National Poetry Writing Month 2016


Screenshot of my current Scrivener plans, 30 March 2016. Thirty blank chapters waiting to be transformed into poetic genius… I hope.

I’m setting out my NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) plans in Scrivener in anticipation of the April 1st start to the writing journey. In previous years I have dismally failed at NaPo, so I am taking a leaf out of my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) experiences and trying to plan in advance. I think I must’ve long ago internalised the myth that poetry is always something spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment. This is an illusion that very quickly dissipates in the face of NaPo, when the words that so easily flowed on April 1st made me feel like a veritable Gerard Manley Hopkins or Mary Oliver; by the time April 30 rolled around, if I hadn’t yet surrendered my hope, my words sounded more like the monotonous drivel of a repetitive pop song lyric sheet. Errr… No offense to anyone who prefers the stylings of pop music, of course; this is, after all, coming from someone who listens to bands who sing in extinct and ancient languages because it brings my geeky heart great joy…

I am fleshing out some ideas for my poetry writing, giving myself themes to follow, and I genuinely hope I make it through the whole month.

I must also loosely define poetry – more so than others might. I am not big on rhyming. I do, however, love to play with sounds and imagery and grammatical conventions. I use nature as a springboard for most of my writing, too. I’ve been reading a lot of ghost stories recently, too, and I am leaning towards using the narrative and symbols of ghost stories mingled with my love for nature to see what arises. At this stage, if the planning goes well, hopefully what I will write won’t be so much thirty individual poems, but rather one long poem in thirty parts.

Of course, there’s a good chance I won’t make it the full thirty days and that I will rage quit somewhere along the way, but if I don’t push myself to try it then I will never know what might’ve been.

NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 17

Friday, 27 November 2015

It’s time to panic! I’m learning to associate my US-based friends’ social media posts about Thanksgiving (both for and against the occasion) with end-of-nano panic. We don’t have a Thanksgiving. I guess our similar holiday is Australia Day in January, which usually marks the end of the summer holidays, and sparks debate about the abhorrent treatment of Indigenous Australians by English invaders, versus calls to just shut up and enjoy walking around in Southern Cross-emblazoned paraphernalia. Though there were attempts by Christian political lobby groups in Australia to start a day of national thanksgiving and prayer. I’m not sure if that ever really gained much traction outside of evangelical circles.

I entered my story text so far into the word count validator and lost 578 words from my story. There’s a huge discrepancy between the word count statistics in Microsoft Word on my lap top, Scrivener on my PC, and NaNoWriMo’s official counter. As my winning or losing is determined by the Nano website’s official counter, I have to re-calibrate my Scrivener aims according to my best guess of Nano’s difference. (Nano usually seems to subtract roughly 70 words from my scrivener account.)

I have today and Monday left available to me to write. Saturday and Sunday this weekend are going to be so busy that I will likely not have any time. People keep saying, “Surely you’ll find time on the weekend, if you’re motivated enough.” Those people clearly aren’t stay-at-home mothers morphing into hair and makeup artists for their daughter’s two ballet concerts over two days and a separate full dress rehearsal in a suburb about half an hour away. At literally exactly the same time my son has a bunch of commitments – namely a birthday party and a church end-of-year celebration for the department in which he volunteers – so that I have the interesting dilemma of needing to be in two physically disparate locations at exactly the same time. If I were the main character in my NaNoWriMo story I may have that ability. But for now my real life is looking a lot like that logic puzzle where the boatman has to carry a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river without leaving them alone in a predator/prey situation.

It’s hard to focus on my story. I’ve had so many social interactions over the last two weeks that my introvert levels of exhaustion are very high. I love catching up with friends. I had no time to write yesterday, either, as I was out for a coffee (which was positive, so don’t get me wrong there, I appreciate friends who drag me out once in a while to talk about the deep stuff of life). At the same time I realise that because so many of us are asking really hard questions about life, faith, our collective dissatisfaction with controlling religious leaders in our lives, and fears of some that if they don’t get out soon they might one day find that they’d given their life, money and allegiance to a cult. Who knows? These are important questions and I think everyone needs to face them at some point in their faith journeys, but my impulse now is to start dialoguing on spiritual abuse forums to learn the warning signs from those who’ve already been there, when what I really, really need to do is to write almost 10,000 words within the next eight hours, get Nano done, so I can recover, and maybe even have some time to start confronting that most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year, Christmas.

I have come down with yet another severe cold, which includes a really painful headache. My head is pounding as I type and my sinuses are beyond blocked. If I keep clenching my teeth I’m going to have to put in my mouthguard. The coffee grinder broke so I’m now reduced to using a mechanical hand grinder that makes me feel like I’m playing hurdy gurdy (which is okay, I guess, because I just imagine that I am like Anna Murphy the singer and hurdy gurdist in this song… Why yes, she is singing in Ancient Gaulish).

My story is at that disjointed stage where I’m just throwing in any scenes I can imagine. I’m not even bothering to connect them. I can do that later if I need to pad out the story. I look forward to getting this first draft completed so I can excise all its crumminess and get to the good stuff. A lot of people have requested to read my story and I massively appreciate the enthusiasm, but the reality is that I’m writing this first draft for me and my eyes alone. I don’t have the cognitive freedom to write it as creatively as I need if I’m spending the whole time worried that someone else might read it and see how terrible it is – it is in no way representative of the best of my writing. However, on a second draft edit it might manage to make the grade where I’ll look at possibly providing copies to my in-real-life friends (the ones that are sympathetic enough to understand that I’m really just developing my writing craft and that I don’t have the luxury of editors).

I’m looking forward to finishing Nano, and getting back into painting and drawing. December is always a hectic time of year. I can’t believe it’s almost upon us, and that my kids are finishing their first year at new schools (last Nano season I wrote a bit about why we left their previous school and home schooled during 2014, see here). Changing them to nonreligious schools has proven a fantastic choice for them and I’m just so glad that it’s mostly gone well for them. There were lots of hiccups along the way and new social dynamics to negotiate, but I can say with a lot of relief that neither of them has been bullied or beaten-up. Nor have the warnings of their previous school’s principal proven correct in any sense when he said, when we left, that non-Christian, government-based schooling was a factory of atheism that would force our children to give up on their faith. On the contrary, my kids have grown more confident in the knowledge that they choose to self-identify as Christians, while learning that their classmates come from myriad religious belief systems to which they are devoted at varying degrees of intensity (my kids now count Muslims, Sikh, Mormons, Catholics, Agnostics and Atheists from a huge range of ethnic backgrounds among their schoolmates). I realise just how more reflective it is of real social life in Australia. It’s so multicultural here in Melbourne that you either learn how to navigate the varied landscape of religious and philosophical worldviews – or put up the blinkers and pretend that everyone who isn’t exactly like yourself is “bad.” I love that just by changing schools the kids have been able to learn that “others” are more like us than they are different, and that differences aren’t bad, they’re what makes life interesting.

Anyway, enough progressive proselytising, it’s time to go back to my story… which, like my previous paragraph, seems to be morphing into a bit of a commentary on how we marginalise people because of external differences. In my story the bird-people were historically being jerks to the lizard-people but now the bird-people are starting to confront their deeply-embedded prejudices and realise that all the peoples must unite if there’s ever to be a restored pathway to travel between the inhabitable planets in their solar system… how my story went in that direction I’m really not sure. It’s going way off the original plot plans, that’s for sure.

Current word count: 41,144 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: a compilation of Native American shamanic music. I’m not sure I even like it. I’m also not sure how it ended up on my youtube suggestions, but there it is. I might switch to Gregorian chants soon. The birds singing out in the garden blend seamlessly into the music.

NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 13


21 November 2015 – Screenshot, Scrivener

Saturday, 21 November 2015

When in doubt, add a prologue. I’ve reached a point in my story where I’m looking back at the older passages – not to delete or edit them, because it’s NaNoWriMo and that’s not allowed – but to pad it out and insert sections that relate to the latter half of the story. I realise that some of the second half of the book will make more sense if I can hint at this earlier on in the story. Introducing my character Haimo long before we know his significance will add meaning to his full arrival in the story several chapters later.

I noticed one possible problem with my story that I would have to address on a subsequent editing session: a lot of my characters unintentionally have the “ai” letter combination in their names. Zaira, Taika, Taimi, Haimo, Zulaikha. It could prove confusing to readers and so in post-nano editing I will see if I can find more diverse character names.

I should add that the 50,000+ word count project plan on my Scrivener is to compensate for the apparent discrepancy between the Scrivener word count and the NaNoWriMo official word count validator.

Current word count: 32,121 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: The Husband’s exercise workout instruction videos. It’s really awkward trying to write with someone else in the room.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Scrivener layouts time!

Nanowrimo preparation screenshot of Scrivener, 24 October 2015

Nanowrimo preparation screenshot of Scrivener, 24 October 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 Planning: This year I’m using a different computer. Now that I have Scrivener installed I have started shifting my plot plans, character profiles and more into a new project. I have to say that it feels real now that I am at Scrivener on the desktop computer-stage. Up to this point my writing has been a blend of ye olde pen on lined paper, sketches and a bit of typing on my lap top, as well as a lot of scouring through name websites. I suspect that most of us with a bent towards story writing own a few baby name books. I find them invaluable.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 18


I’m doing okay on the writing today. I’ve found – once again – that Scrivener’s format works very well for me. I don’t write my story in strictly chronological order. In fact, I jump all over the place. So it helps me to be able to keep a track of where my different story sections are. Shifting the files over to Scrivener, and a hefty dose of music by the Irish choral group Anúna, seems to have resparked my imagination. Now all I have to do is try to write 3,000 words a day for the next fortnight and I might actually finish this thing!

While I am way below par for my word count, I haven’t given up yet. This story has life in it, yet, and the characters need to have their narratives and questions resolved before I can move on. At this point in the story, my protagonist – a young woman who lost her entire family in a plague of monsters some ten years earlier – has just admitted for the first time that she hates them for leaving her behind. I’m much happier with that than with the worrying element where it seems a romantic subplot is developing without me having given it express permission to do so. Let’s face it, this cold hearted cynic isn’t too good at “romance.” (Though I might be mixing up “cold hearted cynic” with being a Myers-Briggs ISTP personality type – apparently I do have the capacity for feelings, they just take a very long time to get to the surface. I can live vicariously through my stories, I guess.)