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Ransom Note To Your Inner Discovery

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writer frustrated

Aaaaargh… what will this f*ing protagonist do next? How in hell will he extricate himself from a near certain lengthy prison sentence?

With the sun slipping low towards the shadowy horizon, the ideas, the muse, were roaming free and unwilling to return to the stall of the barn inside my head.

Five years ago this coming month I sent myself a (figurative) ransom note.

I embarked on a month-long odyssey to write a 50,000 word novel along with 3 or maybe 400,000 others in the online pilgrimage to writing called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

Hopeful hundreds of thousands of quietly sequestered souls across the globe sought inspiration and profound thoughts in the bedrooms and home offices of their own towns and boroughs and landscapes. My writerly setting was this dry, fruit tree and vineyard-draped valley with a narrow lake snaking through it in a tiny Canadian town called Summerland.

The simple gist of the composition adventure is to begin… and finish… writing a novel during the month of November.

Anyone can enter.

Anyone can do it. Even you. No cost. Sign up here.

All you need to do is sit and compose an average of 1,666 words each day.

Black and white. Yin and yang. So simple and so difficult.

Here, let me give you some context.

I pull together this blog once a week and it usually slides in around the 1,000 word mark.

Typically it takes me about 5 or 6 hours of writing and editing, obsessing, drinking lattes, then writing and editing, obsessing some more… That means for NaNoWriMo I was writing about 1.5 blog posts EVERY day for a full month.

Easy peasy, right?

Sure. Easy if you’re supernatural JK Rowling or Stephen King, people of intense focus and creative ability and stamina.

Stephen King wrote a great book on the subject of writing called, appropriately… duh: On Writing.

King may be a “pulp” writer and sit low on the esteem scale with some out there (there are many of his books that even I don’t like), but he’s an unimaginably productive and creative freak of nature.

Stephen King and JK Rowling

A Bonanza of Creative Brain-Force

King’s high up on my formidably long HERO List (Woody Allen has… again… sigh… plummeted this week).

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We are writers and we never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know we don’t know

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My NaNoWriMo novel attempt, The Temper of the Times, was the story of an adult man who testifies in court against the accused rapist of his boyhood sweetheart. Years later, he is sent to jail himself after killing the paroled rapist in self-defense, while his former girlfriend is torn between her defender and her frustrated Peruvian-born husband-physician whom she brought to live in her west coast Canada community.

Interesting? Maybe. We’ll never know as the 50,000 words (YES! I completed it!) I wrote over 30 days languish in a drawer… a sticky drawer where I lack the drive to bring it home.

NaNoWriMo is akin to being in solitary confinement of the Orange is the New Black prison for 30 days.

As I sat in my home office pecking away faithfully day after day I found myself daydreaming of slipping self-directed ransom notes under the door seeking rescue from the bonds I had voluntarily shackled myself with.

I reminded and coached myself constantly with cliched platitudes… nothing good comes without pain or struggle… patience is virtue… hard work is its own reward…

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Writing should be a pleasurable activity. I love blog writing.

Writing should be stimulating and intoxicating, self-examining and saintly.  I attempt to do that in my weekly blurbs.

Writers are romanticized in books, TV, movies… it’s a pseudo-bucolic life of intellectual stimulus and reflection and creativity. I think romantically about myself all the time, that’s how I became Master of My Own Domain at 13!

Participating in NaNoWriMo is like becoming an anthropologist: an unexpected yet powerful self-discovery tool.

The #1 greatest take away I stumbled on in writing a couple of thousand words every day for a month?

I have an enormous respect and admiration for the writers out there who toil in quiet solitude developing ideas and intricate stories and pictures based on their life experiences and observations, or from extensive research and study.

The second greatest lesson was more of an internal discovery.

I’m not cut out for writing novel length stories. The intense, patient focus needed is foreign to my genetic composition. Sure, I can do it if necessary but it doesn’t take me to a happy place in any way similar to the joy I feel in participating in 5 or 6 very different activities, like running or blogging or playing guitar, in a day.

It’s like the staring game that kids play… who will blink first. I’d never win.

Stupid, I’d think. Let’s move on, there 10 other neat things to do.

Stephen King can sit on his ass for 4 or 5 hours every single day (including Christmas, he’s a workhorse) and massage his mind and writing muscles. I’m impressed.

But my massage comes in a potpourri of snippets running wildly off in different directions.

The ancient Greeks originated the maxim: “Know thyself“…

Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac observed the great difficulty of knowing one’s self, with: “There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.

NaNoWriMo was a 30-day trial of steel and diamonds for the lessons it taught me. If you try it out you may find the same.

I’ll finish up this mere 1,000 word blog post with a few questions for you to ponder.

How well do you know yourself?

How do you unearth your internal answers?

Have you tried writing a ransom note to yourself where you’ll set yourself free only after you’ve made the discovery that sets you on fire?

Dsicover yourself.jpg

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A NOVEL Experience … 8 Reasons I Now Love November!

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And on December 1st he rested. Sorta…

November

I don’t usually like November a whole lot. OK, actually, I normally loath November.

Why the hate?

  • November begins with eating up all of the candy and chocolate that isn’t dished out to the ghosts and goblins on the last night of October, so you can just add 3 pounds automatically on November 1.
  • One week into the month, at least where I live here on Canada’s west coast, you adjust your clocks so that it’s dark at 4:30 p.m. – the old summer bedtime that used to feel early at 10 o’clock, now insistently calls out at 6 p.m.
  • The red liquid in the thermometer begins to sink and shrink just like me when I jump into icy cold water, and then the colour-frosted leaves drop off of all the trees that were blooming and leafing out just a few weeks ago, or so it seems.
  • I think I may have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I’m not sure. I just don’t find the same level of energy and joie de vivre for most things as the days grow shorter.  I prefer summer SEX (*Seasonal Energy eXtremes), that July/August climax of my energy cycle when all things seem possible.
  • The scents of summer, the bright blue smell of lavender and sugary sweet rose essence have been taken off on a northern breeze like a perfumed letter to our friends in the southern climes.

In years past, I’ve thought of re-writing that Boomtown Rats song “I Don’t Like Mondays” as “I Don’t Like Novembers”. So you can imagine how, when I tuck myself into bed on the night of October 31, I begin to shiver and shake in dread anticipation of the dark, heavy, long month ahead.  Usually...

But this November was different.

November was a busy month.

November was a great month.

November might become my favourite month if it can keep this up.

Even the things that would normally seem – at least on the surface – bad,  have a positive underlying message.

This was my November 2013…

1. NANOWRIMO – You’ve dreamed of writing your own novel? ME TOO!

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NaNoWriMo is just a quirky contraction for something with the longer moniker of National Novel Writing Month. Anyone can participate.

It’s an online novel writing challenge – 30 days of November dedicated to starting (and maybe finishing) your own novel. There are no prizes (unless you think a WINNER certificate at the end qualifies as a prize) or publishing contracts offered.

The deal is that you write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30 and submit your work for an official word count and if they agree that you’ve reached the goal of 50,000 words, you are declared a certified and sanctioned winner.

This year’s event started with 311,312 participants of which 41,000 (41,001 if you include me) actually completed the 50,000 word goal.

And it WAS a challenge.

Plunking myself down each day and writing close to 2,000 words was a major commitment of time and mental energy, but I viewed it as a way to work on my promise to myself of 10,000 hours of writing practice. Of course, normal time-sucking life stuff had to be maintained throughout.

Was my writing good? Hell NO!

Some days the inspired muse was breathing inside me and the metaphors and idea flow poured out like hot butter over steamy theatre popcorn (can you tell I went to the movies last night?); other days (honestly, I’ll say most) were just plain hard mental work and discipline to hang in and continue on despite shitty thoughts and disappointing concepts that were pure cliche.

The Temper of the Times is my story of an adult man who testifies against the accused rapist of his boyhood sweetheart. Years later, he is sent to jail himself after killing the paroled rapist in self-defense, while his former girlfriend is torn between her defender and her frustrated Peruvian-born husband-physician whom she brought to live in her west coast community.

Great novelists out there, I bow before you in praise of your abilities.

I’ve got a ton of editing to complete what I’ve started, but I would do it again (just not tomorrow, OK?) in a flash.

Intrigued at the thought? Try it yourself next year, you can do it!

2. BOOT CAMP Class – a friend Cara (from a bicycle Spin Class at one gym) talked us into participating in one of her own Boot Camp-style classes at another gym. I’ve done a few boot camp classes before, but Cara’s immense energy and fun commentary was needed to survive the full hour of physical torture.

All class long I thought to myself, “NEVER again“, and then 5 minutes after the class ends, I’m asking Cara when the next class is scheduled.

Intense exercise is exhausting but invigorating and I love that it challenges (just like NaNoWriMo) me to push towards a level that I don’t believe I’m capable of achieving.

3. JACK FROST Statue – there are those fantastic opportunities that arise occasionally that transport us to places we never dreamed we would ever go. Like taking a side journey down an alley in a foreign country and discovering the best noodles, guinea pig pizza, or pastry you’ve ever tasted.

Out of nowhere, my friend Jennifer asked, “What would you think about volunteering as a human “statue” for the local Christmas Festival of Lights event?”. I’ve seen and been intrigued by these living sculptures in places like Barcelona and Cusco, Peru in my journeys, but never considered trying to actually be a statue myself.

And now I have, festooned as JACK FROST. The name alone should have tipped me off about standing static in Canadian winter!

It was chilly perched there, unmoving for 2 hours on a cool, crisp winter evening. My blue-lipsticked lips magically transformed into a more natural, organic blue with each passing moment.

How cool is it to stand there while people talk about you, right in front of you, as if you weren’t there? Tons of kids, “Mommy, the statue just blinked!!”, “Daddy, I think the statue winked at me!”, “Is that a REAL statue?”…Teenagers, “Bet I can make the statue laugh!” (NOT!)

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I’m trying out life as an albino…

Plus, my donation box took in $105 for the SPCA and Summerland Ornamental Gardens.

4. LOST 8 POUNDS – You’ve heard of the Freshman 15, yes? New university students living in residence typically gain 15 pounds in their first year away from home.

Well, I’ve invented the 2013 – 13. 

FACT – I’ve gained 13 pounds since the beginning of 2013. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

I can exercise the hind end off a donkey, but my self-discipline normally screeches to a halt at the feeding trough. And generally, my ability to eat outpaces my running distance on the treadmill or the rivers of sweat at BOOT CAMP class.

However, this November something changed inside me that brought an inexplicable wellspring of eating self-discipline that has seen the poundage plummet. I shed 8 pounds despite – or perhaps because of – spending inordinate hours with my ass in this novel-writing chair.

I wish I always felt this superpower of eating self-discipline, but if past experience is any guide, it’s a temporary strength that I can merely desperately cling to for the ride and hope it lasts long enough to make it to the full 13 pounds or even 20.

I know I’ll run faster in any half marathons I take in next year if I can keep the weight train chugging downhill.

5. ANXIETY ATTACK – somewhere around midnight one night in the middle of the month I awoke with my heart pounding rapidly and a slight shortness of breath.

The sensation reminded me of feelings I had 25 years ago before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

I tried to stay calm but it did frighten me. I don’t have to tell you the thoughts that run through your mind at midnight when your heart is racing. “I’m either having a heart attack or an anxiety attack”, I said to myself. No chest discomfort or pain in my arm. Then the sensation subsided. Weird. Then the roller coaster took off again a few minutes later as my pulse rate raced higher and then subsided.

An occasional reminder of our mortality is a valuable wake-up call for us to reflect on what is important to us. The takeaway here? … as a first step, time to go and get my thyroid levels checked out – apparently you’re not supposed to hold the thyroid-replacement medicine bottle to your lips and shake until your mouth is full.

6. MARKET VALUE – I try to maintain an even disposition when it comes to my stock market investments. I’ve been buying and selling blue chip shares in great companies for so many years now that I know a big updraft in Apple, Microsoft, or McDonalds, even Tims, is often followed by a mighty tumble at a later date. This is a part of the nature of investments that I accept.

No over-the-top celebrations on the winning days, no despairing depressions on the losers.

But November was one of those strange and heady months where share prices rose, then rose, then rose some more. A 2% monthly increase overall doesn’t sound like much, does it? But if you extrapolate that 2% and figure that a 24% annual return is well above my target goal of 15% annual return, I’m a contented November investor. So go and upsize your Big Mac with an iPad and make me a happy December guy too!

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Lots of dips and valleys, but I like the overall trend…

7. BOOKS TO READ – The positive upside to the shorter light days of November is reading by the woodstove, absorbed in a great story on my KOBO.

I was deadset against e-readers: “How can anything take the place of a real book, the feel, the smell?”, I thought to myself. Then I had my own and found how convenient and relatively inexpensive it is to acquire a substantial library. A library you can carry in your pocket and read anywhere and at any time. The look and feel of a beautiful, well-made hardcover book is hard to beat, but my KOBO has made a great case for the convenience and lower book purchase costs… and even borrowing library books … Vive la KOBO!

8. ABOUT TIME – sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impression on us.

I love movies. I love going to the theatre to watch movies – and yes – the popcorn does have something to do with it.

Most films come with either a lot of hype, hugely positive, or hugely negative. Recently, both GRAVITY and THE HUNGER GAMES were released to massive advertising and build-up. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed each of them although I don’t think you can hide George Clooney behind a spacesuit…he’s so …George Clooney’ish. Despite my constant amazement of what filmmakers can achieve, for me, the popcorn edged out the films themselves in the end.

But then along comes a little British time-travel-cum-romantic comedy called About Time and I’m bowled over by the sensitive characterization and the subtle acting skills (Ah hell, Rachel McAdam is just too damn charmingly gorgeous to ignore, I admit it) that draw me in and leave me spellbound. It’s a little like a quiet sleeper film from last year called Quartet (a group of old musicians living together in a retirement home) that charmed the pants off me.

About Time 2

ABOUT TIME … riding off into the sunset…

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So welcome to December.

December is similar to November but it has an abundance of occasions baked in that set it apart from old staid November: Christmas, Hannakuh, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Winter Solstice.

December 1st comes along like a timid March lamb and it picks up momentum and steam before it’s rushed out like a roaring, ferocious lion at midnight on December 31st. You barely catch your breath and another year jumps out at you.

Let me finish here by apologizing to you.

Normally, my blog posts run about 1,000 words in length. Today, thanks to November’s 2,000 words-per-day clip of NaNoWriMo, my writer’s diarrhea has spun out deliriously of control and here you are paying the price with this extra long post. Bear with me, OK? I’ll use December to whip myself back into a state of compact wordsmithing as per the great bard:

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

Sorry