Who Says An Artist Needs to Suffer? (and giving thanks)

I have had this postcard since I was in high school. It has followed me through art school, through my early career and life in Atlanta, and now over thirty years since I bought it, it lives on the cork-board in my home/office in Seattle.

When I first bought it, I looked at the woman artist sitting on that stool. She seemed old to me. Now she seems young. I loved the butler and the maid and harbored a fairy-tale-like fantasy that someday I would have a huge loft in Soho and servants to help so that I could just create.

(pardon me, I'm rolling on the floor, laughing)

Noooo... that didn't happen. I do everything myself: cook, clean, shop, weed, take care of two homes, an elderly father, and stepsons, one who is currently back in residence and causing enormous stress. The cat seems easy, so she is no burden, and my husband is my helpmate and my fellow inmate during the rocky times and the good times. And I work. I write, I concept, I illustrate, I promote, I live and breathe books.

I just finished the first draft of a new Middle Grade novel using National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo as my deadline. I wrote just over 50,000 words in twenty-two days, which worked out to 210 manuscript pages. I wrote early in the morning each of those twenty-two days until about 2pm, and then quit to go do grocery shopping, cook, clean, and deal with any fires that needed to be put out. 

That three-plus weeks of writing kept me sane. I told friends that my fictional life was better than reality, and it was true. My characters were nicer company than certain family members who shall go nameless. My writing filled me with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of hope. 

There are times when I have believed that you do need to suffer for your art. My dear friend, artist Woodleigh Hubbard once told me, "Nina, you are like an oyster. You can only create the pearl when you are irritated."Maybe she's right. But sometimes I think I need to revise my definition of suffering. We all have to deal with our share of tragedy and pain. You can chose to complain about it, or you can chose to use it as a motivator to improve on all levels. 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I must say that I am thankful for my suffering. It has taught me a lot. I think I am a better, more empathetic person for it, and I think it has given my work a richer texture. No, it has not made me rich from a financial standpoint, but I feel rich because of what I treasure most: my loving husband, my amazing friends, this beautiful world, and the chance to speak my mind and share my talents. I am thankful for all that and more. 

I hope you are not suffering this Thanksgiving, but if you are, I feel your pain, and I hope you will find a way to share it and be creative.

Sometimes the gravy is lumpy, but it still tastes good.

With Love,


That NaNo Thing: National Novel Writing Month

It's that time of year again. November. It's been a time of harvest and preservation, and a time of family (way too much family, and it's not even Thanksgiving around here...) and a time of writing. There is no need to go into the history of the wild band of pensmen and penswomen in San Francisco who started the NaNoWriMo movement. You can read about it on their website. "It" stands for "National Novel Writing Month," and the object of the game is to write 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th.

This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo, and I've "won" the two previous years, writing over 50K both times. The first year my husband asked if you could write the same word "fifty-thousand times." Yes. I'm sure some do. Or they copy the dictionary. Or they write proprioceptively emptying the contents of their brains directly into their hard drives.

The inside of my brain would look something like this. So many things. So much going on. But is there a plot? (I do love to do a lot of things, not just writing and illustrating, and I worried about that. Maybe I was schizophrenic. My shrink assured me that was not the case; I was a polymath. I feel better now. I think.) 

I couldn't approach NaNoWriMo that way. I couldn't approach writing a novel that way. The word "novel" is the key to the whole exercise. You are writing a novel: that means it has characters, voice, setting and a plot. Some participants call themselves "pantsers," meaning that they write by the seat of their pants. I'm not one of them. I want to make the best use of this gift of a weird deadline. Under normal circumstances writing 50K words, which is close to 200 manuscript pages is insane to attempt in thirty days. But it is doable. And donable. (yeah, you can make up words, too.) But the real trick- or treat- is that it makes you turn off your inner editor, the little voice that says "you suck." When you have so little time, you have to tell that voice to "shut the heck up," and get back to your writing. They'll be plenty of time to edit over the next year.

So I began with an outline way before November 1st. This year I'm writing an upper Middle Grade novel. I had the idea for this book years ago, and in 2008 I wrote a 25 page outline for it. Then right before NaNo started, I did heavy research so it would be fresh in my mind- I love to mix facts and fiction. The research gives my story texture, richness and hopefully believability. Plus I get to learn all sorts of cool things. (For example: did you know that folk wisdom says that if you want a boy, when you are pregnant you should eat red meat and salty things, and the husband/father should drink coke? Who knew?)

Then the rest is up to you. Open that document. Put your fingers on the keyboard, and listen to the voices in your head. One of the best parts about this is that when you are in the flow, even though you may have outlined and thought you knew exactly what was going on, your characters will take on a life of their own and surprise and delight you. Keep typing and transcribing. If you write about 1700 words per day, you'll "win." You win way more than feeling the accomplishment of writing all those words- you also win a Work In Progress that is already a first draft. That's better than just talking about that novel you're going to write someday.

Okay. I'm wasting words. I'm on page 36 of my WIP now. Time to get back to it. My characters have things to tell me, and at this moment in time, my fictional life is much happier than what is going on at home.

Happy NaNoWriMo-ing!
With Love,