The best laid plans …

Part of my Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan involves hard copies of the longitude and latitude details for locating my family’s property in case satellites fail and the Internet goes down before I can use Google maps. Yes, I have a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan. It has a three-part process:

  1. get a pilot and a plane
  2. fly to the family property
  3. hope my Dad isn’t zombified and can make everything better

Despite being (somewhat) prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse (I’m aware there are some flaws in this plan), I am little prepared for anything else. Examples where my preparation is lacking include:

  • My pending trip to India (as is a common chant of my gender, “I have nothing to wear!”)
  • My pending trip to Australia (I recently ate all of the presents I had bought to take with me – in fairness, I was home sick and my fridge contained milk past its use-by date and some really old bok choy … we’ll discuss my grocery shopping issues later in this post)
  • NaNoWriMo (I just spent a week and a half in a dazed and confused state of blegh – I’m still super fatigued but I’m breathing better, which is a start, but my novel is … not)
  • Life (this is an ongoing issue)

As the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan may indicate, I’m not the best “preparer”. I used to be. I used to get caught up in lists and details and even schedules of the days leading up to X event and what needed to be accomplished in preparation. I even had run sheets for the day-of. Seriously. What I needed to do at each time slot so everything would run smoothly was carefully planned out.

Then I realised I hate details. While I got caught up in details, life was taking place at an alarming pace.

Now … I write lists, sure. Sometimes I even cross things off. But generally, I’m less of a planner and more of a roller. I just roll with it. I don’t have any clothes to take to India? Whatever. Take a credit card and buy stuff when you get there. Roll with it. (You will notice, however, that sometimes I indicate I am planner of the most prepared kind. This is explained next.)

The problem is, when I get stressed I revert to being a control freak. I need to know what the five-year-plan is, and I need a run sheet for each year. I need a schedule for every month and I need all of my lists and details to be accurate and neatly crossed out, in order of appearance.

With beginnings and ends swirling around each other at this time of the year, I’m plagued with anxiety-ridden dreams and panic attacks over word counts, t-shirt collections, empty present shelves, and all of the things I haven’t done with my life that I probably should be sorting out and getting done (this is a vicious cycle – frequent readers will know this). I get so overwhelmed that no list can compensate.

Used under Creative Commons, credit: Bruce Turner

Here’s an analogy involving grocery shopping to further demonstrate my point:

Every time I go grocery shopping, I write a list. So after spending two days asleep and recovering from whatever virus plagued my system (fortunately, despite my predictions, I was not Patient Zero), I ventured out into the world yesterday with a list: milk, cheese, yogurt, chocolate, wrapping paper, pasta.

I walked into the supermarket and picked up a basket. I made my way through the supermarket and exited with my shopping bag. When I got home I discovered: milk, chips.

How did this happen? I had a perfectly logical list, I was armed with a basket to carry my goods, and yet … what happened?

I got overwhelmed. Despite living in Singapore for a year now, I still get confused in my local shopping centres and supermarkets. I still can’t find all the brands and products I want, and I usually get so confused and frustrated that I grab what I can – and believe me, it makes perfect sense at the time – and exit before I scream.

And in life, I get overwhelmed. Despite living this life for twenty something years now, I still get confused … with everything. I still haven’t found my purpose, I still don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, and I am so confused and frustrated that I’m just … making my way through it and hoping I remember the milk.

Here’s something to laugh at so you stop laughing at my grocery shopping attempts.

Keeping this in mind, I wrote a list of the four things that are most plaguing me at the moment (and, just now, added a little motivational sentence to each task):

  • Finish NaNoWriMo – you’re close. Stop looking at someecards and finish the damn novel.
  • Pack for India – and take your credit card so you can buy more clothes when you get there. And for goodness sake, take out the four books and pack your damn Kindle – it’s why you got it, remember?
  • Pack for Australia – no one has to know you ate their presents (except … now they do … but don’t worry about it)
  • Your life is already sorting itself out. You’ve done pretty well so far, right?

See? It’s easier than I thought. Now I just have to roll with it.

Used under Creative Commons, credit: Kevin Dooley

What delightful chaos is plaguing you this time of year? How are you managing it? Am I the only one who can’t stick to a shopping list?

My name is …

I could insert the obligatory opening line here about how NaNoWriMo has taken over my life and I am caught up in a whirlwind of words and a neverending typing frenzy, but that would be dishonest. NaNoWriMo has done amazing things to my life – the takeover has been a welcome change.

Stef the Writer is back, and writing.

Really writing.

I am, once more, the writing writer; I just wish I didn’t have to wait until November to remember who I am, to remember what it is I do. I am suddenly inspired and motivated to get my words onto paper (or the screen). This morning I shot out of bed with a renewed sense of joy and enthusiasm, and promptly set about getting things done.

This morning I hit 25,000 words on my novel, actually showered at a reasonable hour (i.e. before lunch time) and got into my comfortable clothes (that would be a t-shirt and loose pants that are a delightfully garish shade of bright blue acquired in Thailand), then buckled down to do some lesson writing that I had been putting off for two weeks.

While preparing some materials and resources, I stumbled across this page with a “Name Poem” template that provides the following format:

Line 1 – Your first name
Line 2 – “It means” then 3 adjectives that describe you
Line 3 – “It is the number” then any number you choose
Line 4 – “It is like” describe a colour but don’t name it
Line 5 – “It is ” then name something you remember experiencing with family or friends – something that makes you smile
Line 6 – “It is the memory of” then name a person who is or has been significant to you
Line 7 – “Who taught me” then 2 abstract concepts (such as “honesty”)
Line 8 – “When he/she” then refer to something that person did that displayed the qualities in line 7
Line 9 – “My name is” your first name again
Line 10 – “It means” and in 1-2 brief sentences state something important you believe about life.

I like writing poetry. I write terrible poetry that I never show to anyone, but I do enjoy experimenting with new formats and ideas. This template seemed particularly fitting given my current rush of inspiration and desire to re-define myself (a recurring motif in my life, I know) as a writer. It made me think of all the times I caved in to the little voices of self-doubt, and the times I didn’t. Most importantly, it made me think of what it means to be me, how I want to define myself, rather than accepting other definitions and trying to change myself to fit those instead of defining myself as I am.

So … What does my name mean?

Stephanie.
It means quirky, witty, eternally discombobulated.
It is the number 11.
It is like leaves and grass and the deepest of seas;
It is dancing in the rain and singing at the top of your lungs.
It is the memory of my mother
Who teaches me resilience and passion
When she laughs and loves and works and demands I do the same.
My name is Stephanie;
It means I travel and learn and discover. It means I write.

What does your name mean?

A Change in Seasons

Image Credits: p.Gordon, Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_on_10th_OCT, stashabella, morning_rumtea

Something happened in the early hours of the morning. Something that made me open my eyes and pull the covers tightly up to my chin.

I knew this day was coming.

I’ve been watching the months tick by, the posts and mentions gradually increase.

And now here it is.

NaNoWriMo.

Why do I fear it so much this year?

My goals to write novels and produce grand literary feats withered somewhere around July when I simply lost the motivation, the inspiration, and the “freshness” that had been keeping me going in the first six months of the year. I have slowly been picking back up my good writing habits in the past couple of weeks, but knowing I’m far from completing my goals I set at the beginning of the year can sometimes be very demotivating.

But here it is. November.

There’s been a change in seasons. Winter has given way to Spring for some, and for others Summer has permitted Autumn to wander through. And me? I’m not going to indulge writer’s block any longer. It’s time for a change in how I view my writing, and myself as a writer.

I am taking ownership of the fact that this month I have to write. I don’t have to write because it’s NaNoWriMo. I don’t have to write because people are wondering what my word count is. I don’t have to write because it’s a last-minute dash to produce something before the year comes to a close.

I have to write because if I don’t, I might go insane. I might lose sight, once again, of the joy I get from the process of writing, and the joy I get from having written.

I have to write because I love it so much, and I’ve been making too many excuses of late that have compromised this love, this need, this want.

I am a lover of words. And this month, I will write a book.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

I’ve had about a month of simply not writing – barely even writing for the blog, too. As the end of term two approached I was more interested in keeping my head above the water, and then a trip home to Australia ensured my time was occupied with family and friends and food (not necessarily in that order). The days rushed past and I paddled, paddled, paddled to stay moderately afloat.

It was hard work.

It is hard work, because I am still paddling, but things have changed and the paddling is getting a little easier.

On Wednesday something funny happened. A friend said he was writing and I thought why not, so I opened a little novella I’ve been working on and examined the 12,000 words I had compiled.

It was slow-moving. Boring. Ack.

But there was something there.

I stripped it back. I added more. I stripped it again. I repeated this process and now have about 4,000 words of the original content and 6,000 words of new content which, let’s face it, will likely be stripped down again.

Sometimes I feel like there’s a great concern among writers – especially we of the NaNoWriMo ilk – to produce content. We have to hit 50,000 words to have a novel. So we write and write and push and push and when we have the 50,000 words we say: “Yes, I have written a novel.”

We are discouraged from editing during that process, discouraged from not counting every word we produce regardless of how ridiculous a scene might be or how mundane the dialogue exchange. “Keep everything because every word counts!” we chant. I certainly believe that NaNoWriMo and its techniques have a role for writers who simply need to produce and get their ideas out, but what about the stripping down and revising? Have we forgotten that part? The thing is, every word does matter – each word matters in either its presence or absence. Some words need to be absent from the page to best serve your writing.

I’ve been editing, revising, and streamlining my story. Most importantly, after a month of thinking I might drown, I am starting to feel buoyant again. My words have been drowning me, and now I’m choosing which are the bricks of my writing and which are the life jackets.

My writing wish for you this week is for you to choose a story you’ve written or are writing and strip it down. If you’re scared to lose all those words you spilt on the page, don’t be. We need to strip the excess away so we may appreciate quality, not quantity. If you love your words, you’ll know which ones you need to set free and which ones you need to keep so your story can stay afloat.

The Writing Writer

If a dog can do it ...

Do you hear it? The sweet sound of a triumphant cheer? The celebratory clink of champagne glasses (or, in my case, the coffee mug)?

I finished NaNoWriMo yesterday afternoon – and by finished, I mean I hit the 50,000 words and brought the story to a (somewhat) logical conclusion, thus completing my goal for 2011! I spent the rest of the afternoon in a bit of a stupor which has carried over into today, but I’m terribly proud of myself! Sure it’s crap, but that’s the point, right? I already know what I want to change and add and edit – and maybe I will.

This past month has taught me (and reminded me) a lot about writing. It’s been so long since I’ve sat down and just written (NaNoWriMo last year, actually) that the sudden awareness of ideas and characters and scenes in my head has left me a tad dazed and confused – in a good way. This year has very much been a year of reading and writing for me – more reading than writing, I’ll admit, but never have I been more in love with the written word. In what has been a chaotic month, I’ve made the time to write. In my flurry of boxes and (un)organising I found an essay called “Why I Write” by George Orwell which begins:

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

(the whole essay can be found here)

I found lots of other things that reminded me that, once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer. Somewhere along the way I got “sensible” and changed my degree from Creative Writing to teaching, but now I like to think I finally got where that person – all those years ago – wanted to be.

I’m a writer.

Dorothy C. Fontana has some very wise words on this:

You can’t say ‘I won’t write today’ because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then … you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.

I have spent many years dreaming of being a writer. In fact, one of the things I’ve noticed is that if you read the advice given by any author to any person who wants to be a writer, it’s usually “write”. Pretty simple, write? (See what I did there? Punny Stef strikes again!)

Over the past month, I have been a writer. Not just someone who calls themselves a writer and wishes for more time to write, but someone who actually spent a lot of time writing. Writing. I wrote a novel. A whole novel. It has a beginning, middle and end. It has characters, events take place, and there are some redeeming factors despite the overall “crap” verdict I’ve given it. For an entire month, I’ve been a writer – more than any other time this year. And for the entire month, I’ve loved it.

After verifying my 50,166 words yesterday I sifted through my computer files to find some “incomplete” novels and see what might be rectified from the little darlings. It was like sifting through a lucky dip box and finally deciding on a package. You open it  and expect to get something useless and pretty crappy – it’s a lucky dip, afterall. Completely aware that some of the stuff would be terrible, I dipped away and discovered … that sometimes, you can actually got something decent in a lucky dip. Like the little pair of opals my sister once got in Lightning Ridge that my Dad and Stepmum had put into a necklace for her birthday.

I discovered many things with the two major ones being a novel that currently has a word count of 69,314 and is close to completion, and another novel that I still think about on the odd occasion, coming in at 35,542 words and about half way.

I also found ideas. Lots and lots of ideas. I’ve created documents with a rough outline, saved them, then never opened them again – all based around the scribbled out bits of paper stuck in my diary and text messages I’ve sent to myself so I remember that crazy idea I had while trying to choose which muesli bars to buy at the supermarket. There are more bits of paper and text messages and lingering wisps of dreams in my mind … I’ve got ideas.

My goal for NaNoWriMo 2011 was to write and finish a novel in a month.

I don’t want to think about NaNoWriMo 2012. For now, I’m looking at December. And January. And each individual month after that. I don’t want to be a writer for one month of the year; I want to be a writer for twelve months of the year.

I’ve been a writer who actually writes for the past 30 days. You know what? If I keep this up, I just gained 335 writing days in my year.

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of my keyboard – I’m still writing despite finishing NaNoWriMo this year. Because I’m a writer.