Surviving the Crash and Burn: NaNoWriMo Wrapup.

And that's it. The end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for 2016. The aim: to write fifty thousand words in 31 days - a short novel from start to finish. For more information on NaNoWriMo click HERE.  Those who 'win' gain glory and prizes - including discounts for writing software and editing, free eBook creation, and a free masterclass by James Patterson. Mostly it's for the glory - the satisfaction of finishing the first draft of a novel. This year my project was the third journal in Viola Stewart's adventures - The Illusioneer & Other Tales.

Did I win? No. I managed just over 17,200 words. Technically I crashed and burned on day sixteen. november Did I fail? No. "But you only managed half the word count goal?", you say. "So what," say I. And here's why:

There is more than one way to win in NaNo. Just participating - getting off my butt, putting pen to paper, cajoling my brain into production and not giving into procrastination is a huge win.

The week before NaNo, I had given into anxiety (What if I haven't got another book in me? What if it's crap?) and devoured chocolate in an effort to feel better. NaNo loomed. Two days to go and I wasn't ready! Out came the notebooks. I dove into the internet, researching nineteen century illusionists, Victorian beach holidays and the Loch Ness monster (amongst other things).

November started with promise. I had a goal. I had a deadline. I was going to make it! Then real life happened. Doubts crept in. By day sixteen I was exhausted. The migraines started and I still had Supanova (convention) to content with. I tried to push through. I got frustrated, annoyed, anxious.

Then I remembered writing is like an iceberg. The reader glimpses but a fraction, the final product. There's a lot more to a novel than just the final words on paper. The foundation is the important thing.

Once I gave myself permission to 'fail' at NaNo, I managed to relax. My migraine faded. The anxiety abated. I could think more clearly. My health improved. I wrote notes. Lots of notes. Clues required later in the story; plot threads to be gathered and finalised. I drew a map, vital to follow the action and make my life easier when I returned to work on the first draft.

If I hadn't had those NaNoWriMo statistics staring back at me,  I may have continued to wallow. I didn't moan that I had a block  or I was going to fail. Instead, I asked myself: what else can I do to help achieve my final goal?

NaNo was just one of many tools in my writing box. A way to get closer to my final goal. By the end of the month, I had completed more than one-third of my final goal - the third installment to Viola's adventures. In turn, this encouraged me to start looking at the final book cover. I even got out of my chair and got some gardening done (yeah for exercise and endorphins).

So, how did I really do for NaNoWriMo? If you only look at the numbers on my dashboard then, yes, technically I did crash and burn. But in my heart, I beat this bout of anxiety. In my heart, I won.

And that's what really matters.

The Power of Books.

I hadn't realised series 10 of the ABC's Book Club has changed format. I sat down - tea cup in hand, a piece of home-made banana and walnut cake in the other - and cued up this month's episode. Bonus! There were two. It is scheduled weekly, not monthly for 2016.

Episode two was entitled: Books That Changed My Life. The question was asked of the four guest panelists. Their answers were varied: The Uncanny X-men graphic novel,  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence and Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. This got me pondering. What book changed my life?

I thought about it for a week. Many books have influenced me, but which one book had changed my life? This wasn't an easy question.

I come from a religious family. My faith was introduced to me at a very young age. The Bible influenced me greatly, from a very young age. It shaped my beliefs, my ethics. It guided me. It challenged me. It made me ask questions. But it didn't change my life because it had always been there.

I thought harder. I've read so many books, but had any caused a specific change in my life? Then it was clear. The book that changed my life was Lord of the Rings.

In high school I was an avid mystery reader - Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. It wasn't long before I had finished the books in that section of the library. In grade eight, the school librarian, who made it her quest to widen a student's reading vocabulary, gave me a copy of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

A new, fantastical world opened up to me. I read and read Lord of the Rings. I sourced other books on Middle Earth. My library now boasts three copies of The Hobbit, three copies of Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Lays of Beleriand, The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and other J R R Tolkein essays.

It was a big part of my adolescence. But how did Lord of the Rings change my life?

First: I discovered speculative fiction. I could transport myself to a place where anything was possible. It provided an escape from a difficult family situation and the uncertainty of the eighties when world leaders had their fingers hovering over the 'big red button'. Once hooked, I found a hero in Doctor Who, I found adventure in Star Wars. Instead of physically running away, I absconded into fictional worlds where good triumphed over evil and friends were loyal, even against the odds.

This led to the imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons. I now created my own worlds, drew up maps, created world histories and characters to fill the void. This inspired me to write my first book (still hidden somewhere in storage boxes). I wrote fantasy, science fiction and Doctor Who adventures. I researched history - leading into decades of historical re-enactment - and fell in love with words. Those early seeds grew over the years. Writing and speculative fiction came to my rescue in another time of need. Helping me to cope with anxiety.

I'm fortunate to have discovered Lord of the Rings at a pivotal point in my life - a time I was pondering life, the universe and everything. The themes of preserving our natural environment, resisting corruption, of loyalty and sacrifice for others and the ability for the smallest of people to make a difference in the world follow through the books. They shaped my life and re-enforced childhood teachings. I care for the environment, companion plant, save water, recycle. I worked twenty-eight years, looking after the health of others. I crave for a world where friendship and loyalty are more important than material wealth.

Over the years, I kept returning to Lord of the Rings - to the Ents who fought against the destruction of their home and defeated Saruman. I returned to Aragorn the hero, to Galadriel the elf-queen who resisted the temptation of the ring and to Samwise, the loyal friend - who I think was the real hero of the tale.

LOR collection

Not Just Soggy Around the Middle

First read through and rough rewrites on The Department of Curiosities is progressing. I have a long list of notes for the next rewrite, more research of facts and scenes to change or exorcise. Rewriting the beginning is, in a weird way, fun. I can revisit the excitement of a new adventure. Help my characters grow and add more va-voom.

soggy middle notes

But the middle? Argh!

Why do I keep stalling? It's not just the trudging through the myre of the soggy middle. It's first draft is done and discussed in Of the Muddle of the Middle and Other Inconveniences. I thought it would be easier attacking rewrites for this section. During my procrastination-research stage, I read many blogs and articles specifically on writing the middle (act 2) of a story. It seems I am not the only writer to say it: Rewriting the middle is drudgery.

I need to kill my darlings. In every sense of the phrase. Let me just talk about rewrites (or spoilers!) I need more action. I need to consolidate the twists and plots. I need to tighten the belt around that soggy middle.

I'm off to another writing class next month: Power up your writing.  Perfect timing. I need to start my next rewrite with a new eye, new skills and gumption.

But that is not my only hurdle.

I can't believe I wrote Of the Muddle of the Middle and Other Inconveniences over a year ago. To be fair, I have written and published three short stories and a novella, Doctor Jack, while I procrastinated my way around a specific scene. One I am now facing once more.

I thought the middle was a muddle for my head. Act three is just as wracking. Remember the darlings I mentioned. I don't want to part from my characters. They have been with me for over a year of writing and floating in my imagination for twice that. When I finish that last scene, they will have changed. That part of their story is ended. Some will return for another. Some may not.

So it's not just a soggy middle I am wallowing in. There is reluctance to give up my darlings and move on. Time to hitch up my belt, set my sights on the end and exercise those writing muscles.

I can do this.