Running is good for writing!

Another 5-miler this afternoon, and I composed the opening scene and closing paragraph of Turkey Season in my head! Not in exact sentences, but the feel of it. This should get me off to a good start tomorrow, I hope. 55 minutes, splits 10:53, 10:09, 11:15, 11:49, 10:52. I started with a 3/3 rhythm but I almost bonked around mile 2 (I was clammy and had jello legs, but they didn’t turn to lead) & just let my mind wander after that. Heavy steel-gray clouds with some clear sky at the horizon; as I rounded Stanley Lake, the sun came out and lit up the remaining brown and orange leaves in the most incredible, saturated golden light. The glowing hills against the dark blue-gray sky were breathtaking. Glimpses of the surface of the lake through the trees looked like a solid gray substance–the water was riffled in the wind but not reflecting the light, so it was matte and opaque.

I might or might not get to the second Snowflake Pattern planning step, or do the Magna Carta exercises in No Plot? No Problem!, but I’m feeling excited and ready to get started tomorrow. I’m also feeling hopeful about the election. Election Night is going to be a NaNoWriMo fest, as people stay up writing waiting for the results. My plan is to stay up no later than 2am, no matter what; before that time, I write until we have a President. If Kerry wins, it’ll be such a weight lifted that I’ll sail through the rest of the month. I don’t even want to think about him losing.

But no matter what your political beliefs, get out there and VOTE!!!!

Snowflake Process #1 for Turkey Season

One-sentence summary: An animal-loving city girl moves to the country and meets a wild turkey hen she can mysteriously communicate with–but school and turkey hunting season are starting.

Ehh, not so great. It’s 28 words long, whereas Randy recommends 15 or shorter. He also says it should tie the big picture to the personal picture–I think it does that.

A transplanted city girl meets a wild turkey hen and finds they can talk to each other–but hunting season is coming. (22)

In the woods, before hunting season, a city girl meets a wild turkey hen and discovers they can communicate. (19)

OK, that’s good enough for now.

NaNoWriMo ground rules

OK, I’m taking the plunge. National Novel Writing Month starts Monday! Jonathan believes I can do it–a necessary-but-not-sufficient test. I’ll talk about the novel itself another time, but here are the rules I’ve set up for myself:

  • No whining about being behind!
  • No fiction reading, except to analyze structure/scenes/dialogue
  • I’ll do my level best, but I won’t beat myself up if I fail. However many words I write is more than I would have without this crazy scheme.
  • If I start waking up with a sore throat (my body’s sign of too much stress), I will take it easier.
  • Minimize time on the forums, which are clearly a great way to fritter away time.
  • Get up, stretch, do something else briefly every 15 minutes.

I didn’t make much progress on my book blog this week, nor did I get anywhere near my theoretic target of 10,500 words, but oh well. I CAN do this if I’m willing to make the sacrifices that it will require. We’ll see whether I in fact am!

Reading Randy Ingermanson’s advice, and reviews of the books he recommended, made me realize how little I know what I’m doing! All I have to carry me through this is 35 years of voracious reading. I’ve written a couple of (pretty terrible) short stories, but that was almost 2 decades ago. I don’t even have an educated appreciation of narrative; I recognize what’s good and bad but I can’t say why. I can’t explain why I like deeply flawed writers like Dornford Yates, Robert Heinlein, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; I know there’s something about their stories that works despite the major things that don’t work, but I can’t put my finger on it. Ingermanson and his recommendations make me realize that I could learn to analyze those things if I wanted to. But it’s too late for NaNoWriMo, and if I don’t “win” (50,000 words or even close), it might not be worth learning (what am I saying? of course it would be, I love learning no matter what!)

I had hoped to “catch up” (I should just ban that phrase from my life…) with various things like email & household chores before NaNo started, but that’s unlikely to happen. So I’ll just do it the way I do everything else: control what variables I can & then fly by the seat of my pants. Wish me luck.

Thoughts while running

It was dark & rainy when I woke up at 7–in fact, I thought it was 4 or 5 until I looked at the clock–and I sure didn’t feel like running. I dawdled over coffee and computer. (I made the decision last night to do NaNoWriMo–more on that later–so I was forum-surfing and ended up researching writing techniques and books at this very helpful site.) It cleared a little and by 9am I decided to go (I was planning 5 miles today and 5 miles tomorrow). I still haven’t found the heart rate watch (no progress on any of my black holes of clutter, alas), and I left the Forerunner behind because I don’t want to risk any moisture on it until I figure out a strategy to avoid shorting it out again. So I was planning on sticking to a 3/3 breath rhythm to be sure my heart rate was low enough. As I headed out the door, I thought about what a timesaver it would be to be able to write as I run. I have all kinds of thoughts while running that I want to remember, but writing them down takes so much time, as indicated by the length of this entry.

It was foggy and damp but on the warm side–not too hot for running, just right. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned the lovely smells of fall before–woodsmoke and rotting leaves added to the mix of grass, mud, pine needles, and manure, all more noticeable when it’s damp–but today there was also a less pleasant one, something that smelled like dog fesces. It must be a particular type of leaf, but I didn’t think to pay attention to what kinds of trees correlated with the smell.

I was thinking about how lucky I am with the variety on my 5-mile loop. There are farms, regular houses, and lake cottages; lawns, fields, and pastures; a pond and a lake; stands of honey locust, sumac, white pine, hemlock, and maple; a few old apple trees, willows, and other less-common trees; dogs and cows; one lovely garden; so much to look at! Most of my pleasure in running is enjoying my environment. I’m so glad not to live in a city. Thank you, Jonathan, thank you for being willing to live in the middle of nowhere. I love it here!

I saw a redtail hawk in a tree, all puffed up so it looked very big, and I flushed a grouse–I didn’t see it, but I sure heard it! There’s something about damp fall weather that makes vegetation look magical to me. The grass is so green in contrast with the fallen leaves and decaying vegetation, and the moisture everywhere feels nurturing and friendly, as though anything could grow. I don’t know if anyone else reacts that way, but it seems natural because dryness correlates with harshness of the environment & survival difficulties (deserts, extreme cold, droughts). Maybe somewhere in my subconcious the green fall grass evokes the magical little green things that make the peach tree grow in Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

I thought about NaNoWriMo and whether writing is something I’m committed to long-term, willing to put as much effort into as the people whose advice I was reading this morning. I started ranking my favorite activities in my head:

  1. Reading
  2. Research
  3. Problem-solving/fixing things (covers everything from jigsaw puzzles to programming

and then I remembered “eating” and “movies/plays/TV” and wasn’t sure where to put them. The synergy between reading and eating (or watching and eating, to a lesser degree) is a problem for me. I enjoy the combination so much that it sometimes leads me to eat when/what I shouldn’t, and/or to read when/what I shouldn’t (eg, get caught up in comfort reading that I can’t put down instead of continuing a book that’s challenging). If I could break that link, never read when eating and never eat when reading, I would eat better. But would I be going against my “true nature”? It would certainly feel like I was missing out on one of the greatest joys of life. So probably the key is that boring old BALANCE again… not doing it all the time so it loses specialness. I want to become the best person I can be, but more specifically the best Hilary I can be, working with the strengths and weaknesses I have without losing the quirks and idiosyncracies, but rather strengthening them.

As usual, I had to go to 2/2 breathing on the hills, but past mile 3 it got harder to revert to 3/3 on the downhills and flats. Partly I got into a groove and my mind started wandering more, and partly as I warmed up I naturally tended to go faster. It didn’t come easily to keep myself to 3/3. I started thinking about the “push yourself to do the things that don’t come naturally or seem easy, so that eventually they will” principle. My brain/my rational self needs to be in charge, because if I lose focus and my subconscious takes over, it only knows how to do what’s familiar. It’s like when you space out while driving and your subconscious takes you on the most familiar route–which may not be where you intended to go! But on the other hand, it’s not good to be too much in the head without listening to the heart and body. That’s how people push themselves beyond where they should, into injury (physical and mental). The brain needs to be the leader, but the best leaders listen to what the followers are saying. You can’t lead effectively if no one wants to go along with you.

That started me thinking about how dogs need to know that their humans are the pack leaders; a dog that thinks it’s in charge is stressed and a pain to live and deal with, whereas a dog that knows its place in the pack is relaxed, happy, and better-behaved. And when I’m not consciously making a plan for what to do and how to lead my life, maybe I’m as restless and confused as that dog. But when I make unrealistic plans (“I’m going to catch up on all my email tonight!” “I’m going to get 4 hours of sleep so I can do more!”), when in my heart/body/guts I know it’s not workable, I fail. That’s like utopian schemes that overlook the irrational and monkey side of human nature.

I’m still filling out my 5-miler by doing a little spur onto Ryan Road to look at our neighbor’s garden. Today her boyfriend was out in the yard with their dog, looking at the pond they’ve been working on. I said hi & then stopped so we could talk a little bit. He told me about the pond leaking, about the fish in their lower pond that I should walk over to check out, I told him about the marathon, etc. It was really nice and I was happy to have stopped. There are a lot of neighbors I don’t know really well, and running has allowed me to make connections with some of them. I need to not let the combination of shyness and being caught up in the goal of running prevent me from stopping and chatting!

On the fence

NaNoWriMo? No NaNoWriMo? No No Nanette? I’m no where near my “training goal” for writing–total for last week (goal was 7,000) 4,700; total for yesterday & today so far (goal was 3,000) 1340 plus whatever I write in here. 2,000 words a day just seems out of reach! On the other hand, I’ve been putting hands-on-keyboard time consistently for a few days, and maybe I should just take a deep breath, take a risk, and do something where I’m likely to fail. I’m going to have a talk with Jonathan & see what he thinks. Maybe work out some kind of agreement that I will NOT get whiny & be down on myself for getting behind. I need to stay positive just like I did with marathon training. (That was so much EASIER, though! Steps and words are very different…)

I question whether writing is really the thing for me at all. I don’t remember whether I already said this, but I love having written a lot more than I like writing. On the other hand, one of the things that slows me down is research, which I enjoy for itself. For example, it took me at least an hour to write my review of The Fat Fallacy, partly because I needed to look up whether it was really Schlosser who wrote the article about the artificial flavor in French fries, and who the author of Eat, Drink, & Be Healthy is. That was fun, and it’s a really good thing to cement my memories of what I read and to link them together–good for my database of facts to draw on in conversation, good for my brain, good for my reasoning powers, etc. In that way, my book blog is meeting my goals to think more and remember more about what I read.

But as I’ve been focusing on catching up on my book blog and my word count, I’m afraid I’ve let other things slide. It’s all about balance–even the balance between plumbing my “feast or famine” approach for its productivity and keeping my life itself in balance.

I haven’t gone for a run since the weekend. I just can’t drag myself out of bed in the mornings–I’m so sleepy! And today was a Halloween story hour party at the library, and I had a few (very yummy) leftover brownies. Argh. Balance, balance…

A new blog…again

After finishing the marathon, I felt that blog should stay as it is, a journey from beginning training to the finish line. That’s what the title and description are about. But I did like keeping a record of my training and participating in the Running Blog Family, and there’s something about blogging (even if no-one reads it!) that’s more motivating than just writing in a journal. This is going to be more casual and erratic than my books blog, and less focused. But I will attempt to track my NaNoWriMo adventures, which have started in that I have a “training schedule” for writing before I make a final decision whether to join the November craziness. So I’ll write about running, and writing, and more generally my continuing quest for self-improvement.

I chose “Keep on Going” as the title because that’s what I need to keep in mind. I realized quite a long time ago that it’s not realistic for me to stick with any one strategy for long–whether it’s exercise, organization, or anything else. I’m too novelty-seeking and my attention span is too short. But as long as I keep on picking new things to focus on, or keep on re-adding good habits I’ve dropped, or keep on re-ridding myself of bad habits, or keep on pulling myself out of slumps–keep on keeping on–I’ll make progress. Nothing seems to permanently stick with me. I can run 3 times a week for 6 months & then stop. I can stick to a routine for months & then abandon it. It’s great that other people become “addicted” to runner’s high & can’t imagine it not being part of their lives–but that doesn’t happen to me.

That’s why I need big goals, like the marathon or NaNoWriMo, but for short periods of time. It’s hard to find something as big and structured and socially supported as a marathon (and I did focus on that for 20+ weeks!), so if the goal can’t be as big, the time period should probably be shorter. Four to six weeks, maybe. If part of maturing is learning yourself, what you need, what makes you tick, I’m getting there.

Anyway…Running: I did 5 miles yesterday. I need to find my heart rate monitor because I want to try the recommendations from this excellent article on why you should train at a low heart rate first to increase your lactate threshold (many thanks to Richard for mentioning this). The watch is still lost (must get on top of my black hole areas and FIND IT!), but I tried to go slowslowslow. Still, not too bad: 55:54, splits 11:09, 10:30, 11:09, 11:53, 11:10. It was another gorgeous day, sunny, chilly, with plenty of fall color left. A vole ran out into the road, straight towards my sneaker, and only turned around inches away. They must be one of the only diurnal rodents.

I was going to run another 5 miles today, but instead I’m going to do my trash pickup. That’s 4.6+ miles of walking, plus bending, carrying, etc.

Writing: I set myself a schedule of 500 words a day the week of 10/11 (did 9207 for the week, because of the marathon blog!); 1000 words a day the week of 10/18 (as of yesterday I’d done 3306, so I’d have to do 3700 today to catch up! and that’s partly, I must admit, my motivation to start this new blog today–this entry is already over 500); and 1500 a day starting tomorrow. That’s a LOT of words, but you have do to 1667 a day every single day to finish NaNoWriMo’s target of 50,000 in one month. I’ve mostly been focusing on catching up on my book blog for my word counts, and that’s a win-win situation because I have a huge backlog. Last time I counted, which was in the summer I think, I was 18 books behind; I should see how many it is now. The good thing is that my reviews are supposed to be finished product, not first drafts, and they also require looking over the books to remind myself of details/pull quotes/etc, so maybe writing my novel will go more quickly. BUT the reviews pull themselves along–I write until I have nothing left to say, then stop–and although I have the basic structure and characters for my book in my head, what if I run out of ideas?

Just in case I never do finish my book blog…and to get myself organized, here’s a list of the books I still need to review:

  • Islands in the Clickstream – Richard Thieme, 2004
  • The Jane Austen Book Club – Karen Joy Fowler, 2004
  • Sense and Sensiblity – Jane Austen, 1811
  • Pride and Predjudice – Jane Austen, 1813
  • Mansfield Park – Jane Austen, 1814
  • Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen, 1818
  • Emma – Jane Austen, 1815
  • Persuasion – Jane Austen, 1818
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte, 1847
  • The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances – Neil Steinberg, 1996
  • Don’t Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea – Neil Steinberg, 2002
  • School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School – Edward Humes, 2003
  • Up On Cloud Nine – Anne Fine, 2002
  • The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film – Emma Thompson, 1995
  • The Other Wind – Ursula K. LeGuin, 2001
  • Victorian Doll Stories – Brenda, Mrs. Gatty, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1969 (1879, 1862, 1907)
  • The Lost Prince – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1915
  • Idyll Banter – Chris Bohjalian, 2003
  • Requiem for Twelve Cows George Rehm, 1962
  • The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1905
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1886
  • The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer – David A. Whitsett, Forrest A. Dolgener, Tanjala Mabon Kole, 1998
  • The Fat Fallacy – Will Clower, 2001
  • T. Tembarom – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1914
  • September – Rosamunde Pilcher, 1990
  • The Fan – Bob Randall, 1977
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell, 1960
  • The Girl Who Heard Dragons – Anne McCaffrey, 1994
  • The Telling – Ursula K. LeGuin, 2000
  • The Dawn of a To-Morrow – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1906
  • A Fair Barbarian – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1880
  • Pretty Polly Pemberton – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1877
  • Louisiana – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1914
  • Other Times, Other Worlds – John D. MacDonald, 1978
  • The Star Beast – Robert Heinlein, 1954
  • Have Space Suit, Will Travel – Robert Heinlein, 1958
  • Red Planet – Robert Heinlein, 1949
  • Podkayne of Mars – Robert Heinlein, 1963
  • Double Star – Robert Heinlein, 1956
  • Time for the Stars – Robert Heinlein, 1956
  • Between Planets – Robert Heinlein, 1951
  • Tunnel in the Sky – Robert Heinlein, 1955
  • Starman Jones – Robert Heinlein, 1953
  • The Menace From Earth – Robert Heinlein, 1959
  • Space Cadet – Robert Heinlein, 1948
  • The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World – Alan McFarlane & Iris McFarlane, 2003
  • The Puppet Masters – Robert Heinlein, 1951
  • Waldo – Robert Heinlein, 1950
  • Magic, Inc. – Robert Heinlein, 1940

Yikes, yikes, yikes–that’s FIFTY–how will I ever catch up??? Well, I have about 13,000 words to write over the next week–maybe I can make a dent…