If anyone out there is still listening, I apologize for my eight-month absence, but I’ve finally given birth (prematurely, I might add) to my first novel thanks to nanowrimo, a dandy little exercise in pain, humiliation, self-motivation and the limitations of caffeine.
Bottom line, it meant tapping out about 1,700+ words a day during the entire month of November, which is complicated by the fact that it is my second-busiest month of the year at work and full of other friendly distractions, like Thanksgiving. I spent almost the entire month about 2,000 words behind (you can track your progress on the site), but, thanks to some marathon sessions over the long weekend, I managed to finish a day early and several words over the 50,000-word goal (instead of a day late and a dollar short, as is my wont).
I admit I hesitated at signing up, at committing to having a short novel (and 50k is short) by the end of the month. I have rooms full of unfinished projects, piles of yarn and fabric and paper and books, with two abandoned master’s degrees lodged in there somewhere. The Spouse just rolls his eyes when I announce a new goal. But I really wanted to do this. I wanted this off my Life List. And I somehow managed to pull it off.
It is, of course, my roman à clef, my thinly veiled autobiography (well, maybe 30 percent of it anyway), which Maud Newton (who is attempting a similar feat in her own first novel) in a well-timed blogpost suggests that we all have to get out of our systems before we can do any REAL writing. As a measure of what constitutes real writing, Maud leaves it to her hero, Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
Wanna read it? Well, you can’t. This baby is UGLY. It isn’t even close to being done. There’s even a bunch of stuff that I’ve got to get rid of, little stories and anecdotes that pleased me at the time but don’t do anything to move the plot forward. In fact, the more autobiographical parts are the least interesting. I was at my best during November when I sat down and just let the characters loose, when I was able to get out of my own way, as Jane puts it. For a few glorious moments, it actually got to be a little Zen.
I hope to have a full draft by the end of December, and then I’ll start the real rewrite, including a bunch of research, fact-checking and some field trips.
I’ll definitely do it again. Next November, I’ll issue a call for y’all to join me.
Oh, fine. That’s just peachy. While such advice might work for some of you great minds out there, I frequently have days — like, TODAY, for example — when the contents of my skull must resemble COTTON CANDY.
So how does one jump start the old gray matter? Freelance Folder has a particularly good list of some original suggestions, including:
Write ‘crap’ without feeling guilty. We tend to assume that great writers write great stuff all the time. Face it — they don’t. Professional writers write even when nothing but crap comes out because they know that it’s part of the journey to getting the real gems. Steve Allen said to “write for the trash can,” meaning write without reservations about what people might think, just to keep your writing skills in shape. Try it when you’re feeling stuck — it really works.
I know this to be a widely used technique, because I have slogged through enough blogs that are comprised largely of “crap” — and their poor authors don’t know the difference. If they’d taken another look at their posts on another day, they might have seen the bits of gold glittering through all the dross. They don’t care enough about their writing to make it better.
Certainly, writing “on the fly” is one of the heady hallmarks of the Blogosphere, where everyone shoots from the hip, often in hopes of provoking a debate. But I’ve found I’m much happier with my posts when I let an hour — or a day — lapse between hitting “Save” and “Publish” (or, in a few memorable cases, “Delete”).
As one of my English teachers always intoned, “There’s no good writing, just good rewriting.”
And if you’re still stumped for content, I have the perfect, never-fail, crap-proof solution:
Please tell me a story. PLEASE. We’re all children at heart. We all love stories. A good story will help me tell my own story. Tell me about your best day, your worst boss, your biggest disappointment, your scariest moment, your first job, your brush with death, or fame. Tell me how you overcame your agoraphobia, your cancer or your eating disorder, or how you knew when it was time to leave your marriage. Please, tell me how you managed to cope with this grab-bag of experiences called Life.
I promise I’ll read it. PROMISE.