Solidity

NaNoWriMo Relflections: In The End

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I have known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for several years. For those of you who don’t know, it is a thing that happens every November where writers try and write 50,000 words in a month. A couple of years ago, I even signed up on the website, but each year I have made an excuse for not jumping on the bandwagon and getting some words down. Usually, the excuse was – I don’t have enough time. Which is a total load of crap. There is always time, some moment to put some words on the page. Even one sentence is better than no words at all.

This year, after a crazy summer that destroyed my writing groove, plans for finishing my novel Solidity by November 1st were quite thoroughly thwarted. As the end of October barreled into view, I found myself lamenting over another failed attempt to finish just one story. Even as my writing fell to the wayside, these characters still made appearances in my thoughts almost daily, sometimes even to the point I had to spend hours repeating what had transpired just to make sure I remembered it well enough to write it down when I had the chance.  Owen, Lucian and Jera are certainly persistent. In fact, they are the most persistent characters I have ever written.

In the last week of October, a post about NaNoWriMo came across my Facebook feed. Or maybe a friend mentioned it. I honestly can’t remember. I have been in a slump lately, and for whatever reason, NaNoWriMo woke me up. I decided that I needed to do this for ME. Step back and focus on myself and my goals for a month. So, on the 27th, I logged on to NaNoWriMo and announced my novel. We have a pretty active group in Bozeman, and I jumped in head first, attending a weekend of Pre-Nano events where I met and several of the locals who had all been down this road several if not many times before. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive and inspired.

I have never considered writing as a social experience. After all, it is mostly hanging out in your own head with characters no one else can see or hear. NaNoWriMo forever changed that perception. Even during the first couple of meetings where we just sat around (and talked a bit about cats – turns out that’s a pretty good ice breaker) I went home feeling like I could tackle the universe. On the first day of the month, I wrote 1,800 words.  Which was more than I had written in probably the last three writing sessions combined. That in itself felt pretty good.

As the month drew on and I met with other local writers – people who are just as passionate about story telling as I am, people in all stages of their writing careers – I realized that I am not so alone in this dream. Surrounding myself with those who share my dream was inspiring in itself and as we moved through the month together, our stories grew.  We held each other accountable, challenging one another to word-sprints and meeting at coffee shops for write-ins. We left trails of messages on Facebook as we we coordinated and participated in home-based write-ins. Because we all have  a story (or two or three) to tell, and we all had that elusive goal to meet.

Once I committed to doing NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t difficult to keep going. The support system and inspiration from the other writers kept me as excited as the story I was writing. This project was the first time that I sat down and said, “I am doing this, no matter what. Writing first, everything else later.” I experienced waves of excitement, inspiration, dread, and guilt, all mixed together in a giant stew-pot of words and real life.

I only missed one day of writing out of 30 (I might have been achievement hunting a little bit… I blame the video games). That one day had set itself up to be a close one in the first place, and then it blew all possibility out of the water. Before NaNoWriMo, that one day and the associated disaster would have prevented me for writing for days, maybe weeks. But I didn’t stop. I got up the next morning and kept writing. I proved to myself that I can still do this, no matter what life throws at me.

November finished out at 56,000 words. I didn’t quite finish the story, but I met that goal and it felt amazing. I am so close to the end of Solidity. It will be the first novel manuscript I have ever finished – finally wrapping up a nearly twenty-year-old goal. The idea is frightening and invigorating. And I have NaNoWriMo to thank for it. I was blown away by the experience. I find myself excited to be writing again, and absolutely determined to keep going, to live my dream.

NaNoWriMo woke something in me I haven’t seen or felt in years. Combined with the friends I made during the month – who I much look forward to continuing this journey with outside of November – it was an amazing experience. I can’t wait for next year.

 

 

Experience: Morning Writing Session

As I sit in the park working on Solidity, just north of a hedge separating the grass from the graveyard, no less than 6 crows pecked their way through the dappled shadows, calling out and back to their companions amongst the headstones. It seems fitting as I write a scene from a story about ghosts, graveyards and ravens. Would it be creepy to move my camp into the cemetery? This morning has a vibe. #inspirationiseverywhere

© Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015

What’s in a Name?

The holidays sneaked up on me this year, and with them a seemingly never-ending list of to-do’s. Much to my dismay, writing of any kind took a backseat to life. While I still managed to sneak in a few sentences here and there on Better to Pretend and continue to struggle with my work on a new piece, Solidity, not much for progress was made. Save a minor epiphany.

In a very vague nutshell, Solidity is a story about a ghost named Owen and a human named Jera and the relationship they build with one another. You can read the whole blurb here if you want. The idea for this story came from a single verse in a song I have heard a thousand times that has nothing to do with this story what-so-ever. For some reason, as I pulled up to a stop light while that song was playing, I tuned in just long enough and Solidity was born. Stories are funny that way. They are also funny in the way that sometimes they just won’t leave you alone. Not for two seconds.

I wrote the blurb for Solidity shortly after the idea came to me and while I scrambled to prepare a proposal for a flash-residency opportunity. I originally intended the story to be written from the Owen’s perspective. It is very much his story and I wanted it to be his story alone – for many reasons, primarily of which was the idea of writing from a ghost’s perspective. I thought that was a pretty awesome idea… until I tried to write it. I have fought and fought with this piece and have written the start of probably six drafts that have all ended up in the trash. That is discouraging, to say the least. But still, the story persisted in my mind.

Eventually, I started thinking about Solidity from Jera’s perspective. She needed a back story and she needed a reason to come to the manor that Owen haunts. At one point, I considered writing from both Jera’s perspective and Owen’s… and shied away from it over and over again because I have read very few stories where I enjoyed two or more perspectives. And I was not confident in my ability to do it (little secret: I’m still not…). Then, one morning amidst the holiday season chaos when I finally had a few minutes to spend some time writing, I tried it.

And magic happened. Jera’s voice came to life.

I knew as soon as I had written the first two pages that Jera’s voice was going to be important to this story. I didn’t realize just how very important until I had an experience with another writer.While the exchange didn’t turn out as I had hoped, in the end I experienced and important revelation about Solidity and Jera’s character. The simple admission of doubt by the other writer about my choice of the name Jera confirmed that this is a story I have to write.

Firstly, you have to understand that I have a thing about names. Once I find a character’s name, it is pretty well set in stone. And it is one of the first things that I define in my stories. If at any point I do feel that the name is lacking, I change it, but that very rarely happens. I also have a name collection: pages and pages of names that have struck a chord with me over the years. While I used to spend hours looking through name books, now I just turn to my day job. I do a LOT of shipping. And it is very hands on, so I see a LOT of names. Jera came about from one of the labels either right before or right after Solidity began forming in my mind. I had no doubt that Jera would be my female lead.

After the comment about that choice and a reference to how it might be strange to pronounce for readers (I had never even considered this to be an issue… Even if it wasn’t pronounced just right in my reader’s head, it is still only a four-letter word and you would probably be close. It’s not like some of the names you see in fantasy novels that have three parts broken up with apostrophes and dashes and letters next to each other that don’t really make any sense…. just try and pronounce some of those! But, I suppose if you are wondering and just to clear up any confusion, Jera is pronounced Jair-ah – in my mind at least). Anyway, I Googled the name, just to see what came up.

Save two random results at the top of the page, the rest directed me to websites about viking runes. Turns out that Jera (pronounced in old Norse as Yehr-ah… so basically a ‘Y’ sound instead of a ‘J’ sound) was not only the rune for the letter J, but is most commonly believed to symbolize “harvest” or “year.” According to a Wiki article, it is a type of butterfly, which weirdly enough is also relevant.

https://i2.wp.com/runesecrets.com/img/jera-100x100.gifThe Elder Furthark rune Jera.

So, Jera’s name is a runic symbol. Not a big deal, right?  Except, I already knew that and had entirely forgotten. As research for another story I spent a good deal of time studying viking runes, particularly the set that contained the above symbol for Jera. The thing that struck me, however, as I read about this rune, was how entirely fitting it was for this story. Like, scary relevant. As in, it could not be more perfect.

There is no way to describe this other than serendipity.

Some phrases and notes that have been attributed to the rune Jera:

  • The only constant is change.
  • This too shall pass.
  • When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.
  • Time waits for no one.
  • Being at the same time permanence and transience.
  • An unstoppable energy – gradual but unrelenting, unhurried but persistent, indifferent to human influence… (This point translated to the idea of fate in my mind.)

Solidity is a piece about time and change. About two characters who are brought together by fate and who bring out the best in each other as well as the desire to change and evolve. Owen is trapped by time – stuck as a ghost for 99 years and unwilling to evolve. Jera is at a low point in her life and on the cusp of taking her future into her own hands. Both characters have decisions to make and are up against time.

The rune Jera symbolizes the harvest. When I first think of a harvest, I think of farms. But what is a harvest? You plant a seed. You water it. You watch it grow. And then, when the time is right, you collect the product. A harvest is a cycle. It begins in one place, grows, completes and starts anew. Isn’t life itself a harvest? It may be a long term one, but how often have your heard the phrase: the cycle of life. That is the grander picture, but what about the smaller moments. Childhood. Teenage years. Young adult years. Each is a cycle of its own within the greater harvest of life.

I could go on and on about the interpretations of the Jera rune, but that is really besides the point. And this post is already long. The biggest thing for me, was as I looked further and further into this coincidence, the more I knew that it was right. It is right for my characters, for this story, and even for myself.

I titled this post, “What’s in a name?” You may recognize this from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juilet.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

It is true, that Jera’s name could be changed. She could be Julie, Jennifer, Amanda or Ruth. But sometimes there is so much to a name, that its relevence can not be denied. Jera and the idea behind it as a symbol and what that symbol can mean has become a profound image in my mind, not only in the sense of Solidity and Jera and Owen’s characters, but in its relevance to my own life.

I will leave you with the my final interpretation of Jera.

Keep moving toward a goal, no matter what. Don’t give up and accept the hardships as part of the journey. Continue to dream and evolve. When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.