…about writing the next great novel

3 November 2011

Here we are in November again. Outside my window, the trees are losing their leaves, the temperature is dropping, and the squirrels are stocking up their pantries (and themselves). As the weather encourages me indoors, my thoughts turn to… …NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo Participant BadgeOkay, a few of you nodded knowingly, while the rest did a collective “huh?” NaNoWriMo is the crunched-down form of National Novel Writing Month, held every November for the past thirteen years. I’ve heard some writers call participation in this event a rite of passage, or would that be a WRITE of passage? Sorry, had to be done.

So what is the objective? Why, only to write a novel in a month. Okay, not quite. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write 50,000 words of first-draft material for a novel. Depending on whom you ask, novels are usually in the area of 80,000-120,000 words, seriously edited from that embryonic first-draft state. Still, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, to get philosophical about it.  And heck, there are some good novels that have really come out of this process. Real, in-your-bookstore novels! No kidding!

This isn’t my first attempt at NaNoWriMo stardom. In fact, this will be my third attempt in four years. Ask me how many times I’ve hit the target, and I will suddenly notice something very interesting on the ceiling overhead. Yes, I am zero-for-two. Not so good.

So, what has taken me down? Let me introduce you to a little gremlin called my Inner Editor.

Inner Editor can be a very useful guy when proofreading material, sifting through research, or critiquing a piece of writing. He’s that little voice in my head that looks over an article and says, “That’s crap!” He loves the red ink of correction. Often, he is rather cynical. He never edits himself, though, speaking his mind far more clearly than I’d prefer. And I really don’t know what back alley he learned his vocabulary in, but it is crazy inappropriate for those under the age of about a hundred.

Like I said, though, Inner Editor, or “I.E.” as I sometimes call him, can be very useful when he’s kept in his place. And there’s the trick – keeping him in his place. There are places he has no business being. He’s lousy in a brainstorming session. He’s even worse in Brainstorming Phase 2, called Writing the First Draft. Which brings us back to NaNoWriMo.

With a little help from my friends, I realized that I.E. does his best work by getting me to look ahead, or to look behind. He’ll tell me that I won’t get anywhere with this or that. He’ll slag me for the past and gleefully tell me that I’m just stuck in a loop. The one thing he’ll never talk about is what I am doing right now. Now is real, and he can’t work with that. Past is in my memory, and future is in my imagination. They aren’t real, so he can screw around with them all he likes, taking my concentration along for the ride.

So how will I face down this snarky little gremlin?  There’s no point in yelling at him. Get into it with him, and my train of thought will leave the station without me. He wins, and I’m back to sinking baskets with wadded-up sheets of paper. No, the key is in being in the present moment.  This present moment is all I can really control. Stay in that place, and I.E. can’t touch me. He’s crafty, and he’ll keep trying to coax me back into his world. I can’t let him.

As a writer, I had to decide whose fiction I wanted, his or mine. If I wanted to have any sort of a first draft to edit, he had to sit quietly in a corner and let me write. Will some of my first draft be crap? Actually, I expect that most of it will crap, but it will have the nugget of way-freakin’-cool inside. That’s where I.E. comes in. That phase is called the Second Draft, and I’ll deal with that in December.

-= C =-


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