And The Winner Is …


So, you may recall that I took on a challenge this November: write a minimum of 50,000 words in thirty days. After a lengthy false start, I accomplished this challenge yesterday.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve written anything that is remotely publishable. I suspect that I will have to rewrite and edit furiously. Still, it feels pretty good to have written what could be considered to be a short novel. (Technically, I’ve written over 60,000 words this month, and that is considered to be novel length).

Having hit the 50,000 word mark means, in the eyes of the good people at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I am a winner! Woo hoo! I am in for prizes ranging from T-shirts to million dollar contracts. (One of the aforementioned is true. I’ll leave it to you to decide which.)

I’m feeling pretty good, right now. I always thought that I’d be able to write, and it turns out that – for a change – I was right.

I thought I should compile a list of Frequently Asked Questions, to satisfy your curiosity.

Q: Ron, you must be a genius.
A: That is actually more of a statement. Modesty keeps me from answering.

Q: Was it hard to write that much?
A: Yes. Some days were much harder than others.

Q: How did you do it?
A: I forced myself to sit down – every day – and write. The writing got easier, but the discipline of sitting down was as hard the first day as the last.

Q: Is your book any good?
A: I’m sure my Mom will think so.

Q: Is this a “Tell All” book? Will there be any juicy bits in it?
A: If by Tell All you mean telling the story of an average kid doing average things, then … Yes. As far as juicy bits go, there is a pretty racy part about having my first kiss under the stairs at the old Brick School. In Grade 3.

Q: Will this book soon be in bookstores?
A: There are two chances of that: fat and slim.

Q: Will you be going around and bragging that you are a “Winner”?
A: To anyone who’ll listen.

Q: Are you expecting this book to rocket to the top of the New York Times “Best Seller” list?
A: I am expecting to be able to give away tens of books.

Q: Do you “name names” in this book?
A: Not really. Plus, this is about my life from birth to Grade 3. It’s not like anything controversial really happened. Except for that one thing, which involved the guy, the other guy, and the thing, but I am under court-ordered restraint from discussing it.

Q: Are you really as good looking as people say?
A: Yes.

Q: Will you be writing more books?
A: Well, this one isn’t exactly a book, yet. It’s a bunch of words that need some serious work. Having said that, I intend to keep writing. I can see an exciting trilogy taking shape: Ron Schellenberg: The Early Years (1966-1984). I was going to call it Ron Schellenberg: A New Hope, but the people at Disney were not impressed. George Lucas, though, thought it was a cool title.

Q: What was the best advice you got while writing this book?
A: A friend suggested that I read Ann Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Best advice? “Write a shitty first draft”Done. The second best advice was from a friend: sit your a… rear in the chair and don’t get up until you hit your word count for the day. That last one might actually be mine. It’s hard to keep things straight.

Q: Did you write these words with pen and paper?
A: No. I wanted to be able to read them, at some point.

Q: Are all the stories you told true?
A: Yes, and some of them actually happened.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: Well, it’s an around the world book tour, low-fat brunch with Oprah, and going to visit my son in Winnipeg. One of these is true.

Q: Are you really a genius?
A: I’ve been called a genius many times. Usually like this: Hey! Genius! Nice parallel park! So, yes, I’m a genius.

Thanks to all of you for your support and kind wishes. Talk to you soon.


On Dogs, Dad, and Dying

I had a kind of a strange day. I sat down to write, as I’ve been trying to do every day. My powers of procrastination kick in every time, so I have to trick myself into starting .

Just sit down, I say to myself. What’s the harm in sitting down?

Just one sentence, I tell myself. Just one.

It’s like dealing with a stubborn child.

Once the first sentence is down, I’m hooked and ready to rock. Until then, I check email, Facebook, Twitter (not really. I have an account but don’t know what to do with it), play a couple of games, take out the garbage … and then I really procrastinate.

So, I was writing about my dog, Sam. I grew up on a farm, and had two older siblings whose mission in life was to torment me, so I had a lot of “me” time. My dog was more than a faithful companion; he was my friend. I could tell him stuff, and no matter how whiny, arrogant, or angry I was, he would always listen patiently. And then give me a good “licking”.

So I was enjoying my time. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I had to tackle something pretty tough. Something I didn’t know how to write.

My Dad died when I was four. I have very few memories of him, some warm, fuzzy feelings, and that’s about it. He died before I really understood what death was.

Anyway, here I was, writing thousands of words about my dog. Then it’s time for Dad, and I didn’t know what to say. Which is unusual for me, because I always have something to say.

I started by writing out my memories. Simple things that made me smile. And, suddenly, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I’m at my keyboard, trying to write, and there are so many tears rolling down my face that I was afraid my keyboard would short out.

I’m not even sure what it was about. A sense of loss? A sense of what could have been? I don’t know. I kept on writing. When I got to the end, I realized that I knew way more about my dog than my Dad.

And I think that’s OK.  Life, I’ve discovered (the hard way, mostly), is not neat and tidy. When I was younger, it was a black and white world. Now I see so many shades of grey that I could probably write a book about it.

Maybe that’s already been done.

One of the things that I’m discovering is that each episode in my life has moved me on to the next. In a perfect world, I would have been able to script out a less painful, more productive way of moving forward, but there is no perfect world. Just the life we have to live in the present one.

I tried to tell the truth about my Dad, from my four year old perspective. I’m a bit afraid to read it, because it is likely not very good. But, at the end of that writing session, I felt like I was a writer. Not some guy dabbling, but like I was doing something real and important.

I think that’s a writer’s job – to tell the truth, even if everything is made up.

Writing, New Beginnings, and Jackie Chan

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming urge to write. Now, since I have committed to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, you probably think I was happy about this.

I was not. And for one, very good reason. I didn’t have any interest in continuing on the story that I had started.

I think I mentioned that I had started writing a Western. I did this because I needed a quick, easy, and simple thing to write. As I pretty much grew up on reading westerns, I figured I would be fine.

I started writing, and things went OK. First off, I discovered that I really like dialogue. My characters were talking very well, amongst themselves. I was a bit concerned, however, that one of them was really trying to be funny. And he was making the others sort of funny, too.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Or surprising, maybe, as I look for funny things myself. But I don’t recall reading any funny westerns.

Then I thought, too bad. I’ll just Jackie Chan a western. You know Jackie. He takes something that is traditionally serious as a heart attack – martial arts movies – and he “bumbles” his way through them, fighting with an umbrella, two cups of flour, and a bottle of olive oil.

I can do that. In fact, the one fight scene that I wrote (and you must have action in a western) involved manure, a shovel, and a good one-liner.

So I continued. My characters, I thought, were OK, too. Strong leading man – think Tom Selleck from his Magnum days. But a really strong leading lady, too – think Charlize Theron as the evil queen from Snow White and the Huntsman. Now I have no problem with a strong leading lady. In fact, I began to think that she might end up saving the “hero” in the end.

All of which is fine, if it’s part of the plot.

Shit. Plot. The one thing I didn’t have. I had written more than 10,000 words, and I had no idea what the story was. There were, I think, some good scenes and witty banter, but nothing that was moving towards some conclusion.

Largely because I didn’t have a conclusion.

So … I woke up this morning, and I had a crystal clear idea of what I was going to write. I sat down at my computer this morning and banged out well over 5000 words by lunchtime. Without breaking a sweat.

My wrists ached like the wrath of Khan, however, and I think I’m going to have to invest in one of these ergonomic keyboard dealies.

I’ve learned a few good lessons from my first attempt:

  • I can write very quickly. This is good, and the discipline of sitting down to write has helped a lot. My word counts are improving steadily.
  • If you start something and don’t know how to finish it, it doesn’t mean that you suck. Or that you wasted your time. It just means that you have learned a different lesson. Like how to write in a hurry. Start something else and figure out how to use your “failure”, whatever that means, somewhere down the road.
  • Don’t give up. Just try a different track.
  • It’s good to know what the end game is.

So, I decided to write about my own life. Yes, I wrote about the cool – nay, awesome! – bike that my neighbor had.  And about Grade One (I was so cute). And the potato bin. It was interesting and fun for me. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and I even had a tear or two as I remembered a particular kindness or friend.

I particularly enjoyed writing my disclaimer page.

And so, because it flows downhill, things were pretty easy today. And productive. We’ll see how it goes.

But, I’m in a bit of a pickle. I should be at (since it’s day 10) about 17,000 words. I’m back to 5,000. That means I need to write about 2250 words every day for the next 20 days. Not impossible, I have discovered, but I have quite a few things coming up in the next couple of weeks that will take me away from home. And from writing.

I’m thinking of this as a challenge, so, I’m pretty psyched to keep at it. I think I can do it.

Thanks for your support.


PS – By the way, there are 746 words in this post. Maybe I shouldn’t have wasted them.


NaNo What Now?

For a while now – OK, for quite a while now – I’ve been thinking about writing a book. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking about writing a book; I have discovered, though, that thinking about things and doing things are not the same things.

Some of you know that, because of some pesky health issues, I have been off of work. This means that I have time to do stuff that I normally wouldn’t. (Whether I feel like doing those things is, of course, a different story. For example, cleaning out the storage room.)

But, again, having time to do things and making time to do things are not the same things.

It’s quite possible that you didn’t know that November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo WriMo. (I thought they should have called it National Book Writing Month so they could have called it NaBoo Wrimo, which has a more Star Warsy vibe to it. Boba Fett, for example, could have had a side kick named Naboo Wrimo.)

The NaNo WriMo people issue a challenge every November – write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Breaking that down, you need to write 1667 words / day for 30 days.

Yesterday, I accepted the challenge. (After noting that they don’t say it has to be a good novel.)

Now, I have a number of ideas that I think could be turned into book ideas, but, as I thought about them, I think that they are bigger than I could pull off in 30 days. Or 60 days. Maybe ever.

By the way, for full disclosure, I have never written a book before. Don’t know how to do it. Never really attempted it. Don’t know the mechanics of how to do it. You know … just thought about it.

Plus, as you know, I’m not the brightest bulb in the lighting store, if you know what I mean.

All of which meant that yesterday, November 1, I was staring at a blank screen. No ideas. Nothing.

As my mind raced through possibilities, I kept coming back to one idea – keep it simple, Saskatoonian.

Having done zero (0) research, I needed to do something where details couldn’t be called into question. Hmmm. How about a personal story?

Brilliant! I already know the facts. In fact, I wouldn’t need to even make anything up. It. Already. Happened.

I started writing about how I learned to ride my bike.

My neighbour, Mark, was the coolest guy I knew. And he had the coolest stuff. One of the cool things he had was a bicycle. Not just any bicycle. No, this was a metallic green bike, with the banana seat, ape hanger handlebars, and the fat back tire.

He came over with his bike and <Yawn> he … um … <Yawn!>

You’re right. Who cares? I was even boring myself.

The only other thought I had was westerns.

When I was younger, I read westerns. A LOT of westerns. The great thing about westerns is that the story is so simple – there’s a good guy and a bad guy. And a girl. The bad guy does something, well, bad to either the good guy or the girl. The good guy kicks the bad guy’s butt AND gets the girl. The End.

I can do that!

So, as I sat in front of my ancient, creaking computer, I realized that I still had nothing.

Before despairing, however, I remembered an interview I had seen with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino was asked how he wrote his movies, and he said something like I put two characters in a room and listen to them talk until a story comes out.

So, that’s what I did. And, as my characters talked, they went ahead and named each other. One was the straight man and the other was funny. Eventually, a little kid burst into the room with some bad news.

And I had the beginning of a story.

The old me – the one who was a bit of a perfectionist and needed to be smart and in control of everything – would have tossed that out. I would have thought about the idea. I would have tried to map the whole thing out in my mind. I would have fussed about the characters.

In short, I would have done nothing.

I used to think that writing a book was something only “gifted” (whatever that means) people did. You know, the types who know the whole story ahead of time, have it all outlined, know all the dialogue …

I’m guessing there are those types of people out there; I, however, am not one of them.

Now, I sort of figure that writers generally use the BIC (Butt In Chair) method of writing. ie put your butt in a chair and don’t get up until you’ve written something.

A friend of mine says there are two types of writers: architects and gardeners. Architects plan everything out and execute. Gardeners plant a seed and see what happens. One’s not better than the other. It’s just different ways to the same end.

Perhaps you can guess what type I am.

One of the biggest things that illness has taught me is that I’m not in control of everything in my life. Things happen, and I need to respond (or ignore) these things.

I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be in control of everything. And maybe that control is a bit of a sham, anyway.

I’ve realized something pretty important – In life, and maybe with a book, I don’t have to know the end. When I get there, I think I’ll know it. Unlike life, if I need to foreshadow something in my story (I always wondered how authors knew how to do that!), I could go back and put it in later! <forehead smack>

So, I’m telling myself that I should just write. I can figure out the rest later. And edit. And rewrite. And maybe just toss the whole thing.

Now, November is really the worst month I could be doing this. I’m not feeling too great at the moment. I am likely going to be gone for two, entire, weekends. My office needs to be cleaned, and my sock drawer is in  desperate need of reorganizing.

But, as I think back to learning how to ride my bike – thanks, Mark – I realize that I didn’t know how to ride when I started out, either. I just got on and pedaled and fell over and skinned my knees and cried … and then I did it all over again. And again. And again.

And then, one day, it was the open road, the wind in my hair (before helmets), and the whole world in front of me.

A bit like life, I think.

So, I’ll try to keep you up to date on how things are going. Good or bad.

By the way, my first day’s word count total was 2763.