Tag Archives: inspiration

NaNoWriMo Week 2 Pep Talk: Foot Holds and Hand Holds

During November, I will be posting Weekly Pep Talks written by myself or by guest Pep Talkers. This Pep Talk was originally sent to the NH Region participants on 11.6.17. 

A Business Men Climbing a Pile of PapersTo be honest, I’ve never climbed a rock wall or scaled a mountain. But that’s what it feels like so far this NaNoWriMo.  Prior to November 1, I made less progress outlining my novel than I wanted to, which means that I’ve been trying to maintain a pattern of writing/outlining/writing/researching/outlining to keep up with the daily word count. I’m creating small foot holds and hand holds. I imagine this is what it’s like scaling a mountain: my commitment to my project is maybe my safety harness, and I reach up and forward, chip away at the rock face of the unknown and dig just enough to get a handhold. It’s messy, hard work, but then I pull up and move ahead just a little bit more.

But it’s enough.

The point is to keep moving forward. Sometimes something unknown unravels as I’m writing, sometimes something else will reveal itself in my research and I see these tasks as supporting each other.  And when I’m focused on my project, when I’m feeding my creativity, I notice more connections in the novel periphery that is my real life. I allow myself to follow this glimmering shiny thing and see what else it might shake loose in my story.  The other day a friend was describing a family situation that was pretty serious and I have to admit a tiny part of my brain was thinking, “Is there any way I can work that into my NaNo novel…”  While this might seem rude it was a signal that my writing antennae are up, and since for me, a big part of NaNoWriMo is giving myself permission to feed my creativity in the midst of a very busy life, I took this as a good thing.  That part of me is awake.

Also, I’ve started to babble about my book but that’s typical for Week 2. Week 1 started with a hopeful idea and by now we’re all getting to the middle of the story, which some writers call “Bizzarro world” or the flipside of the world our MC started out in, or the middle muddle. Friends will ask how my book is going and instead of starting at the beginning, I just start talking about that current question that I’m mulling over in my head about bizzaro world.  I’ve started babbling in a notebook and write down a lot of questions so I can spare people in my real life, and I think being able to refer back to written questions has been helpful.

I’ve got this Stephen King quote pinned to the top of my MS:

“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

In Week 1, we’ve met your MC and some other characters; in Week 2, what kind of monsters will they face in their version of bizzaro world?

The remedy for this middle muddle, I think, is to consider what feeling do you want your sarah connor terminatorreader to have after they’ve finished reading your book?  For me, it’s the feeling that’s evoked by an image of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor at the end of Terminator when she’s no longer innocent because she just battled the Terminator and she’s planning for an even bigger battle ahead.  I know my MC goes through *something* to become more…wise? experienced? adult? …to become that image of Sarah Connor…but since I haven’t written that part yet, I remind myself of the image. For some writers, music will do that same – evoking that feeling that you want your novel to produce in your reader, which is why creating playlists can be so helpful.

So hang in there, WriMos!  We can do this and come out on the other side with a bit more knowledge about our story that we had before. Let’s just try to get that idea on paper; think of this as a very messy first draft. The world needs your novel!


NH: Municipal Liaison


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NaNoWriMo, Day 11: 8,000 Words in the Red

keep-writingCaveat: This is a political post. I’m also gonna talk about religion.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we usually post our Pep Talks on Sundays, at the top of the week, and this Sunday I’ll have the pleasure of posting a Pep Talk from Rob Greene, Chair of the NH Writer’s Project.  But for many of us it’s been a tough week, and frankly I needed a Pep Talk myself.  So I wrote one.

Election Day, post-election week/8,000 words in the red = 8,000 tears I’ve shed

If you know me, you’ll know I did not vote for Trump. I believe Trump is inexperienced, but worse, a charlatan. Tuesday night, I watched the election returns report his climbing numbers in total disbelief. To be honest, I’ve watched Trump’s entire campaign in disbelief during which I have experienced many nights filled with anxiety, and when I could sleep, it was a poorly spent night of fitful unrest. Wednesday was hard. I was crying. I was disappointed. Pro-Clinton friends were  comforting each other. Pro-Trump friends were rejoicing and I was trying to listen and understand their perspective. One friend posted this on Wednesday –

I will choose love.

This morning I have a heightened awareness of my calling and responsibility as an artist – to tell the stories that help others choose love as well, to tell the stories of those who have no voice, to be a powerful and yet compassionate prophetic voice.

Thank you Lord, for reminding me that the arts, my life’s work and my true joy, matters.

-Catherine Pleis Gaffney

Many who work in the arts are politically left and progressive and are being particularly vocal on social media in the election aftermath. However, logic dictates that there are conservatives and Trump-supporters working in the arts, who, at least on my feeds, have not been as vocal; nevertheless, this call to love needs to be for ALL OF US.

My Nano project is retelling a Greek myth, so I’ve been reading about Olympian and pre-Olympian pantheism and classic Greek poets and trying to understand that culture through the sieve of my Christianity. To stay true to my beliefs, I need to wrestle with pagan ideas and reinterpret them, while maintaining some integrity of the story and respect of the culture of the time. The piece has already unearthed themes I’ve never written about and since it’s my practice during NaNoWriMo to write fluidly by adding in inspiration from current events (which have been anything from an overheard conversation to a news event), I am also processing my hopes and disappointments about the election and funneling that into the book. With every new project we have an opportunity to grow in our craft, and I encourage you to continue to be a voice and a mirror to our society.

I heard an interview with author Richard Russo on NPR on Wednesday, and he says this, when host Renee Montagne asked about

“the responsibility that…writers have, if any, in this very new era in American life?”

RUSSO: Well, it’s a new era in one way, and in other ways, it’s just the same old world. It hasn’t really changed. And I don’t think that the purpose of literature has changed either. I think we writers do have a responsibility, first to entertain, but second to instruct by bearing witness. If we had a great responsibility before this election, I would say we have, perhaps, an even greater one today.

Russo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and screenwriter. “Nobody’s Fool,” “Empire Falls” and his latest, “Everybody’s Fool,” explore the world of the white, male, blue-collar demographic that carried Trump to victory.  This is not my demographic. I am a Filipino-American, Protestant, white collared woman. I have never read Russo, but I connect with him as a fellow-author who puzzles over their world.

Yes, I encourage you to begin a peaceful transition, and I encourage you to begin listening to each other and to try to move toward understanding the point of view that is opposite your own. This does not mean we rewrite history by erasing hateful things the president-elect has said and the violence he has incited. I hope my fears are unfounded and I hope I am wrong. I sincerely hope Trump’s campaign has not been a vanity project,  but history  will hold him to the truth as well.

A NaNoWriMo call to arms has always been, “The World Needs Your Novel,” and if we are to come together, we need many voices, and many views, and many compassionate hearts listening to each other and sharing our stories.

Your Novel will bring about that future.

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NaNoWriMo: Week 1 Pep Talk – There Is No Wrong Way to NaNo

nanowrimo2017shirtNovember is National Novel Writing Month, an international phenomenon during which authors (or budding authors) challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel.  Participants can create an account on www.nanowrimo.org  and register their novel, friend other writing “buddies” and receive regular writing pep talks from best-selling authors such as Gene Luen Yang, Charlaine Harris, Diana Gabaldon, John Green and many others.  Writing happens off-site, either by typing into a word document or crafting with good old pencil and paper, but participants are encouraged to log their daily word count of 1667 words and join in online forums for support to help them stay on track to reach their word count goal. 

A few years ago my family attended a group event at church.  We’d all gone apple picking together, and then had met up at the church to make as many pies as we had supplies, and the pies were then donated to the local food pantry for Thanksgiving dinners.  I was showing my kids how to do this – peel the apples, slice them this thin, put them in this bowl – when I looked up at my friend working next to me.  She hadn’t peeled her apples, and she was chopping them into large pieces. 

Well that’s wrong, I thought.  To be honest, I might have even said it out loud.  And then I looked down the long table where several of us were working, and saw that – darn it – everyone was making pie differently than I was.  And none of them were wrong.

NaNoWriMo is like that. There’s really no wrong way to do it. Whether you’re a pantser (writing by inspiration or “by the seat of your pants”), a plotter (plotting the entire story before writing one word of novel) or somewhere in between, as long as you’re putting words on paper, you’re adding toward the total 50,000 words of your novel. No editing, no rewriting, no critique partners. Just get that story out and on paper – you can edit and rewrite in December or January (the “What’s Next” months post Nano). NaNoWriMo is a great excuse to give yourself permission to “finally” write that story that’s been percolating while you’ve been busy adulting – attending classes, raising kids or working a 9-5 job. For thirty days, tap into your creative side and just…Play.

Ok, ok – believe me, I’ve heard all the excuses, and mostly, from my own mouth. Or more accurately, my own mind-mouth

–I don’t have time. You do. In fact, you have more time that you think, if you cut out social media and mindless TV

–I don’t have any ideas. You do. Probably a notebook full of random things you’ve jotted down. Or pick a headline from a news story. Or write about that relative.

–I don’t have any support.  Actually you’ve got that, too, if you check out the online forums. Tell your family, roommates and work colleagues that you’re going to try this NaNo thing, and yeah, that might mean fewer nights hanging out, but only for 30 days, at the end of which you’ll have a good chunk of a first draft of a novel. Believe me, you’ll find your tribe, get support and have fun.  I guarantee that you won’t regret it. 

So join us – The world needs your novel!


This post was originally sent as a NaNoWriMo Week 1 Pep Talk to the USA: New Hampshire Region and published on the NH Writers Project Blog on November 1. 


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Writing Prompt Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Stephen King!


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September 21, 2016 · 7:47 am

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Tell This Story


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September 14, 2016 · 6:23 am

Friday Fun: The Smartest Card

Time for a shameless plug:


We just dropped our son off at college this week, and you know what I’m the most envious about?  That he’s going to school in Boston, which gives him access to the Boston Public Library!  He’s our third child in college, and they’re all good readers, but even so I’ve encouraged all of them to visit their town’s public library and apply for a free card. Public library collections are very different from college library collections, since the colleges need to cater to a specific audience – namely the professors and students, focusing their collection on materials that can supplement coursework.  Years ago I worked at a small public library in Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, and one day two young ladies walked in, obviously new students at the school. They looked around the small magazine reading area, taking the entire library in in a few glances. Back then the library (now in it’s own gorgeous building) rented space in a storefront of a strip mall and the staff did their best with the tiny, odd space. We had a magazine reading area, children’s area, public computers and a small staff area in the back of the storefront. Usually we’d get visitors who would look around and then compare it to the big, beautiful library in their home town or places they went on vacation. But these two girls looked around, sighed, and one said to the other, “Oh, yeah. That’s more like home.”  Our tiny library was familiar to them, a haven of normalcy in their big, unfamiliar college territory.

What’s in your wallet?

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Writing Prompt Wednesday: Read or Really Happened?

read or reality

For me, it’ wondering if I ever actually rode a unicycle.

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