Super late NaNo update, some other reflections on 2016, and salad.

18, 461.

That’s nowhere near 50,000 I know. But I don’t care. Breaking 18k easily triples my previous high word count and that makes so much difference. Got my 30-day badge, which means I didn’t go one day in November without some kind of progress. But the most important and valuable thing about Nano 2016 is to continue that momentum into December and beyond.

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2016 may have been the Year From Hell for most of us in terms of politics, excessive celebrity deaths and overall horrible news and events. But personally, it was a type of creative renaissance. It started with pushing past writer’s block and lethargy to produce more than I have in recent years. I had the privilege of beta reading three works in progress and in turn, learned a lot about my own writing and how to approach it. I went back to pitching to a few literary journals. The increase in creative output encouraged me to network with other aspiring writers and nurturing the recent flow of creativity. Finally, using short poems to keep the spark alive and help build an audience:

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And even as the doe-eyed enthusiasm of the NaNoWriMo season wore off, not even a hectic December could stop me completely.  Bladecatcher is currently on Chapter Four and I couldn’t be happier to keep this project going. I love the ideas that sprout from its characters and their environment. At this point Bladecatcher is what I would call an idea salad, an eclectic yet disorganized jumble of ideas, settings, plot lines and concepts. In between unprecedented word sprints I take a minute to step back and do a little planning: outlines, street maps, extended character bios, ya know, this stuff:

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Yes, that is a transit map.

All in all, this will set the stage for an even more productive 2017. Stay tuned for more!

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Current NaNo word count: Day 12 – not crying this time?

I wanted to do a little blog/pep talk before NaNoWriMo began but it’s slightly too late for that. NaNo is an event I absolutely adore, a 30-day challenge to knock out 50,000 words on a new novel project. So, given my track record with completing literally anything, what I adore, I simultaneously dread at times. It typically goes like this:

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Today is Day 12 and I’ve been able to sidestep the pothole of getting distracted by the Internet and all its useless offerings. Today was a day off from work, a day in which the missus and I took to relax before going out later tonight. This holds the record for most productive word sprints! No, I mean, look…

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In 5 previous attempts at NaNo, I haven’t even come close to the 50k mark. I never even reached 10k. But this year, as I’ve seriously started networking with other writers, I started taking more drastic measures to ensure a healthy word count.

-Every day I try to set at least one hour a day to dedicated writing, parking myself at the computer and writing furiously. I used to have an “I’ll get to it in my spare time” mindset until I realized that if writing is going to be a serious venture for me, I should not approach it as a hobby.

-Handwritten notes when the computer is unavailable. I have volumes of notes that turned into serious word sprints when I got back to the novel. Plus, it stops me from constantly worrying about continuity, which sends me into Editor Mode even though I’m aware it’s only a first draft and I can just keep writing and move on.

-I put Google Docs on my phone. So car rides, lunch breaks and bathroom time turn into writing sessions where I can nickel-and-dime my word count.

-Writing playlists are strictly instrumental. I find lyrics distracting.

It’s paid off so far. My best word count of all the previous NaNo outings fell just shy of 7,000. This year, I did that in less than two weeks. But what am I doing wasting my words on a blog? Time to get back to writing. Those of you participating in NaNo, GOOD LUCK! You can do it!!

Tone down the vocabulary a bit – think a little simpler, read aloud, listen to the music.

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever forgotten.

This comes from the most recent rejection letter I’ve received from The Comstock Review, one of the most prolific and diverse literary magazines in publication today. This little gem of advice has always been something I was prone to overlooking, in various stages of my writing life. Whether I would heed that advice or not, it set the stage for how I developed my style.

I remember one piece of praise I received from a classmate. He told one of my teachers, “I like David’s story because it has big words.” To which the teacher replied, “It’s good to have that kind of vocabulary, but that’s not the mark of a good writer.” What started as the first example of blunt-force trauma to a teenage ego became a valuable look into a reader’s frame of reference. I just hadn’t figured that out until I really became more serious about my writing.

Fast forward to now, where my body of work turned into something much better than I’d expected. Today, I always cringe at the poems I wrote 8-15 years ago, which I hear is common with most artists. I’ll elaborate more on that in a later entry, but one of the things I hated most about my style back then was the egregious abuse of vocabulary. I read it now and can completely understand how hard it is for a poem to resonate with someone when the author crams in a bunch of over-dressed, pretentious words that a reader would never read outside of an SAT prep course.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of gripes with my early work, which of course spawned a constant bout between 2016 Dave vs. 2004 Dave. But specifically, it’s the presence of xanthous sunrises and otiose shadows that exist way outside the reader’s frame of reference. They were mediocre pieces that didn’t come together well, but since there are so many fancy, often obsolete words, so it must be good. All those words did was interrupt the flow of the piece and distract the reader from a concept that didn’t gel within the body of the poem. In other words, I put a nice wreath on a shitty house.

Once I got this letter from the Comstock Review, I realize that there are still traces of this habit lingering around. It’s a simple lesson here and I’m passing it onto anyone who’s interested. A piece of literature is not about the words you use. If you have to go out of your way to look up fancy SAT words to spice up your work, it’s simply not going to reach your readers. Reach your audience with stunning imagery and hard-hitting ideas and concepts, make it about the mood, the tone, the atmosphere it creates. Take the wreath off the front door and fix the foundation so it stands solid. Happy Writing!

On the day paper met pen: The diary of Ethan Wolfe

 

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It wasn’t an English teacher who first awakened me to the power of literature. It started in 8th grade social studies; the focus of our midterm project was the Civil War. One of the options for the assignment was to create the diary of a soldier. So I began to write it late one Friday night.

I was already bored with the idea. The cliches of war were the first ideas to surface: tales of bloodshed and gunpowder, the heartbreak and destruction, the blind allegiance of Us vs. Them… I was sick of seeing and reading those same tired themes of war, witnessing these stories melt into a mess of tropes. I rebelled, and so did the protagonist of my diary.

His name was Ethan Wolfe, a Union soldier and avid family man. Pining for his wife and daughter, he decides to go AWOL and witness the carnage of his brothers in arms from an abandoned rail car during Sherman’s raid of Atlanta. He struggles with the ethical ramifications, questions the line between bravery and cowardice and puts a human face back on the men of the opposite side.

“Dave?” Mrs. Duffy, our teacher, pulls me aside two days after submitting the assignment. “I have a question about your Civil War Project.”

Shit, I think. Did I stray too far from the point of the assignment? What’d I do wrong?

“It’s nothing bad,” she reassures me, “in fact… I’d like to read from it before each class next week. Would you be okay with that?”

I was stunned. “Y…yeah, that sounds great. Was it really that good? I didn’t think it was.”

Mrs. Duffy smiles and rolls her eyes at me. “For as long as I’ve been teaching, no student’s writing has ever made me so… choked up.”

No way. Oh, wait. I didn’t just think that. “No way.”

Mrs. Duffy nods. “You really know how to convey emotions using your stories. I like how you took the assignment and really made it your own. Not only did you understand the subject, you put a lot of emotional and ethical elements to it.” She pauses. “You know how to use your vocabulary in the best way possible.” She presents the project to me, along with her scoring sheet, complete with a boastful 105 emblazoned in red. “A score of 100 didn’t do it justice.”

The following week, Mrs. Duffy began each class with a passage from the diary of Ethan Wolfe. Hearing my words in her voice, the way her emotions mirrored that of the writing, seeing the amazement of my classmates… I’d finally found my talent. I wasn’t an athlete, I couldn’t sing or dance, and I was barely sociable in any way. But through this simple social studies assignment, I discovered a way for my personality and voice to show. Thus, I started writing.

Our family moved to South Philly that April, barely a month and a half before graduating from middle school. Days later, my yearbook from that school arrived in the mail. I learned from some friends at my former school that Mrs. Duffy shared my project with other teachers and students, and intended to use it as an example of how to do the project when she assigns it to her class next year.

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Thank you, Mrs. Duffy. I plan to finish my first novel sometime within a year, maybe sooner. Once I find out how to get in touch with you, I’m sending you the first copy. Much love.