Tuesday, November 22, 2011

National Novel Writing Month Continues

There is something to be said for writing fast and furiously instead of stopping to think about what I want to say. During November, I don’t have time to linger over what I write; I just write.

Good stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff that right now I can’t tell if it’s good or bad. And not including what I write for work, or pep talks I write to send out to my region for NaNo (for more information, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org).

I realized today that I think of my stories as female. If Mother Nature is female, why can’t my stories be? I wrote a pep talk last week for my region, and talked about the wall you hit at a certain point in this process (excerpted here – I’m sure you’ll catch the female reference):

Are you feeling stuck? Have you hit the wall, and just feel so over your story and/or characters? Has their bright shiny new world tarnished? Is a better story weaving its siren song into your creative mind, and you just know that if you start this one, you’ll finish with ease as the words just pour out?

Don’t give in to the flirty new story shaking its pretty characters and sinful plot at you. You will grow weary of them at some point, and they too will become tiresome; you will think fondly (dare I say wistfully?) of the story you want to callously disregard now.

Throw in a circus or a gun or a posse of clowns (or a posse of clowns waving guns at a circus) – they don’t have to stay, and probably won’t - but they do act as a stimulant to the imagination. You want to break through a log jam if you’re stuck. Just dealing with them and having to make a sentence about them will get the fingers moving and that will lead to good stuff. Even if, or especially if, they are not part of your story. The point is to get unstuck, not to write the great American novel. That comes later.

I write mysteries, so I am prone to throwing in a gun, or a bad guy, or another dead body (cause of death to be determined). The hard part is continuing to the end, but I persevere. I want to finish, I want to have a crappy first draft to revise; I want to be published.

I have been writing a lot more than usual these past few weeks, and not just because of NaNo. I had two articles for a local weekly newspaper to write, in addition to work and outside writing projects. One of the writing projects was proofreading a novella, another was formatting a novella and two short stories for an e-book, and another project is editing the first draft of a manuscript for grammar and punctuation.

The upshot? I really love writing. I like taking a blank page, and decorating it with the words that convey a situation, an emotion, a story. I have learned a lot about my own writing, and that I know more about story structure than I thought I did.

The hardest part of learning to write is knowing if/when you are making progress. I read what I write now and it is better than what I wrote last year. I am better at conveying what is in my mind, and how to get it on the page.

My editor at the newspaper helped me, by asking a couple of questions and by highlighting what she wanted me to cut – if I agreed with her. In an article by Reed Farrel Coleman, Reed says that what he writes are just words, not darlings or babies. If they need to be cut, so be it (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the gist) – the point is not to be so attached to them that you take offense when someone suggests perhaps you could do better. That’s what revision is for: to make it better.

I received an email from the subject of my first article – he liked it, and said it looked great! He probably would have liked the way it was submitted to my editor, but I think her input made it stronger. The end result was all that mattered.

The end result of NaNo is having 50,000 words to work with, words I didn’t have on November 1. The point is to make it through to the end of the story, and let the agony come later.

I can’t wait to make it better.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November is National Novel Writing Month

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? The goal is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. If that sounds challenging, it is. It breaks down to 1,667 words/day over the course of 30 days. 

I have participated in NaNo since 2004, and I have been an ML (Municipal Liaison) since 2005. Being an ML is fun; it has all the glamour of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, plus the delight of organizing Kick-Off and TGIO (Thank God It's Over) parties and weekly Write-Ins. I schedule the Kick-Off party and Write-Ins within easy access of caffeine. The TGIO party has always been where adults have easy access to adult beverages if they so choose, as well as tasty snacks. 

I use the time to write a first draft of a WIP (Work in Progress). It's a great way for me to work out the kinks in a story I've been mulling over for some time, to see if it has legs on its own or if it needs beefing up. The process is also illuminating, in that when you are writing so fast, the internal editor really doesn't stand a chance of being heard; that's not a bad thing. Without NaNo, I am prone to polishing the first few chapters so they shine brightly, while the following chapters suffer from the lack of TLC.

I have also been surprised by what comes out when you're just in the flow, or writing zone. Your subconscious takes over and sends some good stuff out and onto the page. There is also, as in any first draft, a lot of crap that will be left by the wayside once the revision process begins.

By November 30, my butt and my mind are happy to have another task to look forward to: our annual Sausage Party, where we make - from scratch and by hand - Italian sausage. 

It's been said that sausage and law are two things you never want to see being made, and rightly so. How did I come to be so familiar with the former? That's a story for another day.