Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Day 8: a new direction

Over the past few days, without really trying, I've cut my current NaNoWriMo word-count deficit from about 7,000 to about 5,000. I say "without really trying" because I haven't been pushing to catch-up; instead, I've simply been trying to write each day's requisite 1,667 words so I don't fall further behind.

Monday saw the first breakthrough of this year's attempt. I've never fancied myself a novelist; I'm much more comfortable writing about real rather than made-up things, so coming up with a plausible but adequately expansive storyline has always been the biggest challenge standing between me and NaNo greatness. During my first NaNo attempt, I worked around this difficulty by writing an interconnected series of short stories, and last year I made a wretched attempt at writing a mystery thriller. This year, I started with absolutely no premise at all, simply sitting down to write whatever words, sentences, and silliness my fingers felt moved to explore.

On Monday, though, I started in a new direction. Realizing I'm not and probably will never be a Novelist even though I can gamely plunk out novel-length batches of word-count, I sat at my laptop and began by heeding my own favorite advice to Start Where You Are:
Memoir isn't a genre that comes naturally to me, and neither is fiction. I seem preternaturally unconcerned with other people, and I can't remember much about my past. If it isn't happening right here, right now, I don't give it much dreaming up fictional characters and scenarios is as difficult as recalling the dimly distant details of my own past.
I've toyed in the past with the idea of writing a memoir, mostly because several blog-readers have suggested it. But I've always quickly abandoned the idea for various reasons: my life isn't particularly interesting, I don't know where I'd begin, I'm not comfortable sharing intimate details of my life with strangers (blogged bits notwithstanding), and I don't have many vivid memories of my childhood.

Regardless of these reasons why I shouldn't write a story from my life, on Monday I let my typing fingers consider the possibilities, if for no other reason that the container called "memoir" would give my NaNoWriMo rambles some much needed material:
Instead of fiction, what interests me is the play of my own consciousness, the stuff that's happening in my head right here, right now. It’s no accident, then, that I practice Zen with its focus on the present moment…but actually, it is entirely accidental, or at least serendipitously fortuitous, that I practice Zen since it isn’t a place you’d expect a good little Catholic girl to be.
And that last phrase is where the lightning struck. "What's a good little Catholic girl like me doing in a place like this?" It's a question I asked a Trappist monk several years ago during a Christian-Buddhist retreat at the Cambridge Zen Center, where I was living and practicing. As I typed the line that triggered that memory, I realized I have plenty of memoir-worthy stories from my life as a Catholic born-again Buddhist. How did a good little Catholic girl go from being a Bible-banging fundamentalist in college to a Zen Buddhist in grad school and beyond? If that question isn't worthy of a spiritual memoir, I don't know what is.

So, this year's So-Called Novel isn't fiction at all...unless, of course, I pull a Jack Kerouac, change the names of the innocent, and call my semi-fictionalized account of my spiritual quest a "novel." (If it worked in The Dharma Bums, why can't it work for NaNoWriMo?) Already, I'm finding this new direction to be a fruitful one, with one memory leading to another: I remember more about my childhood than I'd thought, and looking at my life through a spiritual lens is bringing many hitherto forgotten moments into sharper focus. Although my memories of the people and places of my childhood are dim and few, my most vivid memories fall into the category of "spiritual," so I haven't lacked for stories to explore when I've sat to write these past few days. I'm eager to see where it all leads.
Word count: 7,952
Where & when: after breakfast this morning, at my kitchen table
Last line: Even then I knew my practical-minded mother would never understand my longing for a spot of beauty in a world of grim practicality, nor would she tolerate the tenderness of a child who wept over something only make-believe.


At 11/10/2006 6:01 AM, Blogger Stray said...

I really relate to this post Lorianne. I didn't intend to, but seem to be writing a funny kind of choose-your-own-adventure novel in which the novellist (me) is having the adventure ... not sure that describes it precisely. But basically, my days are shaping my book and my book is shaping my days and the decisions I make. It's a kind of quest.

I'm sure it will be a terrible and unreadable 50,000 words but it's a more fulfilling process (for me anyway) to write from things I have experienced than complete fantasy. I have a few successful novelist friends, who are very good at disguising real people and their own life experiences as entirely new stories - it seems to be the way most of them work!

Good luck -I've got some catching up to do as well, though not sure how much as I've got a lot of pencil scrawlings in a notebook to type up as well, as my laptop is kaput. (New powerbook arrives this morning! I'm hoping the words will fly onto the screen!).


At 11/10/2006 9:48 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Good luck with the new powerbook, Stray! There's nothing like NOT having the proper tools at hand when you're under a deadline.

The words here are flowing "slow but semi-steady." On teaching days, if I don't have time to write first thing, it's difficult to come home and find the energy to write. (Or at least that's how it was after teaching yesterday!)

In my mind, it doesn't matter whether I produce 50,000 readable words, just 50,000 rough draft words. Come December 1st, I'll allow myself to go back and consider what I wrote, deciding whether or not there's anything worth revising/revisiting. (I still have my past NaNo so-called novels: perhaps someday I'll return to revisable portions.) But for now, it's about opening my brain, moving my fingers, and allowing a "brain-dump" to happen. I don't know what's in there until I let it out, no? :-)

At 11/11/2006 7:40 AM, Blogger leslee said...

Oh, very cool. I thought the snippets I read here sounded more real than the fiction pieces from last year. And you're right, this is a very interesting vein. It could turn into a book.

At 11/11/2006 8:05 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Yes, I'm thinking this could be a book, but only after a good deal of revision. But this is the first time I've NaNo'ed something that felt like it could be revised, in time.


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