November Goals and Portland Sweat Project

Hey it’s the last day of October!

Tomorrow is November 1st, and I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month, a thing where you write 50,000 words during November). I have done and won NaNo for the past five years. Five is a nice round number, and I’m proud to have finished and reached my 50,000 word goal every single time I’ve attempted it. As it turns out I already had a pretty strong streak of “Reach the finish line at any cost!” even before I started doing foot races. Back in 2014, my NaNo project was this cool little urban-fantasy book about a lady trucker and a telepathic dragon. I still think it’s a cool little book—though with the current draft at over 100,000 words, it’s not such a little book at all. And every year since 2014, November has meant a brand new project and a whole lot of writing energy… directed away from that cool little book that I’d really like to finish. So I want to write in November, but instead of starting a brand new book that might reach 50,000 words without even figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up (did I mention NaNo 2016 and 2017 were basically plot and theme disasters?) I want to really focus in and move forward on my existing project. I want to do the type of writing and editing and fixing that isn’t easily quantifiable by word count, and I want to finish the ending and create a readable draft. So that’s November goals this year. I also have a few other creative projects that I don’t want to completely abandon for the month, so it makes sense and feels right to keep moving forward on what inspires me right now rather than doing something new just for the sake of doing it. But for all of you out there gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2018, I wish you the very best of luck!

Also, a note on today. The temperature was just below freezing when I woke up around 5:30 am. On a workday I would have already been at work, or at least hurrying in that direction from my all-day parking spot a ten-minute walk away. Today I had the option of curling up into a warm bed and going back to sleep…but instead I got up and #JustShowedUp for the first time ever to a 6:30 am free fitness meetup in a city park. It’s called Portland Sweat Project and it wasn’t as scary as a TOTALLY new thing since I knew most of the crew from my run club, but it was still really early in the morning. I’m generally not a morning exercise person, but within minutes of sprints and squats and pushups and burpees I felt awake and alive and took off my parka because I wasn’t even cold anymore. Then we ran around city hall and played duck-duck-goose (with squats and planks) in the square and took a picture with some pumpkins at the farmer’s market. Winter is bad but I learn over and over again that going outside and moving and sweating and running with your friends is pretty much always the correct choice.

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My newbie photo from PSP! (Photo credit © Mari Balow.)

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Life and Running

National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow and I promised myself that, somehow, by the end of the day, I would post something on this blog. Maybe not the perfect thing—I’m about to write 50,000 very imperfect words in thirty days, so getting used to doing things imperfectly is a good idea—but SOMEthing. An update. Seeing as my last post was in March 2016.

The longer I go without an update the harder it is to do one. So many things have happened. The website needs a redesign. So many things have changed. But November starts tomorrow, and I’m going to begin the exact same challenge I’ve completed every November since 2013, so that’s something. The older I get, the more stock I put in having things that I do. Not things that I want to do, or hope to do, or plan to do. Things that I actually, consistently, do, even when it isn’t easy to do them.

The biggest thing I’ve done this past year is running. I’m close to a full year of at least one run a week (and usually five or more). I’ve been a casual runner for years, I’ve posted about running here before, but this is the first time I’ve stuck with it for more than a few

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My 2016-2017 run calendar (days I ran are in pink).

weeks, or more than a season. My story is that winter last year was rough. Rough for the nation, yes, but I had some personal frustrations hitting at around the same time. I was angry and confused and embarrassed and sad, and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started running. Even though it was cold and dark and being outside was the worst thing ever. Running was just suddenly all I wanted to be doing, so I kept doing it. I also started showing up, obsessively, to the Thursday and Saturday hashes (a hash is an adventure run with beer). We started a new practice run on Mondays. I think we ran through nearly every single blizzard last winter. And here’s where I get a little sappy, but I am so grateful for this rotating crew of beautiful souls that I get to spend the majority of my free time with. Maybe it’s not so exceptional, maybe people are amazing the world over, but I can’t help but feel that my friends are something extra shiny. I’m always looking around me, just, so delighted that we’re all here, we’re running through streets at night, we’re following trail through a foot of snow, we’re singing under bridges, we’re wearing silly costumes, we’re getting lost in the woods—and so many other things. Y’all are constantly warming my heart.

In the spring I signed up for a 10k (Beach to Beacon, Aug. 5th), which kickstarted my more serious running. At the time, running six miles seemed like an awful lot. At the same time I also started hanging with a super cool and supportive group of more runny runners, people that run VERY FAR distances and have multiple marathons under their belts. Turns out that sort of thing rubs off on you. Before I even ran the 10k (my first race ever!) I had signed up for my first marathon (MDI Marathon, Oct. 15th).

You know that cliché (I think there’s a meme) about single people in their 20s and 30s watching enviously as their friends get engaged, get married, buy houses, have kids, etc? My recommendation to anyone who feels that they haven’t had a Life Event in awhile is to run a marathon. I’m very willing to believe that my friends and family are particularly incredible, but all the support and congratulations I’ve received have made me feel like a goddamn rockstar. Have I mentioned yet that y’all are the absolute best and I love you very much?

In lieu of any sort of race details, since most people reading this will have already heard all about it, here is a visual representation of the difference between the first half of the marathon (mile 7 I think) and the second half:

So I started out last year with exactly one winter running outfit that wasn’t even real run clothes. Now I have an Entire Drawer stuffed full of run clothes and spandex. I used to run so sporadically that I wore a single pair of run shoes from the summer of 2012 to March of this year, 2017, when they were literally falling to pieces on trail and had holes in the soles. Now, I’ve already run over 400 miles in the shoes I purchased mid-July. Oh, and I also do a pretty intense circuit training class twice a week (minus the three weeks resting for and then recovering from the marathon). When I started the class back in July I could barely bench press the 45 lb bar even once, and now I can usually do it for the full minute. Maybe soon I’ll add weights! Mostly my goal here is the pretty shallow one of turning fat into muscle and looking like as much of a badass as my genetics will allow (#buffquest!!!), but I’m also doing it for that teenage girl who was completely humiliated in high school gym class when they counted how many chin-ups/pull-ups you could do, in front of all the athletic popular kids, and she couldn’t even hang from the bar for a full second. Ever since then I’ve had a life goal of doing a pull-up—just one—and this is the first time in my life I’m actually consistently working in the right direction to make that happen.

To wrap up: I feel like I’ve changed a lot and come a long way. I’m going into November physically stronger than I’ve ever been, twenty lbs lighter, and with a higher confidence in my own abilities to stay a course and to do the things that I set out to do. There are still things in my life I am not proud of, there are things I am working on, and there’s an awful lot I’m still searching for. So, as always, an awful lot of journey still to do. For the next step, I’m gonna write 50,000 words in November, and I’m gonna keep running.

December Sketches (Sketch With Me!)

Officially closed out NaNoWriMo at 58,504 words. No, I didn’t make 70,000, but I’m still writing. And forget NaNoWriMo; it’s December. As usual, I’m trying to sketch every day of December, for a total of 31 sketches. I haven’t actually finished the challenge yet, but perhaps this third year will be the one!

I haven’t done my Dec. 1st sketch yet, but here’s the self-portrait I made yesterday. It’s my third annual Monday After Thanksgiving Self Portrait. A little less relevant since I didn’t actually get a day off for Thanksgiving, and also Monday was still in November this year, but what can you do?

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You can find my 2013 portrait is here, and the 2014 portrait here.

And, calling all artists, are you looking for a challenge? How about 31 sketches in 31 days this December? Join us! You can post sketches to your blog, and we also have a facebook group for posting sketches and encouragement. Just search for the closed group December Sketch-a-Day Challenge and request to join. Hope to see your sketches!

Day 25: Winning

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Yeah that’s right, I won early! I reached 50,000 words this Sunday afternoon, more than a week before the end of November. This is a first, for me. Here’s what my progress graph looked like on Sunday:

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I love these graphs, by the way. If I could add any feature to the NaNoWriMo website, it would be the ability to compare graphs side-by-side, or spliced on top of each other. You could compare your current year’s progress to every other year you’ve participated, or you could compare your own graph to any of your writing buddies’. I think that would be neat.

I didn’t stop writing, by the way. I’m now trying to reach a new goal of 70,000 before the end of November. Wanna see another graph? ‘Cause I sure do. Here’s where I am today:

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See how the bars are above the goal line?

Current word count is 55,483, and I’m still lagging about a thousand behind where I want to be for today.

Every single person writes differently, but here’s how I made my win happen:

It started with travel plans for the weekend. I thought I would be away on the 21st and 22nd, and I didn’t know if I’d find the time to write. Starting on Monday of last week, I made it my mission to get as far ahead as possible before the weekend hit. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I have time to write at the end of my workday before it’s time to go home, of which I took full advantage. It was nice. And so the following few days, when I taught right to the end of the school day, I did the same thing. I stayed late at my desk as long as I could, and typed until I had met my word count. Then I cancelled my travel plans at the last minute, and I was already so far ahead and on a role that I said, hang on, I think I can get to 50,000 by Sunday. And so I did.

My new goal, 70,000, will bring me a lot closer to the end of the story than 50,000. I’ve written this story completely linearly so far; it starts at the beginning and follows a plot and there are no missing pieces or pieces that obviously don’t belong. This is unusual for me, and after the current mess of my dragon book I find it relaxing. Even if I don’t make 70,000 this month, or if the story still isn’t done at 70,000, I want to keep writing until I find the end.

Cheers!

Day 18: Still Okay!

I’ve admired my Aunt Ruthanne’s consistent Wednesday blog updates for years now (A More Colorful Life! Erry Wednesday!). I don’t have any classes Wednesday afternoons this semester and, seeing as this is my third blog post in three Wednesdays, maybe I can follow her example and make Wednesday posts a regular thing.

I won’t write much, though, because I’m trying to get as far ahead on NaNoWriMo as I can before the weekend.

Here’s my progress graph! I’m at tomorrow’s goal, and I haven’t even started writing for today yet.

32,007 words!

32,007 words!

 

I like how this book is coming together. I like the shape of it. I like the characters that are popping up out of the darkness. I like my ideas for the ending. The book feels complete, somehow, in a way my books rarely do at this stage in the writing. I know there are some threads that are missing, and I know I will have to go back to the beginning to weave a few new colors into the story, but I feel like I can hold the whole thing in my hands and I feel it is good. This feeling probably means I am in for a lot of surprises, but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

I’m also having fun writing this book. I want this to be my job. How do I make this my job? Oh yeah. Keep writing.

Good luck on NaNoWriMo and every other thing, you beautiful people, you.

NaNoWriMo Day 11 Update: It’s Going Okay

The curve of my NaNoWriMo graph has a different shape this year than it did last year and the year before. I won both years, by the way—when I start NaNo, I finish. Usually I start out strong, though and things don’t get difficult until week 2. In 2013, I fell behind on Day 11. Last year, it was Day 9. This year, well, take a look. I started out behind, and didn’t even catch up until Day 7, the end of week 1. And today finds me behind again, but only by 3,000 words. I’ll catch up tonight or tomorrow.

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Last week, nothing was working. The intro I’d planned turned out to be the wrong way into the story. I couldn’t get a feel for my main character. The next episode of Parks and Rec kept happening on Netflix autoplay. Mentally, I think I was exhausted from all the hard story work I’d been doing on my dragon book right up until I put that project down for Nano. My subconscious story-generator needed a few days’ rest before it could start cranking out ideas for a brand new story—even if it’s actually an old story, and even if it’s a story I chose because I thought it would be less complicated.

This is what I like about NaNo, and the monthly goal. It would be really easy to let a necessary few days of rest turn into gratuitous months or even years. I’ve done it before. But when the clock is ticking and a goal is set, it creates a constant nagging reminder that your writing needs you. So even though I didn’t like anything about my story and even though I was feeling discouraged, I showed up on Saturday to see what I could do. It turned out I could do a lot. I wrote 10,500 words that day, which is a personal best.

So, yay?

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let a few days of inaction towards a goal make you feel bad. Maybe your brain needed that time to recharge. Maybe your spirit needed that space to find the story. Just stay focused on the big goal, and keep showing up to write.

 

NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?