Monday, December 1, 2008

NaNoWriMo: The Fallout

My hearty congratulations to all NaNoWriMo Participants, and particularly the winners. Well done! With your fancy little certificate of authentication it's now official, you're all crazy.


A snippet from Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (lifted from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield):

Don't knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don't know anyone who can get through a day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex.

Aw, come on! Nothing's more important than sex.

Oh yeah? Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

(that quote never gets old) I'm still Reeling from my lackadaisical showing at WriMo, here's my contribution to the wonderful world of rationalization:

Doing NaNoWriMo for me was like trying to sprint a marathon, when all I'm used to is a light walk. Have I mentioned that I don't like writing fast. Strangely I don't think it was the required pace that did me in (not fully anyway), story choice and method may have had something to do with it. While my writing is often typified by random disconnected narratives, which when you think about it would be perfect fodder for a NaNoWriMo novel, a realm where coherence isn't the highest priority on the agenda, I decided to go against type and as a result regrettably my story suffered a premature death.

The autopsy shows that half way through the month I had about a half as much written as I should of at that time. Closer inspection reveals that this story had more insulation than an Alaskan granny flat. At 12,000 words it was already over padded. Deep down if you trimmed away the fat there's a nifty little short story waiting. I was working with a high concept idea which set up a frame work that was limited in scope and incapable of sustaining 50,000 words (of course that doesn't mean you can't have novels that are high concept, it just happened that this one wasn't suited to the initial idea). Lesson one: Know your enemy, short story premises do not make good long stories. Choose your form wisely.

"Plot is the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice" says one Stephen King. Although highly inexperienced in the art of writing I have a pretty good feeling about how I might be most effective; there are surely as many creative processes as there are creators, mine is not given to the King method (i.e. write at least 2000 words a day, overhaul on the second draft, give it a spit and polish the third time around, ship to a publisher, make millions of dollars). That's not me, an extra bit of cash would be nice, but I like to know where I'm going before I hit the road. Next stop: dullardsville.

There's a great old anecdote about James Joyce: a friend walks in on him after a day of writing, James looks displeased, "How's the writing" the friend asks, "I've got two sentences." answers Joyce, "Well that's good [by your standards], why so glum then?" "I've got the words" says Joyce "I just can't figure out the right order." ... That's the kind psychological torture I like to experience every time I write, and if I'm writing by the seat of my pants the brutal impact of hard thinking is mildly diluted. I want to viscerally feel the entire brunt of my own creative consternation. Writing is different from talking in that no one can hear you stutter when you're at a keyboard. There, you have the luxury of cherry picking what words you think would best represent the world you're trying to create.

I think Muhammad Ali said best what I'm trying to say here "I don't know much about fighting, just about me fighting." and he is widely regarded as the greatest heavy weight boxer of all time (note: sub writing for fighting). I don't know much about art , but I know what I like, and what I like is not having daily word limits. A time limit, now that I can work with. Also, If I'm writing a story with a beginning, middle and end, then I'd prefer to do a lot of the heavy lifting before I start the first draft. Lesson two: Know thyself. Just because the most successful author on earth writes one way doesn't mean you have to, find a process that works for you.

And so I finished up my first NaNoWriMo a broken and beaten man. I'm a little older and a little wiser in the ways of writing for it. I'll keep the lessons learned handy in my back pocket just in case. I'm sure I'll be needing them at some point.

No comments: