NaNoWriMo 666

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ~ Herman Melville

National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–started yesterday. Because I can’t  resist challenges, I’d already registered as a participant. All I had to do was begin. Boot up the laptop, write 1667 words every day for a month, and pat myself on the back. And publicize my accomplishment. Publicizing allows other people to pat your back, too.

The number of the beast is 666 by William Blake.

The number of the beast is 666 by William Blake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I must digress. 1667 reminds me of a story:

When my library converted to an automated circulation system, the staff typed, barcoded, laminated, and distributed several zillion library cards. A couple of days later, a freshman girl appeared at the circ desk and told me she wanted a different card.

She pointed to the barcode. “This one is against my religion.”

I examined it for heresy: # 1666.

I was tempted to say–quite reasonably–”No, dear. The number 666 is against your religion. This is 1-666, a different thing entirely. Now run along and have a nice day.”

Instead, I said, “It’ll take about five minutes.”

Some things aren’t worth arguing about.

NaNo isn’t worth arguing about either, and that’s what NaNo makes me do. Argue. With myself.

Every year, I sign up to write 50,000 words in thirty days, and as soon as November 1 arrives, I tie myself in knots.

NaNo is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about freedom. It’s about pouring words onto paper. It’s about turning off the inner critic and going with the flow.

I’ve never been good at fun. And I like to do things right the first time so I don’t have to do them over. These are not the best traits for a NaNo participant. Or for any aspiring writer.

Here’s another story. About ten years ago, I read Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels. I’d loved her Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Falling Angels was better. Exquisite.

Later I read an article in which Chevalier told how she’d written the novel. She’d completed the manuscript but felt something about it–she couldn’t say exactly what–was wrong. So she set it aside. Then she read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which is told from multiple points of view, and saw potential. She completely rewrote her manuscript, changing the third-person narrative to multiple first-person points of view.

Chevalier’s description of her “process” impressed me, but for the wrong reason. I should have focused on her dedication, her craftsmanship, her openness, her perseverance in the pursuit of art. Instead–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I put down that article thinking, “How could she bear to write an entire manuscript, draft after draft, hundreds of pages, and then cast it aside and write the whole thing all over again?”

I had hardly enough energy to read about it, much less to contemplate doing it.

Well, there’s my dirty little secret, spilled all over cyberspace.

I’m not lazy. I just have an active imagination. I become exhausted in advance of need.

And the thought of the NaNo variety of freedom leaves me in shackles of my own design.

Gosh, it’s so nice to have a blog. There’s nothing I like better than sharing my neuroses with people I don’t know. And some I do.

On the other hand–looking at the subject from, as it were, a different point of view–it’s possible that my neuroses are responsible for everything I write. For my compulsion to return to the keyboard. For my love-hate relationship with NaNo. For my ability to jabber all over a blog and then have the fantods at the sight of a blank MS Word screen.

I started this post intending to thank my critique partners for encouraging me to dive into NaNoWriMo, letting the devil and my 3400-word deficit take the hindmost. Unfortunately, in the course of self-psychoanalysis, I wandered off topic, and now I can’t think of an appropriate transition.

Nevermind.

This is November. NaNoWriMo. Freedom. Death to transitions! Throw convention to the wind! Write bad drafts! Worse drafts! Quantity, not quality, counts.

So thanks, Austin Mystery Writers, for aiding me in this damp, drizzly November in my soul.

And thanks, dear reader, for enduring another 700+ words of self-indulgent cliched prattle.

Writing about the pain of writing is such sweet sorrow, I could prattle on till it be morrow.

Grappling with King Charles’ Head

Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the...

Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the Order of the Garter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been–to use a term I learned from fellow blogger Kate Shrewsday–in a funk hole.

Recent events in the American political arena have had me biting my tongue and wearing mittens to keep from making an abject fool of myself on this blog.

Every time I started a post, I immediately thought of a number of men whose names I will not mention–yes, always men–and my chosen topic veered off the rails into an area I prefer not to traverse.

I felt like Mr. Dick, David Copperfield’s friend, whose attempts to complete his Memorial were repeatedly obstructed by the intrusion of King Charles’ Head.

Lacking Mr. Dick’s good sense, sweet temper, and ability to construct a kite from a laptop monitor, I went underground. Crawled under the porch. Played Bookworm for two or three weeks.

Bookworm is a good game. One evening I racked up 2,000,000 points before my library burned up. This is not a boast. It is a source of shame. But it kept me from posting.

I’ve also watched all the P. D. James mystery adaptations on Netflix, some of them twice. And all the episodes of Kingdom three or four times. I was so unhappy to learn Kingdom ran only three seasons. Here I am left hanging, wondering who Peter Kingdom really is.

But I believe my topic has once again taken off on its own.

The point is that you, Dear Reader, do not come here to read what I think of the current U. S. political scene, nor do you need to know about my obsessive-compulsive personality. Or my sharp tongue.

I prefer that you think of me as a kindly, marshmallowy creature, constitutionally incapable of an unrefined thought. Kind of like Jane Bennett.

And to that end, I found myself a funk hole and crawled in.

When I came out to test the waters, I wrote about cats, the subject least likely to attract King Charles’ Head.

Having passed that test, I now return to the fold.

Round #2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins this week. I flunked–if that’s possible–Round #1–but I’m willing to give it another try.

My Round #2 goal is to submit to my critique group every week. Period.

King Charles and the U. S. Congress can go fly a kite.

ROW80 11.16 & Racking Up Cats

Cats, Kitten

Image via Wikipedia

Kaye George gave me a kick in the pants.

Exactly what I needed.

She sent me the link to Written? Kitten!, an app which provides positive reinforcement at 100-word intervals.* (Or 200, 500, or 1000, for writers who don’t like cats as much as I do.)

Several weeks ago, I downloaded Write or Die, an app supplying negative reinforcement. The writer sets a target word count, and if, at the end of twenty-five minutes, he comes up short, something bad happens. Bad ranges from gentle mode to electric shock.

I logged out before suffering consequences.

The Written? Kitten! designers must have sat in on the same lecture I heard in my first education class: Negative reinforcement promotes negative results. For positive results, use positive reinforcement.

When the pigeon pecks the lever, give him food.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtfQlkGwE2U

When the writer writes 100 words, give her a kitten. (I would say, Give him a kitten, but I suspect kittens are more of a girl thing.)

I’m composing this post on Written? Kitten! So far, I’ve earned one, a cute grey tiger with a white bib. He lives in Croatia.

And here’s–Kitten #2: an adult, a fluffy gray tiger with green eyes and a wicked expression.

I suppose I could prattle on, musing on operant conditioning and racking up cats, but I won’t. My own children have awakened for their evening snack plus wrestling match, and they’ve saved me a ring-side seat.

***

* At one kitten per 100 words, a NaNoWriMo winner would get 500 cats.

*****

Related Articles

AROW80 Sunday Report 1

Title screen for Burbank Films Australia's 198...

Image via Wikipedia

Progress since Wednesday:

  • Write 500 words a day on Molly: 0/0

  • Go to bed by 11:00 p.m.: 2/4

  • Exercise 30 minutes: 0/4

No excuses.

One step forward: I realized what must be done to untangle a major snarl in the plot.

If you’d like to see how others are doing, click here.

Image by Burbank Films Australia; Restoration credit: Myself, TaranWanderer (DVD Ltd. DVD release) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not an excuse. It’s a reason.

The last time William appeared here, he had sat on the keyboard and turned the working title into gobbledygook.

I suppose tonight’s activity is progress.

Yes, I know it’s progress. Because a year ago at this time, his hobby was lying across my lap and biting my fingers. Lunge-chomp-lunge-chomp. Tonight he’s helping.

But Just for the Hell of it Writers meets tomorrow morning, and my promise (to myself) to finish my critique chapter early and, for once, get to bed at a reasonable hour is vaporizing even as I type.

Especially since I took a half-hour out of the evening to prepare this post. That’s okay. It was necessary. I needed a break.

I also needed to memorialize this event so in a couple of years I can look back and say, Wasn’t that darling of him?

Because it’ll be a couple of years before I think so.

***********************

Note: That isn’t dust. We have a super-duper fancy two-toned gray-and-black keyboard.

***********************

Update: Two hours later: I heard growling and turned to find William and Ernest arguing over a cricket. Ernest grabbed it and shot up the stairs. I grabbed a paper towel and ran after him, hissing, “Spititoutspititoutspititout.” At the first landing, after some indecision, he let it go. The cricket is no more. David was asleep but probably isn’t now.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, or The writerly thing to do

Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance.  ~Dan Greenburg

I returned home from Just for the Hell of It Writers filled with enthusiasm for the next assignment. Sat down in the recliner, put my feet up, booted up the laptop, read e-mail, checked a couple of blogs, and opened to write is to write is to write. I planned to compose a brief post about characterization–specifically, my reluctance to allow Molly, my protagonist, to exhibit less-than-stellar qualities, such as being human.

Before I could start, however, Ernest climbed into my lap. With the laptop already there, he didn’t have an easy time. He never does. But he made it.

So here I sit with a fuzzy gray tiger draped across my left forearm and wrist, cutting off blood flow to my hand. I don’t know how much longer my fingers will function. I don’t know how much longer this post will function either, because Ernest just touched something–a hot key or some other doohickey outside my sphere of knowledge–and it vanished. I’m lucky he didn’t delete it. Sometimes he does. When it comes to writing, cat watching is the least of my worries.

If he were on my left, I’d be fine with the arrangement. He used to perch there. But a couple of weeks ago he changed sides. As a result, I can’t use the mouse, and I have to bend my index finger at an unnatural angle to reach the touchpad. Periodically he throws his head back to let me gaze into his green, green eyes. That means he wants his ears scratched. 

 

I’ve tried moving him to the left, but he’s heavy and muscular, a feline Jesse Ventura. He’s also the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. After losing three consecutive matches, I gave up.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering why I don’t evict him from my person altogether.

It’s complicated.

There’s guilt. Yesterday I found him on the dining room table trying to eat a length of purple ribbon. I clapped my hands. That scared him. I spent the next five minutes trying to apologize. He spent the next five minutes evading capture. Then I realized that I’d forgotten to put out catfood on schedule, and that his acting out might have been caused by low blood sugar. I also considered that William, who has a wry sense of humor, might have dared him to jump onto the table. Ernest is impulsive, and I hadn’t taken into account the possibility of diminished capacity. I’m still making amends. 

 

Then there’s the purr. I’ve read that the vibration guards against bone loss and muscle atrophy. Some authorities believe that holding a purring cat benefits human tissue as well. Holding Ernest could protect my writing arm against osteoporosis. 

 

Furthermore, allowing cats a bit of leeway is a writerly thing do. Charles Dickens’ cat, Wilamena, had kittens in his study; the kitten Dickens kept later became his companion while he wrote. Raymond Chandler’s Taki, whom he called his “secretary,” sat on manuscripts he was trying to revise. T.S. Eliot sent his cats to Broadway. Mark Twain couldn’t resist cats, “especially a purring one.” I don’t know whether Garrison Keillor has cats, but he joined with the Metropolitan Opera’s Frederica von Stade to make an entire CD of cat songs (“Songs of the Cat”), and Bertha’s Kitty Boutique is one of The Prairie Home Companion’s most prominent sponsors. I can’t think of better role models than Keillor, Twain, and Von Stade. 

 

Finally, I allow Ernest to walk all over me because I’m concerned about mental and emotional balance. My own. Sigmund Freud emphasized the cat’s importance in coping with the stresses and strains of modern life: “Time spent with cats,” he wrote, ” is never wasted.”

Freud might not have known much about women, but he had a thorough grasp of cats.

Since I began this piece, Ernest has jumped down, back up, down, back up, and down again. William, who, bless his heart, parks on the left, has visited twice.

It’s not always easy to remember my reasons for being a doormat, especially the one about balance. But when the conscious mind fails, the subconscious defaults to guilt.

Well. Once again I’ve written about not writing. Once again the obstacle has been cats.

Greenburg is right. They’re dangerous companions.

*************

Sources:

Famous Cat Loving Authors and Pet Names

www.twainquotes.com

Wikipedia: Songs of the Cat

Thinkexist.com (Freud)

Thinkexist.com (Greenburg)

Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-Soprano

[Full disclosure: If I had my druthers, I’d emulate Miss Von Stade instead of the writers. She gets paid to sing, she doesn’t have to make up the words as she goes along, her picture appears on the front cover, the Amazon reviewers simply gush at her “magnificent” voice, and she doesn’t have to read Bird by Bird twice a month to keep her spirits up. What’s not to emulate?]

Many thanks to the author of “Invictus.” If we ever get a brother for William and Ernest, we’re going to name him Henley.


Thank you for noticing.

For the past month and more, my writing has been on hold. There are two reasons for the lapse. First, I’ve been short on energy. Second, I’ve been afraid I don’t have what it takes to read a novel, much less write one. Fear played off lethargy. Lethargy played off fear. I played Bejeweled.

Bejeweled is not an activity that gives the subconscious mind freedom to explore and create. It’s an activity that requires no neural activity at all.

But I’m getting back on track. There are three reasons for that. First, my internist, who appears to believe I have a brain even when it feels like it’s made of cotton, diagnosed vitamin deficiencies and an electrolyte imbalance. He prescribed supplements. I’m taking them. Synaptic transmission is once more in progress.

Second, a few hours ago I received the judge’s critique from a manuscript contest I entered last February. The score is good. Very. Much better than I’d expected. The judge pointed out the positives, the negatives, and the watch-out-fors. He said that although it is “a fun and entertaining read,” I will need to find an agent who understands the South. I will also need to pitch it “in the tone of a Fannie Flagg novel.”

Fannie Flagg! Fannie Flagg’s name appears on my critique sheet! Twice! Not that the judge was comparing our writing, of course. He was just comparing pitches.

I don’t know how to pitch in the tone of a Fannie Flagg novel. But I don’t have anything to pitch yet either. There’s time to figure it out.

(I do a pretty decent impression of Fannie Flagg doing an impression of Ladybird Johnson: “Whenever I see a candy wrapper on the ground, I pick it up and give it to Lyndon….Lyndon collects candy wrappers.” I saw her perform that on the Garry Moore Show when I was thirteen. I suppose the material is dated, but then so am I.)

Enough of that. The point is, a good critique can do wonders. It’s like B12 for the spirit.

Which brings me to the third reason I’m writing, and the most important: someone noticed I wasn’t.

The knowledge that a reader is paying attention and registering my absence means a lot, especially when the going is as tough as it has been for the past couple of months.

Thanks, Susan Woodring, for noticing.

Back in the slammer again

Today’s horoscope said, “A person who means well will throw a wrench into the works.”

That was the man who came to paint the front door. The go-between told me he would be here at 9:00 a.m. I was supposed to secure my cats before he arrived.

Securing cats meant I had to (1) get them into the bedroom and (2) keep them in the bedroom. There’s never a guarantee of either.

The only guarantee was that I would stay with them. They don’t like closed doors. I don’t like being stuck in the bedroom all day.

But I also don’t like my mattress to be shredded.

So I rose early, performed my usual exercise routine (Dear Abby, crossword puzzle, op-ed page, and letters to the editor), and considered the ordeal before me. I wished I had a can of tuna. I could have lured them upstairs with that.

But fate was on my side. Last night, according to vet’s orders, I drizzled olive oil over their midnight snack. They disapproved, so they didn’t eat it, so this morning they were hungry.

I grabbed a clean bowl and their food and climbed the stairs, crinkling the Friskies bag as I went. William and Ernest followed.

I plopped the bowl onto the middle of the bed and poured in a cup of kibble. William and Ernest followed.

I shut us in. William and Ernest leaped from the bed and prostrated themselves before the door. They reached under it with their little paws and stretched their little forelegs as far as they would go.

Knowing that within seconds they’d be using their little claws to bust out of the joint, I harrumphed as if I meant it. They ran under the bed.

I galloped downstairs and grabbed the laptop. I needed to work on my novel. There’s a manuscript contest coming up. I have a lot to do.

By the time the painter arrived at 12:25 p.m. (not his fault), we three had been sharing a cell for nearly four hours. I had canceled my lunch date. Ernest had eaten a few bites. He batted a few more bites onto the bedspread to use as pucks. Normally I would have discouraged this activity; today I saw it as a blessing.

William stayed under the bed sulking. When I lifted the bed skirt, he looked the other way. Even when I opened the blinds, he refused to come out.

Later I saw Ernest tiptoe to the door. He stretched out in a casual fashion. Then he lifted one paw and gave the door a pat. I harrumphed. Withdrawing the paw, he looked at me. Then he looked at the door. Then at me. Then at the door.

I won. He joined William under the bed.

He didn’t know that a third of that harrumph was aimed at the cramp in my back. Lying on my side to type wasn’t smart.

When fumes wafted up the stairs, I slid open the door to the balcony. The cats emerged. They lay side by side, listening to birds and enjoying the illusion of freedom. Then the yardmen turned on the mowers and the painter turned on the sander. William and Ernest scooted back under the bed.

Having scraped, sanded, and applied primer, the painter left at 2:30. I told the cats he was gone. They didn’t respond. By this time I was as stir crazy as they were.  I wanted to crawl under the bed with them.

But I didn’t. I remembered the second part of my horoscope: “The element of unpredictability will be good for you, and so will the delay this causes.”

That sentence wasn’t so easily interpreted. On the one hand, the painter told me  he refinishes furniture. I told him about my oak dining table. He said he could fix it.

Without doubt, that’s good for me. The table top has been teetering on the pedestal since ever since the movers got it off the truck and brought it inside. I’ve been expecting a lapful of lasagna  for the past six months.

On the other hand, there’s the novel. Between cats, fumes, poor posture, and funk, I didn’t get much writing done. In that respect, the delay wasn’t good.

Tomorrow the painter will come back to paint. Friday he’ll come to replace the weather-stripping. That means two more days imprisoned with cats–if they’re dumb enough to cooperate, which is questionable–and two more days of potential writing avoidance.

When it comes to not writing, I prefer to invent my own excuses.

But what’s done is done. The milk has been spilt.

I’ll get up early in the morning. I’ll do whatever has to be done to return the cats to the slammer. I’ll borrow pillows from the guest room to better prop myself up.

I’ll bow my neck and put my shoulder to the wheel and my nose to the grindstone, and I will write and write and write.

But I’ll skip the horoscope. There’s no use borrowing trouble.