I buckled down and got serious about my assigned reading this week, plowing through three chapters of Story Genius. The picking apart of the story writing process prickled my nerves a bit. I’ve never been good at following directions and details bore me to tears, but I pledged to read this book so I powered on.
I found myself, nodding, duh, duh, duh at some points and at other times I underlined sections like I did in American History class, thinking, “This is the part that will be on the test.”
And then I went for a run and thought about it. I don’t have time to read to be reading. My shelves are creaking with books I’m dying to read. So, what is the point here? Why am I forcing myself to read craft books? Can’t I just write? Continue reading “Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?”
After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.
Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.
She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’
While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.
In my novel Girls’ Weekendthere were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.
The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:
“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”
I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.
And then this from Fierce on the Page:
“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”
Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:
“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”
Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:
“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”
I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.
May the power of literature change your life this week.
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I don’t know if I’m going to make it. There are only five days left in the month and writing time is at a premium considering the house is overrun with kids and their messes and their friends and my need to be amongst them. Add to that a couple foster dogs/puppies and well, I’ve got a boatload of excuses for not finishing NaNoWriMo.
I’ve got just under 13,000 words to go. Doable? Sure, but will I do it? Not so sure.
I’m doing what I’ve done with pretty much all five of the novels I’ve written – stalling in the middle. Ask any writer – the beginning is the easiest part. And then for many writers, the ending is obvious, but the middle….that’s terribly tricky. It’s very easy to wander. It’s very easy to obsess over unnecessary detail. It’s very easy to play favorites with your characters and entertain an odd darling or two.
For me, though, what happens in the middle is a lot of circling and stalling and avoiding the ending. I don’t want the story to end. Once it’s over, the real work starts. The tedious, painful editing. The sorting out whether there’s really a story here or not, and after 90,000+/- words, there really better be a story here.
Hanging out in the middle is safe. It’s easy. I like it there. The tail end of the middle is the time when I get anxious. What if the ending doesn’t appear? And what if it does and it sucks? Or what if I jump the gun and force it?
Much better to just stall and await a sign.
The problem with NaNoWriMo is there is no time to stall. There’s not time to explore tangents and wiggle my way into an ending. I have to write 13,000 words. NOW.
But what’s the worse that happens? I don’t finish NaNoWriMo? (or in the NaNoWriMo lingo – I don’t win?) So what? No big deal, Easter seal. I can handle it. I don’t have to achieve my goal. I can finish in another week or two. What’s with the arbitrary deadline? There’s nothing hanging in the balance here. The only person I owe this to is me. And I’m easy. Ask my kids. I talk big, but in the end I always cave.
Will I make it? It’s so very hard to say. I wouldn’t wager any money on it, but then again, I’m a more or less reliable person. I usually do what I say. So, you know, maybe it’ll happen….let’s just wait and see.
The best thing about Donald Trump’s election is that my word-count is through the roof. I’m finding it unbearably disturbing to dilly-dally about on social media or read the news, so I’ve been escaping into my fiction for hours every day. I’m obliterating NaNoWriMo and passed the mid-way mark on the 10th of November when my writing jags went so long my butt fell asleep.
I mark it as great progress towards becoming an adult that instead of sinking into a deep depression or cutting off contact with all my friends who did not vote as I did, I’m simply retreating to my keyboard. When anyone asks me how I’m handing the results, I say, “I am hoping that I am dreadfully wrong in my assessment of Trump. I would like nothing more than for him to surprise me.” And then I change the subject to PUPPIES!
On Wednesday when I awoke to the rainy, ugly day, I knew that to make it through the rest of the week I would need a distraction, so I contacted my foster coordinator and volunteered to take in three 4-month-old puppies. These little rascals are not only amusing and distracting, they are plenty of work. So, if you don’t find me hunched over my keyboard deep in my story, you’ll find me on the end of a leash attached to a puppy who has definitely never been on a leash before and is still not quite clear on the idea that pooping outside is a good thing.
The fun never ends. But more importantly, the election is over in my heart, and at the rate I am writing, I’ll be finished NaNoWriMo before we carve the turkey.
I kicked butt yesterday and pounded out nearly six thousand words, so I’m all caught up according to the NaNoWriMo website. They have a nifty graph there that shows how you’re doing. I’m floating just above the line, so I’m barely above average, just like my grades in school. I’m trying to resist allowing this to make me slack off for a while.
It’s hard to write today. I’m distracted by the national news and trying to adjust to a new reality. I would venture to say I’m in shock to a certain degree. Disappointed in my state and even more so in my country. I want to believe that this doesn’t mean that hate won, but I have that same sick feeling I used to get when the bullies triumphed in high school. I fear for our country and worry about the message this sends the world about how seriously we take our role in it. Enough said. I wasn’t going to write a word about it. I have to let it go or it will ruin my days. I’m just so heart-sick about all of it.
I am trying not to dwell on the sadness, but the rain isn’t helping. My first thought when I woke was, “God is crying.” Really. I haven’t thought like that since I was a little kid.
Pushing it aside. Cramming it down in that space behind my computer monitor where things get lost forever and I forget about them. There. That’s where I put it.
Instead, I’m gonna write. I’m gonna pound out some serious wordage, lose myself in my story which is much happier and more hopeful than I feel. I need my story to be my world. I won’t visit facebook at all. Too many gloating people there. I’ll stick with twitter where I found so much solidarity last night as I watched the returns.
Stop it. Let it go. Let it go. What’s the next line? No matter. I’m gonna write. Hang out with Kat and Dylan and Mac and Gweneth. What do you think of my names? I always change most of them by the time the first draft is done, but I like this bunch so far. We’ll see.
So, I’m doing this crazy NaNoWriMo thing. Yes. Yes I am.
(for those of you who are uninitiated, this means I’ve pledged to write a novel in one month, this month specifically.)
This is day two and once again I’m finding every reason not to sit down and write. Yesterday I spent a good twenty minutes voting on the goodreads awards before cleaning out my inbox and then tidying my desk. I reasoned that I didn’t want anything hanging over my head or distracting me. (As if twelve puppies in the room next door isn’t distraction enough.)
Finally, I opened my WIP (Work in Progress) which had stalled out at about 33,000 words last May. When I say stalled out, I mean I ran out of time for it because there were these other people who stopped going off to school every day and had taken over my house. The story was still raring to go and nagging at me every morning when I ran.
I think my reluctance to open now is little teenage rebellion of sorts. Since I have to write, I didn’t want to write. Normally, I love to write. I can’t wait to write. I’m annoyed at people who keep me from writing. But now, with the NaNoWriMo clock ticking, I resist. Why do I have to write? Really—noone’s holding a gun to my head.
I looked at where I’d left off. There was a note to myself about a loose end I’d left unattended, so I scrolled back a few pages to fix that and in just that little moment, I was back in the story and writing and writing and writing until Addie walked in my office and asked me to help her with something. I felt kind of stunned by the interruption. Not sure what time it was or what day it was or what she was doing home. I hadn’t had a writing jag like that since….since…..since I started this story back in May and vowed to finish it over the summer.
And now this morning, here I am, delaying, delaying, delaying. Writing this post instead of working on my NaNoWriMo WIP (how’s that for a mouthful?). I’m rationalizing. I wrote 3300 words yesterday. That’s, like, two days’ worth isn’t it? So maybe I can take a day off. Except it’s only the second day.
I think this is going to be a long month.
UPDATE: Day three is upon me and I’ve written 8, 740 words. I am rocking this baby. (but there is still a daily battle and I can’t possibly keep up this pace. )
NaNoWriMo is not some kind of cult-inspired chant or childish taunt. (Or is it?) It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s held each November. It’s the crazy idea that you can write an entire novel in a month. Well, maybe not a novel, but you’re supposed to shoot for 50,000 words.
Even if you take the weekends off, that’s only 2500 words a day. As a professional writer, I’ve had days where I got on such a writing jag that I churned out 15,000, so, 2,500? Chump change. And yet….I do not write 2500 words every day. For a month. Ever.
If you’re the type of writer who agonizes over every turn of phrase, well, 2,500 words in one day might seem unreachable. Still, the main idea of NaNoWriMo is to sit down EVERY DAY and write. In exchange, you’ll get encouragement, direction, accountability, and commiseration. All things that most writers are sorely lacking.
When I mention to other writers that a few years back, I tried the craziness of NaNoWriMo, I get a knowing nod. I’m not sure if that nod means, “Yup, I knew you were nuts, now you’re just confirming it,” or “Ah—you’re one of us!”
I remember that month as being one in which I was very focused. I nearly reached my goal but was sidetracked by several personal issues that stole my time and attention. But still, I did flesh out a novel. And that was the novel which hooked me an agent. Sadly, that novel still lives only in my heart and on my laptop, but writing it taught me a lot. It set me on the path to publication. Someday, I hope to get back to that story. It deserves to be told.
This fall I’m flailing around on several projects, spending way too much time with my puppies, and berating myself for not getting back to the novel I started last May. That novel is presently 27,000 words. If I added just 50,000 words, I’d have a novel that falls nicely in the sweet spot between 75,000-85,000 words that most publishers appreciate. So, yes, I’m tempted. NaNoWriMo is calling. I could use the direction and motivation, but mostly the accountability.
I posted recently on Facebook that what I needed most was a boss, so maybe NaNoWriMo could be my boss for the month. Giving this serious thought. Anybody else out there up for the challenge? We could commiserate at Starbucks (where I know one of the baristas pretty well) or via the internet (which sadly has no baristas).
Click on over to NaNoWriMo.org and get the details or just go crazy and sign up!