Friday, November 12, 2010

My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

I haven't been asked to write a pep talk for National Novel Writing Month.  But writing something no one asked you to write is really the point of NaNoWriMo, isn't it?  So in the spirit of the month, I'll be doing it anyway.

At this point, you'll have become aware of several things (if you weren't already):
  1. Inspiration isn't enough...Writing is work. Sometimes, it is hard work.  Hollywood has done writers a great disservice by painting our lives in bright colors and swirling montages of inspired geniuses whipping paper out of a typewriter.  Sometimes, it can be like that.  Sometimes the muse wanders past, humming her little tune and you get to hum along. But not always, and often the muse is nowhere to be found.

    The fact is that what makes a writer isn't writing on the days when the muses are singing, what makes you a Writer is showing up to put words on a page even when she isn't.

  2. No one cares that you're writing a novel. Well... almost no one.  They did at first.  At the beginning of the novel-writing process everyone you know is rooting for you, cheering you on.  By the halfway point, they've mostly forgotten that you're doing it, and ere the end, wishing you'd just shut up about it and finish the damn thing already.  Writing is a lonely profession.  All the parties and writer's conferences and coffee shops in the world won't change the fact that in the end it's just you and a blinking cursor. 

    This is how the writer's critique group came into being.  Writer's communities, Twitter's #amwriting hash tag, message boards (like those on the NaNoWriMo site, when it's working), blogs like this one, and all the many ways to share your mid-noveling angst with other writers.   This month is meant to show you many things about novel-writing, one key element is the value of knowing other writers.

    Don't worry, I still want to hear about your novel.

  3. Characters don't always do as they're told.Characters are like children.  You made them, but you can't always make them do what you want them to when you want them to do it.  Though in this case, it's not because they have their own volition or live in their own parallel dimension from which you are simply taking dictation (though it may feel that way at times: See point 1) but because they are the sum of what you've put into them and they must use that to react to the story you plopped them down in the middle of.  The fears, prejudices, education and quirks you gave them will dictate how they react to events.  Sometimes, this internal logic will not be what you originally thought it would be.

    Go with it.  The goal is to get the story told in the most natural sequence of events you can imagine.  Sometimes this means letting the internal logic of your characters guide you.  That's why you created them.  Be proud of them and let them tell your story.

  4. Middles suck.  Beginning a story's relatively easy, ending one is easier; but getting from one to the other? Aye, there's the rub...  The middle part of your story is where it's easiest to get lost.  If you have to write down "And Then Something Funny Happens" (ATSFH) and go on to the next scene, do it. 

    Take a run at it and bull through.  It's a first draft, it doesn't have to be pretty.  Momentum is the only way to push through the middle and get to the really fun bit where everything goes to hell and your hero swoops in to save the National Peanut Putter Reserve from the terrorists.  (Or everyone is overcome by the ennui of a peanut butterless world and succumbs to the ineffability of jam, depending on what sort of novel you're writing.)
Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.  Thirty days! I might as well have quoted Lewis Carroll and said "We're all mad here!"

But that's the genius of the thing.  Thirty days is a short enough timespan that it's possible to begin, push through and finish while the muse's whistle is still hanging in the air.  Short enough that your family and friends won't grow too over-tired of hearing you complain about how hard this is.  And since the end is nigh from the outset, there's less impetus for your characters to wander off on side adventures

We are gathered here in this limited window when it seems the whole world is writing too, cheering us on long after our loved ones have started changing the subject.  Because the ultimate takeaway from this should be that you have the will to sit down and do it even when it's not easy.  That you can spend the time alone with your story, even when it's not working.  That you can create characters that will do for you, even if not the way you thought they would.  That you recognize the mass and momentum of your tale and that it will see you through this roughest of rough drafts.

And ultimately, finally, and most importantly, no one that you've ever heard of was asked to sit down and write their first novel. But they did it anyway.


1 comment:

  1. I'm nearly there, I'm nearly there, I'm nearly there...


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).