~ Ray Bradbury
Does Bradbury’s advice ring true to you? Or do you think he’s gone too far? I have friends who will never finish their novels because they don’t think enough about it to do some basic planning. They assume it will spring full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus. Really. They do. And I have friends who will never finish their novels because they keep thinking about it, picking at it, and revising ad nauseum.
I also have a couple of friends whose goal is to write an “important book”. Both right now are paralyzed because it is not the author who determines if a book is significant, ground-breaking, and seminal. Rather, readers say, “That book changed my perception/understanding/acceptance of …” Their paralysis stems from the comparison of their own work with other “important books”. Authors don’t get that call, so setting out to write an “important book” may be one of those enemies of creativity Bradbury eschews.
That is part of the power of National Novel Writing Month. Bradbury’s quote could be their motto. Set aside the executive editor, that little internal critic, and let ‘er fly! Writing at breakneck speed, approximately 500,000 people took the challenge of crafting a short novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. And some of us made it. If this year’s winners reflect past statistics, about 13% will have made it past the 50K mark.
There’s some value in that kind of intensity. You are forced to focus on the driving plot line knowing you are creating the skeleton to not only put flesh on but to clothe as well in the months following the end of the challenge.
And if you aren’t a winner, you’re not a loser if you wrote any words at all. You now have more novel words for that title than you had on October 31st. So you didn’t meet the goal. Keep writing. Build on the foundation you began. That book can still emerge from the cocoon and be the butterfly you envisioned.
Because many people are highly motivated to be part of a writing zeitgeist, the NaNoWriMo folks have created a variety of participatory writing events throughout the year. They know that challenges motivate many of us.
But you don’t need them. Really. You can do this yourself. I find my tomato timer does the trick for me. I sprint-write in 25-minute segments and take a break. Knowing I only have 25 minutes keeps me intensely focused. I pound those keys trying to get out as many words as I can in the period. Then, sigh, go get some coffee, run in place, put the casserole in the oven, whatever is totally different for 5-ish minutes and then back into another 25-minute sprint.
Mr. Bradbury would approve of that kind of intensity. I write and don’t think. I correct tiny typos (can’t help myself), but I save revisions for later. This is not to say I am a total pantser. For NaNoWriMo, I prepared 40 scene cards (actually ended up with about 47 cards). When writing a new scene, I reviewed the scene cards before and after to contextualize the scene I was going to work on. Then I set my timer.
After that quick preparation, I just wrote knowing I would be fixing things later. Several times I realized that I was writing something contradictory to what I said earlier, but I continued writing the rest as if I had already changed the previous scene. When the timer dinged, I made a note on the scene card to go back later and fix the earlier section.
It’s a very freeing experience to churn out words. Maybe Bradbury was right. Sister Kathy wrote about a new author who followed the advice without being told to. Sister Caryn says trusting in our creative self to complete the scene is something we ought to do more often.
In one such experience, I had my girl in a jail holding cell, and all at once a character I hadn’t planned for, didn’t know who she was, or where she fit in the plot, started up a conversation. Where did she come from? It surprised me! Turns out she has info that will help my character solve the murder she’s charged with. Who knew?
By not thinking, just writing, I allowed myself to get off the freeway onto one of the blue line highways before finding my way back to the freeway and my central plot. A nice find, that character. I think she’ll be in the next book, too.
Don’t think. Just write.