Dietary restrictions

I’m testing out a week with no gluten or dairy, followed by a couple of weeks of one but not the other to see if I have some new weird food sensitivities or if I just have a stomach bug. (I’ve been having some annoying GI issues for more than a month and figured it was finally time to see the doctor, as it wasn’t going away on its own.) Today has been day two. And since I don’t cook meat in my home, this means no gluten, no dairy, and no meat, which is a little difficult to juggle.

So I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make eating pleasurable within the limits that I have. Learning the taste of brown rice pasta and new sauces. Devouring a heaping bowl of honeydew with fresh lime juice. Treating myself to a soy mocha and a vegan, gluten-free cupcake at a local coffeehouse. And paying attention to how good it feels to be able to sleep through the night, to not feel mildly, persistently ill all day, because if it turns out I need to keep doing this indefinitely, I need to remember why it’s worth giving up a lot of things I love to eat and also to keep in mind that there’s a lot of really good food I still can eat.

I’m thinking about what I can try and make later this week, and one thing I want to do is recreate a hot pocket from the local bakery without the cheese or the pastry shell. So I’m thinking of doing it as scalloped sweet potatoes with red onions, vegan cheese, and caraway seeds. We’ll see if it turns out well.

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Going backwards

Last week, I had five days of intense family stuff that meant I wasn’t writing, so for the last three days I have been pounding out the word count, trying to get caught back up on my Nano novel. But today it’s going slowly, the characters feel off, I’m realizing how much of my novel is just long passages of dialogue with no action or description, and stopping to revise my outline actually lost me 150 words. Which would be no big deal if I was caught up, but when I’m behind, it makes me feel depressed and resentful of the necessary work of making things better. This isn’t working.

This is where I’m grateful that both my parents are writers: I had a long talk with my mom, and she said that pounding out the word count when the characters aren’t sounding or acting right, and where I’m not happy with the quality of the storytelling, means no one else will be invested in my characters or story either. She asked me what my real goal was, and I realized that it’s to complete a novel that I’m pleased with. I had convinced myself that doing a strict word count was the only way to finish a novel, but if pounding out crap convinces me that I’m a terrible writer and that I should just quit, I could complete the Nano but quit writing.

So here’s what I’m doing: I’m going to set aside the block of time from 8-10 every night for writing. Quality matters more than quantity, so it doesn’t matter whether I write a ton or squeeze out just a couple of sentences. What matters is applying butt to chair and feeling like I’m doing my best work. I may finish Nano on time. I probably won’t. But hopefully I’ll end up with a finished novel I actually want to show people.

Who are you?

Did a fun exercise today for my two novels: I downloaded a meme a while back for original characters, and I decided to run the characters for my two nano novels through their paces. You list ten characters, and then answer questions like, “4 invites 2 and 7 over for dinner. What happens next?” or “Why was 6 afraid of 7?” (which, for my book, is actually a major plot point…)

Some of the questions just didn’t work (my 4-year-old is not going on a date. Period.), and some had pretty unsurprising answers, but in a few cases, I learned some important things about my characters. I learned that one of my protagonists would absolutely throw a stranger under the bus to save herself, and that gives her the same pragmatism as one of the other characters in the book, something I may want to play up for story purposes. I learned that one of my male characters is definitely straight, but would totally flirt with another man just to make the guy uncomfortable, because he loves stirring the pot. Lots of subtle discoveries that flesh out how I might have them react in certain scenes, or even what scenarios I might want to throw in, just to draw out some aspect of their personalities.

In a way, it’s like drawing. I often draw my characters and their families because as I fine tune the rough sketches and get closer to a face or gesture that feels true to them, I’ll often realize, “Oh, this character isn’t just stern, he’s defensive; you can see it in his shoulders and the set of his jaw. Let me explore why that is a bit more in the writing.” By letting the character have a life outside the story, I learn what I need to make them work better within the story itself.

Am I alone in this, or do you guys do this, too?

The beginning of the end (or the last scene, anyway)

Wrote for almost seven hours straight last night, 2,770 words, and a little before midnight I wrote the last word of the last scene of the first draft of the NaNo novel I started last November and then put away in a drawer. This is the first time I’ve finished writing a novel since I was nineteen (or twenty-one, depending on if you count my senior project). As a whole, it’s the longest thing I’ve written in eighteen years.

I stopped writing novels in favor of short stories at nineteen because I thought it would be easier to break in as a short story writer, because I thought short stories would be easier to workshop, because I thought it would force me to get better at the elements of character, scene, and plot through rapid repetition. After fifteen years, with none of that coming to pass in the way I imagined, it’s time to get back to writing what I love for its own sake and trusting that whatever skills I learn or success I have will come from doing what I love if they’re meant to be at all.

Today I do draft two, and then tomorrow I let it cool off while I go back to work on the new NaNo novel.