Monday, November 22, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week Three (Going to School)

Thomas Rowlandson, "Dr. Syntax Visits a
Boarding School for Young Ladies," 1821.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Well! Currently at 10,973 words. I think it is very safe to say I will not be "winning" NaNo this year. That's ok. I am going to have a complete rough draft. Finally! I have one more big scene to fill in.

That being said, I haven't written a word since Thursday, when we attended a parent's night at my daughter's school. This was not routine. It was held in response to an ongoing situation in her class. Unfortunately, I did not hear what I needed to from the principal, who pretty much gave the parents the run around. It was very disappointing, and it raised the stakes for this week, when my daughter is visiting a private bilingual school for three days. It is the only school we've found that both fits our requirements and can take her in January. I so hope she likes it, and that they like her.

So this past weekend was totally focused on shoring up the family and doing my best to encourage good spirits in this week ahead. This amidst rising COVID cases (again) and my annual frantic attempt to recreate Thanksgiving abroad. I will be very well satisfied with a completed rough draft, thank you.

Disease and school: when Austen springs to mind upon the flimsiest of excuses, this one screams to be addressed. The good news is that, no matter how acute my daughter's current situation may feel, it is not fatal. Jane Austen's time at school did prove fatal to her aunt, however, which does a great deal to put my current concerns into perspective.

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School—not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. - Emma, Chapter Three

Austen went to two different school in her formative years. The first, Mrs. Crawley's school in Oxford, she was sent to in 1782, when only seven years old. Maybe she refused to be parted from Cassandra, also on her way as a companion to their cousin, Jane Cooper, maybe not. This was the explanation Mrs. Austen used to employ when questioned on the subject.

While the three girls attended, the location of the school was relocated to Southampton, due to a measles outbreak in Oxford. But bad luck followed them and a "putrid fever" soon swept through the school.  Perhaps this was diphtheria. Jane Cooper wrote home (no communication from Mrs. Crawley 😡), and Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Austen went to Southampton to rescue their girls. The girls all recovered, but Mrs. Cooper was dead from the infection within the year. 

Side note: we now routinely provide diphtheria vaccinations to babies. Isn't that wonderful?

This experience didn't totally sour the Austens on female education, and both girls were sent to another school for a year or so, largely remembered by history for its fraudulent French mistress. This experience proved less dramatic, but the adult Austen expressed a negative opinion of girl's schools and the superficiality of the education obtained at such institutions. Proper education, she repeatedly implies, is gained through extensive reading. 

I love it when history puts my own sorry woes into such clear and stark contrast. My daughter will undoubtedly receive an education, a right only recently guaranteed to children, let alone girls, who are still denied this opportunity in too many parts of the world. This is a great blessing, and I never want to take it for granted. My daughter is unlikely to contract a deathly disease while at school, though certainly more likely than she was a few years ago. This is also (mostly) a blessing. Thank goodness for modern medicine! And on that note, I'm going to try and write this last scene. It just so happens to begin in a Regency Era girl's school (it was recommended by Mr. Darcy, so you know it is one of the better examples of this sort of establishment). How perfectly synchronistic! Til next week ...

Monday, November 15, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week Two (In the ballroom)

Hmmm. As of 9:45 AM, Monday morning, I still have no stunning results to share, though I have, at least, passed last year's total. Let's see if I can't make this number slightly less abysmal before this post goes live, shall we? I shall report back. In the meantime, I require inspiration.

Balls, balls, balls. My NaNoWriMo social calendar is excessively full. Most of the scenes needing to be written take place in the ballroom, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. Maybe I should rename this book Dancing at Pemberley? But no: I want to have the continuity of the Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice name, so it is clear that this is a rewrite. This is, of course, assuming Amazon doesn't give me a hard time about the title. Think it's worth the fight?

But I digress (or procrastinate, take it as you will). I need ballroom inspiration to set the scene through at least three more I'm writing into the book. Most of these are Twelfth Night balls, which I have proclaimed an annual Pemberley tradition. So first things first: what would they be wearing? This is a bit of a mess, for some torturous reason I have set the opening scene in 1791, at a time when fashions were rapidly changing (read more about it here). Just compare these two portraits by George Romney, painted four years apart.

Mrs. Mark Currie, 1791.

Anna Maria Hunt, 1793.

So I am envisioning a mix of styles on this occasion, the older people still in wigs and panniers, while the younger guests have long abandoned powder and voluminous skirts for those styles that are the precursors to the Regency fashions we all love so much. By the time Elizabeth has become Mrs. Darcy and is making her debut in society, her attire might have looked something like this:

La Belle Assemblée, 1811.

Now, what would they have been listening/dancing too? This changed less drastically over the years, though the waltz (which I wrote about here) was becoming fashionable towards the end of my tale. This playlist should keep me in the right mood for a while, at least:

At twenty til noon, I am at 6,936 words. Pretty pathetic, but I did finished the opening ball scene, so I can abandon the 18th century for the far more familiar 19th. That's progress. I really don't think I'll hit the 50,000 word goal. Honestly, if I just walk away with a complete first draft, I will be very well satisfied. But, hypothetically, if I were to write another 43,064 words this month, I would need to clock over 2,800 words every day for the rest of the month. My current average is 455. It's not impossible. I have done it before. Let's see where I am in a week ...

Monday, November 8, 2021

NaNoWriMo Update: Week One

Hello to all, and a special thanks to those of you left messages of support last week. It was very encouraging.

The first week wasn't half bad. I logged a rather unimpressive 3,302 words, but there are mitigating circumstances that make me feel pretty good about what I have accomplished, even as the overall word count fails to inspire:

  • I had not even opened the document since December 2020, a fact I was rather shocked to realize when I retrieved the file in a week ago. I have mostly been rereading the 150,000 words I already wrote. I am about 2/3rds through.
  • I have been coping with a very difficult situation at my daughter's school, which necessarily eats up a healthy chunk of my free time, as well as draining me emotionally. There is no resolution in sight, and the fact that I am able to write at all is, frankly, amazing. Maybe things will look brighter on this front next week (I've got my fingers crossed).
  • I am within 1000 words of beating my abysmal total word count from 2020. The numbers might be small, but this is an important goal. It means I'm on the right track, if nothing else.
This week I will finish reading the document and starting composing the new scenes in my head. If I'm lucky, they'll simply pour forth. I'll let you know how it goes.

Until then, some inspiration:

Monday, November 1, 2021

NaNoWriMo begins today ...

I actually have a pretty awesome NaNoWriMo track record. 2012 was the first year I participated, and it was spontaneous. I created my account November 1st and wrote 50,042 words, just sneaking past the goal line on the last day of the month. 2013 was better. I soared past the official 50,000 word goal logging a total of 82,122 words! How did I do that? Oh, yeah. I nearly lost my mind.

In 2014 I wrote 57,626 words. I took 2015 off to move to Europe. In 2016, I snuck in 50,080 words while 8 months pregnant. In 2017, with an almost one year old at my feet, I wrote an impressive 76,706 words. I held strong in 2018, with 54,125 words logged.

All this is important to remember, because the last three years have been pretty abysmal. Obviously, I can't blame the pandemic for my total lack of participation in 2019 (I think I was studying for a German exam? That sounds good. Let's stick with it), but I can totally blame the pandemic for my poor showing in 2020, when I didn't even log 5,000 words! That is such a disheartening number, especially with my history with this event, and especially with all the other many challenges I was juggling through those years of NaNo success. My path isn't exactly clear and easy for 2021. What is to say it will go any better?

Well, I have been writing this year, unlike last year, even if not as much as I should. With my partner back in the office at least occasionally, and the kids' school schedules usually pretty predicable, my brain has been able to reorganize itself to some degree. Blogging weekly here has been very helpful, and I feel deep gratitude to those of you who stop by regularly and maybe even sometimes comment. It makes me feel more accountable to someone beyond my tiny family circle, where so much of my attention remains fixated. I've been having fun working on the Mixed-Up Mashup piece (I'm still rather amazed to find myself reengaged in this long-abandoned train wreck), though I do not have near enough time to devote to it as I would like. 

From where will this time miraculously materialize? I haven't the foggiest. I've made no special arrangements to write this month, beyond asking the man to go into the office a few extra times. A shake up in my daughter's schooling is consuming a vast deal of time and energy, thoroughly squashing my pipe dream of escaping alone to a cottage for a few days to write. And I haven't picked up my poor Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice manuscript, which will be my project for the third time running, since last year. I plan to reread it this weekend, amidst all the Halloween hoopla. Good luck to me!

But I am supposed to be building myself up, and all this self-defeating talk is throughly contradictory to that goal. How about this? Since this blog is functioning like an accountability buddy anyway, maybe I make that relationship explicit this month? I will report back here each Monday with my progress, however little or much. Perhaps it will serve to keep me motivated. There are NoNoWriMo tools intended to do this, but they feel like procrastination fodder to me. I do like the timed writing sprints, but I'm not even sure they are still featured on the site. 

If any of you (and I have a few suspects in mind) are NaNoWriMoing this year, please make sure we are buddies. My profile name is Alexa Adams. Easy enough. 

Oh. And though it has barely maintained the slightest presence in my thoughts, I did offer a giveaway. And the winner is: Mary Smythe! Congratulations Mary. I'll be in touch soon.

Now it's time to write. Please wish me luck! I'm gonna need it.