Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learning the Ropes

Chris Baty said it would happen. He pointed out, in his humorous way, that there would come a point in the novel writing project that the momentum would wane and the process would become more challenging. Except he said it would happen on the third or fourth day of Week 2. It happened to me at the end of Week 1.

I read all about it in Chris's book, No Plot, No Problem. And I believe his method has merit. Obviously, it works for HIM. Probably for lots of other people, too. And it's a fact that if it weren't for his brainchild, NaNoWriMo, there's NO WAY I would be attempting to write an entire book in my "free" time this month. But I finally had to admit that, for me, "no plot" had become a serious problem. And I wasn't sure how to solve it.

Just a little something I put together one day when I SHOULD have been writing.

Granted, the honeymoon period was fun. For a few days, I hummed along--enjoying the ride, unconcerned with the destination--introducing my characters, settings, and their basic conflicts. Then I got stuck. I tried to keep writing anyway. Because, frankly, I didn't think I had time to stop and make decisions. It was all I could do to get my 1667 words done every day. So I started doing social experiments with my characters, placing them in random situations and describing what happened, doing whatever it took to meet my word count goal for the day, regardless of whether or not the prose was interesting or actually moved my story forward, completely ignoring the derision expressed by my "inner editor."

But after a couple of days, I simply couldn't go on like that. I felt like I was wasting my time, even though I was being "productive." That's when I hit the wall. But rather than face up to what was really happening, I found ways to distract myself from it. I went shopping online. I went to the mall. I cleaned. I cooked. I baked. I read. I knitted.

By Monday night, I had fallen several thousand words behind my word count goal. So about ten o'clock, after I had met all my responsibilities for the day , I forced myself to sit with my laptop, vowing not to sleep until I completed 2000 words. I should have just turned out the light and gone to bed, because not only did I not write another word, I didn't accomplish anything else, either. I literally sat and stared at the screen for hours. (Okay, I did take breaks to check email, facebook, twitter, and the like. But I was utterly powerless to write.)

It was 4AM by the time I finally admitted defeat. And since I had promised Nathan I would help him with homework at 7:30, I couldn't even sleep in. Which made yesterday a veeery long day. I did manage a few hundred words after he left for school. I even employed a "trick" suggested in No Plot, No Problem. Using the "Replace" feature in Microsoft Word, I changed my main character's name to from "Hilda" to "Hilda Sue" and her son's name from simply "Robby" to "Robby Bob," which also increased my word count slightly (and provided me with a much-needed laugh). But deep inside, I felt like a fraud.

By the time I finished teaching that night, I was too tired to do writing. It didn't matter. My tires were spinning in the mud. I was sitting still at a crossroads trying to figure out which road to take. Choose your metaphor; I was getting nowhere with my novel and the clock just kept ticking. Night owl that I usually am, I was asleep before ten o'clock. But as I drifted off to sleep, my muse gently prodded me: "You need an outline... You need an outline..."

So this morning I pulled out my pad of sticky notes and wrote a sentence summing up each of the major scenes of my story so far. Then I brainstormed future possibilities. Finally, I took all the sticky notes and arranged them in a logical sequence. (Thanks to the ladies from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales for sharing this storyboard technique at the M & M Conference in October!) In the process, I found a few holes and I changed my mind about some of the chronology of some of the previously written sections. But what is important is that NOW I KNOW WHERE MY STORY IS HEADED. I saw places where there were problems, figured out ways to solve those problems, and came up with possibilities about how the story might end.

Not exactly a detailed outline. But just what I needed.

Finally, I was ready to write. I started by changing "Hilda Sue" back to "Hilda" and "Robby Bob" back to "Robby." My conscience clear, I set to work. I had only about an hour left until I started teaching. But I managed about 1200 words, almost effortlessly. I don't know how good they are, and I might change my mind half a dozen times about some of the details I decided today. But at least I am moving forward again.


eric said...

Glad you are making headway again, sis!

I have actually found making it up as I go along to work pretty well for me. I'm not sure I could ever get anything written if I felt like I had to outline the whole story first. I think I would feel like I was just "filling in the details" at that point, and it wouldn't be as much fun for me, either.

But, that's just the way _I_ feel right _now_. It may change later. After all, I've never _ever_ written this much in one story. All I've ever done before has been relatively short stories.

I have learned one very valuable lesson from this already, however. I have to be true to myself and my eccentricities and peculiar weird interests. Writing conventional thriller fiction is not for me. It soon becomes drudgery for me. I need to write about zombies, time travel, aliens, parallel dimensions, or some combination of all of the above!

Anyway, if I have a point (big "if" at this stage), I guess it's that every writer has different things that work for them and hopefully both of us are learning these things from this crazy NaNoWriMo experiment.

I hope you've found your writing groove thang again! I know you can do it! :)

Pam said...

Hey Eric,

I think you're right; it's very important for writers to be true to themselves, to write what they WANT to write, as opposed to for a particular market. "To thine own self be true," and all that.

I think you are also correct that every writer will develop unique methods to get the job done. I have spoken to lots of different writers, and people do everything from just starting on Page 1 and writing until the tale is told to beginning with detailed character sketches and intricate plot outlines and THEN telling the story. At this point, I am more unstructured than structured--but, as I explained in my blog post, NO structure wasn't working for me AT ALL.

Glad you are merrily rolling along--can't wait to meet your zombies and aliens! :)


The Writers Canvas said...

I love how you added an extra name to your characters to increase word count! That's hilarious!

Yeah, I always get pulled between being a plotter and a pantser. My process (which isn't always a good one) is to do like NaNo and just write write write. But eventually, I need linear. I need things to make sense. So I usually write out my core scenes in order and then know where things are headed--similar to the post it method.

I'm trying to figure out a way of how to outline first, but even that doesn't always work.

And I'm not technically doing NaNo on the writing, but I am trying to edit 10 pages per day of a previous manuscript. Some days I win, some days I lose, some days it rains.


Pam said...

Hi Elaine,

Thanks for your comments! It sounds like our processes are very similar. Incidentally, I got the idea for adding the extra name to my character's from Chris's book. He has a few other hilarious suggestions, as well. My favorite so far is adding Vitamin C powder to your coffee or whiskey shots to ward off illness.

Editing ten pages of a previously written manuscript every day doesn't sound like a picnic! But I guess that's what I have to look forward to after NaNoWriMo is ever. Good luck!


Debra Becht said...

No Ihave no experience in writing. I do however, have a opinion as I have plenty of experience with my own opinions. The next time you hit a wall, obstacle, canundrum, just walk away from the novel. Get out and do have an experience (preferably one that is legal even if not moral). That experience could very well lead to the next step of your plot.

Now I know that sounds way to easy but your way sounds way too hard and I am all about finding the easy!

Pam said...

Debbie, that sounds like excellent advice. Maybe that's been my problem with this NaNoWriMo thing; committing to writing 50,000 words in 30 days has kept my nose too close to the grindstone. And all work and no play makes Pam a dull girl. Maybe I didn't need an outline at all; maybe what I need is an ADVENTURE! Hm...

Janet said...

I am just so proud of you and a little envious at the same time. I have always thought of myself as a creative person and an adequate writer; however, I could never imagine actually being a mom, working, and still committing the time to write a novel!
I'll be first in line to buy the book and have it autographed!
Love ya,

Pam said...

Thanks, Janet. This isn't a well-conceived plan, and I think there's a huge element of insanity involved. ;) But I have always wanted to write a novel, and it finally became apparent to me that there is never going to be a perfect time. Especially since it doesn't look like I will EVER be able to retire! And a couple of hours a day gets the job done; it's a matter of choosing writing over other things I enjoy, like cooking or baking or knitting or reading or watching tv. Once NaNoWriMo is over, I am hoping to find a way to balance the writing with some of those things--maybe write five days a week, and spend time on other pursuits on my "off" days. But right now, it's 50,000 words by the end of November or bust!

Thanks for reading. You are a good friend!