Category Archives: Writing Life

A Work in Progress


I held the cabinet while my husband used the socket wrench to undo the screws that fastened it to the wall.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said.

With the last screw undone, the cabinet shifted and came away from the wall. Together, we started to bring it to rest on the floor. A splash of color caught my eye. I gasped.

“Are you okay? Don’t hurt yourself!”

“No, it’s not that…look at this creepy wallpaper!”

It’s like an insidious riddle written by H.P. Lovecraft. Insect, jelly, man, note, octopus? Have we stumbled upon the key to release Cthulhu from R’lyeh? Surely the insects refer to his minions, and man discovers the note—you know the one—that “bloop” sound recorded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is roughly where Lovecraft claimed the sunken city of R’lyeh was located? And the octopus, well, of course that’s Cthulhu himself!

Or maybe it’s just creepy wallpaper.

My home office is quite Spartan at the moment. Just the desk, my chair, and the computer, and a big pile of junk from when we ripped down the drop ceiling to see what kind of renovations were needed. The room is the color of a peach dropped in the dirt. New windows are on order, and I’m talking with contractors about the work that needs to be done.


It’s not my writing space yet. One could argue that the lack of distractions could make it a perfect writing spot. Just me and my dark ambient music. But without the artwork I love, especially that self-portrait my brother painted that has served as a sort of Muse for 21 years, it feels like the soul of the room is missing.

I’ve been mostly getting my writing fix through flash fiction: Describli and Chuck Wendig’s weekly writing challenges. And then I got stuck in the editing loop. The one most people in the writing biz tell you to avoid. It’s one of the tenets of NaNoWriMo: Do not go back and edit while working on the first draft!

And yet here I am, in round five of editing the first nine chapters. I have a good excuse, I tell myself. I had to drop writing around the holidays, when the hubs and I started to look for a new house and prepared to stage our little condo in Somerville for sale. Five months later, now that a daunting stack of papers has been signed and boxes packed and moved from one place to another, how could I remember all the little nuances of the novel? Must refresh my memory!

Fair enough. At least for the first round. But we’ve been unpacking and figuring out room layouts since the beginning of April, to say nothing of all the stuff that happens at the day job. And getting used to the new commute. And the volunteer gig. And just being tired. Sigh.

So I haven’t been able to concentrate. If I just edit this next round, I’ll easily pick up where I left off.

Part of the issue is that ninth chapter. It didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the novel as it currently stands. Whether I need to omit the whole thing and start over or just edit down the chapter and keep the best snippets, we’ll see when I get there tomorrow, when I finally enter in this last round of edits…and move forward with chapter ten.

At least in the near future, I won’t have this creepy wallpaper staring down at me.



An Evening with Laurie Anderson

Big Science Cover

1982: My mom comes home from work, raving about a song she heard on the radio. The next album we purchase is Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, and so begins a lifelong fascination with unusual music for me. I was probably the only preteen in the audience for the concert we went to that year. I had no one to talk to about this kind of music/performance art outside of family. At dinner, we listened to Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Shadowfax, and a host of obscure New Wave/New Age LPs that are still an important part of the “soundtrack of my life.” Kids in school were bonkers about light pop like the Culture Club and an array of big hair bands. Laurie Anderson made me feel welcome in an alien world, though even at the time, I understood it wasn’t an alien world at all. Her performances were about our world, seen through keen observation, wit, and a tremendous amount of creativity.

As a family, we went to her concerts whenever possible. I can’t tally the number, but it was a lot. We went to French films and my dad and I revered every Werner Herzog film we could find. Being a teen raised in an alternative cultural environment shaped who I am today, as a writer, an artist, and someone who loves an unusual view of the world.

Laurie Anderson is enchanting on stage. When I saw she was giving the Louis C. Elson Lecture at Harvard this March, I was determined to go, regardless of my intense schedule. Honestly, she can talk about making grilled cheese sandwiches and it turns into an amazing tale. She has a dedicated following, and I swear, even after all these years, I still recognize the regulars from the audience. We never spoke, but certain people stand out. It’s a silent inner circle that gathers to appreciate one of the most amazing artists of our time.

She opened by polling the audience about their own interests: who’s a musician, who’s a painter, who’s a writer. She preferred “multimedia artist,” because it prevents the “art police” from pigeonholing her. And really, it’s impossible to do so. She only considers herself “a dedicated amateur musician.” She’s a master of storytelling. She sees the stories within a stories, and talked about a childhood diving accident that sent her to the hospital with a broken back. She was put in the burn unit, and the dark nights with were filled with tears and sounds of suffering. Over the years, the body and memory change and cleanse some of that imagery, and it took her decades to realize some of the empty beds she woke up to were the result of children dying in the night. The creepiest parts of then stories are the ones that go forgotten for time, she said. And as Anderson puts pieces of them together, and even the saddest or most disturbing of stories have a positive note. It’s part of her philosophy of life.

Home of the Brave

Anderson described her early years as a “self-righteous minimalist,” who delighted in creating spare components of performances. Though it was never explained to me growing up, this concept clicked with me as she talked about stage design for her concerts. The epic concert film Home of the Brave is probably the best example. People dot the stage in small groups or individually. Some wear costumes. Others move in an erratic dance. A film of animation and/or words plays in the background. There is dance, lighting, movement, none of which seems to fit together in a linear way. It’s all part of her master plan. Everyone has their own rhythm, she said. You have your own way of constructing stories, and you put together the components in a way that suits you best. It was an epiphany that tied together years of seeing her performances. Whether you watched the musicians, the shadows of people on the screen, or to see what unique item she’d use in the center of the stage—be it a glowing violin or goggles with lights like high beams, there is no one precious single meaning she wants you to take away from it. It’s all about how you want to enjoy what she offers.

Experimentation takes many forms, and “I appreciate the feeling of not being sure.” Getting out of your niche is key. She plays with tones and pitches of voices. Anderson has created countless films and art installations where the experience of sound is the feature of the work. “I love broken things,” she said as she described the studios where she uses old analog equipment and digital technology to fuse styles into experimental works. She used carpenter’s level to create a speaker system, depending on how it was tilted, you heard a male voice, female voice, or both. When setting up for a performance once, she told the crew to use the most broken-looking but functional equipment they could find. A photo of a keyboard and decrepit microphone stand that looked like it was set up in an old basement appeared on the screen behind her. “I loved it,” she said.

Ever the traveler, Anderson shares a wealth of experience from installations and performances around the world. Her stint as the first (and only) resident artist for NASA illuminated the connection between art and science. Truth and beauty are much more present in science than most people realize, she explained. Even Einstein didn’t accept some of his own theories because they were not beautiful enough.

Though she had many things she wanted to talk about, and surely the audience would have gladly spent the entire evening with her, time ran short. She shuffled her notes and decided which stories she wanted to tell the most before she opened it up to the audience for questions.

Book Cover

When asked about collaborations, she talked about working with Peter Gabriel on “Excellent Birds.” Each respective version has its own bass because they couldn’t agree on one together, she said. A perceptive member of the audience noted how a portion of one of her stories reminded him of Spalding Gray. She nodded, acknowledging they were close friends. “I’d like to think we keep the people we lost in the back of our minds,” she said. “You don’t lose the texture of someone’s voice.”

With time being finite, one person asked, how do you decide on what to work on with so many varied interests? The first criteria, she explained, is “Is it fun?” It’s best to enjoy as much as you can. Have the best time doing whatever it is at the moment. Everything else falls into place. “I choose to believe in progress because it makes for a happier life,” she said.

I walked home feeling lighter. It had been a stressful few months, and that brief session made me feel so much better. Art heals, it helps us reflect and learn, and while the pieces of the story shift, as she demonstrated with great eloquence, the story is ours according to how we want to make it. As I enter a new era of my own, I’m deeply appreciative for the artsy life my parents gave me, and that I’ve been able to carry this particular treasure with me for more than three decades. Laurie Anderson’s amazing work has become part of me too, and like her friend Spalding Gray, you never lose the texture of voices, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Farewell, Somerville

Davis Square

1990: A series life-changing events brought us here, like refugees from our own respective storms. My mom transitioned to a new career at Boston Children’s after a divorce. To say my first three semesters at UMass Amherst were turbulent would be an understatement. When my mom found an apartment in Somerville, she suggested I transfer to the UMass Boston campus. No dorms meant less chance of getting swept up in the chaotic high drama that was devouring any sense of well-being I had. In an amazing coincidence, my best friend from childhood was moving to Somerville the same weekend.

Our first walk into Davis Square felt alien. We had spent lots of time in Cambridge and Downtown Boston, and at the time, Somerville felt kind of desolate. Not many people were around. Pockets of old guys hung around dive bars and smoked. On that first night, we found ourselves the only customers in an Indian restaurant. The apartment we shared was small and didn’t get a lot of light. Our hyper Labrador, Tessie, was all the more anxious now that she away from the bucolic, slightly run-down farmhouse she knew as a pup.

Tender from our respective personal ordeals, we were eager to explore the Boston area as residents rather than remote suburbanites who visited often. A Wiccan shop in Porter Square called Arsenic and Old Lace quickly became one of my favorite havens. My new space was redolent in incense and cluttered with stones, amulets, and books on mythology and witchcraft as viewed by many cultures. Countless nights were spent making mix tapes. Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and many others were my musical solace.

Somerville Dragon

In the UMass Boston café, where I consumed vast amounts of orange-flavored coffee, people joked about living in “Slummerville.” Though the Somerville Theater was a hidden gem, there was little draw to the city other than cheap rent.

The move to Waterhouse Street had been hasty, going to the first vacant place we could find. A friendly elderly gentleman with a salty sense of humor sat on the porch of the nursing home at the end of the street each day. He always greeted me as I turned onto Broadway to head to the subway, and on occasion, I’d go sit with him for a while. His family shuttled him off to the home because they didn’t want to deal with having him around, even though he was sharp as a tack and got around well. So well, in fact, that “the hookers in Davis Square give it to me for free,” he announced with a happy smile one day. Indeed, they clustered around a brick wall outside of Papa Gino’s—their business as open as any store next to them.

My mom and I eventually settled into a bigger place on Sycamore Street near Winter Hill. With my 21st birthday came an ideal college job: beer brewing. The owner of the homebrew shop wanted all staff to know the craft well, so all supplies and ingredients were free to everyone who worked there. Soon, I stacked cases of every type of beer imaginable in my basement. I specialized in mead, and had a carefully tended witch’s garden to grow lemon verbena, rosemary, and other fragrant herbs for my infused concoctions.

Somerville phone

My best friend worked at Rounder Records down the road from the homebrew shop. There was a lot of social cross-over and in five years, and my friend and I even traded jobs. She became a beer brewer and I became the assistant international sales rep. Together, we drank more free beer and attended more free concerts than we can reasonably tally.

Meanwhile, the nascent hipster culture began to arrive in Somerville. The Burren was new, and my boss at the homebrew shop worked out a short-time deal with Someday Café—free beer in exchange for free coffee for employees of each establishment. (The closing of the Someday Café was much-mourned. Many refused to enter Mr. Crepe on principle.)

My first post-college apartment that I shared with my best friend on Broadway was $600 a month. Not each—total. We lived on Ramen noodles, watched Ren and Stimpy, and were ridiculously happy. It was an artist’s life. We were delighted to see the evolving hipness of Somerville, Davis Square in particular. ArtBeat and the flourishing arts culture made us feel like it was really becoming home.

The wheel of fate turned. My friend got married. My brother died unexpectedly, and a ravaging depression sent me back home to mom. She had bought a home on Alewife Brook Parkway, and my grandmother moved in with us because she needed our help. Troubles at Rounder led me to find a “real office job” outside of my artists’ realm, and I eventually made my way to Harvard, where I picked up a career in publishing and two graduate degrees. I began writing my novels and short stories in earnest. My own first marriage brought me to a money pit on Lowell Street—a large two-family that went for $249,000 in 1998. Neither the house nor the marriage lasted long. Both were naïve decisions, but I recovered quickly and in 2003 found a lovely little condo that became a perfect writer’s garret. I knew it wouldn’t be forever, but it didn’t last as long as I thought it would.

Somerville graffiti

In 2009, a fateful message on Facebook changed it all: “Do you remember me?”

Indeed I did. We had mutual crushes on each other in high school, but I was too shy to date him. After finding me more than 20 years later, he invited me to visit him to celebrate our birthdays, which fall on the same day. The rest, as they say, is history. He relocated to live with me in my once-perfect condo. It was now far too small. When we began looking for a place of our own, the real estate prices in Somerville skyrocketed. What were once multifamilies selling for $249,000 were now million-dollar homes. Single family homes like we wanted were equally out of sight.

Malden, Revere, Lynn, and surrounding areas felt like frontier territory, but were our only options for commute and pricing for the space and style we wanted. We found a home we loved and well—yet it seems strange to say goodbye to a city where I’ve spent 25 years. Of course, yes, I can still visit, and will. But as I walk down the streets now, I’m haunted by what once was. Each store front that has been more than one venue…I alternately forget its past or present name…and each apartment where a friend lived (or, in another amazing coincidence, multiple, as when aforementioned best friend moved into the apartment my grandmother lived in when she was first married, cheerfully telling me and my friend about passing out on the floor from drinking too many boilermakers. Having indulged in occasional boozy fun in the same space, we giggled.) Ah, the circle of life.

Getting off the subway at Davis during rush hour was nothing like the crushing zombie horde you experience now. However, my sentimentality is hardly steeped in flowery nostalgia. Davis Square had its creeps back then. There’s a ton of cool stuff happening in Somerville today. Though I won’t miss the bureaucracy of the City with a capital C—it’s as challenging as it ever was. But in that past lies so much of my own evolution, as well as the city’s. Reading the diaries of Anais Nin years later as a writing instructor and teaching assistant at Harvard Extension reminded me of the divorce that brought us to Somerville. She too struggled with an unavailable father. My career at Harvard was amazing, but I lost a bit of my artist’s soul there. This latest turn of fate’s wheel has given me back some of what I lost and taken some of who I have been. My family is a lot smaller, but a lot happier. I am free to embrace my artist’s soul to the fullest now. Many new novels and stories are underway. I’ll miss being near the last vestiges of what I knew in 1990—like McKinnon’s, and the many places I’ve grown to love, like Five Horses Tavern and the Painted Burro.

Tres leches

When my old high school flame and I got married, he called ahead to the Painted Burro and arranged to have a rose delivered to the table with each course and drink, and a rose garnished the tres leches dessert that served as out wedding cake. It’s a fine memory to say farewell to, because it leads us forward into the future.

So farewell, Somerville. It’s been real. Time to watch another “frontier” town change and evolve.

March 22, 2105

Sunset Icicle

A Room without Books…

Brattle Books landscape

A room without books is like a body without a soul.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero

Let’s set aside the fact that this beloved quote which adorns countless magnets, tote bags, posters, etc., is falsely interpreted. Yes, Cicero said something like this—sort of—but the attitude toward books and who handled them was very different in ancient Rome, and really cannot be compared to our modern sensibilities.

But I digress. Which is easy to do when your personal library is packed into boxes (my apologies to the movers who have to haul them) and put into storage. There have been so many times in the past few weeks in which I started to work on a story and thought, “Oh, I need to verify that fact,” and reached over…to be reminded the bookcase was missing. Or I decide to make Saveur’s French farmhouse chicken in vinegar sauce. I walk to the kitchen to get the cookbook, and oh yeah, those are gone, too.

Sure, much of it can be looked up online, such as the Saveur recipe. If my writing is connected to history, I can find the complete writings of authors of the ancient world online. It’s not a huge deal, really, in the grand scheme of things. But with all the complications that come with buying and selling a house at the same time, and six weeks to go before the moving extravaganza occurs, it can feel disorienting, frustrating, and, at times, overwhelming.

The Muse has been fluttering about my imagination, impatient to return. There have been a few pages of scribble in my journal—though horror upon horrors, my fountain pen ink was packed, so when this cartridge runs dry, I have to (gasp) use a regular pen. Or maybe buy more cartridges, if I can find my way through the labyrinth of seven-foot snowbanks to get to Bob Slate Stationer in Harvard Square.

Living in a perfectly staged house has been fun. It’s clean all the time. Over time, though, finding the simplest of things: hairbrush, slippers, laundry basket, all tucked away at the last minute before a showing, go missing and recovering them is a challenge on par with the memory game played by so many kids. It gets tiresome. Buying and selling homes simultaneously tests your problem-solving skills on an intense level. All too often, I’m distracted by the next challenge that has popped up: something needs to be fixed and we need to get bids for the project immediately, or a form needs to be signed and filed right away and I have to dig for some obscure bit of information.

Photo credit: Christine Frost

Photo credit: Christine Frost

So what do I read these, other than The Economist? Only 5 actual books remain: Two old Norton anthologies of literature looking for a good home, an out-of-date atlas from 1990, and a massive dictionary. I eased into the realm of ebooks easily enough. Half of what I read—at least—is in the form of ebooks, the dragging commute of the notorious MBTA being the main supplier of time to kill. Immersing yourself in a good read is an excellent pastime when surrounded by your fellow crabby commuters. Like many avid readers, though, I still appreciate the feel of a real book in my hands. George R. R. Martin’s World of Ice and Fire is a treasure to hold. This Silmarillion-like tome is the only “actual” book left I’m actively reading. The dictionary, like the atlas and anthologies, will wait for some spring evening, when they can be placed on the stoop for passersby to pick up—a common fate for many books in the Greater Boston area.

As much as I love my real books, some have fallen from favor. My stained and tattered Roget’s Thesaurus seems feeble compared to PowerThesaurus. Online dictionaries are updated frequently. When it comes to reference books, the online versions have won.

Several times I’ve seen an announcement of a new release and thought about whether I’d prefer the paper version. I meandered around Porter Square Books and had a long internal debate about picking up a signed copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection. Then I thought, “It’s one more thing to pack.” The book stayed on the shelf.

The Great Purge of Clutter which led to the Perfectly Staged House was a great exercise in getting used to living without things. I have a tremendous appreciation for the open space, but living without the books has proven to be one of the biggest challenges. Even when I don’t need them, just passing by a shelf and seeing a favorite title makes me smile.

I’m looking forward to that day (well, days—let’s be honest) when I’m unpacking books with my husband in our new dual-library at the new house. We’ve already decided to name them and get plaques for them, á la Harvard endowment style—the Frost-Garcia Library and the Garcia-Frost Library. It will be a new, sun-filled sanctuary.

When the Muse Flees

The Muse by Eddi van W, via Creative Commons 2.0

The Muse by Eddi van W, via Creative Commons 2.0

The next novel is underway. All the ideas are there. I think about it all the time. So why the radio silence from the Muse for the past month?

I’d like to think I handle change well. I’ve certainly had plenty of it, both good and bad. Ever since my now-husband moved in with me, we knew my condo was too small for the two of us. It was a special place. I came here after my first marriage failed and it has been a sanctuary ever since: three novels were written and published from here. Several short stories penned and published. From here, I got my master’s degree—I have stark memories of donning my robes at 4:30 in the morning and walking to the T to get to Harvard’s graduation ceremony. I was so tired it hurt. People walking their dogs or jogging smiled as we passed each other on Somerville’s community path. The past 11 years have been so meaningful here, but it just isn’t the right space anymore.

Onward. Finding a single family home in Boston has its challenges. Fortunately, I have a great team in place to help with the transition. But the time it takes to view listings and compute all the logistics of commuting, place bids in a highly competitive market, and prepare my own place to go on the market is immense. The stress is also immense. There is no room left for the Muse.

I had just finished editing the 125 pages I had for the new novel, and was well underway in getting the chapter outline revised. After looking at the first set of houses, the Muse said, “That’s it. I’m out of here. See you when you settle in somewhere else, wherever that may be.”

And gone. I can’t even get up the gumption to write in a journal.

It’s not helping the insomnia. My walks to the T used to be occupied by developing characters and plotlines. Now my mind is occupied by the impact of property taxes on square footage, comparing commuting options, and figuring out how much of my current household I can put in storage so that the condo looks nice and open when it goes on the market.

As a creative person, it feels terribly strange not to have that source of inspiration being generated all the time. Even in the worst of circumstances, maybe especially because of the worst of circumstances, I kept writing. Creativity helps alleviate stress for me. So why did the Muse flee? Should I beat myself up over it, or take another look at the calendar and put it into perspective? After all, in a couple of months, this will all be settled and I’ll be happily writing again in a new space. But meanwhile, I’m contending with a massive guilt trip, laying tons of drama on myself about not writing, which probably does nothing to inspire the Muse to return.

Everyone needs a break from time to time, right? Even Muses. “Out of chaos comes a star,” a coworker once told me years ago when I was upset about another perfect storm of life-transforming events.

So posts are prone to be sporadic over the next few weeks. Soon enough, the Muse will be pleased with new surroundings that enhance creativity all the more.

Dream of a Journey Appears in Eternal Haunted Summer

Image credit: David Revoy via Creative Commons 3.0

Image credit: David Revoy via Creative Commons 3.0

Every now and again, something comes along that you know is going to click. Google+ has been an invaluable resource when it comes to advancing my work in the publishing world. In 2013, it was with a call for submissions to an anthology called Shadows of a Fading World by Long Count Press. A collection of dying earth stories, it’s a mash-up of fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction. When I saw the post on Googe+, I knew I had just the thing—an epic series that I wanted to resurrect from my days obsessing over it in high school, but it needed a lot of work. A short story was a perfect way to test the waters and see if the concept was viable. It was, and I was thrilled to have the short story version included in the anthology.

While searching for literary journals and magazines this year, I happened across a link that led me to Eternal Haunted Summer, a pagan e-zine. Something clicked again. And a Muse was ready with inspiration.

Like many writers, I’ve long been fascinated by folklore and mythology. It seems to seep into many of my works. After reading some of the stories in Eternal Haunted Summer, I tried to decide what to write. As I often do, I gravitated to the Ancient Near East, and began working on a story that will eventually lead to a lengthy epic work á la Margaret George, but again, the short version served as a means to test the waters. I was delighted to learn that “Dream of a Journey” was published in the winter issue of the e-zine.

Set in Sumer just after Sargon the Great conquered the region, “Dream of a Journey” is a view into the world of Enheduanna, a priestess who is credited with being the first known author of the written word. It’s an exploration of light and dark forces, and the necessary balance. While the story opens with Enheduanna’s role in Sargon’s new empire, it comes to focus on her sister, who is destined to become a priestess in a city-state where the patron deity is of the Netherworld.

Say what you will about Google+–it is often mocked by people who don’t know it well. And it’s true that as a platform, it works well for some groups and not others: if you’re into independent publishing, it’s the place to be, in my opinion. The Writer’s Discussion Group is highly organized, full of intelligent conversation, and the community has a good sense of humor. APE: Author, Publishers, and Entrepreneurs, which focuses on Guy Kawasaki’s works, is another excellent resource for people serious about the publishing business. As in most good quality groups, spammers and whiners who often clog the newsfeed over at Facebook are not welcome. Promote your work elsewhere. Come for the knowledge, stay for the witty conversations. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my two favorite indie author organizations, the Independent Publishers of New England and the Alliance of Independent Authors. (Disclosure: I’m on the board of IPNE, so of course I think they’re great!)

If you’re an indie author seeking to make inroads: don’t limit your channels. Explore everything. Find new ways to be seen: join organizations, get published in literary magazines—they’re out there by the boatload online; tune in to resources like the Indies Unlimited blog to stay up-to-date on news and get tutorials on any number of topics. It’s the great Digital Age, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the tsunami of words—wield it to your will, and be open to any path that opens—you never know where your own words will be discovered.

Draft Zero


I was having lunch with a writer-friend recently, and she mentioned a great term that helped me put NaNoWriMo into sharper context: Draft Zero.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2011. In each case, I’ve cut the majority of the manuscript once November passed. I wrote more than 56,000 words for the initial round of my third novel, Whiskey and Rue, and only 6,000 of those words made it into the final version that was published. Some writers panic at the thought of extensive revisions. I used to as well.

The value of a 30-day freewriting session became clear while reviewing Whiskey and Rue. Carefully thinking out each scene can be restrictive. Any online writing forum, be it a group on Facebook or Google+ or elsewhere (I miss you, Scribophile—I hope to come back soon!), will have debates between “plotters and pansters,” i.e., those who plot out every detail in their notes and those who just sit down and write. For most of my works, I’ve had detailed notes and chapter outlines. Whiskey and Rue is the first instance in which I didn’t. I attribute it to the wonders of NaNoWriMo.

During that 30-day frenzy, scenes came to life that I doubt would’ve appeared if I had stuck to my meticulously crafted chapter outline. Some of the inspiration was from my own Muse; some of it came from prompts from the NaNo Sprints Twitter account. Their often funny prompts spawned a handful of quirky ideas that somehow fit right into the novel. A writing challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog provided me with the last three pages of the story. It’s a puzzle that formed in sections. If I ran out of ideas for a chapter, I moved on. I leapt ahead whole chapters to capture a scene that would fit in sooner or later. But the end result of NaNoWriMo—not really a first draft.

My friend’s concept described it perfectly—you can’t read draft zero through as a complete arc. It’s a series of ideas that eventually coalesce into a real draft. For me, it takes three real drafts before I feel ready to show it to beta readers and editors. Draft zero is shown to no one.

Draft zero is a mess.

You pick through the pieces—finding the gems among the dross—and save them.

It isn’t wasted time. None of the discarded words are. All practice is beneficial, even when you don’t save much of it. It’s the same with sketching for me, though I (regrettably) practice that much less.

Draft zero can be the source of the best kind of inspiration; it just needs work. Veteran authors implore, admonish, and plead for new writers to be patient and work through several revisions before self-publishing. And I have to admit, when I see the special offers for publishing newly scribbled works right after NaNo is over, I cringe. Better to focus on the special offers for editorial services. A manuscript critique. Something that shows the process of the writing life for real.

For me, there are always works in various stages of development. There is at least one draft zero to pick up when it’s ready. A manuscript in full form, going through a first deep edit. There’s always something to work on, and it’s great to be able to shift gears and work on another novel when I realize it’s time to give a work a time-out for a while.

Draft zero may need to live in your desk drawer—okay, old phrase—may need to live in the cloud—for a long time before you can work on it again. Like a barren planet being terraformed, or a peaty single malt scotch (I’m looking at you, Lagavulin!), draft zero needs time to reach the perfect state of being. No matter what, whether you hit that 50K or not at the end of the month, draft zero has the potential to be a winner.