I do not remember the source of this story.
A middle-aged woman, distraught, goes to the village wise woman. “I fear my husband no longer desires me!” she says. “He has not lain with me for months, and I do not know what to do!”
The village wise woman says, “Listen carefully, for here is what you must do: tonight, you both must lay in the bed fully clothed when you go to sleep, on top of the covers, and do not touch each other. Tomorrow night you will wear your nightshift, but he will be fully clothed, both of you on top of the covers – not touching. The night after that you may lay naked under the covers, but he must sleep in his underwear on top of the covers – making sure your bodies do not touch. The night after that you may both lay under the covers, but lay far apart, so that no part of your skin will touch. Finally, the night after that, you may again touch each other.”
The middle-aged woman nodded eagerly and went off to follow the village wise woman’s instructions. Two nights later she was again at the door, in tears and even more distraught as before. “I tried to do as you instructed,” she cried. “The first night, we lay on top of the covers, in our clothes, and we didn’t touch at all. The second night I lay on top of the covers in my nightshift, and we both couldn’t sleep. We tried, we did, but there was just no resisting it – in the middle of the night we turned to each other and our passion was greater than it had ever been! I’m so sorry, we’ve ruined everything!”
The village wise woman just smiled.
NaNoWriMo? Not Much, What’s WriMo with You?
I’m not doing so well on my daily National Novel Writing Month goal.
I’m just over about ten thousand words. Which, in NaNoWriMo words, is like sleeping with all your clothes on on top of the covers. I knew that it would be difficult to do this kind of task this month in particular, due to other commitments – but I was feeling like my creative writing chops were stagnating, that I was spending so much time managing and promoting that the actual work of producing content was falling by the wayside.
I had good days – times when I would get into flow and the words would just pour out as the story unfolded. It was not the story I expected, not at all – the minor character I had thought would be in the background came to the front and demanded a voice. Then they took over the plot entirely. I found extra challenges in the way I presented them. Of course my old friend Imposter Syndrome showed up, telling me that the pacing of the story was too slow, too boring, too trite, or that I had no right to attempt to voice a character so different than myself.
I would try to carve out time here and there – 500 words, even just a paragraph – but the times when I had imagined myself writing I would often simply be too tired. Turns out it’s difficult to juggle a portable keyboard on your lap while you’re trying to write on your iPhone in a car driving cross-country – who knew?
- I re-committed to this blog shortly after the election, and that has resulted in thousands of more words and a recognition that I still have things to say.
- I’ve had my patrons for my podcast (with whom I’ve been sharing my novel-in-progress) write me and tell me they are enjoying it.
- I’ve had dreams almost every night that contained hooks that would make for great stories: what if every time you crossed the street you needed the consent of those around you to keep from shifting into alternate realities? What if you were at a garage sale and suddenly you could hear the voices of all of the items, telling you their history?
- I’ve had a past writing selected by the NaNoWriMo editors on Medium included in their choice of recommended works.
- I successfully scheduled a post to appear both here an on Medium last Friday, which makes me feel like I am Mastering Time and Space.
- This morning, when I woke early and couldn’t sleep, instead of laying there letting my brain go down corridors of insecurity, or mainlining dopamine via some social media, I got up, made coffee, and sat down to write.
In short: I’ve written only ten thousand words for this novel, but my writing habit is back.
Shoot for the Moon, Enjoy the Clouds
The moral of the story, for me, is that it doesn’t really matter if I hit my 50K goal. I’m not giving up, mind you. There was a moment in the middle of the Open Space I was doing in Columbus when I suddenly saw, clearly, what the next two scenes in my book would entail. I’ve got at least two thousand more words in that alone.
But if I get to November 31 and all I’ve got are thirty thousand words, have I failed? Only if I choose the most narrow and draconian definition of success. Instead, I’ve already succeeded in making positive changes to my habits through simply trying to do one very hard thing.
Think about that practice that you wish you did more of. Meditation, sharpshooting, knitting, encryption. Whatever it is, set yourself a goal that seems way out of the realm of possibility. Then pay attention to how the mere act of working towards that goal is, itself, a success.
Then keep doing it. Or not. There is no “final level” or “happily ever after”. Just a new story to tell yourself, every day.
This is it. The big and final day, and there are many out there who are ignoring all the calls of “CYBERMONDAY” and are simply looking feverishly at two numbers: their word count and the time of day. The former is growing and the latter is shrinking and the level of stress for each individual is precisely measurable by the difference in the rate of each.
At a certain point the day will run out. Sure, you can push it for a while – It’s still 11:30 in Hawaii! – but eventually November 30th draws to a close and National Novel Writing Month will be finis. Some will sigh with triumph, some with disappointment, some with the useless guilt of the I-coulda-done-better. It’s all beautiful, as I said last week; the mere act of dreaming the dream of a writer is a triumph of the human psyche.
What happens next? If you gave NaNoWriMo a shot, there’s going to be a very strange thing happen on December 1st. For the first time in a month, you don’t have to write. There is no word count that matters, no goal – heck, even die-hard participants take December off and dub January “National Novel Editing Month.” At first it will likely seem like the world has opened before you: NetFlix! Reading! OMG, I have friends again! You can get back into your exercise routine without feeling like you should be writing. You can sleep without obsessing about this scene or that chapter. It’s like a vacation!
Unless you really hated it, though, it won’t be long until you get that itch – before the words in your head start wanting to come out.
What You Gain
Whatever you feel like doing, do a lot of it – because that’s how you get good. – Nathan Skreslet, creator of PixelWho
Writing is a skill, and getting faster at it is pretty easy as long as you put in the time. Author Tony Lee (writer for Dr. Who, among other screen and print media) said on a recent panel that he writes two thousand words a day – and that when his two thousand are done, he stops. He doesn’t worry about whether it’s in the middle of a scene or if it’s some kind of problem with the plot; it’s his job, he’ll be back at the keyboard tomorrow, so word 2,001 can just wait its turn. You’ll note, though, that if he makes that every working day for a month, he ends up being just short the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo.
So now you know what it’s like to write for a living.
One way to transition from the urgent pressure of NaNoWriMo into a more reasonable pace is to do the “Morning Pages”. Originally coined by author Julie Cameron in her excellent work The Artist’s Way, the Morning Pages prime the pump of the writing by not being about anything in particular. Ms. Cameron says “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” Frankly, it’s kind of like yoga for the Writer’s Brain: not terribly useful or fun in and of itself, but you feel better when it’s done and the effects last the whole day.
Also like yoga, though, there is the important part: do three more tomorrow. It does not matter if today’s pages were legible, interesting, or served any purpose; what matters is showing up and putting the words on the page, be that physical or virtual. My Morning Pages were the start of a journaling habit that led not too circuitously to this blog and the work I do.
What You Lose
In a word: excuses. When I did NaNoWriMo it established my internal identity as a writer. It opened the door within me of capacity; for three years I had proven my ability to churn out 50,000 words in a month. Heck, the third time I did it it was easy; I think I was done within twenty days. Now, they weren’t good words, as such things go (there’s a reason my parents will never see them). But they existed, and that meant one thing: I had no more excuses.
“I can’t write a book” was replaced with “I won’t write a book.” And when the muse annoyed me enough – keeping me awake at night, driving me crazy with this feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing – it became “I will write a book” which meant things in my life needed to change. Change is not easy; change means loss, sacrifice, and pain. But when the changes were made it changed into “I am writing a book,” and at this point it’s “I am writing these books now…”
See how that works? It’s a progression for any skill or art or practice:
At that point, there are no more excuses. Just the responsibility you have to yourself to do what is important to you, and to let the rest go.
Simple, right? Well, not always, but in the case of being an author, that’s exactly what it is:
Even though there’s still four whole days left of NaNoWriMo, this is the last Friday. And on Fridays I write about love, so this is my last chance to tell you why I love you.
I do. I don’t care if you’re 20 words or 65,354 words into your NaNoWriMo journey right now. I frikkin’ love you, because you thought – at some point – that this was a neat idea.
Somewhere along the line you said Hey. You know, I bet it would be neat if I wrote 50,000 words in a month.
You may have completely overestimated your ability to do that. You may have completely underestimated it. You may still be right in the middle of it, thinking there’s no way I’ll be able to write 20,000 more words in four days. (by the way, that’s totally doable. Hard, but totally doable.).
I don’t care about that. I just love that somewhere inside of you was the desire to do it. And here’s why: in this world – especially lately, it seems – a lot of people seem to be choosing the destructive path. They go ahead and make that obnoxious comment online. They let scarcity – the fear of not having enough – govern their reactions to others in need. They sometimes even take arms against others. Buddha says to cultivate compassion towards these people, but sometimes I find that pretty hard.
Then there are the vast majority of people who simply do nothing new. There’s nothing wrong with that; stability can be a good thing, and if someone is happy with their routine – be it exercise, TV, gaming, whatever – that’s cool. I have nothing against that idea. I usually manage that “compassion” thing pretty easily – when I’m not indulging in “envy” when my own work becomes too busy.
But you, writer, I love.
You decided to create something new. You decided to become a conduit for the Muse. You took the words out of your head and put them out there for…whoever. It doesn’t matter. They exist. You chose the Artist’s Way, letting yourself be vulnerable to self-doubt, procrastination, distraction, and even that horrible monster The Critic, whose most vicious incarnation you can never escape because it lives in your head.
On November 1 you were brave. You chose this act, the act of writing, and you’ve spent a month with that idea. I can write. I can become an author.
You were right, on both counts. I just wanted to let you know, during the last three days of this challenging month:
I love you.
“Don’t write for others. Don’t write for yourself. Write to fill the page.”
– David McKee, Story (one of many great finds on Scribd).
This is a continuation of the idea of getting out of your own way. It technically applies to all writing, though there’s a different kind of alchemy when you’re applying it to writing for a living (hint: it’s kind of like how classical musicians all play exactly the same notes for a piece, yet can sound completely different).
During NaNoWriMo, though, you don’t have to worry about that. “Quantity, not Quality!” is your battle cry, and so you can, in fact, just write to fill the page. In fact, if there is a day when you really don’t know what or how to write, go ahead and just fill the page. Doesn’t matter what words are there, or if you’re telling the most boring story there is. Just don’t stop writing.
Believe it or not, there’s a magic to something as simple as:
Blaise wanted coffee.
“Georgia,” he said, “Bring me coffee, please.”
Georgia got up and went to the kitchen.
She came back. “Here’s your coffee,” she said.
“Thank you,” Blaise said. He drank the coffee.
What did Blaise say next?
You know, don’t you? When I asked you the question, you had an answer – likely a variation on “It’s hot!” – but you could hear it in your brain.
Here’s the thing: if you are crazy enough to want to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, you do not suffer from a lack of imagination. What you may have is the occasional blockage – Resistance as Steven Pressfield would call it – to letting that imagination work.
So instead, torture it.
The Parable of the Coffee
Once upon a time there was a young woman named Laura, and she was very much in love with Kate. Unfortunately, Laura lived and worked in New York City while Kate lived and worked in Ohio. In spite of the distance Laura and Kate saw each other every chance they got. They also took advantage of phone calls, letters, emails, and the occasional picture, but both of them were very busy and so there were times that days would go by without as much contact as the two of them would have liked.
Laura was getting frustrated, and she asked Kate if she could think of a way that they could easily have contact. Kate got a sly look on her face, and asked for one simple thing. “Every morning,” she said, “it would be really sweet if you could bring me coffee.”
Laura was puzzled, because she lived in New York City, and that was a long way from Ohio (where in Ohio, you ask? To someone from New York City, it really doesn’t matter. Ohio is just one part of that amorphous blob of nowhere known as “the flyover states”). But she shrugged and said “OK,” and after the usual number of affectionate farewells they hung up their phones. Well, actually they shut off the connection, but we still say “hung up” like we still say “dial their number” even though we really don’t.
Anyway, the next morning when Laura woke up she was faced with a conundrum. How could she bring Kate coffee? After a moment she shrugged, pulled out her phone, and sent a text.
Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
A moment later Laura’s phone chimed. Thank you! It’s delicious.
Laura was a little puzzled – it wasn’t like Kate had real coffee. But she seemed happy, and so Laura went on about her busy New York City day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone again, and typed Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
Again the phone chimed, but this time it said Ah! Thanks, dear. It’s a little too hot, but I’ll drink it soon.
Laura looked sideways at her phone. Too hot? It was a text! She put it down to some strange Midwestern ritual and went about her day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone and typed again. Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee. She paused a moment before she hit “send”, though, and then added I let it cool down a bit this morning before sending it.
Her phone chirped happily. Oh, so thoughtful! You’re so sweet. I love you.
Like anyone who reads those words from their darling, Laura grinned a goofy grin that she was glad none of her fellow New Yorkers could see, and kept it bright inside her heart for the rest of the day.
From then on there was no stopping her:
I put some cinnamon in your coffee this morning, because the Fall air is crisp.
Today I got you coffee from the corner bodega where the guy has a moustache that makes him look like Teddy Roosevelt.
This coffee is in a mug that my Grandfather used to drink out of when he’d read me the funny papers on Sunday morning.
…and so on. Every morning the coffee ritual became a way that Laura (who was a writer) could create something beautiful out of a few letters and an idea to send to her love, Kate (who knew that Laura was a writer who would never have been able to stick to just Here’s your coffee).
And they lived happily in New York City and Ohio amidst the coffee texts of love.
You are human; you’re wired to tell stories. If you are having trouble writing a lot – write a little. Write the bare minimum, until you can’t stand it anymore. I promise you: the words will come.
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What is your muse net?
In other words: how do you catch ideas? If you don’t have something in place, I promise you, you are losing a lot of ideas. I’m not saying you need to have a whiteboard in the shower (unless you do) but there’s a reason that pocket notebooks are such a big thing, why there are a zillion articles on how to best use EverNote, and why Ubiquitous Capture has gone beyond David Allen’s GTD program and into the realm of religious discipline.
Here’s the thing: ideas are slippery. If you don’t catch them when they come, you are very likely to lose them. You won’t think you will – you’ll tell yourself, like I do, Oh, I’ll remember that. And I can tell you from bitter experience that all you’ll remember is that you had an idea – and that it was a good one – but what that idea was? Oh, that’s long gone.
My Top Five Muse Nets
- Siri: If the muse strikes me while I’m walking or driving, I hit my button on my iPhone and say “Siri, remind me to write about…” It goes into my Reminders app, which makes it pretty easy to find later. The ability to use Siri without having to pick up my phone is the ONE thing that tempts me about the Apple Watch, especially since I could use it with…
- Evernote: Thanks to integration into just about every browser I use, I can pretty easily catch ideas, quotes, and articles in a special “*Love Life Practice” folder (the asterisk is so that it stays at the top of all my other folders). I can even sometimes give myself a head start and say what kind of post I think it will be – “love”, “life”, or “practice.”
- Editorial Calendar: This is a plug-in for WordPress, but a calendar on the wall works, too. When you have an idea, you write it in to a particular day so that you have an idea when to work on it. In terms of NaNoWriMo, you can take your outline for your story and lay it out on the calendar, so that each day you know exactly what you’re going to write.
Notebook: Ah, is there anything so joyous as a new notebook? I started my love affair with notebooks in the Moleskine world, but a gift of Fieldnote COLORS has been a lovely affair for the past year, and I’m experimenting currently with Baron Fig’s Confidant but I’m not sure that’s a lasting relationship. A key part is to also have a reliable pen.
- Repetition: Sometimes you just don’t have anything handy, and you do have to find a way to remember it. Last week I knew what my two blog posts would be, but I didn’t have a chance to write them down, so I started a chant: We are conduits. Love what you write. I said it over and over, under my breath, even singing it, until I got those posts written.
In case it’s not obvious: your musenet needs to be in easy reach at all times. If the notebook is buried in the bottom of your desk and the pen is at the bottom of your purse and the ink is dry, it’s not going to be terribly useful. Evernote and Siri work for me because they are easily accessible via shortcuts – I’ve tried other programs that were prettier and fancier and more expensive but they just weren’t fast enough.
If you want to experiment, try out James Altucher’s Idea Machine method and see if your MuseNet is fast enough. Most of the time they require tweaking to your particular lifestyle; feel free to email me with questions (or put them in the comments) if you would like help figuring out yours.
But I promise you this: you take care of your nets, and the muse will take care of you.
Enjoy what you’ve read? How about sharing it with a friend?
I am not one to romanticize writing, especially as a profession. While I’m a big fan of Do What You Love as well as Follow Your Passion, I’ve agreed to not harp on that for at least a while (especially since other people like Mark Manson are doing it for me).
But the idea that you can make a living writing about what you’re passionate about? HA! I can call myself a professional writer because I have used the written word to put food on the table and a roof overhead. Some of the money has even come from work that I was passionate about. Most of it, though? Came from things like:
- Ad copy
- Tech writing (“How to plug in a projector” – exciting, eh?)
- Ghost Writing (aka “Making other people’s ideas pretty”)
- Newsletter Writing
- Turd Polishing (a shameful part of my life when I was paid to make really bad real estate look really good)
- Paid blog posts for other sites (“How to rent a fishing boat in Florida“, one of my favorites)
These are not things that could be termed passionate, at least in my own life. But writing is a craft, much like woodworking or gardening or even music: it is possible to make a living simply following the formula that gives people what they want (usually the client, incidentally, not necessarily the reader; one of marketing’s dirty secrets is that they aren’t selling items to consumers, they are selling ad campaigns to businesses that make items).
I believe there are some people who make a living – a good living – writing about things they are passionate about. I believe that their number one skill – that I’m still working on – is getting out of their own way. But even then it’s work; as Mark Manson says in that article I linked to, “I am living my dream job…and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more…that’s just life.” Or take the way my favorite writer, Kameron Hurley, described her “success”:
At the current rate of my own book advances, I’d have to write twelve or thirteen books a year just to maintain my current income level – an income level I achieve now with a day job, freelancing jobs on the side, and writing a fiction novel, a short story or two, a column for Locus, and some other paid essays every year…I’ve been poor before. I don’t fucking like it. I work hard to stay as far ahead of it as I can. And that’s yet another reason I likely won’t ever give up my day job, even if I only keep it part time: I like money. I don’t like being poor.
No, I do not romanticize the profession of writing at all. For me, it just beats the alternatives. Then again, I also have a higher tolerance for being poor than Ms. Hurley.
NaNoWriMo is Disneyland for Writers
Guess what? When you’re doing NaNoWriMo, none of that matters. You’re not writing to support yourself; yes, you have a deadline and a word count, but it’s one you chose. You’ve given yourself a vacation in the writing world where you can just write about what you love! Nobody – seriously, nobody – ever has to read it. This is where you can say screw the quarterly reports and the keynote speech and the company newsletter and write about the rocketship piloted by a unicorn zooming through Jessica Jones‘ inner ear, pursued by an evil clone of N.K. Jemisin and Ferrett Steinmetz. You can write that love story about young Gandalf and Saruman. You can daydream about yourself thrown into one of those action movie stereotypes where you have to save your daughters and you kick ass all over town (that was my first NaNoWriMo).
None of it has to be any good.
Don’t worry about it being good. You have the luxury of having a writing assignment that’s kind of like Las Vegas: what happens there can stay there. No consequences, no editors, no rewrites (unless you choose to). So indulge yourself! Write what you want, write it in any style you like, just get it out of your brain and into language. This is the time to really wallow in writing for your own sake.
Write what you love. Because that way, when you’ve spent too much time writing what you don’t love, you remember what it’s like…and you can slip back into it, like that guilty pleasure comic book or that hot fudge sundae. Writing is magic. It’s just that it’s also work, and that makes it hard to remember the rainbows and glitter sometimes.
You have not chosen the story. The story has chosen you. – Steven Pressfield, The Authentic Swing
One of the questions that came up from people who had hoped to do the NaNoWriMo webinar was one word: Plot. They were having trouble with it. I had another colleague say the same thing to me as we talked about a new project she was undertaking. She had a great handle on the marketing, the production, the design – but there was also the matter of story. She needed to tell the story of her products, and that made her nervous.
“I don’t know how to tell stories!” she laughed, and I laughed too, because she was so wrong. I knew this for a fact, because my friend is a professional hypnotist, and when she helped me with some improvements to my memory she did so through the use of a “guided meditation.” She had me picturing a cavern going deep into my mind, following it down until I came to a “control room.” She described the walls, the buttons, the levers, the display…and then she led me step by step through “re-programming” my own memory settings.
It worked wonderfully (and is still available when I need it). But that’s not the point – the point is that what she called guided visualization is just another way of saying told a story.
You Aren’t Creating a Story
Sorry to break it to you. That story idea you’ve been thinking about? The one you’ve been pounding your fingers towards? It’s not new. It’s been told approximately 7,435 times before, 1,243 of which were in books and fifteen of which were made into movies. Not only that, but 200,435 other writers have had the same plot idea. Not all of them will put it to paper – much less 50,000 words of it – but they all had the same idea.
Call it the Seven Basic Plots, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, Jungian Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – it’s all been done before. And that should come as a huge relief, because that means you don’t have to make up anything. My third NaNoWriMo practically wrote itself, because I knew exactly the story I wanted to tell. It’s first modern popular incarnation was a Dashiel Hammett book which was made into a movie by Akira Kurosawa which was re-made into a Western by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood and then re-made again into a Chicago Gangster flick with Bruce Willis.
That made writing the book extremely easy. I sat down with popcorn and a notebook and watched Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, and Last Man Standing, outlining them scene-by-scene and noting the similarities. Then I mapped my versions of the characters into place, threw in a slightly weird meta-plot, and it was off to the races. It was like the book wrote itself, I would say, except you hear writers say that a lot, when they describe flow states.
Think about this: A film projector is just a mechanism by which tiny bits of translucent celluloid are run past a light source. The celluloid has colors on it that change the light, and when our brains see it we translate it into images, movement, and story. That one projector can tell a million different stories, depending on what celluloid strips are running through it. It doesn’t “create” the films – it simply mediates them into a form that lets them turn into a story.
Now, before the metaphor gets too far, you are not the projector. The projector is the mechanism. It’s the keyboard, the writing software, the coffee, the chair, the desk, the lamp. It’s all the mechanics that allow the story to take a form that is understandable to other humans – this month, that means a book. But that mechanism is not you.
You, my dear writer, are the light. You are the active presence that shines through the mechanism, through the film in your brain, and translates it into words. Sometimes you burn bright – sometimes you are just a glimmer. But you aren’t creating the story any more than the mechanism is. You just bring it to life by shining.
The muse gives you stuff. That’s how writing works.
The writer’s job is to get out of the way.
– Steven Pressfield
So take off the damn lens cover and shine, already!
“Man plans, the Gods laugh.” There are many variations on this theme, but it feels especially relevant today. I had planned on doing a “NaNoWriMo Booster” webinar to help people mid-month super-charge their writing. Unfortunately my body decided “nope, time to get the flu, instead!” My energy levels have depreciated to where I’m basically able to do one thing: be sick. I can tell you, it tends to focus your to-do list.
However, it turns out I had a secret weapon: one of my patrons had suggested a “movie list for writers” – a way to productively procrastinate by watching a show about writing in lieu of the actual act. Her list was as follows:
Stranger than Fiction
Shakespeare in Love
…to which I would add some of my own favorites like Prince of Tides, The NeverEnding Story, and the one I just watched today: The Words. It had been on my to-watch list for a while, but today being a sick day it seemed the perfect opportunity to put her suggestion to the test.
Writing Lessons from the Words
I’ll say right now: I hated the way the movie ended. On the other hand, I loved the way it was told – like another favorite, Cloud Atlas, there are stories nested in stories and many characters to relate to. Most of all, though, it’s about three writers, all of whom come to their craft in different ways, with different results. Here’s some of the takeaways, though:
- Writing can be scary. At one point a writer who has stopped writing muses that it may have been because he didn’t want go as “deep” as he’d gone in his first work. It’s true; to get the real words out of your authentic self, you have to dig in past the external defenses we all have as functioning adults and pull out the raw story.
- We Do Not Create; We Are Conduits of Story. In some sense the job of the writer is to get their selves out of the way of the story that is trying to be told through their fingers. This is what NaNoWriMo tries to do for you: by putting the pressure of lots of words every day you (hopefully) get past your blocks to where some of the words are actually pure gold.
- “At some point, you have to choose between life and fiction. The two are very close, but they never actually touch.” This is why writers have craft – because while you can make a great book about a true experience, the way that you tell it makes all the difference. When you’re NaNoWriMing, you can certainly make it autobiographical (I did, in large swatches). But at a certain point you have to separate the reality from the truth. The latter is what you tell in fiction.
- “I’m not who I thought I was, okay? I’m not. And I’m terrified that I never will be.” – One of the things that a successful NaNoWriMo will do to you is take away your identity of “not-author.” It’s already taken away the identity of “not-writer.” And that takes away the security of being able to say Oh, I can’t do that. Because you know you can. You just have to decide whether or not you will.
What’s your favorite writerly movie? What have you learned from it? I would love to know!
We’re well past the first week, and you’re getting an idea now of what the rest of the month is going to be like. I’m not talking abou you, Writer, but your partner. Yes, you, Writer’s friend/lover/spouse/child/parent. “Manic” is often a word people like you – the companions of writers – use to describe behavior of their beloved.
- The despondency of not knowing what to write next (think Sesame Street’s Don Music pounding his head against the piano: “I’ll never get it! Never!”).
- The haunted look in the eyes at the end of a long day at work when the writing has yet to be done.
- The thing you told them about while they were writing that they acknowledged and yet had no memory of (my partner, bless her, knows not to tell me anything important while I’m writing).
- And of course the moment at 11:30 when the Writer, a deranged smile on their face, prods you awake to let you know in between triumphant giggles that they figured it out, the answer was mushroom unicorns, obviously…
Husband: “Did you write today?”
Me: “Not yet.”
Husband: “Okay. Well, if you want to do that, I can do my own thing.”
Me: “But what if I don’t?”
Husband: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Michael is being a complete douche and I’m kinda pissed at him.”
Husband: “When did you talk to Michael?”
Me: “The CHARACTER Michael not our friend Michael, god.”
Husband: “Oh. Well. How is he being a douche?”
Me: “I DON’T KNOW I HAVEN’T WRITTEN THE SCENE YET.”
Monica nails it: we writers do feel bad about the month of neglect that is November, but often in the throes of the act of creation we miss little hints that the relationship might be suffering – the sound of suitcases latching, doors slamming, and the car driving away. We do eventually notice – right around December 1 – but still, that’s not a great way to celebrate your success.
But the act of caring for the Writer in their natural environment can be rewarding much in the way maintaining a saltwater aquarium is: a lot of trouble, kind of tricky, but beautiful, in the end. So here are five suggestions for ways you can show love during the month:
Loving the Writer:
- The Magic Cup: Odds are there is something that the writer drinks to fuel their words. There is little as aggravating as being in the middle of a creative streak and finding that the cup runneth dry. Magically refilling (or reheating) their cups may not be noticed right away…but at a certain point it will be, and it makes a writer feel cared for.
- The Passive-Aggressive Snugglenote: You may want to hug your partner during this time, but the problem is that the act of hugging can become one more obstacle they have to overcome between them and the keyboard. They’ve already had to overcome the fear of the empty page, fatigue, distractions…so instead, leave little notes: I’m proud of you! Or You’re really sexy when you’re writing. Or Way to go, Writer! Put them on the mirror in the bathroom – so when they give themselves that look, that What were you thinking? look, instead your note is there to remind them they are loved.
- The Surprise Playlist: You probably have some idea of what kind of music your writer listens to when they write. We live in a time when it’s amazingly easy to create a mixtape (or even just the idea of one) and there are even pre-made ones you can find online. Just remember that the Muse is a strange one, and don’t be offended if your mixtape is turned off in favor of going back to listening to Dancing Queen on repeat. That’s why God invented headphones.
- Chocolate: This may be a literal suggestion (if their idea of heaven is something like the Land of Infinite Oreos) but it’s also a kind of archetype – it’s the thing that they crave, that they go to when they want a treat. Natasha knows mine; a hot fudge sundae on warm brownies. It’s not healthy, no, this is comfort eating – luckily, NaNoWriMo doesn’t last long enough to make it a habit. You know what it is they like – surprise them with it when you see them sagging at the keys, or trudging wearily from the bed to the cruel blank page. Reward them with it when they are chortling with triumph at their literary wit. Feel free to bribe them into “just another 500 words” with it if needed – there’s an entire category of job based around manipulating writers into producing words, and there’s no reason this can’t be your month to play “agent”.
- The Guardian of Solitude: Stolen wholesale from one of the greatest writers, this is kind of a strange one: come up with ways you can both be doing your own thing together. That means reading a book instead of turning on the TV, playing one-person games on the X-Box, or anything that means you are doing your thing while the Writer does theirs. Instead of creating temptations and distractions, it gives a sense of shared workspace. It helps eliminate the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as well as the GOFONIOY (Guilt of Focusing On NaNoWriMo Instead of You). Plus they don’t feel completely cut off from their life – they can look over and see it waiting there for them when the word count is done.
Use these as inspiration – you know your writer better than anyone, and with a little effort you can turn this month into a mutual triumph.
The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity…Tell your dangerous story.
– Brené Brown, Rising Strong
This is kind of a sneaky Life post. Because yes, it is focused on NaNoWriMo, and yes, it will give you a great way to get your word count up. But at the same time it’s also giving you a tool that comes in pretty handy in the rest of life, as well.
I’ve mentioned before about the power that narrative has in our lives. We don’t observe our lives – we observe the effects that our lives have on us, and then draw our own conclusions. Let’s say we have a stressful day and end up snapping at someone. We may tell ourselves several different stories about our behavior. These may range from the useless I am so thoughtless and mean! to the insidiously passive-aggressive I should have been able to handle that better to the more fair and objective I could have handled that better. Maybe next time I will.
Brené Brown has a little formula she recommends using in any given situation where you have the self-awareness to know that you are creating a narrative around a situation. Basically just fill in the blanks:
What is the story I’m making up about:
- My emotions:
- My body:
- My thinking:
- My beliefs:
- My actions:
In the above example, it might be something like this:
I am having lots of angry and frustrated emotions from my day plus guilt over how I snapped at that person. The tension is in my forehead and my shoulders and I feel hot, like my face is red. My hands are shaking, too, and I think I didn’t eat in a while. I’m thinking that this is just a sign of what a bad person I am, and that story is based around the belief that I am a bad person who is mean to people who don’t deserve it, a weak person who loses my temper arbitrarily, and an incompetent person because I can’t just shrug it off. My actions want to lash out more, or just huddle in a corner and not force the world to have to put up with someone as pathetic as me.
Not a very fun read, eh? I can tell you it wasn’t very fun to write, because it’s right up their with my own fears about myself. But that’s the point: we have to dig deep into our own fears and pull them out through words so that they can be revealed for what they are.
Putting them down on paper also helps separate me from them – instead of me thinking them, I’m reading the thoughts of someone else – The-Me-That-Was – thinking them. That gives some perspective. Rather than just write a sentence about each part, though, I can take more time to explore what each means, and at the end have more of a complete story – and more importantly, a better awareness that it is just a story.
The NaNoWriMo Magic Word Count Surge
Hey, writers – did you notice, that’s about 160 words, just by filling in the blanks? What would it reveal about your characters if they did this – if they all did this? What if you made a paragraph about each part – that’s 160 x 5, that’s 800 words right there! Let’s say you have two characters – you’ve got 1600 words set to go!
The sneaky part is that even if you don’t choose to go into your own experience for the writing, you are still learning a technique that you can do for yourself. Don’t let your characters avoid the questions, or answer them shallowly; dig deep, and it will reveal a lot about them.
And you, too. But that’s just the sneaky part.