My NaNo Plan-o

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You can see my hair goes crazy, the later it gets during my NaNo prep sessions!

So it is just one day before NaNoWriMo begins! Many people will be staying up until midnight tonight to write madly as the clock strikes 12. Some areas have planned midnight kick off parties to all get together and write. Living in rural Alaska, I don’t know anyone within 400 miles doing this as well so I will be writing on my own. I am going to pass on the midnight madness though- not because I’m not excited, but I have to be up early to take my dog out, and I’m becoming an old lady who goes to bed early! I blame it on working for the school and having to be up at 7am every day I substitute. Regardless, I plan on getting up early and sticking to my routine for writing. I talked about the benefits of a routine in a previous NaNoWriMo Prep post.

I have been prepping all of October, using a combination of methods that work for me, (Including Snowflake Method, Hero’s Journey, and Pinterest) and I wanted to share the product of that with all of you:

My Plot Outline

My Plot Outline

The photo shows the final plot outline I have created for my novel. It is essentially the final step of the Snowflake method, although I tweaked it a little to make sense in my brain. I have posted it on my husbands whiteboard in his classroom, so that I can see the entire plot right in front of me. I actually learned a lot about my structure and how things were working by getting it all out in front of me in one piece. I love technology, and working on my laptop, but with a file this big, it was begging to be printed. I then was able to read through, making notes about who was in what scene, as well as things I wanted to include or needed to research. It was very helpful to me.

By doing this, I actually saw that there was a huge problem with the original ending I had. This led to a night in turmoil while I freaked out and paced a lot talking to my husband trying to fix the end. Finally, I was able to scribble some notes in my notebook, having figured out how to solve the problem. The next day I added those excel pages to the end of my outline, and was able to see a clean 3 act structure had emerged.

To finish it off, I printed my novel’s Pinterest board, and pasted in the corner the pictures of my main characters and some quotes I found that related to their personalities or the overall story. Now I have inspiration at a quick glance! I am going to post this on the wall next to my table where I write (which happens to be in my dining room) so I will also have a really large, literally looming, reminder to write everyday!

Now I think that the next step is to simply sit down and write. Hopefully this will expedite the process for me, and I can fly through my first draft! I will be updating you all each week on Saturdays with my NaNo Progress.

How do you prepare for Nano? Are you excited to begin? Let me know your strategies (or how you are doing!) in the comments below.

Snowy October

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It’s October in rural Alaska, and that traditionally means that the snowflakes are going to start flying. Our first real snow, where any stuck on the ground was the 12th. The temperatures had been cold enough for the river to start freezing earlier that week, but no precipitation had fallen for more than about 15 minutes. It was exciting to wake up to a winter wonderland. I am a strong believer that everything looks prettier when it is covered in a layer of fresh fluffy snow. White is so pristine and pure, and it is even better to be sitting inside a warm house with a cup of hot tea looking out.

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It was exciting to take the puppy out into the snow. She was chasing flakes, rolling around, and eating snow off the ground. This is her first winter and it’s exciting to see her discover snow.

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Snow always brings me back to my childhood in Central New York. We would have such great lake effect snow every winter, and not having a white Christmas was simply unheard of. It wasn’t until just a year or two ago that I had my first Christmas without snow, and I was really sad. It just doesn’t feel like the holidays without it.

That all being said, it does feel a little weird to have snow this early. My brain jumps forward to Christmastime thoughts, and we haven’t even had Halloween yet. Maybe all those corporations who put out Christmas decorations in their stores just happened to all be from Alaska!

And here are some photos from this past Sunday the 19th of October. We woke up to everything being covered in a beautiful frost. It makes everything sparkle and shine, and photos can’t really do it justice.

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The boardwalks are all getting really slippery too now that the frost seems to be a constant. I don’t want to put on my heavy boots just yet, so I’ve been slipping my way over to the school and post office if I wear my cowboy boots… however now that the snow seems to be here to stay (along with some lovely freezing fog in the mornings) I should probably get out those boots if I want to avoid breaking something!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Expecations (and Managing Them)

Nano Prep week 4

I looked at my calendar and couldn’t believe it; we are in our last week of prep before the main event! Hopefully you’ve got some sort of plan, and are still excited about writing. In this last week before the craziness unfolds I wanted to talk about managing expectations for the next month, and beyond. A lot of people don’t realize how much 50,000 words really is. You are not going to get there the first day, or week (as a general rule- there are always exceptions) and there will come a time in the month when you might want to throw in the towel, because all of a sudden writing is getting hard, you are running out of steam, and you are questioning why you even thought you had a good idea in the first place. That’s okay. That’s why you’ve put together a support system to rally around you.

However, if you are one of the many who manage to cross the finish line and become a ‘winner’ of NaNoWriMo, rejoice! But then remember- you do not yet have a novel. You have a first draft- or more realistically, you have a part of a first draft. As a new writer entering the exciting world of NaNoWriMo, it is easy to get pulled in to the fast paced forums, exciting word wars and start dreaming big about your novel. The adrenaline and ‘what if’s’ couple together to form an intoxicating dream of quick success and fame. Don’t let the excitement of NaNoWriMo give you unrealistic expectations about the publishing and writing industries though. NaNo is probably the only really fast paced thing out there.

Publishing is a slow industry. Reaching that NaNoWriMo goal will be exciting, and it’s great to dream big; we all want to be bestsellers. But there is a reason that books become bestsellers, and a lot of it has to do with the enormous amount of work that went into them. But don’t get discouraged! Your exciting writing journey is just getting under way! December will present you with a few choices:

1. Finish the first draft.
If 50,000 words were not enough to convey your story, that is okay. It is important to note that most published novels are at least double this amount. So if you need more time to finish your plot, do it! Just because November is over and you are a NaNoWriMo winner doesn’t mean you should stop writing, or abandon your book, half finished.

2. Editing.
Now if you did finish your first draft (in however many words) you can choose to start editing right away. Some authors, especially ones with deadlines, jump right into edits. A lot suggest that you start first with just an overall read of the manuscript to catch any major problems. After that you can delve in deeper and do the closer edits.

Other authors however, are proponents for taking a break before edits. Stephen King’s book On Writing suggests that readers take a substantial break after the first draft in order to come at the edits with a fresh eye. I tend to agree with this school of thought, and practice it with my blog. Now, when I’m editing posts that tend to be 1,000 words or less I don’t let them sit for months, or even weeks, but it is amazing to me what a day or two can reveal. I catch a lot of small mistakes, delete unnecessary or redundant information, and rearrange content to make more sense.

3. Shelf the novel.
Maybe your manuscript wore you out. Maybe by the end of the month you hate your characters, and plot. Maybe the book just got away from your and you are frustrated. That’s okay. No one says that you have to keep going. You can put that novel away and come back to it later- or not at all. This was your story. I only suggest that you don’t destroy it. You never know what day in the future you will want to look back on it and steal a character, or maybe even start writing it again with a fresh perspective.

You might be looking at all of this thinking “Well, if what I produce during this month isn’t really a finished Novel, does this mean that NaNoWriMo isn’t worth it?” Not at all. This month pulls together people from all over the world to write- and that is exciting!

Single Step

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” Think of NaNoWriMo as that first single step towards your novel. Just because it doesn’t get you all the way to your goal of having a published novel doesn’t diminish its importance. Understanding that this is only the first step in what can be a long slow journey will help you stay creative, and positive during the trials to come.

What are your expectations for NaNoWriMo? Are you excited to finally start writing something? Share your comments and reasons for writing in the section below!

Isolation in Rural Alaska

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The other week was really hard for me emotionally. When Nathan was interviewing for the job here, the district was really insistent that we understand how isolated it was here. Above anything else, even the cold, they stressed the isolation. Sitting in our apartment in the suburbs of Philly we nodded our heads and said that we totally understood that we would be so far from everything. I thought that because I had grown up in a small town in rural New York that I would easily adjust to life in the bush. We knew what they were talking about, but we couldn’t really understand. You can’t really understand until you are sitting in an apartment hundreds of miles from the closest city, just wishing you didn’t have to cook another meal. Wanting to throw in the towel and just go somewhere. Anywhere. Unfortunately, unless you are going to charter a flight you aren’t going anywhere. So you suck it up, eat a handful of cereal for dinner and go to bed early and upset.

It’s even harder for me as a ‘non-teaching spouse’. We don’t have kids yet, so it’s just me and the puppy at home each day. I have an added feeling of isolation from the happenings at school. Fortunately I have started subbing, and am in the building pretty consistently which is helping. Kids recognize me, and I’m learning their names, so I can stop and chat with them and play when I see them around the village.

As an introvert, I find it hard to make new friends, but I have always forced myself into social situations. I commit to going to open gyms, and pot lucks and feasts, but I can’t help but feel awkward when I am there. I know this is normal for so many people, but I feel most comfortable at home. I am happy when I do go out and enjoy myself, or connect with another person though, so I continue to stretch myself and take advantage of most opportunities that come my way. I sure wouldn’t have ended up in Alaska in the first place if I didn’t have a little taste for adventure right?

Because of the isolation, the little things start to mean a whole lot more way out here. Every day I walk to the post office, and I love getting mail… well, except for the bills! But really, each piece of mail is like a small link with the outside world that I grew up and lived in for more than 25 years.

The Post Office in Napaskiak, AK

The Post Office in Napaskiak, AK

Despite the good things about being out here, I have found that several months in, things began to pile up, and I was really stressed. Here’s a look into my brain:

• I don’t think it will every matter how much we are making, I stress about money. This time because switching to a pay day once a month after being used to a paycheck every week is difficult to budget;
• I was unable to call my sister all week because she was camping for a geology class;
• We ran out of a couple of foods we generally eat, and are running low on flour;
• I still hadn’t ordered a Swiffer for the floor because something else is always more important than clean floors;
• I am still adjusting to a more home centered role in life. The weight of all the finances and food rests on my shoulders.

So yeah, a lot of things were on my mind. Regardless, my mother had said that she had several packages on the way, and that I should make sure to check the mail. When I went to the post office that day there were indeed several packages waiting for us. Opening up a large flat rate box from my mom I found an assortment of canned goods that I hadn’t asked her to send, including several cans of tuna fish- the very same item we had run out of that my husband had been complaining about. As I held the can in my hand, tears started streaming down my face. I got all choked up, and as I went through the other treasures in the boxes I couldn’t hold myself together. Calling my mom I cried and cried thanking her.

I still feel a little dumb that I cried over a can of tuna fish. But that is what the isolation here does to you. Something as simple as canned tuna can seem like a treasure. Something that I have never really given much thought to before moving here. But some of the great things I’m learning by being here have hit me like this. I know I won’t be taking food for granted anymore. Not having the luxury to just pop into the grocery store for a missing ingredient makes me put value in planning ahead, and also all the work that goes into cooking meals every day. I look back at my childhood, and my mother made dinner for us every single night. That takes a lot more effort than I ever thought.

So think of me next time you just pop into the grocery store for that forgotten item you need for dinner. Embrace the ease and convenience in life- and really appreciate that so many things are at your fingertips. I’ve told my mother that I can’t wait for Christmas and the summer when we come home, and that I want to go grocery shopping with her.

The Writing Life: Advice from a Counterculture Icon

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. I love his advice here. His works are so unique and stretch my mind in ways it hasn’t before. Anyone who wants to write anything should check out this great blog post from The Daily Post.

The Daily Post

Everyone should read at least one Kurt Vonnegut book — Welcome to the Monkey House and Mother Night are my favorites. They’re blunt. Dark. Demanding. And they make you think, and laugh, and want to be a better person. What more can we ask of literature, and what better person to turn to for tough love on writing?

It’s not surprising that his thoughts on art, writing, and the writing life are just as thought-provoking, funny, and inspiring…

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the…

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NaNoWriMo Prep: Support Systems

Nano Prep week 3

(Catch up on Prep Advice from Week One and Week Two.)

A support system is important when writing a novel- you want to make sure you have strong points throughout so that you can avoid that notorious sagging middle, and to ensure you actually make it all the way to the finish line at the end of your story. But support systems aren’t just for your plot- they are important in real life as well. In your life, you need supporting characters who help you on your writing journey as well.

These ‘supporting characters’ can be anyone really- friends, family, even writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo website; what is really important is that you surround yourself with people who will support you during the times when you maybe aren’t too sure what you are doing and need a little push in the right direction.

So what should you be looking for in your support system?

– Positivity
Obviously you want positive people on your side, but this isn’t to say that your support system should be full of one note ‘yes men’ and mindless cheerleaders- but they should be people who are able to be sensitive enough to you and your work that they know when to be critical, and when to come to your side with a box of tissues and slab of chocolate. Overall they should be encouraging and uplifting; nothing sucks the life, ambition, and creativity out of a room faster than a person who can only see the glass as half full.

– Acceptance
Sometimes all you need is a hug because you didn’t get the dishes done, your plot is a mess and your characters seem to have a life of their own that you can’t control. Your support system should include someone who can open their arms and accept you for the mess you have become during this crazy month. How many times have you read book dedications that mention this person? They are your rock, and arguably the most important person in your support system.

– Understanding
Not everyone is going to understand what you are about to undertake. Lots of NaNoers lament at the lack of understanding their family has for the reason you have suddenly decided to become a hermit locked away in your bedroom furiously typing late into the night. Find someone who knows what it is like to follow their dreams- whatever they may be.

With a strong support structure in place in your life, you can then feel free and confident to take risks and experience the excitement of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, knowing that your supporters will be there to catch you.

Who are the key players in your support system? What kinds of valuable support do they provide for you? Let me know what you think, and we can continue the discussion in the comments below!

Sailor Boy Pilot Bread

Pilot Bread Box
Before we arrived in the bush we were told of the wonders of Pilot Bread. We had never heard of such a thing before, but were assured that we would grow to love the twice baked bread in the long blue box. In fact, a lot of people here are really obsessed with the Pilot Bread and insist that it is “Alaska’s Soul Food.” In our first two weeks here, while we were waiting for our groceries to arrive from Anchorage, we ventured to the village store. Discovering how expensive regular bread was, and not having the ingredients to make our own yet, we bought a box of pilot bread, figuring we would give it a try.

Now, Pilot Bread is not exactly ‘bread’ per say. It is similar to the Hardtack that sailors would have eaten. A large white bread-like cracker. Sounds boring and rather tasteless right? Well, to be honest, you wouldn’t really want to eat it by itself. Unlike say, saltine crackers, it doesn’t have any salt or flavorings, so instead of a stand-alone, it makes a good base for other foods.

Peanut butter on Pilot Bread is a great and filling snack. The students at school have them every day, and can’t wait for their cracker. Toast the cracker for a little extra flavor before adding any topping you like! The first week of here I had some with Nutella, and it was to die for! You could also try tuna or jam. (Not at the same time of course!)

When we were feeling really creative, my husband and I made mini pizzas on Pilot Bread. It was a really great lunch.

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Nathan Approves of Pilot Pizzas!

Nathan Approves of Pilot Pizzas!

Yummy!

Yummy!

If living in the bush has taught me anything, it’s that you get creative with food and use what you have!

And Sammy loves peanut butter on Pilot Bread too! It’s a great reward for her, and she gobbles it right up!

Sammy Loves Peanut Butter and Pilot Bread!

Sammy Loves Peanut Butter and Pilot Bread!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Building a (Good) Habit

Nano Prep week 2

(Did you miss Week 1’s Prep? Check it out here!)

We have all heard some variation on the saying “It only takes 21 days to build a habit.” With that logic, if you participate every day in NaNoWriMo, you should have a strong habit formed for writing every day. However, after researching for this article, I realized that the old saying is not entirely correct. Habits are complex things when you look beyond the surface, influenced by a lot of outside factors. So what can you do to make writing every day a habit for you? And how do you make sure that you are forming good habits during NaNoWriMo?

It would be really easy to simply burn yourself out over the month of November by going on caffeine fueled writing binges at all hours of the night, which can be fun and exciting for a few weeks, but who can live like that? If your goal is to hopefully build a habit of daily writing, you need to think about the circumstances that surround your writing.

I have read lots of personal accounts on the NaNoWriMo Forums about how they love the challenge, but then on December first they don’t want to look at another page, and they stop writing. How can we avoid this burnout and distaste for something that we are supposed to enjoy doing?

Creating a healthy, sustainable environment is key. It’s not realistic to think that you will be able to write thousands of words a day if you have changed everything about your life in order to do so. The secret is to integrate writing into your life by attaching it to other habits you already have.

I never used to be a morning person, but then my husband and I decided to adopt a puppy. Now, without fail I get up at 7:30am, take out the dog, feed and water her, and then start my kettle for tea. I do this every day unless something big is happening, or I’m really sick. I do these things because I have to- if I didn’t walk my dog and feed her, there would be dire consequences, so I am forced to be a morning person with habits that I am not likely to break. Then according to what I have already said, to make writing a habit, I just have to add that to the chain of events; instead of logging on to Facebook and my e-mail, I will tell myself that I will write for at least half an hour while I drink my tea. Linking my writing to another habitual action will increase my chances for success.

Perhaps you always sit down and read for a little while after school or work. Or maybe you like to watch an hour of TV in the evenings. Attach your writing time to these events if you are not a morning person. With time you will find yourself looking forward to that little bit of time you have carved out for writing each day.

Lots of people also talk about reward systems for when they achieve their daily word count goal. There is nothing wrong with this- it’s amazing how motivating tiny rewards can be when your enthusiasm is sagging. Remember however, if you are hoping to build a habit, that your rewards should be sustainable. So if you are going to buy yourself something expensive as a reward for hitting your word count for the week that may not be the best motivator after the thrill of November wears off. Smaller things like a bit of chocolate, or watching a show on Netflix or Hulu might be something more sustainable throughout the year.

What habits do you wish to build during NaNoWriMo? Is writing every day your goal? Have some interesting ideas on other good habits? Let me know in the comments, and we can continue the discussion!

Freeze Up

You can see the frozen river out beyond the power pole.

You can see the frozen river out beyond the power pole.

Within the past few days, travel has become difficult in and out of the village. We are in the limbo time where the river is no longer passable by boat, but the ice is not yet ready for snow machine (snow mobile to those of you in the lower 48) travel. All traffic in and out must happen via bush planes from Bethel. This time is generally referred to as the “Freeze Up” by people in the village.

To illustrate how quickly this happened let me share a few anecdotes:

On Tuesday I was subbing for a teacher who had to go to Bethel. She was planning on boating over. The morning was too cold for the boat motors to start so she waited until the sun had been out for a few hours, but then could not find anyone who was headed into town that day.

The next morning (Wednesday) I awoke to see ice on the banks of the river! It started creeping out during the day, but there was still a visible flow of water in the center.

Two days later it is Friday, and all the boats are out of the water. Several people who were traveling to Anchorage for the weekend have had to book charter flights out last minute because they were planning on traveling by boat to the airport in Bethel (the cheaper, although longer and colder, alternative).

View of the frozen river from my window.

View of the frozen river from my window.

There have been multiple safety talks at the school this week- especially with the younger kids- to stay away from the river and the ice for now. Later on in the winter the river becomes the ice road that connects all the villages and towns up and down it, but right now it poses a big threat, because it looks safe, but the ice is still very thin. There is a high risk for drowning accidents at this time of year, and we hope to do everything we can to prevent that. The river will not open for traffic for a few weeks yet.

Perhaps this weekend I will venture out to the sandbar to get some close up pictures of the frozen river. The wind here makes the temperatures so much more bitter cold.

Down by the Kuskokwim River

We had our first little flurry of snow just the other day. It was exciting, but I was not ready at all for it. I haven’t even posted all of my pictures from the end of the summer here yet! So, on this frosty cold morning, let’s take a journey back to when I didn’t have to bundle up just to step outside. I took several walks down by the Kuskokwim River that our village lies on. Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves:

The boardwalk leading to the sandbar.

The boardwalk leading to the sandbar.

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A barge on the other side of the river.

A barge on the other side of the river.

The barge was carrying heating fuel down the river to the different villages along the way. It stopped here for about two days, and from our apartment we could hear the hum of the motors day and night. When someone wanted to get some fuel, they would send a little boat across the river and pump it into a tank for them. I took Sammy and another dog down there for a walk, and we all looked at each other across the expanse of water, and I waved taking pictures.

One thing I have learned, living here in the village is to appreciate the small things. Something new, like the barge, is exciting and gives a little flavor to the daily experience. It’s such a change from the big city way of living we had back in Philly, but having grown up in a small town, this feels familiar and comforting to me.

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Thanks for stopping by!