Monday, August 3, 2009

Should I stay or should I go now?

Uh-oh, it's coming. I'm seeing the early warning signs, those cheerful, encouraging emails popping up every other week or so.

NaNoWriMo is a scant three months away. What should I do?

About this time last year I came up with an idea for a novel. I spent a couple of months writing brief character sketches and a rough (oh, so rough) storyline. Much fun was had writing random stuff to post here on the blog, to see if I could get my head into 'story space'. November finally came, and I was thrilled to find that once I officially put fingers to keys, words came out. It wasn't pretty, but I was astonished to find that sometimes I could almost see the scene in my head and get lost in it, like I was simply recording what was really happening. At the end of the month I had a 75K word first draft that I promptly put away and haven't touched since.

Because, I decided, I had to Learn to Write before I would be qualified to edit my draft into something readable. I launched into a frenzy of self-education, working through a couple of short online fiction writing courses and joining some forums that offered workshops. One forum even promised to walk me through the process of writing and editing a whole novel in two years!

I'd written one draft, so surely I could do this. Game on! I found another idea, found a few characters, and followed the weekly exercises, examining the setting of the story and the cultures and the personal likes and dislikes of the characters. I wrote some short scenes (OK, mostly I rewrote the same scene several times) for assignments. But I felt like I was tap-dancing around the thing, and no matter how hard I tapped, I couldn't get the story to reveal itself. I had a rough idea of who the main character was and what her problem was, but I couldn't figure out what had to happen.

Meanwhile, I learned there were all sorts of things I was supposed to be paying attention to. The story arc had to be divided into thee acts, with the proper amount of major cliffhangers must be placed just so to keep the reader moving forward. Keep the reader wanting more, every single second! Nothing can be wasted, or I'd lose the reader! The first page has to be flawless or the reader will throw the book aside in disgust. Characters must have internal and external conflicts and goals. Dialog can't really be like real speech, but has to read like real speech. And oh, how to weave in just the perfect amount of backstory? Certainly none of this "Well, as you know, Bob, when I first came to this planet..."

And then what? Well, according to the ever-growing list of blogs by agents and editors and publishers and writers in my Google Reader, I had to craft the perfect query letter and find the perfect agent and get published. But, as they were so quick to point out, publication of a first novel is practically impossible. It was going to be a long, hard, grueling road. I would have to write ten books before I would have learned enough craft to even think about it.

Dag. That's a lot of typing.

I would have to write EVERY DAY, and I would have to write thousands and thousands of words. It was the only way. Writing got more and more complicated. I didn't want to write every day. I couldn't get words down without desperately trying to recall all the rules so that I didn't make any of those laughably foolish newbie mistakes. I rewrote and edited the piddly pile of stuff I did write down to dry bones. The words stopped flowing. And ideas?

<crickets>Uh... hello? Is this thing on?</crickets>

I beat my head against the wall for a month or so, then it got just too fucking hard. In a fit of pique I unsubbed from all the workshop forums and writing/publishing blogs. If I didn't love it enough to hack away at it every day, if I wasn't obsessed enough to carry a notebook around 24/7 to record every snip of inspiration that crossed my path, then obviously I shouldn't even bother. I crossed fiction writing off the list of Shiny.

But the other day I get this email from the NaNo folks, and just for a second I felt that thrill, that sense that the story is already sitting out there, complete, in the Shadow World and all I have to do is find it and record it. And I remembered something I had forgotten: I loved doing NaNo. Abso-friggin'-lutely loved it.

Maybe I could do it again this year, even if I haven't actually Learned to Write. I have some characters already, and maybe I could ditch my old story line and start anew. Can I just write a damned story without fretting over whether it's good enough to become the Next Big Thing? Can I allow myself to so something I'm not competent at, just for fun?

Dunno. But I've got three months to agonize over it.


  1. As someone that has been reading you for at least a year, I am here to tell you that you do know how to write. Sounds to me like all that work sucked the fun out of it. Where in the world do you get the idea that you aren't competent?

  2. *Please* write. Please please please write.

    I'm reminded a bit of a quote I just read on someone else's blog: You're laughing at me because I'm different... I'm laughing at you because you're all the same.

  3. Thanks, guys. Fiction writing is harder to do than I thought - much harder than blogging - but I'm trying to get past the notion that I have to be above average at everything I do. Nothing says I have to write good fiction, right?

  4. My guess is that if you try to write good fiction you won't, but if you just write it will be good.

  5. You know how to write.

    (At least that's what I told myself when I jumped in to write my novel - which to date remains unpublished, of course.)

    It's really hard trying to fit it in with the rest of life, though. I can completely relate to that.

  6. I tried NaNoRimo about a month after the fact (I heard about it late) and did the same thing. First Draft. Great! Second Draft. Ugh! I have the same problems. Now I'm writing fiction with two other women (we're splitting a book in three's) and it is so much easier to be motivated about it. You can read my On Writing post about similar frustrations at: Keep writing! You're a natural!


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