Hero Meets Nemesis

I am the hero, in case anyone was wondering. My nemesis? The dreaded November 16th during National Novel Writing Month. I am gearing up to face this roguish fiend down. This is my 4th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’ve learned that this slump in the middle of the month is a trend for me, as it probably is for many others as well.

Up until this month, I’ve been dabbling with my most recently finished project, Holding, a YA fantasy about two boys, their forbidden magic, and the vampires that want to eat it. I finished the 2nd draft and am preparing to bind it for 3rd draft revisions, an idea I got from Maggie Stiefvater. After NaNoWriMo, I doubt I will have the desire to produce any new words ever, so I will be going through a physical book of my WIP, looking for pacing problems, character consistency, and tightening my theme. As stressed as I get about revisions and making sure every single letter is balanced within the universe, I also enjoy revisions because it’s like solving a problem…a very prolonged problem.

NanoWriMo is a little different for me. I could revise my old work for the rest of my life and probably be mostly content, but creating new, raw words is like squeezing juice from apricot pits for me. Especially creating raw, new words at the speed NaNoWriMo requires. BUT it gets my ideas out of my head and onto the page. And this is exactly why I do it.

Each year that I undertake this task, I dread confronting my old nemesis, the mid-month NaNoWriMo slump. For this year’s novel, I am returning to a long-time work in progress, Wrathmoor, a gothic romance (Annie Neugebauer has a great post on the gothic genre here) about a young lady posing as a housemaid to escape the tragedy of her past. The decaying old house, far from her old life, harbors ghosts that moan at night and an eccentric, brutal lord. I’m writing the novel in a tone appropriate to the time period, or attempting to, anyway. And because I depend so heavily on accuracy and research as I write, my usually slow progress with new novels is even slower with this one. You can see why this project might be a difficult one for NaNoWriMo, I assume?

So, how do I plan to combat my nemesis this year?

Music

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I will be listening to soundtracks (aren’t they pretty?) made by my illustrious best friend.  They probably won’t leave my CD player throughout this month. Also, this song and this entire score.

Art

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Img src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56238066@N08/8110149754/

My Pinterest page for the novel has taken on new life through October in preparing for this month. I will be revisiting it anytime I feel uninspired. I’ve taken to referring to the above-image as a temporary cover for this project because I am utterly in love with it.

Books that feed me.

Revisiting the greats, like my inspirations for the novel and some of my favorite books: The Great Gatsby. The Fountainhead. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights. Also, I’ll be reading time-relevant works, old and new to catch a feel for the voice I want, like Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker for something new and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill for something older. I also couldn’t resist starting Confessions of an English Opium Eater. 

Writing

As King famously declares in On Writing, the muse doesn’t always just wait around, leaning temptingly against an ivy covered pillar. You have to schedule a standing appointment with that flighty twit. Ergo, at one point–well, many points throughout this month–I will have to just sit down and get the story out. It will be messy and that’s okay. This month is not about producing a perfect final draft.

That, my friends, is how I plan to prepare for this throw down with my nemesis.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? How far are you already? How do you keep the words coming when you stall out? (And why are you reading blogs when you should be writing?)

5 Unusual and Practical Ways To Break Writer’s Block

Below are 2 practical and 3 unusual ways to help overcome writer’s block. Most of these revolve around immersing yourself into your story, while some suggest taking a step back. Sometimes all you need is a seed of inspiration to have you busting through that writer’s block like the the Kool-Aid man. Ah, apologies. Only people who grew up in the 90s or earlier will get that reference.

Unusual

1. Draw your characters. Or draw the warehouse or stronghold or spy headquarters in your novel. Design the room your gentleman frequents, or even more intriguing, the room your lady finds respite in. Or just doodle something entirely irrelevant to your novel and let your mind wander.

If you don’t like to draw, Pinterest is a great way to stimulate visualization of your work. If you want to be a perfectionist about it, here’s a how-to to make a really professional, themed storyboard for your novel. Below is the board I am working on for my novel, The Seer. As you can see from my board, there are foreign landscapes and travel in the novel. Because The Seer takes place in faraway places and dated societies, Pinterest has aided me in going to those places and seeing those societies.

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Board for The Seer

Practical

2. Read. You’re probably rolling your eyes, writers. But truly, stop drafting/editing/revising and take some time to read. And read outside of your comfort zone at that. Here’s a WriterUnboxed post on the benefits of changing up your reading habits. I never read biographies, but I’ve picked one up on my favorite author, Charlotte Brontë (Harman, 2015), and have gotten loads of inspiration for my Gothic romance WIP, Wrathmoor. And from the smallest things too:

“Patrick Brontë’s [Charlotte’s father] quirks included…having a ‘volcanic’ temper that he sometimes relieved by firing his pistols out of the back door ‘in rapid succession’.”

Unusual

3. Make a mix tape/CD/youtube/spotify soundtrack for your novel. There are songs I will forever associate with certain novels of mine, because they belong, heart and soul, to those characters. For instance, Loreena McKennitt’s Beltane Fire Dance will forever be associated with the novel mentioned above, The Seer, and Apocalyptica’s Metallica covers are being hardily applied to Wrathmoor for the good ole’ Metallica rage expressed through a mid-nineteenth-century-approved instrument, the cello.

Practical

4. Take a day off. Or a week. Seriously. Either from work, or from your writing, or both. Sometimes all you need is a reboot to come back to your work with a fresh eye and mind.

Unusual

5. Make a map. So your novel has an epic scene in a Buddhist temple or maybe a battle on a mountain side? Or maybe it has a ton of townships, cities, and ports. Make a map. You can do this the old fashioned way. For my fantasy WIP, Blood of the Realm, I dyed watercolor paper with tea water to make an approximation of parchment. I may or may not have referred to Tolkien’s Middle Earth for inspiration.

middle earth

You can also take a more modern approach. If you own the PS3 game FarCry 3, you can use the map feature option for your novels! Writers, even if you’re not a gamer, this game–which would surely be on discount now–might be worth it solely for this feature. The game takes place on a tropical island amid the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are countless combinations of different landscapes you can create and landmarks. You can even adjust the time of day and weather. It is one of the most unique and immersive ways, in my opinion, of diving into your own story.

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WallpaperSafari.com

 


After finishing my 6th novel in January, I had been pretty stagnant, just working on rewrites to an older novel, and nary a poem or short story in sight. But since I took vacation from my job, unearthed the “soundtracks” for my novels, and reading a lot, including things outside my usual reading repertoire, something has opened inside of me, creatively.

Have you ever tried any of these block breakers? Any others to suggest?

Stranger Things

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If you haven’t started streaming Stranger Things, you need to. Like, now. Still not convinced by that epic promo art? Then allow me…

Fellow Children of the 80s, if you cannot watch the opening scenes and credit sequence without feeling it strike a cord in the deepest pit of your stomach, then you might have been in a coma for some of your childhood. This shows speaks in the language of our yesteryears through the set, the clothes, the homes, and the technology (rotary phones and Christmas lights…just wait). It speaks the language of Stephen King–even if you never read any King, you were familiar with that language, because the movie adaptations of his books were just as influential as the novels themselves. Stranger Things is also fluent in 80s cinema, and you may recognize a lot of images, themes, and motifs. If you aren’t into that stuff, that’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and will just recognize those familiar things in the back of your mind, even if you can’t put your finger on why you love it so much. The show is rife with echoes of E.T., Goonies, alien film staples such as Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and They Live, and a score–let me gush about the score for a minute–that takes cue from John Carpenter, which makes a huge impact on the overall tone. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, a pair of relative unknowns, know their shit and they liberally apply that knowledge. As for the Duffer Brothers, the genius creators, they are familiar with all of the above sources and paying hefty homage.

I gotta be honest, I fall in love with movies all the time, but TV shows have to work a lot harder to capture my heart without reservation. It was only after consuming the first season that, in my awed state, I went on a search for what it was that had so endeared me to this Netflix gem. After stumbling around the interwebs, I realized it was nostalgia. A thick, goopy layer of nostalgia poured like honey over phenomenal casting, an engaging, expertly simple story line, and a heavy atmosphere with a self-aware and direct aim.

Who Stranger Things is for:

Everyone: People who love iconic sci-fi, horror, adolescent adventures; Stephen King fans; Goonies fans. The setting plays a huge role in the show, so those who grew up in that decade will find a special place in their hearts for ST.

Please don’t disregard this show because you don’t consider yourself a sci-fi/horror fan. Stranger Things steps outside of its genre(s) to deliver something truly unique. How does it do this? Well, let’s see…

Why Stranger Things is awesome:

PLOT

A great story with a tight plot. As my husband pointed out, there is not a single wasted scene in the eight episodes. The story is so good that even without dramatic cliffhangers–a cheap device to keep viewers watching–you must keep watching.

CHARACTERS

The show is often described as being about the disappearance of Will Byers in small town, Hawkins, Indiana. While that is certainly what drives the plot, it’s such a watered down description in light of the life-like, deftly crafted characters.

My favorite character arc is Chief Hopper’s. Jim Hopper is the unexpectedly observant Chief of Police in this small town where the worst thing that ever happened “was when an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie because it thought her hair was a nest”. But there’s also the double-shift-working, end-of-her-rope mom, Joyce Byers (Wynona Ryder), who will do anything for her children, including let the entire town think she’s insane. #NoRegrets

Then, you have the healthy dose of adolescent drama, via newly-elevated-to-cool status Nancy, her “what exactly are your intentions, young man” cool guy boyfriend, and social outcast, everyone-probably-thinks-I’m-responsible-for-my-missing-little-brother, Jonathan. And we mustn’t leave out the mute-when-it’s-convenient little girl who loves Eggos and has awesome but also truly terrifying superhero abilities.

I bet you’re wondering why would I compare a show with these characters to the Goonies? Well, it’s because of the trio of D&D-playing, sneaking-out and rule-disobeying friends of the disappeared Will. They provide a lightness of boy wonder and comedy that offsets the heavier themes of the show. But don’t let their jokes and scuffles fool you. They are serious about getting their friend back.

boys

With this motley cast, see why Stranger Things is for everyone? I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give anything away. But I will say that even when these characters make mistakes, you forgive them, and you may even love them more.

INFLUENCES 

The long line of cinematic lineage it takes inspiration from–how can you not appreciate something so broad in scope and beautifully executed? [Potential spoilers in that film reference list–watch the show first.] There’s also covert pop culture references like Silent Hill and Scarlet Johansson’s 2013 Under the Skin.

MULTI-GENRE

Stranger Things has a little bit of everything: humor, heart, sci-fi, adventure, horror, and, of course, romance.

I’ve been on a hunt since mainlining the show for similar shows, movies, books, anything. These two lists suggest what to read and stream after obsessively binge watching Stranger Things. Again, watch the show before perusing these lists lest you be spoil’t.

A Reading List for Everyone Who Is Now Obsessed with Stranger Things

What to Stream After You’re Done Watching Stranger Things

Have you seen Netflix’s latest masterpiece? Why do you love it? If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! Or I guess I should ask, what are you watching instead? o.O

 

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to post links to some of my favorite poems, including those of my almost-famous writer friends, and one of my own. Special thanks to poetryfoundation.org for providing free poetry to the masses.

Underneath each poem you will find a small story about how it has come to weave itself into my being.

I’ve talked about many of these poets already in this post  and this one too. But I have gathered them all here, alive and dead, for a poetry slam. So make your coffee or tea, turn down the brightness on your tablet so it feels more like a book, and cozy up close.

Icons

-in the order I encountered them-

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I know this is so cliche and everyone who says they love Poe loves this poem. But it was the first of his that I read. And though I didn’t really think about madness or mental illness at the time I read it (6th grade, maybe?), I’m sure my encounters with Poe have contributed to my preoccupation with insanity and/or mental instability in my own works. Also, I often read this poem aloud like a prayer when I just need to hear a good story told by someone with way more problems than I have.

Desert Places by Robert Frost

My mom always had this jacketless volume of Frost around the house from which I’d memorized a poem for the Language Arts festival in grade school. For the life of me I can’t find it, something about fall leaves (I know! Good luck trying to pick one out of the thousands he wrote about fall leaves!). But then, in one of my favorite college English classes, Professor Barton read this poem aloud. I was instantly transfixed by its spell. If poetry is about translating what is inside of ourselves to connect with other human beings in this cold, unfeeling universe, then Robert Frost has melted down and reforged my soul in this poem.

The Tyger by William Blake

One of the most feared, difficult professors I would ever have assigned this poem in the first week of Romantic English Literature. She told us to listen for the sound hiding within it. Our next class, she revealed what she’d wanted us to hear–because nobody could figure it out: a hammer on an anvil. In rereading it just now, I just discovered the hiss of the metal being submerged in a bath of brine to cool in the penultimate stanza.

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I remember being appalled by the gore of this poem. But after reading about Plath’s life–getting to know her, if you will–the words of this very poem haunted me and replayed again and again in my thoughts, until the next poem exorcised them temporarily away.

August Rain, After Haying by Jane Kenyon

I heard of Jane Kenyon in a dark romance indie movie. Random, I know. But the movie stayed with me, and from the first poem I read, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake in ordering the collection mentioned in the movie, Constance. There is no link for this poem because I could not find a source that had permission to link to. It is well worth checking for at your local library though.

Sleep Suite by Sharon Olds (or any poem by her)

As always, I am stunned at being given entrance to these intimate, family moments. These glimpses range in scope from personal to universal. I have had this exact thought watching my loved ones sleep, the same surprise, when brought together at a distant relative’s home, at how much my sisters have grown, how they’d claimed each their own branches of the tree from which we all came.

Poets I know

Rust Never Sleeps by Annie Neugebauer

In my opinion, this poem encapsulates the “realistic/life/quiet” side of the poet that she has categorized this poem under. It was one of the first–if not the first–poem of hers that I stumbled upon and read and fell in love with. It calls to mind William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”, but I like hers more. 🙂

Enchanted Rock in September: A Tritina  by Carie Juettner

I remember reading the awe in this poem and feeling akin to my friend. It also helped that this poem brings you inside of it, so that you are standing on that enchanted rock too, looking at the same landscape and sky. This work made me think of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

Nest by Ashley B. Davis

To read more about this poem, see this post.

As a bonus, a couple of more contemporary poems I stumbled across:

Home (Initial Findings) by Franny Choi

I’d never experienced a poem like this before. Being visual, this poem hit me hard. It took some time to navigate, but the payoff is big.

Winter Stars by Larry Levis

I love poems that feel epic in scope, that capture generations’ worth of tragedy and triumph, and I love love love the nature/space/science–i.e. stars–in this poem.

 

Do you share any of my favorites listed here? What are some of your favorite poems? Please feel free to share links in the comments.