NaNoWriMo: Week Two

Did you miss the post for week one? So did I! But accountability isn’t just about making posts regularly, it’s about admitting when you missed a post and need to do another to make up for it. Like this one.

While technically we are stepping into week three now, I haven’t written my words yet for the day. I’m OK with that. Also, I need a few more minutes for my brain to warm up to the story and jump back in.

As of yesterday, I’m just past the 19k mark on the novel. That puts me slightly ahead of the average (where average is 50,000 words/30 day month equals about 1,666 words a day). I’m not on track to finish weeks or even days before the end of the month, but I also have a little wiggle room if I need it.

I agreed to do NaNoWriMo (agreed with myself, anyway) because I needed that kick in the seat to get writing again. It’s been a tough 12 months, much stress and interruption, and this is a great opportunity for me to write. That said, as soon as my word count hits 50,000, the pace is dropping. For a better insight than I could offer, I suggest reading Toby Buckell’s piece, “How Much Should You Write Every Day?“. Toby makes some great points, and I find myself realizing that I as NaNo.

You see, I could be further ahead in the novel if I wanted to be. My stopping just shy of 2k a day is a choice, not me running out of words or time. And I stop because I want to leave something for my brain to fester on over night, so that when I start writing the next day I have a starting point I know and a good 12-20 hours of mental mulling to carry it to the next milepost. 500 words a day seems a bit short, but it’s really not the number that matters I think. The point is that by writing less than you could each day, you leave enough to be able to write more the next day. And that’s how a first draft is born, no matter what the tabloids tell you. They’re messy and prone to being lopsided, but until you shape all of that wet clay you don’t have anything to chisel away at. (And yes, I know I just mixed two completely different disciplines there. Whatever.)

All right. My coffee’s getting cold, Bear McCreary is playing on the headphones, and my wife thinks all of this typing is me getting in my words for the day, not blogging. Time to get back to my novel.

And if you want to check in on my NaNo progress in real time, feel free to check in at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mcummings

NaNoWriMo? NaNoWhyNot!

Despite the (almost) catchy title, this is something that I have been giving serious thought to.

For a few years, when November rolled around, I would trot out the coffee mugs and Moleskines, get my spreadsheets prepped and ready (or in later iterations, a new project in Scrivener), and settle down for the haul.

I won’t slow this narrative down with the details – you can learn about NaNoWriMo here if you aren’t already aware.

After a while, though, I started questioning my participation. I didn’t think I was getting anything out of it any more. I was, after all (or so I thought), already established in my writing routines. What need did I have for a gimicky, and grueling, month of writing?

But as with so many things in life, I have since learned to recognize my hubris. My writing, and my commitment to writing, aren’t as great as I used to believe they were. I, in fact, need the kick in the pants on occasion. And no matter what else may result from NaNoWriMo (and I don’t believe it will produce a great manuscript, at least not during the month of November), I do know that it will get me back into sitting down every day and writing.

And that’s something I actually want to do. I’ve done a lot of retrospectives the last few months. It makes sense, given everything that’s been going on. When it comes to writing, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the works I look back on most fondly are the ones I just had fun with. I’ve written (and tried to write) science fiction novels and fantasy epics, because these are how I entertain myself. But time and time again, when I look back at my past projects, the one project that sticks out in my mind as being the most fun I ever spent on a keyboard was when I wrote A Scent of Roses. That book, in a lot of ways, was a homage to every trashy paperback I read as a teen, every beat up cover I shelved working at the library in High School, every movie I watched late at night when no one could interrupt. It was fun.

I want to do that again. I think I had something good going when I went at it with the mindset of writing a bad B-movie. Write like Hammer Films is going to pick it up (hey, did you know they were still around?!?). But most of all, have fun writing.

Will I make it to 50k? Maybe. It’s been a while since I’ve had the energy or discipline to sit down and write any words on a given day, let alone the minimum average of 1,666 per day necessary to write 50k words in 30 days. But, I’m going to try. I’ve already prepped my family, repeatedly reminding them that November is approaching, that I’m going to be spending a lot of it writing. Most of them just wave a hand at me, but I understand, they’re distracted with Inktober.

In what makes a brave departure for me, I’ve also started on an outline. Or, rather, a week ago I started throwing all of my thoughts down in a doc. Over the next two weeks I want to flesh those ideas out a little more, bullet point them, and then do that dastardly thing where I arrange them so they almost make sense. And this, I think, I will call an outline. Or a notion.

I always hate making announcements on this blog, namely because I feel extra guilty if I fall short of achieving them. And yet, here I go. Watch this space – November will be peppered with weekly updates on my NaNoWriMo progress. Hopefully not more than that unless my writing is going especially well, because more than that means I’m blogging more than writing fiction, and that’s not productive. And if you are participating, feel free to buddy me. After some recent updates to their site, it looks like parts of my profile have vanished (including everyone I was a buddy with previously).

For me, it’s time to get ready for work before I spend the weekend doing Dad things – and outlining my November novel.

A Midlife Reassessment

To say the last few months have been hard is to understate the facts.

On May 16, my Mom called me. My Dad had passed away unexpectedly, coming inside after doing some yard work. I was initially in shock, and slow to move. A few days later I was on a redeye to Alabma to be with my Mom and help her.

On May 20, my Mom passed away while I was on the way to her from the airport.

The seven weeks that followed, with me living in their house in Alabma, are a bit surreal to me. There are observations I made after the shock receded, observations about the deep south and America, that might be appropriate at another time. Today’s post is about minimalism and knowing what is worth keeping. I share this not to invoke sympathy, but to help establish the thinking that unfolded.

My parents, it turns out, kept almost everything. Every piece of paper that came to them was sorted, filed, and boxed. Every work related paper, every roster, letter, or handwritten note, going back almost fifty years, was stuffed into boxes in their house. While some of it was interesting, fleshing out my own memories of events in life, a lot of it was just cluttering volume.

The papers were only the most visible tip on the iceberg. There was more, so much more. Clothes going back decades, boxes and boxes and yet more boxes of photos. I am a sentimental fool, but it didn’t take long for me to reach a point where it was all just stuff. It all began to lose meaning, especially knowing that there was a limited amount that I could actually bring back home with me, a finite amount that I could even given proper attention to.

Now that I am home, I look around the house, and I find myself re-evaluating what I’ve kept over the years. There’s plenty I’ve kept because of need or sentiment – but there’s also plenty of things crowding drawers and shelves that were kept simply because it was easier to keep than to try and figure out how to dispose of it.

Take my stamp collection. There was a period of time where I would buy estate lots of stamps because, invariably, there were a few really great stamps buried in the collection. That’s great, well worth the investment, etc., etc. But I didn’t do anything to get rid of the junk. I still have a box full of stamps on paper that isn’t even worth the scrap it’s attached to or the box that’s holding it. But I’ve kept it through two moves because it’s there. I’m not going to give up stamp collecting, sporadic as I am at it. I still enjoy the hobby, the history it brings me into contact with. But I a reassessing what exactly it is I’m collecting.

Minimalizing what you have in life doesn’t have to be about getting rid of everything but your toothbrush and the One Book You Will Always Read (I’d tell you what mine is, but then I know you’d judge me). But it does mean getting rid of the cruft. Maybe Marie Kondo has it right – if it isn’t bringing you joy or serving a purpose, why keep it? (Confession: I know of Ms. Kondo, but I’ve never read her book or watched the Netflix special she did, I only know of her methodology through secondary sources. If I’m grossly misrepresenting her, it’s completely in ignorance and not intentional.)

I think about that as I look at my stuff. I have a lot of books. Shocking, I know. But truth is, some of them are still here because they fill the shelf so nicely. The actual books were dissappointments when read. Why do I keep them?

I’m trying not to make any permanent, major changes right now. I know I’m still in shock, still recovering from seven weeks of diving in and trying to sort, categorize, and arrange what my parents took a lifetime to put together. All while subtly avoiding the fact of why I’m doing it, what circumstances brought me there.

In the months leading up to this Spring, I found myself ebbing into the digitial minimalism movement. Perhaps a bit extremely, but definitely with an eye to limiting my digital overexposure. But digital minimalism is just an opposite extreme who’s mirror twin is analog minimalism (putting it all in the cloud, removing what you have in the physical world). I’ve wavered between the two over the years, never finding my place in either, but convinced there had to be a way.

Now I think there is a middle ground. The path is thin and worn in places, but there is a way between the two extremes. A way to live life minimizing your footprint in each. A way to draw experiences, not objects (digital or analog), to fill your space. A middle path that can let you find just the right balance.

My next step, though, is in bringing order to the chaos I have now.


So, I wrote the bulk of this blog post over a month and a half ago now, but I let it sit. I wanted to be sure that what I had written in the moment was still true to my heart. That you are reading these words is validation that it is.

You all know how to find me. You know what rocks I hide under, and which ones are most likely to expose me. Me, I’ve got some writing to do.