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My mug is courtesy of my son, and I think my sister gave me the little tea guy. Just put loose-leaf tea in his pants, set him into the teacup hot tub and voila! Tea. Right now I’m drinking some loose leaf India black tea called Assam House Blend. It’s delightful!

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Mr. Tea Guy is enjoying his hot tub, and I’m enjoying my hot drink on this cold day.

In the interest of sharing a bit more about myself here–I’m ready to ‘fess up about my cats, because, yes, my son may be right. I just might be “one cat short of crazy.”

Yes, we have too many cats.

I’ll be the first to admit it.

No, we don’t live in a house of squalor with a hundred furrballs. I like to think our house is in pretty good shape, all things considered. See, here’s the deal. We moved to the country from the suburbs. I had never owned a cat in my life.

We were dog people. Small dog people. We have our little Shih Tzu named Snickers who moved with us to the country and was our only pet.

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Snickers, beloved pup.

That is, until I sat on our three-season porch one summer evening and heard a distinct mewing. With a flashlight and careful step, we located the little culprit—a black kitten with neon green eyes.

Finally, with a little string for enticement, my husband knelt down beside her and made friends. We allowed her on the porch “but not in the house.” Then, she was in the house. And in our hearts. We named her Kit Kat. Here’s a link to that story. We had her spayed and got her the shots she needed.

So we had a cat and a dog. Nice combo platter.

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Sweet Pea helps with the Christmas wrapping.

Next, my husband was working in the barn when a full-grown black and white cat jumped up on his workbench and rubbed her head against his arm. “Hello sweetheart,” he said gently, and she purred. When he left the barn, she followed. When he got to the porch and entered, she followed. When he came into the living room, she made herself at home.

Two cats and one dog. He calls her Sweet Pea.

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Pretty Petite, our “little one.”

We took her in to have her spayed, only to find she already had been. So she had belonged to someone. Had she been left? Had she run away or gotten lost? How had she found her way to us? No matter. She apparently was here to stay.

Then my husband saw in town a mama cat and three kittens, all in a cage on the front porch with the weather changing to cold. He knocked on the door and asked if he could rescue them.

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Basket of kittens.

Six cats and one dog.

The kittens grew, mama wandered, papas in the area learned of some hot chicks (kits?) new to the area. Pregnant cats.

Kittens. Too many kittens.

Kittens given away. We took one set to a farm where kids come to play with the animals. Several got taken by a few acquaintances. More spaying appointments.

Oops.

One more set of kittens.

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Molly has a “mouse” and isn’t letting go.

We put out a sign offering “Free Kittens,” but in the Indiana countryside that’s like an Eskimo offering free snow in Alaska. So that set ended up staying around. A couple of those surprised us with having one kitten before we could get them spayed. One had kittens that we tried desperately to save, but they were just born too soon.

My husband rescued yet another kitten from the side of a country road. Mama and another kitten crossed over, but this one was nearly blind from gunky eyes and full of fleas. He took this little one to the vet to get him all cleaned up. We call him Little Bit—and he’s now our biggest and heaviest cat.

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Little Bit hangs out

The numbers have fluctuated over the years as some have just disappeared—either victims of getting lost amongst the stalks of corn in the field across the way, or in the woods, or perhaps killed by a predator or a vehicle. That’s the sad part. I don’t like to think about it. But then, new ones arrive – twice we’ve had skinny, malnourished cats find their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Both Mike and Molly are now healthy and well fed. At current count, we have eight cats. They come and go, but this is home.

So there you have it. These cats sit on my lap as I try to work, sit beside me on my desk waiting for me to put my face close for a nuzzle, lay beside me on the bed wrapped around my legs.

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Bandit and Spanky are clearly bored with me.

I wouldn’t trade these little inspirations for anything.

So sure, maybe too many cats, but all of these have found their way to us and decided to stay. So am I a crazy cat lady? Perhaps. We take care of them. We love them.

Oh, and they are all currently spayed or neutered.

Because really, eight is enough. Because more than that? Well, that would be crazy!

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It’s 1976. I have just been dropped off by my parents to this place in the middle of nowhere. Houghton College, Houghton, New York. The town doesn’t even have a stoplight. Go too fast on Route 19 and you will go right on by without realizing there’s a really wonderful college just up that two-lane paved road part-way up the hill. In the years since I was there, the college astutely placed a large brick entrance sign and widened that road so that it’s a little more difficult to slide on by. However, there is still no stoplight.

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I’m trying America back on again after spending my four high school years in Europe. We didn’t have American television so all these guys are going “Ehhhhhhh!” flashing a thumbs up and the explanation I get is that they’re imitating Fonzie.

“What’s a fonzie?”

Clearly, I am way behind the times.

My first writing instructor in college is a man named Dr. John Leax (pronounced “Lex.” He was fond of telling everyone not to make him more exotic with some sort of pronunciation like the French word for water, l’eau. It was just “Lex”). After we get that he’s pronounced “Lex,” I learn that although he’s John, his colleagues call him Jack. Sort of that “John Kennedy–Jack Kennedy” thing going on that I never understood. How does “John” become “Jack”? Well, it really didn’t matter anyway since I would never have called him by his first name.

It’s the required 101 basic writing class with whatever department call letters are used at the time. I am terrified. I’m in a new place in, basically, a new country; all of my high school friends are scattered (literally) all over the world; I’m hoping I can hack this whole college thing; I’m eight hours away from my parents and sister. 

Here’s what I remember about Dr. Leax’s class:

Our papers are turned in and then mimeographed (I don’t think we yet had photocopiers in the world) onto clear plastic sheets. Our names are blacked out, and each paper is placed on the overhead projector so that all of its electric-typewriter-typed glory appears on the screen so we can read through it as a class. Not everyone gets this treatment. I think he picks out the especially good or especially bad papers.

One day my paper is being projected onto the screen, and I sit as nonchalantly as possible to make sure no one can possibly think it’s mine. Dr. Leax is underlining sections, discussing them. At one point, he draws a line through a paragraph and sketches a little trash can in the margin. It looks something like this–much more simple and crude, of course.

That’s what he did for everyone when something just was . . . well . . . trash. Trash cans in the margins. Sometimes, if the writing was especially bad, he’d do this:

The squiggly lines above the trash can signifying the especially pungent odor of said writing . . . er . . . bad writing. I don’t recall ever getting the squiggles on my papers, although I know I got more than one trash can.

Later in my career, I discovered proofreading marks, and there are no trash cans.

But there should be.

Since I eventually declare a double major in English and Writing, I will have the privilege of studying under Dr. Leax for other classes. He’s a poet and an inspiration. From Dr. Leax, I learn about the value of good writing and how to spot poor writing. And he teaches me how to make bad writing better. He teaches me the value of words and of finding just the right word.

Thank you, Dr. Leax. You gave me the tools I still use today.

Who’s your inspiration? Is there a person in your past who helped inspire you to be the person you are today?

 

I’m all about self-editing. I’m all about encouraging writers to write that first draft, get down everything they want to say, then go back and massage the words. It’s at that point that you determine if you’re saying what you really want to say. It’s at that point that you can search to replace a blah word with the perfect word, play with some alliteration, try an unexpected metaphor or simile.

I teach a Public Speaking class this semester, and I encourage my students to play with words as they write their speeches. I also require them to watch and study several great speeches.

I mean, what if Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by what they look like but by who they are.”

Instead, look at this brilliant alliteration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Now that’s a memorable line!

Speaking of memorable lines, we have a great example of President Franklin Roosevelt self-editing a speech that made it one of the greatest speeches of all time. This year, December 7 will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise military strike by Japan on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulted in the loss of 2,403 American lives; the sinking of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers; and the destruction of 188 aircraft.

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USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken ship and the graves of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. The first draft of his speech began this way (italics mine):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Instead, by editing just two words in this first line, FDR gave us these stirring words (again with my italics):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

You can see a copy of the typed speech with FDR’s handwritten edits here at the National Archives website. On the three pages, you’ll see several places where he crossed out typed words, wrote in new ones, wrote in new words, and crossed those out.

In the end, on that day of great shock and fear, the president offered strong words of resolve that united a nation.

So there you have it. Now watch the actual speech. And remember those who died 75 years ago on December 7 and those who subsequently died fighting for freedom on both sides of the globe–in Europe and in the Pacific.

And remember the power of words.

Whatever you write, take the time to edit. Go back and look at every word, making sure it is the right word, the best word, the perfect word.

It will make all the difference.

 

I’m so excited to share some of the work my students have been doing so far this semester.

I teach a class called “Building Your Author Platform.” The focus is to help our Professional Writing students who want to write books or in some way work with books build that platform so needed in the publishing world. I designed the class a few years ago after I studied under Professor Cathy Day at Ball State University in a class that focused on literary citizenship.

Much of the writing world is online—and as my students become a professional writers and/or prepare to be professionals in the publishing world, they need to be in that online community. In my class, I try to help them understand what it means to join the writing world “out there” and professionalize themselves in their writing careers.

I teach them about becoming good literary citizens and being ready to enter the literary world upon graduation. They learn how to use social media strategically to build networks with the people they need to know, to add to the conversations going on in their field of interest or writing genre, and to understand what to say and the best avenues to say it.

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Here we are at Maranatha Christian Writers Conference.

They spend the first part of the semester figuring out who they are and what they’re passionate about. They build a personal website centered around that passion. They look for other websites and blogs by people they admire–other writers or publishing professionals. They join Twitter or learn to use Twitter more strategically by building their tribe. They write “charming notes” (explained further here).

They each reported on different social media platforms and how they might use them to expand their tribes (Facebook pages, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads), and we talked about where each of them might best need to “hang out” depending on where their tribe members are. We played with newsletter programs and created sample newsletters.

And every year I learn something new from them. This time around, since I do have a book coming out next summer, I realized that I need to do some polishing up of my social media presence. I learned from a student about Goodreads author pages–so I went in and built one. I’m also working on creating a newsletter. (Stay tuned!)

Here’s what my students have been up to:

(1) My student Jessie is a constant learner–someone who might suddenly have a question and can spend several hours researching and learning about something new. She decided to call her website Pioneer Curiosity, and there you will enjoy following along with her to learn about the next new thing.

(2) Taylor wants to be an editor (be still my heart), so she has created a website dedicated to the things she’s learning, the magic of words and great books, and the work she is ready to do for you! Check out Taylor Editing for her writing about this love of words–as well as her pricing for freelance work!

(3) Laura can write just about anything, but she loves writing about local people and things that get her out talking to someone interesting or visiting something amazing. Local is anywhere that you are, so she writes about Exploring Local and finding the fascinating things in your own backyard!

(4) Ari’s special interests include world-building and languages. She’s a fantasy and science fiction writer, a world-builder, and a conlanger (a person who constructs original languages). So over at The World-Maker’s House, she’s talking about those worlds that live in the minds of writers, worlds they’re trying to get on the page for their readers.

(5) Becca is graduating soon (as in a few weeks), and she has discovered a passion for helping young women with the pesky details of “adulting.” Tackling issues like budgeting money or polishing a resume or handling stress, her Extraordinary Young Women site will be helpful for any extraordinary young woman about to embark on the adult world.

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When you take students to a writers conference and wi-fi is an issue in the townhouse.

(6) Chrysa has already been around the block a few times–she came into class with an active blog and strong social media presence (oh yeah, and a couple of completed book manuscripts that she has pitched at writer’s conferences). Her delightful blog, Chrysa’s Corner, includes book reviews and advice on munchies to eat when reading and details of her journey as she tries to get her books published.

(7) Alycia also came into the class with a blog already up and running. Over at Just Be Lovely, Alycia talks about the things that happen in her world and offers to bring you along on her journey. You’ll find thoughtful, heart-breaking, and delightful posts on many different topics.

(8) Marshall, our one lone male in the class, is a gamer and a writer of speculative fiction with a “slight lean toward the darker things” as it says on his Twitter profile. This is a totally foreign world to me, but Marshall has given me new appreciation for the story aspect of gaming. Find out more at Stories from Dice.

I’m always amazed at how creative my students are. This talented group of men and women will soon be unleashed upon the world.

Look out.

 

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Thank You, Veterans

Today is Veteran’s Day. Today we honor the men and women who are part of our American military.

I know that so many people wish that we just didn’t need you—that there were no wars to be fought. That we could all just get along.

One day, yes. But that’s a description of heaven. That’s not what we have here on this imperfect planet. Have there been unjust wars? Yes. Have wars been fought for stupid reasons? Yes. Is war terrible? Yes.

We could get into a big discussion about that here. But I’m not going to.

I’m also not here to talk about the merits of various wars. I’m not here to honor or condemn any particular commander-in-chief.

I’m here to thank the men and women who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank the men and women who, answerable to their commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what they are called to do. I’m here to honor the men and women who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when they need to be and deadly when they need to be. I’m here to thank the people who fight for freedom.

I wish that we didn’t need you, that everyone in the world could just get along. Unfortunately, that is just not a reality. The best way to preserve freedom is for our country to have a strong enough military that says, “Don’t mess with us.” You who go into harm’s way to help preserve that freedom, who protect us, who help the rest of the world know that to mess with us is to bring the greatest nation in the world down on them—thank you.

I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, in families uprooted and moved to new places; in facing enemy fire; in PTSD and things you can’t unsee when you close your eyes to sleep; in doing all of this for pathetic pay.

You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.

Thank you.

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My dad, Col. Philip Chaffee (USAF-Ret.) circa 1967 while serving in Vietnam.

We just came out of a very divisive election. The country is split. But you know what? That’s what voting is all about. Some win; some lose. I have cried my eyes out over a few elections; I’ve sighed with relief at others. To those of you out there protesting that the new president is not yours, look around for two seconds and realize that you are allowed to do this. You are allowed to feel this way. No one’s going to put you in jail for your opinion (unless you start doing something illegal). You live in the greatest country in the world. You’re FREE!

You’re FREE!

And here’s the bottom line: One election cannot destroy a free people.

Take a look at our history to see what we’ve survived.

This is what you thank a veteran for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.

But here’s the other side of the coin. With freedom comes a huge amount of responsibility. We’re free—but not to hurt one another. Not to make fun of one another. Not to badmouth those who disagree with us. We’re free to express opinions, but we must always do so respectfully, realizing that the person across from us with a very different opinion came to that opinion in his or her own reasoned way just as we did.

Has America had some very bad policies? Oh yeah. Have some presidents made some really bad decisions? Heck yes. Does America have some really big problems to work on? You bet.

But it has always been that way. Always. No country is perfect just as no person is perfect. We are all fallible and the best we can do is, when we see a problem, decide that we need to fix it. And we start to figure out how to do that.

We need all of the voices in the conversation—but there is no conversation if everyone is offended or upset or name-calling. The way we get to the best decisions is when we sit down and hear one another.

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He’s my hero; he’s my dad.

And for everyone upset about this election, realize that for the rest of your life, you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Also, realize that most voters look at a way larger picture and take into account way more things—especially those of us who are older and try to look at the office and the nation and the future, which are way bigger than a single man or woman. And take a quick look at history. This country swings back and forth between Democrat and Republican presidents and Congress. If we don’t like what we have, we are able to vote them out next time around.

That’s what you thank a vet for. Helping preserve that freedom for the last 240 years.

Many of the greatest changes that happened in our country have not been top-down decisions from a president. That’s the genius of our system of government—a system people have fought and died for. Change happens when FREE people voice their opinions and work for change and vote in the lawmakers who could make the changes happen. In at least one case in particular, we fought a horrifying war on our own soil because of those differing opinions.

And if those lawmakers don’t win? Then stand strong on your principles, keep your respectful voice being heard, and keep working for the change you feel needs to happen.

Thank a vet for that.

Thank a vet that we are still a free country where we can have vastly different opinions and live together, work together, serve together, worship together.

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The best way we can honor our veterans is being worthy of their sacrifices.

So instead of letting our opinions divide us, instead of being angry that there are actually people who think differently than we do, why don’t we instead find ways to make positive change—in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities and workplaces, in our world? Why don’t we now take a deep breath, listen to one another, learn from one another, understand the very deep feelings on both sides, and work together to make whatever needs to be improved better?

Our country has made a lot of mistakes, but I can say without hesitation that the United States is the greatest country in the world. But FREEDOM is a privilege that must be handled with great appreciation and great care. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. There will always be huge new problems to face. But we won’t face them down by refusing to listen to one another or refusing to learn from our own history.

Today, I thank my Uncle Howard (who has passed away) for his sacrifice in World War II, and I thank my dad, who bravely flew a hundred missions over North Vietnam and faced enemy fire.

Thank you, Dad, for serving our country. Thank you, Mom, for providing a haven wherever we moved, for making each new house a home.

So why should you thank a vet? Because these men and women sacrifice for an ideal—the ideal of freedom.

So you can be FREE.

Thank you, veterans, for serving and preserving this great country. May the rest of us learn from your example.

I love to haunt old bookstores. Even at Goodwill or the local resale shop, you’ll always find me, head turned sideways, scanning the titles of those used and lonely books.

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When scanning bookshelves, I look sort of like this.

There’s just something about used books. Our shelves at home are groaning under the weight of books because, when my husband and I want to go “shopping,” we both know that we’re heading to a place where we can look for books.

We bring them home, often wondering why we thought we needed more and, more importantly, where we’re going to put them. But that’s just a minor issue for us book lovers. We always find a way.

This past summer I came across this wonderful little textbook that I must share with you. It’s titled Language Etiquette, copyright 1949. From what I can tell, it’s an elementary school grammar text.

Here’s the cover. First, I have to say that I just love this snotty girl being rude to the friendly red-haired guy, tipping his hat at her. What is that about?

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Umm, I guess the guy used bad grammar?

Then, as I work my way through the book, I’m treated to rules of grammar and usage laid out in numbered lists, quizzes, and several poems to, you know, drive home the point. Like this gem titled “Etiquette”

You wouldn’t tolerate “B.O.”;
You dread the stigma that it lends;
But one thing you seem not to know;
That sloppy, careless speech offends.
You preen yourself to make a show;
You’re most meticulous in dress;
Though outwardly you’re all aglow,
Your slouchy words make you a mess.

You check your etiquette each day;
You guard with care your ev’ry act;
You’re sure your manners rate okay;
You pride yourself that you have tact.
But keep in mind there’s danger yet
Your fine impression to impeach,
For there’s no law of etiquette
That sanctions careless, sloppy speech.

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I have no idea why the drawing here features golfers.

Or this one, titled “Super ‘Guy'” (I really don’t know why “guy” is in quotation marks):

You know that you’re a super “guy”–
Your mom has often told you so;
In looks and brains you rate so high
No triumph that you may not know.
Though you’re so sure you’re “on the beam”
To high performance that you’d reach,
He seen and knowed may spoil a dream–
There’s sabotage in vulgar speech.

Though you possess a super mind
And strut in fashion ev’ry day,
If speech you use is unrefined,
You’re still considered just a “jay.”
Of highest triumph you’ve no doubt;
You’re sure you look like Robert Young;
But you’ll be rated super lout
While you’ve a careless, sloppy tongue.

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So, the guy in the suit speaks better than the guy in the wagon with the donkeys pulling it . . . apparently?

Well, if that doesn’t convince you not to be a lout, I don’t know what will!

But I have to say one good thing about this little book. Several pages have lists with guidelines for having good manners in conversation. So this was more than just a textbook about grammar and grammar usage, it was also offering to those elementary-aged minds advice on being decent human beings when it comes to speaking and having conversations.

Some of the points are a bit dated (i.e. “A lady keeps her voice low and quiet”), yet overall, I find a few pieces of etiquette advice that we ought to take to heart. Today, some of my students were sharing in class about various other social media sites that writers might want to use as they build their platforms. We were warned about a couple of them because of “frequent vulgarity” or just plain “meanness” by users.

What is wrong with our world? What happened to decency, niceness, etiquette? So for our edification (and maybe a few politicians might take heart, along with the “mean” folks on social media), I offer a few chosen language etiquette rules circa 1949 yet so needed today:

  1. You are judged by your conversational manners.
  2. He who talks most loudly is not necessarily he who talks best.
  3. No gentleman enjoys talking smut with a girl. (Is this not priceless?)
  4. Your conversation shows what you are–regardless of exterior signs.
  5. Don’t be an overwise, know-all.
  6. Always congratulate your successful rival.
  7. Malicious gossip appeals only to little minds.
  8. It is difficult to be a good listener, but it pays to try.
  9. It is much better to be silent than to say too much.
  10. Use tact and common sense–lest you hurt someone.
  11. Don’t interrupt or contradict without a very good reason.
  12. Try to say that which gives pleasure–don’t cause pain to others.

A little etiquette might go a long way. And I think today, in our social media world where we can say whatever we want either anonymously or without having to deal with a person face to face, we have become far too “vulgar” and “mean.”

I may think the poetry is hilarious, but many things in this little book are on the mark.

If you could create language etiquette rules for today, what might you include?

 

Cat image courtesy of: https://goo.gl/images/TvMfdR

My Own EdBoWriMo

I don’t know how you novel writers do it. First, I am always astounded by fiction writers–people who can weave a tale, build a plot and sustain it, create believable and likable characters, keep the suspense going, and then end with a conclusion that satisfies.

Seriously. I admire you more than you know.

So as the month of November approaches, and with it NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I can hear weeping and gnashing of teeth from my Professional Writing students who are trying to decide if they can take on the beast that is NaNoWriMo.

If you don’t know, NaNoWriMo is when novel writers everywhere commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. To translate, there are about 250 words on a standard double-spaced typed page. So 50K words = 200 pages, divided by 30 days = roughly 6 or 7 pages a day. That’s a day. Anyone who is a writer will tell you how difficult it is to sustain that kind of momentum for very long. Not impossible, but tough. Especially when you have, you know, like, a life. Like classes to take and homework to do and food to eat and sleep to enjoy.

My student Chrysa discusses her past experience with NaNo in her blog post this week. And Jessie is trying to decide if the commitment is worth it:

If nothing else, the commitment of NaNo helps writers see what is possible. Whether they get to that magic 50K number or not, they have discovered that setting a goal and working steadily toward it have their own rewards. Basically you just do it and see if, well, if you can do it. There are no prizes, no awards dinners. Doing the task is reward unto itself.

Only writers understand that.

Which brings me to EdBoWriMo.

I don’t write novels. Never have. Never will. I am content to be astounded by my fellow writers who do. However, as I shared last week, I’m under contract to write a book about editing. So I decided to join my novel writing friends in making a commitment to myself to make this “Editing Book Writing Month.”

And since I know my abilities, I’m not shooting for 50K words; instead, I think I’m going for a more modest 22,500 words, which works out to 750 words (or about three pages) per day.

you-canSo what about you, my fellow writers? Do you have something you need to work on, but NaNoWriMo doesn’t quite fit? Then create your own! Let’s join with our fellow novel-writing friends and commit ourselves to a certain number of words per day (or per week if that’s better). Create your own acronym. Create your calendar.

And on November 1, let’s commit to seeing how far we can finally get on that project.

So tell me, what could you work on this November? What languishing project could you breathe new life into? What project could benefit from your sustained attention during the month of November? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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