Monday, November 26, 2007

Novel Writing in 30 Days - Crazy or Creative?

The answer to that is a definitive YES.

As of 9:45 pm this past Sunday, I completed the 2007 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. This challenge is aimed at writers attempting to write a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November. Coming in at just under 51,000 words, I have a first draft of No Teddy Bears, a young adult story about four foster children in peril. A first draft I am proud of because I crossed the finish line, I have a story with a beginning, middle and end. And unlike some of my NaNoWriMo colleagues, I think I have something worthy of the editing process. Now, if there’s a one-month editing challenge lurking about somewhere, count me out!

So do I have any lessons to share?

Nothing really revolutionary to the writing process. But this adventure did reinforce several basic writing habits that separate writers from wanna-be writers.

1. Write every day.

• This is a must just to build up one’s writing muscle. Just as a concert pianist must practice for a recital each day, so, too, a writer must practice her skills each day so that when the brilliant idea strikes, her metaphorical pencil is sharpened.

2. Write, don’t tell.
• You cannot talk about your story while you are writing it. Someone told me this years ago and it took a long time to understand why this is a good rule. Why? Because your enthusiasm for the story must flow from your fingers first. If it comes from your mouth first, you have just leached off some of the energy in the talking about it and your passion will want. Write it. Then talk about it. (Of course, I realize I broke this rule for NaNoWriMo somewhat. But I knew you would hold me accountable to the finish and that’s a pretty decent motivator.)

3. Begin with the seed of a scene that fascinates you.
• It’s almost imperative to begin any piece of writing with a scene or idea you cannot wait to write. It’s the imaginary carrot that you get to chase for a month, a year, whatever amount of time. For example, Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, found the genesis of that story in an image of a plane falling from the sky. This was his original idea. The story of who was in the plane, why it was falling and onto what country it was falling all started from that first compelling image.

In much the same way, one seminal image fed my process throughout the NaNoWriMo challenge. It was a simple exchange of dialogue that I heard on an investigative news report between a reporter and a four year old little girl. I was pleased to find that story still exists in cyperspace. Here’s the link.
Read to the end of this feature, and you’ll have some idea about why this was such a powerful inspiration.

Have you read it now? Good. Then there will be no spoilers as I share the following.

I wanted to know about those children. Who they were? What kind of spirit they had to weather such a horrible storm? I wanted to see what kind of moxie was within a little girl who boiled down her abusive foster home experience by saying, “There were no teddy bears.” It’s a cautionary tale about the ideals of childhood. Her foster parents had robbed her of part of her childhood. She interpreted this as an absence of her teddy bear – a symbol of childish innocence. Wonderful. That was my carrot. My quest to get to the end of my story, to be able to flesh out the scene where my fictional little girl, Claire Chaucer, gets to say that line on the cusp of her rescue.

So when NaNoWriMo cranks up again next November, I heartily encourage you to participate and see what you can do in 30 days. You'll be amazed.


Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, Spring 2008 from Kunati Books.

1 comment:

Cheryl Tardif said...

Excellent article, Karen, and very inspiring!! Thanks for sharing it!