Amanda Gates
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A Musings - November 2008

A-woo hoo! I did it. A complete novel at 50,074 words. With a day to spare! Colletively, the whole NaNo community wrote nearly 1.5 billion words so far. Really, really cool.

I'm very glad I took on this challenge. It was fun, hard, frustrating and easy at all different times, and now I can actually say I wrote a several-chapter novel, with an epilogue, from start to finish. Thanks to everyone for their support!
Posted: Sat, 11/29/2008 - 05:44 | Comments: 7

Last night I saw Twilight with one of my best girls. And we loved, loved, loved it. It actually surpassed my expectations. Sure there were some cheesy lines, but I expected that since the first book is full of them. Sure the special effects weren't stellar, but they had something to prove with this movie and its small budget, and New Moon will be done even better (bring on the werewolves!).

But, looking past those little things, the movie was like a dream I didn't want to end. The actors were brilliant. Robert Pattinson was nearly flawless, making even this 28-year-old married gal swoon just a bit. Kristen Stewart had down pat the combination of angst and head-over-heels in love. The whole movie - as did the book, but the movie even more so - brought me back to high school, to what it felt like to be so crazy about someone that's all you thought about, that's the only person you wanted to be with. You wanted that person in your bedroom at night, and here Bella gets that with one sexy vampire.

And the Cullens. Sigh. I love that family. They too were beautiful. My girlfriend and I audibly gasped when Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) entered the movie for the first time. Esme was just as I pictured her in my head. Emmett was handsome and silly, Alice cute as a button, and Rosalie beautiful yet seemingly unattainable like a super model. Jasper was a little Edward Scissorhands-like to me, but I can understand his vacant stare since he's new to this "vegetarian" thing. I also thought one of the best characters, and the actor who did one of the best jobs, was Billy Burke as Bella's father Charlie. He played the perfect version of a father who doesn't quite know what to do with a teenage daughter, but he tries really hard. And he's supportive and protective and sarcastic. Loved him. The supporting cast was great, too. Bella's friends Mike, Jessica and Eric were hilarious and very real, and I'm excited to see more from Jacob in the second movie.

But in the end, it came down to Bella and Edward for me. They had great chemistry on screen and I felt they were true to their characters. Very true.

All in all, hands down, great movie. It made me rediscover my love for the series. I don't know how they make teenage girls feel (I can only imagine all the Robert Pattinson posters lining bedroom walls all over the world), but for me the stories are nostalgic and sweet and a wonderful escape.

Posted: Tue, 11/25/2008 - 02:07 | Comments: 10

I'm working on my "Best Books I read in 2008" blog for sometime in December (see last year's list here), but I was curious, if you had to create a similar post, what would you include? Think back - What were the best books you read in 2008?

Posted: Mon, 11/24/2008 - 02:07 | Comments: 7

The most recent goal set by NaNoWriMo is to have 30,000 words total by midnight tonight. I'm only some 150 words from that goal, which I should easily be able to complete this evening - and hopefully more. NaNo founder Chris Baty's pep talk for the week made me laugh: "Use all of your sprinting skills and word-count-bolstering tricks you've learned in the last two weeks to get to 30K. If you need to have your characters sing "American Pie" in its entirety or recite some of their favorite passages from telephone books, so be it." While I'm proud to say I've concluded nearly 30,000 words without such techniques - and hope to make it to 50,000 without doing so - it's nice to know it's not frowned upon. :)

Anyway, I know you can all do the math, but 10 days left to write 20,000 words (ugh, I know I've done that 1.5 times over already, but it still sounds insurmountable) means 2,000 words/day. With a girlfriend's birthday bash tomorrow and a pre Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, those two nights are shot. That means 4,000 words/day on the weekend. But I've done it before the past three weekends (another lucky turn of events in that this November had FIVE weekends - bonus!).

Also, I have to give a shout out to my hubby who has been super supportive this month, almost to the point of scolding when I'm not writing. Also, to my two very best girls who surprised me with a card of support that came in the mail yesterday. Their "you can do it!" sing-song phrases made me tear up and remember, yet again, how so thankful I am for them. And that yes, I can do this.

Posted: Wed, 11/19/2008 - 08:50 | Comments: 2

First, NaNoWriMo update: Halfway through the month (Nov. 15), halfway through the novel (25,054 words). Week two was a killer, and I'm not sure the final 15 days will be much easier, but I'm proud of where I am.

Now, I've been a bit consumed by my own novel lately, but that doesn't mean I'm not still reading on the bus or at lunch. I've been reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith. I haven't read any of her novels before (I heard White Teeth was good - anyone?), but I bought her book on the sale table at B&N; a while back. It's an interesting story, a bit boring in places, long-winded passages that I'm sometimes tempted to skim, but some good characters. Not necessarily good in their actions, but good as in characters with depth. Here's the book's synopsis:
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard's older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?

Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith's third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people's deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.

I can tell Smith is a talented writer. Certain methods of her writing or turns of phrase remind me of Charles Dickens even. She sometimes acts like a narrator, telling the reader directly that we'll be jumping through time or letting us in on an unknown fact/secret about a character. However, the book is just OK for me. Some of the characters are just despicable, and others don't even seem like they could be real. I'm almost done, and I will finish it, but because I'm not completely enthralled, that might be why it's taking me so long to finish.
Posted: Sat, 11/15/2008 - 14:32 | Comments: 2

Everything I’ve read on the NaNoWriMo site has said that week two is killer. To quote Chris Baty, NaNo founder, “Week Two tends to be when the novelty of NaNoWriMo wears off, and the difficulties of making so many tough decisions in such a short time period add up. Enthusiasm dwindles, fatigue rises, and we begin squinting at our manuscripts, thinking, ‘This derivative pile of crap is my literary statement to the world?’”

In his latest pep talk, he encourages us to use week two to work on the plot of our story. Supposedly week one was all about character development and we need to now move those characters forward.

That’s not quite my problem, sitting right below 20,000 words. I am feeling more fatigued than my week one “I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to do it” high, and the decisions I’m making for my characters are definitely getting harder to make. My mind goes blank.

However, it’s not for a lack of plot. In my day job, and the past four-and-a-half years of it, I’ve mastered the art of tight, condensed writing. I can tell you about any Twin Cities attraction in less than 15 words, and you’ll leave feeling satisfied. So, here I sit at just under 20,000 words with a plot. Things have happened. Lots of things. There’s been a break in, a beating, a love story and a whole bunch of other stuff. So, in my learned practice of writing quick and to the point, my fear remains: I’ll finish it before 50,000 words.

I can see where the problem started. I had this idea for a young adult novel in my head and I just typed and typed to get it out of my head and down on paper as fast as possible. In doing so, I’m afraid I spent too little time on my main characters: what they look like, what drives them in the end, what they think about (at least more of what they think about). So what do I do now? The goal of NaNo is to just write. You aren’t supposed to go back and reread stuff - just get it out. Editing is for December. However, if I could go back and flesh out these kids a little better, maybe my story, and my word count, would benefit? I know in the end, how I go about getting to 50,000 words – honestly – is up to me. But those are my week two struggles.

For me to stay on track, I need to hit 25,000 words by Saturday. Here’s hoping!

Posted: Mon, 11/10/2008 - 09:23 | Comments: 2

Well, I'm about a little more than a 1/4 of the way done with the month, and I've written 1/5 of my novel so far. A little more than 10,000 words. I've developed a system - if I can write 1,000 words a weeknight and some 7-8,000 words a weekend, I can finish this thing. I also realized that without distraction, give me an hour, and I can write 1,000 words. Sure, that's only in the first week and I'm sure my motivation will decrease, my ideas will stop flowing or my story will come to an abrupt halt at some point, but so far, I'm pretty pleased.

The folks at NaNoWriMo send pep talks from famous writers to our inbox every week. This week we heard from Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass and other stories. I loved all he had to say; his words were very encouraging. He says the hardest page to write is page 70:

All the initial excitement has drained away; you've begun to see all the hideous problems you've set yourself; you are horribly aware of the minute size of your own talent compared to the colossal proportions of the task you've undertaken. That's when you'll want to give up.

That made me laugh, and as someone who is on page 20, I'm not looking forward to page 70. However, maybe remembering what he said about it - power through! - it won't be so bad. The other thing that he said, which I've heard before as well, but is so true, is that you can't write a novel if you're not a reader:

Every novelist I knowevery novelist I've ever heard ofis, or was, a passionate reader. I don't doubt that someone with determination and energy, but who didn't read for pleasure, who only read for information, could actually write a whole novel if they set their mind to it and followed a few rules and guidelines; but would it be worth reading? Would it give any pleasure beyond a mechanically calculated sort? I doubt it. Novels that last and please readers are written because the novelist is intoxicated by the delight and the endlessly renewable joy that comes from engaging with imaginary characterswith story; and that engagement always begins with reading; and if it catches you, it never lets go. Write a novel if you want to win a competition, or impress your friends, or possibly make some moneydo so by all means. But if you're not a lover of stories, a passionate and devoted reader, don't expect your novel to please many readers.

On the other hand, if you do love reading, if you cannot imagine going on a journey without a book in your pocket or your bag, if you fret and fidget and become uncomfortable if you're kept away from your reading for too long, if your worst nightmare is to be marooned on a desert island without a bookthen take heart: there are plenty of us like you. And if you tell a story that really engages you, we are all potential readers.

I don't know if being on a desert island without a book is my worst nightmare, but it's up there. Here's to the next 10,000 words.

Posted: Fri, 11/07/2008 - 02:11 | Comments: 4
I'm doing something crazy this month. I'm attempting to write a novel. In 30 days. For those of you who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with 21 people trying to write 50,000-word novels in the course of 30 days. Last year, more than 100,000 people around the world signed up for the challenge and some 15,000 actually completed the task.

I've thought about joining the fray the past two Novembers, but finally decided to take the leap this year. Why? I have no idea. But, I have a supportive husband, and it just came down to: Why not? You can see my NaNoWriMo official word counter to the right, and can keep track of my progress with me.

I don't want to get into the official rules and regulations of the program, so I encourage you to read the Web site if you're interested. Bascially, it just comes down to self-satisfaction at the end of the month. Hopefully I'll wind up with less-than-perfect prose in the form of a novel, and if I like it, I'll use the following months to edit it into something worth sharing (or not). Or, if I can't make it to 50,000 words, well, at least I tried.

And now that I've told the lot of you, I'm really on the hook, huh? :)
Posted: Mon, 11/03/2008 - 01:38 | Comments: 2