Monday, November 24, 2008

Word Counts

I dreamt about word counts last night. I'm on the home stretch toward meeting the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. So I've been clocking in a few hundred words before going to bed many nights. And yesterday I spent a few hours before that at a write-in with other NaNo folks. No wonder the dreams about word counts then, eh?

Reminds me of a statistic I learned during sessions with our pastor in preparing for marriage. It went something like this: men have an average of 500 words they will use during a given day; women have a 27,000-word quota. Therefore, what often happens is this: the husband arrives home at the end of his work day and all of his words have been spent. But the wife, particularly if she is a stay-at-home-mommy to a little one still has approximately 26,975 words left and only a few hours in which to use them. She will start firing them off rapidly as soon as her honey walks in the door and can continue on unabated for the remainder of the evening, if allowed. She has no fear of running out of words, she fears running out of time.

In this word-count driven month I'm living, I drift back to those statistics often. And I wonder - do writers have these kind of limitations? If I press to write more than 4,500 words in one day, will I run out? Or do I have a global word count limit that I am rapidly approaching and which is set to be reached right at about three quarters of the way through the final chapter of my novel? Will my written word-count limit be replenished daily the way verbal limits seem to be?

Not a lot of deep thought here tonight. Just my way of saying, I'm still here. I'm still writing. It's just that this pesky novel is eating up a good amount of my word quota and not leaving much for y'all. I've stolen these few to have something to share today.

What are your thoughts on word limits? Do you have children that seem to have widely varying needs in terms of daily word expenditure? Do you and your husband match the statistics or is one (or both) of you an anomoly? Feel free to share your thoughts. As far as I know there are no limits to word intake, especially when it comes to listening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When I saw this sign on our vacation last month I was tempted to buy it. How true, huh?

Well, that was more than a month ago. And you might be thinking that since I'm 18 days into my noveling frenzy that it would be truer than ever. I've spent tens of hours at my computer and typed more than 73 single-spaced pages, totalling over 30,000 words. I've downed dozens of cups of hot chocolate (sorry, coffee makes me edgy late at night) and scribbled notes on stacks of index cards. I'm on track to finish at least a 50,000-word novel by November 30th.

So it would be so easy right now to play on your sympathy and tell you how my children are starved for attention, my freezer is empty and the dust bunnies are growing in greater numbers than my word count. I could act like my wrists are screaming in pain from carpal tunnel and my back is aching from hunching over my computer. I could moan about the rigors of dealing with uncooperative characters and plot holes as big as Manhattan.

But it would all be a lie (okay, so my whole left arm is inflamed and the fingers on my left hand occasionally feel numb, plus the dust bunny part is kinda true). Over the past eighteen days I've fed my children and gotten them off to school, cooked, cleaned, done laundry, been on two radio interviews and done two speaking engagements, hung out with friends and... Well, I've pretty much done everything I'd normally be doing. Then instead of spending my evenings reading a book, playing solitaire or getting beat at some game by my husband, I've retreated to my den and spent an hour and a half writing. Add in some bigger chunks of writing on the weekend and it totals up to over 30,000 words so far.

Think about it: how many goals or tasks have you seen as so monumental that you never even attempted them? How many things could you achieve if you committed yourself to baby steps every day? I'm beginning to see that probably many of life's big accomplishments were reached though a series of regular everyday baby steps.

What's your big dream? What's your next goal? And what will you do today and the day after that and the day after that until you achieve it?

Me? I'm going to keep on setting my rear on my chair in the den for the next twelve days in hopes of crossing the NaNo finish line. When I get there I plan to have a celebration - it just won't be at my house. Too many dust bunnies for that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Teacher Gifts

Every year I make (or assemble) gifts for my children's teachers. Every year I work with one idea and use it for all three of my daughters' teachers. It's easier to focus on one single concept and I've found economies of scale in terms of cost and time by doing it this way. This year's teacher gift? A footed serving plate made by gluing a tapered candle holder to a china salad plate (or other nice plate). I have given this gift before and returned to it because it is a timeless gift and turns out very classy for little money. We searched outlet stores and thrift stores to find our plates and the candle holders came from garage sales (and polished up very nicely). A little china glue on the rim of the candle holder and we were in business. I'll just add some homemade cookies or candy before wrapping them up. And since they're done so early, we may not wait until December to give them (that way their teachers can use them for the holidays).

Works for me! How about you. For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas check out Rocks In My Dryer.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mistaking Model For Formula

In life there are models to be imitated and formulas to be followed. One guarantees a specific result, the other guarantees nothing. And this is an important distinction. Make the mistake of thinking you are following a formula when you're just imitating a model can lead you to a lot of frustration and heartache. I know. I'm there.

One of the hallmarks of the United States is our adherence to "the great American dream", the model of hard work leading to success. It is a beautiful model, with some wonderful stories to support it. Personally I love the story told in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. It is a heartwarming tear-jerker about a down on his luck salesman who risks all his life savings to pursue a career in the stock market. His wife leaves him and he and his son live on the streets while he pursues this dream. In the end he succeeds and winds up owning his own firm, becoming a millionaire. What I love most about this story is that it's true.

Here's the catch: a lot of people (myself included) derive a formula from this model. It goes something like this: hard work plus determination equals success (HW+D=S). We think that if we work hard and persist at working hard that finally what we are working toward will come to us. And we're tricked into thinking this is a guaranteed result by the people around us who do just that - who work hard and get rewarded for it. Thankfully most places of employment in this country operate on that model.

The marketplace on the other hand does not. Should someone decide to self-publish a book a year ago, with the thought of launching it at a national conference for an organization that should be happy to support it, they will find that life is not so easy. The book will not arrive in time for the conference. The organization will not even acknowledge the copies sent to its leaders. Someone might then remember the "determination" part of the equation and persist in trying to get the book out there, going way beyond her natural bents and inclinations. She may work many hours and seek a variety of venues to sell the book. When single copy sells here and a dozen friends are kind enough to buy copies there, someone celebrates these tiny successes and reminds herself that it's going to take more determination. And she continues on.

In the meantime around her are these models of success that fool her into thinking that if she just works harder and persists longer her success will come too. A friend bithely self-publishes and sells more in a couple of weeks than someone has in over a year. And someone wonders what she has done wrong, how much harder, how much longer she needs to go at it before she'll succeed. Until she finally sees her error.

It's not a formula. It's a model. Like many people in this country right now, she's seeing that it's a broken model. It simply does not work any more. Then she remembers a visit to Springfield last month. She remembers standing in front of a time line of President Lincoln's life and pointing out to her daughter the large string of failures he had before becoming President of the United States. Maybe that's the current model: expect failure - lots of it.

I just don't know whether I'd say to expect success to come along later. It just might not.

Post Script: Literary agent, Terry Whalin, addresses the tough nature of "success" in the world of books and publishing today on his blog, without suggesting one should throw in the towel. And he gives some more examples along the lines of what I said about Lincoln. I might just need a new dose of determination here. That and a revised perspective (thank you, everydayMom).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update

Yeah, I know it's only a few days into the month, so what possibly could there be said at this juncture about my stunning work of creative brilliance? Not much really, except that it is historical fiction (or perhaps hysterical since I've engaged in a minimal amount of research about the time period in which it occurs) and I'm over 9,000 words into it. I'm feeling like it was wise to go all out in the beginning here because the more words I have done, the more I feel like I'm committed to this mammoth undertaking.

It's been fun to hear of other writer friends taking up the challenge with me. I think that is part of what makes NaNoWriMo such a great adventure: the thrill of "competition" and the company that such misery requires. That said, I can't figure out the NaNoWriMo buddy system, so instead I invite anyone who'd like to buddy up with me to add me to their NaNoWriMo buddy list. Here is a link to my user profile for you to do that (Llama Momma, the one I previously gave you I've ditched. Sorry): .

All you non-writers, don't worry, I have other non-writing thoughts I plan to share in the next few days. In the meantime I have some wild beasts to fend off and some hungry characters to feed.