This Novel, Day 25

nanowrimoSometimes in November I look up from whatever the latest novel I’m writing happens to be, and I notice that I’ve passed a milestone in the course of my writing for the day. On occasion I’ve moved past 10,000 words without thinking of it. Once in a while I’ve blasted through 25,000 words and not known it. And even when I’ve gotten to 40,000 or 45,000 I’ve sometimes not recognized it until well after the fact. I call it being in “the zone,” and I love the zone so much. The zone is my muse, and when I’m in it I don’t want to do anything else. Other writers know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been in the zone a few times this November, most notably on this past Sunday when I wrote nearly 3,000 words without even updating my word count. That’s when I know I’m in the zone. I can write for an hour straight and not come up for air, which is what I did on Sunday. The story moves along, and I’m drawn along with it, taken for a ride that is equal parts anxiety and anticipation. Because while I love it when my characters have a mind of their own, I know it can also disturb the delicate balance I have been trying to create with the narrative I’ve carefully crafted. Of course in the end it never matters because the muse knows better where I need to go and how to get there anyway.

This November it has been tough to get in the zone. That’s not to say I haven’t had stretches where I’ve gotten caught up, because I have, but I have had so many outside things that have impinged upon my ability to just sit here and write. The starts and stops could have impeded the story, but I’ve somehow been able to keep up, to hit my word count goals every single day, and to keep the story flowing the way I wanted, or needed, to. And the numbers have been mounting. Now I’m five days away from the end of the month, and I just looked up to find…

I’m over 50,000 words! I know. I’m shocked too. The two goals of NaNoWriMo are to write a novel, and to get 50,000 words. I assume the people at NaNo think that 50,000 words is the shortest word count to classify as a novel, but I disagree. I think that whatever you as the author deem a novel then so be it. But regardless, I did reach the lofty goal of 50,000, so what am I going to do the other five days? I’m going to actually finish my novel, which may take 60,000 words, 65,000 words, or some area in between the two numbers. I’m fairly certain it will at least hit 60,000. And now the gloves are off. I’m done with specific word counts for the day. I’ll just write until I’m done writing for that day.

I’ve already reached the climax and I’ve just started the falling action of the plot for this novel, so I know I’m not too far away from the end. I’ve hit one milestone, and I’m ready for more. I’m ready to finish a novel.


I Am Not An Only Child

warning-Only-ChildI talked to my sister on the phone tonight. She is in Grand Rapids for the night, but she will be someplace else tomorrow. I am where I am going to be for the foreseeable future. And that’s okay. She is one of those fly-by-night sorts that I envy but that I could never be (and I mean that in the most literal of ways, I assure you). Don’t get me wrong, I used to be one of those people who packed up at a moment’s notice and headed elsewhere, but I think I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged. I know my hair has certainly mellowed. When I was younger I could grow an afro like nobody’s business, and now, after a year’s growth, it still doesn’t look like much more than I missed a couple weeks’ worth of cuts at the barber shop.

But anyway, I talked to my sister on the phone tonight for the first time in over a month, and while that’s unacceptable it’s certainly understandable given our crazy schedules, and our attempts to reconcile them with each other. Luckily we hit on it tonight, or at least she did, because I was just sitting here exhausted, writing, and she called my cell. Because I have a new phone it kept vibrating and I had no clue what was going on (now I know), but I called her back and we had a wonderful conversation. We were able to do that because I am not an only child.

Only children are odd, but not in an odd way. They’re odd because I don’t understand them, how they operate. My wife is an only child, and I tease her about it often, but it’s real, the struggle of only children. They will never know the joy of riding on a long trip with their siblings and playing the license plate game, sharing Twizzlers, or saying, “Are we THERE yet?!” at the top of their lungs trying to outscream each other. Only children spent all of their time either being spoiled or being told to appreciate what they have. There were no hand-me-downs, no arguments about who gets to sit in the front seat, no plethora of birthdays to remember, and no getting jealous over nonequivalent Christmas gifts.

Which is funny, because for some reason I’ve always been attracted to only children. Maybe it’s that I’ve always felt it was a challenge because their parents have invested so much in them and only them ,that the vetting process would be worth the hassle in order to say that, “yes, I’m the ONE who your ONLY daughter wants to be with.” And just reading that out loud I can see where that would seem incredibly shallow, but that’s now how it’s meant. You see, I’m not an only child, so I don’t know how the other side thinks, and I do my best to figure it out on a daily basis.

Oh, and it’s my oldest brother’s birthday today but for the life of me I don’t know how old he actually is, so I’m feeling a bit inadequate as a brother, even though we didn’t grow up together so maybe I shouldn’t know. Perhaps it’s just the expectations of society that make me feel so inadequate, but I did wish him a happy birthday. Maybe I’m covered. That’s the other thing about having siblings, though, that there are more expectations, more nieces and nephews, even more birthdays to remember, the pressures of being the best brother, uncle, cousin, and everything else that comes along with not being an only child. But I don’t think I would trade in all of that for the chance at being the only one, because I love my siblings, and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I didn’t have them.

I am not an only child, but it’s okay if you are. I don’t judge only children. They’re just different from me, and that’s okay. But I’ve never been an only child, so if you are, please bear with me. I’m a work in progress.


a39d3be0a3edc721c6e72181a30a9e42Plot is the way the story moves forward. Not backward, but forward. Too often plot seems a bit circuitous, wrapping around to meet itself again later in the novel, but by then you’re too confused as a reader to follow it, or you don’t care anymore. It’s called getting “cute” with the plot, and only writers like J.K. Rowling can constantly get away with it. As a writer I love plot because it gives me the ability to influence these characters’ worlds, to play a kind of god figure who has control over everything.

I like setting the plot before I begin writing the story, mapping out where I want my characters to end up, and then drawing a line to get them there. It’s admittedly old school, and sometimes the plot takes a divergence from the prescribed path because it takes on a mind of its own. I love it when that happens, but I don’t confuse it with me just getting scattered, or just being tired, and letting things wander. I ask myself:

Does the plot divergence still stick with the thematic elements I’ve set up?

Does the plot divergence help to define character motivations?

If both of those answers is “yes” then I go with it, and I thank god that I’ve been given a muse that can create those situations and meld them so well to the story as I had initially outlined it. For example, I’m working on my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and my plot leans on the turn of the seasons. I start the novel in winter, and I was set to finish it in autumn, so that it completed the circle of a year, but as I’ve been creating the narrative it is telling me to finish at the end of summer instead. It helps my character development, and it moves my plot along at a faster pace, which keeps interest level up.

It’s a win-win.

And I love these characters too. Some writers tend to have setting-driven plots, while others prefer character-driven ones. I’ve always been a character-driven kind of guy, preferring a rich cast of characters to a lushly written scene setting masterpiece. That’s not to say I don’t focus on setting, because I do, but it’s clearly second in my hierarchy of developing the plot and moving it along. Interactions between characters tend to move my plot along, and that’s no different in this new novel.

I’m over 40,000 words in, and as of now I’m thinking the novel will end at 65,000, so there’s a lot more plot to finish up, but I’m on the way down the mountain. I’m just hoping I can bring it home in an original way.


This Novel, Day 20

youcanfinishwritingyournovelWow, already two thirds of the way through this month, and my novel is doing more than just starting to take shape. That’s what I love so much about NaNoWriMo, its ability to force me into staying focused on one plot with multiple themes throughout the month. Before I finally broke down in 2012 and attempted NaNo for the first time I didn’t think it was possible. I know me, and I know that while I can be quite prolific it was never my thing to stick with a longer piece. In fact, I have several examples of unfinished stories that I began and then left to die in the wasteland of my imagination. So what is it about NaNo?

NaNo gave me a goal, not just for the month, but on a daily basis. It made me dedicate myself to it every single day, to push forward even when I didn’t feel like it, to keep me moving forward to the finish line. It was the first time in my life when I really and honestly put writing first and foremost, not just in random Facebook posts or in disjointed journal entries, but in an every day interaction with these words on this screen in the purpose of creating a novel-length work. And somehow that first year I came through, not without trials and tribulations, but it was a success, and I’ve been successful every single year since.

This year I’m two-thirds of the way through the month, and I’ve finally rolled past 40,000 words, an achievement in and of itself. That means my average word count per day has been over 2,000 words, and I can’t tell you how that number shifts throughout the month. When I’ve had a long day at work, and I’m just so exhausted I just want to fall onto my bed and saw logs all afternoon and evening that number might as well be 10,000. But when I’m off on a Saturday and I get started early in the day, my creative juices able to flow, it seems like just a launching off point for so much more that I can write, for so many other ways I can stretch and change the narrative.

Oh, and I’m at the climax right now so the story is thrilling to me as I listen to the characters argue, as I hear them react to events as they are not unfolding. It’s the beauty of writing a novel, being deep in the midst of a story that I’m creating but that’s also coming to me while I write. And I’ve got 10 days left.

Word count: 40,124 words.


het_leuke_roze_van_de_stickers_bff_van_de_uil_en_m-rc04e264fae0048e58ba29ecec2678085_v9waf_8byvr_512Dear Journal,

I’m feeling optimistic today, and not just because I got my teaching schedule for the spring, but that’s a great reason to feel good. It’s exciting to see a continuation of what I’ve been working hard for the past few months. But I’m feeling optimistic because there are so many other things ahead that I can look forward to as well.

I got to see my best friend yesterday, and the times I see her are few and far between, but when we see each other it all clicks back into place. She is from a completely different background than I am, and her life has taken so many different turns from mine, but somehow we have always connected. She knows what to say when I talk to her, and I feel useful in return.

There’s just something about good friends, despite everything else that’s going on, being there for you whenever you need them. I know that’s what I’m getting used to now since we’ve been friends, and that makes me optimistic as well. See, I’ve been burned by so-called friends before, the ones who disappeared when things weren’t so perfect in my life or in their lives. And it took me ages to get over it each and every time they fell by the wayside, but that hasn’t stopped me from seeking out new friends. It just makes the process a little harder.

My wife has had the same friends to confide in over a long period of time, and for a while I used to be jealous of her, of that easy way they communicate. Because friends fill a critical role in our lives. They’re important, and I missed having that connection with people I called friends. That’s not to say that somewhere down deep I don’t harbor concerns that I’ll lose my best friend, but I have to feel optimistic that despite the odds she has still been there for me, so I have to believe that she will be there for me. Otherwise, why cultivate the relationship? But I’m not jealous of my wife and her friendships anymore. I appreciate that she has them to lean on, and to confide in.

And I’m feeling blessed right now.



This Novel, Day 16

Some days writing is easier than others, but at the end of every day, after hitting my personal goals, there is a feeling of fulfillment. Today was a relatively easy writing day — Day 16 — because I had a solid idea of where I wanted to end up, so getting there was an adventure and kept me hooked in the entire time.

My goal is 1800 words every single day, and while that may seem like a lot at first glance sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Which is why on the days when I’m feeling the muse, when it hits me really hard, I write until I run out of words instead of hitting the wall hard at 1800 and putting down my metaphorical pen.

But today, because I had a goal in mind that wasn’t 1800 words (that was instead to get to my destination plot-wise) it was interesting to just write and see how many words I ended up with once I had reached my own promised land. So, when I finally looked up from my screen and ran my word total through the counter I was a little shocked to see that I had indeed hit and surpassed the 1800 words.

It’s Day 16 of NaNoWriMo, and I’m in the middle of writing my novel. Actually I guess I’m a little closer to the end than I am to the middle, but I’m still chugging along exactly like I was at the start. Which is the point, after all.

Word count: 32,046 words.


The Truth About Santa

santa-cartoonI never wanted my children to believe in Santa Claus, but now that my oldest is on the verge of disbelief I want to hang onto the jolly old elf at all costs. What changed?

When we found out my wife was pregnant we had a sit down talk. You know, the kind of deep discussions that couples have when they’re about to make a big decision. That decisions: whether or not we would allow our child to believe in Santa Claus. Now, I’m not against magic, but I am against misleading children for the purpose of keeping them in line. “Because I said so,” is a good response for me, not “Santa Claus is watching. Do it for the gifts.”

I didn’t grow up with Santa Claus. Could you tell? My mother didn’t believe in telling us lies about the holiday time, so she didn’t. I grew up knowing that anything I got for the holiday was from my mother, or from my father, or from other relatives and family friends, which was fine with me. But regardless of what we believed in our household I wasn’t that kid who wanted to ruin things for others, so I kept my mouth shut around the Santa believers.

My wife was one of those very believers, even though she lived hundreds of miles away, and she grew up just fine too. Her belief in the white bearded one kept mystery alive, and brought an aura of magic that I just didn’t have. So our conversation when we found out she was pregnant was a heated one. She was on the side of Santa and magic, while I pushed for no Santa and a sense of practicality.

We hemmed and we hawed, the back and forth one of the most important conversations in our relationship to that point, but we weren’t coming to a conclusion, until I remembered baptism.

In my mother’s religion baptism was reserved for those who made the decision themselves, and I myself was dipped under the water on my tenth birthday. I thought it was a great way to do things, but once again my wife was from a different background, one where they baptized babies soon after birth. So I told her we could make a deal: I would give her Santa Claus and everything that came with him, and she would forego baptizing our child, allowing her to pick for herself when she came of age.

It was a win-win, and one of the first significant compromises we ever made, and I’ve upheld my end of it. For nine years I’ve pretended the man from the North Pole exists, buying presents from him, making up stories of chimneys, reindeer, and cookies with milk. But now she’s asking how I know Santa’s real and I know the time is coming, sooner rather than later, when she’ll figure it all out. Maybe there’s something to be said for a little magic in this world, even if we have to make it up as parents, to keep the fiction alive.

So this may very well be the last Christmas when my daughter doesn’t know the truth about Santa, and it’s a bit sad for me, but I’ve still got baptism. You know, if she wants it someday.


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