Monthly Archives: October 2016

NOMONANOWRIMO

Thanksgiving-Checklist-Week3-602x338[1]

When an accomplishment addict like me retires, she has to find a way to impose deadlines, milestones, items to check off the to-do list. I sort of feel like I don’t exist if I’m not getting stuff done. Two years into retirement, I still crave those external markers of accomplishment. One such is National Novel Writing Month. Each November, thousands of writers pledge to churn out a 50,000-word novel by month’s end. That’s 1,667 words per day.

After two years of “winning” NANOWRIMO, I’m taking a break. This November will find me at my writing desk every day, of course, but I won’t be churning out a first draft of anything. As a matter of fact, I’m still refining and polishing the story I started back in NANO 2014. The also-promising mystery novel I started in NANO 2015 is marinating in a folder, patiently waiting until I get back to it. This year I’m focusing on Chuck Wendig’s valuable advice: “Finish your shit.”

Just in case you haven’t read this sharp, funny, poke-in-your-writerly-ass essay, here it is: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/11/26/why-its-important-to-finish-your-shit/

NANO has given me good habits, a sense of determination, and some fun writing contacts in my local area. But despite the sparkly appeal of new beginnings, it’s time to plod, chug, crunch, grunt and push my way through this latest revision and then launch another round of queries.

New beginnings are such fun, but it’s the steady plodding forward that gets stuff done.

An Experiment in Semi-Retirement

retired-teacher

During my last walk through the halls of Bitburg American High School, I tried to predict what I’d miss the most about my job. I suspected it would be the feeling of belonging, of making an important contribution. Or would it be the abundant social contact? That seemed less likely; on the introversion scale, where one is a bubbly cheerleader and ten is a cave-dwelling curmudgeon, I’m about a seven. I enjoy spending time with children and teens, but being with them all day was exhausting. I truly miss laughing over lunch every day with my fellow teachers, and commiserating out in the hallway between classes. But what I miss the very most is…

My paycheck.

OK, go ahead and throw spit wads. We teachers are supposed to subsist on sunshine and kid’s smiles, unconcerned with pedestrian matters like financial compensation. But there you have it—the freedom of retirement comes at the price of having to pay more attention to my pennies.

And so I’ve been exploring options for making a little money on the side—that is, until my books hit the New York Times Bestseller List and I start raking in tall piles of money. (I’ll pause now, until all my writer friends stop laughing…Still waiting…Come on, guys…)

Last year’s foray into substitute teaching was lucrative, but not something I care to repeat. We all have our childhood memories of those poor subs, pelted with spitballs, epithets and disrespect. Actually, the worst thing about subbing was the boredom. There’s seldom any teaching going on, and that’s quite understandable.

If you’re, say, a chemistry teacher, do you really want some stranger with a degree in English mucking about with your expensive supplies? If you’re a P.E. teacher, do you want some former music teacher to be the only thing between forty rambunctious tweens and total mayhem? No way—you prepare a stack of handouts or an education film for those inevitable days when you’re felled by the flu.

Instead of hiring certified teachers as subs, the public schools should recruit moms and dads who’ve raised big broods. They have the skills most needed by subs: eyes on the back of their heads, and that stern mom/dad glare that forces kids to drop the spit wads, stop poking their classmates, and hush.

This year, I’ve stumbled into three different mini-jobs: I’m teaching French to little kids and adults, helping teens to prepare for the SAT/ACT, and editing a writing buddy’s manuscript. This is more or less the kind of patchwork arrangement I imagined when considering retirement: I bring in a few bucks from here, a few from there, trying out jobs that offer less remuneration but more fun. Although I could happily spend most of each day writing, it’s good for me to get out of the house and interact with non-imaginary people every day.

And so I’m working on finding my new rhythm, balancing the demands of these different mini-jobs with my not-yet-paying writing, as well as trips to the gym and time spent with my oh-so-patient spouse. And I’m back to writing lesson plans again. It’s funny, my writing is more consistent now that I must squeeze it in between work sessions. Who’da thunk it? I guess some of us just need more structure to our days.

ISWG October: Slogging through the Jungle

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writers Support Group blog-hop day. According to their website, the purpose of ISWG is

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Learn more about ISWG here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

This month’s question: When do you know your story is ready?

There's a story in here somewhere.

There’s a story in here somewhere.

I actually suffer from premature story ejaculation. It’s an embarrassing condition. The heady excitement of typing “the end,” the tickle of positive feedback, it all gets me so excited that shoot my story out into query-land, only to have it sent back with a polite “No, thanks.” Or maybe silence.

Like many novices, I’ve thought my work was ready before it was. After running my WIP through a few self-edits and then a trip through my face-to-face critique group (only 40 pages per month!), the “finished” story was a funny, episodic ramble through a pivotal month in Lola’s life. Whee! My group liked it, especially the ending. Out went the queries. Back they came: “No, thanks.”

Two of those queries stood out. Both said they found my story premise and writing appealing. One said the story needed to focus on the main conflict. The other said it suffered from too many subplots and characters.

They were right. It hurt a little to admin that, but hey—I never expected novel-writing to be an instant win. The more I meet other writers, the more that point is hammered home: the path to publication is a long slog. And hearing that from (finally) published writers helps a lot.

Three craft classes later, I’m whittling the story down to a central conflict—well, two: one inner and one outer, but they’re closely connected. Just yesterday I realized I could slice away yet another subplot. You know what helped? On my running synopsis, I color-coded each of the conflicts using the highlight feature of Microsoft Word, and I realized I was running out of colors.

My online critique group from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association has also helped me to see the weeds in my plot’s garden. This time it’s 50 pages per month, but it’s worth it to get the feedback I need. I suspect this story will be ready for another round of queries in six months or so—but if it takes longer, that’s OK.

How do I know when it’s done? I’ll let you know when I get there.