Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Salon: November 24, 2013

 First, a note of apology.  

I had a Salon post ready to write last Sunday, but unfortunately blogger had other plans.  After several failed attempts, a bit of a rant, and finally seeking the opinion of others, it was suggested that I try a different web browser.  I downloaded FireFox for Mac and I have not had a problem since.  Apparently when I upgraded my operating system, the Safari upgrade did not play well with blogger.  Go figure....

As luck would have it, however, once I solved the blogger issue, I caught the flu and have not had the energy to do much of anything but lay on the couch with my box of tissues and watch mindless television.  Here's to hoping the bug departs soon and I can get back to a regular routine ... and prepare for the holidays.

Today's Weather: absolutely F-R-I-G-I-D!!  It is currently 12 degrees - with a wind chill of 8... Brrr....

What's on the menu: right now, nothing more than a cup of hot, cinnamon hazelnut coffee next to the cozy fire.  We have some leftovers in the refrigerator that need to be used in order to make room for all the Thanksgiving staples.

Highlights of the week:  Well, this week.... nothing much since I became sick on Tuesday morning.  I suppose I could rate joining the gym as a highlight, although I have not yet had a chance to workout. 

I thought long and hard about this decision but the bottom line is that I do enjoy walking... once I actually get my sneakers on and out the door.  But I also know I am a fair weather exerciser... and there won't be much fair weather for the next few months.  I am not locked into a contract and the gym is open 24 hours and in a convenient part of town.  If I do not take advantage of this membership, then it is my own fault.

Teaching Overview: It was a fairly low-key week.  Brit Lit began Macbeth and they are learning how to dramatize the reading rather than just speak it.  We are starting to have fun and it is my hope that will only increase as time goes on.

English Comp has a busy Thanksgiving break, which is why I have given them Tuesday off to use as a work day.  They will be finalizing their narrative stories as well as writing a rough draft of a persuasive essay. 

Currently Reading: I'm not sure.... how sad is that.  I think my focus for the next two days will be to skim the thirty-something library books I have currently checked out and decide which ones will be worth a thorough read later, and which ones can be returned.  Several of these include children's books, which I want to study to determine how to write for this audience and if my story idea has already been published, or if it has a unique perspective. 

Other books include those on writing... books that I had hoped to skim before NaNoWriMo but which I will have to content myself to review them prior to the revision process.

Writing Progress:  I did SO well last week.  I was on-a-roll!  Not only did I develop a viable conflict that involved my protagonist in a real way... but I actually fleshed out a small subplot that required a bit more weave through the story from the beginning.  I had written a total of 14 chapters (out of 21) and 35,199 words.  I was sitting pretty!

And then...the flu happened.  This time last week I was ahead of the game, and now I am significantly behind.  Fortunately, I have quite a bit of free time this week and "only" 15,000 words to go.  I may not finish the story by the 30th but I am bound and determined to finish the word count.  I am hoping to have the rough draft complete by the time I return to school on December 3rd. 

I will take the month of December off and then I plan to use January as NaNoReMO... National Novel Revision Month.  I would love to take advantage of a few of the "prizes" for winning - one of which is a free copy of my bound manuscript via CreateSpace... the self-publishing arm of Amazon.  I believe I have until June to use the coupon code, which is kind of them to allow us that much time to revise.

Artist's Date:  Despite the flu, I did have two creative dates planned, which I kept.  The first was a sugar cookie date with my youngest daughter.  She came over on Thursday afternoon and we cut and baked well over four dozen cookies.  I have an entire bag filled with cookie cutters of every imaginable shape, size and holiday theme.  We selected about ten different cutters and had a good time baking, talking and listening to Christmas music in the background. 

This Wednesday the Totoro girls will come over around noon to decorate the cookies - complete with colored icing, piping bags, and decorative sprinkles.  It is always a fun ... and messy... time.  We may also make a few other tasty treats, like chocolate covered pretzels and M&M cookies, before the guys arrive after work to help us decorate the house and put up the tree.  It is beginning to look (and smell) a lot like Christmas....

This weekend was also the Scrapbook Get-Away that I have anticipated for the past couple of months.  And while I did not actually scrapbook, I did manage to visit the group yesterday afternoon for a couple of hours.  They had rented Creative Cottage - a cut little bungalow in the heart of our downtown area - and there was lots of productive scrapbooking taking place.  I mostly sat and watched, but I am sure another event will be planned sometime this spring, and I will most definitely be taking part in that one.

Craftiness:  Nothing more than the Christmas Cookie bake.  I need to think about making some holiday gift tags though, so maybe this week I will find the time to escape to the nook and create.

Photography:  No creative photography this week, but I did manage to continue taking my picture-a-day, which was no easy feat. 

What's on the Horizon:  Well, Thanksgiving, of course.  We will have two out of the three children at home, for a total of seven around the table (we will miss my son and daughter-in-law, who need to stay in Nashville this year --- we are hoping to see them here at Christmas though!)  I truly love this time of year, however, so I am looking forward to the decorating party on Wednesday, where I think I will serve a collection of fun appetizers rather than our typical pizza fare. 

I will make the traditional cinnamon roll monkey bread and sausage balls Thanksgiving morning - to munch on while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Dinner will be served around 5:00 to allow our youngest time to eat before reporting to her retail job at 7:00pm (don't get me started on Black Friday starting on Thanksgiving Day....)  And while I enjoy the holiday meal of turkey, dressing, broccoli casserole, etc ... I really love the leftovers.  I try to buy twice as much turkey as we need so that we can have turkey sandwiches for lunch and turkey tettrazini for dinner. 

Oh my... I am getting hungry...

I wish you all a most joyful, peaceful and blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blogger Issue Solved...

... at least for now, and I owe a HUGE thank you to Catherine!

Last week I upgraded my operating system and apparently the Safari upgrade does not play well with Blogger.  Cathy suggested that I try FireFox ... which seems to have solved the problem.

So, now that I know that I can blog again, I hope to update shortly.

In the meantime, thank you again, Cathy, for helping me out!

Blogger Issues....

I am having MAJOR issues with blogger lately.

I can rarely write in the body of the post - and that is becoming increasingly frustrating.

I had planned - and attempted to write - a Sunday Salon post but there was always a major glitch.

SO... I am focusing on the completion of NaNoWriMo for the rest of the month and then I will see if I can fix whatever issue I am having.

Did I mention how frustrating this was?!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Mr. NaNoWriMo

It is not often that I can boast of meeting such famous celebrities here in the Midwest.  I always feel those privileges are reserved for residents of New York City or Los Angeles.  But last night I had the opportunity to hear Chris Baty - Mr. NaNoWriMo himself - speak at our local library, and he was indeed a celebrity to all those in attendance.

I wan't sure what to expect, since registration was not required and it was a free event, so I arrived about a half hour prior to the 7:00pm start time.  A few were already seated, laptops in tow, working on their novel while waiting for the guru.  I was able to find a nice end spot about three rows from the front.  The perfect place to capture a couple of pictures while remaining somewhat inconspicuous.

Chris arrived shortly afterward for set up, and I was surprised by how tall he was and... how much he smiled.  He is such a pleasant person to be around.  He brought a couple of books to share, and had a typed speech available for a quick review.  He is quite professional.

The room filled up quickly and he began at 7:00pm on the dot.  I like a punctual speaker.

He began by telling us a little bit about himself (he was actually born and raised in Prairie Village, Kansas and his hometown library was the Corinth branch).  In fact, his father was in the audience, supporting his son in this endeavor, which explains why Chris is so supportive of every one of us.

He gave a brief history of the NaNo phenomenon:  it began in 1999 as a wild and crazy idea.  Chris emailed his contact list saying that he was going to write a novel in a month and would love some company.  The email was sent May 30th and the first NaNo event was held July 1st, with 21 participants.  Most of the writing occurred in coffee shops using laptops ... which Chris was quick to remind us that in 1999 coffee shops were not wired for writers and laptops were as big as a washing machine.  The budding novelists brought their own power strips, orange extension cords, and set up shop for thirty days.

The next year the participant list grew by word of mouth, with 140 writers taking part.  The following year saw a total of 5,000 participants and the numbers have increased ever since.  This year, which marks the 15th anniversary, the website shows just shy of 300,000 registered writers.  Chris has participated and won every year.

The one point that he repeated over and over - which we all needed to hear - is that NaNoWriMo is not intended to promote quality writing; rather it is to focus on quantity.  One problem we writers face, however, is that we also love to read.  And when we sit down on November 1st to set out on this quest, we are comparing our first draft to the polished prose of the novels we read.  We simply cannot do that.  All first drafts are awful... period.  And to prove his point, he read a bit of dialogue from one of his first drafts.  And you know what?  It was indeed awful -- and I can't imagine how many writers (including myself) he inspired by doing that one humble act.

Bottom line:  We need to learn to lower our standards on first drafts.  The bar should be raised in the  revision process, but we need to be willing to allow imperfection (and sometimes downright awfulness) in the first draft phase.  One of his quotes of the evening was, "You can always revise a bad draft into a good novel; you can only revise a blank page into a blank page."

One tip he shared for those of us who have a difficult time turning off the internal editor was:  set the font to white and just start writing.  You can't see the words on the page and that is enough to silence the critique for a while.

Chris stated that novels are not written by novelists, but by everyday people who have a story to share (therefore... if you think about it... we all have a story to share ergo, we are all writers).  He surmised that the reason we don't have more people writing novels (or.... completing any kind of creative endeavor)... is NOT because we lack talent; NOT because we lack self-discipline; but rather because we do not have a deadline.  NaNoWriMo is intended to help with that hurdle.

He told a short anecdote of the first year and how the pact between friends was they were not allowed to go to the bathroom until they had written a thousand words.  Now, they were in a coffee shop, after work, guzzling coffee to try to stay awake.  This was true motivation!

Since NaNo's inception, there have been 200 traditionally published novels drafted during the event; 9 best selling novels; and currently 1 major motion picture (Water for Elephants).  Who knows how many countless more novels could be added to these numbers if we would take the time to revise our first drafts.  Food for thought....

The final tip of the night, before he volunteered to sign autographs, was this:  FINISH

I absolutely loved the evening!  And while Chris gave some great advice for the NaNo event, I believe much of what he said could be applied to life in general.  Lower the bar - set goals with deadlines - and commit to finishing the task at hand.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Salon: November 10, 2013

It has been a very busy week … but I am grateful to have made it to another Sunday Salon.

Today's Weather:  A beautiful fall day, with sunny skies and a high near sixty.  However, they are predicting a major cold front moving through tomorrow night with lows in the 20s, highs in the 30s, and a chance of SNOW!!  I am certain I will be stoking the first fire in the fireplace this week.

What's on the menu:  nothing much… my husband will leave this afternoon for a solid week of travel, and I tend not to cook when he is away.  Today is probably some leftover roasted chicken with a slice of french baguette and perhaps a bit of bruschetta and mozzarella cheese.  One of my favorite "go-to" dinners.

Highlights of the week:  Hands down - the writing conference sponsored by Heartland of America Christian Writers' Network.  This was my first writing conference and it truly exceeded all my expectations.

The conference started Thursday evening with a brief introduction of the editors/publishers in attendance, as well as the Key Note address by Angela Hunt.  At that point I knew I had to take every breakout session she offered!  She is a prolific author with a wealth of expertise that she delivers in a professional, entertaining manner.  Her three classes included:  The Plot Skeleton, Point of View, and Creating Extraordinary Characters.  If interested, she has written short books on these subjects, plus four others - and you can find more information here.

The day began at 9:00am on Friday and aside from a one hour lunch, we were basically in sessions until 5:00pm:  two in the morning and then four in the afternoon.  Saturday's schedule was similar, except there were only three course offerings in the afternoon to allow time for the closing ceremony.

The registration fee included eleven breakouts plus a FREE ten minute critique session with one of the editors/publishers.  For an addition $40 - participants could have a twenty minute in-depth critique of their manuscript.  I am too new to writing to take advantage of these offerings this year, but I have challenged myself to have something prepared to share next November.

While the conference definitely cut into my NaNo writing time, it was most definitely worth the time and expense.

Teaching Overview:  Brit Lit completed the medieval unit - culminating with final drafts of Knightly Tales and taking the final exam.  This week I will introduce Shakespeare and we will begin acting Macbeth -- a great way to end the semester.

English Comp continues to workshop narrative essays.  Thursday's class was such fun!  A student read her story and after working through the plot issues, we discussed the title.  It was delightful to hear the suggestions, each coming from a different perspective.  In five minutes we developed six or more viable titles - and it truly showcased the value of brainstorming as well as "two or more heads are certainly better than one."

Currently Reading:  Quite frankly, the week was too busy to read, and NaNo should take up my available time this coming week.  However, I have nearly fifty library books in my nook, ranging from children's picture books to YA fiction to non-fiction books on writing that I hope to delve into shortly.

Writing Progress:  the good news is that I did indeed make progress on the NaNoWriMo project.  I have completed four chapters and written a total of 11, 565 words.  The bad news is I am behind…. the writing convention was a priority and prevented me from focusing on this project.  However, with my husband out-of-town and school work kept to a minimum,  I am hopeful that I can catch up on word-count by this time next week.

Artist's Date:  no time for a designated artist date, but I do think the writing convention should count for artistic inspiration… don't you?

Craftiness:  *sigh…. no craftiness.  However, there is a scrapbook retreat scheduled for November 22-23, so I am hopeful that I will be able to report something at that time.

Photography:  I have not yet missed a day of the 365 project (that is good for me… even though it is only day nine).  I decided to focus on the themes of Gratitude, Thanksgiving, Blessings, and/or My Favorite Things for at least a portion of the month of November.  The mosaic to the left includes the first nine pictures I have taken.  If interested, I am blogging about this photography project on the dedicated blog: My Spiritual Journey through Photography.

What's on the Horizon:  It will be another busy week, but not as chaotic as this past week.  The highlight will be a library presentation by Chris Baty, the initiator of NaNoWriMo several years ago.

Besides school, visiting a writing critique group, and a hair cut… the bulk of the week will be focused on catching up on the NaNo project and writing a minimum of 2,000 words each day.

I wish you all a great week, and for those affected by this upcoming winter blast, I wish you warmth and a good read while snuggled in a blanket next to the fire.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Writing Wednesday: A NaNoWriMo Panel

Our local library is fully on-board with the NaNoWriMo fever.  They offer weekly write-ins (typically on Wednesday nights) and a couple of special programs.  The first one was last night and I thought I would summarize what I learned.

The event was a panel discussion where the authors answered prepared questions which focused on their writing journey from novel inception to publication, as well as their personal writing process.  Those in attendance included:

Question 1:  How long does it typically take you to write the first draft?
Answers of course varied by author but typically a first draft was written between six weeks and four months with another two to six months of revision before ready for submission.

Two of the authors said that they typically write 50,000 words a month - every month - not just for a special project like NaNoWriMo.  In other words… writers write!

They also commented on the importance of completing a work.  Many of them had quit projects after just one or two chapters.  "A messy first draft is far better than several perfect first chapters"

In addition, many of them truly enjoy world building, or character development (or in my case… historical research).  But they all cautioned that a writer cannot allow these useful tools to become distractions to writing the draft.

In addition, they all said that they are usually working on at least two different projects at one time:  writing a draft of one and completing revisions on another.

Question 2:  Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Again, the answer varied by author but in essence they all said … ideas are everywhere - from overhearing casual conversations at the coffee shop, to watching the evening news, to just people watching at the mall or park.  Jessica Brody volunteered that the idea for 52 Reasons came when she was parked outside a building and watched the meter maid make the rounds.  She wondered what it might be like to be a meter maid … just for a week.  And that led her to wonder what other jobs she might like to try for a week.

She shared that "what if" is a powerful tool.  Her tip of the day was to take any non-fiction story - and ask what if … find a way to make it "cooler"

Question 3:  How do you structure your novel?  What is the process?
Again, the answers varied.  Some authors had a general idea of the characters, the fictional world in which they lived, and a basic story line, but the process was organic.  They allowed the story to go where it desired.

Others were more structured, like Jessica Brody, who utilizes the Save the Cat method.  In essence this screen play structure of 15 beats can also be applied to novel writing.  (as a side note, I have this book reserved at my local library)

One author had always been a linear writer until one day she was stuck.  So instead of fretting on what came next, she decided to write a scene she wanted.  In the end, she found this method quite liberating and now rarely writes in linear fashion.  Often she will start with the end, then write the beginning, then ping pong back and forth until she concludes in the middle.

Final question:  How long did it take from finished draft to publication?
A loaded question, to say the least.  While some of them shared a Cinderella story, that is, the first agent signed them within a week and had the manuscript sold within days…. they were also quick to note that there was a lot of behind the scenes writing before that magical moment.

I particularly enjoyed Anne Aguirre's candid response.  She wrote her first novel at the age of fifteen and received her first rejection a year later.  This did not deter her, however,  In fact, over the course of twenty years she wrote numerous novels, all them rejected.  She realized she was writing to the market rather than her passion, and so finally sat down and wrote the novel of her dreams.  Her agent tried to convince her to tweak it, but she held firm.  In the end, she left that agent, found another, and Enclave became a bestseller.  Quite the inspiring story!

The panel discussion was only an hour… but there was a lot of useful conversation.  I am most definitely glad that I attended, and I am looking forward to next Wednesday when Chris Baty,  the founder of NaNoWriMo, will be presenting the history and future of this November writing event.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A New Photography Blog

After much consideration (and frustration with Blogger) … I have decided to create a new blog devoted to the 365 project.

While photography is most definitely a part of my life… and a part of the transforming experience in becoming who I am meant to be… it is by no means the single priority of my life.  And while I want to actively participate in this project by posting daily pictures, I do not want these posts to dominate this blog; that is not my vision for Emerging from the Cocoon.

So… if you are interested in following my 365 Project daily updates, please visit my new blog:  My Spiritual Journey through Photography.  I will more than likely provide a weekly post here, but in an attempt to maintain the personal, intimate focus of this blog, I will not clog the feed with more than an occasional update.

Now… after this nice little diversion… it is time to return to NaNoWriMo.  I have a knack for procrastinating…..

Sunday Salon: November 3, 2013

It is hard to believe that it is the first Sunday of November, which also signals the end of daylight savings time.  Were you able to enjoy the hour of extra sleep this morning?  Unfortunately our dogs have no concept of time (like toddlers) and so my daily routine was not altered. Oh well, I suppose I could say I now have an extra hour to work on NaNoWriMo….

Today's Weather:  Sunny and chilly, with a high near 60.  Fall is most definitely here to stay.

What's on the menu:  not quite sure, but I am hoping to be inspired at the Culinary Celebration this afternoon.  There is some leftover chili in the fridge that might make some good nachos while watching the Chiefs win their ninth game of the season.

Highlights of the week:  it was a busy week for someone who typically spends her time in the nook

  • Lunch at Chili's with a good friend on Monday
  • Dinner at Bravo's with another good friend on Tuesday
  • A visit to Costco with Brynn and family on Wednesday (which resulted in signing up for membership)
  • Halloween with Brynn on Thursday
  • The start of NaNoWriMo on Friday

Teaching Overview:  a very low-key week, for which I was grateful.  It won't be this relaxing until after finals in mid-December.

Brit Lit peer edited "knightly tales" on Tuesday, which means I only oversee the process rather than teach.  On Thursday we finished discussing the pilgrims of Canterbury Tales and we will finish the prologue this week.  Students began to recite the first 18 lines in Middle English and I was once again impressed by their ability to rise to the occasion.  Two weeks ago they thought I was crazy… now they may still think I am crazy, but they were able to complete the assignment with ease.

English Comp is in the revision process of their narrative stories.  We are workshopping one narrative per class, and it is exciting to not only hear their story ideas develop, but to also witness the synergy of brainstorming, playing off one another's suggestions to help make a good story great.  This class  demonstrates that the solitary act of writing is improved with the fellowship of trusted friends.

Currently Reading:  I have almost completed, Writing Irresistible KidLit, and will begin Writing Children's Books for Dummies.  While working on the NaNo project, I will probably focus my reading on non-fiction rather than clouding my brain with another narrative.

Writing Progress:  Slow and steady wins the race, right?  I had great hopes for writing ahead of schedule on Friday, the start of NaNoWriMo, but instead I decided to plot the story chapter by chapter. While I did not write one word toward the ultimate 50,000 goal, I felt that this was time well spent.  I not only know where I am going to start and end, but I have a good map to help me get there.

On Saturday I officially began.  It took me a while to find the writing rhythm, but by the end of the day I had finished the first chapter and logged 3,173 words.  I have the goal of writing the next three chapters over the next two days and hopefully have 10,000 words under my belt.

Artist's Date:  Not a planned date, but I did make a spontaneous visit to the local Archiver's yesterday afternoon.  I always enjoy looking at the colorful paper and whimsical stickers and imagine myself creating memorable scrapbook pages or encouraging greeting cards.  It was a good way to clear my mind from the writing focus this month.

I met a friend for coffee at the Market Cafe in the local HyVee, and I was reminded how much I enjoy that environment.  There is plenty of seating, even a fireplace to add to the cozy atmosphere.  The servers do not intrude and the noise is kept at a minimum.  I need to take advantage of this opportunity more often during the NaNo season.  A change of setting could work wonders when I find myself stuck in the mucky middle.

Craftiness:  Ah… once again no crafts this week, and in all honestly, probably no crafts until November 22nd when I have registered for an overnight scrapbooking retreat.

Photography:  Success!  A spur-of-the-moment decision resulted in registering for another 365 project.  On the one hand, I wondered if I was crazy adding one more daily task while trying to write a 50,000 word story… but on the other hand, photography is a serious interest too.  However, week after week I report that no progress has been made and I had to face the truth:  we make time for what we deem important and I obviously don't consider photography a priority in life.

It is my hope that this project does not become a noose around my neck, but rather a tool to help me reconnect with this passion and improve the craft for future writing endeavors.

What's on the Horizon:  another busy week ahead (I fear this will be the norm until after the holidays).  I plan to attend a NaNo event at the local library on Tuesday; participate in the library's used book sale on Wednesday; and attend the HACWN writing conference on Friday and Saturday.  Oh yea… and write another 11,500 words.   Lots of literary goodness and I love it!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Day of Firsts

November 1st:  The first day of NaNoWriMo and the first day of a new 365 project (and for some members of my family, the first day of the Christmas season).  I promise I won't give constant updates on these personal challenges, but it did seem appropriate today.

Today's photo showcases just a few of the books that I have used to research my NaNo project.  I did not include any of the adult non-fiction books relating to the French Impressionists that I have read over the past three years, although the three pink moleskins at the top are filled with notes from those books.

Most of these books are in fact children's books, historical fiction of 19th Century Paris, written for an audience that is similar to the middle grade audience I will target.  A couple of the books are adult historical fiction novels which focus on the ballet dancers of Degas' famous paintings, a major component of my storyline.

And while I have read more books than I can count over the past several months on the craft of writing, these two books, which focus specifically on writing children's literature, are the ones that I am currently reading.

I love to write, and I look forward to devoting more time to this pursuit… but I adore research:  reading and learning something new, taking notes, organizing information, and planning the project.  It would be quite tempting to lose myself in the research and never follow through on writing the novel.  I need to mindful of this and discipline myself to find an appropriate balance.

So here's to the start of a new season, a new project, and a new vocation…. perhaps life does begin again at the age of fifty.