Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 is over

NaNoWriMo 2011 has come to a glorious end. I say glorious because I'm exhausted and ready for a break and I actually won. I squeaked by with 50,165 words despite a rather difficult month. I most certainly don't have a complete novel, but I do have much more salvageable material than I did last year at this time. Now I'm going to take a break from my novel to focus on some writing over at WVU (Writer's Village University). Not to mention some focusing that I need to be doing on all of the household items that I've neglected for the past month. I plan to return to my novel in January and flesh out the rest of the story as well as fill in some gaps. Then I'll turn my attention to editing. I'm hoping to get some valuable feedback from my peers at WVU. From what I've seen so far, that shouldn't be a problem.

That's really all that I wanted to say in this post, but don't think I've forgotten about my review of the Unicomp SpaceSaver M keyboard (in case you actually read my previous posts). I'll get to that soon as well as another writing project that I plan to post here in serial form.


P.S. - Check out my shiny NaNoWriMo 2011 winner's badge. Sorry, but I'm pretty proud of it :)

Hooray! I made it!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Some thoughts on my NaNoWriMo journey

I thought I should post something since it had been some time since my last post. I know the title of my blog allows for some leeway in this regard, but I do actually have a few thoughts I'd like to jot down if only for myself. And, who am I kidding? They probably are just for myself.

I have to say that I had mixed emotions about participating in NaNoWriMo this year after the death of my step father in October. On the one hand, it seemed much to soon after such a sudden loss, but on the other hand I felt it would also be a great distraction. In addition to that, I felt like I had a really great story in mind that I had been thinking about since the last NaNoWriMo. So mixed emotions or not I dove right in.

At first I made fairly steady progress. I was averaging two thousand words per day and the story seemed to be off to a solid if somewhat mediocre start. Then with all of the stresses and sad thoughts as of late, I started to slow and view the writing as a chore. I continued to write anyway, but I soon found that I was just writing for the sake of writing. The story was really going nowhere and there was a day last week that I almost threw in the towel. But I didn't, I kept writing and maybe that's the best advice anyone can give you. Just keep writing.

I'm glad that I did because I think it helped me find my way back to the fun of it. Allowing myself just to let go and write even if it was terrible. If I hadn't done that I wouldn't have had the really great day of writing that I had yesterday. It's not as if the writing I did yesterday was a shining example of brilliant prose. It wasn't. What it was, however, was fun. And amidst the fun I wound up with some useable chunks of writing for my novel.

I think if I hadn't just kept writing, then the piece of advice that I received in my email from Chris Baty, Executive Director of the Office of Letters and Light, wouldn't really have hit me the way it did. He suggested that instead of just trudging along scene by scene, we skip to the end. That's right, you can eat that piece of cake first. Admit it, that's what you wanted all along anyway. Go ahead and write that ending, then go back and write the pivotal scenes that get you to that ending. That way when the end of November rolls around you'll have not just 50,000 plus words of meandering story, but an entire story arc. How satisfying will that be? Of course you'll still have to go back and fill in the transitional bits, but it'll be so much easier when you know where you're going. Oh, and by the way, don't forget to throw in a monkey for good measure.

So that's really all that I wanted to get off of my chest. I'm off to write my ending and those pivotal scenes. Oh, and one more thing, I broke down and bought my Christmas present early. I know I said I couldn't justify spending the money on one, but I bought it anyway. Yes, that's right, I bought a SpaceSaver M by Unicomp for my MacBook. The monkey made me do it!

P.S. - I'll write a post with some good pics of the new keyboard soon :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

An old Dell QuietKey is new again

I'm still managing to keep up with my word count for NaNoWriMo, but the other day I found myself thinking back to the good old days of the IBM model M keyboards. They had such a wonderful clicky tactile feel. Yes I said clicky. They were truly fantastic keyboards and were built like tanks. I found out that a company called Unicomp holds the patents to the old M's and is making new versions. While I think that's fantastic, I just couldn't justify laying down close to $100 on a keyboard for myself right before the holiday season. So imagine my delight when I came across an old Dell QuietKey that I had gathering dust on the top shelf of my closet.

The Dell QuietKey isn't quite on the same level as the model M, but for a keyboard with plastic switches and no springs it's about as good as it gets. The action on these things is wonderful and the build quality is superb. I think the one I'm using is close to fifteen years old. I'm actually typing this post on it now.

The real beauty of these keyboards is that they are pretty easy to take apart and clean. Lucky for me considering the shape this one was in. My youngest daughter had used it for a period of time and spilled all kinds of food and drink in it over the years. Yes, you could actually spill things on these old keyboards and they would continue to work. Truly well designed pieces of machinery. Anyway, I've taken some pictures and detailed the stages of cleaning below just for fun.

The Dell QuietKey...

Taking off the keys...ewww...what is all that?

The keys on the QuietKey are pretty easy to pop off with a flat head screwdriver. Just be gentle and you won't do any damage.

All the keys removed and freshly cleaned.

Once all of the keys were removed, I just blew it out with some canned air. Then I took some cotton swabs and dampened the ends with a little windex. Then I went to town swabbing in between the switches. It took a good hour to get it to this stage. Now onto the keys...

Cup full of keys.

The keys are pretty easy to clean. Just fill the sink with some warm, soapy water and let them soak for about five minutes. Then just give each one a once over with a washcloth. After that it's just a matter of letting them dry and then reassembling the keyboard. You can find some good pictures on Google to make sure that you get all of the keys back in the right place.

My Dell QuietKey in it's new home.

I'm actually using this fine keyboard on my MacBook for NaNoWriMo at home. All I had to do was buy a simple PS/2 to usb adapter. You can find them on Amazon pretty cheap and they're super easy to use. My Mac actually brought up a screen that allowed me to configure the keyboard once I plugged it in for the first time. I'm really looking forward to using this keyboard. I don't know if my family is quite as thrilled because despite its name the keyboard really isn't that quiet. It's probably a lot more quiet than a model M, but it's certainly not quiet. I love it anyway.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And so it begins

Day one of NaNoWriMo is done for me and I've managed to log 1,923 words for the day. It's a fair start, but to be honest I had planned on trying to reach 3,000 words the first day to give me a little edge. After I finished the first scene though, I already had close to 2,000 words and I was at a good stopping point. If I launched into the next scene I'd either have to write a little later than I wanted too, or I'd have to leave off mid scene. I don't really like to stop mid scene because I have trouble getting back into the right flow. Tomorrow will start with a reaction scene followed by some more dramatic action, so hopefully I'll log another 2,000 words or more.

I definitely have a better game plan this year, so I'm hoping the writing will burst forth out onto the page like a mighty river escaping its banks. Sorry, cheesy...real cheesy. :)

Good luck to all my fellow NaNoWriMos out there!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A little NaNoWriMo advice

Yes friends, it’s that time of year again. The time for throwing caution to the wind, ignoring household chores, isolating yourself from friends and family, and logging way too many hours behind a computer screen. No, I’m not talking about a marathon World of Warcraft session, I’m talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The time of year when all of us crazy writer types attempt to bash out 50,000 glorious, or not so glorious words, in a month of literary abandon. This is my second year to participate, and since I actually won last year, I thought I’d post a little advice and a few tips. Not that I’m qualified to do so mind you; I’m just going to do it anyway.

First and most important in my opinion, is don’t doubt yourself. You can do this. You have it in you if you just stop listening to those negative voices in your head. I had to drown mine out with music last year. Eventually the voices of my characters overpowered the other voices and I let them guide me to the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, I still doubt myself all the time, but I just have to remind myself that it is possible and that I’m not shooting for pulitzer prize winning prose here, just a very rough draft of my novel. Just take it a day at a time. Realistically, if you plan to write every single day of the competition, you need to log 1,667 words per day. I would suggest you shoot for 2,000 words a day so that you give yourself a little cushion. If that seems daunting then break it into manageable chunks. Get up a little early and write in the morning. Write some more at lunch and then power it home in the evening. Just find something that works for you and keep plugging away at it. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss your daily quota, just try to make it up on the weekend.

Second, have some idea as to where your story is going and what your characters are going to face. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a complete and detailed outline. Of course you can if you want, but it isn’t necessary. I would suggest that you visualize the ending of your novel so that you have a light to steer towards. I think writer’s block only occurs when we don’t have a good idea where our story is going. Along that same line of thought, write a few tent-poles for your story. In other words, figure out some of the main conflicts in your story that you can write towards. For me, the writing flows much better if I have at least a general idea of where and when the next major conflict is going to occur. Give your characters a desire and keep finding ways to deprive them of that desire until the very end. I would suggest three or four major conflicts before allowing your protagonist to resolve the story. Of course, nearly every scene should also have conflict even if it’s only minor. Conflict moves your story forward. If you need a more structured idea of plot, you might benefit from Nigel Watts’ eight point story arc or the classic hero’s journey. I won’t detail them here because you can find plenty of great books and websites that cover them in depth. Just Google it :)

Third, do whatever it takes to silence that inner editor. We all want to write perfect prose, but NaNoWriMo is not the time or place for it. If it flows from you naturally then kudos to you, but if you’re like the rest of us, resist the urge to edit at all costs. The point of NaNo is to get into the habit of writing daily and to learn how to bash out a very rough draft quickly. The benefit of this is that you allow yourself the freedom to write like crap in order to get all of those wonderful ideas out of your head and onto the page. That will never happen if you keep editing your last sentence until it is perfect. Yes, a large portion of what you write may be garbage, but the ideas and characters just might be some real gems. After NaNo is over and you’ve taken a little time away from your work you can go back and polish those gems until they shine brightly. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how much useable material is nested in amongst the garbage. Just keep writing and don’t look back. If something seems odd right after you write it, don’t fix it. Just hit the enter key a few times, type in a row of asterisks and leave a note to come back to it after you reach 50,000 words. And on the plus side, those notes to yourself actually count towards your word count. They are words after all :)

My final bit of advice is just to have fun with it. NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun. It’s work, but it should be fun. If it’s not fun, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. Even if you don’t complete NaNoWriMo you’ve probably written a lot more than you have in a while, and you might have learned something about yourself along the way. Besides, there’s always next NaNoWriMo and you have an entire year to come up with a new game plan. Have fun and happy writing!

Friday, October 28, 2011

POV exercise

Okay, so I actually wrote this for lesson three of F2K, but I had a lot of fun with it and thought I'd share it here. We were supposed to write a scene from two different POV's, either third person, first person or second person. I chose first person and third person limited for my original posting, but then Benning posted an optional assignment encouraging us to write a 1000 word story with a beginning, middle and end using the POV that we hadn't used in the original assignment. So I used second person since I hadn't used it before. I have to say that I was kind of worried because I, along with most of the reading public, hate second person, but I must say I really enjoyed using it here. It was definitely a challenge to stay under the 1000 word limit, but I did my best. The result is my tribute to the pulp fiction/film noir stories that I remember so fondly. Enjoy!

The Drop (WC 1000)

She told you this one would be easy, but you knew better. You just couldn’t resist Evelyn when she batted those butterfly lashes at you over the top of her deep brown eyes. You’re a sucker for her and she knows it. A couple of soft spoken pleas mixed with that intoxicating scent and you’re putty in her hands. So here you are sitting in your rusty old Lincoln waiting for the drop.

You scan the street. There aren’t many people out this time of night. Up the street, just a block from the drop, two tuffs seem to be arguing. Nothing heated, just slightly raised voices and a ballet of hands. Down the street a ways, a bum sits with his back to a dry cleaner’s, sipping slowly from a paper sheathed bottle. You swear you can almost smell the alcohol wafting through your open window. How long has it been since your last drink? No time for that now.

A light comes on in the doorway of the tailor shop across the street. The drop. But you’d been told that someone was supposed to leave the package on the step. Should you go knock on the door? You shift in your seat. Before you can get out of your car, the door cracks slightly, an arm comes from behind the door and drops a small brown package on the step. The door closes quickly. The light goes out. You wait, taking in the scene again before making your move. The tuffs are a little closer, but don’t appear to have noticed you. They’re still locked in their debate. You look back down the street. The bum is gone. Must have moved on for the night, looking for a place to bed down.

You slowly push open the door, cringing at the metallic squeal. Nobody but you notices, so you guide the door back into position and make your way across the street. As you reach the curb, the two tuffs look your way, dropping their voices. They slow. You stop, pretending to look at your watch intently. You take out your pack of smokes, tapping it against your palm as the two young men look you over. They move on. You sigh, take a smoke from the pack and light it up. The match’s orange glow briefly illuminates the storefront, “Michael’s Custom Tailoring.” You take a quick drag, then bend down to pick up the package. Maybe this one’s gonna be easier than you thought. Before you’re back up, CRACK! The lights go out.

You wake up in the back of a car between two gorillas in suits, a gun in your ribs. Your head feels like it’s been used in a pinball game and the taste of blood is in your mouth. A black partition lowers between you and the driver’s seat. A disheveled man turns to you from the passenger side, and smiles. It’s that damn bum! You were too worried about those two tuffs to even give the bum a second thought. You always get sloppy when it comes to Evelyn.

“All right, here’s how it’s gonna go down,” says the bum. “You’re gonna tell us where you’re suppose ta meet Evy, or Brick and Eddie will rough you up.”

You’ve got to tell them something. Maybe you can point them in the wrong direction, find an opening and make a move.

“Evelyn’s supposed to meet me at Meridian Park, on the river walk,” you mutter. Your tongue feels thick in your mouth and your voice sounds unfamiliar.

The bum, only you can see now that he’s not really a bum, turns to the driver and motions him onward with a wave of his hand. The big car powers onto the freeway.

“So tough guy, do you know what Evy’s gotten herself into?”

“No,” you say “None of my business. I don’t need any trouble.”

“Oh you got trouble in spades pal.”

He leans forward and offers you his hand. For a second you think about batting it away, but then one of the gorillas nudges the gun deeper into your ribs. You give his hand a quick shake.

“In the meantime, there’s no sense in bein’ uncivilized. My name’s Victor Michael, but you can call me Vic.”

Suddenly you remember where you’ve heard that name, and you don’t like it. Chills run down your spine. This night isn’t gonna end pretty, that’s for sure.

A few minutes later the car leaves the freeway and winds its way towards the park. Vic looks at you expectantly.

“Over by that lamppost,” you say, nodding your head.

“Okay boys, grab the package and mister tough guy here, let’s go get that dame. Jimmy, keep the car running.”

You get out of the car and the gorilla pushes you forward. You walk towards the lamppost, your mind racing, trying to think up a plan. What the hell, you decide to go for it. You feign a fall, moving out of the gun’s path. Then you spin and kick Victor square in his jewels. Victor goes down fast, but one of the gorillas rushes you. You put both fists together and give him everything you’ve got. You hear and feel a sickening crack and the big ape hits the ground.

“Hold it mister,” says gorilla number two, cocking the gun and pointing it straight at you. He pulls back the hammer, this is it you think. BAM! A thunderous shot rings out, only you're still standing and the gorilla is on the ground with a pretty little hole in his head.

“You didn’t think I’d hang you out to dry?” asks Evelyn as she steps from behind the bushes.

“How did you know I’d lead them here Evelyn?” you ask.

“Oh baby, this is our place, and your a man of habit. Now help me get this package and let’s get out of here.” She bats those beautiful lashes at you. Like putty you think, like putty.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getting back into the habit

I love to write, but I'm certainly not the most disciplined writer by any stretch of the imagination. That's why I'm starting another blog. I'm making another attempt to journal on a regular basis and to get back into the habit of writing daily. You can see by the blog's title that I have fairly realistic expectations of my overall level of ambition. We'll see how well this works over the next few weeks.

I've always wanted to write a novel, and to that end, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year and actually finished with 50,006 words. A whopping six words over the finish line. The problem was that while I did get into a daily habit of writing, the finished product was quite a mess. So much of a mess in fact, that I couldn't bring myself to revise it and polish it into a finished piece. I'm hoping the results of this year's NaNo effort will leave me with a more cohesive work that can be molded into my very first novel. I've certainly done much more preparation this year as far as outlining and character development. I even have a rough list of scenes that I've sketched out with a short summary and a note as to the POV character. I have a total of 80 scenes planned, but I may need to pare that down during the revision process. The good thing is that I have fairly deep characters with a pretty compelling story goal. Hopefully this will guide me through NaNoWriMo this year and leave me with a diamond in the rough, or at least a cubic zirconia.

I also participated in the Writer's Village University's free F2K writing workshop recently. It was a great experience that opened my eyes to some of the elements of fiction writing. It also introduced me to some really great writers and mentors that gave me some valuable feedback on my work. It was a fantastic experience that I would highly recommend to writers of any skill level. At the very least, you'll meet some interesting people and get to read writing from a variety of genres and viewpoints. Honestly, it's truly a wonderful thing, and you can't beat free. In fact, I loved it so much that I became a member of the Writer's Village University. They have an overwhelming array of online writing classes and a great peer review system. I'm hoping that all of this interaction with other writers will help me to grow as a writer.

This blog may be kind of a smorgasbord of writing and miscellany as I plan on posting snippets of my work as well as information on some of my favorite books and tools for writers. Hopefully someone will find something interesting or useful here and I'll get back into the habit of writing more frequently.