Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting Your NaNo On

So! National Novel Writing Month is coming up. I'm sure most of you know the gist already: 30 days, 1 book, 50,000 words. Details are here, and if you decide you're interested, you should hurry up and sign up! We're starting in 5 days!

This will be my 3rd year doing NaNo. For me, the challenge isn't writing quickly; it's getting a 50,000 word first draft. This is really, really long for me. A lot of my finished books clock it at around 50,000, and my first drafts are usually significantly shorter, somewhere in the 25-30,000 range. So even though people assume NaNo is easy for me because I'm a fast writer, it's actually a significant challenge for me as well. I won in both 2008 and 2009 (though in 2009 I cheated by adding 50K to an existing project. shhhh. But 2008 was legit).

If you're interested in NaNo but nervous about the idea of 50K in 30 days, here are some tips that you can take or leave as they suit you.

--Take a risk. I like to do something weird for NaNo. My planned project for this year is a ghost story, and hopefully (hopefully!) the first of a trilogy I have mapped out.

This is so astronomically far from anything I've ever done, but the good news is, I can't give up. I am absolutely positive that I'm going to start panicking and trying to jump ship 10,000 words in. And any other time, I probably would. But not for NaNo. For NaNo, you have to keep going. Or you LOSE. I don't like losing.

--Nail down the beginning. Choose your first line NOW. You don't want to be staring at a blank page. You can change it later, whatever, but give yourself a springboard. I have my first chapter all written up in my head. Then God knows what happens.

--Don't pace yourself. It doesn't work that way, at least not for me. Start strong. Write as many words a day as you can. Aim for 5K a day. Power through for as long as you can.

There will come a day where this gets absolutely impossible. You'll be lucky to get 1K out. And that's okay. Because you have a few days of writing 5K behind you, and you're already ahead of the game.

It will get harder to write as you get to the middle of your book. You will start doubting yourself and pulling out your hair, and the lack of sleep will catch up with you. Keep pushing as hard as you can, but give yourself permission to have some days when you're barely trickling out words. It happens. But don't try to slow down the part where you're buzzing and exciting because your book is shiny and new in hopes of saving your energy for later. It doesn't work.

--Get a support group. Physical ones work really well for some people; ask around and see if there are meetups in your area. You might be surprised!

If you're a hermit like me, there's always, thank God, the internet. You can find friends on the NaNo forums, or you can bully some of your existing friends into participating with you.

It's very, very helpful to have people to bitch to. If the Musers didn't do NaNo, I can't imagine I would. Most of the fun of this month comes from suffering together. It breaks up the loneliness we all feel sometimes, when it's just us and our laptops and our boyfriends complaining they never see us.

--Welcome help. Once you sign up, you'll get pep talk emails. Read them! Love them! They really DO help, if you let them. (And you might just find a quote from someone you know in there. I mean, maybe. You know a lot of people, right? I'm just saying it's possible. Stop looking at me like that. I don't know anything...)

People will reassure you. People who haven't read a word of your novel will tell you that it's brilliant and you can finish and you can do it. Believe them! Don't be a sourpuss. Sourpusses don't finish novels. I won't say what they do. This is a family-friendly blog. (Stop looking at me like that.)

So. If you decide to sign up, make sure to look me up. I'm right here. You can read a description of what I'll be working on, if you like. I'll put up an excerpt once the month has started. Add me as a buddy if you want to see how I'm doing, and leave links to your profiles in the comments so I can friend you back! And good luck!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombie Tag Teaser

I didn't mean to start researching zombies. Because right after Graham died, I was pretty much okay. I fell apart in a tidy way. I cried at the funeral and slacked off on homework for a few weeks, but I never unglued myself from reality like Mom and Dad did.

Then I started getting weird. I stopped closing the bathroom door when I was in there, which was kind of bizarre. And I had to know where everyone was all the time. I got antsy if my parents left the room, and I started begging to stay home from school every day, but whenever I did stay home, I’d get freaked out about all my friends at school and worry that they were sick or something. It wasn’t cool.

So after that, after I went as totally bananas as I ever did, I started doing research on bringing dead people back to life.

The truth is, I know way more about zombies that anyone would like me to. I even know how I’d go about bringing Graham back, if I were going to do it. There’s this thing, basically an alarm clock for dead people, but the internet says no one has any idea where it is. It’s probably buried in some cave and booby-trapped and explosive and covered in guns or something. And even though everyone knows there were zombies thirty years ago, no one saw them and no one has any idea what they were like or why they all dropped dead again before anyone ever saw them awake. When a kid at school begged Ms. Hoole to talk about them, she made a big point of reminding us that it was just a theory, that nobody can say for sure that they were really zombies. Yeah. They were just a bunch of people who were supposed to have already been dead, discovered above ground, dead again. Just a theory, sure.

The main point is that there are zero, absolutely zero real reports of what the real zombies were like, so there’s a good chance that if I brought Graham back, he'd be just as brain-hungry as I was last night.

Finding all that out for the first time really freaked me out. I updated my anti-zombie weapons just in case. I made sure I had a baseball bat put away, and a can of bug spray, a few of the really good spatulas. Just in case. Nothing online gave me any reason to believe the real zombies weren't just like the ones from the movies Graham and I used to watch, so I don't know why the techniques we figured out wouldn't really work. That's what Zombie Tag is, really. It's practicing all the methods Graham and I discovered. It's training.

And I can't tell my Dad without him wanting to arrest me, and it's probably never going to matter because Anthony says there's no way the zombies are coming back.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"I Write Children's Books" OR How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Love the Stigma

In Fall 2009, I started college at a certain Ivy League school that shall not be named. All that I will say is that I didn't have a good time there. And that it's a color.

For the semester I was there, I was enrolled as a "Literary Arts" major. I never really found out what Literary Arts is. I think it's a more pretentious version of an English major, but I'm not sure.

I was in a class called "Literature of Children and Young Adults." On the first day, our teacher had us go around and say why we were interested in children's books, specifically young adult books. When it got to me, I told them--"My first YA book came out in 2009. My next one is 2011."

I pretty naively expected to be congratulated.

What I got was an A on my first paper followed by a paragraph that had nothing to do with my paper and everything to do with the way I introduced myself the first day. Saying I was published was unprompted self-congratulation that set me up as a precocious kid with an attitude problem. And, my professor continued, the A on the paper should not be taken as a sign that my writing didn't need a lot, a LOT of work. I was young and naive and full of myself. I was all bark and no bite.

Later, when I asked the kids in my class what they were working on, one of them mentioned that children's books were just practice for him, and--by the way--he was so glad he wasn't planning on perusing publication for years to come, because good GOD he would be so embarassed to have anything less than his very best life's work out in the world.

I don't think I have to tell you guys how hard it is to have any self-confidence at all in this business. From the outside, it's probably very easy to see published authors as self-satisfied assholes who refuse any more growth. From the inside, I haven't seen anyone who fits this stereotype. Not to say some don't, but I think this is far, far from the norm.

We're still scared. We're still searching. We're still learning and editing and crying into our pillows. I don't have to tell you guys this. You know.

They didn't. I was surrounded by people trying to knock me down a peg, except I had nothing underneath me when they did.

I stopped going out. I couldn't write.

I went home.

That professor and those students were not the reasons I left Brown.

They didn't help.

(Oops, look at that. Said the name.)

I transferred to the University of Maryland, I started out as a Theatre major just to try to get away from the drama (ha ha ha) and the baggage. It worked, but it turned out I was a really shitty Theatre major. I started my sophomore year a month and a half ago, as an English major.

I was fucking terrified.

My plan was not to tell anyone I was published. No one. Lips zipped. It was going to be my complete and absolute secret.

And then the first day of Introduction to Creative Writing, my teacher has us go around and say what we write.

Everyone else in the class writes poetry, short fiction, doesn't write anything but wants to start. A girl is working on a sci-fi novel. Besides that, no longer works.

He gets to me, and I say, "I write children's books."

I don't think I'd ever said this sentence out loud before. I hadn't been intentionally avoiding it, but this was the first time I'd spoken about what I write since Zombie Tag sold in June. Before that, I wrote young adult books. Now I write children's books.

And then my teacher said, "Are you published?"

Well, fuck.

What was I supposed to say to that?

So I said yes and he acted impressed and I said to the class, "I'm normal. I swear. I'm normal."

And my professor said, "Don't worry. I'm sure you're not here to show off."

And that sentence cracked my whole world open and filled it with sunshine.

The moral of this story is that I would have to be beaten heavily with a stick before I'd take another children's book class.

I love being an English major. I am absolutely crazy about 20th century American Lit and literary criticism and a million other aspects of this world. I'm considering doing a second major in English Education so I'll be certified to teach those English classes down there, like, ferrealsies. Surprising no one here, I love books. I love learning about books and learning about writing.

I like that I am branded as a children's book writer.

There is still a ton of stigma around writing children's books as opposed to "real books." This is another thing you guys don't need me to tell you. But it's working for my advantage now, and I love it.

It feels a little like playing a game, because I'm pretending to check the children's books at the door. And it probably looks that way. They probably think I'm holding everything I'm learning in a separate vessel for the day I grow up and decide to write a Real Book. People see my writing as this slightly hacky side career I do while I'm not at school learning about Real Writing.

They have no idea I'm stealing all the Real Writing techniques and bending them and shaping them and hacking them into pieces and smushing them together and simplifying them and extrapolating them and plugging them into my zombie book.

They don't need to know. I'm not cheating. I'm learning. I'm enjoying myself. And I got to do it through being honest. And since I'm in classes for "real" writing, not children's writing, no one sees me as the girl who's there to show off. I'm the girl with the job on the side who's learning something totally new.

I have friends now.

It feels like I'm winning this game.

I can deal with being a hack.