Thursday, November 22, 2012

Writing Hell week 3

The Kahunas of Lobster Cove
So today is Thanksgiving.

It is also the end of the third week of Nanowrimo 2012.
What is this Nanowrimo of which you speak? It is National Novel Writing Month, a godless endeavor where thousands of people attempt to write 50,000+ words of a novel in 30 days while the rest of the nation honors veterans, gives thanks for our freedom, honors the misrepresented history of our country's discovery, helps our fellow man through whatever a bitterness Mother Earth can dish out, and, let's not forget participates in the contact sport called Black Friday. Nanowrimo is a narcissistic practice of the Literati and I am a participant. You're welcome.

As if reaching 50,000 words wasn't enough, I decided to double the word total. Trust me, in doing so I am nothing close to the heroes that inhabit the pages I am churning out. I decided to include previous pages that I have been conveniently rewritten to fit the changes in the story's plotline that arose while cranking out 2,000-3,000 words a day. My three week total is 70,763 words HOWEVER the new-page total is only a mere 34,498. There are only 9 days left. For me to reach the 50,000 words minimum and a be an honest-to-God Nanowrimo Winner I need to crank out 1,723 a day. This is achievable since I have been averaging 2000 new words per day. I thought I was writing not doing math (which I was NEVER good at, thus, writing... duh!)

Someone who became a master by twisting their legs into pretzels once said "Its not the destination its the journey." (humble apologies to writing guru, Natalie Goldberg,author of Writing Down the Bones and to anyone else who is flexible enough to do the downward pretzel and have that feed their writing.) Writing is its own transcendental discipline. Self-imposed goals such as Nanowrimo force the writer to experience the insights of the process. Its like the writer's mantra. "Writing is writing, so write" Of course Nanowrimo does ignore the second tenant of a writer's philosophy, "Writing is Rewriting" but I digress.

I did an exercise with my creative writing students where they came had to come up with affirmations on writing and the creative process. We posted them in our writing space to inspire us each day we approached a blank page. I started them off with this little chestnut; "Write right, right?" then followed it with "Write, write, write!" Nanowrimo could care less about the first phrase but it burns incense at the alter of the second. Enough said.

Its Thanksgiving so here's my obligatory short list of grateful shout-outs:

Family. Having a creative in the family must be a lot like Michael Jackson's Never-land. While it initially sounds like a really fun idea to have an amusement park in your backyard, it's still kinda weird to everyone else. Thanks for your patience.
Friends. They say you can count your true friends on one hand. I have been blessed in my life to the extent that I'd need to be the Indian goddess Shiva to count them all.
Beasts. Pallet, the miracle cat of Borders. You are here for me, and I for you. Without sounding like a cat lady, let me say you are a constant reminder of just how interdependent we are.
Children. The ones I teach, the ones who decorate my neighborhood with inspiration and ears eager for a story, and my newborn niece, little Lotti. May I  always see the world through your fresh eyes.
Past. Writers don't have bad times, they gain material. One of my mother's favorite phrases was, "This, too will pass." Whether it is good times or bad, her words hold true. It is all the more reason to write, as she did in her day, and I in my own twisted way, do now.
Muse. The miracle of a story on a page will never cease to amaze me. Being a conduit to bringing a tale to life is forever a humbling experience. It is there we do our best work.

With 1,700 words a day in 9 more days it feels appropriate to close with the beginning of the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield that my Dad would recite from his chair. (I have even included an excerpt of it in my latest novel.) Thanks Dad for that. It was probably those magical moments listening to him pull words out of thin air and the patient hours my sister read to me that still puts me in the writing chair day after day. 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.  

Thank you all for being my ship as I shoot for the stars.

-S.E. Toon

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Writing Hell week 2

The Kahunas of Lobster Cove
So today is the end of the second week of Nanowritmo 2012.
What pray tell is nanowritmo? It is Nation Novel Writing Month.
In November.
Turkey time.

During the past decade I had found myself in the wonderful world of retail which, by definition, requests that you surrender all other aspects of your life to your job. In most business environments near 60% of annual profits occur in just five short weeks. To succeed it demands sacrifice. As much as I think opening during the holidays, the dreaded Black Friday and elongated hours are a blight on humanity, from a business perspective, I understand the desperation in the retail establishment's hellbent efforts.

It always seemed an impossible task, to write, to work, to fit living a life between the two.
But here I am unemployed with a manuscript in need of completion. What excuse could I possibly have not to embrace this crazy proposition. I should feel liberated and free to write with abandon, shouldn't I? But no. I know this sounds like the crazed words of a syphilitic mind but I miss it all, so much. The team leading, the feverish multi-tasking, the communing with shoppers like an elf with the perfect gift for everyone on their list. Unemployment wears on you. It slowly eats away at your self-worth while the financial crisis that grows with each passing week gnaws at your innards each sleepless night.

A lot of noise to cut through when you want to concentrate on story and character.Still, I made a commitment to myself, daunting as it may be, 100K or whatever it takes to finish a draft by December 1st.
What could go wrong?

For no reason it starts dripping, tap, tap, tap as I try to tap, tap, tap on my keyboard. Then it starts to trickle just as my words cease to flow, then a stream, in the bathroom, not from my imagination. No funds for a new toilet or, god forbid, a plumber (you are such the joker!) so I spend the next two days, dissembling, replacing piece by piece to no avail. Once, Twice, thrice. Tap, tap, tap now only on the bathroom floor. In a last ditch effort I reassemble it once again, this time reenforced with silicone throughout, even on the inner porcelain walls where I suspect a hairline crack. Finally dry on the outside. It grumbles every now and again just to remind me that I have just put the beast to sleep. Before bedtime I threaten it with a roll of Duct tape like a priest with holy water. "The spirit of Christ compels you, out demon!!"

If that wasn't enough madness to keep me from the keyboard, my car, or as I have come to name her, Beelzebub, decides to have a conniption, its idiot lights blinking a cartoon engine while the motor shakes in fits and starts. As I accelerate it sounds like a prop engine on a dingy. I make it to the repair station and leave it, heading home to wait the prognosis. The bathroom goes tap, tap, tap. I try to mimic it with keystrokes. The car will cost over a quarter of my monthly income so I have to figure that out alongside automatic payments, a mortgage payment and holidays looming. With a lot of penny pinching I might be able to swing the car in time to dash through the woods to the new grandmother's house. I'm told that I can drive the car at my peril without any more damage to the engine (save for it stalling and not being able to be restarted.) Driving now is like sitting in front of a Jack in the box as someone slowly turns the crank. You drive forward, not unlike the country, hands clenched to the wheel waiting for Chuckles to burst forth as soon as you let your guard down.

Still, the story waits for me.

Enough bitching. It could be deadlines, papers that need to be graded, lives that need to be saved, bones needing to be mended, babies that need to be burped. Its always going to be something. It's called life. The key is to persevere. Success never comes to those who don't try. 

Nanowritmo is a marathon. You just don't quit the race because to get a stitch or run out of metaphors 
(that, perhaps, could be a good thing -wink-)

Tap, tap, tap... (this time not coming from the bathroom.)

Week Two: 
44948 words in 14 days
GOAL: 100,000 words (or the finish line, whichever comes first.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Writing Hell week 1

So today is the end of the first week of Nanowritmo 2012.
What pray tell is nanowritmo?

Why Nation Novel Writing Month. It is always November because no one has anything else to occupy their time during that month. No impending holidays and the stress that they can compound. Thank the stars, that would making trying to crank out a manuscript for a novel that clocks in at 50,000 word in 30 days a nerve-wracking experience.

I'm all in. Let's start writing. This is my own personal method.

S.E. Toon's First Level of Writing Hell.
Now my process of writing involves taking extensive notes both on plot and on character development. I write the first draft in long hand because I find it an organic form of making my thoughts real. I can cross things out, put an asterisk on a passage and add to it or question it for a re-write. I can lasso parts and draw arrows to where it should be moved to. In short, to anyone but myself, it is an indelligable mess. The secret service should use my method. IMPORTANT: No one should ever read this draft.

S.E. Toon's Second Level of Writing Hell.
Then I decipher my mad scribbles and type them into my word processor. At this stage I am editing, waxing poetic, polishing as I write. Reading the computer screen, making another pass then print. IMPORTANT: No one should ever read this draft.

S.E. Toon's Third Level of Writing Hell.
Then its time to make the pages bleed. I take out my trusty read pen and correct grammar, dreaded adverbs, delete extraneous back story. Delete, delete, flesh out, delete again. Get another pen because the present one has run out of ink, and repeat. Then I type the bloody page back into the computer, futzing and tweaking as I type. IMPORTANT: No one should ever read this draft at this time but I let them just so they can drill me a new one. I've learned from my experience as a graphic artist that what you usually miss on your third pass, the final markups, is not the mouse type, its is what is in the largest font size. Same with writing for me. Dumb tense mistakes, passive phrasing, more show, less tell. Only another writer's eyes can take off my blinders.

Then its rinse and repeat.

You can't do this in nanowritmo! 

Nanowritmo's New and Improved (?) Level of Writing Hell.
This is a race, not a stroll. Your writing needs to be a stream of consciousness relying on your inner voice. The words need to go directly into the computer devoid of editing save for a smidgen of spell checking.  This is so against my nature I find it maddening. I still refer heavily to my notes to get me on a writing jag and I confess I have already broke down and hand written a passage before typing. So you do what's necessary, write like every letter is sacred and when you get to the finish line this warning still applies, IMPORTANT: No one should ever read this draft.

I keep thinking of what I tell my creative writing students. Writing is rewriting. First you need something to rewrite. You can't create a sculpture without a block of stone (and if you are some kind of smarty pants that wants to say, 'Sure you can. You can make a sculpture out of steel, paper, even macaroni.' I'll have to hunt you down and stab you in the throat with my metaphor.)

See what's happening?? ARRRRG! Now I so want to add this blog to my week's total (645 words) alongside the words I enter each week into (1602 words), even my grocery list (88 words, very hungry). I could use them all woven together as an example of extreme fiction to create a YA House of Leaves.

Or maybe I should just stop typing here and get on with my story.

Week One: 
27,103 words in 7 days
GOAL: 100,000 words (doable but at what cost?)

If you want to join in the insanity, better late than never. 
Share the misery. See you in hell!