I’m thinking I should take this story somewhere, but I have very little time to develop any of my original writing. Let me know if you think it’s worth continuing.
I donâ€™t like reading. I donâ€™t read.
This isnâ€™t odd for a writer, especially a journalist.
Iâ€™m busy. I read my Blackberry and my bank statement and my travel itinerary.
Iâ€™m busy. I donâ€™t read.
Of course, the version of the truth Iâ€™m telling here – the version of myself Iâ€™m showing you – is an edited document, not the raw logs. If this were all there was of me, itâ€™d be fraught with chicken scratches and coffee stains and the faint taint of nicotine and sweat.
Oh, and the regular smudge of newsprint.
See, I lied. I still read the paper. Every morning. Front page to Obits and even the lingering glances at the Personals.
Habit is a powerful magnet. That and I love the smell of paper like other people enjoy Scotch or Cigar Smoke of New Car (or New Baby).
Scent being the sense with the strongest linkage to our memory, maybe Iâ€™m just trying to remember what itâ€™s like to be home. Have a real life and a real job.
Itâ€™s my Grandfatherâ€™s study and all those aromas are there. The scotch and smoke and new car scent (even my baby brotherâ€™s dirty diaper – not so fresh or new baby) all coalesce into that newsprint. Those pages. That heap of captured words and captioned pictures and comics and coupons.
Thatâ€™s me now.
A heap. Captured. Captioned. Comical. Handing a drink coupon to a stewardess on a flight to nowhere.
I havenâ€™t read the ticket. Donâ€™t know my itinerary. Donâ€™t know my assignment or the assignment editor.
Shut off the berry. Shut down. See you on the ground.
I’m not expressing regret that I didn’t win Bulwer-Lytton this year since I didn’t enter this year and haven’t entered ever.
I did want to highlight my two favorite entries as a means of building myself up for hopefully similar dizzying highs/terrifying lows in my own creative works tomorrow: Ficly Friday.
True, I haven’t participated yet this year, but I’m sure my output will equal these.
Take of that what you will.
The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor–the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn’t use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride.
Warren Blair Ashburn, VA
Towards the dragon’s lair the fellowship marched — a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from “Lord of the Rings.”
Andrew Manoske Foster City, CA
Take some time and read all of them. They’re quite brief – single sentences, obviously – and there are some “gems” in there.
They’ll also prepare you for the dreck I’m going to spew. 😉
I’ve participated in four consecutive years of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), beginning in 2005, and this is the first time I’ve crossed the 50,000 word threshold and “won” so that should tell you something about just how daunting a task it is to write an entire novel in 30 days, if you didn’t already know.
I went for a mixture of comedy and tragedy in a novel I described, as a tongue-in-cheek elevator pitch, as “Superbad meets Crime and Punishment”. If you think about it, that’s lofty company in both camps. I may have been setting myself up for failure, but I wanted to aim high.
This year was no different than 2005 – 2007, except for the fact that I finished.
Same lack of time. Same familial responsibilities and duties that hedged in to my writing time. Same late nights. Different result.
First, I think I finally found my angry place and went there. Part of what was holding me back was, quite honestly, me. I’d listen to my inner demons and let them direct me towards TV or surfing or just general apathy and major boredom (Thanks, Ben Folds!). I literally wasn’t giving myself a chance to win because I hadn’t planned a way to spend the requisite time physically sitting down and writing. It may only be 1,667 words a day but failing to plan for that actuality means a few days of missed deadlines equals 5,000 words, which is both daunting and demoralizing.
Lesson 1: Follow your muse, write ahead, bank the ideas and don’t stop when you’re on a roll.
That first lesson is a hard one to learn. You really do have to clear 3 or 4 hours on your calendar some days to write well and accomplish something. Even if you end up getting to 1,667 and stopping after only 30 minutes, you’ve “found” some time. You need to “find” time at the outset and enjoy getting it back when/where you can.
Lesson 2: Cheat (within the rules)
I’m not talking about importing someone else’s work or using something you’ve already written, but am suggesting taking shortcuts to meet your word count.
Quote some song lyrics or have your character sing in the shower. Recite biblical passages or have a preacher do likewise. Write a poem or any other form of writing apart from prose to break your mental lock.
Nothing kills momentum like good, old-fashioned writer’s block and the only sure way out of it is just to write. In a competition like NaNoWriMo, quantity trumps quality every single time. All of these ideas ARE NOT CHEATING per the rules and were actually given as advice by the helpful staff and guest authors.
Lesson 3: Don’t go it alone
I wasn’t too keen on following my advice or learning this lesson at all, but it’s important. Whether you have an album or playlist that helps you focus, a trusted friend competing alongside you or you’re the type (like me) that has to tune out all distractions by turning off all other media, have some kind of support structure around you.
I’m lucky that I have an incredibly supportive wife and some family members as a cheering section, but whatever will help you out the most, cling to it with all your life. There were times that I lashed out and got gruesome because things weren’t going my way, but I didn’t abandon hope or the support structure that worked for me. It’s not always people but things or rituals that can be your solace; let it/them help you.
Lesson 4: There is no lesson 4/keep your wits and sense of humor about you
If nothing else, NaNoWriMo taught me that, whatever external baggage I had heaped on top of it, it’s merely a competition to reach 50,000 words. 49,998 of those could have been “I” and the last two could be “Love You” and it would still pass muster. It wouldn’t exactly be the keenest narrative or commentary on the world – it wouldn’t be the “Next Great America Novel” – but you’d still win.
This Lesson (that isn’t a lesson) was hard for me. My version of not going it alone relied a bit too heavily on going it alone, without real people. It ultimately worked for me, but only following a prolonged, bitter outburst, a horrible weekend (maybe two), two late-night, five-hour writing sessions and 29 days. Which is to say, I’m still learning all of these lessons even as I type this post.
Part of the great learning and writing I did do came out of positive times I was describing, or the joy I found in having made time to write amidst all my other prerequisites. The fact that I could laugh and smile and play was born out on the page. I didn’t tag those moments mentally or in the document itself, but I think I can spot them upon reading and re-reading what I wrote.
Would have I done anything differently? Sure, but I don’t know that I could have. Sometimes you have to run the race first to know how you should have been strategizing all along.
In the future there are definite plans I could, and will make, should I write another “novel”. I’ll definitely outline the work, but also outline the time I’ll spend writing and share it with my loved ones. Setting expectations is key and another document shouldn’t be hard; you’ll be (I’ll be) writing a novel, what’s a few more words.
As far as next steps, I don’t think I’m brave enough just yet to share my masterpiece. One, because I think it’s complete and utter shit, and that’s not me being facetious or humble or overly negative, it’s me being honest. I don’t like the final product because my expectation are different than those outlined in the competition. I didn’t just want the words, I wanted the magic, I wanted the NOVEL!
All that said, I’ll probably put it on the blog or share the actual document on Google Docs to those who are so inclined to read and give feedback/constructive criticism. Leave a comment if you’re curious (morbidly or otherwise).
For a final thought I want to provide a metaphor for writing a novel, especially writing 50,000 words in 30 days, that occurred to me at around the 2/3 mark. Writing long-form prose is like being a sculptor if the sculptor had to create the rock out of grains of sand first and THEN whittle it down into its final form. You’re really playing God in writing and you have to build up and then tear down to get anything worthwhile. I know now that I’m at the creation stage and that, if I were to turn the NaNoWriMo into the work I’d eventually like to create, I’d get my chisel out and start hacking. Right now, though, I think the hackery is best left alone, there was enough hacking just to hack up what I put on virtual paper.
I’m proud, yes, of running the race and crossing the finish line but I want to think of myself as the winner of the Boston Marathon terms of potential and while competing in this half marathon of sorts is nice and finishing is admirable, they’re two different types of athletes and athletic competitions and I’m thankful to know I can at least be amateur level. But I want to go pro in the worst way, maybe not at long distance running, but in some discipline that involves moving my feet. Speed walking? Track & Field? Line dancing? I’m killing a metaphor here and not softly, but you get the drift.
Anyhow, if you’ve come this far you really love me and my writing so it’s a possibility you’d actually like what I wrote last month. It’s just as crazy, on that I can deliver on my promise.
Whether or not I compete again next year or in some other year is up for grabs, but for the near future I’ll be writing here. I enjoy it as I enjoyed NaNoWriMo 2008, so it can’t suck too bad if I have a good time, right?
That whole Ficlet Friday experiment? Yeah, it was fun while it lasted but it seems as though I, along with everyone else, let it whither in the Summer Sun.
Sorry. If I’m blogging about writing – fiction writing – don’t deny me an allusion.
Cut to last night’s iPhone/iTunes update. I get an email from Chris @ NaNoWriMo about some site upgrade or another and it reminds me that while we may be 7 weeks away from the general election, we’re closer still to the start of NaNoWriMo.
And this is the year I finish. This is the year I write like I’ve been exercising: daily This is the year it goes into a document, not into the void or a dream or a lazy cubicle chat with a colleague.
Rather than continue making declarative statements that may not come true, I’ll link to a Psychology Today piece on creativity that induced both head-shaking agreement and head-shaking bewilderment. Why are creatives (and I’m being generous to lump myself in here) such dichotomies?
So how should I harness these dual impulses inside me to create … whatever it is I’m creating.
Art? A novel? (Hopefully) Prose? This blog post? (Definitely)
I’m thinking the solution, which came to me via Bump, is going to be Evernote.
Simple. Multi-purpose (good for grocery lists AND late-night ideas). Multi-platform (Web & iPhone app)
Here’s the first “creative” thing I’ve captured using Evernote. Let’s hope I give it enough food and water to grow:
The fight isn’t the last stand It’s the first stanza
Granted it’s only a fragment, a strand, a shard of an inkling of something larger, but I like it. For the moment.
My point is that at least the moment was captured. If I revise or delete or reverse or reconfigure later, the fact remains that I had the raw materials to begin with.
While I may feel sorry – surprisingly not too much – about the Ficlet Fridays petering out, I’m happy that, for the first time, I’m confident and assured by some semblance of process going in to NaNoWriMo.
Earlier today I had a chat that challenged my reasoning for wanting/needing to write. I had to discuss my motivations and really think hard about the desired outcome of all this output.
Do I want to be published? Do I need the validation (to say nothing of wanting it)? Do I define success already? Do I do what I do well enough already? Do I have a process?
There was talk of reading (Imagine that! Folks who want to learn to writer better talking of the bi-product of writing: reading) some helpful texts, specifically Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
We also tossed around Ficlets (I know; I’m a broken record), bed-side notebooks, blogs, Twitter and “safe places”.
Deep, I know.
I’m focusing on a few key takeaways:
Who(m) else I would include in this circle
Concrete goals for my writing efforts/endeavors
Finding more time
Having more fun
Sharing more of my writing
Planning for additional meetings – both in frequency and length, but also purpose
Which is not to say I’m all business. Notice ‘fun’ is enumerated. That’s a sure sign that ‘fun’ will occur: writing it down on a list.
“You kids will have fun whether you like it or not” kind of a deal.
I also want to focus on the opposite goal: getting something written. Kinda obvious for a guy who wants to be a writer, but hard when I work full-time and have a wife and two young kids.
Still, I have enough snippets, thoughts, stray story-starters and ideas that, when added to my nightly allotment of WoW time should equal productivity in the form of characters, words, sentences, paragraphs and pages.