Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mile Marker 14

The last time I made any real attempt to write a novel I was 19. I pounded away at a manual typewriter in the living room of my first apartment, where one wall was painted purple. As I finished each page, I tacked it to the wall, so I could pace in front of it and make notes, or simply rub my chin and furrow my brow in what I thought was a writerly way. The typewriter, as I recall, was set on top of a two-basin sink I had rescued from the trash and balanced on paint cans to create a coffee table. This required me to do all of my typing sitting cross-legged on the floor. I seem to recall that it took me about 3 months to punch through my little tale of urban isolation, and when I was finished I found I had told the whole story in a paltry 14,000 words.

It was sadly clear to me even then that the 14,000 contained an awful lot of fluff, mostly centered on my trying to write in Kurt Vonnegut's voice, and in my attempts to be glib and amusing. It was also clear that the story, while one I still find compelling, was not one that I could tell. I simply hadn't had enough life yet.

So it is kind of nice that I find myself poised to pass the 14,000 word mark sometime tonight, which will make my NaNo project officially the longest thing I've ever written. And six days is certainly a lot shorter than 3 months.

Sure, there's still plenty of fluff that I'll root out during editing for my second draft, but I'm not trying to use someone else's voice, and I know that I can tell this story. There are even sections I actually think are good, which is a little out of character for me. Apparently all I needed to do was take a 14-year detour through journalism and into songwriting. I wrote virtually nothing but verse for about ten years, which killed my formerly innate sense of punctuation, but which I hope has added something to my prose.

I'm still not certain if it was a great idea to try to improvise a novel in a month. I have no doubt that if I'd written my original idea I'd have a much higher word count, and a lot less frustrating moments where I feel like I'm smashing my head against a plot that only seems to reveal itself to me by drips and drabs. Without the benefit of an outline or even an strong sense of which are the major plot points, it has been time-consuming and frustrating to trace back and find the wrong turn which painted me into an inextricable mess and halted my progress. And it's been heartbreaking trying to fix these wrong turns, since I've had to slice out some really nice stuff, which I thought might be amusing or poignant or well-written, but which actually had no place in my book.

But this sure has been an interesting experience so far.


Julia Buckley said...

Nice post Maht. Love the image of you typing away on a grotty sink (if not enjoyable, it must've been kind of romantic...). Pity you weren't blogging back then - you'd have probably got a book deal out it!

Needless to say, I understand how you're feeling right now. I alternate between thinking the whole idea is silly and insane, and believing NaNo's the best thing I've done in ages.

Hope tonight's writing goes well for you - roll on 14,000.

Liz Dwyer said...

Just don't get carpal tunnel! I've heard that eating more sweets keeps it away!

The Moon Topples said...

Julia: I do seem to remember owning a lot of candles around that time, and blathering incessantly about what I was writing to anyone who would listen.

Liz: Thanks for the tip. The sweets thing makes sense, as my diet is hugely sugar-oriented, and I've never come down with CT.

Readers: I've added a link to Liz's "Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness" which is really worth a look.