I’m Lagging Behind On My NaNoWriMo Project!

lag

I’ve been a part of the National Novel Writing Month since 2011, and I’ve won every time. In case you don’t know, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in 30 days. I usually crush it, done often by Thanksgiving. But I am so woefully behind. I might not make it this year (I will make it, don’t worry). Maybe you’re a bit behind, too. And if you aren’t now, you will be. Here’s my advice for myself, and I hope it helps you, as well.

No Stress

I may not win at NaNo, and you may not win. Big deal, right? There’s no prize, no money. So why do it? To say I did it. And if I don’t make it, will they send people out to my place to beat me up? No, so why worry about something so arbitrary as 50,000 words in 30 days?

Find Ways To Relax

One way to destress is to relax. I like to listen to music when I write. I don’t think about things like word count or hours put in until I’m done for the day. If I get stuck, I watch TV, and something usually pops in my head before too long. Stress will wreck any writer, especially one who tries this crazy contest where you don’t even get anything for winning.

Read Past NaNo Wins

All of my past NaNo projects not only hit the 50K in 30 days mark, they went on to be published novels. My last year’s project is done and will be launched at the beginning of December (I’ll let you know all about it when it happens). You can read your old stuff and either say, “Wow, I’m a good writer,” or, “Wow, I’m much better now than I was then.” Either way, you come out feeling good about yourself now.

Try The Big Picture

A lot of NaNoers win, but then drop it. What’s more important, hitting the 50K or finishing and publishing your novel? You can do both, and try for it. But if December comes and you’re less then 50K, keep on writing anyway. No novel is done after the first draft and most are not even a first draft at 50K words. Win or lose NaNo, just finish your novel and get it out there in the world.

This has been a brief article, but I need to get back to my novel, BOSS. I’ll let you know all about it next year or the year after when I get it published.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Top Ten of my Favorite Comedic Plays

comedy

I love the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers. And The Three Amigos makes me laugh a lot, too. There are plenty of good comedy movies now, but they all stand on the shoulders of the comedic greats before them. This is a list of my favorite comedies, but these are from the theater the stage, as opposed to theater the movies.

10 Menaechmi by Plautus – Who knew the old Romans could be so funny? This is a story of identical twins and mistaken identity. I laugh thinking about it.

9 The Country Wife by William Wycherley – A man fakes impotence to get near the women he desires. How is that not funny?

8 The Silent Woman by Ben Johnson – A man schemes to get his inheritance by tricking his rich uncle to marry a man dressed as a woman, and hilarity ensues.

7 Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward – A novelist hires a medium to conduct séance so he can get material for his next book, but the medium conjures the writer’s ex-wife.

6 The Birds by Aristophanes – The quintessential “grass is greener” lampooning of ancient Athens.

5 Tartuffe by Molière – A con man who acts and speaks better than he really is tries to bespoil a family but is found out.

4 Dyskolos by Meander – A young man sees the girl of her dreams, but her father is grumpy old man, so marriage is not so easy to come by.

3 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – The play is about unimportance, and the triviality of Victorian society.

2 The Barber of Seville by Pierre Beaumarchais – The first and the funniest of the three Figaro plays, which pokes fun at the nobility and points out their foibles.

1 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare – All of the old bard’s comedies are great, but this is the best. Cross-dressing, mistaken identity, practical jokes, and duel that never quite happens proves the play’s central theme, that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Some of these will make you laugh out loud, others man create a giggle here and there, but they will all make you smile. If laughter is the best medicine, try a dose of these plays when you need a boost. You may have different comedic plays in mind for your favorite. Make your own list, if you like, but as always, enjoy these.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Why I Still Love NaNoWriMo

nano

I’m working on the outline of my ninth novel, BOSS. I’m doing this in anticipation of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It seems like everything has a month nowadays, and Creative Writing is no different. Now as November gets closer, I’m finishing my preparations so that when the 1st arrives, I’ll do my dead-level best to put down 50,000 words in a month.

Daily Writing

There’re plenty of pluses with NaNo. One is that it helps create or reinforce a daily writing habit, based upon whatever your need may be. There is no way on God’s green earth that anyone can write 50K words without writing every day. Committed writers need to be in the habit of daily writing. If this is not your habit, NaNo may be what you need. If you in fact do write every day, NaNo can bolster this already good practice.

Make Like-Minded Friends

Many towns have Write-Ins, where NaNoers meet usually one night a week and write together. We all like making friends. This is more so if there is some compatibility to jump-start the camaraderie. As a writer I know I like meeting other writers. NaNoWriMo provides a wonderful social component that helps you reach your goal of 50,000 words.

Increase Your Social Media Realm

On the NaNoWriMo homepage you can make buddies with other NaNoers. There is a clear social media component to NaNo. Based upon these buddies, anyone can make Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or even subscribers to a newsletter and readers to a blog. This is especially keen if your blog centers around Creative Writing subjects, like my WFS.

Support For Your Writing

Take all of your new friends you made from the Write-Ins and add them to the buddies you have on the NaNoWriMo webpage and you have a nice circle of friends, all of whom are writers. This can be tapped as a source for review and feedback. This is made easier if you also offer to read their works, too. And this is a potential, not just for his November, but possibly for the rest of your writing career, based upon how well you want to develop any of these relationships.

Forced Organization

No one can succeed in NaNoWriMo by writing from the seat of one’s britches. We must have an organized and systematic structure to our writing life, such as it is. Everything from outlining the plot to fleshing out the characters to scheduling time to write daily to gauging progress requires some sort of orderliness. We can only become better writers from this practice even if the other eleven months of the year we are more free and easy with our composition.

A Sense Of Accomplishment

When you hit the 50,000 word mark, you feel as if you have done something great. Even those who do not reach that mark in 30 days often accomplish a lot and have plenty to feel good about. Anyone who has ever written a novel knows that 50K is not long enough, and whatever you do write in 30 days will need a formidable amount of editing. The work is not done on December 1st. Still, you have you foot in the door up to your knee, at least, and there is light at the end of tunnel. Light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe that’s why NaNoWriMo is administered by the Office of Letters & Lights!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Creative Writing

The Alchemy of Authors

al

The very popular pastime of the Middle Ages was the practice of Alchemy. This is the “science” of changing common metals into gold. None of them were successful, but they tried. Now we know that gold is gold down on the atomic level. So even with modern technology, if someone could change something into the element of gold, it would probably cost more than the gold is worth.

It has occurred to me that Authors are like alchemists. We take what is ordinary and make something valuable out of it. It doesn’t require any atom-splitting device, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Creative Writing is at the same time the thrill of a lifetime and a terrible responsibility, but it’s the only way to fly.

Ordinary Living

For the most part, real life is boring. That is why people read. They want a bit of escapism. Writers cannot just take dictation of real life, but what we write must be real. It must carry with it a ring of what can happen, even in genre literature like fantasy or sci-fi.

The way we do this is to take real things that have occurred or possibly may occur and transform it into something wonderful. By creating tension with conflict and building the anxiety throughout our story, we provide such wonderful release with the climax and the conflict is resolved. Not only are our plot elements well used, but we write about real people. We break their hearts and fulfill their dreams. They could be us.

We gild human existence with a charm that makes people want to leave their world and be in our universe, if but for a while. Writers don’t just document mundane existence. We make something precious and valuable out of ordinary life.

Ordinary Working

Maybe you were the model student, or maybe you struggled to get by. Possibly you have always worked in a professional manner, or possibly you have seen work as just a job not worth killing yourself for. It doesn’t matter if you graduated Summa Cum Laude or Lordy Come Soona. I don’t care if you are “Employee of the Year” or “He still works here?”. Authors must be serious workers.

No matter how hard and how dedicated you have been to things in the past, you can always do better, and that is especially true for Writers. If you write only on the few days you feel inspired, with no schedule or quota, you are a failure as a Writer. If you have no work space, and if you don’t commit to the continual education of an Author, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your readers.

Being an Author means you get to take the possible shambles of an education or the rubble of a professional life and make something excellent out of it. Ancient alchemists worked hard and failed. If we work hard, we can succeed in making something golden appear on the blank, white page.

Ordinary Being

If you have ever perfected a poem, or brought a failed short story up from the ashes, or made a novel that can bring both tears and a smile at the same time, then you have been initiated into a fellowship of artists who know the exuberance of creation. It’s more than a grand sense of accomplishment or an elevated notion of our well-being. You realize in your core you have chosen to run through the briar patch and have come out the other side, and are now a better person for it.

We hope our writing changes the lives of others, but we know that it has changed our lives, and for the better. It’s almost addictive. Once you’ve written a novel, you must write another, if for nothing else than how you know it will improve your life. We are no more common. We have changed ourselves into someone golden.

How can we not but write? It is a self-imposed compulsion. We create something special out of what is rough and rude, whether that is everyday life, our manner of composing, or our very existence. It is recalling this that stirs our soul and compels us to move on as Alchemical Authors.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Top Ten of My Favorite Villains in American Literature

villain

There are many lists of bad guys in the greats of literature. But I noticed that most of these are from European literature. America has some of the greatest writers, so we should be able to come up with some of the best antagonists, as well. Here are my personal favorite.

10 Milo Mindbender from Joseph Hlller’s Catch-22.

9   Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

8   Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.

7   Roger Chillingsworth from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

6   Tom Buchannan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

5   Addie Bundren from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

4   Anton Chigurh from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men.

3   Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

2   Bob Ewell from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

1   Jason Compson from William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Americans can do anything the rest of the world can do, as long as it’s worth doing. We got baddies as depraved as Shakespeare and Dickens. As I said, this is just my favorites. Yours may be different, probably are. Make your own list and see how it goes.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Keys To Success

keys

All of us have some sort of aspirations for our Creative Writing careers. Success is different for each of us. While we may realize that triumph does not come about merely by well wishing, too many times we act as if it will. True victory in life, regardless of how we define it, will only come about by focus and dedication.

Like A Dog On A Bone

Have you ever seen a dog chew on a bone? He knows it’ll be a long and difficult process, but I have never seen focus in my life more than a dog on a bone. When I see that a dog has a bone, nothing can distract him from his task at hand. Even time does not weary him. You cannot take it from him, and after trying once, you’ll know not to try again. Not only will the dog win that tug-of-war, you could receive a war wound from this. You don’t even want to pet a dog when he’s working over a bone.

If we are going to find success in life, we needed to be as focused as a dog on a bone. Some people strive for success, but give up when the meticulousness of achievement wears down on them, but not a dog. Certain folk desire achievement, but strangely will let others take it from them. They don’t have the dog on a bone mentality. And just like a dog doesn’t like to be petted when he as a bone, we need to be weary of friends when it comes to our accomplishments. Our loved ones can be the one thing that can derail our victory train, and only if we let them. We don’t want to hurt our loved ones, and yet we will allow them to hurt us by blocking us from achieving ultimate victory in life.

Like A Gazelle Being Hunted

Sometimes you can define something by looking at its opposite. Success is not failing. Life is a pass/fail exam. So to do the things that keep you from failing will be in line with carrying out what you need for success. This is important because some people feel as if they can still fall just short of their aspirations and still be considered successful. That’s like saying you can strike out in baseball but think of it as a home run because you were close. If you strike out, you are out. No one in archery misses he target and yells, “Bulls eye!”

From the Bible, the sixth chapter from the book of Proverbs deals with the need to be industrious and productive. In the fifth verse, Solomon says, “Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter.” For a gazelle, success is not getting killed. Failure is not acceptable. Close enough and almost there still leave you as a trophy head on someone’s wall and steak dinners for the family. Run toward success, but also run away from failure. Run as if failure cannot be acceptable. Succeed or die! This is the only path to victory.

Going To The Mattresses

We have all heard the phrase “go to the mat,” especially when it is someone telling us how committed they are to some goal or project. They are willing to “go to the mat,” in other words, do what ever it takes to accomplish what they want. The phrase has grown threadbare and means little today, but its origins should breathe new life into the power of this claim.

It comes from the 1972 movie, “The Godfather,” and actually the phrase is “go to the mattresses.” Clemenza tells Pauly to see a guy downtown about picking up a bunch of mattresses (about 25 of them) because “Sonny is ready to go to the mattresses over this thing.” To go to the mattresses is gangster slang from this time meaning to go to all out war with a rival gang. These mobsters would have several rooms with nothing but mattresses covering the floor. These were for the soldiers in this makeshift barracks of sorts. If you are at war with another gangster, you are either on the street to kill someone or sleeping.

If success for us is just a little “it would be nice to” kind of fantasy, we will not succeed. Achieving our goals or not is the difference between eating and being eaten. It is winning and losing a war. All of these phrases have to do with survival. Human achievement is unique to people of dedication, and we need to keep it. We should all want something we can focus upon. If we have no dreams, no aspirations in this life, if we are not noted for accomplishments, but merely eat and sleep, nothing more, then we might as well be animals since this I how they exist. Dreams make us human and reaching them keeps us truly alive in every sense of the word.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Join Me At Patreon

pat

I’ve just started an account with Patreon. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Patreon is similar to crowd funding, but it is not per project, although that is an option. Mostly it’s used for support for an artist in general. Please check out my Patreon page and support my writing. Click here to go to my account.

https://patreon.com/nealabbott

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Jacketing

cc

Creative Writers compose stories that begin in one place and end in another. But this is not done in a vacuum. It is done within the lives of people, albeit completely fictional. Why do we start here and end there? The lives of the characters begin long before the book starts, and unless they die on the page, their lives go on. Why we seemingly pick two arbitrary boundaries is not a real problem with readers, but subconsciously it’s prickly. A good way to psychologically handle this problem is with a technique called book jacketing.

Just like a good, old fashioned book jacket, sometimes called a dust cover, the book jacket wraps around the front cover and around the back cover. In a literary sense, book jacketing is when the author references something at the beginning of the story that we bring back at the end. It provides a satisfactory sense of closure to the story as a whole. It sort of makes sense of why we begin here and end there.

Prince

I’ll give a few examples from my own novels, since I am more familiar with them than anything else. In my third novel, Prince, the main character, Charlie, proposes marriage to his sweetie, Lizzie, in chapter one. After she says yes, they talk about their future. Charlie thinks it’ll all be bluebirds and sunshine and Lizzie is worried things may go poorly just because life does at times. They leave chapter one with a wager, if it isn’t happily ever after then I’ll owe you a coke.

I don’t have to tell you things went south quickly. They never got married. As they are saying their good byes at the end, Lizzie reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a six pack of Coca-Cola. Charlie refuses them and insists that they will someday have their own happily ever after, just not at that time and not in that world. It’s such an incidental thing, a can of soda, just it ties the story in a bow for the reader.

Prince is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Pietas

My fifth novel, Pietas, begins with a nuthouse burning and patience running free while being chased by doctors and attendants. Two of these escapees are my main character, Darl, and his best friend, Benjy. Darl set the fire in order for the two of them to escape, which suits him since he was put in the asylum for burning down a barn. As they run away from the inferno, Darl says that the first thought that ran through his head was that he had no more excuse and had to visit his mother’s grave.

Darl and Benjy, followed by others from the asylum, have adventures all over Mississippi during the Great Depression before settling down in Panther Burn. The citizens are slow to include these people, but with Darl’s help, they end up on big happy town. But Darl kills a man and has to leave. As he rides off, he thinks about heading towards Jackson where his mother us buried. Here the book jacket is not an item but a thought. It functions just as effectively in summing up all the action of all these people into a single story.

Pietas is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Entanglement

Entanglement is my seventh and last novel. It begins with Rex shooting a mouse in the corner of his living room. His cousin, Axel, runs into the room and takes the gun from him. The gun belonged to Axel’s dead father and he didn’t like Rex playing with the gun. Later, Rex and Axel fight in public and neither are willing to let it go for reasons of their own pride. About halfway through the novel, Rex takes the same gun and kills Axel on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Rex flees to Cuba and settles in Havana. But after a decade there, he has the need once more to leave in haste for killing another man, so he returns the St Petersburg. His plantation is in ruins and the mansion is abandoned except of the butler. He used Rex’s so it still worked, and he took it to go to the Governor’s New Year’s Ball that night. Things go badly for Rex, and driving away he almost has a wreck from being distracted. When he stops suddenly, the gun slides out from under the passenger seat. A policeman pulls Rex over for his erratic driving and Rex, a crack shot, unloads his gun on the cop, who ends up unharmed. The policeman returns fire and Rex dies. Here the book jacket item is important to the telling of the story.

Entanglement is available of Amazon and Kindle. You can click here to find it.

Not all of my novels are book jacketed, but it is a device available to writers. It can be something the story centers around, like a gun. It could be a thought like I need to visit my mother’s grave. Or it may be something as innocuous as a can of Coke. Anything can be used as a book jacket.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Top Ten of my Favorite Writings of the Lost Generation

lg

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s posthumous autobiography, Gertrude Stein is credited with describing the post Great War writers as part of a “Lost Generation.” Most of these are Americans expats living in Paris. The period in between the two world wars best cover what is known as Modernism, although it also shows us Fauvism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. These are my favorite works of Modern American literature.

10  USA Trilogy, a set of three novels by John Dos Passos (1938). Thought to be too political, even preachy (unless you’re a Socialist).

9   “Many Marriages”, a play by Sherwood Anderson (1923). Rarely performed, if ever, but Fitzgerald said it was Anderson’s best work.

8   “HIM”, a play by e.e. cummings (1927). Long before Seinfeld, here’s a play about nothing, just not as funny.

7   The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a novel by Gertrude Stein (1933). Written as an autobiography, but only because the narrator of this fiction was well known to Stein.

6   “Atlantis”, a poem by Hart Crane (1930). The bridge is a metaphor for a metaphor, if that helps.

5   “Ars Poetica” a poem by Archibald Macleish (1926). There have been many, but this is still the capitol example of the art of poetry.

4   “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, a poem by T.S. Eliot (1915). The most unmanly man is poetry.

3   The Sun Also Rises, a novel by Ernest Hemingway (1926). An impotent man falls in love with a nymphomaniac. What could go wrong?

2   The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). You can’t turn back the clock.

1   Ulysses, a novel by James Joyce (1922). A father finds a son, and a on finds a father.

I’m not saying that these are the best, just that they are my favorites. What are your favorite works of Lost Generation literature? Are there any Modern American writers I left off? Make your own list or Comment about who you would change the list.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing

Haute Cuisine & Creative Writing

hc

Some people dive into a book the same way they would a juicy steak, and find just as much sustenance. Great chefs are dependent upon fine diners just as great authors rely upon refined readers. But no one wakes up one day and thinks that since he likes eating that he would make a good chef at that point. It takes years of training and hard work to become a master chef. But any old dingus can write a book, right? Wrong! Without training, you may be a line chef in some greasy spoon or you might write some mindless pop-lit drivel. People may eat it up, too, but you’ll never be any good, much less great.

Some people confuse popularity and acceptance with ability. The best has not always been popular (that does not mean that anything popular is not well done). The Great Gatsby did not sell well until after the Second World War, which was after Fitzgerald died. Vincent Van Gogh did not earn enough from the sale of his art to pay for all of the paint that he ate. And while McDonalds may have served billions, Ruth’s Chris will still be serving the best food in town on any night.

A Keen Palate

Before you can even begin culinary school, you have to had eaten a lot. And just as the chef needs to be well-fed, the author must be well-read. A chef needs a refined palate so they will know the flavors of food and how they will taste in combinations. Maybe you’ve seen the bit on TV where chefs are blindfolded, fed something, and then have to identify it. It’s funny how much they get wrong.

People want to be good writers, but they’ve never read anything, or at least they’ve never read anything good. The Classics are the Classics for a reason. They are the best that the literary world has to offer. As Mozart was above Salieri, anything by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Joyce will always be better than anything written today considered popular literature. You will never write better than the level you read, and if all you eat in cotton candy, you’ll end up as a terrible chef.

Cordon Bleu

There are cooking techniques student learn in culinary school. I didn’t know that for a long time. I thought they learned recipes. There may be a few they learn near the end, but for the most part they are developing the necessary skills to carry out the instructions of any given recipe. And once they graduate, they should be advanced enough to put together their own recipes.

When any serious author takes the time to learn how to write, they are developing the skills that are necessary for a great story. They train in plot and character development. They learn how to write dialogue and build worlds. Most of all, they work on finding their voice. That is the most difficult part of all to any Creative Writing.

I have run across people who call themselves authors, even though they have no training. Their mommy told them they write the best stories, and that’s enough validation for them that they can start that novel at 16 or 21 or maybe 35, but it all reads like it was put together by an 8-year-old. And as beneficial as a subscription to Writer’s Digest may be, it’s articles can never substitute for time spent in classes under professors. The finest culinary school in the world is the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Its name means Blue Ribbon. The best validation does not come from mommy, but from professionals. Have the courage to learn from them.

Knife Skills

Chefs are known by their knife skills. They cut everything the same size so it cooks evenly. Writers are also known for our knife skills, but these knives are the cutlery used in editing a piece. The untrained writer falls in love with his work and does not have the knowledge or the heart to take anything out. Nothing is beyond editing.

Any given writing project is very personal to the writer, but the most advanced know how to distant themselves from the manuscript and stare at it coldly and let go anything that doesn’t work. Editing is not just fixing the commas and misspellings. It is fixing the story. We flush out the flat scenes and cut out is filler. We fill in the plot holes and tighten to story arc. Writing is rewriting.

Anything ever doing at all is worth doing well. In fact, if you’re not going to try your hardest and do your best, why do anything at all? This goes for the short story from the hobby writer to the professional author and everyone in between. If you are a Creative Writer, you don’t have to be the literary equivalent of Wolfgang Puck, but don’t settle for burger flipper, either.

It still takes 10,000 hours to master any discipline. If you are going to be a serious writer, put in the time to learn, and then put in the time to exercise what you have learned. If you are going to be a serious author, you need to take your preparation and execution seriously. If you do, folks will read your stuff and ask for seconds.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing