I talked yesterday about my amazingly successful first NaNoWriMo — in terms of word count, anyway. It’s hard for me to give myself too much credit for the book, though. It’s still in its first draft state, and sitting in limbo as the third book in a four-part series that’s still missing a decent introduction, and is probably never going to see the light of day.
It’s a shame, too, because I made some awesome characters and told precisely the story I wanted to tell. Still, as they say, every page counts. There’s no way Katie would be the strong, empathic woman she is today if Sarah hadn’t first been the oft-helpless, always-caring ingenue she was way back then.
All of that is beside the point, though. This week I want to talk about needing to write. That was my story for 2007, and it has propelled me in some fascinating ways directly to the place I am today. I felt the need to write, and I fed the hunger.
Capturing What You Can’t Tame
In yesterday’s story, I mentioned a desperate desire to get started right away — in October, when I first started working through the story idea — even though my main inspiration had come from a desire to do NaNoWriMo.
That’s a pretty artificial limitation, but it’s one several of us are wrestling with again right now. I know Courtney’s really chomping at the bit, and honestly I feel the same way. SEATAC is screaming at me to start putting words on paper, and I refuse.
Well…that’s not quite right. I refuse to put narrative on paper, but there are a lot of sci-fi action/adventure words getting saved to my Google Docs account. I’ve talked about my prewriting before, and I will again — most of the way I do things sprang directly from those exercises I prepared for my sister and my dad in our first NaNoWriMo.
Those exercises are a fantastic way to channel the need to write when you can’t actually write. Sometimes you can’t write because it’s not 00:00 November 1 yet, but far more often you can’t write because you’re already busy working on three other works-in-progress, or you don’t have enough details yet, or you’re juggling too many other projects to give writing a decent effort…or there’s just not enough time to scribble down a whole chapter before the light turns green.
Whatever the reason, it’s part of the writer’s experience that, from time to time, you’ll end up with a burning passion to work on a book and yet completely unable to do so. I hate to see that energy lost, though, so I’ve developed a handful of practical exercises that tap into the storytelling without actually storytelling. They’re things like mock ToCs, character bios, synopses, and that Conflict Resolution Cycle worksheet.
The purpose of prewriting exercises like that isn’t necessarily to come up with material for a story, but to pin it down. I’ve found from lots of good experience that if I channel genuine inspiration into these particular vessels, I can come back to it years later and pick up right where I left off.
Saving Some for Later
Sometimes starting on the story isn’t the problem so much as it’s making yourself stop. I’ve certainly been there. When I’m in the zone, I can generate 2,000-4,000 words an hour, and I’ve been known to do 11,000 at a sitting.
That can make short work of a 50,000 word target, but it can also make for some pretty sloppy storytelling. Doing that much on pure adrenaline can be a thrill, but (take it from me) it’s also a good way to trip over your own ingenuity.
Worse yet, it’s a surefire way to get burnt out. Taking it slow, though — pacing yourself — can pay huge rewards.
That’s one of the most valuable things I learned in the summer of 2007, as I was publishing three scenes a week to my blog while I finished up The Wolf . I figured out that if I stopped writing every night while I still had something to say, excruciating though that was (especially as I approached the climax), it made it a lot easier to pick up writing again the next morning.
I definitely recommend that method. Save some for later, pace yourself. Even when you’re in the throes of inspiration, on fire with your story, manage that energy. With a little bit of direction, you can keep it going for months instead of days.
Writing When You Don’t Want To
Eventually, though, you’re going to run out of steam. We all do. It’s just another part of the writing experience.
Feast or famine, though, it’s your job to keep doing the best you can to improve your writing. That can be hard, but the agony is just as manageable as the ecstasy. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll talk a bit about how to write when you really don’t want to.