GUEST POST: Oh. My. God. What have I done? (NaNoWriMo as a n00b)

Hello everyone! We’re spicing things up over here with some guests posts. Since November is upon us, that means for writers it’s NaNoWriMo a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month! If you are unfamiliar the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I won’t be participating this year, since I have a mountain of revisions to work on, but some friends are! Here Matthew Finger gives us some tips on starting.


My main man Teddy Roosevelt said “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

And oh my good god what a failure NaNoWriMo can feel like as a new writer. You mean I have to write 1667 words every day? You mean I’m not the glorious love child of Douglas Adams and Gertrude Stein? How, oh merciful gods of the written word, how will do pen such a tome in just 30 days?

That’s a really good question. But, like a shelf full of unread books, there really is no right or wrong answer. When I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, I finished with probably minutes to spare. The second time I did it, I didn’t get more than 5,000 words into it before I drowned in the morass of life.

This year, who knows what will happen? But, after reflection and months of therapy to help me cope with the horrific glorious experience of National Novel Writing Month, I am pleased offer a handful of humble observations and suggestions for those of you attempting this madness for the first time.

Start! It is true what everyone says. Just starting is the most important part. Much like a giant steaming bowl of Pho, there is no proper starting point. Dive in with your proverbial chopsticks and start nom noming your way through November.

Don’t Overthink It! I have a friend who’s French. She moved to the United States when she was seven and entered public school here. On her English tests, she’d always overthink the questions. “Is this arrow pointing to the oven, or the drawer below the over? I don’t know what that’s called!” As a result, her teachers were pretty sure she didn’t know what a window was until she was in high school.

The point is, sometimes a window is a window, and it’s best to just go with that. When you’re writing your story, don’t try to be so clever or be too self-conscious that you arrest your story’s development.

Experiment Thinking about your book as a long-term relationship is a useful metaphor. Much like that guy you’ve been dating for.ev.er, sometimes things get a little stale. Sometimes you need to dress up or roleplay read 50 Shades of Gray, or whatever. I’m not going to speculate on what you like to do. The point is that 50,000 words is LONG. Don’t’ feel confined to a certain style or technique. This is your chance to experiment, to play. Try different dialogue techniques. Mix in wordy descriptions or try adding insane character quirks. Dress up like fireman or Martha Stewart. Whatever you want!

There is no road less traveled There is no road! You are making the road. And not in a weird Cormac McCarthy kind of way (I hope). Don’t feel confined by your original plan. When I wrote as a n00b, I tried to let the characters take me where I thought they would go instead of ‘sticking to the plan.’ That may not work for your style, but it might. The bottom line is don’t feel limited to what your Carrie Matheson corkboard says.

And I suppose the last piece of advice is remember: all of your hopes and dreams are riding on this. JKLOLZ have fun!

Landing the dismount (in other words, writing a good ending)

Hello everyone! I’m back! I hope you’ll forgive the prolonged absence from the blogsophere. Life has been crazy! I’ve been traveling, attempting to revise, and taking classes. Hopefully I will have some exciting things to share with all of you very soon!

Since I last blogged, I met with my critique group, got a lot of feedback, and went to a craft seminar on character hosted by the awesome Jennifer Egan, all of which have helped me get to the point where I’m ready to strongly and heavily revise my manuscript. That’s exciting, of course, but I can’t help but mull over some of my feedback, particularly as it pertains to the ending of my novel. It seems these days that endings get a lot of attention and thanks to the free flowing, opinion spewing nature of the internet, people can express how they feel about it and that puts a lot of pressure on the ones coming up with the finale.

Two high profile endings lit up my Twitter feed; the series finale of Breaking Bad and the conclusion to the Divergent trilogy, Allegiant. Both of them had very vocal detractors (it ended too happily! why did so-and-so have to die! it wasn’t artful enough!) but I personally was a big fan of both. I thought the endings were wonderful apexes of the themes in each series; they were executed well with a sense of conclusion, even if it wasn’t necessarily happy go lucky (but when you live in dystopian Chicago or run a meth empire, what is a happy ending? Is that even possible?) .

I love the debate about endings though, because it definitely sparks some thoughts about them. As readers, do we want happy endings? Do we just want them to be conclusive? When is it okay to have an ending that invites interpretation? What makes an ending bad? Deus ex machina? When it’s too cheesy or clichéd? So many options! I could go on for days.

Of course, all this chatter makes me zero in on my own work. One of the universal critiques I got was that the ending was too quick, too simple, and the characters didn’t get to that conclusion by themselves. It’s like I, the author, just plucked them from one point and dropped them into the ending. Personally, deus ex machina sometimes bothers me, so I basically turned out to be my own pet peeve. This is why you have critique groups, people.

I’ll meditate some more on how to end the story. Maybe I’ll just make the end scene longer, more potent, and chock full of conflict. Maybe I’ll scrap it and write a new one. The ending is important. It’s import to stick the dismount, because that’s where the story packs punch, that’s what readers remember, and it’s what delivers the final thought for the book. I have two pretty good examples to follow.

Okay, enough of me wallowing on how to edit my novel. In the meantime, you should let me know what YOU think of endings. You can leave a comment below, tweet me, Facebook me, and stalk my Tumblr. Like most writers on a deadline, I crave distraction. But, I should probably just go edit! I’ll be back soon I hope. Until then, I’m out.

A new thought on point of view

Ah, point of view. It’s one of the first things we learn to identify in junior high language arts classes. There’s the classic first person (me, I, us), the oft overlooked second person (like someone is telling the story to you), and third person (someone is telling the story that’s not in the story). It’s so basic that when we decided to go over it in one of my workshop classes I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes.

But as it turns out, I had a thing or two to learn about point of view. Good thing I didn’t actually roll my eyes because that would have been hard to take back. Some writers don’t know what point of view to start their story in. At first, I thought this was ridiculous, but when we discussed it in workshop, I saw the arguments for both sides. It’s clearly very trendy to write in first person these days. Then again, there are some writers, such as Jonathan Get-Off-My-Lawn Franzen, who think third person is the only way to go.

My fellow workshoppers lobbied questions at our instructor, Bill Henderson, who basically boiled down point of view to this simple stance: you must examine your protagonist, and then go from there. If your protagonist is compelling, has a distinct voice, and the audience would benefit from their view of the story (though it may be slightly slanted and biased), then by all means, first person! Sometimes though you will have a character who simply does not have the faculties to make a good narrator. For example, if it’s a woman who lives on the prairie and stopped going to her one room schoolhouse when she was nine, she may not be fully equipped to narrate a satisfactory story. In that case, you would use third person because you, as the writer, do have the ability to tell it (hopefully).

When I heard this, I immediately seized on it and wrote it down in my workshop notes. I had never thought of point of view like this before. Just goes to show you (or rather, me) that you don’t know everything there is to know about an aspect of writing. In a way, you’re always learning, always workshopping (go ahead and apply this metaphor to life, too).  Also, like most things in writing and literature, there are probably thoughts and practices to contradict this, but if you’re struggling with point of view for your new novel (NaNoWriMo is coming….) I’d consider looking at it from Bill’s lens.

Anyways, that’s all from me today! Short, but sweet. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and the blog schedule is going to shift some because I’m going out of town and I get my novel back TOMORROW and I’ll be up to my neck in revisions and therefore emotionally all the over the place. Should be fun [deep sarcasm]. Have a great weekend, everyone. If you miss me while I’m gone, you can come follow/talk to me here. Until next week, I’m out.

Book to Movie Adaptations: The Jennifer Lawrence Edition

Like most people with a pulse and a sense of humor, my favorite working actress these days is Jennifer Lawrence. Not only is she a stunning actress with lots of talent, she’s absolutely hilarious, as displayed by the following gifs:

She also has impeccable taste. She’s lined up some excellent projects for herself that seem to be both awards bait and box office bonanzas. What they all have in common is they are based on books. Not just any books, either, but really good books. In fact, it takes up most of her filmography (other thanX-men, that terrible horror movie that we’re all going to forget she did, and bit parts in indies). So I’ve kindly broken it down for all of you….

Winter’s Bone-The one that put her on the map

JLaw got her first of many Academy Award nominations for playing a girl struggling to take care of her family is the meth plagued Ozark mountains. The movie is based on the book by Daniel Woodrell. It’s a small, tiny novel barely clocking in at 200 pages, but it’s lyrical prose and tightly wound narrative makes it powerful.

The Hunger Games trilogy-The one that made her a bankable stare

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? I’m sure everyone knows what these movies/books are about. Lawrence gets the to best female lead in any recent YA series to date. If you haven’t read the books, I suggest you do. Now, who’s excited for November 22nd? (MEEEE!)

Silver Linings Playbook-The one that made her a critical darling

She took home every major award for her portrayal of Tiffany in this David O. Russell film. Russell wrote the screenplay from the book of the same name by Matthew Quick. The characters of Pat and Tiffany differ a little from page to film, but the main storyline is still there.

Serena-The one that pairs her with Bradley Cooper again

Ron Rash’s novel about the depression era couple that takes a dark, somewhat gothic turn reminded me a little of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca. Jennifer plays the title character who finds out she can’t have children, and therefore no one will inherit their timber empire. The movie is in post-production and should come out sometime next year.

The Glass Castle-The one that smells like awards bait already

This is one of those that Jennifer’s just attached to star in (Mark Ruffalo and Clare Danes are rumored to be her parents). It’ll be interesting to see how they frame the narrative of this memoir by Jeannette Walls and it will require a really good child actress as well. I recently read the book and loved it, so I’m excited for this one.

Burial Rites-The one that takes place in Iceland

This book has been on the shelves for maybe two weeks and the news broke that Gary Ross would re-team with Jennifer Lawrence to make the movie. I’m sure Hannah Kent is excited! The setting is cool, the plot is slick and involves legal proceedings, but the circumstances make it for more interesting than the regular court drama. I’m picking this up at the bookstore today and I’m excited to read it.

East of Eden-The one that’s an artistic leap of faith

Gary and JLaw are at it again! Gary Ross is planning a two movie adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic. The two movie premise is a huge gamble for studios and they only reason they are thinking of doing it is because Jennifer will star as the matriarch of the family, which is a very, very juicy role. She’s gonna kill it, I’m sure.

Which book to movie adaptation are you most excited for? Did any of these books march to the top of your to-read list because Jennifer Lawrence is starring in them? Let me know in the comments, or give me a shout on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Tumblr. Until Friday, I’m out!

Friday Hodgepodge!

Hello everyone! Happy Friday!

There are a lot of things I wanted to write about, but none of them long enough to be an adequate blog post, so I just thought I’d post a hodgepodge of goodies for everyone!

Let’s get started with a fun video for all you lovers of language out there. Below is John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) sharing the origins of idioms. Mental Floss is doing a very fun series with him. Other videos include weird college mascots, misquotations, grammar mistakes, and the names of fictional characters you didn’t know had actual names.

How about some fun and interesting links? Okay, here are a five!

Bookish things:

    • Since it’s the beginning of October that means new books are hitting the shelves! What are you most excited for? For me it’s Allegiant by Veronica Roth and The Circle by Dave Eggers (I am a total Dave Eggers fangirl).
    • Drunk Literature is a thing.

Non-bookish things:

  • If you’re obsessed with Lorde and Royals as much as I am (or even half as obsessed as I am) here’s a cool mash-up  of her uber hit and M.I.A.’s Paper Planes my friend Jenna sent me. If you like a capella, this is totally for you.  That one’s from my friend Mike.
  • Are you mourning the loss of Breaking Bad and Jesse Pinkman like I am? Relieve everything terrible thing that’s ever happened to him.

There’s been some additions to the blog! While there’s nothing major going on, I added a contact page, an important dates page (ominous, no?), and a 100 Books List that I won’t to complete by the time I’m 30. A girl can dream.

Also, I’m on Tumblr! You can visit me here. All the posts here are also on Tumblr, but sometimes I reblog some funny or bookish pictures. As always, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

That’s all from me! Have the loveliest of weekends. Until Tuesday, I’m out.

My top 5 grammar pet peeves

Everyone has that little thing that gets under their skin. I hate styrofoam, I can’t stand it when someone is constantly clearing his or her throat, and I hate hate hate when people have poor grammar. I try not to be a grammar tyrant. I get that the English language is difficult and complicated. I also understand that as humans, we are not perfect, blah blah blah. But seriously. When educated adults use words incorrectly, my inner etymologist dies a little inside. When those said educated adults use poor grammar, I have to remind myself not to correct them (though I usually do end up correcting them).

I’m obviously not perfect here, but we aren’t talking about me here! 🙂 So here are my top 5 grammar/word pet peeves in no particular order:

youre

1. Your/you’re

It’s so simple. As Ross said to Rachel after reading her seventeen page letter, y-o-u-apostrophe-r-e means ‘you are.’ Y-O-U-R means your! It’s so simple! This was one that we used to harp on all the time at my college newspaper and as a teacher I would hound my students about it. It’s simple. Are you really saying ‘you are’? If that’s the case, put an apostrophe in that sucker. You’re! You’re! You’re! And if you’re talking about something that belongs to you (your Mac, your boyfriend, your dog) it’s YOUR.

2. Could care less vs. Couldn’t care less

This is misused all the time and yes, I notice every single time. I think it’s mostly because when we speak we like to shorten things, so we just knocked the ‘n’t’ of couldn’t so we have ‘I could care less.’ It’s incorrect, especially because the phrase ‘I couldn’t care less’ is sarcastic in meaning. Saying I could care less is illogical and implies that you could actually care less about it, but you don’t, so it’s therefore important and you’re not really being sarcastic and the phrase loses it’s meaning.

3. Lose/loose

I saw this one a lot when I was teaching junior high, which makes sense. You’re still developing your spelling skills at this point in life. I helped my students by giving them a visual. Kids love that. Lose is a verb (lose the game, lose your phone). I said loose was used to describe something like ‘these pants are loose’ and to imagine each ‘o’ as a butt cheek.  Lo and behold, the number of lose/loose errors dropped dramatically. It’s all about knowing your audience.

4. Then vs than

Ah, again we have a pet peeve from being a junior high teacher. Then is for time and sequence. Than is for comparisons. Never interchange them. Ever.

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5. Misusing literally

I have to admit, sometimes I am guilty of this, only because of my tendency to be slightly melodramatic and speak in hyperbole. When Chris Traeger does it on Parks and Rec, it is sort of funny, only because you can tell that the writers are being cheeky about the misuse of the word. I have to say though, I sometimes get frustrated with it. If you are literally doing something, you are actually doing it. If you’re not, then you’re speaking figuratively.

There are tons more I could put on this list, then their/there/they’re, but I figure I would let the lovely readers comment. Which grammar errors drive you nuts? Are you guilty of any on the list? Which ones trip you up? For me, it’s lay vs. lie. One day I will conquer that white whale. Until then (or Friday, actually), I’m out. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @EmHof and Goodreads.