Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don't Know Much About Writin'...

Don't do a NaNo without them I crib from other people. NaNoWriMo is looming, with four weeks to go before my self-imposed "get my crap together" October deadline. I was by chance given a copy of Stephen King's On Writing which was recommended in the discussion on my July post about must-read titles on writing aimed at the novice writer like yours truly. The recommendation wasn't in vain, this was certainly a keeper, destined to be set in a pile next to the typewriter when I feel the need to Look Serious.

It's probably a touch of selective memory at work, but there seems to be common threads among the books I like, so I'm going to take a stab at summarizing them here. Some of the books are what I'd call very NaNo-compatible, especially encouraging for the once-yearly hobbyist fiction novelist:

Plot is Overrated...

It's never said directly, but at least three of the books I read talk about stepping out of the way of your characters, and giving them time and space to decide what the story is about, and what direction it's going to take. I've got Major Plot Points worked out for this year, but they look more like scenes in my head, places where character X meets up with character Y and they have a conversation or plan or something. It's like watching a silent movie, and I'm not letting myself read lips until November. Getting out of the way of your characters and permitting them free reign on the page is a common theme.

...but a Little Structure Won't Kill You

There's a lot of division on outlining/not-outlining, or generally trying to steer the story in a fixed direction. I went too far into the "let's see what happens" realm last year, and eventually the story just kind of fizzled. I wasn't quite brave enough to introduce story ninjas at that point ("suddenly ninjas dropped from the ceiling") but just skipped over the deadwood and wrote up the ending. I don't deal well with self-made chaos, so trying to make a nightly word-count without some story landmark to steer by... well, it wasn't fun. I'm hoping to avoid that this year by laying out at least the big silent-movie scenes and letting the "work" be in getting from one to the next. October for me is the big scene-making month.

The First Draft Sucks

Truly the core idea of NaNo, the just write mantra made manifest. The first draft will be nasty, and no one but you will ever see it. In fact, no one should see it. If you're sitting in front of the typewriter or PC, channeling your characters, they're going to have a rough time of it the first time through, trying to talk past all the recipes and schedules and soccer meets and political miasma cluttering up your lobes, and will have an even worse time if you edit-as-you-go. Just get it down as best you can and go forward, forward, forward. Write like Lot's wife: there'll be time enough to look back when you're safely out of the city limits in December.

Your Muse Likes Routine...

Having a regular writing time, place, and process helps to nudge even the most recalcitrant muse into performing. Mine tended to talk the most in the evening after the wife and kids were abed, and I suspect the same sort of thing will happen again this year. Like any exercise regimen, you're only going to get stronger with regular reps.

...but Be Prepared Just In Case

I love Lamott's system of carrying around index cards for random idea jotting. I do this anyhow for the random gossamer somethings that flit through my head, usually in the morning while I'm dropping off the kids at school. I've got a combination wallet/index card holder that holds about five cards that goes with me everywhere these days. Sometimes the sneaky old muse tries to catch me off-guard with some story idea, but now I'm ready.

Any secret survival tips from you more experienced NaNo'ers?


Strikethru said...

Stop it! Stop giving out sensible tips about how to tackle Nano! I am still basking in the comforting idea that It Is Not Possible This Year, Not With My Schedule.

D. Loon said...

An outline - what a concept!
My problem is choosing just which one of my many notebooks to carry around for idea jotting.

I say you've got a good summary of the main principles here.

mpclemens said...

I like the index card system, since it's freeing you from the issue of having the "right" book on hand. Just jot it down, and then transfer it later to the real place where all your notes go. Or in my case, sort the stories into a pile (see the photo that leads off this entry.)

Concerning outlining. Another problem I hit last year was the (invented) feeling that I had to write the book linearly, from Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After. Taking another cue from the movies, I'm not playing that this year. I'm going to allow myself the wild abandon to "film" at any point in the story. Jumping ahead to the end of last year's novel was actually kind of a relief. I imagine all my scenes like little colonies of bacterium, growing in their own sections of the larger dish of my story. If I keep feeding one part or another, they will eventually overlap. I just need to get strong colonies to start with.

Strikethru, sounds to me like you're wimping out. Doesn't the brigade have a No Wimps clause in the bylaws? (Must check with Duffy on that one.)