Friday, November 14, 2008

A Proverb from Polonius

Ah, November ... the time of year that forces me to get face-to-face with my writing strengths and weaknesses.  Especially the weaknesses.  After an uncharacteristically strong sprint out of the gates over the first weekend, I'm back to plodding through more familiar Nanowrimo territory: 10,000 words behind the Average Daily Word Count and more nights spent not writing than writing.  I've been in the doldrums, mired in self-doubt (can I really call myself a writer if this is all I've got?), my characters stubbornly refusing to develop further and the plot that felt ingenious and exciting last week is looking mighty thin.  

It's easy, at this point, to feel like I'm doing everything wrong.  I find myself breaking all the Nanowrimo rules: re-reading, re-writing, and refusing to show up to nano every day.  I watch everyone else's word counts steadily creeping (or leaping!) upward; mine's just flat-lining.  

But I realized that I'm judging my work by other people's standards, and when I'm doing that I'm always going to feel like my work doesn't measure up.  Writing is a highly personal process, so it makes sense that each writer writes in her own way.  

For me, the exciting part of writing is the revision process.  Editing makes me happy.  I like taking a mushy pile of words and molding them into something strong, meaningful, and sharp.  Right now I'm mining for iron to melt down so I can eventually hammer out a sword.  I like the hammering part.  And I really like the sharpening.  

The flip side being that the mining/building up part - finding the words to put on the page - can be agonizing.  I have a hard time writing enough.  (And trust me, during Nanowrimo, that's the last problem you want to have.)  Sure, parts of the building up process are fun - usually right at the beginning, when the ideas swirling around in my head are the greatest I've ever thought, my plot's taking shape and my characters are coming alive, and there's nothing but potential.  

But then follows the endless (necessary) grind of building up that story ... and building ... and building.  I know I'm not alone in these feelings (I've read enough nano posts and pep talks to know that week two's a bitch for everybody!), but lately I've been feeling like I'm building the Eiffel Tower (full size, not to scale) with toothpicks.  And I have to transport each toothpick, individually, from India.  

So lately I've been doing some soul-searching, wondering why I'm putting myself through this agony if I can only eke out one word at a time but I've challenged myself to eke out 50,000 words and only given myself 30 days to do it.  It makes me want to crawl between the covers of Pride and Prejudice and never come out.  

But then I reminded myself, hey, I can write.  I've been writing all my life.  I've already figured out what works best for me, which is throwing a bunch of words on the page, printing it out, scribbling all over it, typing a bunch more, and repeat.  

Another wise piece of advice from my drawing teacher came back to me as I perused those first couple pages of my manuscript - pages I've looked at any number of times on my computer screen.  He used to advise us to frequently step back from our work, and take a look at the whole thing.  If you stay too close for too long, things get distorted.  

So, I took a step back, scribbled my notes, and all of a sudden I felt re-connected with my nano-novel after days of feeling very blocked.  Staring at those pages and pages of text made me realize something - that my book is crying out for some structure.  I just need to break the damn thing into chapters, and work on building up each chunk.  

Now, it's back to the grind, keeping Polonius's advice in mind ... And this above all, to thine own (writing) self be true!  

1 comment:

  1. I was afraid you'd given up! I'm so glad to hear you're only blocked. I mean...not that I'm glad to hear you're blocked...oh, you know what I mean.

    I've realized very plainly this year that NaNoWriMo (at its skeletal: 50k in 30 days) is a very artificial construct. In order to be successful in the looooong haul--your personal long haul, whatever that may be--you must be true to your own ways of working. I read a post on the forums yesterday by a certain Wrimo whose count was up to about 614,000 words. That's 40 freaking thousand words per day. It's unnatural. AND you know it has to be bad. Even if she could excavate something worthwhile, do you think she'd even want to start digging? I think that proves that quantity and speed are not always going to get you where you want to go.

    If revising as you go drives you, then by all means do it. Do whatever drives you; otherwise you stop driving. Don't take the car (or the rocket, as it may be) because everyone else does, when you know your trip will be better by bus, even though it makes stops along the way. The important part is the destination, not how you get there.

    I'm so glad you're still going! And remember that you don't have to stop writing on December 1.