Tag Archives: november

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up


Here we are, December 2nd. National Novel Writing Month ended two days ago.

I have participated in this for several years now. I’ve won (i.e. hit 50K words) three times now. Let me just say the learning curve is steep. My first year, I won, and I have never, ever looked back at that story. It was awful, self indulgent, and often times read like a list of stage directions – “Person 1 goes to the sink, while person 2 crosses to the left of her.” (My background is in theatre, I think in stage directions sometimes.) Then came a string of years where the story didn’t quite have enough gas to get to 50K, one of those being the Changing Leaves novella that I am now posting here.

Last year was the first year I got a story that spanned the full 50K, and was interesting. While I got the plot all in line, it was a pretty two dimensional story, and my characters were flat. I’ve spent the last few months on revising it. It has been a huge job, and I’m still going. It’s not even to a point where I want someone to read it yet.

In the last year I have taken a writing class, submitted a short story to several magazines (all of which declined it), and spent a sizable chunk of my very slim sliver of free time learning what I can about writing. I have struggled to get to write every day, often having weeks upon weeks where I didn’t even glance at my laptop, much less get into writing.

But, I have kept coming back.

Now, this year. Here on the far side of November I have 54,080 words of a novel. A novel that likely has another 25,000-30,000 words left before the story is finished. A story that, while it needs work, is (hopefully) leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s already.  I’m still writing, and I’m still enjoying the story. That alone makes it hugely different.

Someone asked me what I got out of doing NaNoWriMo – did I get a prize? What was winning? The first year I won, I was proud of myself, but it was in a “Yay!!! Now what?”  kind of way.  The second time I won, it was just a huge relief to get done. I put that manuscript away for a couple of months afterward. This year, I’m ready to keep going. I have more story there, and I have some ideas how to fix up last year’s. I have a couple of short stories wiggling around in my head, and quite a few more posts in Changing Leaves to share.

If I’m being realistic, there is a strong likelihood that, at the age of 41, nothing I am writing will ever see the inside of a bookstore. Unless I’m carrying it in my bag while I’m shopping. At times, that makes it feel like the most ridiculous thing I could possibly be spending my time on. Other times, it feels like it would save me a lot of energy to just give up now, after all, who is ever going to care about something I made up? Maybe if I had started in my 20s….maybe.

But you know what? I like writing. I like creating worlds and stories and people with big things to do. I like figuring it out, letting the characters talk to me and each other, painting pictures with words. Maybe all that happens is my kids see me writing, and decide to do some of their own. Maybe all that happens is there are a couple boxes worth of interesting things to sort through when I’m gone. Maybe it will all get lost and no one will ever see it. I don’t honestly know.

What I am learning is that just writing the stories is what’s important. Making the story that I can’t wait to find out the end to is the prize at the end of the month of writing. The story matters. Even if it is only to me.


Changing Characters

There’s been a lot of down time in the last week for me and the kids. One kid got sick, and then the other kid, and finally, me. In between sniffles and coughs and moans of discomfort I’ve been futzing about with the characters in my novel.

Last November, I set out to write a novel, and I did.  50,000 words down, in some semblance of order and with a plot. Since then, I have been rereading, rewriting, and removing bits.  I got the bare bones plot down pretty well in those thirty days of writing, but the characters are fairly flat, and there is little depth to the story.  Its a straight arc from point A to point B.  For me, the work of adding motivation to the characters, adding back story and subplots is both harder and more fun than the simple mad dash to get the plot down.

In doing this, I have realized several things. First, my novel does not currently pass the Bechdel Test. Whoops. We get through the first two requirements:  there are two women, and they do talk to each other. Unfortunately, they are only ever talking about a man. Since the Bechdel Test is a pretty low bar to pass, I need to fix that. To be fair, one of the themes of the book is what kind impact the things men do has on women’s lives, how it can last for decades, especially in families, but they should have conversations about other things as well.

Second, my villain was…kind of a cardboard cutout of a villain.  The evil dude behind the curtain twirling his mustache.  He is still a villain, but going back to families and such, he needed a bit more than his lone self running about and mucking things up. And given that he is in his 70s, he definitely needed help in the villainy department. Changing one of the background characters into his accomplice made for some interesting dynamics.

Last, my main character has two close friends who help out often. Both are male. This was fine in the beginning. One was a friend from college, and one is a lawyer. However, the lawyer friend often takes a tone with her that comes off as a bit patronizing. Changing this character to a close female friend gives me more latitude to have talks that are between friends, even when one friend is irritated and lecturing a bit. So, he has become a she.

It’s impressive the impact a few seemingly small changes can have on motivation and backstory. These changes give me some things to work with, and help make my protagonist a stronger character. I’m about 25% through my second draft, and I’m excited about the changes.

The other thing I’ve been doing while the three of us go through Kleenex at an alarming rate is to begin teaching myself how to use Scrivener.  I am impressed at the capability of the software, but am a little intimidated about using it.  I have used Story Mill for the last several years, and love it, and in the end, may stick with it. It is quite capable, and I’ve learned to use it. I do like a lot of the features Scrivener has available though, especially for moving things around.

November is fast approaching, however, and I need to sort out what I’m using for NaNoWriMo. I also need to decide if I’m plotting much out this year, or just winging (pantsing) it. I like letting myself figure out what is going to happen next as I am writing, but I need a bit more depth on my characters this year I think.  Getting the plot on paper and going back to add in character depth has worked well for last year’s novel, I’m not sure how it will work out for what I have in mind this year.

How do you write? Character or plot first?  And what do you use to write? Fancy software? Pen and Paper?


Much as fall is my favorite time of year, twilight is my favorite time of day. The precipice between day and night has always seemed full of possibility. I am, as you might guess, a night owl.

I discovered the word gloaming during an involved romance novel phase. I believe it was a torrid Scottish affair, with not much plot, and a lot of racing over the heather strewn hills in pursuit of one another. The word though seemed to describe the time if day so much more aptly than dusk or twilight. Dusk and twilight only seemed to describe the color, or how much light was present. Gloaming, though, described the experience. The moment the sun drops behind the hills in the west and the light becomes diffuse and indirect. The way the street lights begin to come on, and how you can see into people’s houses in the moments before they close the curtains. The hush that falls as the daytime sounds fade and the birds stop singing. The feeling of resolution of the day.

I used to head to work about that time of day. In the autumn, I was unlocking the theatre and awaiting the actors arrival right about the time the sun would be touching the mountains. In those days I would sit on the loading dock with a cigarette and a cup of coffee getting ready to start my day as I watched other folks walk home. As full dark fell I would head inside to start my tasks and begin to set up the world of the show. This time of setting up mimicked the quiet of the gloaming. The pause before something else starts.

These days, I barely have a moment to note the sun is down before it’s time to make dinner and sort out the kids at the end of the day. Now it’s my favorite time if day because Daddy is coming home soon, and bedtime approaches. I miss the ritual of watching the night fall. Whole I may not be able to do coffee and cigarettes, perhaps adding so thing to our daily routine would not be amiss.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

autumn falling

I feel like I write about autumn an awful lot. Just about every year actually. Autumn is different here than it is where I grew up.For one there are more trees, and those trees have leaves, not needles.

In Colorado, you can see weather, and just about everything else, coming. The wide open sky makes it easy to watch things moving, and the mountains may slow it down, but when things come over them, you can see it. Storms slowly eat the mountains, and roll over them down into the city. It is fascinating to watch. Those days are rare though, the ever present sun asserts its dominance over the clouds most of the time. It is beautiful, and open. There is a lack of mystery. Plenty of awe and stunning vistas, but not a lot is hidden.

Here in the Pacific Northwest it seems more like the sky is closing in. Dark, rainy autumn nights are possible the darkest I have ever seen. It truly feels like a falling here. The clouds fall over the city, not to be dislodged for months. The rain falls, the leaves fall. There is a weight to the arriving of Autumn. Once you have lived here a few years you understand why. It means that the months of gray have arrived. Activities move inside, lights turn on early in the day. Hibernation makes sense to me here. Here there is a distinctly mysterious feel to the change into fall. You can’t see everything, and you know it.

I enjoy the mystery. It is new still to feel like there is something out there that I can’t see coming. That there is more to discover. That when autumn falls, there is something to peer around corners for.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

the first thing I see

A bit of fiction

The street is a common residential street. The houses are middle class, some a little better off than others. This particular street has been here for a while. The imprint in the sidewalk reads 1912. The mid century houses that appear here are next to Victorians and Craftsman models, clearly built as the original owners sold off bits of land. It makes a cozy neighborhood overall, this diversity of styles.

She had walked down the street many different times. It was a normal route for her now, one of a dozen possible ways to get where she was going, but she liked this street, with its wide sidewalks and and large trees. It made her walk a bit more lovely, peaceful and picturesque.

It was a brisk morning. Slightly damp with overnight rain, and a breeze that kicked up to a full wind from time to time. The smells were of early autumn, and the last hint of summer’s heat. She was on her way to work, strolling in the breeze and shuffling through piles of leaves already accumulating this early in the season. She followed the sidewalk, letting her feet carry her on her familiar way while her mind wandered. She watched the leaves dance by her as the squirrels raced through the trees above, chattering. Her coffee was warm in her hand.

A gust of chill wind grabbed her coat and flung it open, causing her to inhale sharply. Fumbling briefly, she tucked her coffee cup under her arm so she could button up the errant coat. That wind smelled of snow, though it was early still, it was not unheard of. She hoped it would hold off until the fall leaves had finished their show. It was always disappointing when the reds, golds and oranges of autumn finally reached a glorious blaze of color, only to end up in the gutter the next day because of a heavy, wet snow.

She looked up at a jay calling across the street to find that she had walked past her usual turn. Not far, perhaps half a block. If she crossed here an doubled back, she could get back on track pretty easily, and continue to enjoy her stroll. There was also the added benefit of the next street over being shielded from the wind. As she made her way to cross, checking for the almost always nonexistent traffic, something caught her eye. It was the first thing she had truly seen in clear focus this morning. Something out of the ordinary in her usual routine. The house she had been about to pass had gas lamps. They were lit, even though it was well after sunrise, and flickering away against the gray morning. They had the look of something from Dickens, or perhaps Disney’s interpretation of Dickens. Black iron, shiny glass panes, all angles and reflections. She walked toward them and pulled out her phone to take a picture. They seemed so oddly dated here, where there were only electric lights, and she thought that her dad might get a kick out of seeing them. Some of the ornamentation was unique, and he would enjoy telling her all about whatever he found out about the style, being the old architect that he was.

She silently snapped the picture and wondered if she had ever been down this street before. It was unlikely that she would have missed these lamps, but she supposed it might have happened. She looked down the street to see if anything looked familiar.

That was when she saw the second sharply clear thing this morning. the street went on, as most do, but two or three houses from where she stood, the street turned into a path, and then disappeared into the trees. The houses on both sides of the street, well, path, looked like they were slowly being devoured by greenery. From where she stood, to where the trees blocked her vision, it looked as though
someone had begun coloring with a green crayon, lightly at first, then slowly harder and harder until nothing remained but the green.

Had she been down this street, she was fairly positive she would have noticed that.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

First, Be Present…

Jumping into Writealm.com’s November Prompt-a-Day.  I’m a couple of days behind, and read the first two prompts (1. First, 2. Be present) as one: First, be present.

You have to show up. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.

In parenting, being present is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I am prone to navel-gazing, being preoccupied with things to come, or just liking to focus on something until it is complete. Children, they demand your presence in ways that are non-linear and immediate. You must pay attention to THIS. RIGHT NOW. And then you must pay attention to THIS OTHER THING! RIGHT NOW. It is enchanting, fascinating and undeniably exhausting.

The days when I reach the end and find myself shaking my head an wondering what they heck just happened, or feeling like I have failed miserably, are the days when I am caught up in the “shoulds” of what I think needs to happen.  What I should do to be a good parent, or what I think my kids should have. It leaves me seeing only what I lack, rather than what these bright, shining children have to show me each and every day. It is breathtaking to feel like I lost a whole day to pushing a boulder up the wrong hill.

When I remember to be present, to watch and engage, to encourage and listen, I’m still exhausted at the end of the day, but in a way that feels rewarding and like good work was done. For this month, I think that perhaps “First, Be Present” is going to be a daily reminder. Especially as we get into the holidays and things get wound up tightly. Especially as my husband may have to go on a business trip. Especially as the rain sets in and we are stuck inside more.

Most importantly, so I don’t feel like I lost another day to seeing only what I think should be rather than what is.