Where Do We Go Now

Okay. The title is from Guns N Roses lyrics. I know. I know that is PLAYED OUT but oh well.

Tonight, I was driving back to my hotel after dinner. I’m away for work, and all the Real Places to get food here are closed on Sundays, so I drove 40ish minutes into the closest neighboring Pennsylvania town with restaurants for dinner. Daylight was fading fast on the drive out, and the sun had set as I got on the road to go back to Bradford.

The roads up here are mostly 2-lane highways, in the middle of the woods, questionable cell service, and definitely unlit by streetlamps. The particular 2-lane highway between Warren and Bradford goes through the Allegheny National Forest, and, most scenic-ly, past the Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir. In the daylight, it’s gorgeous:


At night… it’s a totally different story.

No streetlamps, and not even the soothing sounds of my favourite Richard Blade to get me through the drive. My satellite radio cut out completely for almost ten miles. In fact, the only sound I could hear tonight, driving past the reservoir, was this creepy sound that reminded me of the sounds at the start of the song “Fascination Street” by The Cure. In fact, at first, I thought it was my radio cutting back in, because “Fascination Street” is not an unusual thing to hear on First Wave.

But nope. When a song did finally blip in and out, it was a Psychedelic Furs song that sounds nothing like that effect on the Cure song. I heard the sound 4 or 5 times in the 10 miles of dead zone. There was total darkness on the road ahead of me, but the mountains above the reservoir were, in my rearview mirror, lit up with this strange pale-blue glow. It was the kind of thing that sends a creepy shiver up your spine. I was really convinced, for a few minutes there, that if I didn’t get safely out of the forest quickly, I was going to end up exiting it on a spacecraft with some new alien guardians.

When I did get back to the land of the living and get into my hotel room, the first thing that pulled up on Facebook was an article about a person who was visiting the hotel from The Shining and took a photo that appears to have a ghost in it.

Since I was already creeped out as fuck from the drive home, I decided to go for broke and click on the link. I was reading about Close Encounters of the Third Kind last night, why not The Shining tonight?

But it wasn’t the creepy ghost photo that sunk in with me. It was this quote, from Stephen King’s website, embedded in the text of the article: “In late September of 1974, Tabby and I spent a night at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley. We were the only guests as it turned out; the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”

This is missing. I mean, obviously not the part about the son and the cigarettes, but that feeling, that fleeting thought that wakes you up that turns into an idea that suddenly just spills out of you onto paper and becomes a story.

That kind of thing used to happen to me. Inspiration used to pop up everywhere. I used to have vivid dreams, and I would wake up with an idea in my mind, rush over to my computer, and write it down in my old LiveJournal. I told the story about the creepy drive through the ANF because that’s exactly the sort of shit that used to spark something in me. Years ago, a single creepy nighttime drive would be fodder for at least a few hours of writing that night.

And now what happens? ‘Adulting.’ Work. My brain is stuck on work, and it’s so hard to tear it away.

My confidence is not what it was, either. I’m self-conscious about everything. I have zero confidence in my writing. When I read things back over that I have written, my brain reads it in the voices of people who have criticized me.

That’s ridiculous, I know. I know it is. But it’s what my mind does right now.

Here’s an example: about a month ago, I fell asleep while reading in the afternoon. I had this awesome dream, and in the dream, I was meeting a set of fictional supernatural characters who were telling me about their lives. And in the dream, I was like, YES I want to write about them! Their story is one I should be writing!!

Flash forward to waking up: I immediately felt like a fucking fool. Why would I waste my time writing about that stupid idea? COME ON FOX THAT’S JUST DUMB.

I don’t even remember what the characters were trying to tell me anymore. I was so embarrassed that I was thinking about writing that I drove the thoughts from my mind and they won’t come back.

So even in that very rare moment when inspiration hits, my brain shuts it down. It’s like my brain is conditioning itself to be a machine, a machine that doesn’t have bright colors or interesting shapes or fun noises. Just a machine that plods along, day in and day out.

And that’s why this post began with lyrics from “Sweet Child O Mine.” Because honestly, where do we go from here? How do I get that inspiration thing back? How do I read shit that I’ve written and not immediately feel like I should toss it on a fire and forget I ever thought those words?

The truth is this: I fell in love with 2 characters last November. In February, I brought them out to The Cage with me. And I reviewed our history together.

And I liked them. Like I wanted to know what they were going to do tomorrow or the next day or the next.

And I didn’t really feel any shame or lack of confidence reading their story. Their story that I had written.

I didn’t have any great inspirations about what will come next for them, but I did have a feeling in my soul that I wanted to know. I want to know what happens. I want to know how they win.

I need to do the things that inspire me: dance. Listen to good music. Sit at The Cage in my favourite flannel shirt and play an eclectic mix of Love and Rockets and sad Bruce Springsteen songs on the jukebox. I need to travel. Sit outside and drink wine in the evenings when it’s not too hot.

I need to try to actually get a fucking good night’s sleep (lost cause tonight, ah well). Sit with the story, even when new words aren’t coming.

It’s in there. It’s going to come back. It has to come back. I’ve gotta make it work.

Week 2 Just Sucks.

Welcome, my friends, to the shittiness that is Week 2 of NaNoWriMo.

The excitement of Week 1 has worn off. You’re probably pissed at at least some of your characters. It’s possible your plot did one or both of two things that plots are wont to do in Week 2: died prematurely or got completely out of hand. (If your plot got completely out of hand before jumping ship… well, I’m sorry that happened to you.)

So what do you do?

First, it’s okay to go through the stages.

Fox’s Four Stages of NaNoWriMo Week 2
as interpreted by Fox’s dog, Lucy

Complete despair. You’ll never write this. Never. You’ll never catch up. You’ll never figure out what to do about that plot hole with the wombats back in chapter two.

Anger. You hate your characters, your plot, your non-WriMo friends who aren’t going through this, your WriMo friends with better word counts, the man, flowers WHY ARE FLOWERS SO DAMN HAPPY ALL THE TIME THOSE JAGOFFS.

Panic. You know you have to keep going but how? HOW WILL YOU KEEP GOING WHEN YOU MUST KEEP GOING SO MUCH? Write all the things! No! Wait! The laundry! Oh, the gym! And they want you to go to work? But! The words! The words!

The Inability to Give a Shit. You just don’t care. You just want it to be December 1 so you can have your life back. You will do whatever it takes to get that purple WINNER bar, and you do not care what you must do, because you are now so emotionally uninvested in it that there is no longer any regard for quality, just for the magical number of 50,000. You will kill any character if it is convenient, you will write lengthy scenes describing outfits, and you will allow your characters to deliver monologues about their favorite Cure albums. You just do not care.

And then it gets better! It really does!

But how do you survive, while you’re suffering through the Four Stages?

Do something that isn’t writing, but still inspires you.

Like cooking! Cooking leaves you with a sense of accomplishment AND something to eat at the end!

The more you cook, the more hours you have an excuse for not writing!

Take a couple of hours to embrace your exhaustion.

Acknowledge that you’ve really been working hard, and even if your word count isn’t reflecting all that hard work, you might need a little mental break. And go ahead, dream about how fabulous your book is going to be when you wake up and start working on it again.

Be understanding of yourself that you might be acting a little strange.

Don’t totally freak out if you wake up in the morning to find that you’d had a Drew Barrymore in Mad Love style meltdown overnight and moved all of your gargoyle and dragon protectors right next to your bed. Remind yourself that all the best authors were truly crazy, so this is just part of your process.

Go out with your fellow WriMos

Commiserate with them about plot holes and word count distress. Get completely off topic and don’t get a word of writing done at a Write-In, but walk away from the event with a thousand hilarious quotes and at least one really awesome picture like this.

Ease back into the writing.

Maybe start with a blog post, or some writing in your journal, just to get the hang of things again. Maybe brainstorm a little before getting back into the meat of the story. Just go casually into it.

Return to your happy writing place.

When you’re emotionally ready, head back to your happy writing place, and settle in for a few hours of hard work. Play the jukebox, wear your favorite outfit, maybe bring along a friend who will keep you on task but not distract you *too* much. Sit down and power through some words until you’re feeling more confident.

And before you know it, you’ll be looking like this when someone asks how your novel is going. You’ll tell them, “It’s just fine, and I can’t WAIT for Week Three to get here!”


Fox’s Easy Guide to the First Week of NaNoWriMo

Why hello, readers! Bet you didn’t think you’d see little ol’ *me* again this soon!

(But a promise is a promise, and a promise made that distracts me from my word count is *always* a promise kept.)

So as promised, I’m here to chat a little bit about my favorite month-long endeavor of the year, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). Briefly: NaNoWriMo is a month-long event held each November in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel across 30 days. (If only I could sum up my novels that succinctly, I might actually get work as a writer!)

I’ve been participating since 2002. Oh yeah. I’m one of the oldies (it started in 1999). And since this is my twelfth NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d share some of my sage wisdom expert tips for procrastinators throughout the month. Without further ado, Fox’s Easy Guide to NaNoWriMo.

So you’ve decided to embark upon a 30-day quest to write 50,000 words about something or other. Where do you even start? How do you even take the first step and get those first words down?

(First of all, you wait until 12:01am on November 1. I am a real stickler about that! NO CHEATING!)

Ahem. Prior to November 1, you are welcome to do all the planning, outlining, playlist-making, etc. that you want.

I mean. You *could* do that. If you’re one of those overachiever-types.

Fox’s Step #1. Stumble blindly into the month with only a vague idea of plot and/or characters.
I’m not even kidding here. Yes, you can spend hours and days planning for this month, but where’s the fun in that? If you’re like me and can only function under pressure of seemingly-insurmountable deadlines, staring blankly at your computer screen at 12:01am on November 1 is not the worst thing. If you can plan ahead, do it. But if you’re not a planner, don’t panic. You’ll be just fine.

I like to get a general idea of what world I’ll be writing in.

Fox’s Step #2: (Kind of) know your world.
Okay. So you don’t have to have it nailed down, but a basic idea of like, genre, or world, is a good first step. I like to write (badly) about ghosts a lot. One year, I decided it was time to go for broke and write the thinly-veiled Labyrinth rip-off I’d been dreaming of since age 13. This year, having exhausted ghosts, guardian angels, spirit healers, Death’s intern, Death himself, and a not-really-evil Goblin-king-esque hotty-villain, I decided to write about good-guy demons.

(Because out of all the comic book heroes out there, I identify with Hellboy the most.)

Fox’s Step #3: Accept your limitations.
For me, my number one limitation is world building. That’s why the Labyrinth-style fantasy crashed & burned so badly. Yeah, I made it to 50k, but will I ever go back and polish that thing? Probably not. Unless I’m super rich and super bored and have found a way to hire Guillermo del Toro to help my sorry ass out.

In general, I know that the less world-building I have to do, the faster the story will move along. I am absolutely that girl who will spend 43 minutes trying to figure out the name of that animal who’s like, part person, part horse, and probably a butler (it’s a faun, by the way, looked that one up for 43 minutes in 2010).

In the event that I will be faced with some world-building, I accept that I’ll have to do some research. So, yeah, my working knowledge of goodguy demons is limited to what I know of Hellboy. With that in mind, I set aside some hours for reading comics and fumbling around my husband’s iPad trying to read about the daily habits of fallen angels and gargoyles and succubi.

Fox’s Step #4: Find your happy writing place.
Every writer has both a place and a time where she is most productive. I’m a late-night kind of gal. My husband used to write at 7am (ughhhh and not just because he’d stayed up all night to get there, either). When I was in college, I was partial to this weird little alcove on the second or third floor of the Cathedral of Learning where it was freaking FREEZING and I had to write in mittens, but where I felt really inspired.

Ideally, I would spend all of November on a train. I get some of my best writing done while traveling, particularly on train trips. But since that’s not exactly practical, it’s important to find a local place that keeps the same hours as you.

I’m partial to this dive bar up the hill called the Squirrel Cage. Cheap drinks, good bartender, nice tables, and no one cares if I’m there sipping vodka and writing for hours, whatever time of day. Oh! And I can play the jukebox from my phone without even having to get up from my seat!

(Which brings me to my next point…)

Fox’s Step #5: Get the right soundtrack.
Okay, I’m a mixtape broad through and through, but I think the right soundtrack is important to all writers. It’s a good idea to keep building it throughout the process of writing your manuscript. I almost always make my characters their own mixtapes, but often I’ll start out with just a list of songs I’m kind of into at the time that fit the mood of what I’m writing.

Pro-tip: Sad songs are almost always the right choice.

Some bands who are always in my rotation include The Cure (bonus: you can find endless hours of Robert Smith remixes to keep things fresh!), Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, Ryan Adams (both with and without the Cardinals), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If I’m feeling uninspired, sometimes I like to put on my characters’ mixtapes and drive around after dark to get me pumped up. Take notes of any song that you hear in your daily life that makes you feel even remotely inspired and put it together when it’s time to write.

And finally,

Fox’s Step #6: Identify your allies.
Sure, writing is a highly personal thing. And I’m not saying, by any means, that you have to share what you’re writing with another soul until you’re fully ready, but it’s important to have people you can rely on to help you get through the month. The first time I did NaNoWriMo back in 2002, we didn’t have forums and Write-Ins and all that we have now. We had me, and my friend Christine, and AOL Instant Messenger at 3 in the morning. (I didn’t even have a laptop to go to the Cage! Nor was I old enough to yet anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.) My point is, I would never have gotten through that first year without our late night messages of ‘IT’S 3AM, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR PLOT IS???’

You need to have someone who will leave you Tweets like this when you are feeling lost and alone in the noveling world (even if that person is your creepy co-ML).

I also like to stock a healthy supply of photos of my friends & family members looking at me disappointingly just to keep me on my toes and remind me of what I’ll have to face in real life if I let them down by not hitting my word count.

And if you can get a handle on those first 6 steps, you’re going to make it. Will it be easy? NOPE! And we’ll get to that, and we’ll get to it plenty in Week 2. But if you have an idea where you’re going, and know where to go and what to listen to when you get there, with your friends at your side (WriMo and supportive non-WriMo alike), you’ll get through November just fine. Trust me on this one :)