Monthly Archives: October 2012

Week of edits

This week I have had what could be considered a taste of what it might be like to be a fulltime novelist. Instead of traveling, I used five of my vacation days from work to stay home. My intention was to get stuff done around the house and, silly me, finish editing my novel before National Novel Writing Month begins next Thursday and I will write a new one.

I wrote the one I’m editing now almost exactly three years ago, during my second NaNoWriMo. At this point, I’m close to finishing it, but until this week I thought I was much closer than I am. Faced with nine days off in a row I thought surely I could knock out the novel over only a couple. Other plans for this week originally included painting the living room, writing the four stories I’ve been planning as Christmas gifts for family members, plowing over the garden plot and replanting bulbs, shampooing the carpet, replanting the garden, exercising seven out of nine days, and reconfiguring my diet.

In Chris Baty’s book “No Plot? No Problem!” he wrote how several years ago he saved up to be able to put aside his freelance jobs and stay home for three months. But instead of writing during those ninety days, he did anything but.

I haven’t treated this week like a work week, but I did think that forty hours spent at home rather than at my office — plus the seven commuting hours — would have amounted to more than they did. What I have done is plan for my new novel, reorganize the kitchen cabinets, make lentil stew and quinoa for dinner tonight, walk five miles with Ryan one day, talk with two friends I haven’t seen since January and another since April, spend time with family, and catch up on sleep. I also had the battery in my car replaced when my car broke down at the post office Monday and upgraded to a smartphone.

Today I worked on my book; I printed out the first half and had read over the first three chapters before realizing that none of the edits I had made on the previous hard copy had made it into the new one. That’s because I’d never entered the edits from the hard copy into Word. It took two hours today just to enter the edits from a chapter and a half. My edits are not the spelling/grammar kind. They’re the paint the page red with ink kind. I also realized that, in this latest round, I haven’t edited past chapter eight…out of nineteen.

With three days left of my staycation, I know I’m not going to finish this book before NaNoWriMo 2012, which makes my plans for submitting it to the January contest I’d wanted to seem all the more unlikely. But I’m beginning to think that even if I were home all day every day from now until New Years, I might not have made that happen anyway. When you’re home all day, you spend more time making meals, you let the cats in and out about 80 times more than usual, and you visit with people you normally never get to see.

For now I’m still planning on writing a new novel next month. It just isn’t November anymore without NaNoWriMo. But I also might have a second goal this year: Finish editing a novel in a month.

 

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Anything you can do…

When I was in fourth grade, plays at school were a big deal. We got out of class just to rehearse for them–for a good several hours. At Sparta Alpine School, we would carry our desk chairs with us down the hall in a long, long single file line, which led us to the auditorium/gym. There we would set up camp and sit for the following two hours (or so it seemed) and wait. In the days leading up to a peformance, there were probably 300 of us from three grades in that auditorium. Those who had roles to rehearse would take the stage, while the rest of us pulled out our homework or chatted amongst ourselves. It was a time like no other, and though it’s been a long time since I’ve thought of those days, the memories I do have are vivid.

As much as I enjoyed makebelieve, though, I learned early on that I’d never be an actor. Maybe that’s why theater always intrigued me.

My parents started my brother and me out early, dragging us to see “The Nutcracker” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” twice each — all, I think, at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. I also saw a play with my school at the Papermill, and another — “Annie Get Your Gun” — with my best friend and her mom.

I was still in elementary school when I saw my first high school play — “Camelot,” from which I remember only one scene: When Arthur was trapped in an invisible box that challenged the actor to have to mime his successive actions.

In junior high school I tried to be a part of “Annie” and “Oliver,” but, I repeat: No acting skills. So I joined the stage crew. I learned from my homeroom and art teacher how to paint shadows on streetlights; I learned that if I could see the audience from behind the curtain, they could see me; and, when I was lucky, I earned nonspeaking roles in the chorus — like a popcorn vendor, or, later in high school, a tour guide.

No matter in which capacity I managed to insert myself into any given play, I think I most enjoyed watching. There’s just something about live theater that’s so unlike reading or watching movies, and I don’t think I really thought about it that much before this week, before this latest play I watched.

What sets live theater apart from every other form of storytelling is the shared experience — among the actors themeselves, between the cast and audience, and among the audience members. In that moment, while experiencing a play, everyone is feeling the same emotion. Audiences watching a movie might share an experience, but only among themselves; not with the actors who performed their roles a year earlier and since have moved onto new projects and all but forgotten how they felt while portraying characters that only now are viewers meeting. Readers absorbing a book, no matter how entirely, are experiencing something alone. That might be the reasoning behind the One Book, One Community movement, but no matter how many people read a book in unison, they still remain alone with the story in their own minds.

But in a play, you know as you watch that what you see is real. So I’ve been wondering this week how writing can recreate such a moment and if it possibly can and if it even should. The point of reading a story in novel form is to immerse yourself in a story, to use your imagination to paint a picture. Then you might get to watch the movie version, which almost always is disappointing. But if you were to see the movie first, you might love it; you might think it was the best story every told, and the book, in turn will never live up to that standard afterward. Where, then, do plays fit in? I know from recent experience that not all plays are equal, and that plays of stories I already know feel to me like scaled down, cheap versions of the movies or books I love. But then something like what I saw this week wacks you in the face and knocks you on your back and threatens everything you ever knew about storytelling.

Maybe a book can’t do all that. But wouldn’t it be cool if it did?

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Make great strides

Rereading No Plot? No Problem!, the book that National Novel Writing Month founder Chris Baty wrote to help prepare unsuspecting readers for the seemingly impossible task of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, has had its own unexpected effects on me.

With National Novel Writing Month less than a month away, I am just beginning to feel the crunch of not enough time to plan for my upcoming novel writing adventure. I’ve done this four times before, but as I learned last year when I blogged about the experience every day during November, it never really gets any easier, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something (or is delusional). Still, I really didn’t need to reread No Plot? No Problem! I already know what I’m doing; I already feel confident I can complete the fantasy novel I’m planning for this year, but reading Baty’s book is just too much fun not to do it again.

I first read the book two years ago, and I was impressed then at his writing style. Considering that this is a man who started a writing revolution in 1999 based on the idea that writing a book requires more passion and intention than actual talent or ability, he certain has an ability for crafting words. But then again, maybe there’s a reason for that. In his book, Baty effectively argues that writing a book is the best way to learn to write a book, and, since conceiving NaNoWriMo in 1999, Baty has written thirteen rough drafts.

Over the course of October, I’ll write more about NaNoWriMo, but today it’s all about Baty’s instruction book.

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s  30 days of exuberant novel-writing every November. What makes it so unique is not the 50,000 words or the time frame really. It’s that there’s a real chance of failure.

In his book, Baty points out that as adults we become so fearful of failure that we tend not to try new things. It was while reading this the other day that I realized how that fear of failure has affected how I treat others in the writing field.

I blame the writing books and articles I’ve read, which all — ALL — stress how nearly impossible it is to get published and how totally, perfect your book needs to be to attract any attention at all. With a roadblock like that barring our way to published authorship, it’s no wonder anyone who never has written a novel is terrified even to try. It’s also no wonder that in recent years I drew the conclusion that anyone who IS published must therefore be perfection incarnate.

Thus began the downward spiral into cynicism, when I began to notice that not all published books are all that good and that worse, not all published authors are all that good either. I became bitter. Mind you, I’ve never actually tried to publish a book. Until this past spring when I submitted a short story to a literary journal — and was accepted — I never tried submitting anything anywhere. I guess I assumed I wasn’t good enough yet. That didn’t stop me from berating — to whomever would listen — any writer I read whose work I considered imperfect. These weren’t the writers that the authors of writing instruction books mention, yet they’re still out there breaking into the all-but-impossible world of published fiction. So what are they doing right?

Maybe nothing. Maybe they’re just persistent. Or lucky. Or maybe all they really did was try something that most others are too afraid to try, because Heaven forbid trying and failing at something.

Says Baty, “The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy. Like most things associated with writing a novel in a month, this may not make a lot of sense on the surface. But there’s proven psychology behind it. Namely, the older we get, the more scared we are to try new things. Especially things that might make us look stupid in public.”

He goes on to explain that admittedly in our work lives we require competence, but during our free time, you’d think we would be more accepting of failure. Not so. “…what do we do when we have free time? The tried-and-true activities we’ve already perfected. Like talking on the phone. Or walking up and down stairs. Or getting drunk. The times we do actually make a point of stepping out of our normal routine, we tend to get flustered when we don’t get the hang of it right away.”

So get out there and try something, and if you fail? Well, there’s a reason for the old adage “try, try again.” Of course you’re going to fail. You’ll fail several times … until that time when you don’t fail. Until that time when you succeed. And until then, let us try to be easier on the novelists who did succeed, even if they aren’t perfect. Perfect writing doesn’t tell a great story. A great story tells a great story.

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