Thursday, December 1, 2011

How powerful the written word

Someday I want to be one of those writers that writes pep-talks for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). They are my trail of breadcrumbs that I follow through the month of November. They are a legit reason to open my browser and pause from writing for a while, because they always end with that gentle nudge (or not so gentle push) - okay, you've had your break, now get back to writing.

Okay, I admit, I open my browser lots of other times during writing. Last night, with 2000 words still to write and only four hours before midnight of November 30, a reference to an amoeba appeared in my writing and prompted a 10 minute break on Wikipedia to read up on amoebas (all to make sure the ONE sentence that had the word amoeba in it was a good analogy).

But, I made it! I wrote 50,228 words in November, and a story that started as a dream when I was teenager has now finally become a book. (Well, a first draft, at any rate). Update: here in 2011 my WIP was called "Seeing Through Dreams"). About a year later the title changed to Star Tripped.

But it's real now. It was just a bunch of images in my head and now it's taken on flesh and blood. Actually something even more permanent than flesh and blood, because isn't it FREAKY how powerful written words are? Some of them have lasted for millennium and are STILL being read.

Back to pep-talks (sorry, my brain is a bit fried from the past month and jumping all over the place). I want to share a couple quotes from my favorite pep talk this year, by an author named Chris Cleave. I've discovered several great authors via NaNoWriMo pep-talks. Never heard of this guy before but I'll be heading to the library shortly (it's been forbidden territory during November) and looking for his book, Little Bee (but probably not his other book, Incendiary. I'm not sure, as a mom, if I could handle that one).

Great NaNoWriMo writing quotes from Chris Cleave (you can read his full pep-talk here). 

The good [writing] days are when you perform; the slow days are when you learn to perform better. The only bad days as a writer are the ones when you are too cowardly or too lazy to sit down at the keyboard and give it everything you have.

We live in an age when the war for hearts and minds is considered just as vital as the war for territory on the battlefield. In a world where ideas hold so much power, a writer is on civilization’s front line. To become a writer, therefore, is a serious business. It requires a commitment to move from passively absorbing your cultural tradition to informing it. That’s a significant transformation...

Unless you have more natural talent than I do, then it’s not necessarily enough time [one month] to produce a perfected novel. But if you write out of your skin every day then it is enough time to learn your own mental geography and to make the jump to a new way of writing. 
Oh, the map geek in me just went wild! He speaks of mental geography! Oh, my Romeo! (whoa there, middle-aged momma)

Here's another paragraph I just about swooned over:
It doesn’t matter what genre you write in. All literature is transformative. To make people laugh; to tell a light-hearted romantic story; to let intelligent readers forget their troubles for an hour in the absence of the politicians and the money men who make our lives hell – these are some of the hardest feats to accomplish as a writer, and some of the most serious political acts you can perform. You don’t have to be a Serious Writer to be a serious writer. I once read a beautiful paragraph about teenage vampires – teenage vampires, for goodness’ sake – that moved me more than all of Hemingway. You don’t need to be trying to change the world in order to change someone’s world. What you need is to be seriously committed to your work. 
This one made me laugh:
A novel is a living thing and it resists containment within the structures we erect for it. Even worse, the novel has intelligence and it will inevitably turn against its creator. Think of it like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The problem is that a good character in a novel will reach a point of maturity where he or she is not necessarily biddable.

In which Chris confirms he's a panster, not a plotter (but I forgive him, and might even partially admit he's right):
...The job of a novelist is to explore human emotion and motivation. You learn more about your protagonists as you write them. If you are not very often forced by your characters to bin your masterplan, then you are a wooden and a formulaic writer indeed.So, better than having a planned structure is to begin with a character or two, and a theme you intend to explore, and an initial direction you plan to start exploring in. 
I've had that perfectly plotted outline get tromped all over by my characters taking off in rebel directions, too. What do you think? Confine your character to the plot, or let them go?

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