Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving

It's November, which means it's time for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Which also means it's time for me to feel vaguely guilty for not participating in NaNoWriMo.

Because I think NaNoWriMo is a great idea. I'm all for giving writers the incentive to push hard and fast and finish a story, whether that story's been stuck at chapter four, or at the outline stage, or is still just floating around in the writer's head. I've been there: I spent years working on a very early (and very terrible) version of my debut novel - and for much of that time I just tinkered with the same dozen-or-so scenes, over and over again. At some point - shortly before a milestone birthday, I won't say which one - I realized this was never going to get the book actually written and completed.

That's where the beauty of NaNoWriMo lies - it provides that motivation to get out of bad writing habits and eliminate distractions so that you get the bulk of a first draft down. Notice I didn't say that you finish your novel. NaNoWriMo just gets you through the first draft (and if you're writing a long novel, you may have more to write. You still need to stash the book in a drawer for a while, read it through with fresh eyes, edit, edit some more, edit yet again, give it to beta readers, gather their feedback, implement their feedback, edit again, and give it to someone to copyedit and proofread. Maybe we can make January the National Novel Editing Month?

I'll be honest, though, the main reason I don't participate in NaNoWriMo is because of the "No" part. November's a busy month for me because of Thanksgiving. I particularly look forward to Thanksgiving because I enjoy the cooler weather and the opportunity to cook for a lot of people. I've had some people think I'm nuts because I like to prepare the entire feast, but to me it's comforting.

  • I usually have the feast on the day after Thanksgiving. My guests are all friends, as my family is too far away, and this gives them the chance to spend the day itself with their own families, and then come over to my house for Thanksgiving 2: Turkey Boogaloo.
  • Having the feast on Friday also gives me an extra day to prep. I can spend Thanksgiving day itself making pie and cornbread and other make-aheads at my leisure. 
  • While I do prepare the whole meal, I don't make everything from scratch. I get frozen pie crust for my pumpkin pies; I order an apple pie for my blaspheming friends who do not like pumpkin pie; I buy bread rolls at the store; I use Williams-Sonoma turkey gravy base for the gravy. 
  • Similarly, I use the cranberry sauce out of the can. I am not a huge fan of cranberry sauce, so I asked the friends who do like it whether I should track down a fun recipe for it. To a man they all said the stuff from the can was fine with them. I extricate it from the can so that it's in the perfect shape of the can, and then put it in my fanciest crystal dish - it sits there on the table looking ridiculous and amusing the guests until dinner time.
  • My turkey is simple but delicious. I just rub it with a thyme-and-rosemary butter rub and chuck some herbs and onion into the bottom of the pan. I've tried brining and some other fancy tricks, but the herb butter rub gets me the best results.
  • Now that I've made a number of Thanksgiving feasts, they're not that daunting. There are two main challenges that always exist. 
    • Getting all the side dishes ready and turkey carved at the same time. Thanksgiving is a flurry of prep at the beginning and a whirlwind of prep at the end. In between those prep times is a long period of loitering in the kitchen, nibbling on things, and having some wine. 
    • Which leads us to challenge 2 - having just enough wine to make the loitering and basting enjoyable (not to mention taking one's mind off one's aching feet) but not enough so that you forget a side dish or two (a scenario that's happened to at least one person I know). It helps with the second challenge to pace yourself with a good wine that you'll feel guilty about gulping, and save the silly sweet stuff you got at off an end cap at the Trader Joe's for after dinner, when even the teetotalers are drunk on food anyway and no one will notice that you are pixillated.
  • There is always room for pie. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Feel free to leave me a comment about how you like to spend your Thanksgiving!

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