Wednesday, October 30, 2002
I’ve seen a lot of talk in places about writing habits. Some people seem to have it in their head that writers write. Writers are supposed to write every day. Writers are not any good unless they write every day for the rest of their lives. That sort of nonsense.
That’s what it is.
Writers are people and all people are different.
Writing is not a sport. It’s not like you can train for writing. It’s not like good writing involves special muscles any more than bad writing does. Being a strong writer has nothing to do with exercise. It has to do with thinking. Thinking is what makes you a good writer. (And sometimes not thinking makes you a good writer, too.) Writing is drawing connections between things, making combinations and then showing them to us.
I say all this mostly as a rationalization. I am a binge writer. I write in huge vomitous spurts (if that’s a legal phrase). I will go months, even years without writing anything substantial and then I will sit down and in a matter of hours pound out a one-act play or a draft of a full-length within a week. Or, in the case of November, I will write a novel.
I write when my brain is full. Writing is a way of containing ideas for later use by others. I’ll have an idea. I noodle on it. I read about things related to it. I observe things that help me solve problems in it. I develop it in my head and then eventually it’s done and has to come out. Now, I know that not everyone works like this. And by no means is the thing done in my head. I don’t know every word, I don’t even know what’s going to happen.
Think of it this way: writing is like baking. I’ve got this recipe. I’m not even sure what it makes, but I put all of the stuff in it. I see what I’m putting in it and sometimes I add other stuff (you know, raisins would be really good with this, and pecans ... maybe a bit of lemon zest). Then I mix and pop it in the oven. That’s the typing part. It bakes and I wait. I type, I give it a sniff now and then and eventually it comes out and there’s a draft. I just know it’s ready and I need to take it out of the oven and taste it. Then I know what it is.
So, for any of you out there who feel guilty because you don’t have umpteen journals lining your shelves and you don’t work on a schedule of “five pages a day”, take heart. You can be a writer. You do have to write, mind you. But you don’t have to feel like not writing isn’t being a writer either. Eventually you let it all out.
Editing is another matter.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Just a brief update on the whole knee thing. I went and got an X-ray (actually, four) and nothing’s broken. Well, I knew that I didn’t break anything. They knew that I didn’t break anything, but in order to get a referral from my HMO primary doctor to an orthopedic, I had to have an X-ray. Well, the orthoped doesn’t need the X-ray, because they know it’s not broken, what they really want is an MRI, but they can’t order an MRI until they see me. But before they order an MRI, they have to do an X-ray ... you can see where this is going.
Mostly, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or precious radiation. But really, I must learn that’s not how modern medicine works. Hey, maybe I’ll work all of this into my novel anyway. I haven’t had an X-ray since I was nine and went to have my tonsils out (don’t ask my why I had to have a head X-ray for that… I recall that they couldn’t decide whether my ear infections were being caused by severe strep infections or a brain tumor ... go figure). This was less scary than that. And they let me keep my clothes on.
The silly result of all of this is that I still can’t get an appointment with an actual physician until the 30th. By then I’ll be completely healed and look like a real nutcase.
But hey, I got some cool pictures out of it! That’s really my patella there. My femur, my tibia ... am I revealing too much?
Friday, October 18, 2002
typ e?tive [ tai pEh tihv ]
Usage note: typetive, a general and fairly neutral word for somebody who writes a lot, especially as a matter of disposition
Usage Example: “When Raina was feeling particularly typetive, her sister could get emails from her that were well over 2,000 words long.”
Wednesday, October 16, 2002
About two years ago I started living my life by a new philosophy. One that fits in perfectly with NaNoWriMo.
Basically, if you want to accomplish anything in your life, you’re going to have to start somewhere and you’re going to have to turn off that critic in your head that tells you things like, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I’m not buying that anymore. My attitude is this: Make a list of the things you want to do and start doing them. Check them off. If you liked it the first time, then go back and do it again and do it well.
I wanted to write a novel. And I hoped to write a great novel. But let’s face it, even though I’m an experienced writer, chances were pretty damn good that my first novel was going to be rather weak. So why pour my soul into it? Why not get the first one out of the way and then either go back and rewrite it entirely or use that experience to go on and write a good novel?
I’m putting this into action in other areas of my life too. I’m in training (well, will restart the training after the knee heals) for the Los Angeles Marathon. I’m not even going to run it. I’m going to walk it. Which might sound like a cop out, but to walk a marathon takes about seven hours. That’s a commitment. And if I like it, maybe I will take up jogging and run it the next year. Or at least I’ll have my little medal and can tell folks that I wanted to be in a marathon, and I was in a marathon.
Lower your expectations. Broaden your horizons.
And I thought I was detail oriented.
The scary thing is that I was so fascinated by it that I actually took all of my totals from last year and plugged them in to see how I did. Now, I know I finished. I finished a day early! Why would I need to plug last years numbers into the spreadsheet? I am such a pathetic nut sometimes. Anyway, as you can guess, the spreadsheet told me I finished. It gave me a swell graph and at the end of the month, my little pie chart was all one color because my novel was 100%.
As for an update on the whole knee thing ... well, it’s been five days and the dang thing still smarts. I don’t know why I got it into my head that I could just walk it off or something. But it’s getting better slowly. I’ll be working from home for the most part these next few weeks. So perhaps that means more frequent updates! Or additional complaining.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
So, tonight I got my first experience at an emergency room as an adult. I’m afraid I watch too much TV and was quite disappointed to find it all rather civilized. I was in and out in about an hour and half. It’s the first time I’ve actually been grateful for my health insurance ... I actually specified this civilized hospital as my critical care of choice.
Anyway, I’ve been immobilized. Apparently I’ve blown out some tendons or something in my knee. And this doesn’t relate much to my noveling except for the fact that they said that I have to wear this dang knee brace for six to eight weeks. Somehow, I don’t see that happening. I see, maybe a week.
But I am going on vacation anyway. Gives me an excuse to snuggle down with a good book and order room service, eh?
Friday, October 11, 2002
It seems that many, many people are taking NaNoWriMo very seriously. Perhaps it is the fact that I know I can do it that I’m feeling a little cocky. I do have hindsight. But I also have this terrible problem of wearing these vision correcting rose colored glasses ... I forget that I must have struggled to finish. I look over some of my postings in my log and realize that I must have had trouble. I was 13,000 words behind on November 15th.
But I can’t imagine being “prepared.” Perhaps it’s the fact that I write from my brain and not from my notes, but I can’t have chapters and outlines. Maybe I could, but somehow I think that’d take all the fun out of it. What if I knew what was going to happen, I mean, really happen in my novel? What’d be the point. I like writing to find out.
I’ve got an idea, I’ve got questions and the only way to answer them is to start writing and let that figure them out for me. I think writing is really a computer. I input ideas and the act of writing solves them for me.
But again, maybe I’m not doing this the proper way. I’m amazed to see that people have so much done already. How can you name a chapter already? How do you know that you have 14 chapters in the first place?
Well, I’m not even going to think about it this weekend. I’m off on a trip up the coast and I’m going to shut off my writing brain and turn on my paddling and hiking brain.
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Okay, I’ve been dicking around with the look of the blog for about a week now.
And you’re probably asking yourself, “Why the engraved design elements?” Well, my novel is supposed to have a large component about counterfitting. So, in order to inspire or remind me or whatever, I decided to give my blog a bit of a look to that effect.
What it has meant, however, is that I have spent hour upon hour on eBay looking at scans of money from around the world. Really. It’s quite addictive.
I’m thinking of having some illustrations for my novel as well. Perhaps picking portraits from currency for each of my characters. Would that confuse anyone? To see an engraved little picture of, oh, say Bernardo O’Higgins when I mention Dwight, the babyfaced Secret Service agent? Let me know if you think that’s a bad idea.
I thought it’d help me focus. Or be a total distraction.
I was posting in the NaNoWriMo forums today. Again.
I’m kind of torn about how to handle these public forums. I don’t know if people are serious when they talk about how scared they are about writing a novel, about how little support they’re getting, about how little they know about writing. Sometimes I think that it’s a kind of posturing, a way of soliciting supportive responses, even if you don’t really want or need them. But I’m a trusting soul; I answer as if they’re honestly looking for support. But then I think I’m coming off as some sort of pompous twit or something.
If I knew it all, I’d be a guru or something. And I’d practice what I preach.
But I do know this. You cannot write something that isn’t in you. But that doesn’t mean that you have to write about yourself. There is a huge difference between what you know and what you can find out. What’s inside of you is your experience, not just what you’ve done. I’ve seen too many novice writers limit themselves by writing about themselves ... plain and unadulterated. Yes, the story of a kid trying to come to grips with being different is interesting and universal. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t set that story in 14th century China with a young warrior trying to come to grips with his homosexuality in an Imperial Palace. Or set it with a leper at the time of Christ or a woman faced with losing her job after World War II when the men returned home.
I write to understand. The stories that pop into my head are more questions than anything else. I get characters that pop in there and then circumstances and then occasions and then conflicts. They perform for me, they have their lives and I watch and write it all down. If I don’t understand hate or intolerance, something in the back of my mind will construct a framework to help me understand in some small way.
Most of the things that have been popping into my head for the past year or so have been about faith. We can all guess what that’s all about. And some of them address it head on, but I think the more interesting approach is to go at it from another angle. Because that’s where the surprises come in.
I am looking forward to this coming month where these things will open up to me. I worry that I haven’t picked the right story to tell. But these characters and scenes have been following me around for some twelve years now. I’ve got to get them out soon. And who knows what it is that they have to teach me. Oh, I long for those moments where things suddenly click and I’m taken away from whatever keyboard I’m at and into that world.
Sunday, October 06, 2002
Yes, why should I post my daily words on my blog?
Well, there are a few reasons.
1. Dissemination. It’s easier to just post it and have it be there. If someone else who’s following along wants to peek, they’re welcome to it. If I wanna look over it, I can, from any computer. Say I’m at work and I get a thought, there’s the whole thing, right up there on the web. All I have to know is the password to my blog and I can add to it or correct an inconsistency.
2. Honesty. These are my words and I wrote them. I am not having one of my characters read aloud from 1001 Arabian Nights ... This is not to say that folks don’t trust me. I write lots of other things. But it’s just a way to keep it all on the up and up.
3. Pressure. Let’s face it, I’m much more likely to write my daily words to meet your expectations of me than mine. So I’ll use my loyal following as a scape goat. I have to do my daily words because my fans demand it!
4. Vanity. I’m hoping you’ll like it.
Saturday, October 05, 2002
Yes, it’s only October 5th, but I thought everyone who is participating in or supporting NaNoWriMo should be thinking of ways to increase word count. Here are a few of mine from last year:
1. Stylistically violate hyphenation and compound word rules. Substitute farm boy for farmboy or farm-boy. In my case, I just avoided the compound word postman and referred to him as the postal carrier. Don’t use hyphenates, instead, put them in quotes. A character with a holier-than-thou attitude suddenly has a “holier than thou” attitude. Suddenly his one word attitude is now three. If you don’t like the quotes, try italics (but that has a negative impact on my typing speed).
2. Do Not Use Contractions. My personal study of my manuscript has led me to believe that I could up my word count by as much as 8% by eliminating contractions. That does not count the colloquial use of words like “gotta” in dialogue.
3. Address all of your characters by their full names. Give them long names, if necessary, make them southern so they can be naturalistically three to four words, like Miss Emma Jane Browning or Jimmy Joe Rand.
4. Choose multiple word placenames. Why have your characters live in Erie, Pennsylvania when they can live in Lake Oswego, New York?
5. Pick a phrase to use often when something happens in the book, as a sort of commentary. Like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.‘s use of “and so it goes.” whenever someone died. Pick an event to use the phrase with, preferably something that happens a lot. Maybe your character is on a road trip, pick a phrase to use whenever you mention having to go to the bathroom, fill up the gas tank or feeling tired.
6. Have a character who is a religious zealot and have them pop up and quote Bible verses.
In reality, I didn’t use any of these to gain wordcount. The only thing that I did that was just for the words was one day when I was stuck, I went ahead and shifted the location of the chapter to a high school English class and assigned five of the characters to read one page from their journals. That chapter was 2,498 words. All in less than three hours. It’s something that would come out of the finished manuscript, but it was invaluable for me to do it as an exercise.
Friday, October 04, 2002
I’ve started talking about NaNoWriMo with friends and that inevitably leads to questions. So here are a few that might interest you:
How are you going to write 50,000 words in 30 days?
You’re not serious, are you?
How exactly are you going to write it?
I’ll work an abbreviated schedule at the office ... getting off around 4:00 and heading to a coffee house with my laptop. Each day I’ll open the previous day’s file and save it as a new one (so as to never lose more than a days work). I’ll log my time and words on a detailed little spreadsheet and update my website faithfully. I will be a completely different person. With discipline and grace ...
Wait a second, you’re going to become a wonderful person while you’re writing your novel, but you just said you were going to taunt writers who were falling behind?
Wednesday, October 02, 2002
Well, I’m all signed up for National Novel Writing Month 2002.
It all starts at 12:01 AM November 1, 2002.
I’m going to be adding lots of stuff to this site, including loads of links on the side for other Wrimo blogs.
I’m also going to post my brief recounting of last year and perhaps even my progress graph.
I’ll also be participating in some other blogs as well.
So ... keep watching this space!
During November it's all about me writing a novel. Sometimes it's about whalewatching. You know, and then there's other stuff.