Managing My Writing Load

November ... for many writers, this means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a worldwide movement where writers try to write 50,000 words in the month. I have participated for about 6-7 years now, and I usually manage about 20k on a project already underway. The only time I "won" (hit 50k) was when I was heavily editing a work that was almost done. So I don't think it technically counted.

So here we are at the almost-halfway point on the 14th. This year I am up to 13,000 words on a book I started writing on Nov. 1. The fact that I have averaged 1,000 words a day in the last 13 days is astounding to me. Because, in November, I am also:

  • still working my full-time job
  • taking PlayPenn's 7-week workshop and trying to also write major words on my play (not counting those words to my NaNo wordcount)
  • still spending time with friends and family
  • Thanksgiving, weekend travel, etc.

Basically, ALL THE THINGS! And still writing. It's hella difficult, friends. I know that many of you are struggling with writing along with a host of other challenges and commitments. We are all trying to "just keep swimming," aren't we?

I don't really have any great words of wisdom, other than to say whether you hit 50k or 5k or even just 500 words this month, it's okay. It's a big challenge and you need to be kind to yourself above all.

Good luck with writing!

There and Back Again

Last night, I had the pleasure and honor of singing with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Boy Choir, and the Philadelphia Orchestra for a performance of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Live. This was the third movie, and the third year I have participated in this incredible experience. So to mark the occasion, I wanted to record some thoughts.

Although I don't sing with the choir year round, I am very lucky to be able to participate as a member for these concerts. And considering that the music is for a trilogy of movies (and books) I love, it is even better. I've seen the movies too many times to count, and the music has always been one of the soundtracks that burrowed into head and heart.

My main point for writing this post is to remind myself that there is value in "fellowship" of the artistic sort, always. Joining with other humans to pull off something of the magnitude that we have done on three random nights over three summers... it's worthwhile. Always. That's not just because the audience screams like we are literal rockstars (something which -- spoilers! -- isn't too common for choir singers), it's the shared emotion, the feeling of being on a journey that makes it matter. The exchange of LOTR trivia backstage, the ability to hone a page of music through repetition and the infusion of emotion via crescendo, the way we can sit and watch the movie and all scream "THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART" at at least 10 different moments... yeah. It's pretty darn special.

And now it's over. I don't know if we will do another movie series next summer. I don't know what comes next! But, I am still so proud of the work we all did over the last 3 years to make this happen. We brought a stunning musical experience to people and engaged with a story in such an intimate and powerful way. We took the ring to Mordor, and we made it back to the Shire.

And we did it together.

 

New May Challenge!

Hi Friends! So as many of you know, along with the novels, I've also be working on (on and off) an immersive theater play/game for the last year. It is called Spies!  and I had the great pleasure of being a part of the PlayPenn 7-week workshop last spring. I also was lucky to have a great class, and to be able to continue to work with some of these folks in our own offshoot playwriting group. 

My blurred out layout of how this wacky thing works! SPOILERS!

My blurred out layout of how this wacky thing works! SPOILERS!

Anyway, the way the play works, it has a number of branching options and endings. The script therefore is going to end up very, very long. So far, I am done Act 1, and one version of Act 2. There will be two versions of Act 2, four versions of Act 3, and eight versions of Act 4. It's a lot of writing to do, but I gotta get going.

Therefore, I am challenging myself to MAKE HUGE PROGRESS during the month of May! Stay tuned here for updates, snippets, and general ranting as this challenge continues. 

Hugs and high fives!
Kat

Groundhog Day: Escaping the Time Loop

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I was recently watching the first season of a fantasy show* on Netflix, and towards the end of the season a character reveals that everything they had experienced up until now had been part of a time loop. They'd gotten that far something like 40+ times, and each time they had chosen one element to change at the outset to try to change the outcome. And in the most recent iteration, they made the biggest, most dramatic change yet. And it had changed everything. (Ripples in a pond, butterfly effect, whatever.) 

The thing that surprised me the most, though, was that in a subsequent episode, the main character was able to see his flaws for the first time and recognize that just because he wanted to be the hero, didn't mean he was meant to be the hero. He is able to see his own limitations and pride, and step aside in favor of someone who was more skilled. That moment of insight gave me my own moment of insight--that we are all able to break free of our own patterns at any time. It just takes a lot of work.

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Basically, the idea of the "time loop" for me came to mean "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome." If you've seen the classic and awesome movie Groundhog Day, you know what a time loop is. The MC (main character) is stuck reliving the same day over and over and over until he is able to learn how to be selfless, and thus get his love interest to fall in love with him. (yeah. in a day. yeah, he had been a douche up to that day. yeah, that part is a little far fetched. it's a movie!)

So after ~34 years (according to this article), he is able to break out of his timeloop. WOW. Self realization takes a long time, apparently. In his case, it was a lot of little things that made the difference, but I would argue that his first major, massive change is the realization that he couldn't achieve his goal if he wasn't willing to change. That insight started the whole thing.

From a writer's perspective, this moment of insight is usually thought of as the midpoint / mirror moment (according to James Scott Bell). It is the first time the MC realizes who they could be if they get over the "wound" (aka the lie they believe about themself that is preventing them from becoming the best version of themself). They look in the mirror and ask if they can get there, and they usually start trying to take steps after that moment to change. They want to break out of the time loop they have built for themself by being unwilling to see that they need to change if they want to be successful.

Newsflash: this also can happen in real life! You can realize what bad patterns (or "time loops") you have written yourself into, and you can get yourself out of them. No, I am not transitioning from an author to a self-help guru. But I wanted to add some personal stakes to the post.

 

 

So what is/was my "time loop" you may ask? (personal question there, guys!) Basically, I realized that for me, many of my past romantic relationships had adhered to what authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller call the "anxious-avoidant trap" in their amazing book Attached.  (If you only read one book this year, read this book. Seriously. Life changing stuff in there.) And that as long as I kept following the same pattern, I was doomed to repeat the same fate. As in, an unhappy Kat in a relationship that wasn't providing what I was looking for.  That was my time loop. And escaping it luckily did not involve 34 years of learning to be a professional ice sculptor or piano player.  It just involves recognizing avoidant attachers (read the book), and not pursuing relationships with them.

I think for anyone, and for your MC in your stories, change is always going to be a challenge. But self-awareness is an important first step in the process. Actively trying to change yourself (after becoming willing to change yourself) is one of the things we love to see in good MCs! We can all benefit from some self-examination of what our own personal "time loops" are, and some deep thinking about how to escape them.

Feel free to sound off in the comments: what's your time loop? How are you doing in the escape process? Did you like the movie Groundhog Day? Did you like the unnamed fantasy show that featured the time loop?

 

 

* I don't want to tell you the show, because it was such a neat reveal, it blew my mind...and I wouldn't want to take that away from you. If you desperately want to know, just message me and I will tell you. But I digress.

Some thoughts on loving Sherlock Holmes

Like John, I met Sherlock* at a time in my life when I needed a charismatic, brilliant, loyal companion who could point the way. I’ve found that the context of our own stories at the time we encounter new ones colors everything: our reading, our appreciation… our understanding.  Although I had not just returned from a war like John, I had been through a bit of an ordeal.  So being welcomed in to 221B felt natural, and joining on the adventures felt both exciting and safe.

 

In early 2008, I stayed awake into the wee hours reading from the complete works, crawling deeper into the chase, along the streets of Victorian London or into the fog along the moors.  I remember one quote that particularly struck me: “She had a sonic secret sorrow, that woman.” (The Copper Beeches)  

What Sherlock really gives us is this relationship that makes us feel like the star. We are Watson, the one person let into the heart (ish) of a man brilliant beyond any we've ever met. Experiencing the story through Watson's perspective is magical. Being the one trusted confidant (ish) of Sherlock Holmes is a dream and a nightmare at once. On the one hand: Adventures! On the other hand: that we don't understand until our so-called bestie explains them!

Then of course there are the many adaptations (2 tv shows and the movies since then, innumerable pastiches, inspired-by stories and other forms) ... but the original canon is the true heart of it. The adaptations are interesting, but the canon is everything. (I know, controversial stance. But you can't have the one without the other.)

I still love Sherlock Holmes. I really enjoyed participating in Columbia's Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things project last year, and look forward to seeing how the project expands. I have had many an amazing conversation with some incredible Sherlockians (namely meeting Jon Lellenberg earlier this year... he is just such a cool, cool person).

Sherlock has brought me to so many realizations about myself and my life. In particular, how much a story can burrow into our hearts, and then form unbreakable bonds between us and other people. How many people around the world feel like Baker Street is a part of their own lives? (I don't have any stats on this. Happy for anyone to answer haha). But seriously. Meeting other people, geeking out over a story that feels real and ingrained... it forges connections quickly and deeply. Maybe that's a bad thing, maybe that's a good thing. Either way, it IS something that cannot be discounted or denied. The stories that fill our hearts pull us together. And Sherlock is, for me, one of those stories.

 

 

So this week, as another season of the BBC's Sherlock airs and I engage with conversations with other fans online, speculating on what could happen is episode 4.3, I am looking back and looking forward at the stories that have filled my heart and mind up. And I am so thankful that 130 years ago, Arthur Conan Doyle decided to write a story about two strangers who became family and their adventures along the way.

 

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*Of course I knew about Sherlock Holmes since I was a little kid. But I had never read through the complete works until 2008.

How Pitch Wars (and beyond) is like Harry Potter

I admit it. I only wanted to write this post because I have a deep abiding love for both Pitch Wars and Harry Potter. (and I wanted an excuse to use some HP gifs, okay?) Guilty as charged.

BUT... I think there are some great parallels that can be drawn between the two... so bear with me

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles...

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles...

Getting picked for Pitch Wars is like getting your Hogwarts letter...
When I found out that I got into Pitch Wars, I was out with a group of friends... I remember seeing Brenda's tweet and then rushing to look at the list, and the scrolling down to find my name... and I found it! (it was misspelled, which was fine, but my title was there so I was like YESSSSS!) Luckily we were out at a pop-up beer garden at the time, because if I had started shouting and jumping up and down inside... well, we might have gotten some strange looks. But basically, this was me...

They're my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier...)

They're my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier...)

Your Mentor is like a Hogwarts Professor (well, a non-evil one...)
Working with Michelle Hauck during Pitch Wars was so wonderful. Michelle dedicated tons of time and effort to making sure my manuscript was in the best possible shape for the agent round, and she also helped me work on my pitch, first 250, and query letter. (Michelle goes above and beyond for her mentees, that's for sure). I knew I was in good hands when she told me how much she loved the story and made some excellent suggestions on characterization, pacing, and stakes. Yay mentors!

well done, well done I say!

well done, well done I say!

September and October are like doing tons of magic homework (sometimes it may feel like a Binns essay. or worse, a SNAPE essay) ... but luckily you have your friends in the common room to help
September and October were months full of work. BUT luckily, there were 124 other people also working just as hard on the same deadline. Some days it seemed like there was too much to do and I would never finish my edits on time. Sometimes I needed someone else to give advice or help bounce ideas or to share expertise... that's where the "common room" comes in. Using the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter, and hanging out in our super-secret mentees FB group (no I will not tell you the password to get past the painting!) kept me going and reaching towards my goal. Without these folks, I would not have had nearly as much fun during Pitch Wars.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn't writing related? ummmm.... no.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn't writing related? ummmm.... no.

And on the topic of your "Pitch Wars class" ...
We have become a writing family... these 124 people who live all over the world are my tribe. I wouldn't trade them for anything.

While you’re here, your house will be like your family...
— Minerva McGonagall

The Agent Round (and then querying) is kind of like the Triwizard Tournament

But it's only the first challenge. You may get requests, you may not. It's all okay! You can still query after Pitch Wars, knowing you have an amazing manuscript.

Querying is like the second (and third... and the fourth/fifth/sixth/etc(?)) challenge... it's just another step in the process! I queried my agent in December with the query my mentor helped me to polish, and the manuscript I'd worked on revising for 2 months. I mentioned Pitch Wars in my query letter, and I think that made a difference. I know that my manuscript was stronger because of PW.

Freaking! Out!

Freaking! Out!

This is alllll to say -- Pitch Wars will not magically solve all things, and it is a challenge to get through. But it is so very worth it and it was one of the best experiences of my life (much like reading Harry Potter!)

And I think that's the end of this very, very extended metaphor. Thanks for reading!

Spending my summer

One thing that has been true as long as I can remember: I love summer. It may be because I was born in late May, so the season imprinted on me even before I could properly form memories. It may be that I'm perennially cold, and the warmth of the sun makes me feel alive. It may be that I adore the sense of freedom and possibility that comes along with sunny escapes. I'm not sure. But summer has always been the season I adore.*

Summer Sunsets are my jam. Also my doggie's jam.

Summer Sunsets are my jam. Also my doggie's jam.

Summer ephemerality juxtaposes winter's lingering hold. Every day feels valuable, like a promise that something could happen, if only you let it. Summer gives me serious FOMO. Every day has to be all carpe carpe carpe, know what I mean?

So why have I spent so many summers inside, writing?

I started my first novel in May of 2003. I'd just finished my first year of university, and I'd come home without a real plan for my summer, aside from a part time job. For some reason, I spent those 3 months writing the beginning of a novel. (I did not finish a draft for years. I was slow.) I had no idea what I was doing, but I just started doing it. The internet being what it was in '03, I had no easy way to find other writers I could talk to. I was, at the time, an island. I spent day after day sitting in my childhood bedroom (thanks mom and dad for letting me stay at home rent free. seriously.) building a world, when I wasn't working. And it was gloriously awkward and stumbly and fun.

I was delirious on words.

I spent several summers since then similarly cooped up, just me and the page (be it paper or screen). Living with fictional"friends" who didn't exist. Exploring stories that weren't true, in a literal sense. But both felt real to me.

And all the while, summer sprinted past my window, year after year. I wonder why I didn't make the most progress over winter instead. Why did summer seem like the moment I wrote the most? I think because in the summer, I feel most like myself. And that lets the words flow.

Now I long for the summers when I had more free time, with only a part time job taking up some hours. With a full time job on top of writing, it's like working two jobs, except one doesn't pay you and you're your own boss (yay!). Last summer, in particular, I spent almost every day (including every weekend) working on editing my novel to get ready for Pitch Wars, as well as researching agents. It ended up being well worth the time when I got into Pitch Wars, and had an excellent experience honing my novel. This summer, I finally have an agent (YAY!) and I spent almost six weeks working nonstop on edits and new material, all squeezed into the hours after my FT job ends and on weekends. It's hard to keep up the pace, sometimes. But it is a cost that has to be paid. It's a lot to "spend."

The point is, it's never done. You're never done. If you really want to be a writer, you will never have "a summer" in that sense of freedom again. (Granted, as adults we don't get that in general, but I mean the general feeling). Summer is time, it's a feeling, and it's a season of life that I value higher than any other season. Time wise, it's "expensive" time, to me.

I know I am missing out on lots of things in a way. But I have to tell these stories. I have to write these words. I can't really see myself doing anything else, being anywhere else. And I am so lucky to now know hundreds of other authors who feel the same way about their time and their stories. I am no longer an island.

And I would still spend every one of my summers right here, just me and the page. It's worth the cost.

 

*not going to lie: I also love autumn in a very passionate way. But winter is my enemy.

Welcome!

Hello friend!

Welcome to my blog. I will be using this space to discuss my adventures in writing, publishing, music making, and learning in all forms. I hope that you will find the content fun and helpful, but most of all, entertaining!

The picture is of my writing nook, from which I am scheming, dreaming, and otherwise getting into trouble. 

Writing Nook. Art by me from long ago. Pillow/Rug by West Elm. Desk by Crate & Barrel. Side table is antique.

Writing Nook. Art by me from long ago. Pillow/Rug by West Elm. Desk by Crate & Barrel. Side table is antique.

Hugs and High Fives,

Kat