writing process

No NaNoWriMo

I know it works for others, and is probably great for dispelling the loneliness of the long-form writer, but NaNoWriMo isn’t for me. I’ve already realized that getting connected via the internet (and I am only slightly connected) has been the kiss of death to writing another novel. It’s so much easier to read blogs, comment on posts and write posts, read and write reviews of other people’s books, and generally goof off while doing “research” online.

Here are the elements I need to start the writing fire:  first, an obsession-generating idea. Not necessarily a killer plot “hook,” but some basic configuration of characters, situation and setting that I can’t stop thinking about. It acts like a magnet, pulling other elements to itself until a kind of fusion reaction begins.

Second, time and space. This means a room with a desk and a door, and at least two unbroken hours every day in which to write.

Third, a big stack of paper and a bunch of pens. Yes, I write my first drafts in longhand. The first thing I see when I get back to my opus is the spot where I left off, not the first few paragraphs grinning at me in the stark black-on-white of the computer screen. Reading my scribble discourages the impulse to edit the beginning rather than driving the first draft to its end. And yes, writing longhand makes it almost impossible to track the word-count, which is just fine with me.

That’s it. At the first draft stage, I don’t need anyone rooting for me or keeping track of my words. Talking too much about the work-in-progress might jinx it. For me, the act of writing is as private as — well, use your imagination.

Strangely enough, I did start writing seriously in November. November 7th, 2000, which is why the main character of my trilogy, Herbert West/Francis Dexter, was born on that day (in the year 1886). Fall and winter are great for writing, especially for a gardener. Summer evenings are too valuable as gardening time to be spent writing, but when darkness comes early, often with rain or snow, what else is there to do?

Plenty, for those who insist on being constantly plugged in to the hive of the internet. Which is why, when I find myself preoccupied with a novel-nub that simply must be developed, I will have to unplug. Descending to my subterranean writing room, the equivalent of an alchemist’s cave, I’ll stack up the paper, uncap the pen and begin the Work. The blog may be neglected, but that’s the tradeoff.

In the meantime, happy birthday to Herbert, and good luck to all you industrious NaNos.

Rain and Distractions

Rain at last! That’s the note in my garden record for October 12. Eight millimeters fell that day and a further eight yesterday. As I write it’s raining hard — ten millimeters so far today and much more to come, judging by the big green and blue rain blobs on the radar image provided by Environment Canada’s website.

The first major rain of the autumn begins the closing down of the garden year for me. There is still a lot to be done in the garden, notably the Rake Dance as leaves fall, but the active growing season is winding down in a wet welter of falling foliage and coloured collapse.

Fireweed (Epilobium) foliage in gorgeous decline

Fireweed (Epilobium) foliage in gorgeous decline

The close of the gardening season is the beginning of Serious Writing Season. From October to March is an ideal time to write. Darkness comes early and there are few outdoor diversions. The writer can go into her cave and create. So is this writer doing that? Not really. After a hot critiquing session last week I’m busy with revisions to one of my novels, muttering and grousing all the way.

A new word (for me) has been added to the list of Words To Avoid: was. A 3-letter word that’s ever so useful. I’ve had little trouble getting rid of “-ly” words, “some,” “just” and even “that.” But “was?” Just try writing a descriptive paragraph in past tense without using it. And I refuse to create elaborate word-structures to substitute for it. Hence the muttering and grousing. My solution in situations where a supposed Writer’s Sin doesn’t lend itself to a quick fix is the Delete key. If you can’t fix it, shoot it. Not a bad idea in a novel of 160,000 words.

In a post-crit snit, I started an entire blog post questioning the inherent, passive evil of “was.” But I’m not sure I’ll ever flesh it out into a postable screed that isn’t petty, snit-induced frothing. I have to do some research first. And just because I find stuff on the internet do I have to believe it? Only if it agrees with me. There’s the problem.

The business of revising and rewriting is serious, however. There is a real difference between the niggly, picky business of revising an old work and the white-hot flight of creativity involved in creating a new one. The writer’s brain (this writer’s brain, anyway) is in two entirely different modes, which is why it’s impossible (for me) to alternate a bit of revision with a bit of new writing. It has to be one or the other.

Endless revision is an inherent danger for the author whose works exist only as ebooks, which are infinitely revisable without the natural concluding effect of putting a work into print. I wrote a blog post about this once.

And then there’s blog post writing mode. I’m not sure what that does to the brain, but it’s a distraction from both revision and fresh writing. Which is why this post ends here.