Signed up to NaNoWriMo… sort of

Schrodinger's LolcatFor the last two years, I’ve signed up to National Novel Writing Month and failed miserably.

In 2007 I did actually write 6-7,000 words of nonsense, largely as an exercise in having an idea as my writing muscles had near-irretrievably seized up. Last year I did nothing at all. The ideas were not flowing and I just didn’t have the time.

Having done nothing with the Monster Book since the epic 10,000+ word writing marathon at the Urban Writers Retreat, I’ve decided it’s time to go back to it. Now, NaNoWriMo prohibits use of pre-written prose as the idea is to freely write whatever and not be tied up in feelings about characters, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I’d rather have an idea I really want to work on and use it as an excuse to get a little further down that track than stare at the empty screen until I get thoroughly miserable and then ignore it until, oh, next May or something. So even if I nail the 50,000, I can’t win. That said, if I nail the 50,000 I’ll probably have finished the bugger and that’s a much bigger win than a snazzy web badge and PDF certificate will ever, ever be.

I plan to use the UWR to help me actually do this, too, if there are any sessions left this year. (There are). Plus this year I know more other people doing it and can use The Guilt to spur me on.

Always on my mind… stuff I might blog about

Well, not always*, but these are some of the things that have been on my mind this week and which might well get blogged about soon.

1. Children and Blogging

As in, why do people feel the need to align themselves into mommy or child-free camps. Why is there such a dividing line? Why does it matter?

2. Feline Asthma

One of my cats has it. Inexplicably (it isn’t my fault) I feel guilty.

3. Baking

I’m thinking cookies at the moment, and thus stole / borrowed a star-shaped cookie cutter from my mother. In fairness she’s had it two years and never used it. My sister makes very nice gingerbread, so I figure I should opt for a different flavour to widen the family skillset. On the other hand, I’m still thinking about artful cupcake icing so it might not be cookies at all.

4. Disneyland Paris

Having been back to the absolute pinnacle of the Disney experience, I’m now craving more Mouse. Perhaps a trip to Paris would assuage it? Husband thinks otherwise, and on previous visits it really hasn’t felt the same.

5. The Monster Book

Sickness threw me off balance, but I want Ashley to read it and give me some feedback. I know the tone has changed and need to keep writing before I’m tempted to wade in and start re-writing. Must. Get. Motivation.

*Also, isn’t that song horrible? Maybe I treated you appallingly but, it’s okay, I was thinking of you the whole time. Yeesh.

Urban Writers Retreat: Totally worth it!

Remember the Monster book? No? Well, I was writing a book. About Monster-y things, and sometimes I got distracted and sometimes I squeezed a few hundred words out and was happy with that. Near ecstatic in fact. My record until now has stretched to a few completed short stories, some half-written ideas for stories, a children’s book that I never really tried very hard to get published… nothing longer than 6,000-7,000 words and nothing that really lent itself to being drafted properly and edited, etc.

Until now.

I came across the Urban Writers Retreat on Twitter. Charlie, the woman who created the retreat days, rather improbably yet delightfully works in a chocolate factory and makes super cakes. This just adds to the general excellence. ‘Retreat’ is an accurate term, but it’s not quite what you might infer. It’s non-residential and just one day, a chance to retreat from distraction, family and friends, phones and the Internet and just write. And I loved it

At £35, it’s an absolute bargain. The cost covers the rental of the space. Sunday’s location was The Make Lounge in Islington, a lovely, light, fresh venue with several different small, comfortable rooms. There’re also tea, coffee, biscuits and homemade cakes provided, as well as books and writing exercises on hand if blockage strikes and a wealth of power sockets for those using laptops (on the day I went everyone except Charlie who, Neil Gaiman-like, writes longhand, bless her patience).

The general rules are basically quiet and respect for the fellow writers. I chose a downstairs room because there was no chance of being distracted by people walking past, and because one of the upper rooms had music quietly playing – inspirational for some, another distraction for me. Four of us quietly shared a large pine table, in the centre of which were two big jugs of water and some glasses. The session kicked off at 10:30 after quick intros and broke at 1pm for an hour’s lunch. The group reconvened at 2pm until 6pm, although I left at 5 when my brain finally shut down for the day, wanting to end on a high note.

And what a wonderful high note.

Without the possible distractions of my husband, the cats, the ever-present Internet and my own inability to focus on anything outside work, I suddenly found myself actually capable of writing. Consistently and imaginatively. I dare say that some of it will be jettisoned in the editing stage but I now actually have a hope in Hell of reaching the editing stage; a major win in my opinion. Five and a half hours of writing generated almost 11,000 word. ELEVEN THOUSAND! My project now runs to over 16,000 after stalling just before the Disney trip and being destined to rot, like my other good ideas, through fear of failure spurring lack of motivation.

I hope I’ll be able to continue that progress at home. I suspect that left to my own devices I’ll go back to my old ways, but now I know that the Urban Writers Retreat is there and I can use it on any Sunday it’s running to get myself back on track. I feel accomplished, properly writerly and excited about how this project might turn out. Urban Writers achieves precisely what it intends to, offering a comfortable, quiet place to write, endless tea and the spoken and unspoken support of others in the same boat. Although it’s not necessarily a place to meet friends as people tend to go randomly rather than regularly, it’s still a friendly environment where there is the blessed relief of knowing others who love writing just as much and are serious about it to the same extent can still get distracted just the same.

I had no interest in the beautiful day outdoors, much though I appreciated finally having the possibility of fun in the sun. It was the most relaxing day of writing I’ve ever had, and it finally underscored that I can do it. I know not every day will be like this. Some parts will be sticky, and there will be blocks. Editing will still be a tough slog. There will be much rewriting to do. But at last I have something worth rewriting, and I’m grateful to Charlie’s bright idea for giving me the chance to get my writing back on track.

Writing is the only thing I love more than baking (and as much as kittens. And my husband). And now I feel I have it back.

Now… how do I write a sigh of relief?

Creative fits and starts

As is often the way, the project you’re initially more excited about stalls under the pressure of your expectation (and the person you’re working with not having time to work on it with you), and the project you barely talk about for fear of Writer’s Block sneaking up and battering you with a large stick quietly gets underway.

The Collaboration has not halted, it’s merely ticking along far more slowly than at first expected. Ashley has the harder job, from my perspective; getting the words right is a slog but one I feel sure of achieving, but the vision is something else altogether. Of course from his point of view my work is equally unfathomably hard. So we wait on each other for inspiration to strike and the next burst of development to take place. I suspect it might require me cracking the whip (at myself, apart from anything) to get it back on course.

The Grown Up Monster Book, on the other hand, having been left to ferment, is coming up bubbling. Two evenings on the trot of just getting things out on paper have been as productive as any I could have hoped for. Not least in the revelation of a new character who walked her way onto the page I would swear without the slightest prompting on my part. She owns the book right now – let’s see where we go together.

Hopefully the long hike we’ve got planned for this weekend will give everything a chance to churn up (I find that as I walk I clear my head and sort of narrate descriptions to myself mentally. It’s a very good writing-without-the-writing practice for me). Also the extra stone I’m carrying might even start to shift.