Quick Update on Willow

One major scene down. Two more to go.

Last week, I did 3 chapters. Pretty long ones, too, considering all that happened in them. I don’t know if I can do that this week; my MIL is back, but she heads to the Philippines on Thursday. Hmmm…maybe I can find some creative ways for her to spend lots of time with her grandson…

Writing last week’s chapters were like being on a roller coaster. I knew what was going to happen in my head, but I almost dreaded sitting down and writing because I knew it was going to be emotionally exhausting. Action scenes are fast-paced, but I don’t want to rush through them. Everything needs to be paced accordingly.

Well, I started writing, and I just couldn’t stop. I wound up finishing that major scene at 3am in the morning. It felt like I had picked up a sword and thrust it through several bad guys myself, but man, was I pleased.

Gonna try to get the second major scene done this week. It’s not a fight scene, but it’s most crucial to the story. I’ll let you know when I’m done with it.


Time is Ticking Away (or how not to deal with a self-imposed deadline)

Critics and naysayers may say that NaNoWriMo is silly. That it’s not what real writers do when they sit down to write a book. That sitting down and hashing out a bunch of nonsense words doesn’t automatically make you a writer–there’s also planning and plot and structure to consider, etc. and so forth.

However, having gone through it my own way, there is something to be said about NaNoWriMo that I really, really like. The deadline thing really works. There’s something about joining with thousands of other writers in proclaiming “I will write x amount of words everyday so that I will have, if not a completed novel, then at least 50,000 words worth of a novel. And I plan to do it all by the end of November.”

When I did NaNoWriMo last year, there were times when I thought it was a piece of cake. Other times, I had to force the words to come, hating what I wrote, but at the same time remembering, this is just a first draft. It can be edited for comprehension later. I know there’s a lot of controversy on picking November, a holiday month, for focusing exclusively on writing, but for me, it worked fine enough. We weren’t traveling for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have to do much as far as cooking went. I had plenty of time to focus on Willow, and when I crossed that 50,000 word barrier a couple of days before the end of November, I was pretty darn proud of myself.

So here it is in the middle of June already. I am roughly ten chapters away from ending Willow. That’s how it was at the beginning of June, too. I feel like I’ve gotten nowhere. So far these past couple of weeks, I’ve only completed two chapters, roughly a chapter per week. Weren’t I doing at least three chapters a week in November? What happened to that focus that was with me then? Why does it feel like I’m crawling at a snail’s pace towards the end?

Hmmm…I think there’s a variety of reasons. First of all, I didn’t have relatives staying at our house back then. As my hubby’s folks prepare to go to the Philippines, there’s a lot of stuff they need to do, and in helping and spending time with them, my writing production has fallen a little low, which is fine. I can write anytime, but the next time we see my hubby’s folks, it will be around Christmas. It’s good to spend as much time with them as we can. It’s nice that technology has evolved so that instead of getting an occasional letter from them, we can now call using the Internet. But there’s something about being around in person that makes things fun. So I’ve been putting the priority on spending time with them.

Second reason I’m not writing is potty training. ‘Nuff said.

Third reason is more psychological. After I wrote the above sentences about feeling like I’m going nowhere, I actually dug up the post I did on the NaNoWriMo wrapup. Seems that my memory is a lot more candy-covered than reality. I thought I had written at least ten chapters in November. Turns out, I wrote only eight, which is about two chapters per week. Granted, my word count was a lot higher than what I’m doing now–back then, I wrote about 2000 words a day. So far, I’ve been averaging about 1100 words. But I’m still averaging about two chapters per week, so that’s a lot better than I thought I was doing.

I also think I’m writing slower because I’m getting to the climax of the book where everything will hit the proverbial fan. On the one hand, I’m very impatient to get to the words, ‘the end’, but I just can’t do that. I want to know what happens to my characters, and that means working and putting in place what will lead to the final battle. They can’t just magically zoop themselves to the battle. Things need to happen first, important things. It’s the wiping of the hands and the drink of wine after a nice, simple meal before you dig into the dessert.

I want to skip straight to the ending, but there’s one more scene I need to do before I do. And I just got to be patient. And I need to be realistic. There’s a good chance that this won’t be done by the end of June, not with all the other stuff going on at my house. I shouldn’t have been so eager–

No. Gonna nip that thought right in the bud. I’m a writer. I better be excited that I’m approaching the end of my first book. Eagerness is good. It helps stoke me up when I sit down at my keyboard (brand new wireless, I may add, courtesy of my hubby). And for all that’s going on in my house, the fact that I’m still getting work done should make me proud. I just set my deadline just a little too soon in my eagerness.

The end is going to come. It takes a word at a time. This week will be a good chance to catch up on writing. Next week, things will be pretty busy again as we send my hubby’s mother off to join her husband in the mission field. Then there’ll be fourth of July, and then…

Well…I can revise the goal for ending Willow to the end of that month, before I go to the Midwest Writers Workshop. It will be a nice goal to work towards. Notice I say goal and not deadline. “Deadline” sounds like doom–if I don’t make the deadline, thunderclouds will form over our house, the earth will crack, sheep will start walking on their hinds legs and berating us humans for eating their children…

I like ‘goal’. It sounds much nicer.

Ask a Ninja advice on commas

The latest Ask A Ninja tackles the question: Why are commas so overused or underused?

Being a writer, I found it hilarious, in true Ask A Ninja fashion, of course. So for all you writers looking for a laugh, enjoy!

When it rains, it pours…all over the bathroom…

I’m thinking about renting “Daddy Day Care”.

I know it bombed at the box office, and I’m not usually one who go for stupid sitcom movies, particularly if they star A-name stars attempting to be funny (and yeah, I know Eddie Murphy starred in many comedies, but when was the last time you really had a side-ripping laugh from one?)

The reason I want to watch it because I remember in the trailer Eddie sending a kid to the bathroom, and after the kid does his thing, Eddie pokes his head in and stares aghast at what is presumably over the floor, the walls, the sink…and possibly the ceiling. Mere exaggeration to induce a comedic effect, I had thought at the time…

…until my boy became the human sprinkler last night.

Yes, toilet training has started up again in our household. Something I had pretty much been dreading, thanks to the failure we had last year. It actually started sometime last month. I didn’t say much about it, though, because I’ve learned my lesson–crowing about your kid going potty can be premature sometimes. There are days when things move swimming along; they get it, you get it, and everything stays nice and dry. Then there are yesterdays, when you hear the flat, unmistakable tinkle-tinkle on ceramic tile, and you dash like mad to the bathroom, and there you stand, pulling an Eddie Murphy face as you stare at the floor…and the walls…and the…sink…

(I didn’t look up. I just didn’t want to risk it.)

Before I started wailing on my kid, let me first tell you that Daniel’s got a better handle on the potty than the last time around. There is something to waiting until kids are around three years old to attempt potty training. First of all, Daniel actually wants to use the potty. I’ve been using the winter months to play tons of potty videos, both DVD and online, and sometime during those months, it somehow clicked in his toddler mind that going potty can be fun.

I did mention that a couple of months ago, Daniel had started asking to wear underpants out of the blue. It surprised me, because the only video that actually showed a kid wearing underpants and appreciating them was the Japanese one that’s on YouTube. He also could be interested in underpants because my daycare person is also training her son as well. Man, if there is anything to this potty-training business, it’s that it’s a lot easier if you personally know other kids going through the same thing and try to get them all to go together. Mass potty trips sounds icky, but it’s a great way to learn.

And Daniel has been learning. He can now pull down his pants, something he couldn’t do last August. Instead of me asking him constantly if he needs to go, he takes the initiative himself and goes into the bathroom, somehow backs himself onto the toilet (he’s bigger now, so he apparently he doesn’t have the fear of falling in anymore) and goes. And afterwards–and this, I think, is the big thing that helps him learn–he gets to put a sticker on the sticker chart.

I didn’t do the sticker thing before. I did fruit snacks. I had figured that if Daniel wanted a reward, then he could earn it. Trouble was, Daniel just didn’t get it. He asked for a snack, I tell him that he had to potty first, and I’d wind up with a screaming toddler and feeling pretty frustrated myself. I love the sticker chart, because this time, Daniel has a visual representation of his progress with the potty. We put a sticker on, then count all the stickers that are on the chart, and it makes Daniel happy, because it’s something he really enjoys (and it helps him in his math skills too–gotta sneak that in). Yesterday, Daniel got his 30th sticker, which meant that he got a ‘present’: a pack of Thomas the Train Engine underwear.

I’m not saying that using the snacks was wrong–I just think that last year, he simply wasn’t ready. I can admit that now without feeling any guilt. I think that he’s a lot more ready now. And though the potty training last year was like doing a root canal on my son’s tooth all by myself, blindfolded, at midnight, I think that last year’s attempt had some benefit: it helped me prepare for this round and gave me a measure to compare against. And though I still have from time to time the occasional urge to rip the locks from my head whenever my son looks down at the puddle at his feet, I don’t have the urge to burst into tears and scream that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Because now, instead of blithely going on his merry way, Daniel will look at the puddle and say, “Oh, no! Wet! Let’s clean it, mommy. Let’s clean it!”

He ain’t trained yet. But we’re getting there. We got all summer to do so.

Another goal checked off my list

So remember that scholarship letter that I was stressing over a couple of weeks ago? I got a response to it yesterday:

Congratulations! It is our pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as a recipient of the Jeremiah Stokely Scholarship to attend Part II of the 2007 Midwest Writers Workshop. This scholarship allows you full participation in all the functions of the workshop from the evening of July 26 through July 28…”

Well, YEEEHAAWWW! I’m going to Muncie, IN!

It truly is a nice surprise. When I first stumbled onto the website last year, I thought it looked like a good workshop to go to. It was only for three days, which works perfectly in my schedule. The classes offered looked very good, and it had a couple of Writer’s Digest folk attending it, which ups its legitimacy. I also liked the fact that there’s a pizza party on the third day and that there would be fun events like contests and such, so it looked like a good networking place. The only things I balked at was the price–$275 isn’t a lot, but it’s still no small chunk of change–and the distance. I had thought at first that Muncie was very close to the Illinois/Indiana border, but I did a Google and saw it actually was much further, closer to Indianapolis. That’s quite a hike.

But then I got to thinking. If I really want to buckle down in writing, I need to get all the learning I can get. The workshop in Muncie will answer a lot of questions I had about writing (for instance, I’m still struggling with what’s considered ‘literary’ and what’s not–and what happens if literary mashes up with fantasy? Is it still considered fantasy or is it literary? Magic Realism? Speculative? Really fancy writing with fairy frosting on top? So confusing…) Plus, it gives me a chance to meet other writers face to face. Well, okay, I do that with the writing group I’m in, but it’s always fun to meet more.

As for the drive–sheesh, in my college days, I drove from the far South Side of Chicago to Dekalb, IL every other week. I made a couple treks up to Madison, WI. And let’s not forget the annual drive up to Cedar Camp way up in Cedarville, MI, a whopping 8-hour drive. Compared to that, Muncie’s just a drive down the road. Actually, I really enjoy driving. No, seriously, I do. It’s the music that makes the driving fun. Give me a working radio/CD player and some good tunes to drive by (or if I’m in the mood, Books on CD), and the streets become an oversized roller rinks, with me and my car zooming to the groove, whether it’s zipping up and down country lanes, or crawling in city traffic (though if I’m running late, the music I listen to keeps me from giving the finger to everyone boxing me in.)

So…uh, where was I? Oh yes. The scholarship. In the end, I figured to try for the scholarship, because who knows, maybe I’ll get it, maybe I won’t. But if I didn’t try, I would definitely not get it. So I did it, and I got it. Got it? Good.

Looks like I better buckle down on Willow. I got a lot of planning to do, and when I go to the workshop, I want Willow to be on the back burner, simmering, so what I bring back from the workshop will be ready to percolate and make my book the best it can be.

Oh, and if there’s anyone else heading out to the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, I would love to hear from you! Might as well get the introductions out the way now before we get too overwhelmed with everything there.

Song to write by (over and over and over and over…)

Stupid Geico commercial.

You know the one. The one with the caveman in the airport. The one who winces at the billboard, “So easy a caveman can do it”? Yeah. That’s the one. You know the song that’s playing in the background? It’s called “Remind Me” by Royksopp. How do I know? I had to look it up, search for it on the Net.

That damn song’s been going around and around in my head for about two weeks now. And I can’t write without it. I just can’t.

Funny thing about me writing: despite what my blogroll says, I usually don’t write to music. I can’t concentrate too well, particularly if it’s music that has really good lyrics. Oftentimes, I start to listen to the words and I get pulled out of what I’m doing. So if it’s just me in the house, or if everyone else is asleep, then I don’t listen to anything when I write.

However, if it’s during Daniel’s naptime and he happens to be conducting a baby version of “Carmen” in his crib, or if my hubby is on the phone in the next room, I found that music at that point does help me concentrate, which is pretty weird when I think about it. I think the music acts like a “wall of sound” of sorts. I don’t blast it–that will keep it too much. I keep it very, very, very low so I can have something to focus on while I concentrate on my words. And oddly enough, it works.

Then, there are those really, really weird times when a certain song catches me and won’t let go. It plays continuously in the back of my head, like a tape recorder on eternal loop. Nothing I can do can shake it out. And what’s worse, it’s there even when I’m writing. It plays in my head so much that I get exasperated and just play the stupid song out my speakers, over and over and over and over and over and over–it becomes a background to my writing.

A couple of weeks ago, around dinnertime, the Geico commercial I mentioned above came on. Catchy tune. Didn’t know what it was, but I whistled along with it, much to the great delight of Daniel, who hasn’t gotten the gist of whistling yet. (Heck, he doesn’t really know how to blow with lips–when he tries, instead of rounding his lips, he stretches them across his teeth. Made his birthday fun “No, blow like this, Daniel. Like this. Watch me…no, no…oh, he’s eating the cake anyway. Never mind.”)

By the weekend, I couldn’t get that freaking song out of my head. So I went to YouTube, because nowadays everyone goes to YouTube whenever media is involved. And I saw that there was two versions of this song, a radio edit (which is what is played on the Geico commercial) and the original, which has a wild video to it which you can catch here…not to mention that there are tons of spoofs of the Geico commercial (who know that it was so popular?) And before long, I had so completely oversaturated myself with this song, that when I sit down in front of the computer, it plays in my head, over and over and over and over and over…

Gah!!! Stupid Geico commercial.

Oh well. It’s not the first time this has happened. I just have to wait until it plays itself out, I supposed. There will be a point when I will become utterly sick of it, and it will be relegated to the writing playlist that I keep, along with other songs my brain had latched unto and shook roughly like a ball in a dog’s mouth, before it got bored and wandered off to do something else. I do have to say it is a nice way to get introduced to new music. That’s how I got my latest favorite CD from Dean and Britta–that Say Goodnight song really struck me hard enough when I first heard them on Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Maybe this will get me into Royksopp. It will be cook to have a Norwegian band in my music collection.

Of course, yesterday I took Daniel to the park. While he went down the slide, I happened to notice the brand name of the playset, done in bright, bold, friendly colors. This reminded me of the bright, bold, friendly colors of the different products in the “Remind Me” video, which then proceeded to play the song again in my head…

“And everywhere I go
There’s always something to remind me
of another place and time…”

Grrr…stupid Geico commercial…

Mental Shutdown

What a week so far! Hanging out with hubby’s relatives’ on Sunday, spending time with PopPop on Monday before taking him to the airport on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, a simple letter that I thought wouldn’t take more than an hour blossomed into taking up the entire day…and some of the night!

Granted, it’s an important letter of sorts. I’m applying for a scholarship to go to a writing workshop in July. This is one of my goals I set up for this year. One of the things they require is a writing sample and a biographical letter. You would think that writing such a letter would be a cinch: “I was born in Chicago, always wanted to write, please, please, give me the scholarship…”

But that sounds whiny, doesn’t it? That’s not good. You don’t want to present a whiny, needy persona. Well, you do want to show that you need the scholarship, but to do it in a way that doesn’t come off as whiny…not as easy as you think. The letter needed to show that I knew what I was doing, that writing isn’t some fling I’m trying for a couple of months. And it needed to have confidence, and as we all know, writers are notorious for being confident…

Surprisingly, I went online and I couldn’t find much for writing a biographical letter. The only website I found was this blog from a couple years ago. Very good information in it, if you’re writing a resume or biographical letter. I also got a lot of help from hubby, who proofed the various versions for me. After many drafts, I was able to get it the whole package to the post office yesterday.

From all that time spent focusing on the letter, I’m not surprised that on Thursday, I had what can be considered as a mental shutdown. I had planned to do some writing, but I couldn’t do it. My mind was fried. I think the past couple of weeks also chose to catch up with me too…now that I’m going back to my normal routine, my brain chose at that point to crash.

Normally, I would feel horribly guilty over not writing. After all, I wanted to use June as a time to focus solely on Willow like I did for NaNoWriMo in November and in order to do that, I need to finish a short story I’m rewriting. But you know what? May has been an extremely busy month for me. There’s a time when you just need to stop and veg a bit, recharge the mental batteries. It’s good for you and your writing, because it revs up the creativity again. Besides, yesterday, I also had a splitting headache, so I knew that I wouldn’t be up to writing par.

So I took it easy yesterday and didn’t do an ounce of writing. And here it is, Friday, June 1st. I feel much better now. I think I can tackle that short story now. If I can get it finished by tomorrow, then I’ll start work on Willow Monday.

It’s nice to be fluid with your time.