Friday, November 17, 2006

Day 17: creeping toward Thanksgiving

I'm about 10,000 words behind where I should be with NaNoWriMo, so I'm looking forward to next week--Thanksgiving--to catch-up. It seems a bit masochistic to look forward to a holiday so you can catch up with both noveling and grading, but that's the reality of life right now. Any opportunity for catch-up is a welcome relief, so I'm creeping word by word until I have time to make more substantial progress.

Words themselves are coming easily enough, but I've reached the point where I'm growing frustrated with the quality of my writing. My favorite bit of writing advice is William Carlos Williams' oft-quoted dictum "No ideas but in things." Unfortunately, my So-Called Novel is chock full of ideas (think pages of dry exposition) and paper-thin when it comes to things (think vividly described scenes with dialogue, human interest, and sensory detail). As I'm writing, I keep thinking of my least-favorite passages in Natalie Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway and Kathleen Norris's Cloisterwalk, two spiritual memoirs that are popular with readers but which at times drive me crazy with something I call "preachiness": passages that tell me about belief in a theoretical sense rather than showing me belief-inspired behavior in its specifics. Don't tell me how much God or Buddha has changed your life: show me your transfigured self, and I'll fill in the gaps for myself.

As I'm writing, then, I keep realizing how "preachy" my own writing is becoming: in a rush for wordcount, I'm sketching out the vague outline of belief, and what my narrative woefully needs are some things to flesh it out. I've never been one to care much for theology; what excites me is praxis. Don't tell me what you believe; show me what you do. At this point of playing perpetual catch-up with the So-Called Novel, I'm realizing how much revision this piece will need when it's (someday) done.
Word count: 18,852
Where & when:
in bed after checking in with my online classes
Last line: Who cares what you call your meditation beads or how you use them; what's important is that you use them now, not later.


At 11/18/2006 3:37 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

I thought Charles's recent 60-Second Pep Talk was a good reply to your remark that "Words themselves are coming easily enough, but I've reached the point where I'm growing frustrated with the quality of my writing." Charles had this to say, and even though I'm not writing a novel, I found this fairly Zen--a reminder about the consistency of practice and the letting go of self-consciousness:

Today, we wrap up the trio of reasons for putting quantity before quality during National Novel Writing Month. You can find these three reasons on the NaNoWriMo website, in the FAQ.

The third reason is summed up by this statement: 'Art for art's sake does wonderful things to you.' I think the important thing here is realizing that these wonderful things-- they're only going to happen if you let go.

If the goal of NaNoWriMo for you is anything other than having fun writing a novel, you're most likely going to stress out at some point during the month. It's happened to me, so I know.

For whatever reason you've been writing your novel so far, from now on I want you to do it just for the heck of it. Tear down your expectations, lock your internal critic in the closet, and kick your fears in the groin. No matter how terrible you may think your novel is, try to find some delight in it.

I hope this helps. Throw yourself into the mad joy of what you're doing! Screw quality! You can revise in December. Heh.


At 11/18/2006 4:20 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Yes, Charles hits it precisely on the head. The whole point is to keep writing so you can discover what you didn't know you had to say...and then after you've said it, you can go back & fix/revise it later. I know that conceptually...but that doesn't calm the nauseous feeling you get when you find yourself writing sentences that make you cringe. :-)

What got me through the past two years' doing NaNoWriMo was the mantra "You can fix it in December." I've never gone back & revised either of my past So-Called Novels: they've been conveniently shelved until whatever time I might (?) decide to return to them. And the same is true with this baby. I'll probably table it for a while before returning to it...but I do think it's salveagable with work.

Even Mark Twain wanted to burn the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn as he was writing it...

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