I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) this November. And I won! Well that’s how they describe it if you meet the monthlong goal of writing 50,000 words.
It was a very interesting experience. No, it’s not like I can crank out a novel and then have it instantly for sale in a month. But having a discipline of writing a daily word count goal of around 1500 to 2000 words is extremely motivating. And, the group support and knowing that you’re not alone is invaluable. Basically, it’s a first draft of sorts.
How Did I Get Here?
Writing a novel has long been one of my hidden desires. I’ve taken writing courses over the years, read many books, took part in a writers weekly workshop and even wrote a libretto and music for an opera – still incomplete.
I have kept a written journal almost everyday since college. I have written publicly mostly in a non-fiction capacity beginning with music industry trade journals, fan magazines, MTV’s short lived MTV-To-Go and then writing scripts for The Headbangers Ball in the late 80’s early 90’s. I even wrote a financial newsletter for a while under the name Doctor Money. But, fiction is what I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was 8 and I discovered how to lose myself in the worlds of fiction which was so much more interesting than my everyday surroundings.
[box] The Storyteller’s Creed I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge, That myth is more potent than history, That dreams are more powerful than facts, That hope always triumphs over experience, That laughter is the only cure for grief, And I believe that love is stronger than death. —Robert Fulghum[/box]
About a year or two ago, I had a short session with the famous author and psychic Sonia Choquette. Within the first 5 minutes, she said, “You’re a writer. You need to write.” Sonia is one of those gifted, loving spirits who can help you find your true life path among other things.
So taking her advice, I started writing first about myself, memories, things that affected me, kindnesses done to me and things that still pain me and I regret. It was a strange period of feeling the blood return to areas of my emotional body that had long been cut off. I had repressed so many painful moments that I was hit by a surge of memories of events I had long forgotten.
And then, I happened across the announcement for National Novel Writing Month. Here’s my chance!
[box] A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation….Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger. —Ben Okri[/box]
What Did I Learn?
Because I didn’t have a clear outline of what my story would be about, I just had to write freely. I did have a character and some basic thoughts about an issue, setting, time place – a world; but there were many times when I was really just writing scenes that I felt were not really going to be included in the final edit. This was harder than I thought. I am someone who likes to get the big picture, plan it all out then go to work with as little waste as possible. But, to make the challenge, I had to go forth and write!
Pockets of Flow
By doing this daily, I did begin to experience what I think of as “pockets of flow.” It would usually be in bursts of 200 to 500 words in dialogue or a scene. A lot of times I didn’t even know who was saying these things, but I knew it would have to be said. That was interesting. I can only thank my connection to the source, the muse, my guardian spirits for opening these channels.
Showing Up Is 80%
By doing this on a daily basis, after about a week, I began to notice that my every idle moment I would start to daydream about my world, characters and stuff. I even began to dream about them. This is really cool! Because then it’s just like taking dictation. So, by making my “writer’s appointment” with my muse, he/she started to deliver. Hmm. I should just make a decision of is it a he or she? I think a He.
[box] Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. —Robert McKee[/box]
Limitations Are Your Friend
Well I already knew this from my creative work in advertising, music, drawing, etc. By having a defined set of limits, you actually spur your creativity onward. So having to define some limits is the first place I set to work on. At first I wanted to make it like a parable, a short meaningful symbolic story. Boy that’s a hard thing to figure out. And as I free wrote, it kept drifting further and further towards a thriller of some kind. My protagonist was a young boy. At first he was 10, then 12 and now he’s around 14. So that too has shifted as I wrote.
Genre Is A Good Defining Structure
What genre was I writing in? As I explored further and further, I was finding myself in part thriller, part coming-of-age, part fantasy and then even drifted into writing middle grade humor scenes like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was a mess! All over the place!
About midway through, I took an online webinar on writing for Young Adult, Middle Grade and New Adult fiction. It was awesome. It’s similar to writing songs of which I used to do professionally. If you know you’re genre cold, then it gives you a limited set of choices. For example you wouldn’t start your teen pop song with a 3 minute guitar solo. That’s not part of that genre. Maybe if you were in a jam band genre like Phish or Grateful Dead, that would work.
So right now I think I’m in Young Adult Fantasy.
50,000 Words Is Just The Beginning
The NaNoWriMo event really was just a start to exploring what story am I trying to tell? Now, comes the crafting part of how am I going to tell it? What should I cull away? What should I keep? How can I weave in elements of the story in the beginning to create suspense and foreshadowing. It’s actually fun. But you still need discipline
Tools of the Craft
So as I explore these things, I’ve been going back to tools and books I’ve read and highlighted to death, such as:
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee – masterful. I just download the audio book version. I had the print but it’s so dense. This i can listen to as I clean the kitchen. The master that has influenced so many writers and filmmakers. His examples are mostly from the world of film, but are equally applicable to novels. He also has an intensive 4 day live workshop that Quentin Tarantino went through among others.
- Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Very clear, well written and helpful. I read this 10 years ago and still pull it out all the time.
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. A fantastic visual way to see the structure of successful stories. Actually he doesn’t ever show you the visual graphic. I think I will upload my own soon.
- Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland. This was written based on the principles in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and I think is clearer in it’s writing in many ways.
- The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn is such an astonishing inspiration to me. She started from scratch 6 years ago and now is a celebrated best-selling author, speaker and presenter. Besides her super-informative blog, she also has an incredible podcast where she interviews all kinds of great authors, editor, book cover designers and keep you up to date on the worl do self-publishing .She was a champion of using book trailers to promote her books and wrote about my music licensing site 300 Monks Royalty Free Music, years ago. Thanks Joanna!
- The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts – these are gems. You can hear great writers reading their favorite writers all of which appeared in the New Yorker. Short stories are a great treat and you can listen on your way to work or while working out. I’ve even re-started my subscription so that I can create a clippings file of my favorite excerpts.
- Scrivener – This is an awesome text editor that is designed to help you write a long-form work like a novel or screenplay. And yes I took advantage of the NaNoWriMo winner discount which is 50% off.
[box] The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser [/box]