So, I’ve been struggling with my new novel. I’ve got a rough outline, I’m fairly familiar with my characters, yet I haven’t started writing the damned thing. I think I know why: I’m chicken. You heard me. Chicken. I’ve been working so long on editing a finished, mostly polished product that the idea of starting from scratch again scares the pudding outta me. What I need is a good, solid kick in the ass. And a goal.

Guess what? I found both. I joined the Word Count Union. It’s made up of ten writers (well, eleven now including me), each with a daily goal of writing 100 words. Anyone who doesn’t make their goal gets a public “flogging.” Sounds cool, no?

On a good day, banging out 100 words is easy. However, for those days (like the past several weeks of days) when I sit at my keyboard staring blankly at an even blanker screen…well, since I’m not into S&M, knowing that ten other people are standing ready with the cyber whips is an excellent incentive to get something down, however crappy it may be.

Check out the Union blogroll on the right.


A few days ago a fellow NaNoWriMo novelist read an excerpt I posted on the board, enjoyed it, and sent me a private message telling me so. This surprised me because this person is not related to me and is therefore under no obligation to enjoy my writing (hi, Mom!!)

My first reaction was to jump up and down in my computer chair and holler, and I quote: “SQUEEEEEE!” (I’m pretty sure that’s how Ernest Hemingway reacted the first time he realized someone had enjoyed his work.) In fact, there is still some inward squeeeeee-ing going on as we speak.

My second reaction was paralysis. That’s right: writer’s block. Because it occured to me (bright girl that I am) that a person I didn’t know read something I wrote, liked it, and then felt compelled to let me know it. I flipped through the pages of my latest literary output (well, I scrolled through them, this being the computer age and all) and realized that most of my latest literary output was a big fat steaming pile of crap (or, as my very talented writer friend, Amy, says: CARP. Hi Amy!!!) I had a few nuggets that could be sterilized at a later date and possibly be made fit for human consumption, but that was about it.

And so, I stared at my monitor, chomping on dark chocolate covered espresso beans, listening to Breakfast in America (part of my novel is set in the late 1970s, so I need the appropriate background music), waiting for inspiration. Nothing. I went into the bathroom and put on some green eyeshadow, just like Margaret Mitchell did while she was writing Gone With The Wind (I’m not making that up…she really did do that) and sat down at my desk again. Still nothing. After three hours of nothing, I gave it up and played Yahtzee with my still-ailing hubby for the rest of the afternoon. (Hi Hon!!!)

Then night fell. The kids went to bed. My hubby settled down in front of the television. And I stared at the monitor. Still paralysed. I chomped on espresso beans. Listened to ELO (shut up!) Then I peeked through the spam in my Yahoo email account, hoping I might find something in there that would inspire me.

Oddly enough, I did. There were no less than eight offers for me to purchase Viagra at a startling discount. That’s right. I’m a thirty-seven-year-old woman (which means I don’t have a penis, flaccid or otherwise) and yet someone thought I might be interested in purchasing Viagra. That’s when I had a revelation that might startle you as much as it did me.

I’m not Ernest Hemingway.

People who work as spammers for Viagra see my name, shrug, and think, “Maybe he suffers from erectile dysfuntion.” That was a very comforting thought. It meant I can fill my monitor with as much crap as I want this month…and nobody has to know. So I cracked my knuckles and added another 1016 words to my novel. Then I did what NaNoers are not supposed to do…I looked back–again–through some of the previous 15,000+ words. And, guess what? It wasn’t as crappy as I thought.

First Lines

My buddy, Elle, recently posted an article on her blog entitled Fighting Writer’s Block by Mr. David Taylor. Note Cause #4:

Writers often start in the wrong place.

Well, of course we do. We start, as Julie Andrews admonished in Sound of Music, at the very beginning. It seems logical, right? It’s how you’re supposed to start everything you do, from baking a cake to taking a pee.

Then there’s the other thing: we’re all told that the first sentence/paragraph/page is what will determine whether or not a would-be customer will buy our book. I have to admit that this is often true for me as I peruse the bookshelves. Take, for example, two novels I bought over the summer after having been seduced by the first line:

The Gun Seller, Hugh Laurie
“Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.”

Now, I have to admit that I love Hugh Laurie more than just about anyone in the world, and would have bought his book if the first line sucked big fat eggs. But that line made me start reading in the car on the way home from the bookstore. (Fear not…my beloved hubby was driving.) Supper that night consisted of frozen pizza, because I could pop that into the oven while holding the book up to my nose.

Towelhead, Alicia Erian
“My mother’s boyfriend got a crush on me, so she sent me to live with my daddy.”

I closed the book, took a deep breath to stop the room from spinning, and made a beeline for the cash register. On that particular day I was alone in the bookstore, and was responsible for driving myself home, so I did the only thing I could do: I sat in my car and read for an hour, reluctantly marked my page, rushed home (ignoring the speed limit laws), made sandwiches for supper, then read until I had finished the book.

And so I am nervous about my own first lines/paragraphs/pages. What if, after pouring my heart, gut, soul and brain into what turns out to be a damn fine novel, no one ever reads it because my first line sucks big fat eggs…or at least fails to grip?

Note Mr. Taylor’s advice:

If you’re stuck on the first paragraph, bag it. Write down, “First paragraph goes here,” leave a space, then write “Second Paragraph” and start there. Be prepared to skip over anything that tries to keep you stuck. Save that part until later. The answer will likely become obvious later on when you’ve done more writing and know more about the thing you’re creating.

So, I can tell you all that my official first line of my 2007 NaNoNovel will be:

“Ingenious first line to appear here later.”