Sunday, October 16, 2011

Evolution of an Idea and NaNoWriMo

Change has been on my mind a lot lately. Personal struggles in my life have dictated changes. You either change or you keep struggling. In the past six months, I've been a fan of change. Then, last week I discovered I was losing my boss to another school.

I was in turn, angry, sad, and a little scared. Anyone who's ever worked for an incompetent leader knows the value of a good one. My principal was a good one. I don't know who his replacement is yet. I can only hope it's another good one, but yeah, I'm a little scared.

His departure got me thinking. Maybe something's wrong with me. I've stayed in the same place and the same job for 13 years.

I don't feel stagnant. I have a different set of kids every year, and while I've essentially taught the same pieces of literature, I've changed it up with new approaches. And every single year, without fail, a kid has said something in class that makes me step back, blink, and think, "Damn, I've never thought about it that way."

Those moments make me realize that yes, some changes are necessary, but others would not only be counterproductive, but just plain wrong. I'm a teacher. It's not merely a label describing how I make my living. It's who I am as a human being, an unalterable link in the chain of my DNA.

So change, or the lack thereof, has been on my mind. I sat down Thursday thinking I wanted to write a short story about change. Broad, I know, and honestly, isn't EVERY story about change? So maybe my story was going to be about resisting necessary know, the kind that addresses those personal struggles I mentioned earlier.

You don't hook readers with a theme. You hook them with a good story. I needed characters. I needed conflict. I needed a story.

One of my favorite places to go for ideas is a list of famous quotations. You can search by theme or topic. I searched "change." This jumped off the page.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects change is the cemetery. ~Harold Wilson

Yes! My story would be set in a cemetery.

One of the changes I've made recently in response to my personal struggles is running. Ironic really, since an utter distaste for running in high school threatened my PE grade and subsequently, my GPA. In middle age, I've found solace, mental health, and the confidence to handle a myriad of problems in running. Some evenings, I literally run until the day's frustration is gone.

My protagonist is running in a cemetery. She does this regularly. At night.

Who runs in a graveyard at night? I needed to write to discover the answer to that question, so I opened a new Word document. My pulse always speeds up when I have the seed of an idea and a blank page. New and exciting...anything is possible.

This is what I wrote:

The hair stood up on the back of Heather's neck as she jogged through a pocket of cold air. Running through the cemetery made her feel like a horror movie bimbo. All she needed was high heels and a poorly-timed ankle twist, and the zombies would descend on her for a midnight snack of brains and girl flesh.

Right on cue, a melodious voice broke the silence of the dead.

"High heels would be a nice change of pace. I've grown bored with your
Nikes and t-shirt du jour."

Heather maintained a steady rhythm. "Zombies would be a nice change of

"You've never met a real zombie. They're an unruly lot."


I wrote three more pages without stopping. I finally did stop because while I had a fun scene going, I needed to think about what happened next. I discover my characters by actually writing them, but I don't plot well that way. I end up following dead ends. I have a folder full of unfinished manuscripts as a testament to that approach.

As I sketched out a plot, I realized I wasn't planning a short story. It was going to be longer than that. Okay...

My mind wandered back to the aforementioned folder of unfinished manuscripts, some of them 15,000 words or more. I have not finished a manuscript since my agent went out of the agent business and said, "You have a good book. Sorry I couldn't place it with the right publisher."

That was the precipitating event, but I'm not blaming him. I'm the one who slumped.

It's time to get unslumped. I'm going to run with my new idea as part of NaNoWriMo in November. Honestly, I'm starting now, and I don't expect to be finished by the end of November. I have work and family responsibilities that preclude the daily word count necessary to do that. HOWEVER, I am using NaNo to hold me responsible for sitting down and getting words on the page.

As part of holding my writer self accountable, I'm also getting regular content back up on the blog. Nowhere is my slump more evident than in the long gaps between posts. I pledge to you faithful blog reader who cared enough to read this far, I will post a minimum of once a week. I hope to do more than that, but I have to start with an achievable goal.

This is the NaNoWriMo badge that I will be posting to the blog, along with a word count widget.

I'm taking a big, deep breath. A journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step.

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