Monday, November 29, 2010

Goal Oriented

Well, I set a goal and I made it!

I decided that I would try to write a novel in a month, and while I have not yet completed the story (I have about 5 more chapters), I did complete the goal of writing 50,000 in the month of November!

Now my goal is to take it easy, catch up on school work, and hopefully finish the book by the end of the calendar year.  I would like to spend the first quarter of 2011 revising it and then take advantage of one of the "prizes" and submitting it for free binding at Create Space.

This has been a marvelous experience and I hope to write a more detailed post of all the lessons I have learned while participating in NaNoWriMo, not the least of which is that I can indeed write a novel.  In the meantime, I must now grade papers.....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TSS: 11.28.10

Well, it is hard to believe that Thanksgiving 2010 has come and gone and we are now in the throws of the holiday season.  I must admit, however, that I truly love this time of year.

I have done very little in the way of reading and writing this week; in fact, I have not written a single word in my NaNoWriMo work all week long.  I knew that this would happen, however, which is why I wrote like a mad woman the first two weeks of the month.  I still have about 2,000 words to go to meet the 50,000 word challenge, and I probably have about 10,000 words to go until the end of the book.  I may not finish writing the book before Tuesday night, but I will definitely achieve my goal of completing NaNoWriMo 2010.

This has been a fun family week.  My son came in from Nashville and we were able to celebrate with all children and their respective others.  It was nice to have the Thanksgiving table full of food, family, and friends.  My daughter will be spending Christmas with her in-laws in Memphis and Brian will be moving to Los Angeles in January, so this was probably the last time that we will all be together for quite a while.  My youngest will graduate in May and I will become a ....ahem....grandmother in April (not sure I like the sound of that new title) so 2011 is sure to be a year of significant changes, so it was nice to have a traditional Thanksgiving weekend.

Christmas time is definitely here!  I did actually venture out into the Black Friday crowds around 5:00AM and when I returned home around noon I had most of the Christmas shopping completed.  I still have a couple of stocking stuffers to purchase, but other than that, I am done.  I am  SO excited!  I hope to have them all wrapped by the middle of the month so that I am not staying up late on Christmas Eve.

We put up the tree on Friday night and I experimented taking a few photos.  I have a long way to go in my creative photography pursuits, but I am trying to give myself a break and rather than expect perfection, just enjoy the process.  I am looking forward to the Picture the Holidays online photography course that will begin on Wednesday.  While the next couple of weeks will be busy with end-of-the-semester grading and preparing for final exams, I hope to find a bit of time each day to focus on photography.

I also hope to start reading for pleasure again.  It has been far too long and I think I am ready to escape again into the world of fiction.  Most of reading lately has focused on writing, and after NaNoWriMo I think I am ready to take a break from the writing routine. I still hope to maintain some kind of daily writing habit, but not at the insane pace of 50,000 words in a month.  I think the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge is the perfect antidote.  I still need to cull through my bookshelves to find the perfect books.

I am also looking forward to reading all the holiday themed blog posts that will be a part of the Virtual Advent Tour.  I so enjoyed reading about others' traditions last year, and I know that I will anticipate each day's entries this year as well.  In fact, I decided to take part in this tour myself and am scheduled to post on December 20th.  I participated for the first time last year and gave a brief overview of our family's Italian celebration.  I am not quite sure what I will share this year, but I have some time to consider the options.

This week I will have to put my nose to the grindstone.  I have taken off three full days and now I need to write lesson plans and grade research papers.  I hope to write all the lesson plans for the rest of the semester today and grade about six of the remaining eighteen papers.  The students will be giving oral reports in class tomorrow and then I will have to complete the grading by Wednesday.  I have an incentive, however, that should help me to stay focused:  on Friday I will leave for Nashville for the weekend.  I will have the opportunity to see my son again, my brother and his wife, and attend the Birth of Impressionism Exhibit at the Frist Museum.  I have wanted to see this since I first heard about in July.  Approximately one hundred paintings from the Musee  d'Orsay will be on display, and while Nashville is not Paris, this will certainly be the next best thing.  I am just giddy with excitement!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and that the upcoming holidays will allow you to rest, relax, and enjoy the true meaning of this Season of Hope.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSS: 11.21.10

It is very hard to believe that this is the week of Thanksgiving!  We will be spending time today taking advantage of the unusual warmer weather by putting up the outside Christmas decorations; today's high is supposed to be around 70 degrees, whereas the high on Friday is expected to be around 35 degrees.  Such extreme change is temperature is, unfortunately, rather typical for the Midwest.

I am busy making my Black Friday Christmas lists.  I enjoy looking at the ads early online (the site that I use is here, although I think there are several different ones available), but I will also purchase a Thanksgiving Day paper and scour the ads on Turkey Day.  I will not get into the madhouse crowds of Walmart or Target (although I may choose to take advantage of a few online specials), but I will most definitely visit some of my favorite haunts like Half Price Books, Kohls, and Michaels.   How about you?  Do you participate in the bedlam of Black Friday or do you prefer to sleep in and relax?

Personal:
I have spent most of my free time this week grading narrative papers from English Comp and writing my own narrative for NaNoWriMo, but I did sign up for my first photography course at Big Picture classes.  It is called Picture the Holidays and I look forward to the daily emails which will help me focus on the moment during this hectic, stressful time.  Have any of you taken a class from them?

They also offer several scrapbooking and journaling classes, which I might look into in 2011.  I have scrapbooked for several years, and when I mentioned my current projects and ideas last week, Trish of Love, Laughter, and Insanity asked if I might consider writing a post on that topic.  I was actually a scrapbooking consultant for several years before beginning my career as a teacher (in fact, I am convinced it is because of my scrapbooking business that I was offered my first teaching job) - and while I do not consider my strengths creativity and design, I do have a few tips that I can share regarding organization and getting started.  Perhaps I will find the time during Christmas break to write such a post.

Teaching:
The students, as well as the teachers, are ready for a break.  As a result, classes are becoming less exciting and energetic and more a matter of endurance.  We just need to get through tomorrow and Tuesday, and then we will have five days off to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  I did, however, have a terrific class in English Composition.  It was one of those days when nothing went according to the lesson plan, and we all left on a high note.  Let me see if I can recreate the bunny trail that led to a terrific second semester project:

  • ME:  looking ahead to next semester, we will have a major research paper to write
  • Student 1:  can we research on anything?
  • ME:  I'm not sure.  I am thinking of it being a three-part paper:  research a time period - research an author in that time period - read a major work of that author and analyze it - then tie it all together
  • Student 2:  can we do a movie instead?
  • ME:  This is English class, I think we will stick to books
  • Student 3: I would rather write another narrative than a research paper
  • ME:  sorry, Charlie 
  • Student 3:  I think I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo for scripts in April
  • ME:  great idea!
  • Student 2:  Can we write a script instead of the research paper?
  • ME:  sorry, Charlie.  You must write the research paper.  However, we might be able to write another narrative or possible script next semester.
  • Student 4:  If we write a script, can we film it?
  • ME:  sure - that is a great idea
  • Student 4:  how many scripts can we film?
  • ME:  well, perhaps all students could write a script and then we choose the two or three that we film together as a class.
  • Student 4:  I think we should have several genres like a horror, a mystery, a romantic comedy....
At which point the entire class exploded chatter and ideas.  These students spent over forty-five minutes deciding how many different stories they could film; how they would film; where they could film; who had film editing equipment; who could work on costumes; how we could turn this into a fund raising event.  Before we knew it, the class period was over.

No, we didn't discuss how to use Examples in our writing as proposed on the syllabus, but we did develop a long-term project that appealed to every single student in the classroom.  It was exciting and rewarding to witness.  Next semester should be blast....once we get through those pesky research papers.

Reading:
I am still more focused on academics and writing than I am on personal reading.  HOWEVER..last week Wendy mentioned a book that I just knew I had to check out:  Pukka:  The Pup After Merle by Ted Kerasote.  I have not yet read, Merle's Door, but this book is exactly what I needed to read this week.  The story tells of the puppy that the author purchased after the death of his beloved Merle. While we all know that one pet can never take the place of another, our hearts do expand to include enough love for all.  This particular story is told using simple language and lots of personal photographs, which makes it suitable for elementary students through adults.  I have not yet finished it, but that does not deter me from heartily recommending it to any dog lover.

I am also enthralled with this particular method of telling the story.  As I mentioned above, I have been scrapbooking for a number of years and while I have dedicated scrapbooks of my pets, it never occurred to me to use those leftover photos to possibly hone my fictional narrative skills.  With sites such as Winkflash and Snapfish, I can  easily upload photos, arrange them on a page, add my own text, and select "finish product"  Within a few days I can receive my own hard-bound story.  Of course, I can do this with any theme, not just pets, and am thinking this might make a fun Christmas gift:  a story of Princess Mandy or Rock Star Brian or Motherhood for Megan.  Probably not this year.....but it is an idea.

Writing:
At the risk of jinxing it, I will declare that I will finish NaNoWriMo 2010.  I am currently at 48,120 words - which means I need to write less than 2,000 words in the next ten days in order to "win"  My story will probably be closer to 60,000 - 65,000 words when all is said and done, and I truly do want to try to finish the rough draft by November 30.  At that point, I plan to put it away for the month of December.  I will need to focus on final exams, holiday baking, and hopefully a bit of pleasure reading.  I would like to use the month of January to revise --- there are some gaping holes that need to be filled and some inconsistencies that need to be remedied.  I also want to ensure that the theme is developed throughout the novel and not just in one or two key scenes.  Perhaps March will be the month to edit - try to put all my grammar skills to practical  use - and then I will take advantage of Create Space kind offer to bind the manuscript for free.

I am not sure that this will be a book that I will allow anyone to read (much to the surprise of family members).  This was a book that I wanted to write for me.  I wanted to see if I could do it, and I needed to work through some personal issues and I chose this mechanism to do so.

I am hopeful, however, that this experience has fueled a passion to write more.  I want to pick up my Impressionism story this summer and do a bit more research in the hopes that it will be my NaNoWriMo story 2011.  Hopefully that will be a narrative that I wouldn't mind sharing and receiving feedback.

I wish you and your family safe holiday travels and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

TSS: 11.14.10

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here, even if maybe it doesn't look much like it yet.  The week started with bright blue sky, puffy clouds, and temperature in the 70s, but by the weekend a cold front had moved through and now we have cloudy skies, blustery winds, and temperatures in the low 40s.

Tomorrow is my brother and sister-in-law's birthdays, which means in a month I will be celebrating my birthday, and then Christmas will shortly follow.  I must admit that I love this time of year.  I haven't started listening to Christmas Carols (even though one of the radio stations began playing them on November 1st), but now that the weather has turned chilly, I am in the mood to think about this festive time of year.

Personal:
I treated myself to a trip to Archivers earlier this week.  I rationalized that it was for "research" for my book, but in reality I wanted to get some ideas for Christmas projects.  I love daydreaming about all the scrapbook pages that I can make to turn our family memories into keepsake gifts, and I imagine crafting Christmas cards and matching tags to decorate thoughtful presents under the tree.  But for some reason I seem to enjoy daydreaming about the projects rather than creating them.  I never make the time to complete them once I get home.  Why is that, I wonder?

Anyway, I did find a few Christmas papers and embellishments to add to my collection, as well as some supplies to use in Mandy's Open House album.  Most notably, there was an entire section of Harry Potter merchandise which was difficult to ignore.  Mandy has already purchased her ticket to the midnight showing of the newest HP movie release, and now I told her she must take pictures so that I can use these supplies.  For those of you who scrapbook, do you find that you buy the decorative elements first and then stage a picture in order to use them?  I think that this is perhaps the sign of an unhealthy addiction (*smile*)

Teaching:
It was an uneventful, although somewhat frustrating week in the teaching world.  The computer lab did not have internet all week, which makes Computer Apps a difficult class to teach.  Grandparents Day was so popular that the 4th hour class, which was scheduled to take a test over Fahrenheit 451, was cancelled because not everyone could get through the lunch line in time.  Missing this class as well as last Friday's class has put my syllabus in a bind.  And then of course students, as well as teachers, are anticipating the Thanksgiving break and therefore find it more and more difficult to concentrate on academics.  I am grateful that we only have one more full week of school and then we can take a holiday for a few days.

On a positive note, I took advantage of Barnes and Noble sale last weekend that offered one game free if two were purchased.  I managed to find a couple of Christmas gifts, and the free game I chose was a small, compact dice game called Rory's Story Cubes.  I had never heard of it before, but it turned out to be a better "purchase" than I ever anticipated.  The game comes with nine dice, and each side has a different picture/icon.  The object of the game is to roll the dice and quickly develop a story using as many of the pictures as possible.  I tried this first with my creative writing class and they LOVED it!  They developed competitions to see who could use all the pieces in the shortest amount of time.  And of course, their stories were inventive and quite entertaining.  Sometimes spontaneous purchases can be the best!

Reading:
This is the time of year when the new reading challenges for 2011 are being formed and advertised at one of my most favorite blogs, A Novel Challenge.  Some people are so creative and have taken reading to a level that I never imagined before starting this blog.  I fail miserably at challenges:  My imagination is always bigger than my reality and I constantly seem to run out of time, or at times lose interest in that particular genre.  But will that stop me from signing up for a few more next year?  Of course not!

I would love to participate in the Thankfully Reading Weekend challenge 2010, which takes place over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but I know that my time is already being pulled in too many different directions during those few short days.  Between holiday baking, Black Friday shopping, NaNoWriMo wind down, and essay grading, I doubt I will read more than a few pages each day.  I did participate last year and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I have already decided to sign up for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge hosted by Michelle at the True Book Addict and takes place from November 26, 2010 - January 6, 2011.  I know .... I hear you ... Are you kidding, Molly?  You haven't written a book review in months, why on earth would you sign up for another challenge?  Well, the answer is simple.  I decided last year that I wanted to begin a collection of holiday books that I would read each year.  I may not read all of the books every year, but I would re-read a few each year to help put me in the holiday mood and remember the hope and love that it represents.  I don't think any of these books are dense literary masterpieces, but rather they are light, sentimental stories that are sure to bring a warm smile to my face.  I have about a dozen of these books on my holiday shelf and I think reading a bit each night will be the perfect way to prepare my mind and heart for this special season.  

I plan to sign up for the Mistletoe level (that is, read 2-4 books), although I secretly hope that I can achieve the Christmas Tree level (reading 5-6 books in the required time frame).  Do you have any favorite holiday books that you might recommend?  

Writing:
This has been a great week of writing for me.  As you know, I am a goal oriented, put your head to the grindstone, singularly focused kind of gal.  I know that several of my November nights will be spent preparing holiday dinners or grading research papers, and so I have tried to focus all my free time this week to adding to my word count for this work-in-progress.  As of Saturday night, I have a total of 39,197 words with the goal of having a total of 40,000 words by the end of the weekend.  I must admit that I never thought that I had that many words in me (and I am only about half way through the story), and I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have learned so much about me and about life in participating in NaNoWriMo  - and very little of it has to do with writing a novel.  I have learned that writing from an outline is incredibly useful for me!  I will finish a chapter and have no idea what to write next; but when I look at  my timeline (which I have developed as scene cards in Scrivener and absolutely love it) - I am right back on task again.  I always thought true writers would experience "stories just writing themselves" - but I am glad that I did not rely on that method.

I have also learned that I have more free time during the week than I ever thought.  I manage to find two hours or more each night to devote to writing, which has opened my eyes to what I can accomplish once NaNoWriMo is over!  What if I focused on my holiday crafts with this kind of determination?  What if I devoted two hours a night to reading?  What if I took an hour each day and practiced photography skills?  I am not sure how I have been wasting my time --- but now that I have found the time, I do not want to "lose" it again.

Lastly, I have learned that the experts are right (duh!)  Writing every day is liberating and it hones my craft.  Even if what I am writing is a crappy first draft (paraphrase of Anne Lamott) - I am able to practice pacing, detailing, showing vs telling, natural dialog, dealing with real life feelings and emotions in a fictional setting and receiving clarity of the situation.  I do not think this story will be of much interest to anyone but me, but that is ok.  I am still enjoying it, and I still look forward to writing the next chapter.  

I am a terrific at starting long-term projects, but somehow never finishing them.  I either grow bored and lose motivation,  or the project seems so insurmountable that I create distractions that prevent me from  completing the task.  I am committed to completing NaNoWriMo this year, and it feels good.  I hope it is a step over that fear of completion hurdle and I can begin to tackle other long-term projects with the same sense of adventure.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

TSS: 11.7.10

Well, without consciously planning it, I seem to have found a blogging pattern.  Lately I have found that a once a week post that covers a variety of topics works well for me at this particular time in my life.  I hope that it is a satisfactory schedule for you, my dear readers.  Hopefully I will find more time to read and blog about said reading during the holiday break, but until then I will at least try to remain faithful to the Sunday Salon.

Personal:
It has been absolutely beautiful fall weather here in Kansas these past few weeks.  There has been little rain, lots of sunshine, and high temperatures in the mid 60s.  This is quite unusual for us.  We have a saying here that states:  if you don't like the weather in Kansas, just wait five minutes and it will change.  Well, I am glad that it has remained in this particular holding pattern.

I left school the other day and happened to look up and notice some beautiful cloud formations.  Again, this is not a common site in the prairie states.  We either have ominous looking clouds that indicate severe weather, or bright blue sky (usually accompanied by blinding sun and heat and humidity).  I came straight home and forced myself to take a few pictures.  Well, that is not quite accurate.  "Forcing myself" sounds as though it was some sort of punishment.  Actually, I ALLOWED myself to take the time and enjoy a photo shoot of nature that was totally impromptu without any pragmatic ulterior motive.  It was glorious.  I will share a few of the 270+ pictures I took in this post.  I hope you enjoy.

Reading:
I did not actually read for pleasure this week as I spent all my free time focused on NaNoWriMo (see below).  I did, however, visit our library's bi-annual book sale this week and found lots of future reading material for a mere pittance.   I purchased approximately 45 books for a whopping $38.00  I figure even if I don't read them over the next decade I supported a good cause and increased my personal library.  It is a win-win situation.  I found a number of contemporary fiction books, most notably Brooklyn by Colm  Toibin and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon ; a few mysteries including Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer, and quite a few holiday books for the  upcoming Christmas season.  I specifically focused my attention on more women's fiction stories, since that appears to be my writing focus.  I rationalized the purchase of these books as valid research.

The next sale will be the first week of June, so I should have enough reading material to tie me over until then.

Teaching:
I had an unexpected four-day work week, but I would gladly have worked five days if I could have prevented the cause.  The five year old son of one of the pastors at the church died in his sleep Monday afternoon.  He apparently had a seizure and by the time they rushed him to the hospital, it was too late to save his life.  The funeral was scheduled for Friday and school  was cancelled to allow the church family to grieve.

I decided that I would spend my Friday in celebration of life, in memory of this young boy who had his own life cut short.  I left the house by 8:30 and did a few errands before meeting a group of dedicated students at the local Borders bookstore for an impromptu NaNoWriMo write-in.  Out of the sixteen students registered for the month-long club, four came to the Borders get-together, and I consider a 25% response rate fantastic for a voluntary meeting.  We had quite a bit of fun and even made some progress on our novels.

I then decided to do a bit of Christmas shopping and ventured to Barnes and Noble.  I spent a good two hours (*edit - thank you, Margot!) perusing all the aisles and looking at all the books and magazines.  I came away with lots of gift ideas, and even a purchase or two.

I then treated myself to a frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf.  Have you experienced this marvelous taste sensation (or its counterpart Peachwave)?  I do believe I am addicted to the Pineapple/Coconut mix and Mango flavors.  I rationalize that the calorie content is negligible, so I can eat as much as I want.  Fortunately I do not enjoy frozen desserts in the winter months, so I am hopeful these cravings will cease in a few short weeks.

I met my husband for an early dinner and we then walked the local mall in the hopes of being inspired with Christmas gift ideas.  I think we both added a few items to our lists, and we had a rather relaxing evening.

Writing:
Well, the end of week one of NaNoWriMo is coming to a close and I must admit that it has been a rather fun-filled adventure.  I am currently at 12,332 words and I am hoping to write another 2,500 or so more by the end of today.  That should put me ahead of schedule, which is good because I anticipate some academic lessons in my future that will hinder my ability to keep the pace during that time.

I have completed four chapters out of approximately twenty-five, so I think this novel will be somewhat longer than the required 50,000 word minimum.

This week should be rather low key, so I am hoping to have quite a bit of free time to write.  I would like to complete 25,000 words by next weekend, because the following week will require me to grade a number of papers which will not only cut down my available free time, but as is always the case, will leave me rather exhausted.  The week after that will Thanksgiving, which should provide me with the necessary hours to complete the project.

Of course, I am rather incredulous that Thanksgiving will be here in just 2.5 weeks.  Where did the year 2010 go?!
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