Monday, October 26, 2009

gearing up for my line of flight

This is only a test. Really. Next week I'm diving into this NaNoWriMo thing with two fingers pinching either side of my nose, so this week I'm buying the life preserver and bathing cap.

Let's just say, I'm jumping into the deep end as prepared as I can be, and for that, on dry land, I have commissioned Excel. For this 50,000 word project, I've identified 26 chapters, and within those 26 chapters, I'm at work outlining the scenes, what happens in the scenes and the plot points. I've been taking notes recently when I overhear something interesting, and I'm slapping them into the spreadsheet as well--as prompts.

It was really hard to sit on my hands today, because I've been visualizing the opening scene for over a week. I really see it, and hear it and sense it as my, what Gordon Lish refers to as, line of flight.

So--next week I dive into the pool--or take off from the runway, depending. The fun part is holding myself back.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo grumbles and confessions

There's just a little more than a week before the dawn of yet another National Novel Writing Month.

In the past, I've looked skeptically at these novel-writing-as-a-community-of-declared-intention groups as hokey and ill-conceived. But why, exactly, I asked myself recently. Why do I cop such an attitude about novels approached with zeitgeist zeal? Is it because:
a. I'm hopelessly elitist
b. I like to do things in secret and not tell anyone I'm doing them due to fear of failure
c. I believe novel-writing to be a huge undertaking and making it a pep rally cheapens it
d. All of the above

It took me over two years to write my novel, and in the process of writing the "first draft" I revised, rewrote, deleted and un-deleted several drafts. Pretty much every page save the last 100 were vetted (and often re-vetted) through the brain trust otherwise known as my kickass writing workshop.

In approaching a long work, I'm pretty fussy. I tend to write the beginning of a long piece over and over and over again before, often, abandoning the idea--and the 100 or so pages generated in the process--altogether. Eventually, something sticks and I forge ahead, always circling back to shear up and tuck in and reformat. In short, I know how to write a novel MY way. I know the ebbs, flows, stutters and mis-leads that go along with poring over characters, arc, research, so, just for the hell of it, I'm now going to try the "reckless abandon" method of slamming out a first draft.

But first, I have to get a couple of things off my chest and declare my ambivalence and prejudices. I have to admit, I absolutely despise the not-quite-an-acronym NaNoWriMo (that would probably have to do with item "a" above). I don't like the cadence, the non-lyric sound and the clubbiness of it. I don't like that it ends in "mo" especially. WriMo sounds like rhymo which sounds lame-o. And then there's the audacity of the whole thing. I mean, why not NaNoReaMo? Let's spend a month READING all the novels we can get on our hands on. Maybe THAT should be the prerequisite? That seems somewhat fair, given the state of publishing today, doesn't it? Like, if you're going to be part of the problem, why not first first be part of the solution?

Another problem--online communities are wonderful supportive environments but they also can suck time and brainpower from the task at hand. Like this blog, for instance. Yup, I'm part of the problem too.

Okay. So I've owned up to my hesitancy, snottiness and foreboding. Now I'm going to play devil's advocate with myself, and admit that I was completely humbled after reading the "about" section on NaNoWriMo's website. Who am I, after all, to criticize such a guileless, worthwhile organization? So, in the spirit of suspending cynicism and crankiness, I offer the "What is NaNoWriMo" section in its entirety herewith:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

why letstalkaboutwriting was broken

Let's Talk About Writing was broken for the last day-and-a-half. Had you noticed? I apologize for any convenience that this caused in my barely two-digit readership!

Seriously, I've had 24 hours of the craziest firestorm involved CNAMES and DNS and Round Robin A Names. It was like a scavenger hunt through cyber space. Every time I got a clue to a back end page or a strip of coding or some random numbers, I'd think, voila! Done. NOT!

The problem is too long and arduous to bore anyone with, but let's just say the reason for all of this had to do with an ill-conceived efficiency exercise, and it blew up in my face. There's a reason why Google is so all-powerful, and I now have first-hand experience of what happens when you try to fuck with the masters. It's a hand-slapping of the most insidious sort.

Hopefully I'm firmly on land at the other end of this debacle. Time will tell.

Monday, October 19, 2009

starting anew

It's Monday again finally. Moms who write and have kids in school love Mondays from September to June.

Let me qualify that. Moms who write and have kids in school and who have flexible enough jobs so that they can squeeze uninterrupted time with their projects love Mondays from September to June. The clock is always reset on Mondays. Unless your kids are sick. Over the weekend, mine has developed something of a phlegmy chest and the shadowy tint of under-eye circles. I hope the ten hours of sleep he's finishing up right now will be enough for me to feel good about pushing him out the door, backpack heavily clunking against his back, when the 7:15 school bus comes 'round the bend.

I haven't begun my new project in earnest yet--but I'm tackling this one differently than I did SOL. I'm heeding the advice of Ansen Dibell (who, I was shocked to find out, was a woman!) and paying close attention to the elements of plot before I even begin.

I've decided to harness the momentum that was byproduct of sprinting to the finish line with SOL and conduct a little experiment. If I can write 100 words in a month, why not 200? If I can finish a first draft in a month, why not an entire manuscript?

You guessed it, I'm signed up for NaNoWriMo with the handle gemini7 (if you want to look me up).

Besides the madcap adventure of writing forward really fast without revising, pondering and deleting, I'm putting this project in the way of temptation to revisit SOL without having let my mind and psyche rest. I have several readers poring over the manuscript, readers whose smart insights I trust (I'm so lucky!), and until they're done, and I've paused sufficiently enough to be able to absorb critique, I need to busy myself with something completely different. Thus, the novel in 30 days challenge.

NaNoWriMo doesn't begin for another couple of weeks (actually, there's only one more Monday between now and the beginning of November), so I'm doing my warm-ups, taking notes, and plotting my course. Anticipating the fun of beginning anew is a huge part of this--which also has a lot to do with why I love Mondays from September to June. I sure do hope my kid is well enough to go to school--I have a lot to do today!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

all of my children are not here and other lovely burnt eavesdrops

Tom Spanbauer calls it "burnt tongue" when you say it wrong on purpose, to bring the prose closer to the heart. The actual metaphor, burnt tongue, has something to do talking to the gods--and the punishment for the hubris. Or maybe I got that wrong. Maybe that's an example of burnt ear--or a similar post office type game gone awry.

Anyway, with SOL (not, sigh out loud, no, that would be Stairway of Love, of course) in the can, awaiting comments from my trusted writing group, I'm naturally consumed with the next thing. I have a few characters and a "situation" squirming around my brain--a most delicious time in the cycle of novel-writing. All the possibilities--none of the commitment. My ear is especially tuned for appropriation during this stage. I'm looking to steal a voice I can sustain. I want that lyrical sound in my head. I want a certain type of burnt tongue to guide me into this story, this new one. To actually chant the story to me--but lyrically. Of course.

The other evening during that bewitching 90 minutes of soccer mom-dom, my boy installed in the OES playing field under the watchful eye of his coach, I stole off to indulge in my usual double espresso with foam and one packet of turbinado sugar (which, btw, is only ONE DOLLAR at the otherwise pricey New Seasons Market). I had my notebook (well, okay, it was a parking receipt folded into a pocket), and Lorrie Moore's new book (more on that in another post), and I curled up in one of the comfy chairs and pretended to read (I'm getting more and more like my 10-yr-old boy each day).

In the New Seasons lounge and food-consuming section, there were a smattering of moms who knew one another, and they were engrossed in casual conversation. This one mom had a particularly fetching accent. She may have haled from New Zealand, or perhaps she was Scottish. At one point, her three children (one in a wheelchair even!) vanished. She was clearing the table post-snack, and sort of talking to one of the other mothers--a nurse, who was described her three 12's as they call it when they pull those shifts, and she suddenly jerked her head up and looked about and exclaimed, "All of my children are not here." And they weren't. Not one. But she said it in this musing, sort of ponderish tone that I tried to rehear and rehear for its musicality and wrongness.

I'm not sure if I can steal this stranger's voice and plunk it in as a main character, but she might be perfect in a supporting role--especially valuable is the covetous energy such a secondary character might generate in the protagonist. Whoever she will end up being.

Monday, October 05, 2009

red shoes and a croissant

These shoes and this bakery is the short answer to how I celebrated completing my novel.

I'm big on ritual--the idea of it--and not-so-big on the follow-through. Typically when I finish a project I don't even pause to breathe before charging onto the next thing. I suppose this is a by-product of the day. Never enough hours and all of that. But with Stairway of Love, I did, actually, pause, contemplate, de-compress and pull out the Visa.