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It’s official. I am sticking with my resolution to stay out of the Nanowrimo Amusement Park this year.
This saddens me. I feel like a kid on the wrong side of the fence, watching the other kids buying cotton candy and lining up for the roller coaster. But, I am determined to be a responsible writer and stay with my WIP. This is the right decision, I know it is, but it’s a difficult one. I love Swimming North, but it is at the Hard Work Stage. Everything about it is difficult. All of those little plot problems and character inconsistencies about which I waved my hand dismissively with promises to “fix it later,” are now lined up in battle formation, ready to kick my procrastinating ass.
Surrender is tempting.
I imagine waving a white flag and declaring myself beaten:
The story is too big for me. The surreal is too surreal. The writing is inadequate. Nobody will care enough about the characters. Give up. Walk away. Try again with another book and see if you can do better.
But I am not wired for surrender. Too much of Grandpa George, my formidable Norwegian ancestor, flows through my veins. No matter how great the odds – in the face of adversity I cling with claws and teeth to a goal and carry on.
Now that I’ve cleared that piece of over written drama from my brain, let me get back to my original purpose for this blog post.
Anybody else taking a pass on Nanowrimo this year? Misery loves company. Or better yet, let’s have a Non-Nanowrimo Party Month. Declare yourself if you have a goal to complete, or if you just want to hang out while watching the fun go by.
Me? Why yes, I have a goal. I plan to be ready to query this novel by the end of the month. Take that, novel! I have a keyboard, and I mean to use it.
Flying Monkeys? Yep, I’ve got ’em. I never for a moment anticipated their arrival in my novel in progress; didn’t prepare with some sort of ‘Monkey Be Gone’ powder, or set flying monkey traps to contain the evil little beggars. They have fangs and talons and batlike wings, and they are here to stay.
If I chose, I could call in an exterminator. My internal editor is good at that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure, given the go ahead, she could eliminate those monkeys and create order out of chaos before I could type another page worth of words.
But here’s the thing: somebody invited those monkeys, and it wasn’t me. One of the characters in this tale has taken on enough life of her own to say, “Hey, I need flying monkeys” and call them into existence. Who am I to argue with this? Looking back, I realize that I did not invite the dragons either. In fact, if I’m being strictly honest with myself, most of this book was not my idea.
I am a listener. Not always a good one, but I think that is really my job. Not to try to shape the story, but to allow it to shape itself. To let the ideas and the voices in my head come alive on the page, give them words in which they can live and move and have their being.
Once the characters have manifested myself, then it’s my job to say to Character A – “I think you need to meet Character B.” From there it may be love at first sight or open warfare, but that is not my decision. If the characters have been allowed to become self determining, they will have definite opinions about each other, and will insist on taking action. They create messes and clean them up.
Okay, I admit that I occasionally throw stink bombs in their direction to see what they will do. But even those nasty little surprises often come from somewhere outside of myself. Call it the subconscious, call it what you will. I know myself: my every day brain just isn’t that creative. Every now and then I’ll write something, and when I read it ask myself, “now where in the hell did that come from?”
I may never know. But I do know that this is one of the reasons why I continue to write. I love the way the surprises create themselves on the page: the character flaw I never knew about, the plot twist that I never saw coming, the dagger that appears spontaneously on page 100 and becomes centrally important to my character’s survival on page 256. And yes, the flying monkeys called into being at the end of the 4th draft.
For those of you who are plotters and planners – is it the same process for you, only in a different way or do you have better eyes and ears and catch all this before you start writing?
I’m curled up on the couch in front of the fire this morning. When I glance up, I see the orange flames first, and then the big picture window complete with a vase of rust colored chrysanthemums and a calico cat. She’s looking out into a mostly dark world, just light enough for trees to loom in the mist. If I glance to my left, through the sliding door I see the outside cat looking in, his backdrop the rain wet yard, a cast iron dinner bell, and more mist shrouded trees. Each wants what the other has – in or out –
A teen age boy slouches at the table inhaling left over turkey and mashed potatoes before running off to meet the bus. He will be late, will scramble at the last moment, but for now he is completely present. Content with his lot in life, absorbed in a favorite food.
No work for me today, at least of the paid variety. There will be household chores and things that need to be done. But no need to rush around this morning getting ready for the day.
Which means no excuses for not writing, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Recently, I read an opinion that writer’s block is nothing more than fear. I suspect, in this case at least, that this is true. Revisions loom. I don’t usually get blocked on a first draft, because I expect it to be flawed and in need of further work. It’s this process of deciding what stays, what goes, what to tell or not tell, that frightens me.
I fear my own ability to over revise, to over think. To take something that works, even though it is imperfect, and polish it into something lifeless and bland. Or alternatively to over do it, make it too big, too complex and overdone.
It occurs to me that I may be taking my writing too seriously. This book is not a matter of life and death. I love it, but it is only one of many that I will write in my life.
It is what it is. And that is the trick, really: to accept it for what it is, and not try to make it something else.
Today I will be exploring possible alternatives, deepening characters, playing with motivations. And the good news is that writing is a little more flexible than making soup. Extraneous words or ideas can be removed, unlike too much salt. Thanks to a backed up copy, it’s easy to retreat to a former version if an experiment doesn’t work.
That said, there are no excuses. Into the story I go, hopefully to emerge with some work well done at the end of the day. If not, I will at least have discovered several things that do not work. I’d prefer to venture into this maze with inspiration and enthusiasm, but I’ll settle for determination. Butt in chair, fingers on keys.