Monday, November 7, 2011

Look in Thy Heart, and Write

"Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: 
 'Fool!' said my muse to me, 'look in thy heart, and write.'" 
 — Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

There are two kinds of people: those who celebrate literature and those who take it for granted.

November abounds with opportunities to celebrate the craft of writing and the joy of literature. My 2KoP readers may think I haven't been doing much writing, but that's not the case. I simply haven't been writing here. It's all good, and I'll be sharing more soon.

Last November, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I had no idea what I was doing and, in fact, decided to work on a memoir instead of a novel (making me a NaNo Rebel — not bad for my first time out). And I won. What did I win? Well, nothing. Oh, I got that nifty little badge in my sidebar that says I'm a 2010 NaNoWriMo winner. I made some cool, supportive writing friends. And I have an excellent start to my memoir. Just a start.

I've signed up for NaNo 2012 and am well on my way with a new project — a mystery. Why am I starting something new instead of working on last year's project? Well, that's a complicated question, but thanks for asking. The short answer is, that's not the NaNo deal. NaNo participants agree to start a brand new project on November 1 and commit to writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Is there a NaNo enforcement department that will hold you to that commitment? No. But here's what I think.

Writer-types like me tend to do better when under deadline. Given gobs of time, we fret and agonize over word choice and characterization and plot twists and … nothing gets done except the fretting. Committing to NaNo is an opportunity to turn off that inner editor (or agonizer) and just get the words out. You see, there are many, many steps to the writing process, and each one requires a different set of skills:
  • generating ideas
  • getting down the bones
  • rewriting
  • revising
  • starting over
  • rewriting
  • revising
  • revising
  • agonizing
  • polishing
  • getting critiques
  • crying
  • putting it in a drawer for a while
  • looking at it again with fresh eyes
And that's just the first step. NaNo is the perfect time to execute bullet point #2 (getting down the bones). Just getting your ideas out on the page fast, without trying to make it perfect, can be a huge creative rush. There is plenty of time to agonize about how terrible it is when you reread and rewrite in December.

For picture book writers, November is also PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), where you commit to generating one picture book idea every day, for a total of 30. Some people believe that discovering the idea is the hardest part of writing, but think about having 30 ideas to work from at the end of the month. Nobody said they all have to be good.

For those writers who feel too constrained by the "rules" of NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo, founder Kamy Wicoff has issued a much broader challenges called SheWriMo, where the big idea is to make a daily writing commitment (your choice) and sticking to it. That's a little too squishy for me, but I appreciate the concept.

My friend Mary Beth recently commented on my Facebook post about my NaNo progress: "I know that your numbers stand for words. And just 'cause I'm feeling kind of left out because I do not have a novel in me, whenever I see your number count, I'm going to write a number."

I haven't figured out what her numbers mean yet, but I have figured out that maybe November is just a great month for goal setting. Even if you're not a writer, I hope you're a reader. Maybe you could take this month to set a daily reading goal.

Here's one more opportunity to celebrate: November is also Picture Book Month. I'm a big believer in the importance of picture books and read alouds, both for children and adults. If you're with me, you can become a picture book ambassador. Check out the website for daily posts from different authors about why picture books are important to them. Whatever you do this month, I hope it includes a celebration of words.

Photo credit: WASTEBASKET © Lksstock |


Dee White said...

Thanks Susan for a great post.

Lots of helpful tips and a clear explanation of how NaNo works.


Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, Dee. I hope it works for you. May the muse of November shine one you and your writing.

Deborah Batterman said...

I will indeed be following your progress. And I love your 'bullet list' for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gets the heart of what writers do. If my calculation is correct, revising and rewriting take up a third of the list. ;-)

Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, Deborah. I hope your writing moves forward just as you want it to this month. Tough start for you, with no power.