National Novel Writing Month

Izzy Doesn’t Care about Ferguson or NaNoWriMo but he does care about hard rain

I know that what’s going on in this country because of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson is hot.  I get it.  I hate it, but I get it.  I wish we as a people didn’t have to be in this spotlight or having this conversation.  And I wish it wasn’t on my mind or so entrenched in social media because writing this blog post is stealing time from my other writing:  working on my novel and meeting my 50K word goal for National Novel Writing Month.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  I wonder how many other writers have written thousands of words in the past couple of days about the subject of racism when they could have been adding pages to their fiction.  Yet, that’s what we do as writers.  We plead, we question, we inform.  We grieve.

But dogs, on the other hand, don’t see race.  They don’t question another animal’s motivations.  When Izzy sees another dog, he thinks PLAYTIME.  That word might as well light up in neon lights over his little head, because that’s what that dog represents to him.  When he sees a squirrel, he thinks CHASE.  Though he has become a bit smarter about that one and knows now that squirrels do that skip-hop-jump thing to the nearest tree and that they have little suction cups on their feet that allow them to run along telephone pole wires.  When he sees a cat, he thinks ATTACK.  Yup, I have a little dog that absolutely detests cats.  He doesn’t know why; he just knows he does.  They are the one animal at which he barks, and if he wasn’t leashed, I’m sure that poor cat would be mincemeat.  Natural enemies.  He doesn’t care what color they are or what their belief systems are, whether they have families or are nice, purring cats.  They’re just cats.

Wait.  Does that mean those who see another person who’s different from them are just like animals with natural enemies?

Nope, I’m not going there.

Let’s continue.  Izzy doesn’t care about Nanowrimo either; in fact, when I’m on the laptop, the only thing he’s concerned about is why the laptop is taking up his space on my lap.  Move over, you damn keyboard.  Let me sit there.  If I don’t finish my 50K words by the end of this month, it wouldn’t make any difference to him.  He wouldn’t notice if I was depressed about not winning.  Not on his radar.

But this morning when I woke up to the sound of hard rain against my rooftop, I thought:  perfect.  Bad weather = good excuse to stay in and catch up on my writing.  Izzy went to the door, let me put on his Thundershirt (for the cold/rain), and when I opened the umbrella, I could see his eyebrows raise.  Uh oh.  Do I have to go out in this crap?  Halfway through our morning walk, the rain became a downpour, tearing leaves off the trees in such a torrent that Izzy (checking out a place to poop) jumped and ran.  From that point on, there was no calm moment for my little dog.  He shivered as he tried to find just the right spot, kept looking around as if afraid the boogey man was under each leaf, and never did quite settle down enough to finish his business.  He pulled me back up the street to the house, jumped over the rushing water in the street gutter, didn’t pause to sniff the piles of leaves my neighbors had blown yesterday, kept looking back at me as if to say, Come on, woman, I’ve had enough of this!  And when we reached the back door, he darted in, then shook and shook and shook until I took off the soaked Thundershirt and dried him with the towel I keep in the sunroom.  He’s been hiding on his bed ever since, and I’d be willing to bet my last dollar that even though he’ll want to go out again sometime today, he’ll give me that look right before we leave the door that says, Isn’t this stuff falling from the sky ever going to stop?

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Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo

It’s November and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  For those of you not insane enough to write, it’s the month that we writers stick our butts in our chairs and don’t move until we’ve churned out 50,000 words.  If you listen closely right before midnight on November 30th, you’ll hear a sound much like that one when you rip a bandage off a skinned knee.  That’s our butts as we collectively remove ourselves from our chairs and go back to a normal life.  Or at least what could be considered normal for someone who stares at a computer screen talking to invisible people most of the time.

Dogs don’t understand that, and that’s one of the reasons Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo.

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When I talk to the screen, he thinks I’m telling him we need to go outside or play with the ball or eat dinner or — the most exciting–go get a treat.  He comes to my side, sits his little self down on the floor, cocks his head and barks once.  If I don’t quite get it and don’t move immediately, his tush comes off the floor and he goes into a puppy bow.  Heaven forbid I continue talking to that invisible person on screen, because then it’s a full-blown insistence for my attention — and an immediate walk.  Do not pause, mama, do not talk to that person in the screen, do not tell me to wait ten minutes.  Now.  Walk.  Pee.  Poop.

Fifty thousand words in one month.  1667 per day.  5.5 pages a day.  Or maybe 3000 words on a weekend day.  7-10 pages on a Sunday.  2-3 every other day during the week.  And if you write by hand, a cramped fist.  If working on a computer, stiff shoulders and a crick in your neck.

One good thing about NaNoWriMo when you have a dog is that you are forced to get up before the sun rises to take the little bugger for a walk.  Izzy forces me up before the sun stripes the sky with fuschia, pumpkin and robin’s egg blue.  Bleary-eyed with my brain still out of gear, I negotiate the dark streets with him running before me, determined to examine every telephone pole and pee on every bush.  While he explores, I kick the novel-writing mind into gear and think about the next scene I will write, consider what the character will do and how those actions will affect other characters, what the actions will impact further into the novel, and whether I should wait that scene for a time that’s more apropos of the story.  As Izzy paces back and forth dozens of times looking for the perfect place to poop, I’m considering whether to flesh out the description of a scene I wrote the previous day and whether to take time from creating the requisite 50K words to mine back over the pages already developed to see whether they should be shifted around or rewritten.  But the point is to move forward like the boats that split icebergs.  Constantly forward.  Nothing to do but to forge ahead.

Dogs never move straight ahead.  Their traffic patterns run in swirls and squiggles and include squeezing out pee drops so they can let others know they’ve been there.  A NaNoWriMo for dogs would start on November 1 and end in July (the previous July).

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What Izzy DOES understand about NaNoWriMo is that occasionally I get stuck.  When that happens, he does his job quite well.  He moves into my lap, lifting my hand with his nose so that I know my job is now to pat his head or rub his stomach.  Taking a break is most important in NaNoWriMo for it is in those moments that the creativity creeps in and the mind is refreshed.

I guess Izzy knows more about writing novels than I give him credit for.

Single Baby Boomer with Dog Celebrates Thanksgiving with NaNoWriMo

For the past couple of days, every time I walked Izzy, it was cold and raining, and he didn’t want to poop.  Seriously.  That’s been my biggest problem for the last 48 hours.  We’d go out around the block, he’d stop and look, pee on his bushes, stop and look again, shoot me a sad “woe is me” puppy eye, sit down (seriously, Izzy???  It’s raining!), sniff a little, then look at the rushing water in the gutter, look up at me again, and consider that he didn’t want to jump it.  And wet leaves?  Lordie, they’re poison!  Who wants to walk through wet leaves and lower their butt to the ground to do their thing.  Not Mr. Izzy.  No way.  Sigh.

So, instead of our usual five walks a day, it’s been more like seven, and each time, I stand there, shivering, saying, “Good boy, Izzy.  Now, poop!  C’mon, Izzy, you can do it.”  And each time, he didn’t.  Until the second walk this morning, and by that time, I was already late for work, and he knew I was getting itchy — and irritated.  But at least it’s done, and I can relax.

I seem to remember going through the same thing last year at this time.  It was raining and cold.  I wasn’t excited about going out for walks and neither was Izzy.  It was our first year living in Roxboro, our first Thanksgiving together, my first holiday alone.  Ever.  This year makes two.  Second year living here, our second Thanksgiving together, my second Thanksgiving alone.  My savior?  Writing!

I’m convinced whoever conceived of National Novel Writing Month must have been single and hating facing the holidays alone.  The best way to get through them was to keep extraordinarily busy.  “Oh, I have an idea!  Why don’t I write a novel during November?  Commit to at least 50K words on the page, then I can take December to do some rewriting (or finish the novel) and by January, I’ll have a bright and shiny new story to start sending out to agents and editors.”

It works.  

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Last year, I sat at my desk over the long Thanksgiving weekend and almost finished the first draft of a novel (I’m not dumb enough to send something that new out in January; I’m going to do another rewrite of it in February and March, which means the novel will have gone through at least three-four drafts before it hits an agent’s/editor’s desk), and I certainly felt better that I had survived the holiday — and was productive doing so.

This year, I’m rewriting a novel that was originally part of my dissertation.  This one has gone through enormous structural changes, so even though I’m not committing 50K NEW words during this NaNoWriMo, I feel like I’m writing something even more valuable to me:  a polished manuscript.  This one might be ready in January or February.  Depends on what my reader says when she finishes it over the Christmas holidays.

I’m sure I’m not the only Baby Boomer with a dog who’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving alone.  Though most of my single friends are escaping to the warmth of a family member or friend’s house to share the turkey and the gossip and the silly jokes Aunt Milly never understands, there are plenty of us who’ll be huddled over a laptop, our favorite canine (or feline) faithfully keeping us company and making us take breaks from the writing to walk the cold, rainy streets.  

Here’s to those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving with our animals!  Cheers to all those wagging tails and warm noses.  I give thanks to them for keeping us all sane — and far from lonely.

Falling leaves and temperatures . . . must mean cold dogs and NaNoWriMo!

Over the weekend, I spent most of my time writing (this is National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write 50K words), but when Izzy and I went out walking, it struck me that autumn is at its peak.  This morning, I realized winter is on its way.  We’ve had our first frost.

Saturday night, Izzy and I scuffed through piles of leaves that industrious neighbors blew off their fading lawns and onto the sidewalk.  At first, he didn’t want to plow through them, and I had to cajole him to hop right on in.  He’s short, so there were times the leaves were over his head, and he’d pop up, leaves stuck to his nose and to his coat (which needs to be cut before the end of the week — he’s having more “bad hair days” than good lately).  After the first couple of leaf dives, he discovered it’s much more fun than he thought, and now he’s searching out those piles of crunchy playthings.  Now I’m the one reticent to dive in since I’m not sure whether the snakes who’ve just shed their skins might be finding a hiding place under the warmth of the fallen leaves.

While we were walking down Main Street, I glanced up at the sky.  The black storm clouds were backlit with fiery reds, lemon yellows and pumpkin oranges, mirroring the colors of the leaves hanging on the trees along the street.  The whole world seemed warmed by the autumnal colors.  In the air, the smell of woodsmoke reminded me that the season for lighting the fireplace was upon us.  The air, brisk and clean, prickled at my cheeks.  Even Izzy seemed to recognize the change in season and he popped along beside me as if invigorated by the chillier air.

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On Saturday night, I relished the extra hour of sleep, and Izzy didn’t seem to mind it either, but this morning I had to get up for work, and Izzy’s internal clock hadn’t registered Daylight Savings Time.  He started poking me with his paw around 4:35 AM.  Twice, I said, “ten more minutes, Izzy,” but he wasn’t listening.  He hopped over me and sat on the floor near my head.  I could feel him standing beside me, paws on the bed, sniffing my hair and quietly “woofing” — as if to say, “Here’s a gentle reminder that it’s time to get up, woman.  Let’s go!”

He lasted until 5:30.  No matter how many times I rolled over, it wasn’t working to ignore him anymore.  So I got up, put on three layers and my gloves and headed out into the 37 degree morning.

Yup, it ain’t warm in North Carolina anymore.