In the last few days that I’ve been adjusting to participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ve been planning. Thinking and planning. Thinking, and reading, listening, remembering, and planning. What I’ve not been doing is planning a plot for my novel. Wait.
Insert butterflies in my stomach *here.* Not nervousness — just a sort of holy crap I’m really going to do this and I will be able to say I’m actually working on my novel. I will probably stop short at blathering about this new thing in my life to unfortunate victims in the grocery store check out line, but I have plenty of other outlets to make my announcement. I’m not good at giving myself credit for something like that. Like there are rules somewhere that might indicate I’m not worthy of saying it because I don’t have the right experience or something. What the hell. Clearly, that’s a stumbling block I need to get rid of. Perhaps I should tell people in the grocery store.
Hello, did you know I’ve just started writing my very first novel? Okay, so maybe not. If I was more brave, it would be hilarious to collect the reactions of others, but I’m not.
I’ve been bolstering myself with advice from writers like Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, Annie Proulx, Annie Dillard, and Nora Roberts — people who have accomplished much with their writing and whom I admire for different reasons. I don’t like all of what they write (except Nora Roberts who has successfully helped me escape life 98% of the time when I feel like it), but I’m like that about most things. A bit of this, a bit of that makes reading interesting for me. It makes life more interesting as well.
The advice that caught my eye first is from King:
“I distrust plot for two reasons: first because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”
Exactly. I find it ironic that I can’t go on a trip without meticulous plans, maps, reservations for lodging, and a list of must-sees, but I’m going to sit down for a solid month every day to write about 2,000 words. Minimum. Honestly, I’m not worried about the number of words. In fact right now, I’ve got my eye on the clock and am trying to ignore that KFKD voice in my left ear telling me how bad what I’m writing exactly now really is. But I’m pecking along, trying not to worry about which words and why. I’m just letting them roll out of me, trying to type loud enough to drown the voice out because it never, ever goes away. I need to give it a name and make it my friend. Seriously.
King says if I can begin with a viable “what if” situation — and I’ve seen that elsewhere over the years — then I can just go ahead and write. And I know that. It’s like a point on a map and various ways to get there present themselves along the way. The decision is wait until you get to each and then make the decision for that moment in time.
Alice Hoffman says:
“Some chapters form all others…the chapters that wallop and teach and bring you to tears…invite us to step to the other side of the curtain, the one that divides those of us who must face our destiny sooner rather than later.”
I know that she was referencing the fact that she’d been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation. But her words help me sort out how what parts of my thoughts and experiences will find their way into what I write. I can’t imagine not doing that, but I don’t want the book to be about me. I want to be able to “head down the back road and stop for the yard sales,” as Proulx advises — something I struggle to do but am always longing for. So there’s my character. That’s what she has to figure out. Longing for something, telling others to do it, yet never taking that step herself until one day…I swear this book is not about me.
I have trouble staying on task. When I think back even 10 years ago, I would never have said that about myself, but now I’m wondering if I just didn’t notice. So it makes sense that if I’m going to accomplish something BIG in a relatively short period of time, then I need to be able to stay on task. That quandary has led me to thinking about mindfulness. I know. Thinking about mindfulness is a bit redundant or something , isn’t it? But staying in the moment, paying attention to one thing at a time, and ignoring all of everything else is a problem. At this moment, I want to look out the window. It’s a gorgeous day, the sky is travel brochure blue, the mid-morning light is classic Southern California perfection. Clear, bright, and pulling at me to go outside just for a minute to take a few deep breaths, feel the cold stone on the patio beneath my feet, sweep a few twigs into the pile that never seems to go away, and then wonder if I should make some toast. Toast with peach jam I bought while I was out in the country in New York.
Now where was I? Mindfulness. That elusive thing.
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world.
We are the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.
Wise man, Buddha. Food for thought for myself definitely, but also for my main character. Thinking about who we are or what we have become at particular points in our lives can be a sobering experience and moving from that point forward, we can either accept it, or change it. Clearly, she’s going to have to change. She just hasn’t figured that out yet.
I just realized I haven’t introduced Jayne yet. She’s my character. She’s not young any longer, but that’s relative because I often hear twentysomethings refer to people in their 30s as being old. Really? They have NO idea, bless their little egocentric hearts. I haven’t decided just how old Jayne is, though. Forty seems right — even 39. But 45 may be perfect for a lot of reasons I can’t go into right now. Suffice to say one’s body is different. And that triggers quite a few thoughts about life and youth, aging. Yes, it does.
(Just acknowledging that I’ve been writing without getting up, opening an email, responding to a text, or looking out the window more than twice for 32 minutes and have written 982 words. See? Quantity is not the issue for me. )
Some of the advice I’ve read in the past few days is questionable but I’ve written it down as a reminder since I get a persnickety when I write or involved in any project for that matter. “Go for good enough.” Hmmm. Really? If I was contemplating cleaning my garage, my shamble of a closet, my kitchen, the bathrooms — hell, the entire house — I’d say absolutely. Good enough. Life is too short to fuss over little ridiculous details that on a day to day basis only myself and husband see. And he doesn’t care (nice guy). I definitely don’t care — that is unless I have something more pressing to take care of and I’m not loving the idea of having to do it, or am not sure about how to do it. Then housework becomes fascinating. But I think I’ve got that one in good perspective so can settle for “good enough.”
The idea of “good enough” has a deeper meaning to me. In the years I worked as a teacher and an administrator, we often brought our work to a common table to share with one another and discuss what we’d set out to do, what our students accomplished. We thought that having this discussion would help improve our teaching, and ultimately, our students’ learning as shown in their written work instead of on a sheet with bubbles that are filled in and scored by a machine. We often talked about something that was key to so much of our work and that of our students: Just how good was good enough?
It may not seem like all that much, but if the idea isn’t established, let’s say there can be quite a bit of taking too many back roads, stopping at too many garage sales, and generally wandering around in circles. This is not a good feeling. Therefore, good enough for me in my effort of writing a novel — my first novel — is to have a viable draft in 30 days. To have a believable character whom I like, and who likes herself. I want her story to unfold in her own time (okay, in 30 days…) and to inspire others. I want it to be a book that I would like to read. That’s good enough for me.
I have work to do the rest of this morning figuring out the writing software I’m going to use. It’s called Scrivener and although I’ve looked at a tutorial and read through the basics, I am wary of it taking on a life of its own while I’m trying to write. I’ve become so accustomed to typing in this space that I’ve been wondering what it will feel like to type elsewhere. It sounds like an odd thing to mention, but I think it’s no different than someone admitting their desk needs to have certain objects in their rightful places. Perhaps music needs to be playing. Or there’s a small, smooth stone shaped perfectly for your palm and when you need to mull over something, it’s there, waiting to be picked up.
Here’s what where I’m writing exactly now looks like.
But I can also choose to have my screen look like this instead.
Time’s up. It’s just now 11am (I’ve written over 1600 words with not too much persnicketyness), and I’ve got an hour of figuring out Scrivener, and more thinking about my character to make notes about. Settle in on a more specific what if situation for her that I can live with for 30 days.
If you have any thoughts about all of this, by all means, let me know, but in the words of John Updike, “Don’t internalize your critics — it’s death to the creative spirit.” And because I know I’m my own worst critic, well then, I’ve got my work cut out for me, don’t I?
I’ll leave you with this clip of Nora Roberts whose advice about writing is short and sweet: “Disciplinary responsibility kicks muse’s ass every day. Keep your ass in the chair.”
p.s. It’ now after 12:00, and I’ve still not moved on. I’ve revised, nitpicked words and punctuation, inserted more, and is it good? Well, for today, it’s good enough. My ass is still in the chair, I’m writing, and I have thoughts about it all I didn’t have before I sat down today. And? Now I have almost 1900 words.