Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo: Write or Die

There have been many things said about National Novel Writing Month.  Mostly good but some bad (the most ludicrous of which, in my opinion: that people should be concentrating more on reading rather than writing.  That there are already enough writers out there to satisfy the demand  for the “dwindling number of readers.”  This argument is mind-bogglingly simplistic and precludes the assertion that most writers are avid readers to begin with, otherwise they would take up some other hobby, like fishing or golf.  And even then, those people would likely read copious amounts about fishing and golf.  It also excludes the notion that the act of creative writing, in and of itself, is a worthy endeavor, even if publication is never pursued).

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the November crush, and likely the most obvious one, is to force my creativity to the point where it comes out onto the keyboard whether awful or not.  NaNoWriMo is the equivalent of a writer’s marathon and sometimes it really feels like it.  Whatever comes out on the page during the month of November pretty much stays  on the page until its time for revisions and editing.

It is easier to edit words that already exist–even to the extent of completely re-writing them, then it is to pull words wholecloth out of thin air.  The hard part is getting them down, committing your ideas to paper, even tapping into that Muse that is your unconscious thought (though I like to personify mine and I’ll touch on that in a later post.  It really helps, though, to think of your muse as a person or animal).

So write or die… write as much as you can, as fast as you can, for as long as you can.  If I could carry this pattern out to the rest of the year I’d be in great shape.  For all my previous efforts and for what is in the future, I know that even the process of writing, even if it doesn’t amount to anything tangible now, will make me the better writer in the end.

I hope to be done with my first draft of Violette by the end of December, barring serious holiday intrusion.  January and onward will be for revisions, edits,  and creation of the second draft.  Then, crits with partners (hopefully if I can find some reliable ones who are on the same wavelength as myself), and beta-reaers (again, if I can find any willing).  The third draft (and onward) will depend on the general reader reaction and my own gut feelings.

I suspect there will be changes, though.  My characters are already hinting at it to me.  The more I look and question, the more I uncover hidden motives, past traumas and secret ambitions.  Sneaky characters.  I had a feeling they were going to do that. 

Well, after November, I guess we’ll have words! (the spoken kind, at the top of the voice, and, hopefully more of the written kind as well).


Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for anything ranging from story arcs all the way down to snippets of dialog?

Well, as mentioned previously in this blog, I tend to have an, umm, temperamental muse.  I suppose that is the most politic word for it.  (Sorry dear, no offense).

She thumps me over the head whenever and wherever.  Her favorite place to get me used to be when I was driving alone in the car.  Most of the time, I was listening to a piece of music and some flash of an idea would come to my head.  I found myself diving for a notebook whenever I could, scratching things down on the on-ramp to the freeway as I wait for a green light, ideas thundering through my head faster than I could catch them.

A lot of times, it’s like fishing in a rushing river with a big net.  Only the big stuff stays in the net and all the other stuff streams through the holes faster than you can catch it.

Inspiration can come from all over.  Books.  TV.  Movies.  Historical Research.  Sometimes an arc of an idea will flash into my mind and, full bloom, a scene appears.  This isn’t always a good thing because even if the idea seems sound, fitting into a work in progress where it was not previously imagined can be tough.

I recently had a scene that I had written ahead of time, with the Muse standing at my shoulder poking me in the back whenever I got something wrong.  Later, once I had gotten to writing up my synopsis (about a third of the way through the word count on the first draft), my idea and the placement for that scene had totally changed.  I found myself altering not only the setting for the scene (from the upstairs bedroom to the heroine’s secret outdoors hiding spot–yeah she’s that kinda girl) to what they were arguing about (In the first version, he was upset about rumors he’d heard that she might be getting engaged to someone else.  In the altered version, he had already had it confirmed that she had agreed to marry someone else–for many reasons other than the ones he was assuming).

It takes trust and flexibility to be able to chase the Muse, as Alice did, down the rabbit hole and trust that it will be okay at the bottom.  First drafts suck.  They change and morph as much as a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel.  I don’t think many who don’t write understand that process.  Many assume that “revision” means you are going back over the manuscript crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s and fixing spelling and grammar errors.

Not so.  Yes, those things are part of the process.  But once my first draft is done, it’s still going to be messy.  I’m going to need to smooth out all the bumps add a whole lot here, delete a whole lot there, before I can even begin to make it shiny and presentable.  I have no doubt that the story will morph several times between now and then.

On the one hand it can be frustrating but on the other, I’m rather excited about it.  I can’t wait to see what it will become.  Like a baby you hold in your arms, waiting to see glimpses of personality and individuality.  Right up until those terrible-twos tantrums where it actually happens and then you are holding your hands to your head and going WTF was I thinking?

Writing is a process–lengthy and difficult.  It can be fun if you keep the right mindset.  It can be infuriating–easily so.  Inspiration comes not only in the beginning when you are laying down the groundwork, but as you go over and over the draft where you get flashes of insight into your characters or a character suddenly changes on you, having hidden himself until he knew he could trust you.  (No I’m not schizophrenic nor do I suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder though it may sometimes sound like it).

The truth of the matter is, as with everything, unless you keep an open mind, you have no room to grow.  Conversely, unless you have strength of character, there will be no structure, design or art in what you do.

Here’s wishing you (and myself) many “muse-bombs”* in the future.

*Note : “Muse-Bomb” is a term I borrowed from Holly Lisle from her writing course, “How to Think Sideways”

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