After a wee bit of thought, I’ve decided to do NaNo again this year. But only because I’m a little crazy and love shaking things up a bit. I’ve been working on several projects, making progress, but that Outlaw that lives inside me said, “Stick ’em up, pardner, and do what I say, or else, and I’m saying you do NaNo.”
I always trust my inner Outlaw and do what she says. (She’s got a gun and she’s smarter than me.)
So I’m doing NaNo, but not the same as I did it last time. This year I’m going all radical on myself and doing work ahead of time. I thought I’d share some of that prep and pump. Cherry pick anything that appeals to you, throw the rest away. If there is one glorious thing about NaNo above all else, it’s the opportunity of making it personal and getting down to what you need in your writing. No matter how you approach NaNo, it’s a time of discovery.
I’ll be heading into the wilderness of discovery with a few supplies. Here’s what I’ll be packing in my bag.
When I returned to writing after being gone for 12 years, the first thing I discovered was that everything had changed. Along with that realization came an awareness of fear, confusion, astonishment, and a case of good cheer because the indie revolution was at a fever pitch. But all the muscles I had for jumping old hoops were no longer needed, and new muscles needed for self-publishing had to be developed. Despite having a large library of books on the craft of writing, I bought nearly everything about this new world of writing my budget would allow and devoured them compulsively like chocolate, which we know eases all woes. I did, and do, and forever will consider myself a newbie. I will always be a student.
The result of reading those books was the equivalent of the bellyache that comes from gorging on chocolate:
I ended up in a house of mirrors and so confused I couldn’t find my way.
But a binky is always helpful, so I cruised those already-read books and chose just one I’ll keep as my guide. The decision was easy: The one with the most highlights was the one I must have connected with the most, right? And those highlights would help me focus in on what I needed without wasting time. It should be no surprise that my trusted guide for this journey will be…
Roz Morris gets to the point, takes a realistic approach to writing a novel, and she writes from experience. The book can also be your best friend for preparing and getting pumped because the first portion of the book focuses on hammering out a plan and that ugly first draft (great if you’re going into NaNo without a clue), and the second part focuses on revision and polish (fantastic if you’re NaNo bound with a project you want to finish once and forever). The book is neither too much nor too little for whatever your purpose might be.
She also has a grasp of scriptwriting, which is essential for today’s writer. Whether we like it or not, realize it or not, we’ve been conditioned to the scriptwriting format. We can’t escape it due to our lust for movies and watching television. Because of my background with playwrighting and scriptwriting (yes, they aren’t spelled the same), I tend to think in outline form and don’t do it on paper. My brain has had years of practice with the format, making it habit.
It’s the characters I worry about.
I was raised in theater, and for the past 35 years have been married to a theater teacher and private acting coach. You’d think I’d have a better grip on building characters but I don’t. Bringing them to life on stage is second nature (our daughter is one of the finest actors I’ve ever witnessed, and trust me when I say I’ve wanted nothing more than finding fault with her acting and saving her from that insane profession), but when it comes to making them live and breathe on a computer screen, I run into big trouble.
What to do, what to do?
Use what I’ve got. I’ll be exploring a combination of an established writing habit and a theater game my husband taught me. I’ve always gotten up from my desk and acted out scenes, using motions and emotions for fueling dialogue. That’s great for scripts because you leave the rounding out of the character to the actors. Not so great for capturing it on paper or computer screen, so this is where I’ll experiment with a theater game my husband told me about called “Freeze!” The game as he uses it with students won’t work for my purposes, but I will experiment with a variation of it. I’ve put an inexpensive, full-length mirror in my office so I can look at myself when I yell, “Freeze!” while acting out a scene. What will my expressions be? What’s the body position? What’s my reaction to the frozen character in mid scene? Am I frightened for him or her? Can I clearly identify what s/he’s feeling, seeing, doing? What needs to be added or taken away to more clearly define that character in that scene? Write out what I see, should see but don’t, and what I can “read” from the character’s face and body.
This exercise could be a total failure, but that’s just one more failure out of the way as I fail my way towards writing the novel I want to write.
Another game he told me about is called “Shopping.” As is often the case with the long-married, I didn’t understand a word he said, but it gave me an idea. With my cast of characters somewhat floating around my head, I’m taking them all out for a day of shopping at the grocery store, the shoe store, drag them into a big box store and see what catches their eye. I might even take them to a car dealership. The only thing I’ve got is a few misunderstood suggestions from my husband and experience with acting and writing dialogue. If I can get in character as I go shopping, perhaps I’ll get under their skin and write them from their center, not mine. I become the instrument of their experience. At the very least, my attempts should be amusing for those watching me because I do plan to have my characters go shopping together. And, yes, they will discuss their purchases amongst themselves and most likely argue. If this blog disappears, you’ll know it’s because I’ve been confined to a mental institution, where I’ll suffer the consequences of my art.
But this shopping spree will serve another function:
Facing down my fears.
My biggest fear of writing is having it take over my life and make me resent the people I love most. I still see it as a beast that can devour me, destroy me, erase me from the canvas of my life. I don’t care if I write garbage. I already know I do that with ease and can fix it or throw it out and start over. I don’t care if I write something that startles me because it’s damned good but doesn’t fit and needs to be tossed. If I wrote something brilliant once, I can write a bit of brilliance again. I’ve walked into the same wall several times on the way to the kitchen because I’ve been distracted, why should I not expect the same accident of fantastic writing to keep happening again and again and again? It will, and I fear the addiction to writing so often in search of those accidents that they become a habit and I lose the habits of showering and eating and keeping a grasp on sane, human behavior.
So bring in the rubber bands and a ball of twine.
The rubber band is something tangible I plan to wear on my wrist, giving it a snap that will pull me back from the brink of too much. There’s nothing like a little bit of pain for disrupting neurons firing out of control and shocking them into silence. Smokers use it to distract themselves from a cigarette craving, and those of us with anxiety disorders use them to startle obsessive thoughts out of their ruts and disrupt cycles of irrational panic. I’ll get over this fear of losing myself one way or another, and this time around I’ll be giving the rubber bands a try. This is pump and preparation before NaNo starts, so I’ve got well over a week for testing and tweaking this process. (I can already see where the use of a timer to remind me it’s time to snap out of it might come in handy.)
The ball of twine is metaphorical and has to do with identity. This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time now, and what a time to be thinking about it–there are several books on identity and authenticity just released and on my Kindle waiting to be read. Think it and it will come. But let it all come together before posting.
And with that, I’ll close out this portion of my postings about NaNo (there will be two more before NaNo begins). Right now it’s time to test drive some of the nonsense I’ve come up with, read more on a topic nattering the back of my mind, and write up notes and thoughts and exploring my process.
It’s possible I’ll return in a few days with a bushel of foul language, when translated, says it’s all a bunch of bunk, I should just do what I’ve done in the past, jump in and let her rip. Save all the pump and prep for a project that isn’t a marathon.
I don’t know.
And that place, that place of not knowing, that uncertain darkness without so much as a firefly’s light, is the place of all creation. A small dark ball breaking apart without form or function and scattering further and further beyond our reach.
As artists we stretch and grasp what is but yet is not something and give it life. Form. Function. Meaning. Community.
Photo Credit: photopin.com and kharied on flickr.com (please click photo at top of post to see more of this fine artist’s work)