Actually, I wrote a 50,070-word, 90-page novel in 29 days.  But who’s counting?  All that matters is this: I did it!

Yesterday afternoon, fueled by a pot of green tea and a yummy vegetarian brunch at my favourite local coffee house, Tinto in Roncesvalles, I plugged in my trusty laptop and speed-wrote the final 5,000 words or so of Unlovely.  The coffee house began playing the Amelie soundtrack (one of my favourite soundtracks and one of my favourite movies) and I was so inspired that the last stretch of the novel just flowed so easily.  I heard an author once say that to help him tap into an uninterrupted, stream-of-conscious flow of writing, he listens to piano music, because the motion of hands flying across a piano’s keys mimics the motion of typing on a computer keyboard.  Genius; it worked.  Yann Tiersen’s musical score is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful and will probably account for much of the last section of Unlovely’s fragmented musicality … or something.

When I finished typing the last sentence, I was breathless, proud, simultaneously exhausted and energized, and wiggling in my seat from way too much green tea.  Everyone keeps asking when they’ll get to read it and when I’m going to publish it.  To be honest, it’s probably terrible.  It’s rough and the “fragmented musicality” is more likely “garbled gibberish” and even though my characters are taking a cross-country road trip from B.C. to Nova Scotia, I’ve left out place names and recognizable landmarks, probably because my traveling has not been that extensive.  No one, no one is going to read that thing until I’ve edited the heck out of it, and I’m considering not looking at it for another month or so, just to create some distance.

If anything, the NaNoWriMo experiment has been exactly that — an experiment, to prove to myself that I can do it.  Since the writing of Angelica’s Wings in Gr.8, I’ve had tons of novel ideas swimming in my head, but fear and insecurity kept them there instead of on the page. Now I know that it can be done, and it’s a freeing, almost healing realization.  I have a few more novel/short story ideas insisting on being written, as well as an idea to rewrite Angelica’s Wings which came to me in the sleepy fog of the early morning before breakfast.  I’m itching to start writing again and I feel like NaNoWriMo has unleashed years of pent up, unwritten creativity.  Hooray!

And now the fun part: editing!


Friday Link Love: stop motion film + sexy authors edition

Happy Friday, everyone.

Friday’s are usually pretty quiet here at the office, so I usually make myself busy with checking out the blogrolls and other projects.  This morning, I wrote my sponsor child in the Philippines a letter, sorted out some OSAP details, and sent out a query letter.  Shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone!  I’m also in the homestretch of my NaNoWriMo novel (or, as Rikki says, Nanaimo novel!) and at 43,000/50,000 words, I have nowhere else to go.  In a desperate attempt for some online inspiration, I’ve found the following things to stir my imagination.


Video Love

I love stop motion!  Which reminds me of these …

This has been making the rounds on the Internets lately, and what kind of (sometimes) book blogger would I be if I didn’t link to it too?

More stop motion loveliness.  I love this lyric:  She pours a daydream in a cup / A spoon of sugar sweetens up … 

I must, must, MUST see this movie!!!  It’s inspiring much of the feel of my next novel (yep, already thinking of the next one because I’m a glutton for punishment) Visually stunning and so fantastical!  And Jude Law, Johnny “Sexiest Man Alive” Depp, Christopher Plummer, Colin Farrell, Terry Gilliam, and the late, talented Heath Ledger? Yes, please!

Quote love

Wine is sunlight, held together by water  — Galileo 

Well, darkness exists so the stars can shine, darling  —  Source Unknown (if someone knows the source, please let me know!  If this is a quote from One Tree Hill or something, I will kick a pigeon.  Just kidding.  I don’t advocate violence towards animals.  But I will feel terribly, terribly let down by the universe.)

Love is the extremely uncomfortable realization that something other than oneself is real  — Irish Murdoch

Sexy authors and historical figures love

Sir Isaac Brock. You know you can't resist that hand on the hip pose!

Andrew Sean Greer, author of "The Confessions of Max Tivoli," a very beautiful book

Neil Gaiman ftw!

Joseph Boyden: hot AND Canadian!

A young Nathaniel Hawthorne could give ME a scarlet letter ... *wink wink!*

Lord Byron: HE walks in beauty, like the night

And because I pretty much have to …

Listen to Wiretap. For Jonathan Goldstein.

Read Broken Pencil magazine. For Hal Niedzviecki.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  May your weekends be as busy or as lazy as you wish them to be.  Other than writing like the madwoman in the attic (rereading Jane Eyre for the billionth time; couldn’t resist!), I plan on having a schedule-free one.

Like Proust, I write in bed

photo courtesy of google image search

sometimes writing is like this ...

I’m sorry if all my posts are about NaNoWriMo lately, but that is what is consuming my life these days.  

This is November: furiously writing Unlovely, which, at 8716 words (10,000 by tonight!) is going much better than I thought, even if it is rough; watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother online and as a result, my life is filled with much more uproarious laughter with the occasional snort; anticipating the arrival of my niece or nephew any day now; avoiding getting sick and feeling like Wonder Woman with my crazy amazing immune system; looking for jobs on the Internets for the New Year (can you believe it’s going to be 2010!?!?); looking for cheap-ish apartments, specifically in the High Park/Roncesvalles area, also for the New Year, and if I get a job here; beginning to get excited for Christmas, which is unusual for me at this time of year, but is probably brought on by the addition of Baby Potstra this year, the window display at The Bay, the fact that I’m no longer a student and don’t have any deadlines looming over my head, and the Christmas drinks at Starbucks …


Anyway, I was recently perusing the Internets and found this interesting little article over at The Wall Street Journal.  Because writing is such a solitary, personal experience, I find it illuminating to read about how writers write.  Despite the romantic images of brooding intellectuals in dark corners of cafes (most likely in Paris), scribbling on napkins, writing is not the most glamorous of art forms, unlike the visual or performance arts.  

I’m always intrigued by movies about writers and the way they convey the writing life, seeking to make the profession interesting.  Most often, the writer is featured at their writing desk or typewriter or in front of a laptop, while their inner monologue is heard as a voice over and text or handwriting is interposed on the writer, brow furrowed in deep concentration, occasionally glancing to look outside a window with a glazed look and then returning to the writing with a renewed vigor.  It’s been done well (The Hours, Little Women, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Wonder Boys, etc.), but it’s definitely not as exciting as watching Jackson Pollock throw his body into splattering paint on a large canvas.   

Since writing, like reading, is an experience that happens in one’s own mind, community is sometimes desired but not always beneficial. While I’ve talked about my novel with a couple people on a surface level, I’ve stayed away from joining a NaNoWriMo community and communal writing events.  Maybe it’s just me and my lone wolf mentality, but in my experience, writing clubs and groups are more filled with ego-stroking and undercurrents of competition than constructive criticism.  I’m protective and have only ever talked about what I’m working on with my significant other and a few close friends who happen to be writers themselves and will say something other than, “Oh, that’s nice.”  Which is why I love to read about how some of the “great” writers go about their craft.

Ideally, I like to write in bed with complete silence.  No music, no chatter, no distraction.  I have a huge cup of steaming hot tea and my dog is close by, giving me cuddles when I need some inspiration (this fantasy takes place back home).  I’ve always romantically held on to the idea of writing in cafes, but the truth is that I’d probably end up people-watching instead of actually writing and the sound of blenders and coffee grinders would probably make my head spin.  But I’m getting better, having worked at a newspaper this summer with very chatty coworkers and the radio playing the whole time.  I’ve even brought my USB key to work so I can work on my novel in between assignments.  I’m learning to adapt and write stuff down even when I don’t feel the burst of inspiration, which is either there or it isn’t.  I haven’t written anything creatively–other than bits of ideas scribbled in notebooks–in years, and this NaNoWriMo experiment is forcing me to get over fear and insecurity and whatever else was holding me back and actually write.  Pure catharsis.

Here are some highlights from the WSJ article I found to be particularly interesting:

  • Richard Powers also writes in bed.  Maybe it has something to do with associating bed with sleep and the dreamlike state, but it’s the ideal place to write.  Especially if it’s comfy and overflowing with pillows
  • Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood never get writer’s block.  Of course not!
  • Kazuo Ishiguro “auditions” narrators by writing several chapters from various points of view
  • Junot Diaz listens to orchestral movie soundtracks
  • Every sentence Amitav Gosh writes goes through at least 20 revisions (Holy editing, Batman!)
  • Russell Banks’ novels start out as a single sentence or phrase.  Me too!
  • Colum McCann will print out a chapter of his work, staple it together like a book, and take it to Central Park, pretending he’s reading someone else’s book
  • John Wray writes on trains

How do you like to write?  What are some of your own quirks and ways of averting writer’s block?

I’m finding that, if anything, this NaNoWriMo experiment is like the opposite of writer’s block.  You just keep writing despite your mind telling you “you suck.”  Because you probably don’t.

“Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon”

NaNoWriMoDay One of NaNoWriMo has been completed.  I’m sitting at 2229 words after one night, which is a bit over the suggested goal of about 1667 words per day.  

I probably won’t update this every single day to discuss the writing process because I don’t want to bore you out of your skulls, but because I’m a NaNo virgin, I thought I’d give you a little update about the writing of Unlovely thus far.

Day One thoughts:

Writing is tough. Well, writing creatively is tough.  After so many years of essays and journalism, creative writing is a somewhat awkward transition, made even more difficult by not writing any more poems or short story snippets.  Although I’ve always tried to infuse my professional writing with creativity, writing fiction is so much tougher than I imagined it would be.  

For years I’ve filled my dollar store journals with novel ideas, dreaming that someday I’d be able to seamlessly transfer these mostly abstract ideas from head to paper (or more specifically, Microsoft Word).  A perfectly painless journey from conception to, ideally, publication.

Yeah freaking right.

Writing the first chunk of my novel last night reminded me of writing some particularly painful essays in university, minus the extensive research and detailed annotated bibliographies.  It’s like trying to draw water from a stone.  You know you’re writing a bunch of crap but you keep going because the deadline looms above your head like an ugly bird (and the metaphors that you come up with under this kind of pressure are also rather dreadful).  I can say, with no small amount of smugness, that I’ve never missed a deadline.  In some special cases, I’ve asked for an extension, but have never handed anything in late.  The thought scares the bejeezus out of me.  Despite all the crap, there are some rare gems and you surprise yourself with some of the things you come up with.  Lots of authors talk about characters doing things without their knowledge and plots taking unexpected turns.  This happened to me last night.  One of my characters became half French-Canadian.  Who would’ve thought?  Looks like online English to French translators will be my new best friends!

I know this is probably not how real novels get written in the real world–that is, in 30 days (although there have been some novels published as a result of NaNo), but like I’ve said before, if I don’t try this now, when will I?  

This article has been very inspiring to me while writing this horrendous first draft and trying to get my Inner Editor to shut up (she’s a very vocal one).  I know that what I’m going to come up with this month will probably be five layers of crap, but hopefully, hopefully, there will be something worth working on in the months or years ahead.

Onward ho!

Remember, Remember, the first of November …

… Not because of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the British Houses of Parliament (technically, that would be Nov.5), but because it is the first day of NaNoWriMo!

Now that I got myself on the topic of Guy Fawkes, I can’t resist posting a picture from one of my favourite movies (donning a Guy Fawkes mask and going as V would be a great Halloween costume idea, by the way):


v for vendetta

I kind of feel like watching it for the 10th time now ...

So the countdown to NaNoWriMo begins … 5 more days. I’ve never done it before, and am petrified as well as extremely excited. If I plan to reach my goal of 5,000 words, and I do my math correctly, then that would give me 175 pages to write over 30 days, or 6 pages a day.  Which sounds daunting, and my nightly ritual of watching multiple TV series online is definitely going to suffer (which is why I made sure I finished The Tudors and got caught up with Being Erica), but I know I can do this.  I used to churn out 50-billion pagers in university, and because I’ll be writing fiction, it will be 1,000 trillion times more fun, right?

I’m planning on taking a hiatus from Facebook for the month to concentrate on writing, and Twitter updates and blog posts will also lessen. Other than that, I haven’t done much planning/graphing/mapping/character- sketching/brainstorming/outlining. That’s just not how I roll, other than having a basic idea of what I’m going to write. I’m very much inclined to the flow of creative inspiration, which is what NaNoWriMo is all about. A rough first-draft of a novel. Nothing polished or fancy. Just getting 5,000 darn words out and seeing what happens. 

I started out with 11 ideas that have either been swarming around my head for years or just spontaneously came to me recently. Upon the consultation of my boyfriend and one trusted writer friend, I whittled the list down to three or four.  I then thought about which idea was occupying my mind with its insistence to be written, and that story will be Unlovely. I’ve had this idea for a couple years, and while the names of the characters have changed and further details and a first line have been added, not much has changed to the basic plot. As for the conclusion, I have no bloody clue. 

We’ll see what happens come November and I’m actually forced to write the thing … 



To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo … ?

I’m seriously thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year.

I have no excuses.  I’m not in school anymore; I’m already writing for a living so hopefully, presumably, I’m already bubbling with creative energy; I actually want to be a novelist (wow, that was an incredibly liberating statement to admit); I have dozens of novel ideas buzzing about in my head and stories invading my lucid dreams; the last time I wrote a full-length novel was Angelica’s Wings when I was 12-13 years-old and, looking back, it was utter crap but at least I wrote the damn thing; and I want to prove to myself that the fear of failure, the fear of being a really terrible writer full of pretense (wow, it felt good to articulate those fears) can no longer stand in the way of my dreams.

And because the FAQ section of the website has some really good stuff to say:

If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?

There are three reasons.

1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.

2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.