Pep Talks from Lindsey Grant (2011)

Happy November!

Lindsey here, Program Director for NaNoWriMo. If you saw my tweet today, or have looked at my profile page at all, you already know that I haven’t started my 2011 NaNo-novel yet. And from looking at the Twitter replies to my confession, I see that I am not alone.

I’d like to tell you a little story about not starting, starring me. It’ll only take a moment, and I think it will help us all break the seals on our November novels.

Ahem.

For much of my life, I have suffered from a fairly spectacular case of social anxiety, especially whenever I insert myself into a new situation. Excessive sweating, full-body blushing, steamed up glasses, choking on my own saliva… it’s something to behold.

My parents tried everything to ease the stress of the first day of school, recitals, parties, joining the Brownies, and then the soccer team, and later, the yearbook staff. “Just get in there,” they’d say. “No one is going to eat you!”

None of the psychological tricks they tried really worked. And they always made me go and join and do, much as I may have begged or squealed to skip. And cheers to them for holding firm, because I always had a ball.

As an adult, I still have to make myself try new things, though I frequently wish to stay at home alone doing the same old safe stuff. I ease the awkwardness of my shaky introductions and foggy glasses by smiling a lot and taking my glasses off for the first ten minutes of any new adventure.

What I’ve also learned is that once I am through the door, I’m pretty okay. It’s the initial fear of turning the doorknob and crossing the threshold that activates the fear factory. Once that’s done, I’m already feeling more relaxed and able to remember why I was doing the new thing in the first place: because it’s fun!

So now you know way more than you need to about my temperament and tendency to sweat excessively. But I share this mildly humiliating information with you because I think the beginning of NaNoWriMo feels like this for a lot of people!

Jumping into 50,000 words can carry with it a certain stab of, “Oh, jeez, I don’t know what I am doing or what’s going to happen!” And with that panicky thought comes the inclination to say, “I’ll do it next time, “ or skip it altogether.

But if you wait until next time, if you stay home on the couch with the cat and don’t make yourself go and join and do, you’re going to miss out on a surprising and satisfying month of creative abandon. You’ll be walking away from the rough draft of your novel.

Like I said, I am still at a zero word count. And I am starting to feel those first telltale symptoms when I think about starting my novel tonight: the clammy hands, the dry mouth, the damp underarms. Yep, I am nervous.

But I also know that writing the first paragraph, the first page, and then the first 1,667 words, is akin to walking through the door, introducing myself, and removing my glasses for a little while until the perspiring subsides.

Starting can be daunting. But as one who struggles with this, I can tell you with confidence that no one is going to eat you. In fact, you’re going to have a tremendous amount of fun. But first, you’ve gotta walk into the room.

I invite you to put your hand on that door with me and push. Let’s write this first page together, and then get on with the party that awaits.

Extending my (slightly sweaty) hand to you,

Lindsey


Wrimos, it’s Week Two: a notoriously tricky time in the month-long noveling process.

You’ve committed to your characters and this story you are developing. And you’ve written enough in these seven or so days that, if you’re starting to hate one or the other (or both), it feels too late to turn back.

But I come to you with good—no, great—tidings of noveling joy.

If you’re bored with, annoyed by, sick of, divorced from, totally over, or hurling tomatoes at your characters or plot, there’s no need to turn back, and zero reason to start over.

Erin Morgenstern told us in last week’s pep talk that when she got tired of her NaNo-novel, she sent her characters to the circus. And look where she is now!

This past weekend, my über-prissy main character was making me nuts with her stuffy, uptight behavior and old-fashioned judgements. She was meant to be irrepressibly optimistic; almost annoyingly joyful. Somehow she came out just annoying. I couldn’t bear to spend one more paragraph with her. And that was seriously slowing down my word count.

For the sake of my novel and my sanity these next three weeks, I quickly realized that I needed to let my MC’s freak flag fly. Within sentences, she had cast off her government-issue uniform (and with it, her insufferable inhibitions) and I had her flash-dancing to the Hair soundtrack on LP. Weird, but effective.

That alone hasn’t completely fixed the trajectory of my novel, but it sure helped me hang in there for the next 5,000 words.

If your novel has you down, don’t give up. Get kooky! Add an element (or an apple cart’s worth) of the unexpected and the outlandish to your characters and storyline alike.

We’re here to help with that, too!

This week, you’ll be getting a hefty NaNoVideo dose of Tavia’s world-famous dares. (These always provide helpful fodder for spicing up a soggy storyline.)

Author Jonathan Lethem will also be sharing his approach to keeping it interesting in novel town. (Spoiler alert: He lays down the gauntlet.)

If you’re still up for even more ideas, visit the 100% non-boring Young Writers Program Dare Machine. (I just got dared to give my main character a disgusting habit. And I am going to do it! With relish.)

Word is out that the leaders over @NaNoWordSprints are laying down some epic challenges, too.

Before we write one more word of these normal, natural, rational, believable, and therefore dangerously snooze-worthy stories, let’s add some hot sauce!

C’mon, pour it on there.

I dare you.

Lindsey


Someone once said, “The midpoint is always halfway between here and there.”

So true! That is always the case, isn’t it?

At the midpoint of NaNoWriMo 2011, let’s take a moment to look back at the “here” that is now waaaayy back “there” at November 1, and everything we’ve created since then.

All of our paths to this point will look different. For example, mine is littered with coffee cups, leftover Halloween-candy wrappers, and some pretty spectacular word-padding.

But there are also some bright moments that I am dang proud of. A tabby cat that is the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte; a child who squirrels away catalogs to substitute for the storybooks her parents never bought her; a parking lot attendant who is also a guardian angel. There’s some radiance among the rubbish.

Hopefully your 15 days have been populated by a witty character or two, some spectacular turns of phrase, and some appropriately bizarre plot twists. You might have to dig through some farfle to see it, but it’s there.

Marvel at these things. You wrote that! And you’ve got so many more gems still within you.

Let’s turn together and look forward to the “there” of November 30. Two more weeks, and countless more magical moments of inspired writing, before we claim victory at 50,000 words!

I can hardly wait to strike off down this path and see what’s in store.

To Oz? To Oz!

Farfle and all.

Lindsey


Hi Wrimos,

One wordy week remains in this literary marathon, and I am in the weeds. Nothing I can’t recover from, but I feel chagrined all the same. I don’t much like being behind, and the 23,000 words I have left to write are weighing on me.

I could make excuses for this. I have a really sick cat, for example. Yep, Mufasa K. Grant-Bowen is having a really rough November. (To be honest, he’s having a pretty rough life.)

You know what, though? We all have sick cats. Maybe your “sick cat” is a term paper; it could be a business trip smack in the middle of this already-intense month; perhaps it’s a sick parent or child. Or a sick you!

The point is, we all lead lives that are outrageously packed with obstacles, obligations, surprise catastrophes, (or, in my case, cat-astrophes). But we keep at it, because what we’re doing is important.

How much time in a day, or a week, or a month do we usually set aside to work on a project that is important to us? A project that allows us to create and explore and tell the story we’ve been carrying around in our head or heart for ages?

I know I spend most of my spare time on maintenance: exercising, doing laundry, buying the groceries, cleaning the dishes, making the bed, getting the car serviced, going to the dentist. And lately, going to the vet. A lot.

This is our time! This is our moment! Think of all that we can accomplish in the remaining week.

From where I stand in these word-count weeds, I am so heartened to know that we are all in this together. You, me, my sick cat, and everything else that keeps us away from our novels. Let’s steer this boat toward November 30 and make the very most of what time we’ve got. (And hope that my cat doesn’t barf on us.)

Packing extra paper towels,

Lindsey


From the first time I read Go, Dog, Go! all by myself, I have loved to read.

I still have a collection of my favorite books from way back when: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain,Frog and Toad, Mouse Soup, Dr. De Soto, Eulalie and the Hopping Head, Streganona, The Little Engine that Could.

I am not ashamed to tell you that I pulled this last title off my shelf recently for a reread. When I was a littler Lindsey, I used to chant the Engine’s mantra in times of distress: “I think I can. I think I can!” Before a clogging or autoharp or cello or recorder or piano recital, at a cross-country meet, or before a school dance, odds are good that those words were going through my head.

This November, so many years later, I have frequently felt like the little engine that can’t. I’ve had moments where I was certain that I didn’t have one more word in me. Not an “if”, or a “the”, or even a “she.” Maybe a “humph.” Or a “grr.”

Of course, that was my inner beastie getting the better of me. Because in truth, we’re all little engines that can… and will! As we chug up this last crest to the 50K pinnacle, we shouldn’t be chanting “I think I can.” We should be bellowing “I know I can!”

And even if 50K is well and truly out of the question for you, even if you know there is no way you’ll hit it even if someone is offering you a million bucks and a frozen banana to get there, don’t stop chugging. Your characters and your story need you more at this point than they ever did.

Because even if you don’t reach 50K by midnight on November 30, what you can do is keep building this world you’ve created, and shaping these characters you’ve imagined. Wherever you are in your novel, your characters have more to say. In fact, I think I hear them now…

They know you can, too.

Still chugging,

Lindsey

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