Instead

It is the last day of November and thus of NaNoWriMo. I have 8,000 words to go, and if I buckled down right now and did not stop until five minutes before midnight, I probably could meet the quota.

I used to feel guilty about everything, particularly quitting (no–actually, particularly everything), and so, because I felt surprisingly not guilty about quitting now, with the end so closely in view, I started to feel guilty about not feeling guilty, and so I took a very unscientific poll over on Facebook to see if I could gauge if what I was, well, not feeling was legitimate or something. The responses were pretty evenly divided right down the middle, but, not that I’m rating my friends or anything, I suddenly felt much stronger kinship with the ones who said, “Don’t sweat it–there are more important things.”

I had to pick my Paul up from the doctor’s earlier this afternoon (yeah, he’s fine), and told him about all this. First he said, “You’re so close. Just do it.”

I stole this from Farmville on Facebook and am not sure how to correctly credit it.

A lot like it, actually.

Then he said, “What do you get if you do it?”

“A little badge to put on my blog?” I said.

“Oh,” said Paul. “So . . . it’s kind like FarmVille.”

After I stopped laughing, I decided that instead of writing another 8,000 words, I am:

1. dialoguing with my latest seminary about classes and loans and coming to the delighted realisation that unless something crazy happens like my getting diagnosed with cancer again, I should be able to pay off my classes each year.

2. laughing at my husband’s inappropriate medical humour.

3. working up a new pitch for Favored One.

4. getting reacquainted with this blog.

5. going out to eat with my Paul and some delightfully curmudgeony Now-Church folks. (We like curmudgeons. It’s what we aspire to.)

Day of Greatness and Whinging

Photo by Jennwith2ns 2009

Narnia? Yeah, I’ve been there.

I learned today from Englewood Review of Books that this day marks the birth of–get ready for it–Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle and CS Lewis!

What?!

I know.

The day should’ve started out with lamp posts or time travel or something. And actually, when my alarm went off at 6.30 this morning, my first sight, as I rolled over to shut off my alarming iPhone on the window sill, was of a greenish moon still glowing in a pale grey sky and shining a pathway of light on the ice that is starting to glaze the pond. So . . . that probably counts. But I mean it should start like that every year.

So this is probably a good day–the birth of three writers as well as whom I can never hope to scribe (see?)–to break my November mostly-silence and update you on the progress of my NaNoWriMo novel. I use the term progress loosely. Also the word novel. I have about 12,000 more words to go to meet the 50,000-word minimum, and it turns out I can churn out words pretty quickly if I have to, so even though I only have a day and a half left to churn, I’m pretty sure I’ll make it.

Whether or not the words I’m churning have much relation to each other, let alone are compelling or even interesting, is something else entirely. As I mentioned last time, which was almost a month ago now, I don’t do stream-of-consciousness writing well over extended periods of time or extended amounts of words. I always (by which I mean, the last time I did this, and this time, too) lose hold of the story like some crochet pattern I’m not advanced enough to really read yet, until it ceases to be a story and is just a sort of tortured verbal purging–which doesn’t actually even purge anything, because all I’m doing is trying to reach a word quota.

For a little while there was some plot progression, and after that unraveled, there was character development, but now I’ve decided I want to entirely overhaul the plot and the characters, but I haven’t got time to start from scratch. Which means that what I’m doing now cannot really be described as writing at all. I’m not even sure that the words can be described as words.

Sometime during the third week or so, one of the local NaNo organisers (whom I’ve actually met this time, thanks to the write-ins) sent out an email to motivate us for the final push. In her missive, she gave us “tips” on how to expand our word-count. She suggested writing extra scenes, spelling out numbers, not deleting mistakes, writing out contractions. I have not only been doing all of these things, but I have been dividing up my compound words (and some multisyllabic non-compound words that just seem–well, too long to be a word, especially in a book where everybody is suddenly speaking with Dick-and-Jane-type precision and lack of imagination, eg., “No, I have not done that,” said Veronica, instead of, “No, I haven’t,” said Veronica), leaving out hyphens, and other such shenanigans. If I mistype a word, I leave it there and retype it until my fingers stop spazzing out and actually type the right thing.

Apparently none of this stuff is cheating? One NaNo participant intimated to me that she might even insert some writing she had done for college, which technically had nothing to do with her novel, but which had been written during the confines of November and was keeping her from actually having the time to work on such a frivolous thing as a novel. I am pretty sure that is cheating, but I hereby declare that, as soon as I have finished writing this post, it, along with my other November posts, all of which are about NaNoWriMo and this novel, are getting copied and pasted onto my “manuscript.” And yes. I’m going to go into them and edit all the contractions, hyphenated and compound words. Because frankly that seems less time-wasteful than what has been passing for “writing” around here lately. Also, the NaNo word counter incrementally subtracts words from your total anyway, so if Microsoft Word is telling you you’ve written 38,200, the NaNo “validator” will tell you you’ve only written 37,756 or something like that. It’s enough to make any writer gnash her teeth and . . . be a little dishonest, I guess. But I’m confessing it to you, The Readership. (Look! A compound word! More or less.) And if I’m confessing it to you, that makes it not-cheating, right? (Nod your heads.)

I find, as I write this, I’m feeling rather bitter about NaNoWriMo and I can’t decide if it’s because I’m stuck in a bad narrative I can’t actually edit, or if it’s because I secretly feel disillusioned that the above kinds of fudging are more or less acceptable in the endeavour, and though that doesn’t mean I have to capitulate, I won’t actually finish if I don’t. Or if it’s because I know I can write and I’m angry that I have a computer file of over 120+ pages which don’t say anything interesting.

I have just over one more day to finish, and I can–at least via the above-confessed cheat tactics–and there’s a part of me that feels like if I don’t, then those useless words will really have been wasted, as well as my silence on this blog and my write-ins at the book shop and my parents’ house. But there’s also a part of me that feels like I don’t care. I’ll write this story someday, in my own time, and then it may still not be fabulous, but it may at least be a story. In the meantime, I’ll leave the rest of the evening to the memory of three people who actually could tell a story–and hope some of the spirit (or Spirit) that inspired them rubs off or something.

An appropriate inscription for the book I have actually written

Adding It Up

It’s Election Night here in the United States of America, they’re counting up the ballots, and I know the burning question on everyone’s mind is:

I wonder how Jennwith2ns’ NaNoWriMo novel is coming along?

(That is, of course, why this blog has seen fewer than 30 total hits in the last three days. But who’s counting?)

The answer to that question at the moment is, “Well, not exactly like a novel.”

First of all, I’m about 4000 words behind, but look, here I am writing a blogpost, so clearly I’m not too stressed about that bit yet. Secondly, when I was mulling over everybody’s great story prompts and deciding on Jessi and Lotte’s, there was actually kind of a lot of inner turmoil about quite how to go about writing this particular story. Originally, despite the distinct sci-fi element in Jessi’s idea, I was contemplating putting quite a bit of an autobiographical element into the tale. Although there are still some parallels (the main character, Veronica St George, lived in London for a bit and returned to New England where she grew up–and somebody might end up with cancer)–okay, yeah, they’re kind of big parallels, but it turns out that Veronica is a lot less like me than I at first envisioned, and so are her basic circumstances.

For one thing, the story opens with her in court on trial for the murder of . . . herself. You know, because at one point there were two of her. One of them has disappeared and . . . well, you get the idea.

I’m pretty happy with that opening twist, but what I’m finding as I keep working on this is that, since I spent so much time pre-November mulling over basic plot, I didn’t have any opportunity to figure out the actual plot trajectory or character history or anything like that. So what is happening is, I’m learning about Veronica and her life from her answers on the stand in court, and her conversation with a court-ordered psychiatrist. This is pretty interesting and useful for me, but I’m not sure all the information I’m discovering is really germaine to the novel itself, and that even if it is, this is the best way to tell it. The trouble with NaNoWriMo is that there’s really no time to scrap the 8,500 words you’ve already written and start over with a different approach. I suspect there’s a novel in here, and I might even be able to get 50,000 words out of this just by writing the way I’ve been going, but I’m quite certain those initial 50,000 are not going to be the novel that’s in here. Probably more like a really wordy, conversational character (and maybe story) outline.

This, I feel, is due to two other things I’m also learning.

In the first place, I don’t actually know anything about how a trial works. I went to court once because of a traffic accident, and I’ve watched plenty of crime dramas and PBS mysteries which involve court scenes, but I don’t know how to craft my own. At all. I don’t even know what standard would be, let alone what would happen if some chick goes on trial because her literal double has disappeared and people suspect her of killing her. I sent a few questions to a friend of mine who actually is a lawyer, but I realised I was about to get bogged down in fictional legal details and wouldn’t get any writing done at all in that case, so I put all my questions on hold. If I ever get this written, I can send it to my friend and she can tear it to shreds and then maybe I’ll have a better idea of the kind of novel I’m supposed to be writing.

In the second place, I’m finally coming to terms with and learning to embrace my own writing methods. People like Anne Lamott, who clearly know about these things, command wannabe writers to write every day no matter what, and to commit themselves to what she calls “shitty first drafts.” That is definitely what I’ve got going on here. And definitely not how I write. I start a draft, and then I get a brainstorm for a completely different take, throw the first thing out and start over. And then I tweak it and rewrite it to death, and then I move on to the next chapter. I’ll write about halfway through a novel, go back and reread it, decide it’s utter rubbish, and hide the file for a while. Two or so years later, I’ll rediscover it, reread it and think, “Huh. That’s not so bad. I could probably do something with that.” I enforce a writing push and finish the narrative, and then I work it over and over and over until I can’t possibly make anymore changes myself, and then I start slowly, one at a time, approaching publishers and agents with pitches for the completed book. This means that a book like Favored One has been in the making for 10 years, even though literal writing time has only been a fraction of that.

I’ve realised that even when I freelance a non-fiction article for someone’s publication, I write this way. Even when I have a deadline. I’ll do the research if I need to research. I’ll write the article. But I usually end up having written an entirely different article by the end, I rarely write a piece all in on sitting, and I pace myself within the deadline so that I have some mulling time in the middle.

This is not the way anyone is “supposed” to write, and there’s a reason for that–it’s not very efficient or “productive.” In case you hadn’t noticed, our society wants productivity. If you want to be productive, or to become a famous writer, don’t write like this. It sounds like a lazy approach, and maybe it is. But maybe some of us are born to tell stories that just don’t get famous–but we’re still supposed to tell them. This might be a cop-out excuse, but maybe some of us write stories like vintners age wine. Or, to be less poetic about it, maybe we’re like cows with four stomachs, and we have to re-chew everything a bunch of times before we can let it out.

I don’t know. What I do know is that for years I’ve brow-beaten myself about my lack of writing “discipline.” When Trees in the Pavement came out, the Christian school I attended as a child invited me to come talk to the kids about writing. I told them I was happy to do that, but that I couldn’t really give anybody any tips because I was really undisciplined in writing and even getting published had kind of been a fluke. They didn’t withdraw the invitation after that, exactly, but they didn’t really keep extending it, if you know what I mean. No school administration wants an adult in any field to tell their charges that they’re pretty good in their field but they never work on it. Nobody wants their students to start slacking off and then say it’s okay because that writer that Mrs Librarian invited said she never writes and look, she got published.

I get it. I wouldn’t want to tell my youth group that, either. But the thing is, I’m really starting to think it’s a pattern–and not necessarily a bad one after all. I write. I write all the time, actually. I don’t write novels all the time, but I’m starting to wonder if even when I’m not writing them, I’m writing them.

If this is true, then NaNoWriMo is about as contrary to my true writing style as it’s possible to get. I still think it’s a good exercise. I think it’s good to force yourself into another pattern sometimes,  to challenge yourself, to broaden your skills. I’m certainly learning things from it. But one of those things is that I’m just not cut out to write well this way. And that that’s okay. I’ll keep on counting words long after whoever counts ballots finishes counting up the votes . . . and then, maybe ten years from now, you’ll see the novel Second Thoughts.

Writing In

So today? I discovered something completely awesome.

NaNoWriMo Write-Ins.

It didn’t even matter that I was the only one “writing in” at the Location in Question during the two to three hours I was there. It didn’t matter that the chairs were hard or that they and the wobbly folding tables were set up kind of like an in-home small-group Bible study. It didn’t matter that the water they brought me from Dunkin Donuts for my tea was only tepid (it was because it was Dunkin Donuts . . . but it didn’t matter).

Here’s what was awesome about it:

Well, okay first of all? They bought us coffee. True, it was Dunkin Donuts coffee and the only “us” that was in there was me and I was drinking tea, but I mean, I was about to park myself at a business for two and a half hours and not even spend any money there, so the fact that they were providing this and were so solicitous about it (“I’m sorry, is your tea water hot enough?” “Are these varieties of tea okay, or do you want us to go out and buy something else?”) that it was somehow simultaneously endearing and impressive.

The Location in Question is in a local bookshop in a plaza only about two miles away from my house. As in, I could walk there if I really wanted to. (It’s starting to get a little cold, and walking would take up a lot of word-count writing time, but still, I could. If I wanted to.) I have driven past this plaza and this bookshop multiple times and never stopped there, but now I realise I have just discovered another one of Our Fair City’s hidden treasures. This shop mostly stocks and trades used books, but there are a lot of great ones in there. They also have a copious children’s book section. The tables and chairs and electrical surge-protector cord for the Write In were set up in the room with the illustrated picture books. It was pretty distracting and when I first sat down I wondered how I was going to get any writing done when I was so tempted to take books off the shelves and start reading instead, but it was still part of the awesomeness. If you’re going to have NaNoWriMo distractions, they should definitely come in the form of children’s literature, don’t you think?

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

I was surrounded . . . by illustrated book-y goodness.

This shop also stocks books by local authors. The woman at the helm seemed a little surprised that I would offer to bring in a book that published as long ago as 2008, but let’s be honest–if no one’s ever heard of it, it might as well have come out last month, right? They have author readings and signings and I told her I had just done a reading at the Local Coffee Shop last Saturday. I feel like doing a reading in an actual bookshop might be a little easier on the psyche. We’ll have to see what transpires.

Furthermore, it appears that everyone who works in the shop is a Whovian, as evidenced by the wearing of Dr Who shirts by the staff as if they were a uniform, and the various Dr Who kitsch and paraphernalia hovering for sale around the front counter. Besides the presence of sympathetic sci-fi geeks, another asset to Writing In at the bookshop is that I intentionally did NOT ask for their wifi password. Lack of internet access plus really uncomfy chairs equals actual productivity, evidently. This place holds Write Ins on my day off for the rest of the month, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to be cultivating a dependency on tepid green/ginseng tea, catching up on my word count, and probably eventually buying a Dr Who mug (from which to drink the green/ginseng tea, if nothing else) for the rest of the month. See? I told you it was awesome.

And So It Begins . . .

It is, it turns out, much easier to listen to podcasts of This American Life and trim Oscar’s eyebrows so he can see (which, I should add, is not easy), and then post a link to your guest post when it finally goes live, than it is to write the first word of a NaNoWriMo novel.

See? Here’s the link:

At this here website