NaNo Month of Turbulence

This is the first time since I started writing that I didn’t “win” National Novel Writing Month, completing 50,000 words by the end of November. Being a recovering perfectionist, it was hard to let go of that goal but with pre and post-election chaos, the closing of my Michigan home, and Covid-19 numbers spiking, I figured it might be hard to focus.

In past years, I would have given up everything to avoid failure and pull out a win. Instead I spent a restorative last weekend of the month at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Western North Dakota. On the way, I visited New Town Sue (the World’s largest holstein cow) and The Enchanted Highway where the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture “Geese in Flight” stands 110’ tall, 150’ wide, weighs 78.8 tons. The meandering trip was a well needed break from the four walls and subdivision city living that I’ve come to know the last two months.

Instead of sitting in the house grinding away at a story that went to the dark side on Day 2, I chased sunrises and sunsets amid the stark beauty of the Badlands. Instead of inventing new characters, I delighted in the whimsy of a huge fiberglass cow and fantastical scrap metal sculptures that were larger than life. Instead of taking a walk on the city sidewalks, I hiked five different trails and scoped out the Maah Daah Hey trailhead for a future hike. And instead of domesticated city dogs, I relished seeing bison, big horn sheep, and wild horses in their natural habitat.

The weekend adventure served another deeper purpose for me as well. Growing up in North Dakota, I lived life small and afraid to venture outside my comfort zone. These past two months, I’ve felt myself reverting back to that person which made me sad, like I was losing a piece of myself. I needed this weekend to remind me that I’m an adventurous soul who is always learning, growing, and seeking out new experiences.

This November I redefined winning. I reconnected to my wandering spirit and got my butt in the chair writing again. Plus, there’s always NaNoWriMo 2021.

NaNoWriMo in Election Month During a Pandemic

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month the past two Novembers. Every October is a little nerve wracking thinking about what I’ll write.

The first year I planned a fictionalized version of my memoir, wrote an outline, and felt confident in my plan. November 1st came and I tossed the outline and wrote memoir. Having learned from that, the second year I intended to write a love story about Marines John and Lena Basilone. That morphed into three love stories spanning generations. I’ve learned to just let go because once November 1st hits, I’ll write whatever comes into my head with just a core story idea. In NaNo speak, I’m a “pantser”.

This year, however, is different on so many levels with lots of life changes and a global pandemic in an election year. If anyone had written the reality of what we’re living through and submitted it to a publisher, the dystopian novel would have been rejected as metafiction. But this is our reality…The Manchurian Candidate meets Contagion with a dashes of The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Animal Farm, and The Day After Tomorrow thrown in for good measure. There’s A LOT going on.

Will I be able to focus on writing 50,000 words starting tomorrow? I can’t even focus long enough to read a book these days. I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix recently and it’s no surprise. Over the past 10 years as social media has permeated our lives, it has taken over the time we used to use for creating, reading, and other hobbies.

Once the pandemic hit, I found myself constantly seeking covid news updates. Then there were hurricanes hitting the Florida coast, out of control wildfires down the West Coast, and tornados in the Midwest…oh, and killer hornets (who had that on their 2020 bingo card!). As the insanity of this election cycle reaches a fevered pitch and Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and death are spiking yet again around the country, I find myself doomscrolling, obsessively searching Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for news and information. More to write about on that subject but drives the point home that I need to set social media limits so I have time to do things that feed my soul.

“Winning” (writing those 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo) this year will be a stretch, but I’m going to consider it an escape from reality. I haven’t been writing so however many words I write will be more than I have been…and that will be a win in my book.

Writing the Hard Stuff

I wrote fiction for NaNoWriMo 2019 because my memoir writing has been in a slump. During November, I noticed a February writing workshop in Portland, Oregon with two of my favorite memoirists, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land. Their topic? ”Getting the hard thing, the meaty thing, the painful thing, the unspeakable thing down on the page in a way that others can have emotional access to it.”

Interesting.

My mother passed 34 years ago succumbing to hypothermia on a frigid February North Dakota day. February also claimed the life of my step-brother who passed unexpectedly four years ago. The last straw was two years ago when my father passed on February 2nd. February has weighed heavy on my bones since my mother’s passing, but I once my father passed, the gloves were off. I dubbed the month FuckUary.

So when I saw the title of the workshop ”Getting It Onto the Page, Getting It Out In The World,” I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and made my travel plans.

I’m under no illusion that the skies will open and writing nirvana will commence, but I’m open to being a sponge. This weekend, I’m reclaiming February from the clutches of grief.

Regardless of the outcome, that will be a win in my book.

Sunday Salute: Sergeant Lena Riggi Basilone

Lena_Riggi-BasiloneI became intrigued by Lena Riggi Basilone’s story when I read a post about her on the Women Marines Association blog. Sergeant Lena Riggi was the female Marine who fell in love with World War II Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.

They married in July 1944 after a whirlwind romance. Sadly, he was killed in action on Iwo Jima just seven months later. After Basilone’s death, Lena lived a low profile life and never remarried.

When I considered what to write for National Novel Writing Month in November, the story of their love haunted me. I wanted to explore what it must have been like for them so I wove their story among two others exploring love, loss, and relationships.

To prepare for NaNoWriMo, I did some research. As a Marine Medal of Honor recipient, Basilone’s story has been well documented by multiple books, the Iwo Jima episode in The Pacific miniseries, and numerous articles and blogs. Lena, on the other hand, is just a footnote on Basilone’s Wikipedia page.

The story I wrote may never see the light of day, but I wanted to imagine their love story through Lena’s eyes, to give her a voice. So for this inaugural Sunday Salute to female veterans, I salute Lena Riggi Basilone, the inspiration for my story. She epitomized the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis.

Late Bloomers and Other Tales

rich-karlgaard-late-bloomers-book2Last week I listened to Srinivas Rao interview Rich Karlgaard on the The Unmistakable Creative podcast about Rich’s new book Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. Rich and I grew up in the same hometown, we graduated high school one year apart, and my step-brother ran track with him. Listening to Rich talk about his dad and growing up in Bismarck, North Dakota brought back a lot of memories.

I’ve always identified as a late bloomer, so Rich’s message really resonated with me. Whether it was getting my Bachelor’s degree when I was nearly 30, running a marathon at 60, or writing the memoir I’m currently working on, I’ve always bushwacked my own path.

This month it’s been a challenge getting back to my memoir after writing fiction for NaNoWriMo. To get in the mood, this weekend I dug out old journals trying to mine some of that material. I came across a writing assignent I had submitted on November 23, 1999 in response to a writing prompt called the Book of Life by Eldonna Edwards, who was teaching an online writing class. (This was written a little more than a month before we buried the time capsule mentioned in my previous post.)

LateBloomer

Our assignment was to imagine our lives as a book, picturing who would play our characters in a movie, then writing the chapter headings relating to the story. This is what I wrote:

The book of my life would be creative nonfiction. A well-crafted piece of work with dashes of poetic verse, sprinkled liberally with humor, the story would open on the Dakota plains. If made into a movie, my parents would be played by an earnest Ben Affleck and a troubled Claire Danes. My traumatized teen would be played by Drew Barrymore (remember, this is 1999), up through my searching 20s, where the story would move to Southern California. I would be played in mid-life and later years by Meryl Streep. My husband would be played by Kevin Costner and my daughter would play herself.

Title: Late Bloomer, A Coming of Age Tale

    1. Fun, Frolic, and Carefree Days
    2. The Isolated Early Years
    3. Teen Turmoil
    4. Searching for Answers Outside Myself
    5. Military Missions and a Failed Marriage
    6. Believing in Myself
    7. The Wonders of a Blind Date
    8. Life is Good at 30
    9. A Decade of Family Fun
    10. Hope, Dreams, and Unexpected Emptiness
    11. Life Sucks at 40
    12. Climbing Out of the Pit
    13. Moving and Other Chaotic Choices
    14. The Phoenix Rises
    15. Timeless Mother – The Crone Years

I have no recollection of this assignment and others written during that email class, but I’m glad I kept them (and thank you Eldonna!). When I wrote this, I was at the beginning of Chapter 13…and seven months later I would move to Michigan with my family where other chaotic choices ensued.

Late Bloomers. It’s a way of life.

Blessed are the late bloomers, who believe in themselves, follow their intuition, and trust that the journey of life will take them where they need to be.

Writing Fiction, NaNoWriMo Style

2019-NaNo-Winner-BadgeNaNoWriMo 2019 is a wrap and it was oh so very different from last year’s win on many levels.

First, last year I was a NaNo Rebel because I wrote memoir. I knew what the story was (or so I thought), and didn’t have to make up anything. This year, I tried writing fiction and I finished my shitty rough draft with 50,373 words. Since non-fiction has always been my go-to, this month has totally been out of my comfort zone, which was the point. Blogging provided my non-fiction, real life outlet and I was surprised by how much grief dominated my posts this month. The fiction I wrote, on the other hand, was more about resilience and the power of love. Interesting.

NaNo-2019-Daily-Word-Count-Deb-SinnessSecond, last year as a first time  participant, I didn’t know whether or not I could really do it because 50K is a hella lot of words. I knew I’d need the support of the local Lansing NaNo group for inspiration. With their write-ins, I got a head start on my word count and never looked back. This year, I had a death in the family so I only participated in one local write-in. There were six days I wrote less than 500 words a day, and two days I wrote nothing at all. But I knew because I had finished and ‘won’ last year, I could do it. So I kept at it, stringing one word after another, no matter how much of a slog it became.

Third, these fictional characters have a mind all their own. That surprised me, never having written fiction before. I mean, it was my fingers doing the typing but what was coming from my brain through my fingers seemed to come from nowhere. That’s some magical shit right there.

Fourth, you know how when you find a great book to read that can’t put down and you have to stay up until 2 AM reading because you want to know how it ends…only to be disappointed because the air came out of the tires at the very end? Yeah, that’s a little how I feel about my shitty rough draft. But then again, I’m a recovering perfectionist, my goal was to hit 50K words, and I wanted to write “The End,” so there’s that.

Which brings me to my final point. I hate to admit it, but as an INFJ, I’m a pantser. It seems like in every other area of my life, I’m a planner. As much as I’ve tried to plot and outline my ideas, my brain just doesn’t seem to work that way with writing; I have to write my way in to figure it out.

So today is the final day of National Novel Writing Month and I came in just under the wire, whew! How was your month? Whether you hit 50K words, or just wrote your first sentence by overcoming the fear of putting words on the page, celebrate your progress. It’s more than we started the month with. After all writing, as in life, is not just about the destination. It’s about enjoying and celebrating the journey.

A Sprint to the NaNoWriMo Finish Line

NaNo19_40K

Thanks to a cancelled meeting this evening, I’m over the 40K mark and sprinting to the NaNoWriMo finish line in five days.

On this day last year, I was celebrating my first National Novel Writing Month win. Between writing fiction this year and dealing with a fair amount of personal stuff, the month has been a challenge.

I’ve got to average around 2K words a day to make it. Come hell or high water, I’m going to do it. Good thing we don’t have any big Thanksgiving Day plans.

NaNoWriMo19 Muddy Middle

Keep WritingDriving to dinner to celebrate her birthday on Friday evening, my partner asked how my writing was going since returning from a six day trip to attend a family funeral.

Me: Slow, it’s been hard getting back in the grove.

Annie: That’s understandable.

Me:  I’ve come to accept that I won’t write 50,000 words, and I’m okay with that.

She slowed to stop at a red light, then turned to look at me with disbelief.

Annie: Really?! You? I know you, and you won’t settle for anything less.

Okay, she has a point. I’m known to be a wee bit of an overachiever. After this weekend, I’m up to 17K words, but I’m still way behind the 8 ball.

As if being behind wasn’t hard enough, this year I’m trying my hand at writing fiction instead of memoir. As a pantser, these characters seem to have minds of their own. I’m often surprised and unsure about where to go next.

Even more reason to press on to see what happens, right?!

How’s your NaNo going?

NaNoWriMo Eve or NaNoWeen

I started this blog on November 3rd, 2018 which was Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month. Held every November for the past 20 years, NaNoWriMo started when founder Chris Baty challenged a few of his Bay Area friends to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s become an annual tradition with writers around the world.

According to Wikipedia, 600 NaNoWriMo novels have been published through traditional and smaller publishers, or through self publishing. One of the most notable was Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen.

I had no idea if I could actually write that many words in a month, but I had been wanting to write the memoir I wanted to read when I came out at 56. As a NaNo Rebel (meaning I was not writing fiction), I wrote a hot mess of a rough draft weighing in a 51,473 words. I’ve worked on my rough draft over the course of the year with the help of teachers and workshop participants. It’s still a work in progress.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing fiction. I’ve only written one short fictional vignette as an online assignment 20 years ago, and I was surprised by the character that showed up and what they said. I’m hoping for the same experience because during this NaNo prep month, I have neither outline nor character development, and I’ve changed my story four times. I’ll totally be flying by the seat of my pants, or in NaNoSpeak, “pantsing.”

Good luck to all the Wrimos out there, and Write. On!