Tag Archives: writing

Lauding a Literary Lexicon

18 Jan

NOTE to non-writers: The following blog is apt to bore you to blubbery. It’s not just serious; it’s also instructive. Proceed at risk of infusing your daily rumination time with minutiae. Don’t accuse me later of not presaging disgruntlement.

After having so much fun with last week’s blog, I’ve decided to pay close attention to the national observance lists throughout the year, and I’m delighted to learn that . . .

Today is National Thesaurus Day!

In other words (heh, heh, see what I did there?), it’s a perfect day to whine, babble, drone, pratter, blather, gabble, instruct folks about thesaurus abuse. I spent 12 potentially good years of my life editing papers written by brilliant analysts, many of whom, unable to be content in said brilliance, believed they had to stupefy their readers with writing embellished to the point of obscufating their work into a state of puffery.

Much of this obscufation (no, these aren’t words, but variations on “obscurity” that I learned from those same analysts and am clinging to), was the result of Thesaurus abuse. In fact, I still remember my favorite sentence from that era: “Exploits of their loins have persisted since the middle ages.” Sadly, I cannot seem to remember nor translate to you the original thought behind this monstrosity, but I do remember the crestfallen face of the analyst when I scratched it out.

You see, the thesaurus is a perfectly good, sound, suitable, reliable, obedient tool until misused, at which point, its use can cost a writer his credibility. Its purpose is not to make your words more impressive, but to make them (and your message) more clear.

Therefore, we must follow steps to be responsible thesaurusers, steps that I shall now outline, sketch, silhouette, delineate, summarize and pontificate about.

  1. Question your motivation before clicking that “synonym” pull-down.
  2. Select the word you think you want.
  3. Look that word up.
  4. Repeat steps above until you find the perfect word or concede your original is just fine.

Motivation: Upon being inspired to consult your thesaurus, first ask yourself, “Why must I?” If your goal is to impress your readers with your brilliance, then answer yourself, “You mustn’t.” If it’s because your original word isn’t sexy enough, the answer is again, “no.” However, if the word in question falls short of accurate, OR if you are repeating the same term too many times, yes, click that pull-down.

thesaurus

That’s right, I’m engraving a blog post!

Selection: Again, sexy isn’t the goal (which is how I arrived at “obedient tool” above, in case you missed that.) There are as many wrong words in your pull-down lists as right. I don’t necessarily advocate shying away from new words, because part of the joy of reading lies in adding to one’s vocabulary. However, there’s a lot to say for keeping it simple, AND knowing one’s audience. I recently edited a book for my good buddy Brent, who insisted on using “countenance” where most humans would say “face” (approximately 20 times in the book). Yes, the words mean the same thing, but most people today would trip over it. It’s the kind of word that halts a reader, which I liken to poking a stick at him while he’s trying to read.

So, your chosen word must be pertinent, which brings us to . . .

Look it up: You don’t even need to switch to the dictionary. Feed your chosen utterance into the thesaurus. If the words on the new list are even further away from your intended meaning, let it go. This seems to be where some writers stumble. They fall in love with the sound or feel of a word and the way it livens up a sentence (as in, “A grin lit up her countenance.” RESIST, I say, plead, beg, beseech implore you!  The reading world DOES actually care. (I’m not sure my buddy Brent agrees with me, but he did heed my advice. When he’s a best-selling author and asks me to introduce him for some momentous award presentation, I plan to chide him for his stilted vocabulary.)

Repeat: Search only for a limited time and then just continue writing. Sometimes the word just isn’t there. If you’re like me, you’ll concede in favor of the Diminishing Returns formula (Passion ÷ Deadline = Sanity) and settle for something close. Then, after publication, and usually around 2 a.m., the perfect word will leap into your brain. That’s okay, really. I’ve learned that I’m actually the only person who notices. I can say with certainty, nobody has ever approached me after reading my prose and said, “You know, there’s a better word for that.” Keep your sanity. Make your deadline.

So that’s that. I hope this is helpful advice. As an editor, I urge you to treat your thesaurus as a valued employee. Recognize its potential but don’t overwork it.

I leave you with two final words of caution, derived from another great sentence in a past work of brilliance: “The nation’s non-metal resources include limestone, marble, anthracites, and various types of cola.”

  1. Not all soda is cola.
  2. If you make me laugh. You may end up in a blog post.

———————–

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. – Philippians 3:12

 

Of Pantsers and Peculiar People

10 Jan

Trying something new this week, so I’m asking you to bear with me, and tell me in the comments whether this works. It’s called being a Pantser. Apparently, some writers take a long time to organize their thoughts in an effort to enhance the clarity of their message. Others, pantsers, write by the seat of their pants. This concept that scares the dickens out of me, but it could hold merit for someone who can’t find solid blocks of time to map out plans. Rather than test this concept on my work-in-progress, I’ll toss my blog to the guinea pig arena and see what truffles out.

For starters, I have no message today. Most of my blog articles are born after days or weeks of mulling certain situations or challenges. Today, however, I turn to the internet for ideas, and search for January National Observance.

Holy Guacamole! There are a LOT of national observances in January. And, depending on which links I click, the observances are different! Now some make sense. For example, it’s National Get Organized Month, and Soup/Crockpot Month, and Tea Month, all of which I can understand. It’s also National Mail Order Gardening Month, Radon Action Month, and California Dried Plum Digestive Month. Yowzer, now that’s something that could put me off blogging for another year.

Before I continue (welcome to the ADD mind), I’m distracted by my curiosity and I ask, by what authority are such events ordained?  I searched a bit and found that, while there is an official listing of national observances kept by the Library of Congress, it’s way more boring than the unofficial lists that grow on their own accord. So, we’ll stick with unofficial.

Then, as the ADD pulled me further down one unofficial source, I learn that the daily observances are far more interesting. I’m sad to learn I’ve missed Festival of Sleep Day (Jan. 3). I could have really devoted myself to that one. I’m also elated to learn that today is both One Day We’ll Look Back at This and Laugh Day and National Peculiar People Day.

Eureka! I’ve found my pantzer blog, because I can honor both with one story about a man who was both peculiar to me and the instigator behind my own sense of humor, as well as a fine example of how we can look back on bad days and still smile: My dad.

My dad was the only person I’ve ever known to get his ear stuck in the car door. Near as we can figure, he dropped his keys as the door was closing and leaned down just in time to get pinned. (NOTE: and only children of HIS would have run to get the camera to take pictures of the helpless, red-faced, yelling man before drawing straws to decide which of us would set him free while the others escaped).

Dad fathered nine children, although there’s debate among his offspring about whether he loved his dogs more. He lived in a world of patterns and impulse. Solitaire every night at the kitchen table, always with a bag of pretzels and can of Pepsi at the ready. Popsicle in his favorite chair just before bed. (After he passed, we found stacks of thousands of Popsicle sticks in his work bench area of the basement.) The impulse? Encouraging us to put Pop Rocks in Grandma’s martini, quitting job after job because of perceived slights and offenses, and a willingness to drop everything for a new adventure—once even moving the entire family out of our home and into a houseboat for about three years. He also lived a Walter Mitty-like secret life the nine of us are still shaking our heads over and trying to understand. Perhaps I’ll explain more when I write Mom’s story, but that’s about four years down the road.

Anyway, our tale takes place in the early 70s, at a particularly sad time of my childhood. My mother had been rushed to the hospital in the ninth month of pregnancy. The doctor was telling my father that she had lost the baby. My dad, a retired Marine Private First Class and proud of his ability to adapt to any situation, asked the only question he could.

“Is there anything I can do? For her or for you? I really want to do something.”

The doctor gave what must have been a typical response to such a request:

“We can use some donors. Lots of donors. Why don’t you see if you can round some up.”

My dad was off like a shot. This was something he could act on.

He raced out the emergency room door and was gone for about 20 minutes. To this day I hope my mother was still under sedation while this scene went down, because I cannot imagine anything she might have wanted more than her husband by her side. Then again, she married him, so…

Dad returned, out of breath and panting heavily, holding three rather flat boxes above his head like a championship trophy. He went straight to the nurses’ station and asked that the doctor be paged.

“He’s quite busy sir, perhaps I can help you,” said one of the nurses.

“No, he asked me to do this and I want to let him know I did.”

Take the bus or stop for sugar? Tough choice.

Donors vs Donuts- What’s a few letters?

After another 10-15-minute wait, the doctor appeared, disheveled, bleary eyed, and clearly ready to go off shift. My dad shot to his feet, grabbed the boxes and rushed to greet him.

“Doctor, here they are! There were many to choose from—Jelly-filled, frosted, chocolate—just too many. So I got two of every kind. He shoved the three boxes of donuts into the surprised doctor’s hands, grinning like a three-year-old holding up a piece of artwork.

Shaking the bewildered doctor’s hand, Dad then turned to the nurse and asked for Mom’s room number. “I think I should go back and see how she’s doing.”

Yes, yes, we would look back on that day and laugh. Many times.

Pantser, signing off…

Another New Beginning

2 Jan

Welcome to a new year, a new blog attempt, and, to a small extent, a new Portrait Writer.

I love the promise of a new year. I see the days ahead as a book full of blank pages that God, not I, will fill with joy and personal growth—if I allow Him to. This year, I am determined not to grab the pen from Him so often, and I’m excited to see where it leads.

You see, I learned quite a bit about this wrestling for control last year as I tried to fill the pages in by myself. In fact, 2018 was for me a year of frustration, disappointment, and significant bouts of outright anger, because I wasn’t in control.

I learned a lot last year. If I had to put my finger on two verses that impacted me the most, they would be:

  1. Romans 8:28, which is a common verse, commonly misinterpreted: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to Hispurpose. I cannot stop bad things from happening, or my train from derailing on occasion, but I can trust that God will get me back on track.
  2. Matthew 6:10, which scholars have changed over the years by adding a comma in a most unfortunate place. Consider this, the King James Version: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. And here is the current, ESV version: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Just look at those commas. They completely change the emphasis of what we’re praying. I now purposefully say Thy will be done on earth (and when I pray this verse with my congregation in church I’m jarringly off beat).

In summary, I’m learning that God’s will is NOT being done on earth, or we wouldn’t have been asked to pray for it. I’m learning that when evil has its way on earth and in my life, it’s not because God ordained it, but because evil rules this place—for now. However, God’s not surprised and can work that event for good, if I trust His plan.

So I have to concede, despite my optimism, that some of those pristine pages ahead will marred by heartache, self-doubt, and (for me at least) potentially anger-inducing stress because of Satan and his minions. I say potentially, because I’m learning to lean more on Jesus’ response to my situation and to see him as my paraclete instead of an idle bystander. That requires constant reliance on Romans 8:28.

Bannister

The Caps toque only adds to the look, doncha’ think? 

 

All of which brings me to this day, and a new beginning for my blog. Some would say I’m a day late, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to give myself more grace. Just yesterday I packed away the boxes of Christmas cards that were never opened, joyful to know I already have cards for next year, and I’m intentionally leaving the garland draped across my entry banister as a reminder that Christmas (or even life) is not about getting it all done.

I don’t usually make resolutions, but this year I have. Let’s call them goals, though, because it leaves room for God’s input:

  1. Knowing that my purpose in God’s kingdom is to write, I will write. My blogs may be short on occasion, but they will be regular. I shall keep my writing time sacred, and I will resume work on a collection of stories about people in our church family. I have a goal of 4,000 words per week. I’m considering putting a word counter at the bottom of my blog each week for accountability purposes, but I’m afraid of the pressure it will place on me to succeed despite my second resolution. . .
  2. I resolve to give myself more grace. Math has never been my best. . ., on the top 10, part of my vocabulary, but I’m learning to accept that I can only do so much in 24 hours. Writing takes dedicated time, as does traveling to Ferrum College to pick up our scholar, working my day job, laundry, grocery shopping, editing jobs, date nights, etc. Last year, there were many days when I actually tried, on occasion, to use all 24 hours available and STILL couldn’t finish. I’ve learned to be content that I’ve done my best. If only I could leave the green garland on my banister all year as a reminder of that. . . Hmmm . . . Let’s just say if you visit my home in July and it’s still there, you’ll know why.
  3. Finally, I will enjoy the way my pages flow. I don’t want to miss the blessings because of my temper tantrums. When I prayed yesterday for a word of knowledge for the year ahead, all I heard was “sacrifice,” (which immediately destroyed my “No Whining” resolution, so you won’t read about that here). But as I prayed, I realized I’ve confused sacrifice with being a doormat. I know my recent bouts of anger stem from knowing I’m letting others direct my path, and I resent it. However, while preparing for this writing yesterday, I came across these words from fellow writer Susan May Warren: “The secret to living your life to its potential is to value the important stuff above your own comfort.” Sacrifice is giving up something good for something better; It’s NOT putting everyone else’s wants before your own. My goal this year is to learn how to discern others’ wants from their needs, so I can love them generously, yet not get so involved in their plans for me that I ignore God’s. I must sacrifice some things to get there. Simple? We shall see.

Each of these points could make an entire blog, so I won’t expound on them here because I know you don’t need that much sleep. I will share a secret here, however. Part of my inability to blog last year was because I worried my words were leaning toward too much of Jesus and might be turning people away, as I have many friends camping in the secular world. I’ve decided this is not my concern. God will keep them reading my blog if He wants them to. Let’s study His words together, shall we?

In a nutshell, God has called me a writer, and so I will write in 2019. I’m glad to have you along for the ride. Tell me in the comments, what has he called you to do in the year to come?

Happy New Year!

New Year, New Map, Better Compass?

1 Jan

The year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean,
with a freshness like clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud,
and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless
possibilities of what lies ahead. – The Portrait Writer, 1 Jan. 2017

I just read my New Year’s blog from a year ago, and I have to smile. In a nutshell, my 2017 turned out absolutely nothing like I expected it would.

A year ago, I had two ghost-written books under my belt and had started a novel. I was writing short stories for two magazines, as well as 2-3 biographies every month for a company that produces church anthologies. I belonged to two writing groups and was pondering joining a third, and I registered for two writing conferences as soon as the opening bell sounded, certain that this year I’d have a book proposal to shop around. My life was ALL writing, and ALL figured out.

Somewhere between then and now I turned a corner and suddenly nothing looked familiar.  I lost the novel in a hard-drive crash. (No, it wasn’t backed up, thanks for asking.) I had to give up creating short stories to take a job that I both love and resent. Writing group meetings began to clash with other obligations, and even my blog fell to the wayside. At both writing conferences I felt like a fraud because I had very little to offer in any conversation. By July, I’d given up any hope of balancing work, family, and writing.

This is not a sad tale.

You see, in the same New Year’s article, I wrote, “I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.”

Boy, did I learn.

Now that I’m on the looking-back end of this year, I can see that although the path I walked led away from my dreams (for now), it contained a few experiences I hadn’t anticipated. Some good, some awful, all necessary. I learned a lot in 2017, primarily, that ALL writing and ALL figured out is not how I’m supposed to live.

The highlights of my year include two rekindled long-ago friendships. First, Chuck and his wife Sam, from my Yuma, Arizona days (circa 1992) sent me a card out of the blue. Turns out they live just a few miles from where I’d planned to attend a book launch in May, so I tacked on an extra day to visit them. Within minutes of my knocking on their door, we picked up where we left off, re-living the days of our Marine Corps glory and swapping stories I’ll never put into print.

Then, through the wonders of Facebook, I found Vicky, my Boot Camp bunk mate from 1979 and my roommate and partner-in-crime for the first year of my Marine Corps career. As fortune would have it, she lives just miles from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference site, so I tacked a day or so to the end of that trip as well. My friend meter is pegged, and I couldn’t be happier.

willas_site

Willa’s new home. Only the squirrel knows where…

Other highlights include seeing my youngest graduate high school and start college, taking a train across country with my husband, and spending a week in a mountain villa with the Fitzsimmons clan. We met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to spread the ashes of Grandma Willa and Grandpa Jerry in an area that will remain unnamed because it maybe wasn’t legal to do so. That week was a time I hope to remember for ages. I enjoyed getting to know my husband’s family and sharing more than a brief visit after decades of whirlwind trips to Sacramento. It’s something we’d never done before, and I hope will do many times in years to come. It made me realize anew how important family is, and regret that it’s been many years since I’ve seen my own siblings in New England (and the ones in New Mexico and North Carolina).

jerry_hockey

So proud of this young man. And feeling so short these days…

In 2017, we were also able to travel twice to Pittsburgh to see our oldest, and we learned much about him we didn’t know—all good, of course. We even went to a midnight hockey game in the middle of nowhere to watch our goal tender in action.  Apparently, in Pittsburgh, hockey is so popular one often has to wait until midnight for rink time. That’s one of those occasions I’m glad to experience—once.

Finally, thanks to my new job and its excruciating learning curve, I’ve acquired TONS of new skills in areas I never would have expected to venture, particularly in Photoshop, InDesign, and (ugh) time management. I know that in God’s economy nothing is wasted, so I’ve learned these skills for a purpose that will be revealed at the right moment.

All this leads me to a familiar scenario. I am again looking at the year ahead with hope and excitement, understanding that I needed to take a break last year to assess my priorities. God, family, friends, writing. In that order.  Now I’m looking at ways I may be contributing more to our church this year—ways that both terrify and intrigue me because they employ even more skills I’ve yet to acquire. On the family front, we’re in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to New England in the summer, where I hope to interview siblings for my Mom’s story. I’m also planning to do more with friends this year. For starters, Althesina, I’m coming to see you in August, and Vicky, we’re gonna make that hike.

Finally, I believe I’m ready to start adding small writing assignments back onto my plate, starting with this blog. If I can keep blogging through January, I’ll add the novel to the juggling act. I’m also eyeballing ONE writer’s conference in June, but will make no commitment until I know I’m supposed to attend.

For now, I’ll just take joy in the fact that anything is possible on this first day of the new year.

——————————–

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. —Jeremiah 10:23

Dust-covered Dreams and a Whackin’ Stick

14 Oct

 

How long had she been gone? Hard to say.

Exhausted from her recent adventure, the woman approached the dark building with yearning and trepidation. And hope. When the heavy oak door wouldn’t open, she lowered her shoulder and shoved. It groaned and creaked in protest, but relented. Sort of. Its base grated like a plow against the thick layers of dirt and grime on the floor inside until it could advance no further.

She raised her walking stick to whacked away the curtain of cobwebs that stretched across the opening. Not knowing what to expect inside, she took a deep breath and exhaled before stepping into the dark void. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she strained an ear for any signs of life.

There! In the distance: a faint beeping, like a tired heartbeat, and a droning hum . . . a machine on its last days.

Letting her cobweb stick lead the way, she stepped cautiously across the room to a huge wooden table piled high with yellowed documents and open books of ancient knowledge. The scene triggered a distant memory. She’d spent many days at this very table, pouring blissfully through poetry and lore. Those had been creative days, and she had made not a few contributions of her own to the literary realm.

She set her hand on the small humming machine and sighed, drinking in the thrill of the call. Pondering the expanse of all that has yet to be imagined.

I must. I simply cannot let this go on.

Now resolute, she took a seat on a gray (cough, cough, wait for the dust to settle—no, green velvet) cushion, and caressed the machine.

“What will I say to them?” Her voice came out in a whisper, and the answer came from within her heart.

“It doesn’t matter, dear one. Say something. Move forward. That will be enough.”

She sighed again and blew gently across the box, sending a swirling cloud of dust upward, and then lifted the lid. A small light flickered. The heartbeat strengthened. Warm memories crept from the shadows and edged closer, crowding in a circle around her.

Encouraged, she began to rummage through the contents, her trembling hands fumbling across once-familiar treasures.

Then it appeared. She squinted to read the date at the top.

“August 18, 2017.” She gasped. “That’s like eons in blog years!”

A sobering thought stopped her cold.

ancient_Portraitwriter2“What if they’ve forgotten me?” She swiped a sleeve across her tear-brimming eyes. “What if I’ve let them down?”

Her heart smiled. “Well, that’s just a chance you’ll have to take. Somehow, I think they’ll be very understanding.”

She nodded, still doubting, and pressed the “new blank page” button.

“Should I tell them everything, or just start typing as if nothing happened?”

“Just start. The important details will emerge over time. The main goal for now is to reconnect and let them know you’re still here.”

Nodding again, she took a deep breath and began typing. As her fingers tapped the keys, the cobwebs around her fell away, and the darkness ebbed. Sunlight filled the room and joy took its rightful place in her heart.

Hello, my sweet friends . . . I’m back. I have so much to tell you!

________________

Therefore this is what the Lord says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman . . .”  —Jeremiah 15:19

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo a No-Go…for now

17 Nov

I’m calling it A Hope Deferred because failure sounds so permanent.

More than two weeks into National Novel Writing Month have flown by with a whoosh, leaving me staring at my keyboard in puzzlement, wondering . . .

What the heck happened?

Not much, I’ll tell you that. I worked, as is evident by my blurry eyes and the onset of carpal tunnel. However, I worked on projects for others, and not myself. Somehow, the moment I committed my time to novel writing, nearly a year’s worth of “on-hold” commitments jumped out of the woodwork and into my email box. All worthy projects. Fulfilling work. Some even paying jobs. I like paying jobs.

nanomofail

The words are all in my head; I just have to write them down…

But none of which left time for novel writing. I tried, dutifully sitting down every morning and typing until the official start of my work day. I hoped to at least initiate some forward progress so that when the commitments ebbed I could catch up.

Word count? Again, not much. Let’s just say I stopped counting at 5,000 words.

My consolation: they’re good words, if I do say so myself. They’re only seeds right now, but they might grow to become part of something quite impressive. So far, I’ve crafted an opening scene, set up for twists and turns, established two solid characters and researched until I thought I’d burst from excess knowledge. Go ahead, ask me anything:

Can you unbuckle a seatbelt upside-down with your right hand? No. Can you suffer a concussion in a car accident, even when the air bag inflates? Yes. Does fog occur in Oklahoma? Yes. How many years does it take to become a doctor? 14 on average. How many artillery courses can a Marine go through at Fort Sill? Three. How does all this tie in? That’s for me to plot and you to find out.

If I ever finish writing the book, that is.

I’ve learned a lot though. First, because of all the research, writing fiction is harder than it looks. Many people have told me that, but I didn’t listen. Let’s just say I have a lot of experience filling out “official forms” and so believed writing fiction would come naturally. Anyway, I understand now that readers are willing to suspend belief to journey through the pages with me, but if the road takes them to that place of “not likely,” I’m going to lose them—roadside corn stands in February, hurricanes in Pittsburgh, a balanced budget in California—and they might not return. So, that slows me down a bit.

Second, writing fiction is a lot more fun than I expected. I’m holding a literary Gumby and I have the power to make him stand like a hero or I can split his legs into a heart shape over his head so he falls, quite awkwardly, into his soup. Bwa ha ha ha! It’s a scary responsibility—roller-coaster scary, not Cujo scary. Sometimes, just to mess with my characters, I’ll take one or two of them down a road they’d NEVER travel, just to see how long it takes before they stop, mid-sentence, and look at me with their hands on their hips and that unsportsmanlike “you-give-me-a-pink-holster-and-I’m-out-of-here” look. Geesh. As if I’d leave that in there. So, allowing my ADD side to play around slows me down some as well.

However, the primary tidbit of wisdom I’ve acquired is that I’m not going to make my goal. By the time I finish the side work in front of me, the Christmas season will be in full swing and I won’t be able to focus at all. So, rather than stuffing my work into a pity pantry and stomping off, I’ll just reiterate what I thought from the start: November is a silly month to write a novel. I’m hereby taking my novel-writing plan off the map of standard expectation and announcing that MY NaNoWriMo is January. Bring on the snow, lock me up, and send in a sandwich every few days–I’ll be fine.

To my fellow writers who are sticking it out, my hat is off to you. May your days be filled with inspiration and your fingers fly across the keyboard. Keep writing so I can live vicariously through your success until it’s my turn.

And my turn will come. Of this I’m certain.

——-

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9

NaNoWriMo: Will Words Escape Me?

1 Nov

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been
written yet, then you must write it.” —
Toni Morrison

November is National Novel Writing Month. I have no idea why, just go with me on this. Anyway, this is a writers’ challenge which suggests that if we commit to writing 1,667 words every day (11,660 per week), we’ll have written a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month.

That is not to say it will be a marketable novel, but certainly will form the framework for a novel that might become a decent read after we’ve edited it five or ten times.

Frankly, November is quite possibly the worst month to dedicate to such a writing feat. Aside from Veterans Day weekend, Thanksgiving week and all the prep that entails, and the looming leaf-raking weekend I won’t be able to dodge, I’m editing three projects, I’m on the hook to write two stories (and quite possibly four) this month, and I have family commitments out the wazoo—some of which I’m actually looking forward to.

I mean, why not February? My work load is nearly nil and I stay indoors the entire month of February.

Which is why, every November, when I feel that familiar tug to join the 300,000+ writers out there who are taking the pledge, I take one look at my over-filled plate defer the dream yet again. In some ways, I’m a lot like that young career-minded couple trying to decide when to have that baby…it’s never the perfect time.

Which is why, this year, I say NO!

To the deferment, that is.

I want in.

halloween-candy

The common denominator behind all my fantastic and awful ideas.

Because I don’t want to push the dream aside any more. I want to push myself instead. Many other reasons lie behind my decision to take on this challenge, some of which are a tad complicated. For one, there’s a giant bucket of leftover Halloween candy on the kitchen table, and I never make rational decisions when stuffed with chocolate.

For another, I’m yearning to write something of my own. Although I absolutely love ghost writing, and I hope to go back to it at some point, I keep wondering what I could accomplish from scratch if I tried.  I am working on a serious, semi-factual book, but it requires tons of reading and research, and, at some point, interviews with family members. It’s so personal, though, that I consider it actual work, while NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun.

For another, there are people in my head just begging me to bring them to life. The racket they’re making up there keeps me awake at night. Well, that and the Halloween candy I keep snitching at bedtime. (Yes, I started in as soon as we purchased it—doesn’t everyone?)  For the most part, my head characters are patiently waiting their turn. But not Angus. I’ve had Angus, the truck driver, on hold for nearly a year. He’s up there right now, leaning on his horn, pulling the lollypop from his red-bearded face to howl (accompanyied by his border collie side-kick), “I ain’t gettin’ any younger here, lassie!” You see, Angus REALLY wants to me to help him get to know Katy, a single mom who works the customer service counter at the grocery store, but I keep letting the air out of his tires so he has to stay put. Alas, it’s still not his turn.

Instead, this November, a young Marine sergeant who has been languishing in a corner of my brain nursing a bottle of Coors gets to learn why his grandmother had to die in the tornado. Yes, I think I’d like to let him find out. Primarily because I’d like to know, too.

Finally, I’m making this commitment because the consequences of failure dawned on me the other day: What’s the worst that can happen? I might only finish half a novel by the month’s end? What a travesty that would be! Basically, there’s no way to lose here.

Am I worried? To be honest, I’m terrified. I’ve been talking about writing my own novel for many years. I feel as if this time I have no net beneath me. I cannot blame my success or failure on someone else’s lack of storytelling. It’s all me, baby.

And if I don’t have what it takes?

If my story has no point?

If it’s not entertaining?

If I can’t think of a satisfying ending?

So be it. I have to at least try. I take comfort in young Solomon’s plight after his father, King David, gave him the kingdom and with it, the responsibility to build God’s temple. Considering that this was a temple that even David, a man after God’s own heart, hadn’t been deemed qualified to build, it must have looked like a daunting task to Solomon, and it would be the first task of his new kingship, not something he could work up to. Solomon asked for wisdom and plowed forward. I shall do the same.

I will write you all a weekly update, and I promise to fess up if I miss the mark. Or all the marks. I don’t know whether 11,669 words a week are possible, considering I won’t be writing Tuesdays and Sundays. Now, I’m not a math whiz, but this brings my 1,667 daily goal to, um…divide this, carry that…well, um way more than 1,667 a day, but I’ll try.

Hold me to this, please. If you see me out and about (which you shouldn’t since I’ll be chained here), please ask me how it’s going. If nothing else, my urge to avoid your collective inquiries might keep me in my chair.

Right next to this annoying bowl of Halloween candy… which we will definitely have to refill soon.

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David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. –1 Chron 28:20