Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

This blog gets its name from the catchphrase of NaNoWriMo, “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.”

And, for the past five years, I’ve set the majority of extra-professional life aside to participate in the phenomenon.  It has, in my opinion, paid off.  I am a much better writer than I was when I did not participate.  I must qualify that statement by saying that I never stopped writing during the other parts of the year, either.  I write year-round.  I just don’t live, eat. breathe and inhale it like I do in November.

I proceed at a much more measured, leisurely pace.  Normal writing process is an amble through a wooded park where I stop and admire the posies, inhale the fresh pine scent, and listen to the birds sing.  November is a mad, breathless dash across a dirt track, dust crunching under my feet, heart knocking in my chest.

It makes me a better writer.  I’d never ever want to show anyone else my November efforts, however.  My writing during that month is, to put it nicely, a diamond in the rough.

It will take much cutting, much care, much polishing to make it something worth enjoying.  But the effort has made it all possible.  Without the words, without the first draft–which, for me is more of a roadmap than anything else–there is nothing to edit, shine and make pretty.

So here’s to the 50,000 words I have just written.  Here’s to 50,000 more and a finished manuscript, soon.  Soon.  And then, here’s to the courage to attack it with the pencil, eraser, scissors (all virtual, of course), to make the necessary adjustments.

Here’s to producing a thing of beauty.

The Greatest Love Letter in English Literature

And what, you may ask, is my opinion on this matter?  Well I do have one and it is a strong one.  Its author is none other than Miss Jane Austen (are you surprised?) and it is penned, in the story, by Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Before I post the text and my discussion of it here, a bit of background to the story might be necessary as the Letter (yes the uppercase L is important) is penned and delivered in one of the last chapters of the last complete book that Miss Austen scribed before her untimely death.  That novel is Persuasion, which has, as I’ve grown older, supplanted Pride and Prejudice (oh the horror!  supplanted?) as my favorite all-time novel.  I do plan to discuss that progression of my tastes at another date.  It is fresh on my mind, dear reader (notice I use the singular as I am well aware of the singularity of my readership), and will be touched, I promise you.

The set-up for the letter is as follows: Anne, daughter of a rather vain and spend-thrifty baronet was persuaded by family and close friends to jilt her fiancé, an up-and-coming naval officer of no fortune or notable family (both very important) and so, finds herself, eight years later at the beginning of the book well on her way to becoming a spinster.  In the meantime, she has turned down at least one other offer of marriage (a young man who has gone on to marry her younger sister) and never forgotten Frederick Wentworth, though she had been urged to do so.

Through a bizarre coincidence (as they surely happen in almost all of good literature), due to the spend-thrifty and vain nature of her father, they must let out their estate while they “retrench” to Bath.  Anne stays behind with her sister’s family at a nearby estate while the house is let out to a retired Navy Admiral, whose wife is none other than the sister of Captain Frederick Wentworth.  Thus, Anne is forced back into the society of her former fiancé, who has since become extremely successful in the navy and, more importantly, extremely rich on prize money.  During this period of reacquaintance, Frederick never allows Anne to forget what she has lost.  He is resentful and virtually ignores her and she must stand back and watch as he woos the Musgrove sisters, sisters-in-law to her younger sister Mary.

Throughout the course of the story,  other things happen and then, the entire party of people end up in Bath.  The Musgrove sisters each end up engaged to other men. 

And now the question hangs between Frederick and Anne: can he forgive her?

Anne is speaking to Captain Harville, a close friend of Wenthworth’s,  in a salon where a few people are assembled.  Harville is the brother of a young lady who has passed away, and whose fiancé is now engaged to Louisa Musgrove.  The two discuss the differences in how the sexes approach love.  Are men more constant or are women?  Are men more passionate or are women?  

Frederick Wentworth sits nearby, silent, seemingly not listening as he writes an order for picture framing.  Anne and Harville make an interesting study of the differences, ultimately agreeing to disagree.  Anne underlines the constancy of a woman’s love, that though a man may love stronger, a woman’s love will endure.  That women love longest “when existence or when hope is gone.”

Soon after the captains leave on their errand, Anne discovers a Letter.   It has been penned to her by Captain Wentworth, who had listened to every word of her conversation with Harville and, as evidenced, was moved by it.

Thus, here be the Letter:

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

And so, gentlemen of the readership (or likely, gentleman–or underage kid that got here by googling “good love letters to plagiarize”), here is the most knee-melting, the most heart-piercing, the most swoon-worthy love letter in all literature.  Penned by a man to a woman, but ultimately, by a spinster author of middle age.  Who lived 200 years ago.   She can still teach us all a thing or two about love. 

The bald-faced raw emotions expressed here, especially by a man who has shown little indication of these things to Anne throughout the story.  In fact, his actions demonstrate quite the opposite but for the little things that Anne grasps onto during their association together.  Yes he ignores her completely as the group strolls through the countryside, but he immediately implores his sister, driving by in a carriage, to give her (and only her) a ride as she is having difficulty.  He praises her quick-thinking and capability in a tough situation even while he has spent an entire outing to Lyme wooing Louisa Musgrove and agonizing over her accident.  These small things Anne clings to and they give her hope, even when “all hope is gone.”

But Wentworth has never stopped loving her.  And in this Letter, he pours out his emotions, “half-agony, half-hope.”  He speaks of the heart (his) that she “almost broke eight years and a half ago.”  His soul is pierced.  He is overpowered and fervent.  And these emotions he expresses wholly and unabashedly to the woman he loves.

He also lays bare his heart to her.  “I offer you my heart… I have loved none but you.”  He is “undeviating” in his feelings and has loved her the entire time though she heartlessly spurned him.

He praises her, “too good, too excellent creature” in possession of “such precious feelings.” And in lines closely associated, admits his faults, “Unjust I may have been.  Weak and resentful, I have been.”  But despite all this.  He is never inconstant.

And lastly, he singles her out as the object of his heart’s desire and happiness:  “You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?”

There you go, ladies and gentlemen.  

How to Pen the Ultimate Swoon-Worthy Love Letter 101

by Miss Jane Austen.

1. Bare your emotions

2. Pour out your heart

3. Praise the object of your affections

4. Admit your own faults and your regret for them

5. Single out the oject of your desire and tell him/her your plans for the future and their irreplaceable part in those plans (in the most non-creepy and non-stalkery way, of course.  Sure he followed her to Bath but he was ready to leave again when he thought she got engaged to her cousin. So he wasn’t going to push the matter until he heard her speak about the constancy of her love even though she had lost hope.)

Best of luck to you in writing your own.

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo: Write or Die

There have been many things said about National Novel Writing Month.  Mostly good but some bad (the most ludicrous of which, in my opinion: that people should be concentrating more on reading rather than writing.  That there are already enough writers out there to satisfy the demand  for the “dwindling number of readers.”  This argument is mind-bogglingly simplistic and precludes the assertion that most writers are avid readers to begin with, otherwise they would take up some other hobby, like fishing or golf.  And even then, those people would likely read copious amounts about fishing and golf.  It also excludes the notion that the act of creative writing, in and of itself, is a worthy endeavor, even if publication is never pursued).

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the November crush, and likely the most obvious one, is to force my creativity to the point where it comes out onto the keyboard whether awful or not.  NaNoWriMo is the equivalent of a writer’s marathon and sometimes it really feels like it.  Whatever comes out on the page during the month of November pretty much stays  on the page until its time for revisions and editing.

It is easier to edit words that already exist–even to the extent of completely re-writing them, then it is to pull words wholecloth out of thin air.  The hard part is getting them down, committing your ideas to paper, even tapping into that Muse that is your unconscious thought (though I like to personify mine and I’ll touch on that in a later post.  It really helps, though, to think of your muse as a person or animal).

So write or die… write as much as you can, as fast as you can, for as long as you can.  If I could carry this pattern out to the rest of the year I’d be in great shape.  For all my previous efforts and for what is in the future, I know that even the process of writing, even if it doesn’t amount to anything tangible now, will make me the better writer in the end.

I hope to be done with my first draft of Violette by the end of December, barring serious holiday intrusion.  January and onward will be for revisions, edits,  and creation of the second draft.  Then, crits with partners (hopefully if I can find some reliable ones who are on the same wavelength as myself), and beta-reaers (again, if I can find any willing).  The third draft (and onward) will depend on the general reader reaction and my own gut feelings.

I suspect there will be changes, though.  My characters are already hinting at it to me.  The more I look and question, the more I uncover hidden motives, past traumas and secret ambitions.  Sneaky characters.  I had a feeling they were going to do that. 

Well, after November, I guess we’ll have words! (the spoken kind, at the top of the voice, and, hopefully more of the written kind as well).


Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for anything ranging from story arcs all the way down to snippets of dialog?

Well, as mentioned previously in this blog, I tend to have an, umm, temperamental muse.  I suppose that is the most politic word for it.  (Sorry dear, no offense).

She thumps me over the head whenever and wherever.  Her favorite place to get me used to be when I was driving alone in the car.  Most of the time, I was listening to a piece of music and some flash of an idea would come to my head.  I found myself diving for a notebook whenever I could, scratching things down on the on-ramp to the freeway as I wait for a green light, ideas thundering through my head faster than I could catch them.

A lot of times, it’s like fishing in a rushing river with a big net.  Only the big stuff stays in the net and all the other stuff streams through the holes faster than you can catch it.

Inspiration can come from all over.  Books.  TV.  Movies.  Historical Research.  Sometimes an arc of an idea will flash into my mind and, full bloom, a scene appears.  This isn’t always a good thing because even if the idea seems sound, fitting into a work in progress where it was not previously imagined can be tough.

I recently had a scene that I had written ahead of time, with the Muse standing at my shoulder poking me in the back whenever I got something wrong.  Later, once I had gotten to writing up my synopsis (about a third of the way through the word count on the first draft), my idea and the placement for that scene had totally changed.  I found myself altering not only the setting for the scene (from the upstairs bedroom to the heroine’s secret outdoors hiding spot–yeah she’s that kinda girl) to what they were arguing about (In the first version, he was upset about rumors he’d heard that she might be getting engaged to someone else.  In the altered version, he had already had it confirmed that she had agreed to marry someone else–for many reasons other than the ones he was assuming).

It takes trust and flexibility to be able to chase the Muse, as Alice did, down the rabbit hole and trust that it will be okay at the bottom.  First drafts suck.  They change and morph as much as a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel.  I don’t think many who don’t write understand that process.  Many assume that “revision” means you are going back over the manuscript crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s and fixing spelling and grammar errors.

Not so.  Yes, those things are part of the process.  But once my first draft is done, it’s still going to be messy.  I’m going to need to smooth out all the bumps add a whole lot here, delete a whole lot there, before I can even begin to make it shiny and presentable.  I have no doubt that the story will morph several times between now and then.

On the one hand it can be frustrating but on the other, I’m rather excited about it.  I can’t wait to see what it will become.  Like a baby you hold in your arms, waiting to see glimpses of personality and individuality.  Right up until those terrible-twos tantrums where it actually happens and then you are holding your hands to your head and going WTF was I thinking?

Writing is a process–lengthy and difficult.  It can be fun if you keep the right mindset.  It can be infuriating–easily so.  Inspiration comes not only in the beginning when you are laying down the groundwork, but as you go over and over the draft where you get flashes of insight into your characters or a character suddenly changes on you, having hidden himself until he knew he could trust you.  (No I’m not schizophrenic nor do I suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder though it may sometimes sound like it).

The truth of the matter is, as with everything, unless you keep an open mind, you have no room to grow.  Conversely, unless you have strength of character, there will be no structure, design or art in what you do.

Here’s wishing you (and myself) many “muse-bombs”* in the future.

*Note : “Muse-Bomb” is a term I borrowed from Holly Lisle from her writing course, “How to Think Sideways”

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