My Funny (but really somewhat disturbing) Valentine

The Boy surprised Cute Husband and me this morning with a book he had written. We knew he had been working on it, and he even let me read the first chapter, but I didn’t get to see the finished product until today.

It’s too good not to share, but in case you’re wondering why I titled this post the way I did, just keep reading through Chapter 3. (Don’t worry – it’s short!)

(I am transposing the work exactly as it is written, so errors and omissions in spelling, verb tense, and punctuation are intentional. The emoticons are also intentional.)

The mom and the son was in the house

The son played.

the mom used the hose.

the dad died?

he got shot!

at worck 😦

he wint to the hospitl!

chapter 2

The mom and son was at the pet shop!

the son and the mom was looking?

I wat this puppy 🙂 the son saed

they washt tv

chapter 3

I wat to wach tv the son sed

the mom sed no!

Please

no? if you ask me onw more time no more tv for the rest of the week the mom sed.

I didint do that 😦

the end

I’m thinking maybe this could be more of a performance piece. If I can convince him to do a live reading, I’ll record it and put it up on YouTube.

But on a different note, do you think it’s too soon for me to send him to therapy?

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On writing and parenting

I tweeted something I thought was rather profound this morning:

My feelings on writing are a lot like my feelings on parenting: rewarding when good, painful when bad, but oh so worth it!

These last few months have been somewhat challenging with The Boy. He’s been pushing boundaries, as children his age are wont to do, and it can be is taxing. Some days are better than others, but days that don’t include at least one fit or argument are few and far between. He questions just about everything, and he wants things done his way. As a result, there’s a lot of frustration for everyone.

If she was still here, my mother would remind me that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

But when things are great, they’re awesome. This morning, for example, he was practicing guitar and doing a great job of it. His biggest struggle with guitar practice has been counting, and it probably will be for some time. Last week, I made a deal with him that he would play “Jamaica Farewell”, the song he’s working on right now, at least three times a day during practice if I wrote the numbers under each measure.

“Jamaica Farewell” is a tricky song, only in that there are combinations of eighth notes and quarter notes and quarter rests and half notes and ties and flats… It’s not an easy song for a five-year-old who just picked up the guitar about ten months ago. (Okay, it’s not an easy song for a five-year-old. Period.) As such, you have to count. And thank God, he finally got it today.

I’m extremely proud of him, and I’m especially proud that he is persevering. I’ve had to regale him with tales of how he overcame resistance as a younger child and kept trying until he succeeded (the First Steps story is a current favorite) to prove that no one succeeds right out of the gate, and I’ve also had to remind him that I gave him a $300 acoustic guitar for Christmas based on the condition that he agreed to continue playing guitar until he was nine years old. (It was a three-year extension on the initial deal, based on one year for every $100 I spend, which I think is fair. It also gets me out of potentially shelling out $10K for a guitar in the future because he’d have to play guitar for 100 years to pay that off.)

Anyway, that’s a glimpse into part of my parenting life.

My point is that writing isn’t much different for me, only I’m kind of parenting myself. There have been (and will always be) times when I’ve wanted to take everything I’ve written and burn it. (Okay, I’ve actually done that before. But they were journal entries from junior high and high school, and I don’t think those should count.) I’ve gotten really attached to characters but haven’t been able to weave a story about them. I’ve come up with ideas that I haven’t been able to properly flesh out into something coherent. I’ve written pages upon pages upon pages of, well, stuff, only to find that it rambles needlessly and has no real point.

And I’ve wanted threatened to kick my computer or Townshend* my laptop, and I’ve begged myself to please let me take a day off from writing, promising to work doubly hard the next day (and then holding myself to it). And I behave exactly like my five-year-old (Apple? Tree? Not far!) when I get frustrated with the blinking cursor or the meaningless plotless mess before me.

But then it starts to gel. And that’s when I feel all those same emotions that I felt when I first saw The Boy hold up his head on his own or heard him say his first word or watched him take his first steps or realized he could read: pride, joy, excitement, and (I hate to admit it) relief. There’s always that possibility that maybe, just maybe, your child will fail at something. And there’s always that possibility that maybe what you’ve written isn’t worth reading.

But when it clicks – really clicks – and I hear him playing “Jamaica Farewell” in a way that the tune is actually recognizable or when a friend’s daughter demands the next chapter of my WIP because she needs to know what happens next, all of that pain is totally worth it.

Until you have to go through it all over again.

Definition of TOWNSHEND: to pulverize something by repeatedly crashing it into the ground; most commonly used in reference to a guitar

Pushing on to 50K

Yes, I know I’ve already won NaNoWriMo 2012, but I have some writing buddies who still have note, and this post is written with them in mind. (I don’t even know if any of them will read it, which is probably the odder thing.)

Before The Boy was born, I used to meet with a personal trainer, Kennedy, three times a week. She was fabulous. She pushed me hard, she didn’t take “no” for an answer, and she was tough. And yet I adored her. I would go to the gym every day, even when I didn’t have a session with her, partially so that she could see that I was there. But then she moved back to Oregon, but I learned my lesson from her. She taught me how to push myself to that next level, because she believed that I could do it.

I have a few NaNoWriMo buddies that I follow and, for lack of a better word, nag. I’ve met most of them in my weekly write-in sessions, though there are some I just discovered on Twitter, but for the most part they know I mean well when I send them messages asking why they haven’t updated their word counts.

Last Sunday, at my write-in, I gave a bunch of people a hard time for being behind in their word counts. But to be fair, I also bought coffee for someone who reached 50K while she was there and promised coffee to two others. And I managed to inspire (?) two others to keep writing.

I don’t know why they find me so inspiring. I don’t think I’m particularly easy-going about the goals I set for them. (I told one guy that he couldn’t have a cookie until he’d written 2,000 words.) But the thing is, I know my NaNo buddies are all capable. I’ve seen their stats: some of them have eked out upwards of 5,000 words a day! So if I can finished 50,000 words, I know they can, too.

And maybe that’s why they are willing to put up with my nagging. Maybe it’s because they know I’m asking them to update their word counts and just write another 50 words because I believe in them.

Are all my NaNo Buddies going to make it to 50K in the next two days? Probably not. But I think most of them will get to the 50K mark at some point. They’ve told me that they appreciate my nagging and that they’re writing because they know I’m watching. But they’ve made me a better writer, too, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m not going to push anyone to work any harder than I’m working myself.

There are still two more days before the end of the month. Some of my NaNo buddies are positioned to make it to 50K; I’m happy to say, though, that none of the buddies who let me nag them are below 30,000 words.

So maybe my nagging is a good thing, after all.

What authors can learn from musicians

I was reading a rather intriguing article today on the Huffington Post site. In it, Steve Gottlieb, a fairly well known player in the music industry, talks about the need for publishers to embrace the digital platform when reaching consumers.

And as I read it, it occurred to me that there is another message within this article, but one meant more for authors.

What do I mean? Well, allow me to explain.

Bands don’t write songs and seek out agents and labels right away. Well, maybe some artists wait for their chance to be on X Factor or American Idol or something, but even factoring in those shows, musicians don’t just put something together and say, “Ooh! I know! Why don’t I find a label to audition for!”

And yet that’s what so many authors do. We write these fantastic books and try to get them out in front of people who can make or break our dreams, often without letting anyone besides friends and family read our work.

Struggling musicians try to find places to perform, seek out that feedback, work hard to build a fan base and interact with anyone and everyone who comes to their early shows because – hey! If that guy liked our show, maybe he’ll tell two of his friends, and they’ll tell two more, and they’ll tell two more, and the next thing you know, you’re filling tiny clubs to capacity and have A&R guys tripping over themselves to see why there’s so much buzz about you.

So, shouldn’t authors do the same?

(Allow me to make a shameless plug now for my own recently completed NaNoWriMo project tentatively called Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, the second chapter of which is now up on Wattpad for your reading pleasure and feedback.)

I’ve currently sent out four copies of my first draft to friends with another going out this weekend, and I fully expect two of those copies to come back covered with red marks as I’ve sent them to teachers. (It’s feedback – I welcome it.) Two other copies are being read by my target audience and their mothers; I fully expect feedback there, as well. And the fifth is being read by my bestest friend from high school, mostly because she’s awesome like that but also because she’s the mom of middle school boys and can provide some feedback, as well, but from a slightly different perspective. (Note: No family has read this. Yet.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve written something I think is pretty good, even if it is just a first draft. Yes, it needs some polish. But it’s kind of like a musician writing a new song. Is it going to sound exactly right when you play it for the first time? No. Is the crowd going to love it as soon as they hear it? Maybe, but quite possibly no. But that’s when you welcome criticisms and take them to heart and transform what is pretty good into something amazing.

And those people helping you along the way with criticisms? Maybe they’ll tell two friends that they like your work. And those people will each tell two of their friends. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a book that’s clawing its way up the Barnes & Noble and Amazon charts, and agents and publishers are now tripping over themselves to see what the buzz is about you.

So it’s not just publishers that can learn from the music industry. It’s authors, too. And while I can’t very well stand up and read the entirety of my 195-page novel (still can’t believe I wrote a novel) at an open-mic night, when I’m satisfied that my novel is ready, I can at least share copies in hopes that someone thinks it’s good enough to share with their friends or (gasp!) even post on Facebook about what an awesome book they just read.

Hey – a girl’s gotta dream, right?

50,000 words in 24 days

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve actually done it.

I’ve written an entire book – from start to finish – in 24 days. Fifty thousand words, all strung together to form a coherent story, and I did it in just about three and a half weeks.

I feel ridiculously accomplished.

(Shameless plug: If you feel so inclined to check out the first chapter of my novel, you can read it on Wattpad. Please feel free to critique my work and leave comments. Yes, even if it’s harsh. I can take it.)

What are my big take-aways from this experience?

  1. Writing 50,000 words really isn’t that difficult. Writing 50,000 words in a manner that tells a story is more challenging, but not impossible. But writing 50,000 words from the mindset of a naive 15-year-old? Painful.
  2. There is a certain kind of camaraderie among fellow WriMos that can’t be explained to non-WriMos. It’s almost like you have to live through the frenzied 30-day self-imposed deadline in order to fully appreciate the insanity.
  3. Putting the Calendar Widget on my blog was one of the best motivators to get me to write at least the minimum 1,667 words each day. I still had two yellow squares (not including today’s), but I would have had so many more if I didn’t feel like I would be judged by the four people who actually visit my blog.
  4. I like outlining and wish I realized it sooner. I certainly didn’t stick to my outline the entire time; there were still some twists I definitely didn’t see coming (and I’m the writer!). But it really helped me stay on track.
  5. It also helped that my friend’s 11-year-old daughter signed on as an early Beta reader and demanded chapters on a daily basis. You don’t ever want to upset an 11-year-old girl.
  6. I had a lot of difficulty silencing my Internal Editor (IE), but I also discovered that I rely on her a lot. Yes, I could have easily gone off on random tangents a number of times (and in my revisions, I may very well need to take some of those journeys to add descriptors to the story), but my IE kept me focused. And I welcomed that, especially since I had a Beta reader who just wanted to know what happened next. (See #5.)
  7. Writing a novel is a lot harder than reading one. But it’s infinitely more gratifying when you get to the end.

So, for me, anyway, my NaNoWriMo 2012 journey is finished. I’ll get my word count validated in the morning, receive my certificate, order my Winner’s Shirt, and bask in the knowledge that it’s done. Many of my fellow WriMos won’t be done for another week, though. Some may not even make it to 50K by the end of the month, but that’s okay. The important thing is that they’re still writing.

The important thing is that we are all writing.

But Camp NaNoWriMo begins in April, and I’ve got a character from this novel who is begging to have her story told, too. So as I wait for feedback from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers on this novel, I suppose I can start the rough outline for the next. And maybe the one after that.

Because my biggest takeaway from NaNoWriMo?

I can do this – and I know I can because I already did it!

I’m Eileen Caines, and I’m a novelist.

Endurance writing to power through NaNoWriMo

Only 9,122 more words to go. That’s what the NaNoWriMo site is telling me.

I am exhausted.

Right now, I feel like I’m at that point of the race where you see that sign that says, “Look! You’ve only got 3 miles to go! That’s like a 5K! You can totally do a 5K!”

Now, I’ve only done two 12Ks, and at that part of the race, when I’ve already pushed through 7K, though my mind is strong, my body just wants to lie down and rest. Or maybe just walk. Yes, if I walk for a while, I’ll still move towards the finish line, but at least I can catch my breath a bit.

Only, with endurance writing (I love that term), there’s really no “walking”. You either write or you don’t. You may not crank out 3,000 words a day, or even 2,200, but you have to keep writing. And the best stuff doesn’t come out, and you start second-guessing yourself, and you just want so badly to get to the ending already though you know you have to pace it, but you just have to keep writing.

It gets hot when I run. I get frustrated when I write. My muscles ache when I run. My mind starts to wander when I write. My breathing gets labored and I have to slow down when I run. I fall asleep on my laptop and have to take a break when I write.

I don’t have any Gu to give me a boost of inspiration equivalent to the boost of energy it gives you on the track. But I can hear the metaphorical crowds just waiting for me around the bend, still cheering on the endurance writers who have finished before me, still waiting for me at that finish line. I can see my NaNo Buddies, most of whom are behind me in their word counts, and I’m yelling to them to keep going and not give up. And I can see other NaNo Buddies in front of me, doing the same for me.

I’ve got 9,122 more words to write. That means I’ve already written 40,878 words this month. That’s 40,878 words I’ve strung together to form a mostly-cohesive story. Is it a great story? I have no idea; I’ll read it when I’m done. Is it a good story? I’m not sure, but I have an 11-year-old beta reader who seems to thinks so. Does it still need a good dose of polish before I’m ready to submit query letters to agents in hopes they’ll help me find a publisher? Oh, dear God, yes.

But I’ve written almost 41,000 words in just 20 days. And I’ve only got 9,122 more words to go.

Yeah. I can totally do this.

Thoughts on dialogue (or wrapping up Week 1 of NaNoWriMo)

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”
― Joss Whedon

There was an interview I read some time ago in which Joss Whedon talked about writing dialogue for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He said that when he was writing the first draft of the screenplay, he struggled a bit with dialogue and would go to malls and listen to teenage girls talk. When he realized they were all talking like Heathers, he decided to take a more natural approach to writing dialogue and just write the way he would talk.

And, fast forward a couple of decades, Joss Whedon is arguably one of the dialogue masters of his time. I mean, anyone whose name has become an adjective (“Whedonesque”, anyone?) is clearly deserving of that title.

Dialogue isn’t something I struggle with when I write. I hear conversations in my head and rush to get them onto paper (or the screen) as quickly as I can. I actually get tripped up when I have to add those identifiers so you know who’s talking, but conversations themselves kind of just flow.

And yes, I write exactly the same way I talk. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing dialogue for a computer geek, a high school quarterback, or a parent. It all comes out the way I hear it in my head, which is the way I would say it.

I love writing dialogue. But it has to be good, like there has to be a point to it. I think dialogue for the sake of dialogue is kind of lame. Yeah, we all like to hear ourselves talk, but unless there’s a purpose to what’s being said, people kind of tune out. I guess that’s why I’m really not a Tarantino fan. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were both full of scenes that contained, in my opinion, a ton of useless dialogue that didn’t do anything to move the story forward or establish character or even break up a scene with some levity. I think words are precious and should be treated that way, not just randomly tossed about.

I’m writing a Young Adult contemporary romance, and it’s full of dialogue. I’m a little concerned that it may not read realistically to my target audience, but I figure that as long as it sounds okay in my head, it should probably work on paper, too. And if it doesn’t, well, that’s why I have Beta readers.

Checking in

Good grief, I’ve been busy the last four days.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to keep up the pace on my NaNoWriMo challenge, and I’m even a bit ahead of the game. After only 4 days, I’ve written more than 11,000 words, which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing. It amounts to six chapters so far. I’m pleased with what I’ve written, but I’m fully aware that it will require some serious editing – possibly even some major rewrites – when it’s all done, and that’s okay.

I’m seeing some definite parallels with running, though. As I continue through the NaNoWriMo process, I’ll keep a list of similarities and differences and (hopefully) craft some sort of insightful post once I finish my novel.

In the meantime, I’m just writing, getting to know my characters, and enjoying the process.

Freaking out

I really need to pretend this is just another race, only one that lasts 30 days instead of an hour or so.

I’m really not sure how much training I could have done for NaNoWriMo. I’ve written a loose outline. I’ve thoroughly thought through (write that 10 times fast) the first four chapters of my novel and jotted down notes as I work my way to the first plot point. I’ve gotten to know my characters – both main and supporting – reasonably well, to the point that I adore some of them and wish I could smother others with a down pillow. I’ve left room for the story to grow organically but have created a reasonable path for my story to follow.

So, I think I’m ready. But as this is my first real go of NaNoWriMo, I’m (naturally) more than terrified. I have no idea what to expect. I don’t know how I’ll manage the things that will be thrown my way in the next few weeks. But I know I really want to do this, so I need to be confident that the rest of it will all kind of fall into place.

But that confidence doesn’t negate the fact that I’m still completely freaking out.

To outline, or not to outline. THAT is the question.

Okay, so Shakespeare’s question really is a better query, but as I prepare to embark on my first real NaNoWriMo journey, I’m finding myself pondering this.

Now, I hate outlining. (Wait – one more time, but with feeling.) I hate outlining. Like, I completely and totally despise it. I get an idea in my head and I like to run with it. It never failed me in school when I was working on term papers and such. But after years of writing creatively, I’ve realized, well, maybe I ought to know how Main Character will get to the finish line, and I should probably have an idea of the obstacles he’ll encounter along the way.

Last week, I wrote out a (very) rough outline on index cards, then revisited them, rearranged them a bit, and added some detail to certain parts so my notes would make more sense once I got to that part. And then, after reading this great post, I realized, yes, I probably need to do more than just this rough outline. After all, there are lots of fun things I want to get to in my story (the ending, for example, is something I cannot wait to write!), but before I can do that, I need to write the rest of it.

And if I’m staring at the word count as I write, wondering how I can get it to magically move from 500 to 1750 (that’s my daily goal), it means I’m not having fun writing it.

And if I’m not having fun writing it, no one will have any fun reading it.

What do I realistically expect my outline to do for me? (I added “realistically” since I’m fully aware it won’t magically write my book.)

  1. Keep me on track. If I manage to go off on tangents when I’m talking, you can only imagine how bad it can be when I’m writing. My outline should keep me from talking about how Supporting Character restored his 1968 Mustang and remind me to move on.
  2. Minimize my thinking. I shouldn’t be thinking of how Main Character will get to Plot Point A. Thinking will just slow down my momentum and give me an excuse to check Twitter or read the news or something. My outline should have stuff like hows and whys established for me so I can focus on the fun stuff, like all the trepidation Main Character feels when Event X happens.
  3. Keep me excited about the story. Ideally, I’d like to look at the outline, find something I’m super-excited about putting down on paper (or on the computer screen), and let my fingers fly as I enter The Zone. So, yeah, the outline is kind of like a stack of Fast Passes into The Zone.
  4. Give me a place to jot down ideas when I fall off the track. I’m not always going to stay focused when I write. I’m aware of this. I can envision more than one occasion when I’m writing about something that I’ll want to add something totally random to the story. Maybe it belongs in the story. Maybe it belongs in the next one. My outline will let me know if it fits, and if it does, where to put it.

So, I’ve answered my own question. In just fewer than three days, endurance writing will take over my life. I’m really counting on my outline to see me through it.

Well, my outline and maybe some giant cups of coffee.