Day 1 summary
I am a little underwhelmed at my production today. I wrote 1911 words, which is enough to be on track, but I was hoping with a day of basically nothing to do, I would knock out at least two or three days worth of words.
There are several reasons I did not get as much written as I wanted to:
- Distractions. Oh, the laundry needs to get done. Oh, I wish that loud woman would stop yelling about her soup. Oh, look at that weird brown pattern in my carpet. This always happens with writing and you just need to get over it or budget the time for it.
- Lack of creativity/lethargy. Several times throughout the day, I just felt uninspired. Unlike a couple of days ago, when my mind was literally on fire with ideas, today I whimpered along, occasionally finding bursts of creative insight. Enough to get me to meet my necessary goal but not nearly what I expected. However, when I really hit that wall, I would shake something up. Walk away, watch a movie, read a little, change venue. Let my mind wander and it would find it’s way back. However, if I have more uninspired writing days than inspired writing days, I am in trouble.
- Plot. Once you start writing, it is hard not to think ahead and I’ve realized just how little story I have. This is where having Chris Baty’s book is awesome, because he sends a clear message that is a good mantra: forget plot, just write. I did, however, spend some of the day working out more major plot points and solidifying my ideas a little more. I consider this time well spent.
- Names. Holy crap I forgot how hard it is to write without names. Keep something—a website, a book, a list—around that has names on it so every time you encounter a new character you do not sit for three minutes banging your head on the table trying to come up with what will always be a lame name.
Day 1 begins
Again, the goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.
My goal is made even more challenging by the fact that I will be taking a five day road trip in the middle of the month, where I will be unlikely to be doing any writing.
This is going to be fun.
Many of my writing friends opted to use the extra hour most of us got today to extend their writing time. I think I used it much more wisely—I slept in, spent some extra time lounging in bed, took a long, hot shower, and had a wonderfully lazy morning.
However, now it is time to get to work.
I have opted to spend my first couple of hours outside of home. I have coffee and a warm french baguette—do you need much more?
I’ve done a lot of preparation work, but as I sit down to write, I feel woefully unprepared. In a way, this is comforting—I want to dive in, race down the highway of creative unknown. Think of it like camping—you see those people with their R.V.s, satellite T.V.s, propane gas grills, GPS units, heated foot warmers, and other luxurious nonsense.
Well that’s not me. I’m like Davy fucking Crockett, with my coonskin cap and hunting knife, saying: “Unknown darkness, prepare to be my bitch.”
What I’ve Got To Work With
I’ve got a lot of writing to do if I am going meet the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. I have one week to prepare. How do I make this work?
Here is what I have decided upon to help me make this happen:
- Empty Notepad and Pen - I do my best creative thinking on paper and often when I am out and about—eating dinner, chatting with a friend, people watching in a diner, etc. Moments of brilliance that I can flush out later. I am very fond of the notebooks that are about the size of a half-page. While it is a little big to take around everywhere, It is small enough to take most places and has plenty of space for me to flush out my creative impulse. I also have to use a pen. Not only do I have a weird neurosis with wood pencils (using them makes my mouth dry and my spine shiver), but pencil just feels to ephemeral and wish-washy—a good, solid ink pen is what I desire.
- Scrivener - Brainstorming and creative ideas on paper is one thing, but it is only rarely that I will actually write my story out on paper. I might do that for a particular inspired page or three, but in the end, I want to be at my computer. There are a lot of word processors and tools out there. For NaNoWriMo, I have decided to use Scrivener. I’ve looked at it before but it didn’t really inspire me last time. Either because of the changes or because of the nature of this project, I am pretty excited to use it this time around. I’m already quite fond of the ease at which you can separate elements and how the authoring of text is separate from the compilation and presentation formatting. Mac only.
- My Workspace - I’m basically setting up at my kitchen table for my work at home. I live by myself, so it’s rarely used anyways. I’m scoping out places I can get out to, because sometimes working from home is not easy or productive. I want at least three places I can go to, so I’ve got not only options, but fall-back choices if one place is busy or closed.
- Character outlines - The week of prep allows me just enough time to outline major characters. I don’t want to do more than outline because I’m going to let the characters find themselves and the story. Right now, my characters are outlined in the following manner:
- Summary - a brief paragraph or two about who I think this character is.
- Race - Hey, I’m writing an absurd fantasy novel; I need to keep track of who is a human and who is a troll.. it’s just disaster if you confuse these things.
- Keywords - trying to stick to three or four words or phrases to help keep my character boundaries
- Important background events - motivation for the character
- Plot outline - Okay, so this is where I really need to do more work. I’ve got my synopsis written and I’ve got some basics on my characters, but I really need to define some of what I see as the major points of the story. Really, I only have a beginning. That might be enough, but I would like to at least see a goal in sight as I begin this crazy journey.
Besides plotting food and snack strategy and trying to do some actual time scheduling, I think that’s about it. I’ve got some time to work out some more major plot points / story events and characters, but I think I am just about ready to take this on.
I decided to not pick up a slew of reference books or how to write or anything of that nature, though I did convince myself to purchase Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days. Chris Baty started NaNoWriMo and this is his sort of definitive guide—it is short, accessible, and good. I was pleasantly surprised to see his list of essentials closely matched mine, though I don’t think I’ll be wearing a plastic Viking helmet.
Subtlety Is Important
Warning: minor spoiler for episode three, season four of the television show Heroes.
For the sake of the point I’d like to make, let’s skip the discussions about how season two and three of Heroes were severe disappointments or how except Heroes, I don’t actually watch televisions shows, so that fact that I can even talk about this is an oddity.
I just finished watching episode three (“Hysterical Blindness”) and want to share a powerful moment of character. Season four introduces some new characters, one of which is a deaf woman who can see color. An obvious question to ask after learning this is: what can you do with that?
Super heroes are great vehicles for story if done right—these are two standard approaches: 1) your hero is over-powered to an almost deity-like proportion, but in the end faces emotional and moral decisions that the powers can’t help with (e.g. Superman) or 2) your hero is very mortal but can do something interesting or has access to something special and she uses reason and ingenuity to overcome seemingly impossible odds (e.g. Batman).
There is a subtlety that is important here and the story does not always have to be about stopping the enemy. One of the ways Heroes went way off track is the characters became so powerful that they were no long interesting and became caricatures of themselves. Season four is doing a lot to rectify this, but there was an especially important moment in this episode—back to the seeing-sound-as-color-lady.
Peter, one of the main characters, can mimic a power of heroes he comes into contact with. He accidentally gets the power to see sound and realizes that this woman has a power. For reasons we don’t fully understand, plus the added pressure of being disabled in a society which doesn’t fully appreciate the difficulties, she is obviously wary and unhappy. Peter himself has been shown to be unhappy and unfulfilled. The stage is set.
The brilliant moment comes when they realize they can both see the colors and they sit down and play the piano together. My mouth literally fell open when I realized what was going on—these two characters were sharing an intimate moment (I think they are going to fall in love, awww) because of the power; the power became a vehicle for a raw, emotional connection between two characters in a way that will probably have significantly more story arc and lasting consequences than stopping a bank robbery ever will.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to be subtle with your characters and recognize the potential for small connections between characters to have powerful contributions to the lasting story.
An observation about the synopsis.
I have had the idea for this story for at least 7 or 8 years. I can not remember the exact moment I came up with it, but it came in a spark of creativity that I’ve carefully stoked, but never executed, over the years.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I sat down today to write my synopsis. This idea which I’ve had for the better part of a decade, which I have shared with numerous friends and colleagues—I couldn’t write it down. I struggled for words, I couldn’t articulate ideas, and even now, I feel it is clunky.
All this time and not only did I fail to try to write this story, but clearly I didn’t even try to write the idea itself down.
Lesson: No matter how absurd the idea is, write it down as soon as you have it. If you can not find the words, do your best, you can always revise it and it is going to change over time or as you work on it anyways.
Draft Synopsis: God Killers, Inc.
Each race has it’s time to rule over the world. It is the dusk of humankind’s reign but no one wants to go quietly into the night. The priests and spiritual leaders gather in council and collectively ask their plethora of deities to intervene. Then the unthinkable happens:
The gods answer.
This is, as it turns out, unpopular. Instead of helping mankind from their lofty homes far away, the gods walk upon the planet. Instead of answering the prayers, requests, and demands of the faithful flocks, the gods have the audacity to issue commandments such as what is okay to put on a breakfast bagel and requiring sacrifices of food, money, and the ever-rare virgin.
Finding their gods actually exist and having to deal with them unbearable, the priests take the only logical route—they hire a contract killer.
To kill the gods.
This should turn out well.
I officially joined NaNoWriMo today.
The idea is simple: write a 150 page (about 50,000 word) novel in 30 days.
You can see my profile, overall progress, and be my writing buddy here.
What am I doing?
I’m drawing the line in the sand here for myself. I’ve spent most of my life reading, listening, watching, and thinking in stories. It is time to move from passive experience to active participation. This is not about fame, success, or money. This is about passion, joy, and the challenge of it all.
This is also not about sharing my writing (though I will). This is about sharing the process of learning to write: how I plan, what works, what doesn’t work, what roadblocks I hit, how I schedule my time, what I eat, how I take breaks—whatever lessons I learn and a log of my successes and failures.
Who am I?
I am not an experienced writer, I have no formal training, and I’ve never let experience or training stop me from doing and succeeding in the past. I am a 31 year-old IT professional, working for a large California research University. I have a degree in Religious Studies. I play foot hockey, racquetball, and sail. This is all somehow, I hope, going to translate into good writing.
Join me as I struggle to learn to write.