Yes, you! Aspiring novelist! Getting geared up for NaNoWriMo? Got some ideas? Pencils sharpened, pens inked, paper at the ready? Excellent!
I wish you the best of luck.
I won’t be participating this year. Or… maybe ever.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the concept. It’s a structured event to shake would-be writers out of complacency and the motivation-sucking doldrums of everyday life, and makes them write, dammit. I mean, if you are a writer, you should be writing. Otherwise, this fellow is going to yell at you. And you don’t want that. Trust me, you don’t want that. It’s all shotguns and dogs and beards and whiskey breath and using “fuck” as a preposition and oh god the nightmares.
I kid, I kid. He actually does brush his teeth.
But that’s why I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo. I have one novel that’s been in final draft hell for far too long, and another idea that is so eager for me to start writing about it I can feel it lingering in the back of my mouth, like the somewhat cottony feeling from last night’s drinking binge that can only be washed away with more precious booze. So I’m not going to wait for November to start writing that novel; I’m going to start right the hell now.
Well, as soon as I finish this post, but you get the idea.
As I’ve said, I don’t want to disparage NaNoWriMo. I say if you want or need the impetus to get that idea moving forward, go for it. I’ll be happy to cheer you on and give all the advice and support I can.
I just don’t feel I can wait for the new month to roll around.
I have, in a very real sense, waited long enough. Too long.
How’s NaNoWriMo going? Are you frustrated? Angry? Maybe feeling some despair? Read on. This might help.
Nobody feels fantastic all the time, at least not without heavy drinking or severe medication. Creative people are, by and large, emotional and thus emotional blindsides getting hit can knock you right off of the rails you’d been riding towards the completion of a project. How do you deal with this sort of thing, other than reaching for the nearest bottle of hard liquor or happy pills?
You use it.
Instead of wallowing in the negative feeling, take it and run with it headlong into your project. If you’re unable to focus on the project, write something on the side that uses the feeling. Here are some examples.
I know I’ve covered using your anger previously, but invoking a Star Wars reference never gets old. Still, if something is making you furious, with fists and teeth clenched regardless of how other people are telling you how to react (doesn’t the words “Oh, you’re over-reacting” make you want to punch someone in the face?) you need to expend that energy, and preferably without damage to property or invoking personal injury lawsuits. If you’re a writer, what do you do?
Write a fight scene.
Get into the headspace of a person involved in a barroom brawl. Hell, write about someone starting said brawl. Did someone say something to a significant other you didn’t like? Is someone chatting up a friend of yours without permission? Not enough booze in your drink? Write about how it makes you feel, how the fury wells up inside you and how the sensation of wheeling around and letting someone have it right in the face touches off the kind of chair-breaking bottle-throwing grand melee unseen since the days of John Wayne.
You’ll probably feel a bit better, and nobody will be suing you.
Let’s face it. We’re all afraid of something. It could be bugs, rejection, alienation of friends, cars, bacteria, being laughed at, loneliness… I could go on. The bottom line is, sooner or later your fear is going to grab hold of you. Grab hold of it right back and go dancing.
Try a ghost story.
Something goes bump in the night. You catch an unfamiliar or unexpected motion in the corner of your eyes. The lights go out, and the shadows seem to grow to fill the empty space. Do you start sweating? Does your hand start to shake? How fast is your heart pounding? What voices do you hear? What do you imagine is lurking there in the darkness? It could just be the cat. It might be your spouse in the next room unaware that you’ve hit the light switch. Or it could be a phantasmal fiend from beyond the grave. Write it out and see where your fear takes you.
More than likely, it’s not a place as frightening as you thought it might be.
Despair, anxiety, paranoia… they’re all cut from the same cloth. “Should I have said that?” quickly becomes “I shouldn’t have said that,” which leads to “I’m an idiot for having said that.” Sure, sometimes you make a legitimate mistake and need to clean the egg from your face. Other times, something with good intentions turns out getting tossed under a steamroller paving the road to Hell. Whatever the cause, you’re left with this cloying feeling of inner doubt and depression, and you need to do something about it, otherwise it’s going to consume you.
Time to write a walk through the rain.
Rain is an evocative weather condition. The sky’s the color of gunmetal, the sun or stars hidden from view, the rain cold and relentless on the weary traveler and the wind makes sure that every surface of the body is wet. Yet people walk through it, alone with their thoughts. “What if I’m wrong? What could I have done to keep this from happening? How much have I lost, and can any of it be rescued? And what the hell am I going to do now?” Write through the thought process. Describe the rain drops, the thunder, the looks of people cozy in their warm homes or places of business, the way others are ignorant of your inner conflict. Work with the emotions. Coax them out of the shadows and into your hands where you can change them from a disability to an advantage.
No matter what you decide to do with your negative emotions, be it one of the above or simply focusing on a project at hand, the sooner you do it the better off you’ll be. This is experience talking here, folks – if you’re unable to shake off the darkness, if you let this sort of thing fester and grow unexpressed in your heart, it’ll creep into every aspect of your life. You’ll lose the motivation to create, you’ll lash out at friends and family and the depths to which your emotions can sink are more frightening than anything ever put on paper by Poe, King or Lovecraft. If nothing else, talk about it. Get things off of your chest.
Negative emotions are a lot like a badly-prepared meal you’ve just eaten: better out than in. Sure, things might stink for a bit, and you may feel inclined to flush afterwards so nobody else has to deal with your vomit, be it physical or creative. But once it’s out, chances are it won’t come back. I’ll leave you with a bit of Emerson’s advice, since he’s far more experienced and eloquent than I.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
This is a rough time of year for me. Doubly so this year. In lieu of the usual writerly advice, here’s a tidbit plucked from a NaNoWriMo of yesteryear. Please to enjoy.
Staring the month with a little advice.
So NaNoWriMo is beginning and a lot of you out there are taking freshly-sharpened pencils to blank pages. This next month is going to be full of inspiration, frustration, erasures, crossed-out words, broken tips and lots of caffeinated beverages.
I wish you the best of luck.
Related to last week’s post on showing instead of telling, I wanted to touch on something that came up in a recent edit. This will not apply to everything, mostly genre works or those rooted in history. And as with any writing advice, you may find it useful or you might not. But here it is.
You’ll want to show your audience the details in your work, without showing off how much you know.
If you’ve done a lot of world-building behind the scenes, chances are you’re practically busting at the seams to invite people into that new world. And in doing so, you want to show off all the neat stuff you have going on, from the retrograde rotation of the planet to the native people who are a cross between the Na’vi, red pandas and baby seals. That’s fine, but if you front-load your story with long passages on the world’s ecosystem and fauna, you’re committed the aforementioned cardinal sin: you are telling, not showing.
It’s similar with historical works. If you want to do it right, you’ve done a lot of research. You want to make sure that history buffs don’t tear your work to ribbons and ignore the thrust of your narrative because you made the sash worn by the second-in-command to the regional commandant the wrong color. If your audience might obsess over the details, it’s to your benefit to do the same, but not necessarily to the detriment of showing over telling.
Here, as with other expository writing, action and dialog will once again come to your rescue. It may take a little narrative positioning, but you can adjust your characters and their conversations in such a way as to convey the facts without taking away from the story. Don’t just describe the historically accurate landscape, do so through the eyes of character seeing it for the first time, or perhaps who has seen it one time too many. It’s one thing to put down the inner workings of your semi-magical difference engine on paper, it’s another to have a scruffy engineer explain things to a wet-behind-the-ears physics wizard while banging on the thing with a wrench. So on and so forth.
I hope other writers will find this sort of thing useful as NaNoWriMo begins. For them, and perhaps for you, this is the beginning of a grand adventure that may open the doors to a brand new way of conveying ideas and fleshing out dreams, and that’s wonderful.
Don’t get me wrong. I know a lot of people out there are getting right into NaNoWriMo as I write this. I support the endeavor 100%, and I think it’s a great idea. 1000 words a day for 30 days is a daunting prospect, but it can be done. Arguably, it should be done, because words unwritten for a story in one’s head never really go anywhere.
I just can’t do it this year.
I’m continuing to struggle with things like energy and focus. While this past week was a touch more forgiving, it still saw me spending a lot of time and energy during a compressed eight hour period rather than conserving anything for the evening or the following morning. There was progress on Cold Streets, but nowhere near as much as I’d like. I’m still not sure if I’m putting too much pressure on myself or if my struggles are in vain. I’m not really getting the sort of feedback that helps in that regard. I know the situation is temporary, and one way or another will not last forever, but right in the middle of it, it kind of sucks really hard.
I’ll keep trying to find ways to mitigate things, to make them better, to carve out more time and conserve more energy to make the headway I need to make. I know that I can’t change anything if I don’t make the effort, and I definitely seek that change. Things can and will be better for me.
This is going to be yet another one of those “advice I should follow myself before I dispense it” posts.
I, like many other authors, have been rejected far more often than I’ve been accepted. From big publishing houses to small press folks, I’ve heard the word NO at least a dozen times before hearing a single YES. It’s something for you aspiring young novelists wrapping up NaNoWriMo to keep in mind when you have your shiny new novel in hand and want to see it get ink.
It applies to other writers, too, or writers between novels or edits of novels looking to keep the writing muscles in tip-top shape without engaging in exercises of long prose. Because let’s face it, you can’t run marathons all the time. The best way to stay in shape is sprints around the track. It keeps the muscles primed and ready for that long haul of 26 miles. For the writer, that means short works. Stories, articles, what have you.
That brings me to the image above. For the uninitiated, that is a pitching machine. And that is what you (and I) need to be.
Be it to anthologies of fiction or magazines like The Escapist or any other type of publication looking for fresh new work to populate their pages, you won’t get in the door if you don’t knock on it. Repeatedly. I’m not saying to be annoying, nor should you just fire off a pitch the moment an idea pops into your head. Your pitch should be just like any other work you produce: refined, edited, free of error and as note-perfect and punch-to-the-guttish as possible. That is to say, someone reading it should feel the wind go out of their lungs in at least a metaphorical sense when they realize what you’re getting at and what you can do for them.
Still, one pitch is never enough. It should never be enough. Find places to pitch, especially if they have multiple issues coming, and pitch as much as you can. Again, you don’t want to get to the point of being annoying or fire off pitches half-formed and smelling slightly of bacon grease and day-old coffee. Strike the right balance between camping outside of their place looking through their windows with envy and donning the black tie and white short-sleeved shirt with pitch in hand, ringing their doorbell over and over until they open the door to find you there with the creepiest smile ever on your face asking if they’ve heard your idea yet.
Okay, I’m straining metaphors to the point of them breaking so I think I’m making my point. At least, I hope I am. If nothing else, your pitches should be repeated, persistent, polite and nothing like this. They should not be rambling, off-the-cuff affairs with bad humor and superfluous language that obfuscate the fact that you have nothing to say.