Monday, December 31, 2007

Bye Bye, Anne Lamott Month

Being December 31st, it's time for me to sum up Anne Lamott Month--what worked for me, what didn't. There were two things that made December especially challenging. One was Christmas and having guests at the house for a week. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I never keep my resolutions to write every day during holidays. The second was the fatigue following National Novel Writing Month. I need a week or two away from writing altogether after the frenzy of NaNoWriMo.

For those reasons and others, I don't feel like I spent much time on Anne Lamott's writing advice. Here are pieces of her advice that I like and will try to continue (or start) doing in the future:

1. Write a little every day.

This month, I've learned that days off can be good for creativity. I need time to recharge and just rest between projects. The danger is in taking days off to procrastinate because of fear or laziness. Days off for fatigue and celebration = good for me. Days off because I'm afraid my writing sucks = bad for me.

I do believe that a story gets away from me if I take frequent days off in the middle of writing it, so I will continue to write a bit every day on current projects unless my health or creative process demands something different.

2. It's much more fun to write based on characters than on a devised plot line.

This is a paraphrase. I think a project has more life in it when it's based on a character that seems real to me. Sometimes I do need the structure of an outline, but I want to continue to experiment with Lamott's way of letting characters and their relationship develop the plot.

3. Write "shitty first drafts".

This is a must. I would never finish any piece of writing if I didn't let myself write utterly boring, confusing, and lustreless drafts to begin. The problems can (and must) wait until the revision stage. Besides, this piece of advice lets me just go at it. Write whatever. Get something down on paper. And as Lamott and others point out, the act of writing is what we really crave and the only true, unblemished reward we'll get.

4. Write "short assignments".

I don't have to do this one consciously. I think it's something I do automatically when I start writing. I start at one particular place in the story and stop when I run out of steam, which is usually quite soon. If I've only been writing for a few minutes, I try to sit back for a few and get myself going on the next small section. Writing a whole chapter in one sitting is hard for me and something I do rarely.

5. Write the truth.

I think this is the most important piece, but I don't know exactly how to do it. It takes bravery and insight to write the truth in fiction. I know it when I come across it in someone else's book: It's that moment when I think, Oh my god, I know this character! Or, This has happened to me, this tiny instant of [blank]! How did she know to describe it that way?

Because writing the truth still seems like such a mysterious and difficult maneuver, I think I'll reread the chapter titled "Plot" in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I know at least one other Featured Author in this No Shame Novelist Project addresses the same topic, so it will be revisited.

After I reread that "Plot" chapter, I'll be moving on to the next featured author, Madeleine L'Engle.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Say True, Anne Lamott

I was reading a interview with Anne Lamott today and found out about her sixth novel, Blue Shoe. Apparently it's about a mid-thirties woman who is raising children and caring for an ailing mother whom she's "still mad at." I must read this book.

The main character, Mattie, says, "It was not facing what life dealt that made you crazy, but rather trying to set life straight where it was unstraightenable."

This is the main crazymaking factor in my life and, I dare say, the life of my whole family on one side. Lamott always dishes up the good stuff, the real stuff. The stuff that makes a difference in life.

I'm going to the library very soon to check out Blue Shoe.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Suffragist Monkeys are Underrepresented

Got a title and cast of characters written for a new story. It takes place in space and involves one supernatural character and one suffragist monkey.

My brain is drained from having guests for a week (It hasn't been two weeks? I really thought it had) but I was determined to post and get some work done.

I'll leave you with an Anne Lamott quote: "The development of relationship creates plot." I'm looking forward to developing the relationships in this new story.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Time to Write

Okay, so I haven't written or blogged in the last few Christmasy days. I did set my alarm the first day to get up early, but the toddlers (surprise!) woke up a whole hour before the time for which my alarm was set. They can't seem to wait until a decent hour to scream and run after each other and demand things.

On the bright side, I've enjoyed myself immensely, and so have the toddlers. My sister-in-law drove 11 hours solo (with her daughter, but no other adults) to make sure the kids could be together for Christmas because they make the season fun. Ever since the second time they met, they always hit it off immediately with no pause when they see each other again. (The first time they met, they lay together on the couch atop matching Bopppies--no conflict but not much bonding either.)

It's time to write, though, while my brother and husband play Guitar Hero III, my mom and my brother's wife walk, the toddlers sleep the sleep of those who have tasted chocolate for the first time, and my sister-in-law enjoys a heavy nap after a sleepless night caring for her daughter.

I shall go now and write at least one word of fiction to get back into the groove. Yes, yes, Anne, I know. I am supposed to write at least 500 words every day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New Project

Today I'm starting a new short story. The Gnomes of Anvers has been laid down to rest for a month or so before revisions. I finished the first draft and it's the longest work I've ever completed, other than the last two NaNovels which were comprised of 50,000 or so words concluding with "The End." They were a mess. Not that Gnomes has all its loose ends tied together, but I can see how to do it, and that's a vast improvement. It's very, very exciting!

I have an idea for the next book I want to write, but I'm beginning a short story instead.

I think I'll start with the trigger I used for the weekly writing blog my siblings and I share: seventh grade. Don't know where I'm going to go from there, but that's the fun of it, right?

Character drives the plot, says Anne Lamott. So I'll also be starting by getting to know my main character a bit. To take a question from Lamott, how would my character describe his or her current circumstances to a friend, before and after a few drinks?

What would he or she do when entering a party?

What's the secret thing he or she will never tell anybody?

How often does he or she shower?

Well, I don't know, so I'd better get started.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Getting It Done

Tonight I begin my push to finish the first draft of The Gnomes of Anvers! If I finish tonight, I get to celebrate with a nice relaxing glass of wine. Maybe even a hot bath. Here I go.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Falling Into Place

Tonight was a breakthrough night! I've been working on the final chapters of The Gnomes of Anvers, feeling pretty uninspired of late. But tonight, finishing up the second to the last chapter, I learned that one of my minor characters is the key to the resolution of the whole story. All of it just unfolded before me as I typed. I also figured out a way for the Creator character, who had been only in the backstory, to come into the story without taking it over.

That's all I have to say tonight!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yes, Let's Channel Our Very Young Selves

A writing exercise:

Sit in a room alone and stare at a picture of yourself at a tender age. I'm going to find a picture of me at four years old, because I think that was the year I was most engaged in life. Stare at it until you think you can't stare at it any longer, then sit there for another five minutes. Let memories flow through your mind. Watch them.

Then begin to write.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Quote Having to Do with Dinosaurs and Love

It's wonderful what you can find sometimes if you read authors' acknowledgments. At the end of hers in Bird by Bird, Lamott says: "Sam said to me the other day, 'I love you like 20 tyrannosauruses on 20 mountaintops,' and this is the exact same way in which I love him."

This puts tears in my eyes. I could never have a better experience in my life than my son saying something like that to me.

Small children have the fullest capacity for feeling and expressing themselves. I think I should channel my four-year-old self before I write another word of fiction. Hey, not a bad idea for a writing exercise!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Raspberry Branches Rising

This month so far, I wrote the beginning of a story or book based on a character I have in mind, an essay about Jesus as an example of sustainable living, another essay about what simple living means to me, a summary of a children's or young adult book idea, and another chapter or two of the gnome novel, and I revised and submitted a short story called "Coming Home with Me."

The month is about half over. If I am as productive for the second half of December, I can finish the gnome novel and let it rest for a while! My family starts coming into town for the Christmas holiday in eight days. The chances are not good that I will be as productive for the rest of the month.

My strategy for the weeks when we have guests is to get up an hour early each morning and write 500 words plus a blog post. That'll keep me going but perhaps be a manageable goal. I'm sure there will be nights when I stay up late to talk with friends and family or watch movies with them. I'll have to get up anyway the next morning. That's what Lamott said her father did every morning. Some nights he binge-drank with his writer friends, but no matter how late he stayed up, he awoke at 5:30 in the morning to start writing. I'll think of him when I'm shivering and bleary, typing away near people who are peacefully sleeping still.

In the early mornings, I'll feel as lonely as the raspberry branches in the painting above. My mom, Lucy Lamp, painted it and gave it to me as part of my wedding present. I cherish it and love staring into its dark mood. I think it's a good one to look at when I'm feeling sorry for myself. Puts things into perspective. And I like the way the two branches have risen above the rest. Nothing outstanding happens without resistance to the surrounding conditions.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I want to go over each instruction I took from Anne Lamott to check what I'm doing that I said I would do this month.

1. Settling in to write at about the same time each day: Hmm, no. I've been switching the time because I think I'd rather get the writing done during my son's naptime and have nights free with my husband. Did that today and liked it. We'll see if it sticks.

2. Short assignments: In a way. I haven't been able to make myself get back to the gnome novel yet. After National Novel Writing Month, it always seems like I need a month away from the manuscript, whether I'm finished with the first draft or not. I have written a few shorter works and revised a new short story that I submitted today.

3. First draft -- getting everything down: I have not gotten everything down in my gnome novel yet. I have about three chapters left. Of course, they're hard ones because they include the climax and resolution and I have no idea what's going to happen in them. They should be fun for the same reasons. But see #2 above.

4. Writing characters rather than a plot: I started a short story or something that could potentially become a novel based on this piece of advice. It's fun to dream up a character and then just let her run amuck.

5. Making space and stillness for writing: Nosirree. I have been daydreaming at the kitchen sink, though, and getting some ideas that I go straight to work on when I get to my computer.

6. Writing at least 500 words per day: Nope. There were a couple of days when my son was sick that I didn't write at all, plus the two days I was sick, plus the day before yesterday when I was worn out from doing Christmas cleaning. But I think that's it. That means 8 out of 13 days I wrote at least that much, which is actually a good statistic for me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tidbit, Tidbit, Tidbit! Say it Three Times Fast--Much Easier than Typing it the Same Amount of Times

Time for a tidbit about our December featured author.

Anne Lamott's first novel, Hard Laughter, was published when she was twenty-six years old. This is according to the blurb in the back of her book Bird by Bird. It sounds like she graduated from college and began to write in earnest. Of course it was not all as neat and tidy as that, she'd tell you.

In fact, she only felt like she had a real story to tell when her father began dying of brain cancer. That was when she wrote her first book which would be published a few years later.

What a hard thing to do. To search her soul and watch her father die and get it down on the page. My parents are not dying and I would still find it an almost impossible task to set down their true stories. Maybe I don't have the story to tell yet. I don't have a large enough blanket of optimism to protect me from what I see as the cold truth.

I admire Lamott's ability to write the truth even when it's not flattering and still produce a work of writing that helps people out of their darkness instead of pushing them further in. That's a gift.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You Don't Give Up

In Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life she says:

"I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."

This particular quote is meaningful to me today because of conversations I keep having in my head. I tell myself to go write, just go write like you planned. But what if I end up with all this writing that nobody wants to publish? Ever? Then I say so what, so then I have a bunch of stuff that I wrote. Let me just stick to the simple plan: Write every day. The alternative is to feel bad for the rest of my life because I didn't try my hand at the thing I've always wanted to do.

Doing nothing is definitely the wrong track. This quote makes me think I'm on the right track.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'll Call It a Progress Report

After a mild case of flu, I'm back writing and getting things done.

No energy left to post, except to say that tonight was an example of a good writing night. I was washing the dishes and suddenly it hit me. I knew exactly what to do with the ambiguous ending of my latest short story. So I abandoned the dishes and went to work on it. Two hours later, I'm finally getting to my blog post, but for such a good reason! The words actually came hard, but the concept was right there where I could put my finger on it.

Another time I can figure out whether the story is improved or merely changed.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Interlude- We're Sick

My family and I have caught a mild case of the flu, which is why I haven't posted for the past few days. First my son felt sick for a few days, then I caught it, and now my husband has joined in. I should be back to writing and posting as usual in a day or two.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Writing Exercise - Notecards

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, says she carries a folded notecard and pen in her pocket every time she goes anywhere without a bag or purse (she has notebooks and writing utensils stashed in those). That way she can jot down anything funny or weird or otherwise touching that she sees.

I'm going to leave a stack of notecards and a pen on my microwave, which is on my way out the door, and I'll try to have one on me at all times. Walking and washing the dishes are two of the best ways to get great ideas. With a notecard on hand, I can record those thoughts before I forget them. I guess I'll have to write my dishwashing ideas in leftover mashed potatoes.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Anne Lamott Month

If you're new to the No Shame Novelist Project, find out what it's all about here. Otherwise, read on for some of Anne Lamott's ideas about writing.

Her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is hilarious and helpful at the same time. No one that I know of can tell an anecdote like Anne Lamott. It's a thin book, 237 pages, but it's chock full of good stuff. I hate to have to pick just a few points, but I must.

1. She says to get settled in and write at about the same time each day, so your mind becomes conditioned to doing the work at that time. Fine. During Michael Palmer Month (yesterday, in fact) I mentioned how that didn't seem to work for me. But if Lamott says so, I'll try it again. Nighttime. About 8:00 - 10:00.

2. Lamott gives herself short assignments when she sits down to write: Instead of sitting down to write a novel, she goes to work on a description of the setting in one scene or on one small event at a time. Sounds like something I already do.

3. A friend of hers told her that the first draft is for getting everything down, the second is for fixing everything up, and the third draft is for checking every last detail. I'm almost done with the getting everything down part. After that, I want to let the thing air out for a while before I try to fix it up. Most likely, I'll be starting on a new book, getting everything down again and not worrying about how bad it is--yet.

4. Lamott is adamant that plot comes from the characters. The writer should worry about the characters and their relationships (to themselves, each other, and their situation) instead of plannning a plot line. As readers (and writers), we must be able to believe the characters and believe what they do.

This means that when I start my next book, I won't be working from a detailed outline, even though I just posted about how the outlining technique worked for me. I'll be getting into my characters instead, letting them breathe and walk around and get into trouble.

5. And although I came up with five pages of notes just from re-browsing the book, this is the last piece of Lamott's advice I'll post today: Make space and stillness for the writing to happen. Rather than giving up after a few minutes of blank staring, give it some time. Let the writing come. I don't think Lamott is a fan of the just-sitting-down-to-the-computer- for-15-minutes-today scheme. Very good. I will follow her with full faith...for this month, at least.

[I'm adding one more commitment to my list. Anne Lamott acknowledges that there are days when we are almost completely empty, when the funk takes over and we have nothing to say. She recommends committing to a certain number of words per day so that on the truly blank days we can get those words down as a matter of practice and principle before quitting. Right now, I'm committing to 500 words a day. Even when my whole family is in town for Christmas and staying at our house. And if that really happens, it will be the first Christmas week that I've been able to work through. That's a goal almost as lofty as NaNoWriMo itself.]

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wrap-Up of Michael Palmer Month and National Novel Writing Month

It's December, which means I've completed two things: the month of following Michael Palmer's noveling advice and National Novel Writing Month.

Results: I wrote most days, mostly in the evening. I attribute that result to both Michael Palmer's advice and the fact that I only had the month of November to write 50,000 words if I wanted to win NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 50,301 words toward my novel, and I attribute almost all of that progress to NaNoWriMo and the encouragement and guilt trips from writing buddies. (Thanks, Aynne, Bill, and Eric!) Eighteen of the twenty-three current chapters of my book have been completed.

I also wrote a short story that I like. I find that when I have a lot on my plate, I eat a lot more. By that I meant to illustrate that a busy writing schedule spurs me to write even more than I scheduled. It is also a true statement when taken literally.

The outlining method used by Palmer was helpful to me. To clarify, I used a detailed outline that summarized the action in every chapter up to the final ones, which were left (tantalizingly?) spare. This kept me moving forward rather than looking back all the time at what I had already done. It also made me feel bored some days. But when I sat my butt down and wrote as fast as I could for good chunks of time, my characters took over for me and usually steered me in a slightly different direction. I let them. They're the real story. So I think I'll use this technique again.

On the days when I got the most done, I sat wherever the hell I wanted to at whatever time of day I could. Thus, I give Palmer's 8:00 - 10:00 pm writing schedule a tentative thumbs down. I should point out again that I'm not sure that's his actual writing schedule. I think I remember hearing it during an interview in which he described his busy days of doctoring, writing, and daddying.

After my son's bedtime, I know he won't interrupt me and I don't have to think about what he's getting into. That's the plus side of an evening writing schedule. The negative side is that I might easily settle into a movie or game with my honey after a long day of whatever it was a long day of.

I think Palmer's advice that every writer, even one without an agent or publisher, should write a proposal was good advice for me. I did end up with a stronger grasp of my story before I began it. More dimensions were added. It was a good thing.

The next month is Anne Lamott Month! Love her! If only she could stay at my house while we work through December. Tomorrow I'll post the Lamott suggestions that I'll be following. I own her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, so I will be perusing that again along with some interviews.

Then, over the month of December, I'll fill in the final chapters of my gnome novel and let the draft rest for a while before getting into revision. While this one is resting, I'll start on the next book or short story.

Summary: Yay NaNo! Yay non-excessive outlining! Boo my desk/vanity table! Boo diaper-changing! (Just thought I'd throw that one in there.) Yay Lamott!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

NaaaaaaNoooooooWriiiiiiiiiMoooooooooo 2007

This is all you're going to get from me today and tomorrow. I'm down to the NaNoWriMo wire. Having written 7,000 words yesterday and this morning, I am single-minded in my drive to the 50.

My novel is even improving! In a way. It's becoming much more interesting. Tip to fellow NaNoWriMoers who haven't hit 50 yet: Creat a new villain today. Better yet, create two. That's what I did. They actually belong to a society full of our good gnomes' enemies. It's good for an immediate 2,000 words at least.

See you past the finish line.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How It's Not Working

Here's the point where it's either not working for me, or I'm not working for it.

To explain: I have this nice, detailed outline of my novel inserted into my document. As I go through, all I have to do is fill in. It helps keep me on track because I'm not always saying, "Hmm, where am I at here? Shouldn't I change this order around? Oh dear, now I need to start over." Not all my chapters are outlined. I know I'll need to do some big, unpremeditated writing toward the end because there are things that will have to happen and sacrifices that will have to be made that I haven't written down yet.

That's all well and good. But I find it very hard these days to sit down and do the writing. When I do sit down, I feel like a typist and wish the TV was on at the same time. Either this way of writing is boring my novel to death, or I'm being petulant and just won't do the work.

I'm on track in terms of where I want to be at this point: I figure 33,378 words is just over a third of my whole first draft. This pace is fine with me...EXCEPT IT'S NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH and I have to write 16,622 more words in three days to win! Again, this scenario would be okay, except that I hate to not win. I really, really hate it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kind of a Progress Report

I must confess: I have not been sticking to my 8-10 pm Michael Palmer-inspired schedule. I've been doing pretty great at writing nearly every day, but it's at odd hours. I may write during the entire evening off and on, with oodles of breaks, or during my son's naptime, or for fifteen minutes right before bed. With my participation (and lagging word count) in NaNoWriMo, those hours have gotten even crazier.

Today I was at my computer from 7 to 7:45 this morning, then from 11:45 to 12:30, then from 1:00 to 1:15, and now I'll be at it again at about 8:00 pm. Not exactly a regular schedule.

Nor do I have a regular workplace this month. There's the vanity table I use for a desk, the couch, the dining room table during breakfast, and, best of all, the bed under a blanket propped up by two big pillows.

I really have no conclusions to draw from this, no commentary to write, no self-scourging to do. I'm just gonna go.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where the ladies at? Right here!

I am going to post again today because: 1) I am excited, 2) I am taking a NaNo break, and 3) I didn't post last night so this will make up for it.

This year, NaNoWriMo has given me a precious gift. (The last two years, it gave me the gift of just over 50,000 words in one month, all typed by me! However, many of those words were suspect if not downright lame.) I followed the NaNoWriMo link to pep talks by famous authors, which led me to the blog of Deanna Raybourn, who I raved about two days ago. The outstanding pep talk by Sara Gruen mentioned Joshilyn Jackson. I've seen Jackson's name before, but this new sighting prompted me to read her blog. Wonderful irreverence! The funny comments on her blog led me to another author: Cornelia Read.

To sum up, NaNo has given me women to read! Yes, I adore Neil Gaiman and Tom Robbins and Stephen King and Douglas Adams, but come on, enough testicles already. The women I just mentioned are intelligent and entertaining storytellers and, unlike many of my favorite female authors, alive--and that's what I know just from reading their blogs! Now I must acquire and read all their books.

For handy reference so that you too can read all their books, here are the new women in my life:

Deanna Raybourn
Sara Gruen
Joshilyn Jackson
Cornelia Read
Oh, and Juliana Baggott! also of NaNoWriMo pep talk fame and author of The Anybodies Trilogy

NaNoWriMo-Themed Writing Quote

Today is the day I planned to post another writing quote from Michael Palmer. If you're new to the blog and wondering why I keep writing about Michael Palmer, read about the No Shame Novelist project here.

Instead, I decided to post a motivational NaNoWriMo quote because I need a kick in the pants to start my All Day NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Pajama Party event. While others are at the mall or perhaps even crashing from their all-night Black Friday shopping spree (Can you believe some places opened at midnight?? What happened to enjoying the holidays? I now know beyond all doubt that Americans hate themselves and want to be punished.), I will be in bed with coffee mug close to hand, laptop on lap, typing away, or if not typing, staring at the screen with NaNo devotion.

Here's the quote, and I hope it helps you as much as it helps me: "The single most important technique for making progress is to write ten words." -first sentence of Naomi Novik's NaNoWriMo pep talk

You can write ten words, right? This is something I can do even on a bad day, and she's right: the first ten words lead to other words. Writing these words means you're doing it--you're writing your novel.

Here's another one that isn't directly from NaNoWriMo, but it applies: "God sells us all things at the price of labor." -Leonardo da Vinci

For those of you who think you're working on a real pile of dung right now: "Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." -Harper Lee

I found the last two quotes in Sue Reichard's Suite101 article. Here's one last quote I liked: "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." -Thomas Mann

(Now that I reread my post, I suppose some people would put noveling at manic speed all day long on a holiday weekend in the same camp as holiday shopping through the night and wee hours of the morn in terms of effort expended, caffeine consumed, and sanity abandoned. Fine. I concede their point. I am a fully integrated, self-loathing citizen. Drop me a note if you've got similar plans this weekend.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Interlude: Rules Writers Follow

I've been reading Deanna Raybourn's delightful blog, Blog A Go-Go, for the past couple of days. Although she and I probably have opposite temperaments and habits, I still get an awful lot of vicarious pleasure reading her posts. Somedays I wish I did have glamorous red nails, an actual hairdo, and the ability and gumption to wear high heels. Mostly I like reading it because she can write the spines off a porcupine.

In one post, she created a list of rules she learned as a Southern girl. There are many similar lists out there about Southern belles, but hers is the one I enjoyed the most. It seems most real. In any case, it inspired me to create a list of rules writers follow.

Rules Writers Follow*

1. Writers take showers every other day at most, to save time getting to their keyboards. An incidental benefit: the water conserved helps curb the waste of environmental resources.

2. Writers don't wear shoes. Except maybe when they are forced to leave the house to pick up groceries or a movie or something equally important. Slippers are a-okay any time of the day.

3. Writers don't spend a lot of money on manicures. For one thing, long nails will be worn down by typing. For another, unmanicured nails are perfect for gnawing on when stuck or nervous or overcaffeinated.

4. Writers drink coffee for breakfast and lunch. Then they maintain on cheese, chocolate, and bread products until dinner. Skipping meals is not a dieting tactic, nor is it a timesaving device. They simply forget everything else in their state of caffeine bliss.

5. Writers do not make eye contact walking down the street. Instead, they hurry to the local coffee joint, holding on to their laptop bags protectively. Though they may stare at the cracks in the sidewalk, you'd better believe they're shooting sideways glances at you, memorizing your appearance and habits for later literary use.

6. Writers do not wear anything stylish, ever. Finding objects of style would take too much time away from online roleplaying. Plus, they know they would look like crap all dolled up. Best to look like crap with the appearance of not caring enough to try. Think Peter Jackson. Even better, there are talented people who can make themselves look fabulously hideous. Think Johnny Depp during one of his awful personal fashion phases. (I wanted to plug in a photo here for example, but even in the terrible ones, he still looks so pretty!)

7. Writers use everyone they know or have ever met in their books in one way or another. (In disguise, of course.) If you can't put that vegan woman with skin like phyllo sheets who talks too loudly in public on her cell phone about the results of her latest gynecological exam in your book, what's the point of her?

8. Writers don't drink. Alternatively, they drink too much. Doesn't it seem like that's the way everyone drinks: not at all or to excess? Or is that just me?

9. Writers stay in constant contact with family and friends--and anyone else who knows their email address--by compulsively checking their email, Facebook, MySpace, blog, and website accounts at all hours.

*In case you hadn't figured it out, these are not necessarily rules writers follow, but habits I have. I know, disgusting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How It's Working - Michael Palmer Month

Hmmmm. I want to be honest to the point of pain, if necessary. How's the plan working for me? How's Michael Palmer Month working for me?

The plan may benefit me more in the long term than the short term. My NaNoWriMo word count is suffering, although I like what I've done a hundred times more than the other NaNoWriMo drafts I've written. I feel like I'm spending too much time blogging and too little time getting on with the novel. On the other hand, I'm not likely to ditch this book in the middle of a rough spot, never to be heard from again. And I'm definitely not going to post a "hey-there-I-know-this-was-all-about-noveling-but- I'm-not-really-doing-that-anymore" update. I don't spend a large chunk of time writing the novel every night, but I do sit down to work on it most nights. That's a huge improvement in itself.

Now how's Michael Palmer Month working for me? It'll be easier to judge in hindsight. Right now, I'm pleased. After I went back to redo my outline in more detail a la Palmer, I had less trouble battling doubt in the middle of writing a paragraph. If a question popped up--Hey, what's she doing in this scene anyway? Wasn't she supposed to be at school? Is this summer?--I could find out the answer by looking at the outline and keep plugging away. Sure, sometimes the answer wasn't there and I really had forgotten about a contradiction of plot points, but I was less likely to want to scrap my whole book. I'm writing a little more slowly and a little more meticulously. It's slower than NaNo but I'm happy with what I've done.

With that said, if February rolls around and I haven't finished a full first draft, I'll be a lot less enchanted with the Palmer method.

Monday, November 19, 2007


This is just to say that I am beginning my three hours of writing with no distractions. (I scheduled this in Thursday's post.) I finished writing haiku (and here's why I started in the first place), my husband's out of the house, my son is asleep, I'm drinking coffee, and I'm about to sign off the Internet. The one program I'll be using besides CopyWrite is iTunes.

Now get out of my face!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

15 Minutes

Tonight was one of those nights when the last thing I wanted to do was go sit at my computer and write. We had a weekend (starting on Thursday) full of guests and travel, and I just wanted to go to bed.

I turned to emergency procedures. I went to bed with my computer and told myself I only had to write 15 minutes. Someone (maybe more than one someone) said that writing at least 15 minutes every day will at least keep the project fresh in your mind and probably lead to writing more than 15 minutes anyway.

Here I am in bed with my computer. My husband sleeps next to me with his back to the light my screen is producing. I wrote a little more than 15 minutes. I blogged. I won.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Love for the Un-fantastic

Michael Palmer has written eleven books to hit The New York Times bestseller list.

He knows how to write medical thrillers. He knows how to impart just enough insider information about medicine to let people feel they're getting in behind the scenes. And he knows one particular style to write these thrillers.

I would never argue that he was one of the Great Authors, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't disagree with me. He gives the reader a very specific experience the way that Janet Evanovich provides the specific type of story her fans look for.

It's fun to read books like that. You don't have to put your brain to work to follow where they take you.

I say this because on my list of (to-be-)Featured Authors, there are some I consider fantastic, inspiring writers, and some that competently write entertaining books. No matter which category they fall into, I believe they all have useful lessons to teach me.

P.S. I'm not too shy to say which featured authors strike me with the despair of knowing I can never do it like they do: L'Engle, King, Lewis, SARK. Feel free to disagree.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Writing Assignment (& It's a Doozy)

Here's an assignment for you and me, inspired by the Michael Palmer quote I posted two days ago:

Take a three-hour block for yourself. Have someone else watch the kids or do the chores. Don't tell anyone how to get hold of you for those three hours. If you have to, do it in the dead of night. Turn off your phone. Do NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, connect to the Internet. Use your computer or a pad of paper, whatever you usually write on. Write for three hours without looking at anything else for the entire time except maybe a watch.

I'll be doing this Monday night. See the picture above for an idea of what I will look like after an hour without the worldwide web.

If you already do this regularly, wonderful. You're probably published. It sounds hard to me, but what is life without creative challenges?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Progress Report - Week 2

As you can see from the Word Count Tracker to the right, I'm 12,522 words into my children's novel.
1) I went back to the first steps recommended by Michael Palmer and wrote a full proposal just to get my own head clear about the book.

2) I reworked my basic outline to include all the major events in each chapter.

3) I changed some plot points to add more high conflict.

4) I sat down at my computer between 8:00 and 10:00 most nights this last week. (On Saturday, I wrote at a coffee shop from 11:00 to 3:00 instead, and a couple nights I fell asleep early.)

My plan for the coming week is to work on keeping my evening writing hours every day and to write during my son's naptimes, too, since I'm falling behind in my NaNoWriMo progress.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That's the Trick

"In the process of getting a novel written, there is no substitute for long hours alone and in doubt."

~Michael Palmer, Acknowledgments for Critical Judgment

All the Palmers

If you ever look for biographical information on Michael Palmer like I did, make sure you've got the right one. One Michael Palmer is a poet and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient. Another one is a painter and another an ecard artist. Imagine if we got them all together in one room and didn't let them out until they collaborated. We'd get some thrilling ecards out of it, not to mention pithy paintings. I'm really starting to think this is a good idea.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recap of The No Shame Novelist Project

To those who are reading this blog for the first time, you've found the home of the No Shame Novelist Project. Welcome! The project will last a year. Each month will be spent studying the advice of a different author, thinking and blogging about it, and following it through the stages of my new novel. Take a look at my first post about the plan.

At the most basic level, this blog is about stringing words together until they form a novel. I'm using the blog to keep me moving forward for a full year, after which I'll use what I've learned to create my own noveling path. Readers are strongly encouraged to join me in this endeavor!

You may want to read the post about this month - Michael Palmer Month for the project.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Music To Write To

Hey, real quick--

Check out the playlist I'm listening to while I write my gnomes novel. It's underneath Recently Read on the right hand side of this blog.

A Note on Author's Rights

As a freelance writer and aspiring novelist, the rights of authors are important to me. I want authors to be paid for their work and protected from plagiarism. In this blog, I intend to respect the authors I talk about by following the letter and the spirit of copyright law regarding fair use of written material. Fair use guidelines allow the use of other people's material for certain purposes, like parody, commentary, or criticism. Whether or not anything new is created through the use of the material is particularly important. (Here's a good summary of fair use from Stanford University.)

So when I summarize advice from writers whose books I've bought or whose websites I've visited, I'll be careful not to reveal a substantial portion of their materials. I won't be quoting their words to excess. And I'll be pointing you in the direction of their books and websites so you can read more of what they have to say.

Oh, the picture is just for fun. If only my son were still young enough to be propped up next to me while I work.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Aaaahh, $#*!

Michael Palmer describes on his website the painstaking effort he puts into a book proposal and outline before he begins to write, explaining that as a doctor and dad, he has no time to waste on a book that's not going to work. Consider me converted.

I'm beginning to see that my doubts about a work in progress can halt the entire project as I wonder what the hell to do with the mess I've created. Though I'm not a doctor, I do work hard to make time in my day to write. I don't have a job outside the home anymore, which means that my family makes sacrifices to live within our means. I'd better make something of my writing, or I've wasted lots of my time and my family's resources.

This is where some of Palmer's painstaking planning would have come in handy. Almost 6,000 words into this project and NaNoWriMo, I'm reconsidering my plot and my created world. Sputter. That's the sound of my engine stalling, folks. If not now, then soon, I will be writing a considered proposal and very detailed outline of my book. As far as NaNoWriMo goes, though, if the car won't drive, I'm getting out to push. I only have till November 30th at midnight to write 50,000 words, so I'll slog through what I have now and sort it out later.

It could be good for my novel. Writers are divided on this subject: whether to work from a comprehensive outline of their book or to think up an idea and a couple of characters and go for it. The first approach conserves words and the second approach leaves room for surprises. Probably everyone uses a bit of both. Outliners stray from the plan when they're inspired; freeformers have an idea of what's going to happen in their heads.

Okay. I'm tired of this back-and-forthing. Thus far tonight, it has led to zero words actually written, either in the body of my novel or in an outline of it. Here's what I know and have to keep in mind:

1) All books are written the same way--with words strung together to form grammatical structures. Type a word, type the next word, type the next one, then the next many times do I have to coach myself this way?

2) I'm imitating other authors' writing habits during this project. However, the one thing that cannot be imitated is the writing itself. That has to come from within me and it has to offer the world something new, or it won't be worth anything.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Interlude - Twitter

My brother was perfectly happy to receive an email from me every ten minutes last night (see my Writing Game post), I'm sure, but he also directed me to a new tool to accomplish the same thing.

Twitter gives me what amounts to a status bar that I can post on my blog and update as often as I want. Look under my profile picture and you'll see how many words I've put into my novel since November 1st. Last night I could have updated it every ten minutes instead of all those emails. And, as my brother put it, I would have been "publicly shamed into productivity". That is the idea, my friend.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Writing Game

I'm going to play a game with myself tonight. I promised I would write from 8:00-10:00 each night this month, and I've had trouble staying on task during that time frame, so here's my solution:

Every ten minutes, I'll email my brother, Jeff, with an update of how many words I've written tonight (on my novel only). That way, I'm forced to either work on my novel straight through or send some pretty pitiful emails.

The twist: I haven't asked Jeff's permission yet, so he'll be surprised to see all my correspondence. Hi, Jeff! Thanks for being there!

He's a very supportive and easygoing guy. You should get a friend or two like my brother, and then use them.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

First Week Progress Report

This is what I have done in the past week in relation to Mr. Palmer's advice:

1. I have created a situation and characters for a children's novel, complete with outline and notes on characters and settings. Michael Palmer would have completed a proposal and a more extensive outline. In fact, he wouldn't have written word one without his agent's feedback on the proposal. Check out his detailed writing tips page for the reason why. I don't have any external constraints before I start my novel because I don't have an agent or publisher. I can only guess whether my story will be of interest to a large number of readers.

2. I've set aside time from 8-10 each night to write, but I have to confess I haven't done it every night. In fact, I've had trouble using the whole two hours just for my novel. I've journaled and researched and procrastinated for much of that time. Last night I went to bed early because I felt like crap and haven't made up the time yet.

3. This has very little to do with Palmer's explicit advice but it works well as a support for my goals. I downloaded the program CopyWrite which has a few features I really like. I can create different documents (for chapters, characters, premise, places, outline...) under one project name and write notes in the margin of each of them so I don't have to go back through the text of the novel to see what I had in mind. It keeps track of stats like word count, page count, and character count as I type. Best of all, it has a full-screen mode so I can type without being distracted by any other programs or toolbars. It sounds like a minimal feature, but boy does it work for me!

What I need to do moving forward:

1. I must stick to a writing schedule every day. Looking back at past successes, I know the "magic" formula: Put in the time. I'll force myself to at least sit at my computer with the document up for an hour and a half of the two-hour time slot. The other half hour I'll allow for journaling, which helps me get the ideas rolling.

2. Let go of the idea that everything I type has to be gold. I need to get my novel down on paper before I worry about editing, even in my mind.

3. Write, write, write.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Write Like It's a Bear Suit

To find out more about Michael Palmer during this month of Palmer-imitation, I read this National Vaccine Information Center interview. The interview was conducted in March 2002.

I loved his admission halfway through:

"I didn't even know I could write at all when I did it - fiction or non-fiction. I just sat down and wrote a book. It had many, many weaknesses. When I speak at conferences, I often talk about me as a writer like it is one of those old comedies where somebody sees a bear's paw on their shoulder and is certain that it's his friend wearing a bear suit. So he's not afraid: he hits the bear in the nose and he punches the bear over his shoulder and he does perfectly well until the moment he realizes, 'Oh, it's a real bear!' And then he gets terrified. That is sort of what has happened to me in writing. When I hadn't published a book and I didn't have any track record, I was fearless."

For those of us who haven't had a novel published yet, let's take our cue from him and be fearless. Write a book.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Creating Something New

If you're wondering what all this is about, please read my first few posts about following in the footsteps of published authors until I find my own way, starting with Here's the Plan.

Yesterday I posted about Michael Palmer making time for being a dad on top of his medical and writing careers. Being a parent surely does cramp your style if you like to set aside large chunks of time to write, musing and typing and taking coffee or chocolate breaks.

I have a confession to make. If I had all day to write, muse, and ingest comfort food, I would write less than I do now. Most of the time, I would get exactly zero words down on the page. There's no sense of urgency in a schedule like that. Urgency isn't the only thing needed for creation, though.

Almost as soon as I could read, I wrote and illustrated stories about princesses and poor girls from humongous families and aliens. When I reached a more self-conscious age, I stopped writing because I started wondering what other people would think of my stuff. Enter sixteen years of almost uninterrupted writer's block.

There were four things that helped me break the block: Dr. Clark's Career Development course in grad school that helped me see what career I really wanted, the book Wishcraft by Barbara Sher, discovering National Novel Writing Month, and getting pregnant.

It's the fourth block-breaker that really puzzled me. Getting pregnant? Shouldn't that have slowed me up, made me sick and tired, and given me a different priority? It did all those things, but those things suddenly didn't interfere with my writing. My day job suffered and I fell asleep involuntarily at 8:00 every night. I daydreamed about my baby and planned for him. I also worked steadily on a novel until I reached my goal of 50,000 words.

After my baby was born, I completed most of another novel, submitted short stories, started a copywriting business, and got a few articles published.

So now I have a theory about creativity. When my body accepted the role of creating a new human being, my mind was able to take the role of creator, too. I no longer thought I wasn't good enough to bring something new into being.

How amazing is that?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Palmer-ish Writing Exercises

Rereading Michael Palmer's biography page on his website, I noted an interesting step he took before deciding to write novels. He and his sister discussed what they really liked about thrillers, the genre he liked to read and wanted to write. His approach to the noveling process is more structured and logic-based than some other successful authors, and it may not work for everyone. But I can't see how it would hurt to discuss the best elements of a genre in which you intend to write.

Here's the first Palmerian writing exercise: Discuss, either among friends or colleagues or in a private journal, the genre you have chosen to write in. What elements are always incorporated in the best books of that genre? Take a look back at your favorite book in the genre. What passages delighted you the most? How did the author keep you turning the pages?

I'd even suggest you take a look at a book in this genre that you really didn't like. What did you hate about it?

Another Palmerian assignment: Consider the popularity of books by Palmer, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Arthur Hailey, and many others who write about a particular profession (the medical field, secret government agencies, lawyers, etc.) Stephen King mentioned this phenomenon briefly in his book On Writing. These books attract readers by giving them what feels like an insider's glimpse into the profession. Any profession that can only be attained by people with a certain talent or level of training will do. People are fascinated by surgeons, pilots, martial artists, clowns, whatever. Hey, even housewives have drama. The trick is to write about housewives of a certain kind.

Journal about whether or not you have knowledge or experience of a profession that would be interesting to people who aren't in the know. Take a look at what you do every day. Is there a way that it could be made "sexy" to readers of your novel?

One last item: I believe I remember hearing Michael Palmer talk about his daily writing time in an interview at the end of one of his audiobooks (probably The Patient or Natural Causes). I can't find the information to back it up right now, but I remember him saying he worked in the ER during the day, returned home to spend time with his kid, then wrote every night in his home office for two hours. As part of my Michael Palmer Month (being a parent myself with lots of work to do during the day), I pledge to write each night from 8:00 to 10:00. I think Palmer would approve of regular hours at a regular time.

After doing the exercises I just suggested, I'm off to work on my newly-begun novel.

(image at top from

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The First Month - Michael Palmer

I'll be starting my novel at midnight, the start of NaNoWriMo 2007 (see my NaNoWriMo post). With the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I also begin my No Shame Novelist project. November is Michael Palmer Month for the project. For those who don't know, Palmer writes medical thrillers, including The Patient, Miracle Cure, Natural Causes, and Extreme Measures. His website contains a detailed page of writing tips on every stage of the noveling process. Thank you, Michael Palmer! So, following along...his advice (which I will summarize - go to his site for his words) will be in regular type and what I'm doing for each step will be in italics.

1. His first step is to choose a "what if...?" question as a basis for the book. It should set up an interesting potential conflict.

I've already gotten this far in my no-shame novel. My question is: What if there were a secret gateway between a world inhabited by gnomes and a child's basement?

2. Next, pick the protagonist. What does the what-if situation call for? Does the protag need to be of a certain gender or age or background? What is it that forces the protag into the story? What does the protag have to lose?

My what-if scenario would work equally well with a girl or boy and I feel like writing about a boy. Because my intended audience is young but not too young to read a book of some length, I'll make my protag eight years old. I already know he will become fast friends with these gnomes after accidentally discovering them in his basement. Therefore, the logical thing he has to lose is his friendship with them.

3. Instead of writing a proposal, which Palmer says is more important for published authors wanting to write another book than for unpublished authors, I'll skip to writing an outline.

I've done this very minimally, without writing down any dialogue, but plotting the main action points from beginning to end in third-person present tense. To see Palmer's detailed outlining technique, see his writing tips.

5. The last element that I find relevant to this stage of noveling, though it's not the last on Palmer's site, is conflict. Conflict is what makes a story a story. Is there compelling conflict? Is there a resolution? Is there catharsis?

I've looked for and found conflict, resolution, and catharsis in my outline, so I'm ready to move ahead with the writing.

Note: My posts on authors' advice are simply summaries of my understanding of their words. I'll give you websites and book titles as we go along so you can go directly to the source.

The Authors

Some great contemporary authors have written books about the craft of writing or shared advice on their websites. Stephen King (see press photo above) wrote perhaps the most influential book of them all, On Writing. These are the authors whose advice I'll be following, one at a time, month by month, during the No Shame Novelist Project:

Michael Palmer
Anne Lamott
Madeleine L'Engle
Sol Stein
Stephen King
C.S. Lewis
Jodi Picoult
Julia Cameron
Robin Hobb
Dean Koontz
Judith Applebaum

I'll be in different stages of writing in different months, which means I can only use the featured author's advice on that stage of writing. The first three months I'll focus on getting the words on paper. The next three months I'll spend making revisions. More precise editing and polishing will take place the next three months, and the final three months will be about the publishing process.

Interlude: NaNoWriMo 2007

The first tool I'm using to write my novel is National Novel Writing Month. It's a miracle. Last year, 79,000 people challenged themselves to write 50,000 words in one month in the highly motivating company of each other. I've participated the last two years, and each year I came out of it with a 50K-word draft of a novel.

The rules are these:

1. Sign up to participate on
2. Begin writing November 1st.
3. Write 50,000 words before December 1st.
4. Embrace quantity, not quality. Just get those words down.
5. Upload your text to the NaNo word counter and get your count verified by midnight November 30th.
6. Rejoice in your crappy (but written) novel.

You can't imagine the carnival ride of NaNoWriMo until you've been on it.

Here's the Plan

If you'll stick with me through three sentences of relevant autobiographical information, I promise I'll get right to the plan of action. First, I've wanted to be an author since I was five years old, but after an unfortunately long battle with self-doubt, I find myself at age 30 with no published novel. Second, I ran track from middle school through college (it's more socially acceptable than writing books that no one's ever heard of) and reached two goals I never should have been able to reach: I became an All-American when my distance medley relay team got fourth place at the NCAA Indoor National Championships, and I was voted co-captain of my team. These goals were reached with a minimum share of talent and a maximum share of determination.

Now I intend to apply the same mix of resources to the goal I set when I was a little girl.

The plan works this way: Each month I'll follow a published author's writing advice while writing a novel. Instead of waiting to have faith in myself, I'll use another lesson I learned running track: When you feel like crap, put one foot in front of the other and repeat. During this writing experiment, I'll be following in the footsteps of others. When it's over, I'll have left a trail of my own.

You can do it, too. I'll post the tips and guidelines I'm following each month. Join me if it sounds like an interesting thing to do. If you think you're too busy or poor or untried to work toward your goal right now, you're wrong. You're as ready as you let yourself be. I have a potty-training toddler, a grad-student husband and supporter, two first drafts of unpublished novels, two rejected short stories, and a slew of untested ideas. Let's go!

Note: I don't believe fantastic storytelling can be acquired through lessons, advice, or tips, but I do believe perfectly readable novels can be written by people who just go ahead and do it.