NaNoWriMo Update #2: On Making It Worse And Fighting Back

My first full week of NaNoWriMo proved to be difficult.

I thought it might not be.  I mean, I was so psyched and my previous blog post was all uplifted about the power of this process and I how great I feel doing it.  I ended saying I would fight.  And then it felt harder and harder to do so, to really get back into that frame of mind of elation and wanting to push through to get things done.  I let things get in the way.  I went shopping and that pushed the writing process back later.  And then I felt discouraged.  And then lost.  And then apathetic, and the ice cream I’d stocked up on was not helping me feel any better.  I wrote each day, but not as much as I should have.  And I said the next day would be better, I would get back on task.  The next day I said the same thing, how it would change.

I woke up this morning with another grand scheme to get back on track with the writing, but hour by hour it seemed to going the same way of the days before.  I took a nap, hoping it would help like the first day of November.  Lying there, I realized it was not going to change on its on.  I had to make it change.  I had to fight, and really fight and mean it.

Getting down to business!

I had been content with letting tea, ice cream, naps, music, and more Downton Abbey get me into a writing mood.  And that worked…for a while.  Eventually it was not enough, or at least was not having the same effect.  I thought maybe I just needed more of those things or in some different order.

But those things were not what made me write.  Certainly they helped me feel better at times, but it was just me who got to task and wrote the words, not the things I did to make myself feel in the proper environment.

The last time I ran into a wall (the second day of NaNoWriMo) I sat down the following days and came up with new ideas and a plot.  I worked at it and got back in the groove.  At this next wall the only way I was going to win was to combat it instead of give up.  It would be so easy to give up.  Say my heart wasn’t in it or something.  But I’ve gone down that route before and all it got me before was looking back, seeing I could’ve done it if I just tried harder.

Because as much as I hate facing conflict, I realize it can be the best catalyst for not only getting things done but improving.  I’ll never be a prolific writer if I don’t write, just as an athlete wouldn’t be any good if they didn’t train.

Saying you’ll fight for something puts things at stake.  It means you’re all in.  I usually hate having things at stake.  It’s scary.  It’s dangerous.  “What ifs” play over and over in my head, and I’m scared of investing because what if goes wrong?  And what if it goes right?  What to do?  How to feel?  Mind overload!

But I’ve remembered something.  Researching for my story in October, I read through some of the book titled “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft” by Janet Burroway.  A trusted creative writing professor at Kenyon gave it to me, for which I am very grateful.  At the beginning of the section on showing and telling, one quote stood out to me in particular for the amazing truth it conveyed:

“The purpose of all the arts, including literature, is to quell boredom.  People recognize that it feels good to feel and that not to feel is unhealthy.  “I don’t feel anything” can be said in fear, defiance, or complaint.  It is not a boast.  The final absence of feeling is death.

“But feeling is also dangerous, and it can be deadly.  Both the body and the psyche numb themselves in the presence of pain too strong to bear.  People often (healthily and unhealthily) avoid good feelings–intimacy, power, speed, drunkenness, possession–having learned that feelings have consequences and that powerful feelings have powerful consequences.”

That last phrase particularly struck me because it summed much of how I live life.  I like to be on an even keel because you never know what can happen if you don’t plan out, if you don’t be careful and just go along with the moment.  But there’s a problem with that in life.  You may never get anything truly accomplished if you run from feelings that make you vulnerable but let you experience life.  And you certainly can’t make literature that way.

The chapter goes on to say:

“Literature offers feelings for which we do not have to pay.  It allows us to love, condemn, condone, hope, dread, and hate without any of the risks those feelings ordinarily involve.  Fiction must contain ideas, which give significance to characters and events.  If the ideas are shallow and untrue, the fiction will be correspondingly shallow or untrue.  But the ideas must be experienced through or with the characters; they must be felt or the fiction will fail.”

So I’m putting myself and my characters on the line to bare our souls and our desires.  We’re going to fight for what we want.  For me, this word count and distractions will be my thing to overcome.  For my characters, I have now invented new stakes that they have to face and overcome.  That certainly makes the story more interesting and invents ways for me to produce more words before the deadline.

Also, I’ve decided to really take a friend’s advice for plot.  “How can I make it worse?”  I’m new to the Downton Abbey craze.  I’m watching it and I am amazed at how much the writers make the characters go through!  No punch is held back and you can’t think it gets worse but it does.  And yet it is not so despairing.  In fact, care all the more because it is just like life to throw everything at you and for everyone to say “You wouldn’t believe the tale.”  It makes for a great story.

So I’m caring more about this challenge called NaNoWriMo (of which I pronounce the third syllable with an “eee” sound).   And I’m caring more about my characters, even if that means making them go through worse trials than I want them to, just to see what they’re made of and what this story can be revealed.  I want to show and not just tell a good story.  That means being involved in it, fighting for it, having a stake in it, even through the ups and downs of feeling.

Last time on my update I mentioned equating NaNoWriMo to a marathon per a decathlete’s advice, and I see now that I’m in a fighting stretch.  (Or at least what I imagine it to be sense I’m nonathletic.)  But maybe things start out well, but at some point it is going to get difficult and muscles are going to hurt and everything in your mind is going to tell you to stop.  The few times I had to do something hard for gym class I wanted to quit.  Or when I was on trips while abroad I had to pull my weight (body and luggage) on some relatively long ways by foot.  But there’s someone there saying you can, and if not, hopefully in your mind you’re saying you can, you just have to, keep going.  So you fight for one more leg forward and one more breath until you you reach your destination.

Today I thought after 500 words I had no more words to go.  I was done.  But I was still behind the suggested word count for the day and I wanted to reach it to get back on track.  With that goal set, I found I could make something up and keep going.  And I discovered parts of the story unfolding.  It’s like they bubbled up from somewhere in my mind and I jotted down the keys to get them on the screened in page.  And I wrote more, just one letter and then word at a time till I was almost 200 words over the recommended marker for the 12th day of November.  I can work at this.  You other Wrimos, you can work at it too!

I realize now even though it started all rosy it is not going to be the same.  I wondered why people said this would be hard and I see why now.  Maybe ice cream and things won’t always fix it.  But I can fix it because I am determined to do so and it is within my power to keep trying and keep going.

It’s tough.  It sucks.  But my favorite NaNoWriMo pep talk described this all as magic.  So I’m keeping in that spirit a bit, when I’m able to find it, and sometimes it takes more labor than I’m initially willing to put in.  But it’s worth it.  I pray it is, with my trepidation of strong emotions and desire to do great things.

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