• I'm never so inarticulate as I am in the final days of NaNoWriMo. All my words are used up. Near the end, characters and scenes take up all the room in my brain, jettisoning important functions like remembering to take out the trash or the words to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

    I wrote the final scene last night. Not the last scene, but the one I'd been saving as a word count present for the end. Writing out of order makes me happy and provides an interesting jigsaw-puzzle-rewrite.

    My God. Rewrite. I'll think about that tomorrow.

    At any rate, I finished the scene, checked the word count, copied and pasted that bad-boy into the NaNo verifier, and TA-DA: 52,596. It's a funny thing, finishing this 50k challenge. When it's over you want to go tell everyone you know that you've climbed the mountain, seen the future, won the lottery, invented Velcro. It's an incredible feeling.

    But you've used up all your words and can't say anything coherent. The characters in your head begin giving each other awkward, blank looks. It's that wobbly moment at the end of a carnival ride when you have to remember how to unfasten the belt and rediscover your land-legs. You begin thinking in second-person and have no idea why.

    As a favor to everyone, I'm going to find a cup of coffee and take the day to reorient.
  • I've never been so ready for a Thanksgiving break in all my life, and I'll bet I'm not alone. I love my students - all of them - it's just important to have a little time apart. Right here at the end of the semester, Thanksgiving break is the chance to inhale before the final jumping in of final exams. It's timely and necessary.

    I'm fully aware that I've become a spoiled university instructor. Unlike most of the folks in the hall, I have memories of public school teaching. Years of thirty-minute lunches snarfed while standing duty in 100 degrees or in freezing temperatures. Years of forgotten homework and whining teenagers. Years of preaching poetry from a rickety pulpit. I loved every single, gut-wrenching minute of it.

    It's a whole different country teaching those who choose (and pay) to learn. John Rohweder, a wise man I miss much and often, used to remind me that we university folk have the best game in town: we teach the willing on a flexible schedule, and we even get paid to do it. John marveled at the gift of teaching every single day and never failed to make me feel like the luckiest woman alive.

    We who teach participate in the miracle of learning, and we learn. We have it lucky and easy. For those who teach in the public schools, that's not always true.

    I know this is a time of educational confusion. Standardized testing and helicopter parents and school violence and the ugliness of the whole sordid world reflected on our young - it makes us cynical. Those who choose to stand at the front of the classroom take a vow of responsibility for other peoples children. There's nothing weightier than that.

    So while we're being appreciative 'round the turkey table this year, say a little attagirl or attaboy to those folks who've dedicated their lives to nurturing other people's children. They may be teaching your children. Maybe some of them even taught you.

    Now spit out that gum and go say 'thank you.'
  • Here's one you must get your hands on, and soon. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink is on my top ten nonfiction of all time list. Those out there who know me know I have little patience for nonfiction as a rule, but here's your exception.

    Most of us grew up memorizing poems in school. Soon poets will rule the world. I can't help getting a little misty about this.
    "We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age."
    Pink, bless his heart, even says that an MFA is the new MBA. He also includes exercises for those left-brainers who might need a nudge in the Right direction. Check out his blog and site here.

    In addition to making me feel a tad better about my non-mathematical, right-brained self, A Whole New Mind also gives me hope for my lovely daughter Emily who's working diligently through a Creative Writing major. Maybe she won't have to wait tables after all.

    P.S. - If you're making a bedside stack of winter reading, put this one on top. Here are two more that should go just underneath:

    The Rise of the Creative Class (Richard Florida)

    Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
  • This woman wanted to be our Vice President. Thankfully, she's not. Now she's apparently so in love with media attention that she can't make a proper wardrobe decision.

    I know this photo was taken for a fitness magazine, so don't even go there. By now she should know better. Would Margaret Thatcher have done anything like this? Hillary? Any woman who wants to be taken seriously in the political arena should keep her thighs to herself.

    There are seventy-eleven reasons why this woman should be ignored. To list them all would only invite undue attention and feed the beast. She doesn't even deserve my negative energy. Besides, the day they pranced her out at the convention as the Random Republican Female Answer to Hillary Clinton almost gave me an aneurysm. I won't have time for that kind of reaction again until after finals.

    I'm not buying her book, I'm not watching her interviews. With any luck, she and the book will be in the remainder pile just in time for Christmas. That's gift enough for me.
  • Friday the 13th seems like as good a day as any to begin my Christmas Wish List. After November is in the rear-view mirror, I'm going to deserve something delightful even if I have to buy it for myself. The Poem Cup is a good example. Piled next to it I'd like a ridiculous stack of Moleskine XL ruled cahiers - the color doesn't matter, although I understand they make these in a festive holiday red now. Add a few dozen Parker gel ballpoint refills and I'll be golden.

    Can you tell I'm procrastinating?

    Time to work on that novel. I'll be thrilled when it's finished, but right now I'm just as tired as everyone else. No matter. It's imperative I stuff the NaNo word count before Monday. That's when someone appears on Oprah hawking her new book and I'm already feeling a rant coming on. Can't help it. She brings out the very worst in me.

    You know, if I had that Poem Cup right now I might write faster and perhaps my hateful attitude toward someone would improve. I'd be a better person, you see, if I indulged a bit now instead of dangling this carrot another couple of weeks or so. With that cup on my desk I might actually get to heaven.

    Well, enough of that. The only gift I receive tonight is in writing the scene where the mini-van mamas abscond with a tractor trailer full of feminine products and baby wipes. I've saved this gem for a moment just like tonight - it should perk me up considerably, with or without a fancy teacup.

    No more procrastinating. Time to gas up these mini-vans and hit the road.
  • This is the note I posted in our local NaNoWriMo forum. I think we all need it today.

    Right now and the next week is an iffy time for us. Some of us who ran headlong into a carefully constructed plot may find ourselves frozen solid. Some of us may be suffering from the sinister machinations of The Inner Editor. Some of us, in fact, may simply be worn out.

    I'm here to tell you everything is salvageable. Everything is fine. You WILL make it.

    For those frozen solid with What Comes Next, jump outside of the box. Make a list of scenes, chapter titles, anything. Then turn each one into a separate, empty document. There's no law that says we have to write this novel in order - I NEVER do. Simply dive into the scenes or chapters you feel good about. Don't worry about maintaining a perfect thread, because that's what rewrite is all about. As you write and other scenes come to you, make a blank document for those, too. It's relieving to open up the files and see choices - start anywhere and you'll still end up at the end. Last year this method saved me and made the book actually better. Try it.

    That Inner Editor? Not your friend. In fact, that rascal's not anyone's friend. Some of you may have a whole dastardly jury box full of Inner Editors happily chipping away at your enthusiasm, your bravado, your talent. Don't give 'em an inch. Collectively and individually, those Inner Demons must be removed. If you can, come with us to tomorrow night's write-in - we'll physically take those badboys down. If not, I suggest you write a hateful note to your Inner Editor/Ugly Jury and hold nothing back. Make an effigy and do violence to it. Something. Whatever it takes to put that negativity where it belongs - far away from you and your gorgeous novel.

    Are you simply worn out? Y'all, I'm a frazzle right now - don't think you're alone. The thing to remember is that this month, this novel, these words are all the best gift you'll ever give to yourself. No one else can give you this, it won't show up in your stocking next month and there's no cash equivalent. Does it feel selfish? Hell, yes. Are we all trained to be unselfish and put everyone else's needs ahead of our own? Absolutely. What you need to know is that you're worth every single minute you give to the novel. You deserve this and it might be the best present you ever receive. I know we're tired and frustrated, but the end is so beautiful that every last minute, every single word is worth it. I promise.

    Go eat something healthy, grab a big cup of coffee, and let's do this thing.


    Image via Shannon McDonald
  • This is where I should be right now. It's calling to me, promising to erase a wicked week of bad scheduling and Thing That Went Wrong. I must deny the bed, though, at least a little longer. I'm a few hundred words behind on NaNoWriMo and those unwritten words won't let me relax.

    The story, you see, is riding piggy-back with me through every waking moment of my life now. This is how it happens, and this is, in fact, a good thing. It's whole reason I love the ridiculous goal of 50.000 words in 30 days - complete immersion.

    I forgot that the living part of life likes to kick me in the ass every now and then, though. I just shake my head.

    Fine, then. I'm going to finish out this scene, catch up on the word count, and go do it all over again tomorrow. I plan to spent the better part of the day with a whole gaggle of National Writing Project teachers sipping coffee, scribbling, and moseying through the little shops and flea markets at Pickles Gap. I believe they have a petting zoo there as well.

    Southern psychiatry: Pet some goats, buy some junk, scribble a story, and eat homemade fudge. By late tomorrow afternoon, I should be cured.
  • I love that quote. Mainly because anyone who writes knows that sooner or later, the writing rips that club out of your perfectly manicured fingers and pummels you over the head with it. It's called Rewrite. It's a small price for 50,000 words. And there's just something about NaNoWriMo that makes you feel a little bit smug, despite the fact that December demands its due.

    I'll think about that next month. Right now, slamming out the first draft like barn 'afire makes me plenty happy. So does Daylight Savings Time, because it's put me in a good sprint. Sure, I may fall apart in an hour or so (we all will) but I don't plan to worry about that, either.

    We had a rousing Kick-Off Party and Write-In this afternoon, complete with goodie-bags and stickers and foods only good Southern women know how to bring to a gathering. I pity those of you who live elsewhere, because I'm not sure anyone knows how to whip out a casserole dish full of heaven quite like these gals below the Mason-Dixon.

    The collective creative energy in that room today could've lit up all of Little Rock for for at least an hour. There was mojo, I tell you, mojo.

    Speaking of mojo, I've added a little something over there on the right of the blog. The folks who put together National Novel Writing Month (a nonprofit) also run the Young Writers Program. It's a fine operation that provides free writing kits, lesson plans, and online assistance to classrooms all over. The program is free to teachers, which makes me happy, but the funding has to come from somewhere. Over there on the right -----> you can sponsor me and help raise funds to keep the Young Writers Program going to the schools, gratis. Any donation will do and is greatly appreciated. Just click on the picture of me with my very first typewriter, or click HERE.

    Happy scribbling, y'all!
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