Inspired by the Art and Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall.
- Write every day, no matter what. When you don’t write, write the next day.
- Fill your life with inspiration, and know that everything is inspiration. Keep it close to you.
- Write with bravery and confidence (write what you want and how you want). Don’t stop for anyone.
- Write happily, even though writing is work, it is also joyful. Work with pleasure only.
- Have a space set aside for writing, but don’t be bound to it. Writing is everywhere.
- Write the Truth, not the facts. Authenticity is everything.
- Be precise.
- Finish one story before beginning another. But horde story ideas like gold.
- Don’t be afraid of anything, nothing is off limits. Don’t censor, but do write spaciously, leaving room for symbolism and metaphor.
- Relaxing is invaluable. Use your unconscious mind, do things that appear mindless to find solutions when stuck.
- Don’t focus on finishing, just take it one day at a time. That’s how work gets finished.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is that I don’t always know what I feel. I may feel it fully, but my throat closes in on itself when I try to name the feeling. This happened to me all the time as a kid. Sometimes–and it can be years after the fact–I’ll be reading something and come across a word describing someone else’s experience, and it’ll hit me like a slap in the face. Oh, that’s the word for it.
I remember reading a book last year in which the author detailed a woman’s response to her husband leaving her for their teenaged babysitter. She felt humiliated. That’s never a word I had used or thought to use to describe myself, but I realized then that’s how I’ve felt so many times. Before, I might have said I was “embarrassed” or “anxious,” but that’s not quite right. Those words lacked, glossing over the full terror of the experience and the deep, abiding shame that lingers long after the original event has faded.
As terribly as the feeling is, I’m glad to have that word to hold on to. To give meaning to what might otherwise seem a futile experience in powerlessness. Still, even now, I feel the sting of rebuke: Can I actually talk about this? Can I bear it? Can others? I think maybe that’s why these words, true meaningful words, evaded me for as long as they did. They are almost, it seems, unspeakable when applied to the self and everyday lived experiences, especially the domestic. No one wants to hear about how bad you felt, especially not at the hands of those who were supposed to protect you. Instead, you get over it. Move on. Become resilient. But there’s a fine line between moving on and denial, which only serves to cement the shame in your psyche.
I read an article recently about a Norweigian novelist. She wrote a fictional novel about a woman who was abused by her father as a child. However, the novel so conspicuously paralleled her own life that it has led many people to believe it is autobiographical. And she’s not the first writer to (allegedly) fuse fiction and fact. I think most writers do this to some extent. And I can certainly understand how trauma can seem a better fit for fiction. Not just for the consumption of the general public, but also for one’s own sake. Maybe some distance is helpful to cut beyond the culture of silence, of “just move on.” Hopefully, the fiction becomes the catalyst for that forward movement. The first step is simple: Find the right word.
25K written, halfway through.
Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote today–obviously very rough, weird draft. Sorry, if it’s not clear what I’m going for, it’s supposed to be a page of a letter from the main character, this wellness guru/religious leader. It’s roughly modeled off of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and Song of Songs, so hopefully that explains the strange tone somewhat.
Love is another illusion. It is one of those grasping, desperate attempts to outwit your natural solitude. You may fool yourself for a while, but sooner or later you will recognize love is an illusion that cannot be sustained for long.
Ultimately, it is a betrayal. Sometimes this betrayal is like cold, slick metal between your ribs. Other times it is a dull constant aching, like a cyst, like a cancer. Either way, it will eat you from the inside. You will be changed. Look at me. I was in love once, I was cut from the inside out. My whole body, a thousand tiny cuts. I will bleed away, eventually.
It is like that wonderful dream where you have found the Other, the one who completes you, the one who can look into your eyes as if they were her own, the one who seems like they can reach into your heart, and gently, gently, cradle it. They have entered your bloodstream, and you feel overwhelmed with joy. You feel as though you have found what you had been missing all along. That precious, vital thing that had been cut out of you so long ago, returned and now you are whole. You are, at last, yourself. Only, of course, you wake up. Everything is the same as before. You are not changed. You are the same person you’ve always been, half empty and bewildered. You grieve the loss of that feeling of wholeness, like a sawed-off appendage, even as you realize it was never really something you possessed to begin with. That is the essence of love. That is when you realize what the poets say is, somehow, true. He cannot contain you. You will vanish into thin air.
Ask yourself, for how long can you keep your beloved? You cannot possibility expect him to stay in there, inside your head, alongside those incessant thoughts, the gruesome doubt, the internal screams that keep you up all night. There is no room for him, either.
First update of the week! I got a little behind this weekend on my word count, not really by doing anything fancy, but just throwing away the little bit of routine I have during the weekday does make for more of a challenge. I finally just got caught up today and am days away from making it halfway through!
As for my story, I’m essentially in the same boat I was before. Very little plot. It almost seems like I am writing the backstory for my characters, like the actual action starts long after the parts that I’m writing. Does anyone else do this? While definitely not a useless exercise, it’s a little discouraging. If the whole month goes by and I haven’t made any progress in terms of plot, then I suppose I will try my hand at outlining a plot in great detail and see how that shapes up. But no time to think about that until November is through!
Also since I made it back on track with my word count, I have some spare time to do my favorite thing: Wikipedia research! Look what I’ve found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Hazzard. Linda Hazzard started a sanatorium in a small town in Washington State where people from all over would go for her fasting remedies. She went to prison after over 10 people died in her care, due to starvation, over a period of four years. This has sparked a bit of inspiration regarding alternative medicine and quack doctors. An interesting read and definitely relevant today.
My story is set in a sort of alternative wellness center in middle-of-nowhere Washington, so this’ll be good inspiration.
I’ve also been on the NaNoWriMo subreddit, which has had some interested conversations that I hope to later turn into posts, such as revision plans after November, time management (e.g., what to do when you fall behind), and how to schedule the time to write, for example, with a toddler. Stay tuned for future posts!
Despite all odds, I’ve been keeping up with my word count. I’m now at 13K and counting! Though my story is in tragic shape, the actual part about putting the words on paper (normally very hard!) is coming much easier than usual. So I suppose I can’t complain…but I’m going to anyway.
My story itself is a mess. It’s just a collection of shorter stories about a variety of women and their various problems (all could be individual stand-alone stories in the own right, if I wasn’t so set on something else). As of yet, they are not related, so I need to think of a way to connect the stories (you know, a plot or whatever). Ugh. I am so worried that I am going to get to the end of November with 50,000 words, and think, “what the hell was I doing?” Well, too late now.
Today I wrote a little piece that was basically this retelling of a kabuki play that I learned about on NHK’s Kabuki Kool. (By the way, one of my favorite shows). It’s called the Zen Substitute, I think, and it really resonated with me because it concerns deceptions, broken promises, promiscuity, and all sorts of fun relationship stuff. But mostly, it struck me because the husband never calls his wife by her name, he calls her this not-so-flattering pet name, “the mountain god.” Actually, it sounds kind of flattering, but I think he’s basically saying she is terrifying. And he goes to great lengths to avoid her wrath. It doesn’t stop him from keeping a mistress, but, whatever. I’m not completely sure why that stuck with me, but it did. Something about how female rage can be elevated into a sort of godlike status, almost mythic proportions. I want to make strong female characters in my story, but I also want them to have depth. Through their own shortcomings, through their own missteps and failings, they emerge into their full, dangerous potential. That’s the gist of what I’m going for, at least. More on mountain gods later, I’m sure!
It’s November 4th. It’s been an exceptionally busy week (Halloween + my birthday + my daughter’s birthday), but I’m happy to say that I’m not even *that* behind on my writing.
I’m at 5,000 words!
But I have been getting a little discouraged in my story. As I write, it’s painfully apparent that I have no idea where to story is going (not shocking since I spent hardly any time planning). Even though I knew this would likely be the case when I went into the month, it is a little daunting, sitting down and free writing, no editing, just whatever pops up. I keep thinking, “you’re going to waste your whole month with this?” “This is going nowhere.”
It takes a lot of effort to keep telling myself that this is to be expected, that it’s part of the fun, and that it’s maybe even necessary to get at the soft underbelly of what I want to say–the real story. If I spent all November writing meaningless, disorganized drivel, but came away with a solid kernel on which to base a “real” story … that would be worth it. Or, even if that doesn’t happen, if there are no breakthroughs and no kernels, I still wrote something, and maybe it was something that needed to be written, that will pave the way for ideas later down the line. Maybe it’s just something I need to get out before I can move on to something better.
I do, honestly and from the bottom of my heart, feel that it is really important to trust the writing process. You might not get what you want out of it, but you get what you need. Regardless, it is challenging, to come back to the keyboard day after day with some vague hopes and a whole host of self-doubts. There are so many other things I could be doing, things where success is much easier to gauge, things that are instantly gratifying. So many things that don’t seem as likely to make you look like a complete and utter failure.
Anyway, I just wanted to be honest about how quick and easy it is to fall into this mindset. Hopefully, I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, but I doubt it.
“’In all men’s hearts a slumbering swine lies low,’ says the French poet; so come ye, whose porcine instincts have never yet been awakened, or if rampant successfully hidden, and hurl the biggest, sharpest stones you can lay your hands on at your wretched, degraded, humiliated brother, who has been found out.”
Day one, and it has been ridiculously productive! I hit a gold mine by retelling a real-life experience that’s been fresh in my memory. I wrote it out as a nonfiction piece, then rewrote it in a slightly creepier tone and fictionalized some major elements to make it fit in as it as part of my novel.
I basically used it as part of the backstory for my main character. It’s really helped me get into the story a bit more. The main character (don’t have a name yet) went through a series of traumatic experiences, eventually leading her to completely change her life and transform into this pseudo-religious leader/cult leader/feminist icon (or something). This is where the story begins!
Also, I feel like I should explain the Oscar Wilde quote: I really like it and it fits into my story, somehow. It’s pretty biblical. I always think of women being stoned in the Bible, but I guess it applies to men too.