Every year in November, the “Office of Letters and Light” unleashes the National Novel Writing Month upon the public. This lengthy title is precisely what it suggests: participants have one month to write a novel. Or, to be more precise, a 50,000 word novella (a novel is, strictly speaking, upwards of 100K words).
It’s quite an exercise, really. Generating that much material in such a short length of time pretty much assures hundreds of pages of crap. But once the crap is there, it can more easily be fine-tuned and rewritten into something passable.
Looking at my own life, it occurs to me how brilliant a strategy this is. Creative people seem to be, by their very nature, a somewhat unmotivated bunch. I’m not sure why that is. After all, we’ve got rich and expansive inner thought lives. Dozens, if not hundreds, of unique people trample through our brains every day, looking for an outlet. You’d think with all that going on internally that we’d be bursting with creative energy, constantly in front of our keyboards working out the next brilliant scene or story.
I can’t speak for every writer, but that’s not how I work at all. I’ve got a number of interesting worlds bouncing around in there for sure, but I can only grab small glimpses of them at a time. Now and again, I get a lot – enough to start an outline, work out details of something, maybe even enough to get an entire screenplay out. In most cases, once I have enough information (and this can vary from story to story) I’m able to sit down and break out the elbow grease and work with what I’ve got. Often that coaxes out more. Sometimes, it breaks the dam and I’m swept up in a flood (this happened during my recent “The Way of Seeming” rewrite). Sometimes I have to fight for it a little harder (happening now for my “Eternia” rewrite).
But one thing I don’t usually do, that I need to, is just write crap for the sake of saying I wrote today. I always felt like that somehow be a betrayal of the creative process. But I’ve grown to see that it’s a necessary part of that process. Even the act of sitting at a keyboard and typing out a few words or pages helps keep one focused. If I don’t see my word processor on a daily basis, I begin to forget about it a piece at a time. Pretty soon, it’s been a week, or two, or worse, since I’ve written anything substantial.
My biggest problem, and one I suspect many other writers share, is simply getting out of my own way and writing. Just doing it – making it happen. I love to plan and work out scenarios, and I’m good at it. I’m good at putting those scenarios into action too. Just not reliably so. And I need to be. I need to be more reliable and consistent in my work.
So I’m going to embrace “NaNoWriMo” (or “Nano”) this year. I’m going to force myself to write 50,000 words of crap. Because if I never write 50,000 words of crap, I’ll never write 100,000 words of brilliance. Nano takes the emphasis off of the creativity, in order to teach you how to be a more consistently creative person. It’s a lesson we can all stand to learn. And re-learn.
For my subject this year, I’m choosing a story I know more intimately than any other: Beyond the Storm. It was my first work of substance, my first time in the director’s chair, and the story means a lot to me personally. Beyond the Storm has been a stage play (with a sequel and prequel stage play) and a film script (a trilogy of film scripts, actually). But it’s been a decade since anyone has seen the story. It’s time to revisit it, and bring it to life in a more definitive way.
I’m excited. And incredibly intimidated. A novel is a beast of a thing. I’ll be venturing far outside the safety of the well structured and clearly defined screenplay. I’ll have a much broader selection of words and expressions and techniques, much more control over every little detail. But the scope is daunting and seems downright overwhelming right now.
So all I can do is focus on my daily goal of word counts. Doesn’t matter if I’m writing brilliance or garbage, it just matters that I’m writing. Then the real writing process can begin. For it has been said, the greatest and most important of writing is rewriting. After 17 years of doing this, I think that’s a lesson it’s time I learned.