Camp NaNoWriMo, April 2017 Edition

This time when Camp NaNo rolled around again, I once more debated with myself whether or not to participate. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with my writing, and I wasn’t at all sure I had it in me to complete this challenge this time.

It was a near thing, I almost didn’t sign up. I didn’t want the big pressure of a looming deadline forcing me to write without enjoying it. I was already on the edge of burn out. In the end, I decided to go for it anyway, but I wasn’t going to set my word goal too high. 25,000 words sounds ambitious enough.

My next dilemma was choosing a project. Did I go with one already in progress and work toward completion? Did I try for something new? Neither choice sounded like much fun. Inspiration just wasn’t there.

I’ve been working on one novel for so long, it sometimes feels like I will never finish it. And I suffer from the “shiny new idea” syndrome that has resulted in some other unfinished works. As Camp drew closer, I just couldn’t decide what project to focus on. I set my project title as “Random Stories” leaving things open for whatever happened during the month, whether an old project or a new one.

I wanted to focus less on a high pressure project and I wanted to have more on fun. I desperately want to finish my novels already in progress, but I think that desperation has been working against me. I’ve lost something in the drive to finish, and my writing has suffered as a result.

The day before Camp was to begin, I finally hit on an idea that would work for me. Something that would be fun, wouldn’t lock me into a specific project, and I didn’t even have to change my title!

Inside this pot…

WritingPromptPot

…are a bunch of tiny slips of paper. Each slip has a writing prompt. Every day through the month of April I’ll pull out a new prompt and that’s what I’ll write about for the day. For example, today’s prompt was:

Everyone has heard that somewhere in the world there is someone who looks like you. Write a fictional account about this person. Where would your “twin” be?

I ended up putting my doppelganger into a scene in one of my novels. Turns out, it was a lot of fun.

My goals with this month long exercise are:

  • To write 25,000 words,
  • To have fun, and
  • To hopefully make some real progress on one or more of my writing projects.

In the end, I had to sign up for Camp. If I didn’t do it, I’d probably regret it later. This is my plan then, for April. I’m looking forward to see what all I might create. I’m excited to find again the wonder in writing fiction. I won’t pretend it will be easy. NaNo never is. But it will certainly be fun.

Tyrion Lannister, Body Image & Books That Make You Think

My first thought when I saw today’s word prompt, was of Tyrion Lannister. If you don’t know the name, Tyrion is a character in the book, Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

I began this conversation with myself this morning with the word squat, and with trying to think of what I could write. I saw a number of posts taking the word “squat” and talking about its meaning of “nothing.” I didn’t want to go there, having been suffering of late from this “nothingness,” and an inability to put words to paper.

That’s when I thought of Tyrion Lannister.

I am currently reading Game of Thrones as part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. I am about two thirds of the way through the book, and I haven’t yet decided if I like this character, or despise him. Tyrion is a squat, little man, affected by dwarfism. He makes up for his lack of physical size with a keen mind and a brash, often impertinent tongue.

This compensation of his frequently gets Tyrion into trouble, opening his mouth at the wrong moments and saying all the wrong things. The reverse is just as often true as well, however. He can talk his way out of certain death as quickly as he got himself into the trouble in the first place.

It is human nature to hide our weaknesses from others whenever possible. In Tyrion’s case, however, his physical stature is an obvious weakness, plain for all to see. Rather than hide it, Tyrion instead hides within his weakness. He embraces it, and uses it to his advantage over those who would discount him for it.

Negative body image is a huge issue in our real world today. We don’t really need characters like Tyrion to remind us of this fact. But I couldn’t help wondering what could we learn from Tyrion about dealing with those who would shame us for our physical attributes. He says:

“Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.” – Tyrion Lannister

I found myself surprised that I would think of Tyrion when this word prompt came up. I haven’t had much to write lately, and I didn’t really think a little word like squat could inspire me. As I wondered about my apparent inability to write, and what to do about it, I asked myself the question, what have I been writing about lately? Aside from my fiction projects currently in the works, I’ve mostly been writing about what I’m reading. And currently, that is Game of Thrones.

Unlike another book I’ve read recently, a collection of stories by H. G. Wells, I haven’t been inspired to write much about Game of Thrones. I’ve been too busy reading it! I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the book, completely absorbed in the story.

While reading the Wells book, on the other hand, I had several ideas pop into my head along the way. My curiosity was triggered about a lot of different things. Such as this impromptu mini-study on the discovery of helium. Or this ongoing investigation into the treatment of gender roles in fiction. Reading through the Wells collection also generated ideas for several new stories I hope to one day pursue.

There are, of course, any number of differences between these two works that could account for this variance between them. Wells wrote his stories more than a hundred years ago. His language and styling are vastly different from Martin’s contemporary storytelling. Also, Wells is a collection of stories, as opposed to a single work. Make that part of a single work.

The bottom line is, there are some books that make you think. They instruct and inspire curiosity about the world around you. The H. G. Wells collection was such a book. Then, there are other books like Game of Thrones that simply take over your world, and devour you whole.

What does all this have to do with Tyrion Lannister? Ultimately, not much, I suppose. But he does fit the description of squat, and for that I am grateful, as he has inspired me to write these words.

And, what do you know, I suddenly find myself intrigued by dwarfism. What causes it? How many people are affected by it? How do those affected manage their day to day lives? …

Gender Roles in Fiction: An Introduction

I’ve been doing a good deal of reading lately. Several of my recent reads were written a hundred years ago, or more. I’ve enjoyed the books, for the most part, but I’m running across interesting ideas. Ideas that make me want to know more.

The more I read, the more I find myself looking at how men and women are portrayed in stories. Including my own. And I think each time, how much of our concepts of gender roles are merely a cultural construct that has no real meaning.

Gender “norms” are only normal, because society has accepted them as such. If they truly were normal, and defined, they wouldn’t change from culture to culture and across time. Gender roles would simply be set like the laws of physics.

Clearly, this isn’t the case. Gender norms change across cultures and by generation. The only aspect of gender that seems to me to be truly a biological imperative are those centering on procreation. This is dictated by anatomy. Men are designed to impregnate while women are designed to carry and deliver new life.

I don’t believe biological differences should serve to lock men and women into set roles. Nor should they preclude anyone from pursuing what interests them. As a woman, and the mother of boys, I’d like to see both men and women treated fairly. One gender should not gain at the expense of the other. I have no wish to vilify men in order to glorify women.

Women are capable of an endless variety of activities outside the traditional mother and homemaker roles. Women are kind and cruel, intelligent and average, strong and weak, funny and sober. They are good at math and good at art. They are bad mothers and terrible musicians. The fact is, no one woman can be defined by the simple fact of her womanhood.

This is, of course, equally true of men. Men are protectors and they are abusers, leaders and followers. They are businessmen, athletes, nurses and cooks. They are sensitive and clueless. There is no single definition of “man” aside from anatomy.

I am curious now as to how gender norms have changed through the years, and how they are portrayed in fiction. As a writer of fiction myself, I want to be able to approach this subject with sensitivity and fairness, and not perpetuate the same, tired stereotypes.

I’ve started researching this subject to see where it might lead with my own fiction. I have some ideas I want to pursue. For my next post on gender roles I hope to present a comparison of a fictional work from a hundred years ago with a more modern example.

I am only just beginning to study this in detail, and I would welcome any input. I don’t have all the answers, and I’ll likely get some things wrong. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation. What are your thoughts on gender roles? Do you have any recommended reading to offer on the subject?

Plotting War: And A Review of Writing Fight Scenes, by Rayne Hall

This last week, I’ve been plotting a war. I’ve never been a soldier, so my experience with warfare is limited to what I’ve seen on the nightly news or what I’ve read in books. Neither could possibly be any where close to the real thing.

I am asking my characters to do something I have never done. To take up weapons I have never touched. To ride on horseback into battle against an army better equipped than they are. To make the conscious decision to take another’s life.

War is hard. It’s ugly. People get hurt and people die. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I should look forward to writing about. And, in fact, I have sort of been dreading it.

My first order of business has been to learn more about writing this sort of scene. When I joined Twitter, I encountered the author Rayne Hall. Ms Hall has written a library of resources for writers, including Writing Fight Scenes. I purchased this book, and I’m really glad I did.

The book gives an excellent overview of fight scenes, encompassing everything from a lovers’ spat to the epic battle scene I am currently attempting to write. Ms Hall has included specific information on weapons, the different fighting styles and techniques used by men and women, as well as fight scenes appropriate for each genre. The book is full of resources and examples, and even includes blunders to avoid.

Over all, I found Ms Hall’s Writing Fight Scenes to be a very useful tool I will refer back to again and again. Even better, she also includes resources for further research. And that’s what I’ll be doing next.

As my book is a fantasy in a world with a bronze age to iron age level technology, I have a lot of research to do. I need to know more about weapons such as swords and spears. I need to learn about firing a bow from horseback, and details about how to besiege a fortified city.

While Rayne Hall’s book has given me an excellent place to start, I will be doing the rest of the research in order to write the best battle scene I can.

Do you write about battles with medieval weaponry? What resources do you use, or have you found the most helpful?

Finding Inspiration for National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month is a huge challenge. Maybe you’ve tried it before, maybe not. This year is my seventh go at this event. And I’m failing. I’ve had difficulties in years past, but I’ve always managed to pull off a win. Through sheer stubbornness, I’m quite sure.

What’s different this year? I still work full time. I still have a husband and three children who need attention. I still have family obligations like birthdays and holidays. There are church activities like Christmas programs to prepare for. And the list goes on. The only thing I’ve added this year is that I’ve agreed to be the NaNo Municipal Liaison for my local region. This does add an extra layer of challenge to the event, but I should still be able to accomplish my goal.

So why am I falling behind?

This year I find myself falling victim to what I can only call self-sabotage. I’m staying up too late far too often. I keep turning on Netflix and browsing Facebook and Twitter. When I do write it’s with a sort of lackluster enthusiasm and my progress is slow.

I’m working my way through this issue as I frantically try to catch up on my word count. I haven’t beaten it yet, but I don’t intend to let it beat me. I’m a little stubborn like that.

In the mean time, here’s a little pep talk I shared with my regional Wrimos on dealing with the inevitable setbacks during NaNoWriMo.

Facing Setbacks During NaNoWriMo:

Has your November been fraught with challenges? Did your child get sick? Maybe you got sick? Did your family decide to all descend on your place for Thanksgiving? Your computer crashed?

These things and more can and will happen to someone during NaNoWriMo. Something may come up that absolutely knocks you flat on your back. And you wonder, how do I go on from here?

First, it’s perfectly acceptable to have yourself a good cry. That’s right. Take a minute, or ten, or an entire day if you need it, to focus on you. Be a little selfish and grieve for what you’ve lost.

Now, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and take a hard look at your situation. Is the month over? No? Don’t quit! If circumstances allow for it at all, just pick up what you can of the pieces and keep writing. Miracles can – and do! – happen. I’ve seen it.

Next, don’t be too hard on yourself. You haven’t failed. You started on this wild adventure unsure where it would take you. And look what you’ve done. You started a novel! That’s no small feat. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished. Even if it’s only a few hundred words. It’s a start!

Finally, get back to work. Once the issue has been resolved, move on with your novel. Allow yourself to come back and keep writing. Even if the 50k goal seems utterly unreachable.

Now, I understand not all setbacks are created equal. A sick child might only set you back a day. Or it could derail your whole month. I get it. The important thing is to look at the situation honestly. From experience, I can say it often isn’t as bad as it feels in the moment.

Be brave. Be honest with yourself. Be confident. Ask for help if you need to. You are not a failure. Keep at it. Maybe you won’t finish by November 30. That’s okay. Don’t quit. You got this!

In the words of Ray Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Marked for Death: When Beloved Characters Die

As an author, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my fiction writing is to orchestrate the death of my characters. I spend all this time getting to know these characters, they are very nearly real people. I love them, and hurting them is not what I want to do.

That said, there is often occasion in a novel for characters to die. Especially when that novel involves political intrigue and a huge, multi-national war. People are going to die. I’m of the opinion, however, that death in a novel should serve a purpose. They should not simply die for the shock factor. A death in a story needs to advance the plot. It should develop or change a character in such a way that the story is altered and propelled forward to its inevitable conclusion.

In my current novel in progress, I have been trying to decide if a certain character will die. She isn’t one of the primary characters, but her death would be devastating to one who is. I’m having a hard time bringing myself to do it.

The story actually opens with the deaths of a couple of important characters. Though the reader will never meet them, their loss is huge and sets in motion the entire story. There is another death that must happen in the story. The old emperor will die, setting off a succession crisis. These deaths have not been so difficult for me, perhaps because I don’t know the characters as deeply.

The death I am struggling with the most is that of a character very important to another one. One of my favorite characters, in fact. The death of this woman would alter my character dramatically. My thought is that her death would provide just the right sort of motivation he needs to move on into the final events of the novel.

This is my project for National Novel Writing Month that I have been frantically working away at. Perhaps the frenzy of this crazy challenge will allow me to be as ruthless as necessary in order to get the story written. I’m running behind on my word count. Maybe this is exactly what I need to do. The emotional energy that the death of a loved one would provide could be the source of a lot of words and finally get me back on track.

What’s your thought? Kill the character? Or let her live?

Chasing a Dream: A Year in Review

My little baby blog is closing in on a year. Where has the time gone?

I started this blog for two reasons. One, to begin building a platform for promoting my writing. Eventually. The second reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is to practice and hopefully improve my writing. Becoming a writer has long been a dream of mine, and in starting this blog I made the decision to pursue that dream more aggressively.

I began with a confession of my fears and insecurities. Writing in itself is not a scary endeavor but being a writer is terrifying. Being a writer means sharing one’s soul with the world. It means opening up one’s most vulnerable places to a harsh, cruel world.

Why would I choose to do this? I write because the words call to me. I write for those moments when everything suddenly becomes clear and a story comes to life. I write because those most vulnerable moments can also be the most exciting.

I’m still trying to determine in which direction to take this blog. My focus has been on becoming a better writer. As such, I’ve tried to pursue the things I’m told are what it takes to succeed as a writer. The top things that I need to do is to write and read. So that is what I chose as the focus for my blog. Writing and reading. In a nutshell, it was to be a blog celebrating words.

As I worked to find things to write about I stumbled across this reading challenge. This became the perfect opportunity to begin writing book reviews. With twelve books, it gave me something of a plan for the entire year, the goal being to post a new review each month. I discovered authors I’d never read before, like Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch. And authors I’ve long wanted to read, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I’m down to the last two books on the list now, and I’m going to need a new challenge for 2017. Any suggestions?

Through the year, there have been times when finding time to read has become challenging. Particularly during the months when there is a NaNoWriMo event going on. In April and July I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I had some fun sharing bits of what I was working on during those months.

In April I worked on my middle grade novels, The Silver Compass Adventures. I felt like these posts were well received. I’m excited to see more progress on these as well as the sister series, The Golden Locket Adventures. They have been a lot of fun to research, plan and write.

I launched a new project in July, a series of short stories based out of novel world I’m already working on. My goal was to use these stories to explore questions raised in writing the novel. Back stories, histories, legends and the like that would both build on and enhance the novel itself.

I made a promise to my readers that I would publish one of these stories. Since July I have been working to perfect this story into something I could share with you. The process has taken longer than I had hoped, but it is still moving forward. I’ve shared the story with some beta readers, and I received some very insightful feedback on how I might improve it. I am aggressively rewriting this story, and plan to have it ready for publication very soon.

I have also tried my hand at writing about the writing process itself. These posts have been the most difficult for me. I’m still new at this business, and I don’t feel like I have much to offer that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. My favorite of this type of post was where I compared writing to another favorite past time of mine, baking cheesecakes. It was a fun, playful post that I think has brought me closer to my true voice.

While I work on trying to figure out this blogging adventure, a couple of months ago I began responding to the WordPress daily prompts with this post about motherhood. Some days I have nothing to say about the chosen word, other days the word surprises me in where it takes me. I’ve had some fun with these posts, and they have led me to some new connections with other bloggers.

So, in the past few months my fledgling blog has seen a little growth. While I continue to have fun with it, I also continue to struggle with what to write. Finding a balance between my various writing projects and full-time life is an ongoing battle, and likely will continue to be.

What happens next? Next comes November, which is National Novel Writing Month. I will be off the grid for thirty days making the attempt to finish writing a novel. I will be eating, sleeping and breathing words. I plan to get to “the end” after far too many years working on this same novel. I intend to finish it and move on at long last to other novels, other stories.

After that comes December. Christmas. New Year. And this baby blog turns a year old. I need to decide what I’ll do with it next. Because I do plan to do more. I’ll continue reading and writing reviews. I’ll continue my research on my various projects, and I’ll share what I learn.

I’ll write about writing and reading and about life in general. My blog will grow a little more. My writing will improve. I’ll finish more of what I’ve started. Every day is a choice. And today, I choose to chase my dream.