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Displacement Activity during NaNo month

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November is NaNo writing month

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by
– Douglas Adams

My last two blogs have featured talented — and busy — authors: the GuestBlog is such a boon when you’re feeling not quite writerly yourself.

Er, well, it’s not that I haven’t been writerly, I have. Just otherwise focused.

NaNo started on November 1st and won’t stop until November 30th and we’re not quite half way through the introductions yet. NaNo is when you abandon all hope of having a life, get up each day knowing you have an obligation to fulfill, fall into bed far too late into the wee hours because you know you won’t get a good night’s sleep otherwise, and generally find it difficult to communicate with your family — unless they’re on Facebook for a couple of minutes. Did I say eat? Whatever’s within reach. So long as it’s quick.

By now all leaf color is a leaf carpet

But November is also the month of Scorpio. That black and white personality, do or die, and if you die, don’t expect anyone to come and pick up the pieces — kind of month. Winter approaches. You can feel it in every breath. Watery autumnal sunlight, and where I live up here on the 57th parallel (cf Juneau, AK), light is gone from the day by 4p.m. Leaves are no longer pretending to cling to tree branches because most of the colorful ones are now carpeting the driveway. That kind of month. A time when one should be out there making the nest ready for hibernation through the next three months of dire weather and even direr temperatures.

And yet that’s the month a small group of writer-stroke-genius displacement activists chose to nurture the NaNo Bug.

Those of our critics who aren’t writers themselves say writing is ‘displacement activity’ from Life with a capital L. As a child, were we encouraged to write or were we encouraged to get an education which would slot us into a ‘good job’?

No displacement activity

Nevertheless I am writing. It’s what a writer is supposed to do.

NaNo was founded in 1999 by a looseknit group (I like the picture that conjures up, kind of like a quilting bee) of writerly types in San Francisco, CA. They chose to set aside the month of November — all 30 days of it — to create the bones of a novel. The ‘bones’ amounts to 50,000 words. Or writing a minimum of 1667 words every day. In order to nourish, challenge and encourage each other, certain perks, ‘gifts’, achievement stickers and carrots are used.

While the pain and self-immolation this exercise invokes might seem to be some people’s idea of lunacy, the Nano idea grew.

Gradually a body of supporters, themselves plunging into writerly waters for the marathon type-in, brought Nano fame. And purpose to November for writers. The month made the real world go away. Instead of the world of lethal freeze outside, your world turns inwards, into the novel or what the novel will become. You hand yourself over to an overlighting presence. You become just the fingers on the keyboard. The body on the bed.

NaNo’s acronym grew from the idea that November is now National Novel Writing Month and a website encourages the cotidien and foolhardy habit, suggesting you upload* a daily wordcount, so as to see your own (growing) stats and feel you are accomplishing something. There are free stickers and website widgets to egg you on, should you feel in need of a boost. And at the end of it, when you’ve passed the 50,000 word mark (some achieve 70,000-100,000. Hey, let’s not knock it), they proclaim you a Winner and you get a purple ‘winner’s’ accolade; plus the offer of a proof hardcopy of your book in print from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

But what happens to this human being who has committed her/himself to such a daily chore (sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a chore)? Does the Muse** visit every day and hold her/his hand through the ordeal?

Even if you don’t feel the Muse holding your hand every day, there are a couple of NaNo folks who do. They’ve taken on the volunteer job of keeping you at it. Been there, done that. They too, most of them, are sitting at their laptops in Peoria Illinois and Ashland Oregon and Walnut Creek California and (Rome, Madrid, London and Skye) pitching in again this November to finish writing their very own ‘new’ idea, plot, adventure, MS, WIP, exercise in writer’s-block-removal.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him
– Ray Bradbury

At the end of the 30 days, if you drag yourself kicking and screaming to the keyboard every day, and create a piece of work, long or short — ignoring edits, spelling errors, lack of thought-flow; just get it out there — there’s one thing you’ll have achieved. A 50,000-word story. It may feel awful, scratchy, patchy, unformed or uninformed, and half the characters may have glaring holes in their back-stories, but it’s the bones of your next novel, your very own WIP — the Work in Progress that will make you feel a teensy bit achieving.

It may take another year before it becomes fit to print, but that’s not the point. During the process, and especially in the middle doldrums — Week Two Blues — it’s the vision of a completed task that draws you on when you tell yourself the last thing you want to do today is sit down and write a chapter about some silly characters that won’t talk to each other.

That’s part of the clever NaNo trick. They must have learned it from Jack Kerouac. He pasted sheets of copier paper top-and-tail together and fed the roll into a typewriter carriage, stocked up with coffee and ‘uppers’ and wrote ‘On the Road‘ in three weeks.

I’m not suggesting the ‘uppers’. Besides, NaNo ‘writing buddies’ are quite good at keeping you going if you flag. Or Facebook. Remember what they say: if your Subconscious has been alerted and informed by your Will that it has to regurgitate something every day in November, believe me, the Subconscious does.

And it sends in the Muse.

You may not like Her. You may not even be able to identify with Her, but at the end of 30 days, you will have Her staring you in the face, handing you a story. And when you really have something finished — I didn’t say polished: that comes after — you really feel you have to do something with it! Because it’s your WIP and it’s all yours.

They say writers are the least likely people to market their own wares. Isaac Asimov said:

Rejection slips, query and form letters, and synopses, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil, but there is no way around them.

2010 NaNo in progress

Which brings me back to Displacement Activity. What NaNo does for writers is just such a way around the roadblock that Asimov thought inevitable. It physically takes over space and time and allows the writerly urge to come through. Displacement activity is put aside to make way for words. That means life functions, regardless/oblivious of eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, shopping, paying bills or stoking fires — or any other life chore, for that matter — take a back seat, offering space for the writer and Muse to get to know one another all over again. And ideally during the process, all distractions, such as rejection slips, plotlines, query letter seminars, agent/ editor suggestions or even how the story’s going to end (along with cell phones) fall into the file drawer below the supply of tea/coffee, twinkies/cookies, cheese bits, and granola.

The rest of the world can criticize you for making writing your Displacement Activity from Life. But by the time you’re past Week Two, the halfway hurdle, and you find you’ve got a story going, your characters are coming alive, even if you’re not quite on the home stretch, you (hopefully) don’t believe your activity is displacement at all. You’ve found a new friend.

So why am I here writing this blog? Must be Nano Displacement Activity. Sorry, dear readers and fellow writers, I got to get back. My NaNo Muse is calling.

* An exciting widget until year 2010 was the wordcount widget. You copy & paste your daily output as input to the NaNo page and it counted the result for you and pasted the glorious total as part of your personal and site-wide stats. In 2010 this feature will only become available to site visitors after November 25th when the widget will be available to participants to ‘verify’ their (completed) output/MS/novel.
**Some days She does; some days She doesn’t.

Ed. As evidence of Marian’s supreme NaNo Displacement Activity, she wrote the following little Drabble for entry in the December Drabble contest over at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard – her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Mark ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
A Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less.
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

November 13, 2010 Posted by | astrology, authors, culture, novel, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Muckle Spate and Sunflower Update

still standing tall; supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

November sunflower: supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

In case no-one’s noticed: it’s November. Snow has fallen in Colorado, the Rockies, Kamchatka and Iceland. Frost came to Northeast Scotland, but it was puny compared with what descended last week AND last month AND September: we’re talking floods here. What they used to call – when country people were country folk – a Muckle Spate.

Now there have been spates and floods before. Weather in Scotland, or Ultima Thule, is and always has been the topic which gets most discussion year-round. It’s because of its location:

Americans in particular are amazed to learn that the Moray Firth in Scotland lies at the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.

For the latitude of Ultima Thule, the farthest and northernmost point of habitable land, read nine degrees below the Arctic Circle, or what is euphemistically named the Northern Temperate Zone. So it’s not unreasonable to experience weather conditions which are enormously influenced by the Atlantic Ocean on one coast and the North Sea on the other.

Gulf Stream warm current annually maintains North Britain frost-free

The powerful warm Gulf Stream current maintains waters mild in Ultima Thule

At the northern end of the Atlantic, the Atlantic Conveyor kicks in, swimming through the Bristol Channel, up the Irish Sea, through the Minch and cresting at the entrance to the Pentland Firth. A small portion of this powerful warm current (more affectionately known as the Gulf Stream or North Atlantic Drift) noses its way along the Pentland Firth between Orkney and Mainland Scotland and curls back south to run inland along the Moray Firth, so-called Aberdeenshire’s North Coast. In historical summers, it has been known to create balmy climes for residents of these northern shores.

For those not aware of these obscure locations in an otherwise frozen belt of Icelandic waters, GoogleEarth will happily provide up-to-the-minute and up-to-the last aerially-photographed section of the Moray Firth, Orkney and Shetland Isles and Mainland Scotland.

Mouth of the Deveron and Duff House at Banff

The River Deveron near Duff House at Banff

Aerial photographers, however, have had a difficult time of it these last three months. Unless, that is, you were racking up overhead shots of flooded football pitches and river basins fulfilling their description as ‘flood-plains’. Some photographers have documented Council employees who have had to stop road-laying and sweeping to race to the aid of a vast area of housing and newbuild schemes on the ‘rescue’ list in need of sandbags, rehousing the homeless, or pumping out flooded basements and High Street shopfronts.

The fact that these new houses were built on ‘flood-plain’ in the first place is something this blogger prefers not to discuss at this point.

Abnormally high rainfall in September washed out roads in the Highlands and Scotland’s West Coast at Oban and Skye. Over a four-day period in October, rivers Don and Dee in Aberdeenshire overflowed and took out roads and bridges in Banchory, Kintore and Inverurie and claimed the life of a farmer. The Rivers Spey and the Lossie at Elgin on the Moray coast reached record high levels. The Deveron at Banff flooded golf courses, links, part of the Old Town and made the A98 coast road impassible.

one of Genl. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

One of Gen. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

Overnight on Hallowe’en and into the early hours of November 1st, the total expected rainfall for the month of November fell in six hours, and put Aberdeenshire Council into the red in its attempts to rescue and rehouse residents made homeless by rivers Carron and Cowie bursting their banks at Stonehaven and the rivers Bogie and Deveron flooding new houses at Huntly.

Aberdeenshire’s North Coast shares something in common with those river valleys in the glacial excavation grinding through the Mounth, the Cairngorms, and the Grampian and Ladder Hills. They have always had extremes of weather. Prophets of global warming suggested cooling temperatures for North Britain in 2005. Yet in the interim, except for the Wet Summer of 2009, Scotland has experienced record high temperatures. House building in floodplains has progressed apace. No wonder Mother Nature decided this year to rebel and balance the books.

She did something similar in the summer of 1829. It was the year of the Great Flood, or in the Northeast vernacular, The Muckle Spate o’ ’29.

If records are to be believed, three months’ worth of rain fell in one week in August of that year, inundating crops and farmland, transporting cattle, sheep, dogs and men from their homes downstream for miles. Bridges were heavy casualties. Even those robust granite bridges built by General George Wade (1673-1748) in 1724 to withstand the weight of his marching troops and to guide his mapmakers through the wilds of Scotland on their first attempt to document the country for King George I. But two centuries have elapsed since then and road- and bridge-building has advanced a pace. Or have they?

Turriff United football ground, Aberdeenshire

Turra United: the fitba' pitch at Turriff, Aberdeenshire

In November, 2009, the Dee washed out the road and bridge at Banchory. Banff causeway was underwater and the Don bridge at Inverurie had water level with the arches. The Old Dee Bridge at Aberdeen was closed, as were roads involving bridges supplying Oldmeldrum, Kintore, Dyce, Turriff, Huntly, Stonehaven, Glass, Keith, Aberchirder, Ellon, Deskford, Banff, MacDuff, Elgin, Findhorn, Forres and Alford.

For all our computer-generated map-making and architect-free design models of flood plains, physical geography and world climate patterns, one would think we had learned something. Last week’s freak storm suggests we haven’t.

I thought you’d like to read a brief excerpt from the vernacular poem ‘The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-nine’ by David Grant, published in 1915 by the Bon-Accord Press, Aberdeen. Its subject matter was focused on the River Dee at Strachan (pronounced Stra’an) – a mile of so from the base of the Mounth. If you need a translation, I might suggest you ask someone from the ‘old school’ and keep handy a copy of Aberdeen University Press‘s Concise Scots Dictionary. Enjoy.

sunflower and stone circle after the storm

Giant sunflower and stone circle after three storms

Oh, yes. My giant sunflower: she weathered all three storms. She flowered during October, turning daily towards the light until it no longer rose above the shelterbelt of trees. Then, holding her south-facing stance, she pulled her yellow petals inwards as if to cloak her next (a sunflower’s most important) operation: to set seed. She showed a little yellow up until yesterday, but her colour is now mostly gone. Unlike her two less-lofty companions, she has not gone mouldy; but I hesitate to describe the activity presently occurring in her centre as ‘seed-setting’.

It rained again today after three days of watery sun. I think she may still have time to stretch herself into the record books: as the latest-bloomer of all time to brave insane weather and still reach her goal: the Giant Sunflower of Ultima Thule. Spates be damned.

The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-Nine by David Grant

‘At Ennochie a cluckin’ hen wis sittin’ in a kist,
Baith it an’ her were sweelt awa’ afore the creatur’ wist;
We saw her passin’ near Heugh-head as canty as ye like,
Afore her ark a droonit stirk, ahint a droonit tyke,
An’ ran anent her doon the banks for half-a-mile or mair,
Observin’ that, at ilka jolt, she lookit unca scare,
As gin she said within hersel’ – ‘Faur ever am I gyaun?
I nivver saw the like o’ this in Birse nor yet in Stra’an.
Faur ever am I gyaun, bairns? Nae canny gait, I doot;
Gin I cud but get near the side, I think I wad flee oot.’
We left her near the Burn o’ Frusk, an’ speculatit lang
Gin she were carri’t to the sea afore her ark gaed wrang,
An’ may be spairt by Davie Jones to bring her cleckin’ oot,
Gin she wad rear them like a hen or like a water coot.’

November 10, 2009 Posted by | gardening, Muse, nature, stone circles, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

November is Writing Month

National November Writing Month

NaNoWriMo: National November Writing Month is a worldwide phenomenon

It’s NaNoWriMo. Loads of people are doing it. It just takes a little time, discipline (yes, I know) and a desire to create a novel – of medium length, 50,000 words – in 30 days. During National November Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight local time on November 30, 2009.

It’s not the first time writers have pulled all the stops out and thrown their lot in with the Muse, but I believe the organization behind the idea is creating an ‘umbrella of achievement’ which is hard to resist.

Besides, won’t it be nice to read your own hard-typed flow when the 30 days are up and you can slip into ‘edit’ mode?

That’s what NaNo suggests: don’t stop to edit as you go along. Take the keyboard into the bath or into bed if you have to, but just keep punching the keys until something like one-and-a-half-thousand words are on the page. Then you can stop for that day. And add some more tomorrow.

Some people knew about this ahead of time, but even if you were one of the 21 people in San Francisco who took part in the first NaNoWriMo ten years ago in November 1999, it is no help really, because everyone starts afresh at the beginning of the month – no WIPs (works-in-progress) allowed.

This is how NaNo puts it:
‘On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.

‘This is not as scary as it sounds.

‘Starting November 1, you can update your word count in that box at the top of the site, and post excerpts of your work for others to read. Watch your word-count accumulate and story take shape. Feel a little giddy.

‘ Write with other NaNoWriMo participants in your area. Write by yourself. Write. Write. Write.

‘If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.

‘ Win or lose, you rock for even trying.’

Well, it’s a little more than that:

November has 30 days: so 1650 words x 30 = 49,500 words, with a little bonus of an extra 500 if you are in your stride.

While some of us are already a week into the project, there is no reason on earth why you can’t sign up right now and join us. One of the best reasons is, even if right now you don’t think you’ve got a novel in you, you have. And with half the agents and editors and publishers on the East and West Coasts watching the site, there is a little more of a carrot dangling before our glazed authors’ eyes than the usual solitary typewriter-bashing which goes on at all hours of the day and night anyway.

We’re technically currently at day number 7 (Europe just moved into day 8, but we’re talking local time here). Worldwide writing is split into regions: like United States : Illinois : Chicago or Europe : Scotland : Elsewhere or Europe : Elswhere (mind boggles). You can choose which region you wish to be affiliated with and you can pick two or more regions if you like: so you can be Europe : Elsewhere as well as Europe : Finland, for example.

By the end of the first week of writing worldwide, some of the wordcounts are already looking quite impressive:

United States :: Washington :: Seattle is in the lead with a total of nearly seven million words written (6,952,796 to be exact).
Canada :: Newfoundland is in at 221st place with a wordcount of 473,031; Europe :: Northern Ireland has 438,876 and counting.

At first I thought I didn’t have another novel in me – I’ve been struggling a little lately just to get the right combination of synopsis, query letter and presentation on my completed novel ‘Shasta’ in front of the ‘right’ agent, editor, publisher. But by midnight on November 1st, I decided: what the hell. There is something about the concept of allowing words to flow despite oneself, without the inner editor getting too much of a controlling finger out to wave in one’s face, that makes the NaNoWriMo appealing.

We have a great author and go-with-the-flow guru to emulate.

Jack Kerouac decided in the late ‘fifties to write what turned out to be his masterpiece ‘On the Road’. He had an idea that if he psyched himself up to writing all at one go, he’d be able to put on paper (days of steam-driven typewriters, remember) all the lovely sidetrack thoughts that go along with a main thought: the flow that his work shows so magnificently.

Kerouac and the Muse: he wrote 'On the Road' in three weeks.

He had a manual typewriter – not even electric. Computers were things they had in SciFi novels. Or in the basement in Langley, Virginia. He sat down in his pad outside Big Sur, CA and for three days scotch-taped together pages and pages of 8 x 11 paper (that’s old style, non-decimal, for those that may not understand) until he had a roll of paper on the floor that approximated a very large footrest or paper cushion.

In those days ‘uppers’ were available over the counter in drug stores. He laid in a supply of those, plus several pre-ground bags of coffee, a percolator, milk and sugar and some pretty basic food – I heard it was mostly bread and butter with maybe some salami or jam or jelly to spice it up a little. And he started.

In three weeks he’d written ‘On the Road’ and we all know how that worked out.

So now you see why it might be worth your while dipping your toe into this NaNoWriMo thing? The world is poised, fingers on typewriter and computer keys from Vladivostok to Tierra del Fuego, with some pretty amazing places you’ve never heard of in between. And they’re all bending their heads daily over a little keyboard, from which miracles might appear.

If Jack could do it, there is absolutely no reason on earth for the rest of us not to try.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment