Sunday, January 21, 2007

Word problems

At the beginning of November, I and several thousand others around the world began writing novels for the National Novel Writing Month. We pledged to ourselves and the others that we would scratch out 50,000 words within the month.

We all had the same overriding goal: access to a downloadable pdf certificate upon which we could write our names and be declared winners. It was the thought of this certificate that guided us through our weak moments, spurred us on when our minds grew tired and our prose tepid.

Upon completion of the contest and the reception of the certificates, though, all of us were in for a rude awakening. The certificate itself was sort of lame. We had worked and worked with our eyes on the prize, and the prize turned out to be somewhat less than equal to our expectations.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of us felt like we had wasted an entire month of our lives. A month we could never get back. And all we had to show for it was a pdf and a stupid novel.

So I've been trying to look on the bright side, trying to find some lesson in all of this, aside from not signing up for things on the internet anymore. To this end, I have been looking for insight into my writing that I might glean from having produced so much in such a short time.

One thing I've learned recently is that I no longer fear writing dialogue. I used to hate it. I tried to avoid it whenever possible. I recalled an English teacher in high school explaining that it was impossible to write a long piece of any type without using quotes or dialogue, and I was determined to prove her wrong.

But when I decided to post some excerpts last week, it was pretty much only bits of dialogue that I found engaging. It made me like the characters a little more than I remembered. Some of the prose was OK, but the dialogue was the stuff I felt good enough about to post online.

In the battle between plot and characters, I seem to be better with characters right now. I say this because my "novel" had essentially no plot. More like a scenario. In the months since NaNo, I've had some ideas which might actually turn it into a novel someday, but I still don't think I'm ready to slog through it and try to make it work.

NaNo was, from start to finish, all about the word count. In order to complete the project within the time frame, it was necessary to turn off the internal editor (who might fritter on a section for a few days before moving on) and simply write. A lot. Every day.

I think there are good lessons somewhere in there. Their argument seems to be that a shitty first draft is better than none, and I can agree with that. It certainly let me know that writing to novel length is not beyond me, something that I couldn't have known for sure without completing a lengthy project. NaNo provided the spur to make that happen, and I know I'm a better writer for it.

The current novel is being problematic. It seems to beach itself rather than sailing properly. I am learning to think of this as OK. So long as I am writing something else, this one can take its time. It's a rather complicated project, and the idea has been in my head for many years. It kind of makes sense that this one would be a difficult birth. I am trying some brain tricks, and having some flashes of inspiration here and there, but this seems to be a book whose pacing I cannot control as completely as other projects.

So I'm back to working on several projects at once. I have a couple of short stories, a play, and another novel to carve out, so it's not like I'm out of ideas.

Anyway, these are the writing-related thoughts I've been having lately.


Pants said...

I really believe no time spent writing is ever wasted.

Unknown said...

TSP: I agree. Most of the ealrier stuff was meant to be taken lightly.

Even when I think that the NaNo piece will never work as a novel, I still feel like I could harvest a few short stories from the carcass.

Plus the more you write, the easier it becomes to put together a sentence when you really need one.