Tag Archives: JaNoWriMo

On Trying to Finish a Novel

NaNoWriMo 2012 I have to say, it feels different this time. The project I’m working on is the novel I first started playing around with when I was 13ish (all copies of that first version have been destroyed tyvm) because if I’m going to finish something it would be symbolic for it to be my actual first novel, and I’m all about the symbolism.

Characters, setting, conflict. I had all these. My problem was always, always, always plot. Once the dilemma was introduced, how do I get the characters out of it? It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas. It was that I couldn’t decide which direction to go. All choices felt contrived. That was always the place where I stopped.

But several things have transpired since the last time I tried to finish this novel.

+ I’ve finished five half-marathons. Yadayadayada, lessons learned from long-distance running. I won’t bore you. But I think this has made a difference in how I approach novel-writing.

+ My life imploded. In the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, I’ll just say I think this has been good for my writing. As Garrison Keillor once said, “Nothing bad ever happens to a writer; everything is material.”

+ I read The Art of Dramatic Writing and had this epiphany:

I debated over which thread to put this in (daily writing thread? this month’s AB thread? Art of Creative Writing thread?), but I was pretty sure I’d mentioned My Biggest Problem with Novel Writing somewhere here before, and so I searched for that and aha!

Beaver wrote:
Thought the 2nd: I have a similar problem (I think) with novels wherein I cycle through various ideas for endings, but can never settle on one b/c each choice feels too arbitrary. (am I forcing it? is this the ‘right’ ending?)

Well, thanks to Bellman, I’ve been reading The Art of Dramatic Writing and in one sentence (one! sentence!) on page 106 Lajos Egri has solved My Biggest Problem:

“The premise is a tyrant who permits you to go only one way — the way of absolute proof.”

Problem. Slayed. cough cough thud

So, now that My Biggest Problem has been solved, I need to work on my premises! Thanks, Bellman Smile

+ I figured out my personality type, which it turns out, is one of the rarer ones. This discovery was kind of like when someone who has an identified illness finally puts a name to their disease. There’s a sense of relief: “Oh, so that’s why…”  It doesn’t change anything, but somehow it helps to know that there’s a reason why I react differently than other people in various situations. I’m not just ‘doing it wrong’ (as I was always led to believe).

That got me thinking about my characters and their personality types and how different personalities would react when presented with a dilemma. So it was helpful on that level, in terms of figuring out whether a particular character would make choice X or choice Y. But it was also helpful in understanding myself and the major source of my writing frustrations, which is my desire for order/sense/logic conflicting with the way my brain jumps all over the place when I’m thinking about something.

+ I started using Scrivener. This month, when I sat down to work on my novel, I knew I didn’t want to start in the place where I’d always started before, rewrite the same scenes I’d written twenty-seven times before. I wanted to finish, and finishing meant moving forward. I thought about the Etgar Keret tip to “always start from the middle” and decided to make that my motto. I picked an arbitrary point to start the first day, and then, without really thinking about it, I just started writing random scenes because, with Scrivener, I could do that—without the project becoming an unwieldy mess. In other words, I could write non-linearly and still maintain order (= INTP happiness).

So if, during the day, I’m running through a particular scene in my head, instead of saying (as I would in the past), “ok, I know this happens sometime in the future, but I can’t write that yet, I have to get there first,” and then sitting down and trying to write whatever it is comes next, I’ve been sitting down and writing whatever it is I’ve been thinking about. Later I’ll organize these scenes, smooth out all the rough edges, fill in the gaps. But for now, I’m learning to work with my brain rather than fighting it. Thank you, Scrivener.

And as I said, it feels different. The characters are making decisions that feel right, not arbitrary. I’ve already resolved several issues that had long flummoxed me.  I murdered some of my darlings. That includes some character names and the title. It needs a new one. As yogis say: let go of that which does not serve you—or in this case, the story.

I’m not worried about not reaching 50k by November 30. Another thing that feels different: this time, I feel like I’m going to make it to THE END.

CSS con't

310 words (28680 total)

First line: He dropped me off first, for the simple reason that it would have meant backtracking to do otherwise.

Would you read your child’s diary?

I started tidying up this afternoon and ended up doing a major clean. Well, the place needed it. And my wrist needed a break from outlining. I was slathering it in A535 just to keep going. Even though the touchpad can be used ambidextrously (yay), the right one always ends up hurting more because the page up/down and arrow keys are on the R-hand side. Hmm. Not to mention enter and backspace and delete.

Would you read your child’s diary? I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Not that I have kids, but it’s one of those big moral dilemma questions. What I’ve come up with is that it’s not something I’d do as a matter of course “oh, my kid has a diary, therefore I will read it.” For one thing, I wouldn’t want to do it, and then pretend I hadn’t—give the kid a false sense of privacy. That’s just nasty. And so… basically you get one shot. You read it once, you tell him/her you read it and that’s it. The kid’s either a) going to stop writing; b) continue writing but fill the pages with fiction; c) find a better hiding place. You’ve also lost—or seriously damaged—your kid’s trust in you, because you’ve not invaded his/her privacy for any particular reason. And I don’t think “because I’m your parent and therefore I have the right to know everything you’re thinking” cuts it. Because you’re penalizing/punishing kids who write. The kid who doesn’t write doesn’t get the same treatment. The message the kid gets is not going to be “my parent is looking out for me.” It’s going to be “if I want to keep something private, I can’t write it down.” That said, if there was a reason to be concerned about the kid’s well-being, then perhaps diary-reading may be warranted. I wouldn’t rule it out. But I think the kid would have to have given me reason to be worried about him/her. It’s a line between temptation/curiosity and purpose/genuine concern. Save the one-shot diary read for when it’s really warranted. When the benefits outweigh the costs. If your kid is basically a good kid, I can’t help but think that more harm will be done by showing you don’t trust him/her. Like, why bother being good if no one believes I really am. If they think I’m bad, well, then I really will be bad. The other thing is… when does it stop? When do you no longer have even the theoretical right? I think part of the dilemma lies in that in the beginning parents have total control over their children—they’re dependent on them for everything. But by the time the child is writing their thoughts down in a diary, the parent has already lost a good chunk of their control, not necessarily externally—mom or dad is still in charge of when the kid can do what, but internally—the kid is thinking for him/herself. The diary may be the first manifestation of this. So there’s that realization: “my kid’s doing something I have no control over!” which has to be scary. But there it is. You can’t stop it. It happens.

Of course, this may all be a moot point in the future with blogs and all. I think people tend to self-edit in online journals / diaries / blogs, though. Of course, I self-edited way back when in my paper journal I kept when I was teenager. I always wrote with the awareness that someone might read it. Even though I always buried it at the bottom of a drawer. But there was a lot of stuff I never wrote about back then. I spun stuff quite frequently too, to make it sound better or more exciting or whatever. I didn’t want anyone to read it; I would have been mortified. And it’s not that there was anything “bad” in it. I don’t buy the “a person who’s done nothing wrong has nothing to hide” argument either. I hadn’t done anything illegal or risque. In fact, most often my entries were about how my life was hopeless because it didn’t involve anything illegal or risque. It’s just that it was personal. It was something I had control over (think about it: diary or eating disorder?). It was my hell. And someone else reading about it wouldn’t have made it better. Especially my mom reading it wouldn’t have made it better because her teenagerhood was pretty much the exact opposite of mine. It’s part of the reason mine was so hard. It’s not her fault, but it just wouldn’t have made it better for her to say “I read your diary I feel your pain” because she didn’t. She may have felt pain but it wasn’t my particular brand of social outcast pain. So.

Enough. Got teenagers on my brain I guess because I’m working on CSS. McKenna’s not an outcast though. Well, I guess she’s a pseudo-outcast at the beginning. But she’s not really. She’s just out of her element. Has to learn to swim. Does M have a diary? Definitely not before the beginning of the story. She never had a reason to. But maybe somewhere along the way. I don’t know about a traditional “diary” though. Songwriting, I used to think. If I could write a decent lyric that might work. We’ll have to see.