Ramping up for NaNoWriMo 2011

30 10 2011

Astute readers of my last post will have read, close to the bottom, a word that they probably have never seen or heard before: NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry about it, 10 days ago I had never heard of this word either. But that was before I went to a writers’ conference, where each of the 800 participants was talking about it like it was some kind of holy grail.

Nano what? Nanotechnology? No, that’s something different. Nanoseconds? Uh-uh.

NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month,” also known as “November”. The movement was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area (where most of the world’s great, innovative and ground-breaking things tend to be founded) 12 years ago as a challenge to get people to sit down and write. Just write. Not edit, or research, or read, or rewrite, but WRITE.

Yup, I'm in!

The goal is to put 50,000 words down on paper (or a computer screen) during the 30 days of the month. For those who are wondering, that is a tall order, even for folks who do this kind of thing all the time. Sure I can bang out a blog post of 400-600 words in maybe an hour or so.  But NaNoWriMo will demand a much higher level of proliferation (folks also sometimes call this “verbal diarrhea” or “literary vomit”) and most of all, discipline.

50,000 words means a daily tally of 1,667 words, for 30 days straight. That is more than three blog posts. Every day.

That is like running a marathon each day for a month. I would be pretty sick and tired of running after that, I think. Of course, my hips and knees will have called a strike halfway through.

I’m sure by the end of November, I will be sick and tired of words, and my computer screen, and my keyboard, and that damn voice in my head, and that devil sitting on my shoulder. Am hoping my fingers, wrists and nerves survive to see the end of it too.

But the good thing about NaNoWriMo is exactly that – the deadlines, the pressure, and not wanting to give up because nobody wants to be a quitter.

The organizers have a great website with motivational strategies to fight the beast that will beset each and every one of us sooner or later…. the beast called: “There-Are-A-Million-Other-Things-I-Must-Do-Right-This-Very-Second-That-Just-Can’t-Wait”. Organized write-ins will up the peer pressure and make sure participants are not just staring at a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen for three hours a day.

The Zurich write-ins are at a local Starbucks. I see my caffeine intake peaking.

By virtue of the fact that I am telling you about this means I am making a silent and solemn pledge that I will finish the project to the best of my ability. And I’m basically unemployed now, so hey, I have the time. Maybe I could cheat and include blog posts in the 50,000 word total. In the end, I think any sort of writing is accepted by the kind folks in Berkeley. They are a tolerant people.

So for the next 48 hours I will go away and mentally prepare myself for my month of marathons. I have no idea yet what I will write, or about whom. In any case, at the end of it, I will be 50,000 words and one fascinating life experience richer. What I do with all that remains to be seen.

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Writers’ Conference 101

24 10 2011

I am just getting back from my first ever real live Writers’ Conference. Well, I did go to another conference about two years ago, but it was kind of local and small, and I only stayed for two sessions. So as far as I am concerned that didn’t really count.

At this conference, for which I flew close to 6,000 miles, I was one of about 800 participants. We took over an entire Sheraton hotel, and arrived on the day that two former U.S. Presidents graced that very same establishment (different conference) with their presence. Along with a rag-tag group of “Occupy Xxxx (insert criminal corporation name or location here)” protesters that big names like Bush and Clinton seem to magnetically attract, wherever they go.

Our reception committee.

I went with a friend, who has been attending for the past three years – she introduced me into the protocol of this kind of event. For her, this year’s meet was a massive success story. She snagged herself a book agent faster than you can say: “million-dollar advance”.

I sort of had a writing project to pitch, but not really. So I was somewhat overwhelmed at the wheeling and dealing going on, at every available moment, even in the Ladies’ rooms and the bar, late into the night.

Some of the workshops sounded a lot like RW1, the iconic initial reporting and writing course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism that I attended 20 years ago. But even though I have a bunch of skills and experience already, I did learn a lot about the industry and what it means to “get published” in the day and age of social media. It truly is a jungle out there.

So here is some of the stuff I took away from the conference, stuff to think about for the future:

  • Bookstores are dead.
  • Physical books are dead.
  • Long live the e-book.
  • Every single person has at least one great story to tell (or write), probably more.
  • Every single story has been written before, just not by you.
  • Media piracy is not necessarily all that bad a thing.
  • The continuum of lies in memoir-writing – it’s okay… go ahead and use it. (I think that is the most liberating thing I heard all weekend.)
  • Agents are the gatekeepers, and they seem to think they can play God, even in the brave new world of self- and e-publishing.
  • Most aspiring writers sacrifice an unbelievable amount of time, nerves and energy in order to write. Good thing the actual act of writing is FREE.
  • Twitter is evil but it ain’t going away, folks. Further resistance is futile.
  • NaNoWriMo.
  • There are a couple of very cool folks out there whose ideas are absolutely priceless, and whose work is pretty darn impressive.

And finally the kicker, don’t ever forget this one:

  • This day we write.




Happy Birthday, EvelynnStarr.com!

10 07 2011

A year ago this week my blog was born. This is just a short note to say thanks to all my readers and commentators, to those who suffered with me and laughed with me,  and to those who did not take my cynicism, criticism and thinly veiled insults personally.

Thanks especially to those who continue to inspire me, and to those who believe in me. These fireworks are for you:

I started my blog for no other purpose than to get me writing again. In that I was hugely successful. I never promised high-falutin’ literature, and I’m glad there are so many of you out there who stuck around to read anyway.

When I put my mind to it a year ago, suddenly, I had more ideas than I knew what to do with, or time to write about. A year on, I am once again in a bit of a trough, due to circumstances beyond my control. But this too shall pass.

The next year will bring greater and better things, I am confident of it.

Hello World, Part 2. Stay tuned for more.





On writing

18 04 2011

I took off three months from work to get cracking on a memoir. That was my declared goal. Before it started, I created an excel-spreadsheet timetable, like in school, with slots for everything from breakfast to yoga to food shopping to skating to flying and, of course, to writing. According to my timetable, I was due to write for something like 7-10 hours every day.

Unfortunately in my immense wisdom and unbridled ambition, I forgot to schedule slots for basic things like showering, phoning with my husband, reading, vacuuming, paying bills and paying attention to the world around me. There was no time to “veg”. And I discovered (and perfected) the fine art of getting in my own way.

Though I have been a writer of sorts for more than 20 years (journalism counts, doesn’t it?), I’m finding that the act of writing, the physical undertaking, is much more difficult and excruciating than I expected. Or maybe I have just forgotten how to do it. Wit, truth and insight are buried deep. Wherever they are lurking, they seem to like it there.

Lots of words on a page. Easy, huh? (Not really.)

In the past few years, I feel like creativity has bled out of me, replaced by ordinariness and tedium. Like my craft has abandoned me. I can’t put a finger on the time or the place – it was a process… it happened much like a stealth bomber approaches a target, creeping in under radar, with folks on the ground not noticing it’s there till it’s too late.

But perhaps I was never the fountain of ideas and the visionary of originality that I thought I was in the first place. Still, the (perceived) end likely came after I traded in my journalism combat boots for corporate 6-inch heels. Press releases, communications strategies and report launch plans do not inspire me. At least not in the industry in which I am currently caged.

This afternoon’s visit to the local bookstore was a sobering experience. Hundreds of biographies and memoirs, most of which are probably exquisitely written, lined the shelves, each story more compelling in its shock and tragedy than the next. And I only skimmed the back covers of maybe 30 of them.

I once read somewhere that a good story is one where the protagonist changes somehow. That through some event or encounter she matures, grows and becomes a different person. It’s this transformation, this emotional evolution that forms the core of a good story. And in many books I saw today, this transformation happens through one or more of the following: death, disease, drunkenness, denial and destruction.

So that’s another thing I’m wondering as I wade into this ocean of words. Must one have hit rock bottom in some way in order to write a convincing and gripping memoir? Must the road of personal growth always be paved with catastrophic and wretched experiences? Doesn’t that get old after a while? Is this the only formula that works? Or that publishers publish?

There are thousands of websites that offer tips and advice to hopeful writers, and the glut of information makes your head spin. If you read enough of them, you will find absolute contradictory information. One “expert” advises one thing on her blog, and the next advises the opposite on his. This wealth of data leaves the nascent yet increasingly insecure creative non-fiction writer to pick and choose to the best of her knowledge and belief. She’s left guessing what’s important and what’s not. This seems like no way to be successful.

Some famous writer in ages past once said something like: writing is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. If I was inspired, I would go on google right now to find out who it was. But I’m not. I’m already sweating and overwhelmed by the information I already posess. And with every passing day my discouragement grows. Do I just not have what it takes? What does it take? And why does every writer go through these toxic fits of paralyzing self-doubt and hesitation? And who wants to read about my lousy, insignificant life, anyway?

My writer friends tell me this is all quite normal. But honestly, it is truly crushing. And I’m not sure anymore that I am cut out for the job.





Two lives, one adventure

25 02 2011

And so a great adventure begins. It’s my last day of work before I head off into a sabbatical, graciously granted by a supportive employer. The next 10 weeks are reserved for research, reflection and writing. The Savvy Aviatrix will return to the left seat, and Skater Girl also plans to make numerous appearances here. Out of sight is not out of mind because blogging can be done from anywhere.

For the next three months, I’ll also be going on a journey back in time, to an chapter of life that’s been swept into the corners of history and all but forgotten except by those whose nerves it directly taxed.

And this is what I hope to achieve.

"The death of innocence" 12-2-88

While searching for her dreams and her place in the world, a young woman faces twin challenges that put calluses on the heart in equal measure. She is forced to fight a (95%-curable) disease that kills her slowly and she spends too much of her too-short life looking for love in all the wrong places. All the while, she desperately tries to protect her little sister from the bad in the world. The older sister learns about wisdom and serenity as her clock ticks down, and the younger sister is too far away to hear.

It is story of a unique relationship between two strong-headed women, at a time when we know more than everyone else, we are smarter than everyone else and we deserve only the best. We are finally mature enough to truly appreciate and respect each other as grown-ups should. We struggle together, but also each in her own isolation. In the end, the decade that separates us in age also ensures that we only have a few short years to truly enjoy each other’s adult company.

My sister – the feminist, the rebel, the poet and the artist – was just 34 years old when she died. Her prose is violent and harsh, dark and damning. She was mad as hell and made sure everyone knew it. Letters, journals and poetry, along with interviews of mentors, friends and companions in art and crime are the cannon upon which the non-fiction narrative is based. Out of them emerges the story of a talented individual with a strong sense of justice who dies far too young, and her little sister, who realizes far too late exactly what that means.