Tag Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo Has Begun

Pencil and Book
Photo on flickr by jcarlosn

It’s November 2. Do you know where your novel is?

I decided to start the month with a bang and crank out 10,000 words on day one in order to keep my energy high and spirits up.  I’m glad I put so much work into my outline, because now I always know what happens next, and I can feel a little bit more free to play around in the text without too much fear that I’m running off the deep end.

Last night, too, I had something of a revelation: everyone’s a discovery writer on the sentence level.  I dunno.  Over time, I think, writers get better and better at knowing what they want to say and how they want to say it, but each sentence escapes differently from the fingertips.  If it didn’t , we wouldn’t need editors.  So, keeping that in mind has helped me maintain some of the spontaneity of the process.

Another thing that’s helped me keep energy and momentum up is that I love the story I’m working on, and I love the characters.  I’m not sure I could continue if I didn’t.  (And, really, in 2010, that’s what happened.  After three days, I switched stories altogether, because I just was not in love with what I was doing.)

If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, that’s fine too: cheer on someone who is!  I find it gets easier for me every year, but a lot of new writers struggle with tapping into that creativity vein.  The only way to get used to it is to keep on doing it, over and over, until it’s second nature.  And sometimes all we need to keep going is a little encouragement.

On Generalities

Sometimes we can get away with talking in generalities: for the most part, winter is a cold season, the night sky is dark, and driving from Missouri to Maryland is always going to take longer than you have the patience to stomach. These generalities, unfortunately, are exceptions to the rule. Generalized information frustrates people. We can’t make informed decisions without specifics. We can’t even enjoy ourselves without specifics.

Which would you rather eat? “Chocolate,” “85% Dark”, or “Milk Chocolate”? My money’s on the milk chocolate, but I doubt anyone can pick run-of-the-mill “chocolate” with an honest face and a clean conscience. And yet, strangely, sometimes we try to get by with as little informtaion as possible. I’m guilty of this on occasion.

For example, upon meeting an acquaintance on the street:

“How are you today?”

“Fine. You?”

Sure, sure, it’s the conversational equivalent of booting up your laptop, but “fine” could mean any number of actual answers, from “not dead” to “having the best day this week so far, unless something comes along to mess it all up”. The relationship is made in when and how we communicate the specifics.

If you called the auto mechanic to describe a problem with your vehicle, you wouldn’t get very far with “It’s not working correctly.” A good service technician will know how to drill down with questions to get to the heart of the problem. Does it start? Is it making any strange noises? Does anything change when you accelerate? Are the symptoms temporary or prolonged?

We jump-start our communication when we provide this information without forcing these drill-down questions. But, sometimes we need a little help. We need some direction from the people who know what they’re talking about.

So what does any of this have to do with writing? The implications here are twofold:

A) In creating description, exposition, and backstory, the goal is to show, not tell, and be specific. The reader wants to feel the sweat rolling down their faces in the heat of a steamy Alabama bayou afternoon, not hear that “It was hot outside.” The details do the heavy lifting here.

B) When working with beta readers, generalities are the least useful pieces of feedback, with “I liked it” being the worst. “I didn’t like it” probably comes in a close second place. But new beta readers (and even some seasoned ones) can be better served with questions or guidelines that help elucidate what kind of feedback you’re after.

One of my betas recently told me he didn’t like a minor character of mine; I assumed it was because I’d written the character poorly. But when we got down to it, after a little prodding, I discovered the real answer was due to a personality clash – which indicates (at least to me) that I did at least a decent job bringing that character to life.

I’ve taken to providing my betas a list of specific, leading questions to either answer or at least keep in mind while they read. I still welcome general feedback, but anytime a beta can dive into specifics – even outside of my survey – about what they loved and hated, they prove their invaluable worth.

It’s all about the specifics. Generally speaking.

I Really Don’t Hate My Characters

In fact, I like them. I dream about them. Sometimes it takes me a moment to remember they don’t actually exist in real life. And yet, nothing fills me with greater joy than casting another wonderfully terrible obstacle in their way.

I’m convinced most writers could also double as experts on torture. This evening while preparing for another few pages of edits, I came upon a piece of horrible history to enrich the backstory for one of my favorite characters.

Only, it’s heartbreaking.

It makes her more sympathetic and real to have suffered through it and come out the other side, but I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy… let alone a friend. And I do consider my characters to be friends, as strange as that may sound to a non-reader/non-writer.

Still, conflict is key. Bad things happen to good people every day. If we sheltered our characters like our children, we would be the proud parents of boring books.

So, I know she can’t read this, but I hope she knows I’m sorry. She’s stronger for it. And so is the story.

Waxing Autobiographical

Writing about myself is taxing work. I’ve finished polishing the content for the “About” section – which means the removal of the ‘chimpanzee pudding’ line.

I’m trying to deal with it too.

Still, it feels like I’m better at writing about what I think than what I am. I wonder if anyone else has this problem. Of course, I’d much prefer to write about people even more interesting than I am. That’s the trick, isn’t it?

Coaxing them out of hiding, that is.

Settling In

I’m trying to get used to the blogging process all over again, in addition to fulfilling my duties as Employee and Husband.  To that end, I’m trying out Windows Live Writer to post entries, and it’s pretty nice so far.

But really, though, I can’t imagine an instance where booting up a program is going to be easier than heading off to a website.  Still, it’s worth the look.

Time to crank up the tunes and get back to the business of writing code.  I have a date with my inner editor tonight over about twenty pages of delicious manuscript.  Mmmmm.