In an interview, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, said that there are all these stories wandering around up in the Ether that are just waiting to be written, and if you don’t write them, if you don’t act as a conduit to help them enter the world, they’ll find someone who will. Don’t let someone else write your story, she warns.
Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t “win.” Well, that’s not exactly right. I didn’t “win” in the sense that I didn’t write 50,000 words. I wrote something like 33,000, which was 33,000 more than I had ever written before. I considered it a win. My story was bizarre. It evolved rapidly. My main character was modeled loosely after someone who fascinated me. But then something odd happened. Another character emerged. One who hadn’t existed in my imagination before, and well, he demanded to be written. He wanted to exist. And then, he wanted to take over the whole bloody novel.
It was quite unsettling.
Maybe I’ve been rebelling. My novel’s not about you, I think to this character. I don’t even know who you are. Where did you come from? Why are you here? And now you want to take over everything?
Several months have gone by. Almost a full year. Things have happened. But now, scenes from my story are bubbling up in my consciousness. What happens next? What did I leave out? There seems to be new inspiration. A character wants to be written. Or developed. A nagging has begun. I haven’t looked at the story since November of last year, and now out of nowhere, it’s begun to call me back. There’s a depth of feeling that I must still have. Write us, they are clamoring. We want to live.
First of all, congratulations are in order to everyone who completed the NaNoWriMo and actually wrote 50,000 words. To give some idea of how much that is, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is about 45,000 words long. So good job!
There are some mixed feelings out on the web about National Novel Writing Month. As for myself, I thought it was a great experience (for me) for the following reasons:
It made me commit to writing every day.
I realized that a month is both a very long time and a very short time.
The tight deadline forced me to make decisions about my plot, character names, etc. that I would have put off for eternity.
It prompted me to find writing guides that would help me get over the hurdles of plot creation.
It prompted me to learn new things about how to write a novel.
It gave me a great excuse to say: Sorry, I need this time to write.
I wound up with more than 33,000 words (over 70 pages single-spaced)…(it’s not over yet; I’ll be working on it today)
I got an idea of what it’s like to write a novel. (It’s terrifying, long, tedious, tiresome, mind-bending, and exhilarating.)
I discovered the value of working incrementally. While 1667 words a day was too much for me, 1000 words a day was fine.
It opened up my imagination.
It helped me silence the inner critic and realize that everyone has an inner critic that is just as awful as mine.
It helped me admit that I want to do this. I want to write a novel. That’s a hard thing to say out loud or even in my head.
It gave me an opportunity to dump all these ideas that have been wandering around in my mind for years onto the page and see what happens.
It taught be the value of being brave.
So, I bought a coffee cup from the good folks at NaNoWriMo. I’m not sure that counts as a donation because I didn’t get the little halo around my avatar, but oh well. 🙂
Today, I’m off to finish up what I can. I’ll add some more words until I feel like I have everything in the novel that I need. Then I will print the whole thing out, read it, and write notes all over it—because it’s nowhere near done. Someone somewhere suggested flipping through magazines and looking for pictures that relate to the novel. This is supposed to active the right brain and spur more creativity. I might do that too. And my writing space is a mess. I need to put things in order.
Tomorrow, I’ll get back to my regular posting about books and short stories.
Tonight, I’ll post my final word count here: 33,453
Early this morning, the question occurred to me: But why do I want Pierre to inherit everything? Why do I feel sorry for him, to the tune of 40,000 serfs and a whole bunch of land? He has just tied a policeman to the back of a bear for crying out loud.
Then it struck me. Probably other authors do this all the time, but Tolstoy was banging me over the head with it. Silly me. It took me 93 pages to notice. I feel sorry for Pierre because the snobs of the book are talking bad about him. He’s a bastard, through no fault of his own, of course. His father was a wretched playboy that poor Pierre doesn’t even know. And here’s Pierre forced into these social games by his mother. He’s flailing about, not knowing the intricacies of what he should or shouldn’t say, when, and so forth, and surrounded by pretentious, judging snobs that want to take all of his father’s money. And his father, who he doesn’t even really know is dying. The result? Poor Pierre!
Of course! I’m hitting myself over the head. Of course.
I figured out how to “read” War and Peace: books on tape. This will save my eyes and allow me to do other things while “reading.” Audible.com let’s you download one book for free for its trial period, which you can cancel at any time. So I’m gonna try it.
BTW, War and Peace takes 60 hours to complete.
This is not ideal, of course. I would much rather read the book, but I don’t see how that’s possible given the other things I have to do. So technology will have to come to my aid.
When you feel like you’re not going to achieve a goal, it makes you feel like quitting. That’s how I’ve been feeling. At just under 23,000 words, I’ve been asking myself if I want to take a break from this.
Then I think, well it’s only ten more days. Maybe I should just hang in there for ten more days. What could it hurt?
Keeping the pressure on has prompted me to think about my novel every single day. I write in spurts, for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. This works when I already have a clear idea of what’s happening. This doesn’t work when I don’t. I’m learning how to actively think and solve problems. So my NaNoWriMo schedule looks like this:
Afternoon: Think (An hour during lunch. This involves drawing pictures.)
Books that have been invaluable guides for me have been:
Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques to Ensure a Great First Draft by Laura Whitcomb
Building Better Plots by Robert Kerner
These books have been great resources, and I highly recommend them. Every time I get stumped, I thumb through their pages and find ways to get unstuck.
Today, I made myself focus on my theme. The books say to sum up your theme in a sentence. What was my theme? I wanted it to have some kind of push and pull between science and mystery, between knowing and not knowing, between things that you want to know and things you should never know, and the responsibility that comes with knowledge.
I wanted to say that mystery is essential for humans to remain human. On and on I went, driving myself crazy. I thought about the symbols I had set up in my story to represent these ideas. I wrote them down on a sheet of a paper and considered opposites. Mystery vs. Knowledge, Good vs. Evil, Life vs. Death, Happiness vs. Sadness, and so forth. But in the end, I think I came up with something interesting. Something that can apply to all of my characters as a unifying theme. It’s a little odd, so I like it.
The next thing I did was figure out a device. A device is a way of organizing and presenting the novel, such as how Dracula is written as a series of diary entries and letters. So after some thought about my theme and about contrasts, I think I came up with an original device. At least I haven’t seen it before. It’s probably not original, but it fits, and maybe it will add interest and creativity.
So now, my inner critic is taking a new tact. Instead of attacking me personally, which it was doing early on in the project, it’s now telling me I don’t have enough time/energy to really think these things out. To do the best job. To pull it off.
So what do I have to say to that?
Maybe not, but I’m the only one I know with these ideas and if I don’t put them down on paper, who will? And now that I’ve conceived them, I want them to live. So maybe I can’t do them justice. I’m not experienced. I’m not a genius. But I do have grit. I have the gift of not having it handed to me, of having to struggle. Maybe my weaknesses will work to my benefit—in the end.
Maybe now I should focus on my villain. He’s a hard one to write. He’s selfish, egotistical, and supercilious, but he has some good points too. I suppose it’s a place to start.
This morning around 5 a.m., I passed the 20,000 word mark. From here on out, every new word is a first. I’m really hoping that now that I have this thing off the ground, I can land it safely.
It’s time for Tony Robbins.
Surely, you mean Tom Robbins? you say.
No, although, I would love to meet Tom Robbins. No joke!
I plan to be rereading Tom in December to address the finer points of my writing project.
Today, it’s time for Tony. If you’re like me, you may have seen some informercials with Tony Robbins and found that a bit of a turn off. Yeah, me to. But wait a minute. This guy has been around for years. He has served as a consultant for presidents and major athletes. And his is still around. He must have something to say.
It’s no secret that I love TED Talks. And the other day, I was listening to a TED podcast about success. There was Tony Robbins and I started to listen. And you know what? I really enjoyed listening to what he had to say. And, I found it motivational.