Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thinking and Dreaming and Writing

A lot of people have just finished NaNoWriMo, aiming at and in many cases achieving the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Doable? Many have shown that it is, and some even go on to publish novels that began as NaNo projects. And when you consider that's "only" 1,666.66666666... words per day (see, I said there'd be math in this blog), it really doesn't sound that bad, despite the fact that lightning-fast drafting has never really worked for me. Of course, there's Thanksgiving in there, and if you have to put on the dinner we'd better subtract another day, and let's allow one Christmas shopping day too, because if you don't start on Black Friday you'll probably start soon after -- or continue shopping that you've already begun. So subtract at minimum three days, and your daily total is now 1,851.8518, which is another very cool number. It means you have to write close to 2,000 words per day, but it's still cool.

But maybe you, like I, don't do NaNo. When you're writing, you still want to produce words, right? Lately, that's certainly my goal. My WIP is taking longer than I want it to, which is par for the course in my experience. But sometimes, no matter how much you want to get words down, everything slows to a crawl or even a halt. Sometimes, I feel like this guy:

When my writing slows to a crawl, I've learned it means one of two things: (1) I don't know what comes next, or (2) I've recently taken a wrong turn. The solution to either problem is the same -- it's time to get off the word count treadmill and think, dream, listen. While Don Music may listen to a green frog, I listen deep inside. I may reread the last chapter, ask the Holy Spirit, let my imagination run free in my fictional setting, do a spot of research for an upcoming scene and hit on a new plot point better than the one I had planned, or think about my story in the shower, which is a well-nigh foolproof way of coming unstuck. I tap into something that will start the story, and therefore the words, flowing again. It's when the words and the need to cover the page get ahead of the story that the writing grinds to a stop. Which means that on days I think, dream, pray, imagine or douse myself, I may get very few words written but discover the key to the whole book. I also rediscover the most mysterious, spiritual and joyful part of writing. The part I wanted to live when I started this whole business.

Maybe that shower is a literal filling of the well... :)


Vijaya said...

I know what you mean, Marcia, and I am not a seat of the pants writer. Things have to gestate a long time before I even put pen to paper, and then I tend to revise as I go ... so I don't have the Nano personality, but I do love the idea of cranking something out in a month. But I want something good (maybe that's the problem, eh?). The trick is to do what works for you. And I'm still finding my way.

Jeff King said...

I am a fly by the seat of my pants type writer, so writing even 3 to 4 thousand words a day, is quite normal. When I first begging a project the story just comes to me, like a voice from deep within, and it never runs out of story.

Now, editing (if you call what I do editing) takes an extraordinary long time for me. I could write a 98k novel in a little over two months, but I would spend nearly a year revising the work, partly because of my writing weakness… the other from lack of knowledge, and of course, my grow makes previous work obsolete-hence another revision/draft.

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Your process sounds a lot like mine except I tend to dive into a first chapter fairly early in the gestation, then slow up. I guess those first few pages I take a stab at are part of the story development for me. Maybe I could write an icky first draft if I told myself "It's just an outline, just an outline" as I went, but usually icky first drafts depress me too badly. I remind myself that I wrote nine books by "our" method and should keep it up.

Jeff -- There are times I really covet that kind of output. But I think you're right: we do the slow part somewhere in the process, whether it's in drafting or rewriting.

lotusgirl said...

I don't have that NaNo personality either. I'd waste so much time and effort on something that I'd just have to go back and change. I like to do my best to get it right the first time through. Some days that may mean only a couple hundred words get written.

Have a great holiday break, Marcia. I'll see you again in the new year.

Anne Spollen said...

I am a NaNo disgrace. I really thought I could do it, but the Inner Editor in me was like, "Excuse me, but aren't we together on the whole writing IS revision? And what is the deal with these sloppy sentences?" Plus, November is an incredibly hectic month.

Yet I'm glad I tried NaNo - I learned that I have to do a certain amount of revision before I can go on. The galloping nature of that writing is just not how I get anywhere, and I spent my writing minutes reading the forums instead of writing.

I must say, I know other folks who love the group idea and thrive by participating. I'm just not one of them.

Mary Witzl said...

I've never really managed NaNo either. I've started some stories, but I've never managed to finish them in a satisfying way.

I REALLY understand what you mean about needing to think things through. My best thoughts always come to me in the morning, when I'm still in bed. If I can get a good stretch of time to let inspiration come to me, I can move ahead. Otherwise, writing is just a futile exercise. I don't need to prove that I can churn out a certain number of words in a certain period of time -- I know I can do that. What I want to do is produce words that work. Pushing to reach a certain goal just means I'll have a lot of extra work when I refine my drafts.

Marcia said...

lotusgirl -- You sound just like me. Since plot is so cause-and-effect, I can't see plowing ahead regardless of wrong turns; you're just making more mess, it seems to me.

Anne -- Ditto your entire first paragraph.

Mary -- Ditto your last sentence. It just goes back to the saying "haste makes waste," doesn't it?

Susan Fields said...

For me, taking the dog for a walk is an almost foolproof way of getting unstuck. And I agree, when I'm really having trouble with something, it's a good sign that I've taken a wrong turn and need to back up and see how I got to that point in the first place.

Nora MacFarlane said...

I tried Nano, but it nearly put me in my grave... I also think about plot quite a bit before my fingers hit the keyboard. When I get stuck, I have found that long walks by myself help. I almost always come back with ideas to get past the block. I am not a prolific writer. Sometimes my goal is one good sentence. Five hundred words in a sitting is good. 1000 or more is fantastic. I'm like Vijaya -I want them to be GOOD words!

Marcia said...

Susan -- I find that walking works, too. Maybe those of us who don't have a dog should get one. :)

Nora -- Another walker! Yep, walking and showering are great helps. As for word count per session, I'm pretty much in your camp.

Kimberly said...

I don't do NaNoWriMo either. I admit, it is an attractive thought to be completely finished with a first draft of a novel in one short month, but I don't think I could do it with work, family, birthdays, anniversaries and Thanksgiving all in that month.

Marcia said...

Kimberly -- I know a few who'd like to try the NaNo concept do choose a different month for it. Personally, if I were going to try it I'd go for Jan. or Feb.