December has always been a reflective month for me. Blame the holidays. In the rush and chaos of upholding traditions--the gift-buying, the gift-wrapping, the gingerbread house-building--I find I cannot focus on writing. And once Christmas afternoon hits, once the presents are opened and the ham’s in the oven, then there’s nothing but a string of cozy, languid family get-togethers until New Year. By which time, it’s my birthday and I’m another year older. The shift of focus from work to family, followed by a period of lazy rest and the passing of another year (both the calendar and my own lifespan) naturally puts me in the reflective state of mind. And so, inevitably, I spend the bulk of December contemplating what I did in the past year and what I want to do in the next one.
This year, my process of reflecting started after Thanksgiving and continued up to… now, I suppose. And whereas normally I, very business-like, go to my list of stated goals I wrote the previous December and start grading all my tangible accomplishments, this time I didn’t. Because it didn’t matter. The important things of 2019 were not my accomplishments, but the mindsets I learned. It was a year of growing, not a year of completion.
This year, I learned how to take care of kids, how to drive a car, how to get stuff done without a plan or schedule, how to trust myself, and how to let go of the need for validation. For the past few years, I’ve had my ideas of how I should live and what it meant to succeed broken down and re-formed. Of course, I’ve done stuff this year, I’ve written well over a 1000 pages. But the pages are all over the place and the words haven’t yet coalesced into a solid thing, a thing I can show to others and be proud of. But that’s okay. Maybe next year.
On November 24th, I faced a crisis.
Since the month started, I had been doing National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo, for short), a challenge where you write a complete novel of 50,000 words (approximately two hundred pages) in the thirty days of November. Since I write thick fantasy books, I wasn’t thinking of completing a novel. I wanted to write three good chapters for the climax of The Originals, a sequel to my epic fantasy, The Changelings.
Three good chapters. Didn’t sound so hard.
November 24 arrived, and I crossed the 50,000 word mark, 6 days ahead of schedule. Great. But I hadn’t written my three chapters, no, not at all. I’d written about one and a half. And good? Forget good. The writing was all over the place. I’d mope around with my main character’s feeling for a paragraph or two and then swing wildly into politics. Or I’d spend 30 pages figuring out how to set up a battle and summarize the actual fight in about a page. I’d go one way, go back, and zig-zag the other way. It was--it is--a mess. An unreadable mess. And yet it was all good stuff that I needed to write.
Some authors have a vision of their novel in their head, or at least on their outline. Not me. I have to write and write and write until I see that vision. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, but the ideas are nebulous things and pinning them down is like pinning down vapor. I write until I see what I want. Once I have my vision, I can work to make my writing good. I organize scenes, condense the plot, dramatize emotions, expand the good parts, delete the bad parts, and make the words ring pretty.
I know that all this messiness will eventually turn into good (or at least readable) writing. I know because I’ve done it before. Having spent twenty years writing novels, I can start to say I know what I’m doing. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I look at my 50,000 words, and I think, It’s too much, and at the same time, It’s not enough.
I’m trying out a new section of my blog called “Writing Stories,” where I’m going to let you in to how my writing process works. Last time I talked about preparing for Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, and the struggles of brainstorming in a way that was both disciplined and spontaneous. Well, I finished October on a strong note, having written 26 pages of notes and decided that I was going to tackle the end of Sylvie's arc (3 chapters) in The Originals (sequel to The Changelings), and, if that didn't take up enough words, the middle section of Company. With that in mind, I sat down to write...
Friday, November 1, 2019
I pull up my computer and stare at my blank computer screen. I shouldn’t be scared, because I’ve done this a million times, but I can’t seem to start. It’s late in the evening, around 7:00 PM, and my room is a mess. I’m still tired from Halloween, I’m thinking of how baby-sitting my nephews on Saturday is going to cut into my writing time, I’m thinking about how I’m going to finish these chapters.
Even if I ignore all the stuff on Company, even if I just focus on three chapters of The Originals, it seems impossible. I’m supposed to supposed to write structured scenes. I’m supposed to be in the moment. Which moment? There’s a million of them? I don’t want to re-write what I already have—but I can’t remember what I have. Should I re-read everything? It seems overwhelming.
Hi everyone. I’m trying out a new section of my blog called “Writing Stories,” where I let you in on how my writing process works. I have no idea if this will be of interest to anybody, but I thought I’d try it out.
I grew up hearing that would-be writers are undisciplined. They moan about Writer’s Block, chase inspiration like butterflies, and never get work done on time. I didn’t want to be like that. For many years, I tried to be disciplined. I set goals, broke my goals into measurable tasks, and tried to accomplish my tasks by a reasonable deadline.
Results have been mixed.
On the one hand, I can now sit down and write almost anywhere with little to no angst. I write every day, and when I need to, I can write for hours. I have a clear idea of how long it takes me to accomplish a goal and how that goal needs to be broken down into other stages.
On the other hand, I’ve learned, rather painfully, that trying to force out chapters sometimes means I miss out on genuine moments of inspiration. While trying to accomplish a single concrete task, I often lose sight of the bigger picture. Constantly doing work leaves me no time to think, learn, and reflect.
So this past year, instead of planning my tasks months in advance, I decided to wing it. I was going to listen, day by day, to my own feelings and write whatever appealed to me the most. This meant giving up some of my control over the writing process, but it also meant I wasn’t beating my brain against a computer screen (metaphorically). I’ve enjoyed the process of giving up control, and I feel like the quality of my work has risen as a result.
This brings me to Nanowrimo.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.