Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Deep Philosophical Moment: Writing Is Like Life

Writing is like life.

I don't mean that what you write is a reflection of life, or that writing means that you give life to ideas and make-believe people, or even that writing makes you feel alive, although all of that is true.

I mean writing is like life. You start out with goals and plans. Whether you're a planner or a pantser, in writing or in life, you have some idea of what you want to make out of  your story, and you work to achieve it.

And, despite the planning and lists of goals and hard work, as with those best-laid plans of mice and men, no matter how much you work toward your goal, you end up somewhere you didn't completely expect. Stuff happened in the process of making your story. You met a character you didn't expect to meet. You got hurt or frightened and reacted by backing away, or by running blindly down the nearest alley. You took one turn to explore a road that looked interesting, expecting to get back on your path at the next corner. Your intended plot was blocked by some obstacle and so you had no choice but to look in another direction. The bumps and twists and attempts to work around obstacles and respond to conflicts led you in an unexpected direction.

You let go of the rod. You didn't stay on the Yellow Brick Road. Your story forced you to slog down the Muddymuck Swamp Gas Trail, and you probably forgot to roll up your pant legs until it was too late.

And you ended up here. You look back, wondering what would have happened if you had stuck to your plan. Would things be better? Worse? Or just different?

But your story is what it became, intentional or not. Maybe you just hoped for the wrong tale, and got what you got. And chances are, it's a pretty good story the way it ended up, even if it's not what you always wanted.

Yeah, it's kinda like life that way.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Getchyer NaNo On

It’s time to get your NaNoWriMo on. I know, I know, it’s still early and you’re busy with other projects. But it’s out there, lurking, and the best way to succeed is to hit the ground running come November one.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is the annual National Novel Writing Month in which you write a book, start to finish. You can sign up and report your daily totals and, if you reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win the right to print a certificate saying you won. For a few bucks, you can even buy the t-shirt that shows the world your writing prowess.

The format of the event is a great exercise for developing writers. The goal is to produce words, 1700 of them a day. I especially like booting that naggy internal editor guy out the door for the entirety of November. It is a freeing feeling to write, write, write without having to perfect every sentence and phrase. You just blast out a book in 30 days. There will be time later to clean up. Besides, it’s only the first draft. It’s you telling you the story. Who knows what crazy paths it’s going to take? NaNoWriMo is all about putting a rough book on paper, not about perfecting it.

I’ve participated in three of them and won last year for the first time. Naturally then, I’m an expert on NaNo. The key is planning. My failed attempts started with a story idea - more of a story beginning. Being a panster at the time, writing from the seat of my pants, I figured I’d work out the details as I went ahead. You know, minor things like plot, characterization, etc. -  they’ll come as the story develops. There’s nothing more frustrating than moving along smoothly only to ground to a halt two weeks into it.

Last year, I spent October debating whether to do it or not. I was in the middle of several projects and didn’t want to start something else. Plus I didn’t have a clue for a story. Finally, a week before November, I sat and kicked around some ideas and managed to come up with something which was surprisingly good. But it was more than just a concept. The secret to success was knowing how it ended. By looking all the way to the end, it’s easier to plan the story to that objective. With the end goal in mind, even a pantser could wear the NaNo shirt in December.

So, now’s the time. Decide if you can commit to a month-long writing marathon. If you can, re-visit some of those story ideas you’ve put on the back burner and figure out how it is going to turn out. Then, either plan if that’s your style, or be ready with the end goal in mind and on November 1st, kick some writing butt.