The days are getting colder here in Bay Area, California. This really just means that we can wear out light sweaters, maybe with a thin jacket over top. Meanwhile, it will probably be sunny outside, the light bright and happy, despite an ever so slight chill to there. If you’re out taking a walk, you might even build up enough warmth to forgo the jacket entirely.
The leaves are beginning to change, not in a dramatic display of colors as in other region, but a yellowing and the occasional orange. Some trees with skip the over the colors altogether and simply fall in heaps of brown. Others stay solidly green, as though they do not even realize Autumn is upon them.
I have to be grateful for what passes for winter here. How can I not? How can I complain about it being 55°F outside, when there are some areas steadily inching toward subzero temperatures as winter approaches?
And yet, I grow tired of the sunshine and some part of myself longs for a proper storm, for pounding rain, for growing puddles and growling thunder and flashes of lightening. (It would be too much to hope for snow.) I find rain to be cleansing to the spirit. It makes the world smell green and clean, and I feel lightened.
When I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I would run out into the rain in tank tops and shorts. We’d go down to the parking area, where the spouts spewed water from the second story like a waterfall. We would stand beneath the spouts and pretend they were waterfalls.
Now, I enjoy sitting on the porch, while water falls around me, letting the sound thrum me into relaxation. The tap-tap-tapping of drops in the leaves. I wrap myself up in a blanket, pour a cup of hot tea, open a book, and let it be a backdrop to my afternoon — at least until my fingers grow too cold to turn the pages.
I think days of rain (and maybe it’s because they come so sparingly) are my favorite part of Fall and Winter. They allow moments of comfort and warmth, as you huddle inside, drinking hot cocoa or tea, eating cookies and comforting treats. They allow internal searching, an implied intimacy, as you cuddle close to a loved one.
What are your favorite things about Autumn and Winter?
Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).
Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.
As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.
Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.
A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.
My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.
Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.
When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?
For those who are not aware, I am participating in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)* and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) this November. If this sounds like madness to you, that’s because it is, my lovelies, it is.
I’m finding the dual challenge fun, at least in these early days of the month. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.
1. Exceed the Daily Minimum.
I kind of knew this one from the previous years I’ve done Nano and it feels like it should be obvious, but I feel like it’s something I always end up learning all over again. If you just meet the minimum requirements of the challenge, then you can get in trouble if life gets in the way latter down the road.
I try to at least get a few hundred words over the 1667 minimum required for Nano, that way I’m not stressed if I don’t feel like writing one day.
For the blogging challenge, this sometimes means I’m writing two blog posts a day, one for the day I’m on and one in preparation for the day after. It’s the same amount of words, but helps me have all my bases covered. In some cases this has resulted in two posts in the same day, because something new and relevant has come up. So, at the end of the month, I may have more than the minimum 30 blog posts (way cool).
2. Write First. Life Second.
Simple, and something I’ve known for a long time. Get the work done that needs getting done first and use the time left over for cleaning your room, chores, errands, watching TV, reading, friends, family, etc.I think this works best for the craziness of these writing challenges, since it only has to be sustained for this short period of time. During the rest of the year family and friends are the priority; cleaning, errands and chores end up on fairly even keel with my writing activities; and play (i.e. TV and movies and such) should be lowest, but isn’t always.
For day to day life, I won’t be able to keep this manic energy up, but I can set aside specific days where I come home from work and make writing my priority.
This work first attitude is also helping to build a habit of getting stuff done, which I’m hoping will carry over after the November challenges are completed.
3. Get Out and Do Things.
Once the day’s goals have been met and exceeded, get out, get away from the chair, go do something. It’s kind of like a reward for the hard work done that day, but it’s also a way of maintaining mental order.
Last weekend was perfect. I got up early (but not too early), had some tea and toast while doing my Nano Novelling, and then went out and took walks with my baby niece and sisters, went to the farmers market, played with the baby, watched some movies. I
I have also been keeping up with my exercises, which helps keep me physically capable of sitting there and writing without feeling like I’m going to fall apart at the seams. And it also helps clear my head and exorcises stress.
These kinds of challenges require a lot of endurance, especially if you are combining them with full time jobs or education activities (and btw, parenting counts as a full time job, for realz). With the combination of work, life, family, friends, and the challenge, I’ve experienced serious Burn Out before, where I realize I’ve taken on too much with the result that I start to get physically sick or I get to the point where I don’t even want to look at a computer. Maintaining a sense of balance by stepping away from the challenge, taking a break, is a good way of surviving the month.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Going for the Gut.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I discovered over the course of this week that I’d been taking the easy way out in regards to my novel, playing it safe for both me and my characters. But it’s so much exciting for both readers and the writer to go for the gut and take risks. It can be scary, but it has the potential for better writing.
Taking part in NaBloPoMo has had me reading more blog posts this month than I normally would, and I’ve been struck by the honesty and courage of my favorite posts. I haven’t managed this much in my blog, as I tend to avoid writing posts that could be the least bit controversial or argumentative. I’m trying to put more personality into my posts and would like to get into more creative nonfiction, adding stories from my life in (hopefully) interesting and creative ways. It’s something for me to work on.
5. Work Breeds Inspiration.
I rediscover this every time I find myself enmeshed in a big project or doing a lot of writing or a combination of writing and other creative things. The more I write, the more I feel inspired to write, the more easily new ideas and words come, the more quickly I can get those words on the page.
To me, writing kind of like having a big round stone in the middle of a field. You know you want to roll the stone over to the other side of the field. As you stare at the stone sitting there, the idea of moving is looks daunting. The stone is too heavy. It’s too much work. Then, you start pushing the stone and it’s hard, but slowly it starts moving. As it starts moving, it starts to pick up momentum and that momentum makes it easier. If you stop, the momentum stops; you have to start the hard part over again. But if you keep the stone rolling until you reach the end of the project, then the momentum makes the work so much easier.
Nano-ing and other such challenges are huge massive heaps of potential and momentum. They start a pace, which the writer can either keep going or not.
For me that momentum is invaluable. It gets me going and keeps me going, and the sheer act of writing is what keeps my inspired.
Since we’re on the subject, my lovelies. Are you doing any personal challenges this month? What have you learned in the process?
Some writers avoid talking about what they’re working on with anyone, and my understanding is that this is because they feel they loose the excitement of discovering and writing the story when they tell it.
I personally find the opposite is true. While I’m writing, especially in the first draft stage, talking out the story can be incredibly helpful, helping me to plan out where I’m going. Of course, whomever I’m talking to often has many ideas of where they think I should take the story (most of them not right), but even hearing the wrong ideas can help me weed out the right ones.
During lunch yesterday, I was talking the story with a coworker and telling them what I had planned. One if my characters is attacked, and my coworker leapt to an assumption about the identity of the “villain”.
I explained that I had originally planned to write it that way, but had changed to another option. “But I’ve been thinking of changing it back,” I said. “Because I feel like I’ve been pulling my punches do it this way. That I’ve been playing it safe.”
“You are,” she said. “Just hearing the first version was compelling.”
“Yeah,” I said, and thought to myself, well, fuuuuuuuuuuu—.
Because damn it, she was right.
Of course, now all the planning I’ve done has to be tossed out the window and I have no ideas of how to finish this novel. I’m also going to have to make changes in the beginning sections to make these changes work. And the first scenes I ever wrote for this thing before I knew it was going to be a novel, the ones that kicked it all off, will just about have to be trashed entirely. (“Kill your darlings,” the wisdom goes.)
But I’m grateful to have figured this out now. Actually, I’m right at the pivot point in writing the current draft where this change would have to occur. Instead of turning left, I just have to turn right in the plotting. This will save me tones of time during revisions.
Of course taking this plot turn is scary, and that’s how I know it’s probably right. I’m not sure I’m good enough to pull it off, not sure I can make readers believe, not sure I’ll be able to do that much damage to my main character. I don’t really want to twist the knife (metaphorically speaking) once I’ve jammed it into her belly, but I’m gonna have to.
Right now, I’m trying not to flail.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening mentally working out how to make the change work, and allowed myself a break from writing. I think I’ve got some of it worked out, but have no idea how to end it. I guess I’ll discover that when I get there.
When you’re writing do you talk the story out? Or do you keep it to yourself until the draft is finished?
Alternatively, have you ever caught yourself pulling your punches while writing a story? Or do you always go for the guts?
The Daily Post has a great blog up called, “Should You Let the Cats Out of the Bag? Blogging About Family and Friends,“ which deals with privacy and the internet, how much you should share and not share, especially in regards to the lives of friends and family. It has some great questions to ask yourself before posting and some tips on how to handle the sharing of private information in a respectful way.
This is an excerpt from Under the Midday Moon, the novel I’m working on for Nano. This bit of the novel was inspired by the prompt “Moved by Music” provided by the The Daily Post. Since it is a first draft, it is likely to contain errors, typos, and other such idiosyncrasies, so read at your own risk. (~_^)
* * * *
Outside tiny tufts of snow flakes drifted, most in a downward direction, but some alighted in drafts of wind, spiraling sideways or even beck up to the grey sky they fell from.
When I was a little girl, my dad and I used to run outside every time fresh snow fell. Not the half rain slush that came down sometimes, but real snow, the light white flakes that floated in and out of the porch light in flurries and drifts. We ran out in whatever we were wearing, pajamas or Sunday dress or, once, wrapped in a towel fresh out of the bath, and stopped only long enough to pull galoshes onto our feet. We would stand out under the cold sky, whether night or day, and let the snow catch in our hair and kiss our eyelashes. We laughed and danced and we stuck out our tongues in the hopes of tasting fresh snow, the cold nothing flavor of winter that was just so perfect.
But those days eventually melted away like snow in Spring as dad’s Black Days took more and more of a toll. He seemed to be more and more tired every year and for more and more days of the month. Sometimes after the moons, it would take him up to a week to recover now. He moved slowly through the house on those days, shifting from room to room, like a scrap of paper kicked up again and again, unable to come to rest. When he finally settled in a chair or collapsed onto the couch, he would just sit there, sometimes for an hour or more, just staring off at an empty spot on the wall.