twitter account. To say I’m happy about that would be seriously downplaying the issue — I’m ecstatic! New JM music! “Continuum” came out in September 2006 — three whole years ago. Three years with no new John Mayer music, if you don’t count “Where The Light Is,” his live album and DVD from a year or so ago. That’s insanity! So I’ll be waiting eagerly to get my hands on the latest stuff, with a single released “soon.”

fall_scarfAnd soon it’ll be really chilly — like, perhaps very chilly. Maybe people will need something to keep their necks warm and I’ll be able to point them to my shop over at Etsy! I love crocheting and create all sorts of scarves, but unfortunately they seem to be taking up residence in my living room. I would be psyched to start sending some out, and would feel validated for everything I’ve created.

Ready to join my pity party, already in progress? Great! Because all my ventures seem to be a bust. [Throws confetti and looks sadly as it falls to the ground.]

But no, I’m moving forward — not getting upset about what has already come to pass. And the holidays are coming, of course — Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m sure we’ll all have to bear the weight of doom-and-gloom media forecasts telling us that the recession is threatening to destroy retailers everywhere, and this will, undoubtedly, be touted as the worst year shopping year ever OMG! But if we can get past that, it’ll be fun to see everything all glitzed out. And hey, this is the first year I won’t have to set foot in a store to work at all — I even worked occasionally at Borders a bit last holiday season! So that’s something to be thankful for, surely.

And everything else will be okay. I absolutely won’t validate silly boys and their silly actions by blogging about them publicly . . . much as I might like to. No. As always, I’m the classy one — and regardless of what happens, I definitely plan on keeping my dignity. So have fun on that boat, swabbie!

Whew. All right. I’m good — no, no, I’m great. And I feel much better after getting this all off my chest — by, er, typing it all off my chest. I need to stop thinking so much and remember how much there is to look forward to in the coming months! I’m going to keep that hopeful grin on my face and move forward.

What are you looking forward to this fall? Come on, don’t be shy — it’s therapeutic, I promise!