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Ready to write October 31, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Novel-writing month, Writing.
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It’s just a couple of hours until Nov. 1 is officially here. If the month didn’t begin on a Monday, perhaps I would stay up and kick of National Novel Writing Month at midnight. However, since I have to work tomorrow, I will mark the start of the month by sleeping … and getting up at 4 a.m. to start writing instead. And I’m definitely excited about it.

Perhaps I haven’t done as much planning as I would like, but perhaps I never would do a lot of planning anyway – at least not a complete outline with chapter summaries written out like I read about on the NaNoWriMo blog here. I’ve continued to jot down notes for my novel (which for now is called “Forty”) and I’ve been thinking about the story a great deal. I have a lot of ideas, even if not all committed to paper or laptop, but am waiting now for the moment to arrive when I  can start officially writing – and keeping track of that number of words.

My first year I aimed for, and reached, a goal of 60,000 words. That seemed easier to remember than the 1,700-whatever words technically needed per day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days. (I’m a writer, not a numbers person.) And 60,000 words is my goal for this year too. A nice, round, slightly overachieving kind of number.

Maybe I should get to bed now, though, because 4 a.m. will come very quickly. And when that alarm goes off, writing time for NaNoWriMo 2010 will officially be here!

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It’s almost November … October 28, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Novel-writing month, Writing.
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November is just days away, as is the start of National Novel Writing Month. This is my third consecutive NaNoWriMo. There’s something crazy yet fulfilling about taking on the challenge. It’s addictive, especially for the competitive side of me, since I can watch the graph that charts my daily number of words climb up and up. And I love downloading a certificate at the end that tells me I’m a winner.

In 2008, my project was a familiar one: writing another draft of “Summer of ’94,” that novel I’ve written about on this blog many times (and the novel I planned to rewrite again a few months ago, but then didn’t). Creating a new draft of an old project relieved some of the month’s angst – like wondering on Nov. 12 just where this thing is going –  since I already knew where I wanted the story to go.

Last year, I wrote a completely new novel called “What You Want to See.” In doing so, I definitely went through the angst of “what is this story anyway?” but wrote on and finished above the required 50,000 words by Nov. 30. It’s doubtful anything will ever happen with the finished draft. Not that the story didn’t have potential. It was based on a real-life situation, however, and as I re-read the draft and pondered rewriting it, the idea of focusing on that incident in any form seemed more and more unseemly. But writing those 57,395 words was good practice.

Which brings me to 2010. My ideas for this story keep changing, which is fine. I’m not a writer who can meticulously plan and outline a story before beginning anyway. And I keep remembering the words taught to me by Bret Anthony Johnston during a workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival several years ago: the only job of a first draft is to get you to the second draft. That workshop was on character, so I also have been thinking about another of his points: every character has to have a desire. Why this character pays attention to this one thing is the essence of the story.

So I have a character, Maggie, who is about to turn 40. And she loves baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. And … I have a notebook with many different ideas scribbled down from there. Nothing necessarily concrete yet, because I can’t decide exactly what it is that Maggie wants. She is single, so does she not want to be? She maybe is a lawyer (because I wanted her to have her live in St. Louis until she was 25, so it made sense to have her move away after law school), but does she want to do something else? She left St. Louis because her family was upset with her about dumping her fiance because all they had in common was loving the Cardinals and going to games together – her grandparents had season tickets, his parents did. Does she regret that 15 years later? Does her family ever understand her reason for leaving?

Including today, I still have four more days to make some decisions about just what this story is going to be, plus I have some research to do. (What Cardinals player from the late ’70s would be good as her first baseball crush?) How detailed I will be, how many real decisions I will make – who knows? And that’s fine. What I am looking forward to is Monday morning arriving, getting up at 4 a.m. and getting started before I go to work, and then discovering through my writing more of what this story is going to be. During November, it’s easier for me to be those three things Bret says every writer needs to be: stubborn, disciplined and dedicated. (From the lack of my entries on this blog, I’ve not been living those writing traits recently.)

Perhaps it’s crazy, but I love it. And I must, if I’m already eagerly anticipating Monday morning.

***
If you’re a writer, I highly recommend Bret Anthony Johnston’s book “Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.” He compiled lessons and exercises from a wide range of writers, everyone from Joyce Carol Oates on writing prompts and Elizabeth Strout (another instructor I had at Iowa) on point of view to Tom Robbins on envy and Richard Bausch on character and dialogue. It also includes a great collection of daily writing warm-ups.

Readers should check out Bret’s book of short stories, Corpus Christi. I’ve read them all numerous times, and continue to be blown away by the series of three interconnected stories within it. I first started reading this book on a business trip several years ago. I was so engrossed in the first story of the trilogy, “I See Something You Don’t See,” that I couldn’t wait to finish it – even though our first flight landed in Atlanta and we had a two-hour layover until our next one to Orlando. So I told my coworkers I would catch up with them in a bit because I had to finish reading this story first. And I sat down by the gate we had just entered to finish reading.

I live for this! October 7, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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Roy Halladay, 10/6/10

And that's a no-hitter! Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Yesterday was my second-favorite day of the baseball season. (Opening day, of course, is the first.) Even without the Cardinals in the post-season, I love the playoffs and the way the intensity and excitement build as each series moves along. It’s the last baseball of the season and, in most cases, it’s the best.

In previous years, with the Cardinals in the playoffs, I’ve taken a day like yesterday off so I could watch all the games. (It is disappointing that Cardinals baseball is done for this season but, really, I can’t complain. I’ve been a Cards fan for 11 seasons now. They’ve gone to the post-season seven times, to the NLCS five times, to the World Series twice and won it all in 2006. And when I look at the entire roster of the 2010 Cardinals, not just the five All-Stars and Jaime Garcia, it does not say “playoff team” to me.) Yesterday, I settled for coming home at lunch to watch the start of the Rangers-Rays game and then listening online. It doesn’t necessarily matter to me who wins that series. I like the Rays, but it’s also great the Rangers are in the playoffs once again. And I’m always for Cliff Lee. So I was happy he settled in and got the win.

The game I was most anticipating yesterday was the Reds-Phillies, and that was for two reasons. One, like most Cardinals fans I know, I’m rooting for a Philadelphia sweep just to get Cincinnati out of there as quickly as possible. Any good feelings I might have had for the Reds disappeared in August. Secondly, the Phillies have been my playoff step-team since 2008 and I enjoy their games. So I made sure I was at my desk when the game began just after 4 p.m., then silently cheered as the Phillies came out swinging and took the lead in the top of the first. It was even better when Roy Halladay got a hit and drove in a run in the second inning and the Phils scored three more to chase Edinson Volquez from the game.

Pitchers are my favorite baseball players, which is another reason why I love watching playoff games – the chance to see the top pitchers on their biggest stages. It was exciting just to listen on the radio as Halladay sent down Red after Red, so I hurried home to watch on television. During that short commute, he walked his lone batter of the game. I marveled at his command and precision inning after inning. After Drew Stubbs was called out on an unbelievable pitch to end the top of the eighth, I checked the Reds lineup online.

Yes, what I’d been thinking was true: Brandon Phillips would be the third batter in the top of the ninth inning. The man whose big mouth started all the problems with the Cardinals, then exacerbated them with his shallow gesture that started the brawl on Aug. 10 – yep, that guy. The potential final out in a no-hitter. Thank you, baseball gods.

Like everyone, I was impatient during the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t matter what the Phillies did – just make an out and be done, so Halladay can get back out there! And the stage was set. I wanted so much for this to happen, both for the historical aspect of Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter in his post-season debut and for the absolute delight of the Reds being his victims. Ramon Hernandez hit a pop-up to Chase Utley at second. That was one. Miguel Cairo was next, pinch-hitting, and he was quickly gone on a pop-foul to third. Two down. Then came Phillips. The crowd had been standing and roaring all inning, but notched it up in intensity. The shots of the fans were wonderful – what an incredible experience to be there! And then Phillips hit a grounder right in front of home, which Carlos Ruiz picked it up and fired to Ryan Howard to end the no-hitter. Beautiful, on so many fronts! And, like many Cards fan, I had to tweet the obvious: karma is the bitch, Brandon Phillips.

The drama, the beauty, the ultimate ecstasy and agony – all are the many reasons why I love baseball. And even with my team done for 2010, my interest and excitement will continue until the World Series champion is crowned in a few weeks. It’s an MLB marketing slogan, true, but I really do live for this. And there are three more games to watch today!