Monthly Archives: November 2010
It is the 23rd of November and I am hardly past the halfway mark of my 50,000 word goal. I am now in need of more than 3,500 words a day to complete NaNoWriMo by the end of November. And given some changes I have made in the story while writing it, I will need to write at least 50,000 words to have a complete first draft of the story. So, whether my goal is to finish NaNoWriMo or to finish my first draft, I am behind, a long way behind. On a goal I really care about.
My instinct when I get behind is to tighten my focus and drive hard toward my goal, pushing on at all costs. And, since I have an outline for this story, it is easy to tell myself that I must write each section of the outline as I foresaw it a month ago.
With writing, this approach doesn’t work. If I try to force my way into a story, I struggle for every word. The process ceases to be pleasant and the product is forced.
This is a first draft, a time to get ideas on to paper, to discover richness in the world of the story, and to let things blossom. The outline is a jumping off spot, a map to get back on track if I get lost, a guide.
In order to progress, I must let go of my harsh focus. I must allow myself to be free of the goal while writing. I must find a way to write with abandon despite the pressure.
I turn to InterPlay, my box of tricks for creating more ease in my life. One of the practices of InterPlay is Easy Focus; this is what I must cultivate now. Physically, easy focus involves shifting from looking forward at a focused point to using my peripheral vision. Mentally, using easy focus invites relaxation and openness, a spirit of play rather than the intensity of work.
Before I sit down with my writing, I must release the need to drive forward and invite a spirit of play. Playfulness while writing enables me to spill words on the page. And so, without further ado, I leave my web browser and turn to my manuscript to play with a big story. Whee!
I have been fighting a cold for several weeks and this past weekend, I developed a secondary bacterial infection. It isn’t serious and the antibiotics are helping tremendously, but I am still fighting the original virus. In the midst of this illness, I am remembering a day during my InterPlay Leadership training.
It was winter. I was pregnant and ill. It was a standard winter virus, but because I was pregnant, I couldn’t take medicine to relieve the worst symptoms. I was grumpy and feeling sorry for myself. I hated to miss any of the InterPlay training, so I dragged myself to class. I did not dance with the group, but witnessing them helped me feel better. At the end of the day, I had a Focus Session, a time when the group focused on witnessing me and my stories.
I was angry about being ill during a Focus Session. When I have a chance to take the space, I like to take it all, to fill it with my energy, my movement, my body, and my words. But with my illness, I could barely move. I was miserable.
Phil Porter, one of the founders of InterPlay, took the lead in guiding my Focus Session that day. He suggested a do a One Hand Dance. A One Hand Dance is exactly what it sounds like. You let one hand dance. I had always hated One Hand Dances, but I thought, ‘why not?’ I had no energy to dance with any more of my body than one hand, so I might as well.
Phil put on some music. I closed my eyes to focus on the sound and let my right hand start to move with the music. For the first time, I understood the beauty of the form. I had no impulse to move more of my body than the hand and my forearm, with slight rotations of the shoulder to ease the movement. But, with that part of my body, I was dancing, truly dancing. The movement led me to a sense of peace with the illness, compassion for my struggling body, and gratitude that I could still dance.
After the One Hand Dance, Phil encouraged me to sing a lullaby to my unborn child and I sang one of the most beautiful, compassionate, and loving songs I have ever sung. In the place of vulnerability and care for myself that I had touched during the One Hand Dance, I had opened myself deeply to the weakness and wonder of a child and sang with all the love I had to give.
The One Hand Dance has not been the same for me since. I have a use for it. If I am healthy, I still prefer practices that use my whole body and allow me to take up space that is bigger than my physical body. But, when I am sick, I know the One Hand Dance is waiting for me to come and dance.
Do you ever play with the angry beast inside you? I’m trying to teach my kids to do just that.
I live with three three-year-olds (and their older brother). If you have spent much time around three-year-olds, then you know this is an age of emotional intensity. These children understand the world well enough to think that they understand it completely, and they can do enough for themselves that they often want to do everything for themselves. Unless things are going badly, in which case they are bundles of massive emotion without any capacity to reason themselves out of a situation. And, by this age, they are self-aware enough to experience extreme frustration when their wish to control the world conflicts with the nature of reality, parental instructions, or a sibling’s wishes. The result: frustration, often arising in a flash.
One of my kids reacts to frustration by lashing out: he throws things, stamps his feet, screeches, etc. I understand the way he feels, but I need to help him do something else with his energy.
One of the most effective tools I have is a Pushing game. I kneel in front of him and bring my hands up in front of me, palms out, like the beginning of Pat-a-Cake and ask him to push my hands.
- If he doesn’t want to push me or pushes lightly, I urge him to push me over. And, I let him. Even when he pushes me with the full force of his anger, I can control my fall to protect my body. But, and this is important, I let him think he is pushing me over. I then get up and see if he does it again. He is usually giggling after one push-Mummy-over moment, but sometimes it takes two or three.
- If he pushes me hard from the starting position, we push each other’s hands as long as it feels right and then I ask him to grab my hands and we pull away from each other. And then, we play with pushing and pulling as long as it is fun.
Sometimes, one or more of the other kids wants to join the game, and I work on finding a way to make it happen. Since the end of the game is often a pile of giggling children on Mummy, more really is merrier as long as we can get there safely.
The game is the beginning of an InterPlay form: Hand-to-Hand Contact. They don’t know that. They think it’s just a silly game they play with Mummy. I think it’s a life skill: using play to turn the anger and frustration into giggles. It’s a physical form of the aphorism, “Sometimes, you just have to laugh about it.”
I am finding that I have not done enough detailed world-building to write my WIP as fast as I would like. My novel requires a real-world suburban neighbourhood, a parallel fantasy world – including fantastical creatures, and magic that works in both worlds.
The real world neighbourhood is the neighbourhood I actually live in with modifications and the realistic scenes that happen in that world are easy to write. The rest of the worlds, including the fantastical elements that intrude into the real world are challenging because I am not yet comfortable with the details of the world.
I had intended to spend October world-building, but life got wild and my preparation got slighted.
I have developed a quick research approach to support me during NaNoWriMo while allowing me to push forward on the story without filling my entire manuscript with notes like the following:
[Needs a magical herb for protection against evil that smells distinctive when boiled.]
My trick is to let myself type the basic description of what I need into a search engine and pick an answer from the first page of search results. By refusing to visit other pages for more information, I am using the search results as a writing prompt. I may later choose to change some of the details, but for this first draft, I am picking details from a limited set of choices and forcing my imagination to work them into the story.
The herb I wanted in the example above didn’t come to me as I was writing, but after checking out a search engine, I came back to my writing and wrote a scent-inspired memory for my main character that fleshed out her experience of the main scene.
Sure, it’s slower than I want, but I keep churning words out. I also feel like I am serving the story, not merely putting words on my page. I’ll let you know during revisions whether these details still serve the story. I think they will.
I was in the shower this morning when it hit me. The reason part of my story was struggling to come together yesterday is that I gave some of the crucial backstory to the wrong character. This realization will help me restructure some important elements of the story and build a stronger arc for the protagonist. It also suggests a theme that is meaningful to me, inherent in the story, and reasonably subtle. All this is good.
What is not so good is that half of the scenes I have written will have to move to different settings or involve different characters.
I need to take this idea and use it to improve my story. I need to take it seriously and work into what I am doing consciously. But, I am on a roll and moving forward with getting the story down. I don’t want to break that stride.
My solution is that the first thing I will do when I open my manuscript in 10 minutes will be to write some notes about the changes that I want to make at the beginning of the manuscript. I will then continue writing new scenes. I will continue writing as though I have made the changes.
If I were simply interested in word count, this would keep my word count up. I also believe that the momentum to tell the rest of the story is precious. My internal editor is useful, but I must control it for now.
I am not interested in producing words for words’ sake. I need to move forward on my bigger goal of a complete first draft. I know that this change will require substantial editing when I get to editing. But that will come later. In the meantime, I will make very general notes of what changes I need to make and then press on.
If I make the mental shift to editor-brain now, I will not only not make my NaNoWriMo goal, I may also break my progress to the larger goal of a complete first draft.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I was the writer that NaNoWriMo was established to inspire. I had struggled to write a long piece of fiction for some time and just wanted to write. Getting 50,000 words of one story written seemed like a bigger goal than I could manage. Sure, there was part of me that hoped I could turn it into something usable, but mostly, I wanted to unstick myself. And it worked. I wrote my 50,000 words and felt great that my story had a beginning, most of a middle, and an end.
After NaNoWriMo 2008, I started looking at how to edit what I had written and realized I had a lot of craft to learn if I wanted to write a readable novel. I started taking workshops, meeting other writers,reading books with a writer’s eye, and pushing myself to learn the craft. Since then, I have written some short fiction that I am very proud of. I am still working on finishing a book length story, but I keep getting closer.
This year, my goal is a complete first draft of a middle grade novel. And it is part of larger goals. I want part of this story to be in good enough shape to have a professional comment on at a blue pencil session scheduled in April. And I want the book ready for querying agents by August. NaNoWriMo is a kick in the pants to get the first draft down, but I know I will have lots of work to do afterwards.
Because my goal is the completeness of the draft, I am not pushing myself to write as fast as I did in 2008. I know that I can write 1500 words an hour if I am just getting words out. But, if I don’t have a very good idea of what I am trying to write, the words may not lead me in the direction I want to go. I can’t afford to spend a lot of time running along interesting but fruitless tangents. I need to know where I am trying to lead my story.
Last week, I had kids home from school, I was sick, and I knew that some important elements of the story were missing. I made a choice not to push on with writing and to think instead. I edited and sent out a short story and I thought about my novel.
This afternoon, I sat down and fleshed out my outline. I had previously broken the story into 20 chapters, plotted what needed to happen in each chapter, and written three chapters. Today, I broke each chapter down into 3-5 scenes and wrote a little description of each scene into my manuscript as a place holder. In the process, I learned more about the characters that the story requires. And, the story is growing in a cohesive fashion. I also did a little research to help me develop two of the characters as I want to be able to write them in reasonable depth the first time I write about them.
The current status is that I am about 5,000 words behind where I should be if I were just trying to write 1,667 words a day, but I am a lot closer to a decent first draft than the numbers show. Because I know my goal, I am able to decide how to pursue it and not merely rush headlong towards a high word count that includes a lot of words that will be cut on December 1.
My first NaNoWriMo, I just wanted to “win” the 50,000 word challenge. This year, NaNoWriMo is my excuse to focus on my novel over my short fiction, but 50,000 words isn’t my true goal.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, what is your true goal? And, is your current game plan sending you in the right direction.
Yesterday was a mixed day.
I had brief writing periods in the very early morning and late at night. Early morning is often a good time for me to write. Yesterday, not so much. Non-writing responsibilities intruded and even when I was writing, I struggled to focusing on the world of my story.
However, when I did manage to focus on the writing, what I produced was better than the day before.
When I start a new project, my goal is to get the basic story on paper. I write too much backstory and tell too many things that I should show. In the editing process, I then edit out the unnecessary backstory and rewrite sections I want to deliver in a more active way. As I hit my stride in getting the story idea down on paper,my first draft gets better. I start showing more and telling less and the writing improves even as I am continuing to draft new material. Yesterday, I realized that I was already moving into better writing. This is good.
Yesterday’s final report. Quality: good, Quantity: poor.
This morning, I cleared up the business that was hanging over my head yesterday. If all goes well today, I’ll get to the first major plot point and unleash evil on an unsuspecting suburban neighborhood.
I made my first day word count goal today, which is a good start. In the process, I discovered a few useful things about my characters and realized that one of my plot devices is not as strong as an alternative. So, I am already revising the plot that I outlined in October.
I am not surprised that I am already revising the plot. I had not developed it as fully as I had intended. I was sure there were problems with it that I would discover as I started writing. And, I always leave room in my character development sketches to flesh out the characters during the writing. I find it more fun that way.
The biggest challenge so far is that my family commitments are changing and I will have fewer writing days in November than I had originally anticipated and I must therefore increase my output on the days that I have available.