Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

stories matter nanowrimo sticker

A story is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle that would cover the whole floor of a room with its tiny pieces. But it’s not the sort of puzzle that comes with a box. There is no lid with a picture on it so that you can see what the puzzle will look like when it’s finished. And you have only some of the pieces.

All you can do is keep looking and listening, sniffing about in all sorts of places, until you find the next piece. And then you’ll be amazed where that next piece will take you.”

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks

I read Finding Serendipity in mid-November, and this quote struck me as perfect for NaNoWriMo.

Most people (including me) start NaNo with a shiny but elusive idea, and we spend the month chasing those ideas – or, as Banks would have it, sniffing about for the next puzzle piece. Some folks work from detailed outlines, but I tend to make a few notes and then plunge in.

My first two weeks of NaNo were, shall we say, prolific. I was a little hopped up on both caffeine and words by the end of Week 1:


I wrote so much, in fact, that my wrists and hands (not to mention my tired brain) began to protest:


I slowed my pace a little during the second half of November, but I still made an effort to crank out a thousand words or so every day. My story is full of plot holes (and too much dialogue), but I’m proud to say I hit 50,000 words over Thanksgiving weekend, which makes me a NaNoWriMo winner.

nanowrimo 2015 winner banner

My novel, Pies and Plies, isn’t nearly done, and I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day. But that isn’t the point. It’s flawed in a hundred places, but I still love the premise – which came to me in a dream this summer – of a family running a ballet studio-cum-pizza parlor (hence the title).

Every time I attempt NaNo, I take on a new creative challenge. This time, I enjoyed the process of drafting a young adult novel. (I read a ton of YA novels, but I’d never attempted to write one.) This story is set in the suburbs of Boston (instead of Oxford, where my previous two NaNoNovels take place). And while all my narrators end up sharing some of my thoughts and preoccupations, this narrator, Elise, is not a carbon copy of me. That was also a creative stretch, and a satisfying one.

I don’t think I’m a fiction writer at heart. I tend to write about what I know, or more specifically, what I think about what I know, and what happens to me. But I love stories and I believe that they matter, and I love joining in this annual, gleeful, worldwide burst of creativity. And it’s so satisfying to say it: I won!

Onward to December – wherein I will still be writing, but giving my wrists (and brain) a bit of a break. Whew!

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nanowrimo laptop chai darwins

We are deep into November: golden leaves, crisp blue skies, vivid orange sunsets (which come all too soon every day now). And I am deep into my NaNoWriMo novel, because November is the month when writers around the world pick up their pens (or open their laptops) and begin writing furiously, trying to draft a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Yes, it’s crazy. Yes, my wrists and fingers are sore. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo twice before, writing a novel set in Oxford (mostly to assuage my deep homesickness) in 2008, and drafting a murder mystery, also set in Oxford, last year. This time around, I’m doing something a little different.

One morning this summer, I woke up from a dream about a combination pizza parlor and ballet studio, run by the same family. When I told my husband about it, he said, “That sounds like a young adult novel.” I came up with a title (Pies and Pliés) and put it on the back burner until November. Now, I’m in the thick of it, carving out chunks of time to write each day, in between job applications and freelance work and snapping pictures of leaves.

I love NaNo for many reasons. It’s a small but exuberant nonprofit run by fun people; it encourages school-age writers through its Young Writers Program; it provides writerly entertainment on Twitter for those of us plugging away at our projects. But mostly I love it because it celebrates creativity, and stories. The folks at NaNo believe passionately that stories matter, and they spend all year – especially November – encouraging others to put their stories out into the world.

There are several tricks to winning NaNoWriMo – “winning” being defined as producing 50,000 words on a new manuscript over the course of November. I’ve found it helpful to have an idea I’m really excited about, and to do a little noodling, a little plotting and note-taking, ahead of time. I haven’t worked from a detailed outline, though I know some writers do (and some writers simply open up a new Word doc and fly by the seat of their pants).

I also find it helpful, like Hemingway, to stop in the middle – of a scene, a chapter or a narrative event (not necessarily a sentence). Then I jot down a few notes so I have somewhere to start from the next day. And, most importantly, I’m enjoying the process. It’s fun.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo – or have you done it before? (Or attempted a similarly insane creative challenge?) I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

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brookline booksmith twinkle lights

It’s been a slow reading month so far. But I’ve still spent time with a few good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Midnight Queen, Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Merlin College student Graham Marshall agrees to participate in a dangerous prank. But when a classmate ends up dead, he suspects a more sinister plot. An entertaining (if slightly confusing) fantasy set in an alternate Regency-era England and France. Great settings, though I wanted more Oxford. The magical stuff was a little obtuse, but I liked the characters.

Counting Thyme, Melanie Conklin
When Thyme Owens’ brother gets into a new drug trial for cancer patients, her family moves from San Diego to New York City. All Thyme wants is to go home, but she gradually finds a few things (and people) to love in New York. A fresh, winsome middle-grade novel about home, family and building a good life even when things are hard. (Out in April 2016 – I received an ARC from the author.)

Home by Nightfall, Charles Finch
While investigating the disappearance of a German pianist in London, gentleman detective Charles Lenox is called away to stay with his recently widowed brother in Sussex. The brothers are drawn into a mystery in their home village. I like Lenox and his supporting cast, and this mystery was well plotted and satisfying, though I rather wish the two cases had connected. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 10).

The Bloody Tower, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher spends a night at the Tower of London to gather material for an article. But when a guard is murdered, she and her husband end up investigating. I love Daisy, but this story dragged. Too much focus on the layout of the Tower and the politics of its military troops.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
I’ve been loving Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, which is a companion to this series of essays and musings on creativity. But the book was a mixed bag. Some gorgeous lines that rang true and wise; some advice that felt too woo-woo or patronizing. It’s still worth reading if you’re curious.

I’m in the middle of several books and recently put down a couple I wasn’t loving. I’m hoping for a better reading roundup next time, though I did love Counting Thyme. 

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. It’s also pictured above.

I’m linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

What are you reading?

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magic lessons podcast elizabeth gilbert

Thank you so much for the thoughtful comments on my recent post. It’s good to know I’m not alone. And now, for something completely different…

Since I came late to the smartphone game (and never owned an iPod), I also came late to the world of podcasts.

I’m still a novice – I don’t listen as much as Anne, who shared her favorites recently, or Elise – who hosts her own podcast and also wrote about her favorites. If I’m riding the subway, I’d rather be reading (an actual paper book).

But I have a few podcasts I love – one reliable standby and several newer discoveries – and I thought I’d share them with you.

Books on the Nightstand

The first podcast I ever fell in love with – and still my favorite – is Books on the Nightstand, co-hosted by Ann Kingman (a Twitter pal I’ve met in person once or twice) and Michael Kindness. Ann and Michael both work for Random House, and they started this weekly podcast to talk about their favorite new books. I started listening a couple of years ago, and now I never miss an episode.

Nearly 350 episodes (!) in, BOTNS has regular features about new books and audiobooks, a monthly segment highlighting older books (called Don’t You Forget About Me), an annual Summer Book Bingo game, and much more. I love the glimpses into the inner workings of the book industry, the “themed” episodes such as 500 Pages Plus, and the warm, generous, often funny conversation between Ann and Michael. Their tastes don’t always match mine, but I love hearing them talk about books and book-related issues.

Magic Lessons

Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, that Elizabeth Gilbert) recently launched a podcast called Magic Lessons, in advance of the release of her new book, Big Magic (out this fall). I haven’t read the book yet, but I am loving Liz’s conversations on creative work, bravery, motivation and – yes – magic with people who are struggling to build a creative life.

So far, she’s alternated between talking to people who are dealing with frustration or feeling “blocked” in their creativity, and talking to people like Cheryl Strayed and Rob Bell, who may have helpful insights to share. Liz’s voice is so warm and friendly, and I love what she has to say about creative work. This is a new podcast, so I’m excited for what’s to come.

Book Riot: All the Books

How could I not love a podcast with this title? Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Joines Schinsky, known as “The Well-Readheads,” are both part of the (smart, sarcastic, book-obsessed) team at Book Riot, and they chat once a week about brand-new books they can’t wait for people to read. This podcast launched in May and I’m slowly making my way through the backlog of episodes. Not surprisingly, my TBR list gets longer every time I listen.

Liberty and Rebecca both read widely (of course), and they talk about (and/or gush about) books on this podcast that I might not hear about otherwise. Also, they are good friends (like Ann and Michael above), and it’s so much fun to listen to their exchanges.

Elise Gets Crafty

I’ve been reading Elise Blaha Cripe’s blog for a while now, and I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of her podcast. Some of them are aimed at small business owners (which I am not), but nearly every episode also touches on some combination of blogging, motivation, inspiration and balancing creative projects with your daily life. Super fun and accessible.

Do you have a favorite podcast, or a handful of them? Please share in the comments!

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NaNoWriMo 2014


books about words photo

I’ve said for a long time that I’m not a fiction writer.

I’m a voracious fiction reader – you only have to look at my book list to see that. I love a good novel, and I appreciate the skill and hard work that go into crafting a compelling story. But when I write, it tends to be essays or book reviews (and maybe one of these days, a memoir). I often find myself intimidated by the idea of creating an entire fictional world from scratch.

Enter NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is a wild, gleeful, no-holds-barred burst of creativity – an annual challenge to write a novel, or at least a 50,000-word draft, in a month. It happens every November, with people around the world participating, and it can be tremendous fun. I did it in 2008, when I wrote a novel about an American girl who goes to Oxford. (Art imitating life, anyone?)

I hadn’t planned to do NaNo this year, but seeing the buzz about it online made me decide to jump in, fittingly, at the last minute. And I’m loving it – such a fun chance to break out of my usual writing box and do something totally different.

I’m drafting a murder mystery set in Oxford – both a fun new challenge, an homage to the detective novelists I adore (especially Dorothy Sayers), and a chance to spend (more) time daydreaming about my favorite city.

radcliffe square dusk oxford

So far I’m at 13,000-plus words and going strong. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Friday. And, if you’re noveling, happy NaNo!

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bookpeople austin tx interior

(The first floor of BookPeople in Austin, where I spent several blissful hours last month.)

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
My friend Jacque has been urging me to pick up the Mrs. Pollifax series for years. I loved this first installment, in which Mrs. Pollifax, bored with her quiet widowhood, volunteers for the CIA! So much fun and packed with fascinating Cold War-era detail.

The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life, Alex Bellos
Parabolas, circles, negative numbers and pi aren’t just for math class – they show up again and again in the real world. Bellos delights in exploring the quirks of mathematics. Technical at times, but mostly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 10).

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942, Joyce Dennys
I picked this one up on Jaclyn’s rec and loved it. Henrietta (the author’s alter ego) writes letters to a childhood friend about life in her Devon village during WWII. I giggled over her descriptions of the villagers’ antics, reading the best bits aloud to my husband. Such fun.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
I’d never read this classic gothic tale, but tackled it for book club. Reminded me strongly of Jane Eyre – grand house, dark brooding leading man haunted by his first wife, etc. Suspenseful, but deeply sad, and I wanted more spirit from the narrator.

The Stories We Tell, Patti Callahan Henry
Eve Morrison has the perfect life: a successful husband, a daughter, a thriving letterpress business. But when her husband and sister are injured in a car accident, she must decide whose story she believes, and whether the glossy image of her life matches the reality. A moving story of love, family and gaining the courage to move on. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 24).

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax’s second adventure finds her flying to Istanbul to make contact with a Communist agent. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and she ends up on a wild ride across Turkey with a band of gypsies and a mismatched group of outlaws. Slightly outlandish, but so much fun.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield
An exploration of Resistance (to creativity) and pithy advice, which can be summed up as: Do the Work. (The first 100 pages were great; the last 60 pages, musings on the Muse, totally lost me.)

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink, ed. Kevin Young
A savory, sweet, surprising collection of poems about eating, cooking, foraging and memories of food. (Includes an astonishing number of poems about blackberries – not that I’m complaining – and a whole section on barbecue.)

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945, Joyce Dennys
This sequel to Henrietta’s War (see above) is a little grimmer than its predecessor: tempers are fraying as the war drags on. But Henrietta still reports on village life with wit and humor. She reminds me of Miss Read (though she’s a doctor’s wife instead of a schoolteacher).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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Via Karen, this recent TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. (I loved her first TED Talk too, on genius and the creative spirit.)

Gilbert explores the emotional effects of success and failure, and the value of coming back home: “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself.” Wise and powerful words – definitely worth a watch.

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