November 18

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the entirety of November.  For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month is when you try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  This happens in November.

The month is over half-way over and I find myself ahead of schedule by a lot. I’ve never been ahead, in fact, with one exception, I’ve never hit the goal in the allotted time. I think the main difference from now and earlier years is that I’m not allowing myself to edit what I’ve written and I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time.

I don’t expect perfection when I take part in NaNoWriMo. When the goal is to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t expect anything near perfection. The goal, for me, is to get as much of the story written as possible by deadline. By not allowing myself to over think what I’ve written my stories develop more organically and I’ll often find more creative solutions to plot issues than if I took my time and thought my way through the issue.

Those are the positives.  The negatives are that I often end up with a lot of material I end up needing to delete and discard, because I didn’t edit and what I have doesn’t actually work well with the rest of the story.  I’ll find a plot hole the size of Wisconsin that needs patched up or eliminated some other way. And I often have a lot of rewriting to do so that I’m showing instead of telling.

My favorite thing about participating in NaNoWriMo is that the hardest part of writing–which used to be the easiest for me–writing the book is mainly done by November 30th.  I then get to start editing it, rewriting it and making it better. Yes, editing is easier for me now days.  Maybe that’s normal for writers–the editing becomes easier than writing new material.

This years novel is actually the beginning of what I was planning on being my sequel. With what I’ve written so far, I’m getting the strong impression that this “novel” won’t actually be long enough to be a novel. That I’ll, in fact, need to add what I end up with to the end of what I have written. Since what I have written isn’t technically long enough to be a novel by itself, this may be for the best. But I won’t know until I actually get everything written and then re-written and cleaned up.

If I do end up combining the two things together than I’ll have a lot of editing to do, including parts of the novel that I have had written a long time, simply because I’ll have more time to introduce concepts that I’m only now touching on in this “sequel” because it wasn’t relevant to what I’ve now written.  It’s amazing how much a few pages of writing, a simple challenge can change your writing.

I also enjoy the community, and encouragement that can be found on NaNoWriMo. There are write-a-thons available throughout the month where you can meet up with other writers to write. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, and potentially new critique partners, friends and resources.  Prizes are given for hitting 50,000 words.

If you’d like to finish a book or see how many words you can reach by Nov. 30th, I’d urge you to try NaNoWriMo. Or, try to start from the beginning next November.

April 23

Boise Run/Walk: First Season Review

I’ve survived an entire season at Boise Run/Walk and loved it.  I say survive because I’m one of those people who shun other people.  I find large crowds exhausting and frustrating; interacting with people makes me anxious. Despite this I thought I’d give Boise Run/Walk a try.

I wasn’t having any luck getting any exercise on my own. However, in my past, when I was held accountable, I got quite a bit of exercise and my favorite of the exercises I had been doing was Running and Walking. So, with the hope that I’d get the same accountability with the group that I’d had with a student personal trainer and a college coach, I signed up for the winter semester.

Almost immediately, I was made to feel welcome but not overwhelmed.  The members were also every shape and size.  Some were life-long joggers/walkers, others, like me were couch potatoes.  We would meet at one of two locations. For the first hour or so, there’d be a discussion on health or running, whether it was proper nutrition, hydration, form or something else.  I learned a lot during these sessions, though I still need to put a lot of it to practice. Prizes were sometimes offered for best answer or best question… I was the lucky winner of one of them. One of the prizes was a gift card at a store I’d never heard of much less been to.

However at the store I learned even more about running from the sales personnel, and got a lot of the equipment I needed to be a more successful walker.  I can’t tell you the difference that simply walking in the right kind of shoes will do for you.  In the wrong shoes, I ended up with blisters so bad I had red skin underneath and my back was killing me.  In the proper shoes, my discomfort was a minimum. Also a hydration belt is a BIG help when you’re walking more than three or four miles, especially uphill.

After the class, everyone would walk around the neighborhood or park. This gave me the advantage of knowing my goal, my destination but not having to see tons and tons of people passing me over and over like they would if we were simply running around on a track or in a gym.  That would have frustrated me and probably resulted in me quitting early on.  But with us in a neighborhood or park, I was usually to my half-way point by the time I saw other members return from their distance.  Those training for Robie almost always went twice the distance I did and ran or jog it.  They’d encourage me to keep going when they saw me with something as simple as “Almost there” or “Keep it up.”

Although most members seemed to be runners or joggers, I found myself in a small group of walkers, who also made sure I didn’t wind up going the wrong way.  I didn’t know the area well, and probably still have a lot more places to explore. However, Boise Run/Walk did introduce me to some great walking/running trails.

My group encouraged me to stretch out sore muscles and keep walking, especially when we were walking uphill.  Although I was slowing them down they were patient, allowing me to take the time I needed.   On flat ground, I was more mobile. I let my group dictate the speed of the walk, as they moved faster than me, so I still got a workout in simply walking.

I never felt intimidated because of a lack of my own abilities, which I’ve felt before in classes.
At one point I ended up needing to take Katelynn, my seven-year-old sister with me on one of the walks.  Either that or miss a Saturday and I’d already missed two thanks to a trip I took in January.  She was welcomed as easily as I was.  She had a blast and insisted on returning with me.  The few times she didn’t return with me, members asked about her.

I tended to push myself too hard when I exercised regularly. So I decided to take Coach Steve’s advice and simply spend the season walking, no jogging, no running.  Simply walk.  Get a base started.  This sentiment was recommended to me by several members as well.  I took their advice to heart. I finished the season without having run or jogged once. I accomplished a lot in simply doing this.  I can walk farther with fewer pains.  I have more stamina and feel more prepared for a more strenuous workout.

Now that the season is over and the spring season is starting, I plan on doing intervals, walking and running on my Saturdays.  I probably won’t be very good at this for a while.  Even running a full minute will probably be near impossible for the first month, but if I stick to it, I imagine I’ll be able to run a full minute without slowing or stopping and then run two minutes, then three.  It’s the small steps that make out the large leaps in your life.  And I’m looking forward to the new regiment I’ll be pushing on my body and another two seasons with Boise Run/Walk.  Hopefully when I need to sign up for another season, my fourth one, I’ll have the money for the membership then as well.

Boise Run/Walk has been a great experience for me.  I have a lot more to learn from the group, and about myself. And I recommend everyone join who may be interested in walking, running or jogging.

March 23

Good Things Can Make Your Writing Stronger Too

As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much.  When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions.  That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.

This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers.   As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves.  Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.

I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published.  This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre.  Then, when I’m done, the  few positives I listed  beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.

Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc.  The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often.   For example, I nailed a description on page 32.  By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones.  In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.

With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one.  I don’t imagine this will be easy.  I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go  “BEST BOOK EVER!!!”  But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better.  I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives.  Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book.  And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know.  I’d be more than happy to clear that up.

So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative.  The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.

What about you?  Do you focus on the negative?  The positive?  What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?