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 :)

That In-Between Time

So… It’s the end of December… which means that it’s been a month since I’ve done any serious writing (and we can hardly refer to this year’s NaNoWriMo debacle as ‘serious’), and also a month since I’ve sent any queries, and furthermore, it is about another month before I plan to send any future queries because… I guess you’re not supposed to.

This means I am doing something I absolutely suck at, and that is BEING PATIENT.

For the record, I am like, 283849283 times better at being patient than my husband, but, in the event that you do not know my husband, let me just inform you that this is not saying much.

So right now I am SUCKING at being patient, and I am flopping around the house and listening to pretty much nonstop U2 and Cure albums while catching up on reading all the YA novels my family bought me for Christmas (thanks guys!) and *kind of* savoring the fact that the longer I put off sending out my next query letter, the longer I have before my next rejection.

Errr. Wait a minute. I didn’t mean that last bit. Send me all the rejection letters you have, agents. What does not kill me only makes me retreat into a hole and consider waitressing stronger, and besides, I shall need all of those letters for my fabulous rejection letter dress, which I am planning to make floor-length with loads of gratuitous drapey-ness.

So, read I shall, and obsessively reflect on how I know just what Bono feels in “Stay (Faraway So Close!),” I shall do far more than I probably should (seriously, if you aren’t listening to that song about 6 times a day, you’re probably not making your roommates as sad as I’m making my husband missing out).

Right now, I’m part of the way through all of the following:

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
The Scorpio Races also by Maggie Stiefvater
and some weird self-help book called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay which is making me want to run away and live in the woods and hug things

So maybe I’ll do a review of one or more of these. I’m stretching out Beautiful Chaos because I came into the series late and powered through the first two books in about a week because I was so wrapped up, and I find myself not wanting this to ever, ever end (which is also the same reason I haven’t read the fourth book in the Pellinor series by Alison Croggon, despite having it in my posession for the better part of a year). Forever, on the other hand, is also a third book, the conclusion to the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, and I’m just ready for that story to end, so that’s probably first to finish on this list.

Also in the pipeline are the Hunger Games books (got the full set for Christmas), and a poetry compilation from Anne Sexton (the poet who killed herself on my birthday and was the inspiration for my favorite Dave Matthews Band song). So yeah. I’ll fill the waiting days with books and reviews. And I’ll probably write about the Chili Peppers again. Maybe twice.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a very happy new year to everyone! And may we all find the next step we’re searching for in 2012.

The Soundtrack to My Life

Earlier today, we had a forum thread about writing soundtracks. For me, music is an essential part of the writing process, and I always create mix tapes for my characters and books, imagining them to be the soundtracks to the stories. A lot of times, what I’m listening to generally in life influences what I’m listening to while writing, but sometimes as I start getting into a character’s story, I just find a song that fits them so well that I can barely separate the two in my mind.

This year, my primary writing music of late has been the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the more I started thinking about this band, the more I realized how much they have set the soundtrack to different parts of my life.

I always joke about how I want to get published just so I can come up with the most badass acknowledgments page in the back of my book, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m going to have to thank some boys from Los Angeles along with those boys from Boston and those other boys from Charlottesville. Oh, well, and those British-boys-turned-Angelenos, too.

I started thinking even more seriously about this because I just watched the CBS Sunday Morning special on the Chili Peppers, and yet again, I came away from an interview with them feeling refreshed and renewed. Yes, I know I spend ages and ages talking about this band, but it is amazing to me to have a band who has been in my life for nearly all of it, and have them still makes me feel this way.

It’s funny, last year, my theme music to life around this time was DMB, because we were just coming off of the close of the tour, and we had just seen that mind-blowing “Minarets” into “Seek Up” in Buffalo, and everything about that band was entirely speaking to me. I felt like there was always a Dave song in the background of my life, and I think that really influenced the book I started last November. But right now, I’m feeling this way about RHCP, and kind of have been ever since I’m With You dropped in August.

There’s also the advent of the internet with this album that is changing the way that I can love this band, because I can now stay connected to their music pretty much continuously through their Facebook pages and Flea’s Twitter. But it wasn’t always that way. Back when I first started following the Chili Peppers, there wasn’t even internet.

A brief timeline of my Chili Pepper love affair:

First album I really remember loving/noticing them was, of course, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. This was 1991, when I was really starting to super get into music. It feels weird to talk about getting into music at the age of 9 or 10, but I was super crazy about mix tapes and my little portable radio at that time, and also MTV. Because recall, at that time, MTV was actually good and actually playing music videos. I remember distinctly watching the videos for “Give it Away,” “Under the Bridge,” and “Suck My Kiss.” I also remember my mum HATING the Chili Peppers because of #1 Anthony Kiedis’ slo-mo man-boob run in the middle of “Under the Bridge” and #2 all of the crotch-shots in “Give It Away.” (Fair enough, no mother wants to lose her daughter to the Chili Peppers and all their crotchy-ness.)

Then I remember when One Hot Minute came out. In between the two, I was stocking up on their old stuff from used CD stores, including a secret copy of BSSM that I had to hide from my parents (Parental Advisory sticker, probably due almost wholly to “Sir Psycho Sexy”). Imagine my joy when Dave Navarro joined the band (I’ve never been a big John Frusciante fan, as I have discussed in my other online journal billions of times lol). I’d always loved Jane’s Addiction. It was like my two favorite worlds coming together.

MTV was still hanging onto their awesomeness by tiny little strings at that point, and one of those awesome things was a week-long promotional event called At Home with the Chili Peppers. Every night, during their regular video programming (do you remember this, when there were blocks of music videos every night??), Kennedy (who I, to this day, hate with a jealous passion because of what I am about to tell you) went to one of the Chili Peppers’ houses and broadcast from there. She hung out with Flea at his pool, Chad in his kitchen, Anthony in his living room, and DAVE NAVARRO IN HIS BED. Seriously. I’m not making this up. (And I just recently came into re-possession of the VHS tape of this that I had made off of the TV! Who still has a VCR and wants to invite me over??)

As if things couldn’t get any better, in the video for “Warped,” the first single off of One Hot Minute, Anthony Kiedis makes out with Dave Navarro. To say nothing of the endless amounts of boys in dresses and fishnets and underpants and eyeliner. ::swoon::

I know One Hot Minute was darker than the standard Chili Pepper album, but I think it was just right for a teenager. I think it was a good soundtrack to that awkward teenage ‘dark’ stage, you know, when you don’t want to come out of your room and stop writing and listening to the Cure because No One Understands You and No Boy Will Ever Be Right. So this album was just what I needed, punctuated with a little bit of old Jane’s Addiction (I was a little Dave-Navarro-obsessed at that time) and Alanis Morrissette.

And after the high from One Hot Minute wore off, the Chili Peppers remained largely in the background of my life for a number of years. I still listened to the old stuff, but I never quite got into Californication and I freely admit that I still don’t own a copy of By the Way, but my life in Los Angeles brought the Chili Peppers back into my life with Stadium Arcadium.

It took me about a year to find this album, and a few listens before it started to really embed itself in my soul. I know that sounds silly and way over-the-top, but I credit that album with getting me through probably the toughest year of my life. I hated LA, hated my job, hated the weather (oh the insufferable sun!!), hated the cost of living, hated the traffic.

But Stadium Arcadium pulled me out of that bad time. Some of my favorite memories from LA (*actual* LA, not the weekend escapes to Central Coast or San Francisco) are driving around, windows down, with this album on, through the streets of suburban Burbank. Something about that album, about knowing that this band that I loved so dearly was back in my life, and that the people who made this incredible music were just miles away from me, loving their lives while I was struggling to find answers in mine, lifted me up from the LA-induced sadness. It gave me hope. To this day, the guitar solo in “Wet Sand” just takes me somewhere else, no matter how many times I hear it.

And now, they’ve come out with I’m With You. And I’m in love a hundred times over again. They’ve grown up, and so have I. They still surprise me – have you heard the drum fill on “Monarchy of Roses,” or the bass line in “Factory of Faith”? And “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” is my theme song any time I need to laugh to keep from crying.

Flea’s journey to the LA marathon is the inspiration that got me started running. Anthony Kiedis is still hot at nearly 50. And the enthusiasm of this band and those two in specific is just inescapable. They love life. They love what they do. I think they are still surprised sometimes that it’s all real. And that, after almost thirty years of doing this, is incredible.

So today, while I’m struggling to figure out how it’s all going to come together in my life, I’m putting on the Chili Peppers to help me power through it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve relied on them for that, and it certainly won’t be the last.