Personal

Waaahhhh, NaNoWriMo is Over!

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NaNoWriMo Winner 2009Well, it’s over. Waahhhhhhh! The last two days zipped by; one moment I was facing two chapters left to write, feeling nervous, excited, and already nostalgic for this unbelievable month of novel writing called NaNoWriMo, the next I’d typed the last word, pressed the Save button, and it was all over.

I wrote 1,420 words this morning for today’s chapter, which wasn’t the last chapter of the novel, but the second last. I’d written the last chapter, chapter 30, way back on November 1st. But once I was done with chapter 29, I opened chapter 30 to flesh it out based on where my writing had taken me. You see, I’d added a cat somewhere along the way, and it would look awfully strange if that cat was nowhere in the final scene. I had put a cat in the novel’s outline, but at first I’d forgotten all about it. And then my protagonist really needed that cat. And so the cat appeared at last.

National Novel Writing Month scared me as I first contemplated it. But it held the only possibility I had of finishing my book, although I never anticipated the results it gave me. I have the ideas, the words hidden deep inside, but due to my brain injury, I do not have the initiation, basically the prefrontal cortex’s executive functioning that gets people to do things. I rely on external stimulation, things like handheld devices and computers. But a novel is too big a project for a computer to prompt me on. A planet-full of people all talking, writing, encouraging though was just the ticket — lots and lots of external stimulation to get me in the chair to write and win. It was wonderful to see several of my writing buddies’ banners one by one turn winning purple and to read the tweets from fellow Wrimos as they hunkered down for the final dash to the 50k winning line. Tomorrow, my NaNoWriMo web badges go up on my blogs!

My final validated NaNoWriMo total: 75,972 words. That is over 20,000 more words than my first draft of Lifeliner. I’ve come a long way in three years.

Brain Health

NaNoWriMo Has Created So Much in Me

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Only two more days, two more sleeps, two more chapters until the end of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve had so much fun, writing alone yet in a group of hundreds of thousands, that I’ll be sad to see it end. I’ve achieved far more than I expected; heck as of today, I achieved the impossible: 70,000 words.

Actually, it isn’t just achievements that NaNoWriMo has been about for me; it’s changes too. I’ve seen my ability to write expand in terms of time and number of words. When I last wrote a book, I was able to write 2,000 words in a coherent narrative, keeping it all in my head so I don’t ramble and remember what the beginning was all about when at the end. I hadn’t kept track of my word count since then. But I had sensed that I could write for an hour straight. Whether I could do that day after day, as opposed to a few days in a week with days in between to recover — that I didn’t know. I now know I can.

It got quite difficult, and things weren’t so pleasant, but the encouragement of my fellow Wrimos, the pep talks from headquarters, and the knowledge of all eyes on me kept me going, and my brain finally decided it doesn’t need to expend quite so much energy writing for an hour. Also, after I had written 50,000 words, I cut my writing time down to 30 minutes one day, 45 most days this past week. Today, I went nuts and wrote 1 hour, 45 minutes, with a couple of brief breaks. I didn’t do much the rest of the day, but even being able to write this after doing that this morning, is quite something. My writing neurons have been lit and are firing too brightly to be extinguished.

Before the injury, my mind never shut up. I mean: IT. NEVER. SHUT. UP. I could only go to sleep by channeling thoughts, ideas, imagination into stories that would relax me. After the injury, my mind was one vast blank landscape where nary a thought tread. Well, thoughts did creep in, but slowly and often not for long periods and only with external stimulation. My imagination was gone or maybe in hiding and only revealed itself on the page when I wrote. However, fiction was a no-go. Believe me, I tried. Dreck. Total, complete non-fiction-pretending-to-be-fiction dreck. So writing this book was a challenge I wasn’t sure I was up for. I wrote an outline like for Lifeliner, but that didn’t mean I’d be able to make stuff up when it came to the details.

Today, my mind wouldn’t shut up for quite some time after I wrote my chapter. The chapter itself was a stop-and-go process, unlike my usual type till alarm goes or I finish the chapter. But writing seemed to ignite something, something that was stimulated even more by my regular Saturday Mind Alive session. After that, I wrote some more, and that’s how I got over 70,000 words total and over 3,300 for one chapter, both a milestone.

And the last thing this NaNoWriMo has done for me is something quite…well, you decide. I took piano lessons for 9 years, achieving grade 10 level. The shithead drivers took care of that achievement when they gave me a brain injury. The best I could do was one-hand playing of music from my first year of lessons, two hands of the really simple pieces. Last Sunday, I was listening to kd lang’s version of Cohen’s Hallelujah; I focused on the piano. Its resonance vibrated right into me, and I felt the urge to play. The last time I had tried, over a year ago, the G note was dead (I’m sure it was dead), and I failed miserably. Fear had kept me away (and fear is still there) — the fear of hearing a reminder of how much this injury has cost me. Still, I got up at 10:15 pm when the piece came to an end and went to the piano, lifted the lid, found my fave piece, the one I had known cold from memory for many years, opened it, sat down, and putting both hands on keys began to play. The G note wasn’t dead. I didn’t recognize the music, yet I could play with both hands. I didn’t know all the notes, but in a way one has to learn when figuring out the extreme high notes in new piece of music not in the brain-injury way of utter confusion. I played the whole piece at a steady pace. My timing though too slow didn’t vary. It was a dreadful rendition. But suddenly I went from being where I had been at 9 years of age to where I was when 15 or 16.

I’ve played it twice more since then, each time getting better, each time hearing bits of the music become familiar, and the last time seeing the notes in my head. Having to relearn how to write, still relearning how to read, meant I was beyond my capacity to also then relearn how to play the piano. Maybe, just maybe this means I won’t have to.

kd lang sings “Hallelujah” at CSHF 2006

News

Met and Passed 50,000 Words for NaNoWriMo

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Last year, I didn’t think I could do National Novel Writing Month — write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November — too onerous. This year, I wanted to try but not sure, again, if I could. Then I read a Writer’s Digest article about it, checked it out, and in a fit of go-for-it attitude, I signed up and filled in my profile. Lifeliner was barely over 50,000 words when I first wrote it. And although I had improved tremendously since then, having completed another year of brain biofeedback, experienced spontaneous healing, and agreed to settle that bloody lawsuit, I still wasn’t sure I could write every single day. Still, I set myself a higher goal than 50,000 words in a month, 2,000 words per day, and the early days went well.

Today, I’ve not only met and exceeded my goal every day but one, I’ve also exceeded NaNoWriMo’s goal. I’ve written a total of 50,935 words. Even better, I’ve finished the sub-plot: the worst is over. Happy times begin! (OK, I’m being optimistic in that one.)

I couldn’t have done it though without the regular pep talks and videos from NaNoWriMo headquarters. On the hardest days, when I absolutely did not want to write and could I please have a writing vacation, they got me pumped to go write. I couldn’t have done it without the Twitter #nanowrimo crowd and NaNoWriMo’s twitter feed. Reading those tweets of people achieving word goals way ahead of mine, encouraging people like me or other Wrimos who hadn’t started yet, got me feeling I could do this and able to plant butt in chair and write. I couldn’t have done it at the beginning without my writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo site, seeing how they were doing, and feeling competitive enough to keep going so maybe one day I could catch up. Well, now I’ve exceeded my buddies’ word count, but in the Toronto v. London, UK word war, I’m still below 20th on my team! So I have a new bunch to try and keep up with. Of course, the top ones who pour out words like Niagara Falls, I’ll never catch up to, but they’re inspiring nevertheless!

I can’t get complacent though. I still have a novel to finish, and those last few days when I can see the end drawing close but am not done yet, will be the hardest, for sure. In Chris Baty’s words, take a moment to celebrate, and then get back to it.

News

My Early Days of NaNoWriMo

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I’ve completed four days of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I do believe it was a good decision, joining NaNoWriMo. The days and the writing have been scary, like pulling hens teeth, slow, and exhausting. But no matter how much I think I’m not going to do it or how much I want to stop after I actually start the day’s writing, I meet my goal of a chapter a day and I meet the NaNoWriMo word count goal too. Whoo hoo!

The path to success — well, success to this point — started with an outline and doing all the background work as per my editor’s instructions. Before I’m even ready to write for the day, I go through my notes to refresh my memory, I place that chapter’s calendar with the outline on it next to me and study it. I find that all helps me get into book mode. But without NaNoWriMo, I probably still wouldn’t have started writing. And without seeing the word count of my writing buddies on NaNoWriMo, I probably wouldn’t keep going. Some of my buddies are way ahead of me, a few behind. Either way though, it eggs me on.

The other amazing part of NaNoWriMo is the daily pep talk. Under Breaking News, the Founder Chis Baty writes something humorous but serious, in a way that gets you planting butt in chair, fingers on keyboard: writing. Today, I, along with the tens of thousands of Wrimos, received a pep talk from an author. I read somewhere not to read it until you’re ready to write. So I’m taking that advice. When it gets time for today’s writing session, the first thing I’ll do, after I read some #nanowrimo tweets that is, another way to pump one up, is read that pep talk. Right after that, I’ll start writing.

It’s early days yet. From my experience with the PAD (Poem-A-Day) challenge back in April, it’s going to be the last week that’ll be the toughest for me. Until then, I’m having fun!

Personal

Day One of NaNoWriMo, and I’m Off!

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When I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, I thought that I could never do. When I read about it last month, I thought, hmmmm… When I came across other people talking about it online, I thought this is just what I need to get my novel written. I don’t have someone to organize me like I did for Lifeliner, but I still have need of that kind of help. What better than a planet full of people all writing at the same time, all talking about it, all creating external motivation and excitement, to get me going. But it seemed so far away when I signed up, a whole month.

Suddenly, it was an hour away. While others practically counted down the minutes till it was 12:00:01 am November 1st, the time permitted to start writing, so that they could start, I was nodding off. The excitement infected me, but I needed sleep badly. Sundays I normally spend off-computer and always the same way. I didn’t want to disturb my routine, until after Stargate: Atlantis for sure. I have my priorities you know. But that excitement remained. I chomped at the bit when I knew I couldn’t write.

And then the time came. I turned on my computer to see what NaNoWriMo had to say. The pep talk was in the mail queue, they said. My stomach felt a little fluttery. I surfed over to Twitter to see what people were tweeting about #nanowrimo and which hashtag was most in use. I shuffled through papers. I poured some water. The butterflies grew in my stomach. I dithered about which word processor program to use: my old standby WordPerfect or the new OpenOffice I’d just downloaded onto my Windows system. I dithered whether to work in Linux or Windows. The butterflies became knots. I yelled at self to plant those fingers on the bloody keyboard and get going already. I dragged self over to computer and sat. I took out my iPod Touch, set the timer to 1 hour precisely, pressed Start and at the same time, started typing away like crazy.

The last time I did serious narrative writing, unlike blogging, which is less onerous for me, I wrote 2,000 words max. That was for Lifeliner. I also wrote for a maximum time of 45 minutes. I hadn’t tried 1 hour before for this kind of writing. The last time I wrote seriously was the April poetry challenge, and I’m unable to write long poems (I lose the big picture, the ability to keep hold of an idea from beginning to end when the work gets too long). The sestina challenge on day 28 almost floored me because of its length. But I did it. And I reminded myself of that and of the fact that as long as I put fingers to keys, the words will come. Plus if I didn’t get started, I’d fail before I even began the competition, and then what would happen to my novel.

And so I began. (Man, I never thought I would!) My goal of a 2,000-word chapter became in reality a 2,748-word chapter. I began at the end so that I’d know where I’m going from here-on-in. Good thing too because I learnt a couple of things about one of the characters as I was typing. When the timer squawked, I checked the word count. Whoa! OpenOffice must be exaggerating, I thought. But nope, it was way up there. I’m so pumped!