Passion Project Update No. 2

I guess this is where the proverbial rubber is supposed to be meeting the road, but to be truthful, I’ve skipped a couple opportunities to do some writing. I am disappointed in myself.

Over the weekend, I did have a small burst of activity and felt I was getting somewhere. I can’t seem to get away from backstory that I feel is somewhat boring, but I added a little, along with some personality insights I felt were needed, in the form of a prologue. I know some writers and editors absolutely abhor prologues, but I reminded myself that THIS IS A DRAFT. I can add, delete and fix later. Must get it down.

This added to my word count a little and made me feel some better about moving forward, too. I actually left it in a good place.

Then Sunday rolled around, and I had to get some school stuff done. At the end of the day, I actually wanted to break up with my laptop. We needed time apart.

Yesterday, Monday, I was actually home at a decent time, and I knew I should have been writing. I knew that once I started, I’d probably get into it, enjoy it, and feel challenged. But my defiant alter ego was hanging out in my conscience, saying, “No. Just wanna snack, chill and TV.” Even when the Powers That Be wouldn’t allow my Internet to work well enough for Netflix to continue without buffering, I didn’t take the hint. I kept trying to reload that episode of Glee. It was the one about a lock-down. Scary, seeing as how I work at a high school. Nevertheless, I didn’t get to finish the show.

What did I do? Did I say, “OK, Powers That Be, I’ll use this time to pursue my project, the one that I have chosen myself, the one that I am modeling for my students. The one where I write a novel in 30 days because I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and NaNoWriMo presents the perfect opportunity to try.”


Went to bed at 7:30 with a book.

A book that someone else wrote.

Passion Project Update No. 1

In the last week, I have done the easy part of my project, mostly. It’s the part I don’t mind doing. It’s the part I use to procrastinate on the part that’s hard.

I’ve been reading about writing.

Pinterest is my ultimate sandbox of buried treasure. I can look at my regular feed, which is a mix of recipes, teaching tools – mostly digital – and articles about writing. If I want to feel like I’m being productive, I put writing in the search bar and get such suggestions as writing ideas, writing tips, writing inspiration, writing prompts, and writing process. I can go on from there to look at blog posts, articles and graphic illustrations on anything from writing great villains to plotting to how to handle that first chapter. I pinned a few articles. I read a few that didn’t rate pinning.

One of the more interesting articles was about figuring out where to start your story. My plan is to start over on a project I did for NaNo last year. I had plotted it out, first in a notebook, just jotting down scenes as I saw them, then I moved them onto a Google spreadsheet. This allowed me to lump them into chapters, which were then lumped into three sections of the book. Since I’m playing with alternating narrator points of view, I have a column for the POV character, too. I had a column for links to articles that were helpful when I developed that scene.

But last year I only got to, like, 4400 words, and the goal is 50,000. Over the year, I tried to get enthused about working on it, even starting over – don’t remember why I thought that was a good thing. What I eventually figured out was that I was mired in the beginning of the story, which I thought was necessary, but it was really those scenes later on that I was interested in delving into.

That recent article I read gave me permission to start the story in a later scene and allow my protagonist to slowly relate the “backstory” as it becomes necessary. Said it would give a little “mystery” to the character, and I liked that idea.

But then I had to figure out which scene to start with. After several evenings of torturing myself, I realized there wasn’t an absolutely right answer, and no matter where I started, I just needed to start. I can always revise later. So I started. I may have only gotten 453 words, but considering I’ll need about 12,500 words per week, I knew I needed a head start. After all, I have this day job thing going on.

Teacher see, teacher do

NaNo screenshot

Anyone who follows my posts knows that more often than not, if I give an assignment, I do the assignment. Maybe that comes from proving it’s do-able; maybe it comes from all those years in my childhood of forcing my little brother to play school. I just like both sides of school – the teaching and the learning.

Passion Projects provide the perfect opportunity for both, and my DigiComm students have just chosen their projects and will be posting, researching and learning in earnest this week. During the couple of days of brainstorming and solidifying our projects, someone asked what my project was going to be. Believe it or not, I told them, I’d actually been thinking about it the previous few days. I’d considered learning about world religions and providing some sort of report and presentation comparing the ones I chose (and had time) to learn about. But then I realized that would take time away from something I’d planned to do with my November – something I’d attempted last November and hadn’t been totally successful. That’s when I realized I could make NaNoWriMo my Passion Project.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it excites and inspires official and could-be novelists from all over every November. You sign up at the NaNoWriMo website and join thousands of others who are lining up at the starting gate. NaNo offers motivational emails, badges for accomplishments, forums where like-minded writers can share ideas (and lose time they could be writing), as well as writing buddies – someone to hold accountable and help hold you accountable, if everyone is doing their job. Last year I had two writing buddies, one from Oklahoma City and one from somewhere in Great Britain. We had a few email convos, but in the end, we were all busy, and it didn’t work out the way I’d imagined.

This year, I have a local buddy, someone I work with on occasion, and we will be able to share progress, even though we’re writing in different genres.

By way of demonstration as well as to get myself organized, I used the graphic organizer I had created and noted a couple of driving questions: Can I draft a novel (50,000 words) in a month? and What can I learn in this process? I noted what research I needed, some of which I’ll admit that I already have. I pin a lot of writing articles and blogs on Pinterest. In the mentor section, I listed the co-worker and that I would try to hook up with writing buddies through NaNo, as well as try to find real mentors, possibly beta readers at some point, through Twitter. I listed the steps to my goal as I saw them at that time. Heck, everything is subject to change – just like in the first draft of this novel. But you have to start somewhere, right?

We will all, including myself, post weekly updates on our progress, and we will each present – TEDTalks style – at the end of the semester. I have lots of examples from teachers who have gone before me.

What I hope to learn and to teach my students is that we are all in charge of our own learning, ultimately. We can’t passively sit at a desk and wait for teachers and professors to feed us our education. Sure, some of that is required in order to get that coveted piece of paper at the end of the trail and to get that nice GPA that tells those we love that we were compliant when it counted (but tells our future bosses or clients absolutely nothing about our skills, knowledge or capabilities). We have to know what we want and go after it. Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and we must be active in pursuing knowledge and knowing from where and from whom to gain the best education.

If you could take 20 percent of your week to learn anything you wanted or to create a project to do some good in your community, what would you do?

NaNoWriMo Swag

I empower students by giving them permission and tools to be creative, to make mistakes, learn from them and keep on trying.

I’ve assigned Passion Projects to my Digital Communications class, explaining that they get to choose a subject to explore and develop a project of their own choosing.

I’ve guided new editorial staff of the yearbook as they’ve chosen their theme for the year and looked for ways to bring it to life.

I’ve offered up ideas and shown new tools to my news staff as they’ve begun to try to work out how to run both a print and an online paper with similar content but different purposes and different deadlines.

I’ll soon be showing my Introduction to Journalism students how to blog, allowing them to select themes and widgets and post their own content along with assignments that also involve choice.

With all this handing over of choice and creativity and the option to do well or not do well and learn from it, I realize I’ve left myself out of those offerings. November gives me the opportunity to right those wrongs.

I am participating in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I’ve known about NaNo the last couple years, but good old doubt has held me back. Not this time.

This has been a rough year. The bad thing is, I remember saying the same thing to myself last year. I love teaching. I love the students I get to teach, but a number of traumatic events in our community and the weight of problems in education have worn on my soul. I’ve begun to lose myself in fiction in any spare time, sometimes time I should be using more responsibly. My excuse is that I’m studying writing.

Even when I was a little girl, I wanted to make up stories. I remember writing my first story when I was in the fourth grade. When neighborhood friends and I played outside, I made up the best stories to act out. I always wanted to be a writer. I won an honorable mention for a short story in some competition in high school. I had no idea what I was doing, but wrote an interesting character in an uncomfortable situation.

I didn’t go to college after high school. Even as an adult, though, I wanted to be a writer. I read other people’s novels, and I dreamed of writing my own. I had no idea what mine would be about – I had no grand story idea, no characters that spoke to me, no situations I dreamed of plotting out. I just wanted to write and to be a writer.

Years later, I got to go to college, and I became a journalism teacher. I love empowering students, but this career affords no time to write a novel. I gained a journalism student last year who told me she’d done NaNo twice. I decided it was a sign. Thanks BT.

I tell students all the time who say they can’t think of anything to write that the act of writing generates thought and the ideas will come if they’ll just trust the process, just start writing.

After all this advice giving, it’s about time I took my own.