The Muse, The Zone, vs. #buttinchair

Many thanks to my online writing friends (which the vast majority of my writing friends are) for the topics for the NaNoWriMo series.

 

museThis week, a few of my writing buds sad they haven’t found “the zone,” or that their muse wasn’t showing up when they tried to write and they got nothing done on their NaNo novel.

What creative person hasn’t been there? Creativity is the most fun when every part of me is singing along to the same song–in 4 part harmony, even. I see the path ahead leading to a place I’ve never been before. If writing, I know where the scene will go, the theme, the end, the deep thoughts of the characters, the witty repartee, the biting sarcasm. If drawing, I see the lines on the paper before I make them, my mind sees the entire picture before my hand is laying out before it is complete. If singing, my voice has the next notes ready and my musically challenged brain doesn’t have to search for it as the sound leaves my throat. (This only happens in the car though. Alone.)

But what if your muse takes the day off of to climb Mt. Everest? Or your zone isn’t about writing, but thinking about how you maybe should go back to Facebook and delete that post about your dumb co-worker, although you never used her name. Or even that you should get up and go clean out the cat box.

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A muse is a romantic notion and usually involves an unreliable fictitious entity.

Since NaNo is all about the word count, you don’t have time for your muse to come off Everest (if she ever does–that hill is littered with bodies, much like peaceful small towns where TV sheriffs and mystery writers live). You can’t wait for your zone to move to your writing place. You have to put down words. Dec. 1 waits for no one, my friends.

It’s time for #buttinchair.

Sit. Turn off the internet. Block out sound. Close the door. Start typing.

Don’t wait for the perfect sentence. Don’t search around the vocabulary junk drawer for just the right word.

Just write. #buttinchair #amwriting

“She walked into the room. It was dark. She didn’t like dark rooms because when she was small her brother scared her in one so bad she pees her pants and he joked about it until the zombies got him.”1-siyWsgezvPaCuBmhNgLoqA

There, 40 words. Pretend they’re related to your story. Do that again and again and again and pretty soon you have 250 words. When I get stuck, I make myself write 250 words about what could happen next in my story. By the time I get to 250, an idea has usually sparked. Maybe the light shines on my Zone and my Muse is ready to talk to me again. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep the words in revisions, maybe not. But they’re words. They count. And most importantly, I forged ahead and made progress.

Sometimes, lots of times, really, writing is like your job. You don’t feel like flipping that damn burger, but you do. You don’t feel like cutting into that skull to relieve intracranial pressure, but you do. You don’t feel like changing yet another wet diaper. But you do. Some hungry person gets their food, some patient’s headache gets better, and your baby won’t get diaper rash. It wasn’t fun, but it was done. Progress was made.

The Muse, the Zone, are romantic ideas, and when they show up, they’re fun to be with. But they’re fickle and you can’t depend on them to write your novel.

 

So, here I am, #buttinchair, writing words. No, blog posts don’t count for NaNo. While I’m writing, maybe my muse for mopping the kitchen floor will show up. He’s been quite elusive this year and I can’t mop the floor without him.

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NaNo Tip: First Drafts Are Shit

The first draft of anything is shit–Ernest Hemingway.

The Ernest Hemingway said this and his shit (revised and edited) is so good we’re forced to read it in school. (I preferred Steinbeck to Hemingway. I’m sure Steinbeck’s first drafts were shit, too.)hemingway shit

This is true. If you, oh novice writer, expect to dazzle the world, or even yourself, by what comes through the tips of your fingers and onto your screen, or paper, or whatever the first time, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Failure, I tell you.

You may be a literary genius waiting to be discovered. Your mind may be gestating the next Lord of the Rings, but with aliens and zombies, just what the world and Hollywood are dying to get their hands on. You may have imagined it in scintillating detail while bored in class, at work, with your friends when they’re talking about reality TV and sports. You’re there, staring off into space, creating the perfect battle, the perfect sex scene, crafting the perfect snappy comeback. Maybe you lose sleep over it at night.

And then you go to write it down. The words flow like wine at an ancient Roman feast. Many, many words. You get goosebumps from the elation of creation or the emotion of the scene. You are in the zone, living those orgasmic moments every writer dreams of.Feast_of_the_Gods_with_Marriage_of_Bacchus_and_Ariadne_0

Then you lose your steam because it can’t be maintained forever. You go back and read. Maybe the words are really good words in a great order and you say out loud so your cat looks at you, “Wow! These are really good words. I like–no–I bloody love these words. What happens next?” Your cat asks, “Meow?” And your mind goes blank. For days. Weeks. Lifetimes.

Or the words really suck. They’re stupid words, rudimentary and awkward, not coming close to what you imagined. It’s like you’re back in 3rd grade. “Hi! My name is Theresa and I’m going to tell you about zombies and aliens.” And you think, “And I have a degree in __________________?” So you give up, pour a glass of wine and remember The Bachelorette is on TV. Your cat yawns and stays put.images

Or the words don’t come. Like sitting on the toilet. You know there is shit in you, but it’s stuck. You stare at the white screen and think too hard. You don’t know how to begin because you know whatever you write, it will be, well, shit. So you don’t write. You don’t push. You don’t want hemorrhoids in your brain. Your cat is nowhere to be seen. Besides, The Bachelorette is on.

Here are some things to know:

  • Every writer has been there, some are there now, even experienced bestsellers. Even the ghostwriters for some of those bestsellers.
  • Everyone who has written a novel was a beginner once.
  • Every novelist writes shit, but goes back and fixes it.
  • The more you write and study the craft of writing, the easier it will be to write less shit and easier to recognize and fix it during revisions.
  • Your novel will NEVER be as great as you want it to be. Eventually, it may come close with lots and lots more work (known as revising.)
  • You have to write the shit. You have to write when you don’t feel like it. You know how crappy you feel when you’re constipated? That’s how you’ll start to feel. And you’ll be grouchy. And the people you have to see will think you’re weirder than usual. And people who know you will know you’re constipated and give you prunes. And your writer people will tell you, “Just sit down and write the shit.”

Writing a novel is a long, huge process, and you’re doing it alone. But you’re doing it! Don’t give up on your story because it’s not behaving like you want it to. You didn’t listen to your parents all the time, and they still fed you, right?

Remember, shit happens. It has to happen. It’s called the first draft.

How to Win NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer and use the internet (duh) you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo. (Well, maybe not. Today I mentioned it to a co-worker who’s a writer and he never heard of it. But then, he still uses Juno for email and he’s not even as old as I am.) If not, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month where writers of all ilk strive, struggle, and sacrifice to write 50,000 words in November. It’s how the writing bug bit me and has yet to let go. It’s become more and more respectable each year since its first in 1999. If your an introverted dork like myself, it’s the social event of the year. Some folks write because they just like to. Some, like me, besides the like part, write to share their stories through traditional or self-publication.

Fifty thousand words average out to be 1667 words a day. I write all the time now and sometimes I write that much, but often I don’t.

NaNo is like a writing marathon you run around your day job, your family, obligations you can’t put on hold, and Thanksgiving. Some years, I worked full time, other years I had no job. This year I have a parttime, I’m judging films for the local film festival and I have person/people coming for Thanksgiving. I also like to do my Christmas decorating by the end of the month.

To succeed, it’s important to be willing to make changes to your lifestyle for these 30 days including:

Coffee: Or caffeinated beverage of choice. Mine is coffee. Morning, noon and evening. when writing at home, it’s a good reason to extract my butt from my chair. Pepsi is great, too, but I have to limit that.

Write-ins: When you sign up for NaNo (here) you’re encouraged to connect with the region where you find yourself. Municipal Liaisons (self-sacrificing NaNo heroes) set up and run meetings where WriMos (NaNo writers) get together and conduct word sprints and other challenges to get your word count up. They are motivating and a lot of fun. You get to meet people who are crazy and dorky in your kind of way and they become your friends. You can also set up your own if the MLs times and places don’t suit you. Most regions have Facebook groups, too. Some hold virtual write-ins that are fun and helpful, too.

TV: Plan on giving it up for November. DVR The Walking Dead or whatever you think you can’t live without. You know how you mindlessly watch one show after the other without thinking? Stop it and write. Whoever wrote what you watch didn’t watch much TV at the beginning of their careers.

Tell a few trusted people: Most people are going to think you’re crazy. Seriously, they will. The kind of people who don’t have a story burning a hole in their brain. They’ll want you to keep showing up at work, to keep cooking and washing their clothes and changing their diapers. They won’t care you’ve decided to write a book. Tell people who will understand that. If you don’t have any right off, tell people you’re close to and maybe one or two will care. Well, tell them anyway so when you say, “One more sentence,” before you get up and cook dinner, they’ll know why.

Facebook Groups: As I said earlier, your region probably has a group so you can connect with local peeps. You can search “writing” and such on FB and see what you find. Also, look for groups who write the genre you’re in. Some pages belong to associations you have to pay money to join, but there are plenty others. Like all FB groups, there are some filled with negative people, and others brimming with lovely folk. Keep looking until you find your tribe or two. But don’t spend too much time in November looking. We all know what a timesuck FB is! NaNoWriMo has an FB page, too.

Late Nights and Weekends: You can’t be a writer and not lose sleep and not give up social events. It’s against the rules of the secret NaNo Writers league. Art is suffering (often). Suck it up, make fresh coffee, grab some M&Ms and stop thinking about going to bed or that party where everyone is only making small talk, anyway.

Snacks of the healthy and unhealthy variety. It’s important their easy to handle and don’t make your fingers sticky and messy. Like my favorite, Crunchy Cheetos. That orange craps sticks to my fingers. Healthy snacks could be celery sticks with peanut butter to dip in, veggies of any kind. Dip makes them less healthy, but make sure yo control it so it doesn’t blop on your keyboard. I like lightly salted nuts, too. For the unhealthy stuff, I like M&Ms, Skittles, jelly beans, licorice all sorts. Those aren’t too messy. It’s good to drink water while you write, too. Ice, lemon, fruit or veggie infused, all good.

No Editing: One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is to turn off your inner editor. Put it in a soundproof room. Pretend it’s your high school Comp. teacher who fussed over commas and dependent clauses and the subjunctive tense. Lock that fool up so you can’t hear her/him. You never paid attention anyway so you still don’t know if it’s who or whom. You can’t write 50,000 in 30 days if you keep going back over the ones you already wrote. There will be time for that before next November.

Save Research For Later: Some people (usually plotters) will plot out and plan their novels and begin researching long before November 1. Not me. I’m a pantser–I write by the seat of my pants. Searching on Google for the largest alligator ever of how do they use the bathroom in Japan doesn’t add to your word count. I usually just as a note in the text, bold it so I can find it later, then write on. Or you can make something up and bold it, adding to your word count and fact check starton on Dec. 1.

Cheat a Little: For the desperate. Copy and paste the lyrics to the song your character has in her head that may or may not pertain to her current situation. Write meaningless dialogue that won’t make the final cut.

And Did I Say Coffee? Also chocolate, wine, beer, and booze at the right time.

You’re not going to come out of November with 50,000 shiny words publishers will kill for at an auction. At best, you’ll have a very rough draft that will need more than a month of TLC to get ready for anyone to want to read. But you have more than you started with. And when you tell people you wrote a book, they’ll be awestuck and find you the most amazing person they met that day, even if they haven’t read a book since high school.

Because of NaNoWriMo, I have 4 completed novels and 3 others in various stages of drafts. Two, I have self-published, one I am shopping for an agent with, and one is my very first NaNo novel that I revised but haven’t decided to go further with. NaNo is how I write my rough drafts. I love the fast pace, the time challenge, the way the characters show up and tell me their stories.

No, I’m not a best-seller. Yet. But National Novel Writing Month has shown me I can put my stories on paper, I can learn the craft of writing, and I can finish large projects for myself.

If you have questions, post them here, or on my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/tamunroe/

NaNoWriMo is coming!

nano So, here it is, the ides of October 2016. While many women are thinking about the holidays and scouring Pinterest for decorating ideas and recipes, writing women are not.

Okay, I know I can’t speak for every woman writer. But on most of my writing Facebook pages, the talk is about NaNoWriMo . Thank the Lord there are places to go where no trace of politics can be found. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month which is November. Writers’ blogs and writers’ Facebook groups are filled with angst-ridden posts asking, “Who’s doing NaNo this year?”

We’re writers. Why the distress about doing what we love to do? You know how marathon runners stress about finishing their next race? Well, WriMos stress about completing 50,000 words in 30 days. Not just any, 50,000 words, but arranged in such a way they qualify as a novel. A rough draft of a novel, not one you can send out to agents yet (although some have, much to the chagrin and amusement of agents and publishers.) Or maybe it’s the mere beginning of an epic fantasy or a future detective series. Or a novella. Finding time to write that many words amidst the doings of everyday life is a challenge for many folks.

That’s no so much me anymore since I’m unemployed. But I remember those days. this year, besides NaNo, I’m also taking an online course with the University of Iowa Writing Workshop, and sending out queries for a revised former NaNo project, working on book 3 of Lilyland and working with a critique group. Writing, writing everywhere and not a royalty in sight. Sigh.

y unofficial slap-together cover

my unofficial slap-together cover

Since I started NaNo-ing in 2008, I have completed 8 rough drafts (although two were for the same novel). Two of those have been revised, edited, polished, and self-published. Another one I’m currently querying literary agents with. Two others I am currently revising.

If you think you have a novel in you that’s screaming to get out, give NaNo a try this year. Sign up here. You’ll meet a great online community to cheer you on and who will understand what you’re doing when no one around you does. You can meet other actual people face to face at local write-ins. You can drink gallons of coffee and nibble Skittles, M&Ms and pretzel nuggets like mad. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get your family or roommates to understand. If not, it’s only 30 days. 640px-skittles-louisiana-2003