Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Juliet's trying to figure out what Nanowrimo is all about....

Like so many other endeavors in my life, I got into this whole writing thing backwards. Here are a few examples:

I set off to write my first book on a lark, rather than with any actual game plan. (I figured since I liked reading mysteries, how hard could it be to write one? Answer: hard.)

I had no critique group (though I wrote my first book with my sister, so we were each other's de facto critiquers).

I didn't know about helpful professional organizations like Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime.

I didn't realize mystery writers held conventions full of thousands of people, from authors to agents to fans.

I didn't know any other authors.

I didn't know any agents.

I didn't know what a freaking query letter was.

So is it any wonder that I'm only now figuring out what Nanowrimo is?

Here's what I love about it: Nanowrimo is a valuable, energizing, exciting, instructive way to learn to apply one's butt to the seat of one's chair and WRITE, which for many writers is the most difficult part of writing.

By its very nature it reinforces what I have come to believe: there is no waiting for the muse, no "feeling it", no looking for inspiration. There is only sitting down and getting words on paper, even if they're not perfect words (because really, how often are they perfect, no matter how much time one spends?)

The major problem with Nanowrimo is that there's no talk of revision, and as any novelist knows, that's often the hardest part. Fair point. But without the original words in the first place, there is no revision, no re-write.

Over the long run, the point isn't to get 2- or 3- thousand words a day down on paper. The point is to get some words down on that first draft, just about every day. Can't make 2,000? It's going to take you longer than a couple of months to complete a manuscript.

But even 2 pages a day, produced consistently, will add up to a sizable book in a matter of six months -- and that's assuming you're taking off weekends! Do that over and over, and pretty soon you'll have produced a whole stack of books.

Here's my pet peeve, overheard far too often: "I just don't have the time to write."

Some people don't. Some people are saving dying folks in remote parts of the world or caring for both parents suffering from Alzheimers or raising sixteen children not yet of school age.

But most of us do have the time, we just don't choose to use it. We don't prioritize.

I think the novelist Harry Crews said it best:

'You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till you got time to write a novel or time to write a story or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read–if you wait for the time, you’ll never do it. Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.'

And if you love writing, if you're bitten by the bug, your "work" is also your "fun"...even when it's not that fun. Hard to explain.

So if you don't want to write, do something else wonderful with your life.

But if you want to write, sit down and write no matter the circumstance. And if you do write, but don't write enough, and want to learn to write a lot, fast, jump on that Nanowrimo bandwagon!


Gary Corby said...

Hi Juliet,

I love the advice that if you want to write, then write. It's surprising how hard it is to do but oh so essential. I suspect for most people the fear of producing rubbish is paralysing, but that of course is where revision comes in.

Shelby said...

"You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live."

Yes. Crap. It is true tho.

Julie Blackwell said...

Good morning Gary! I think I got over the "rubbish paralysis" by telling myself that it was a certainty that I would produce rubbish at least part of the time, but that occasional competency or --dare I say it?-- even true insight might peek out from time to time.

And Shelby, I couldn't agree more: Crap! It's a hard truth.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Great post! I'd forgotten that I started my first book in a similar fashion. As a lark (and an antidote to the overly serious atmosphere of grad school at Cal), no critique group, no other writers at all, and supposedly with my sister. When it was time to do the research, though, it was just me. When I started writing, well, that ended up being just me, too. It was exciting, and that book, against all odds, was published and sold well. As you say, it was hard, but it was 'fun' hard.

I write a lot better now thanks to my critique group, writer friends, and years of practice. Even though I don't do NaNo, I've benefited hugely from critique partners doing it and seeing exactly what's possible. There really is a lot more time to write than we usually allow.

Unknown said...

After just one day of NaNoWriMo, ideas are coming to me at 5am on the BART train, demanding to be written down.

My first book, after multiple screenplays, was written in grad school. It made me a little too CAREFUL. I'm finally learning to let the wild thing in my head run free in a first draft. Feels glorious and terrifying.

Thanks, pens fatales and commenters all, for encouragement!!!!!

Adrienne Bell said...

How many of us started our first books with that same thought - how hard could it be? Reality sure came down hard and fast, didn't it?

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, I just love all the energy that's building steam! And that Harry was a wise man. Perhaps in November, even more than other times, we need to give ourselves the gift of listening within.

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