Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ho Ho Hold Up, Where Are We?

This post won't be of much use to anyone writing-wise.  But blogs by their very nature can be self-indulgent and ramble from time to time.  That or I'm prematurely preparing for my senior years where I'll be a retired teacher who puts my feet up on other peoples' desks and regales other peoples' students with my own vaguely amusing stories.  (Yes, I fully intend to use phrases like whipper snapper and getting jiggy with it to further date myself.)

Regardless I have found myself falling into frequent writing trances over the last few days.  (To clarify, a writing trance by my own definition is a moment where I stop paying attention to everything else going on because I've been inspired, and I gather details to use in a story either that day or a month or a year down the road.)  Perhaps it's because I'm on holiday break, luxury beyond luxury, or maybe excessive turkey induces strange bursts of creativity, but I stop every few minutes and mentally jot down notes.  Usually this happens from time to time and more often than not with people.  A strange movement.  A funny phrase.  An irresistible outfit never meant to be.  But over this past weekend it's been more constant and more atmospheric.  I keep seeing places that look ready for action.  A Christmas tree lot.  An animal shelter that takes in any animal, literally any animal.  And then I wonder what comes first, the place or the person?

Intuitively I want to say the character.  How can you write a novel without a character?  But what about those lovely atmospheric pieces where the setting frankly takes over the people as if they're possessed by it?  (Wuthering Heights pops into mind immediately.)  And of course I must fall on a Harry Potter reference.  Hogwarts is actually alive.  The building is organic and moves and reacts to its inhabitants.  How often do we as writers slave over a characters only to drop them in humdrum surroundings?  Or they live in the wrong setting, one that is cliched or too complex?

I never give proper credit to setting, to be honest.  I often let it materialize on its own, but the piece I'm working on right now switches settings drastically and I think it's forcing my brain to be much more aware of their creations.  They can't be arbitrary, or worse yet generic, because they propel my heroine (yes I always write about women or girls) into utterly different states of mind.  Her exploration of the settings is key to her development as a character and her quest, albeit trite, is to understand herself through the places she visits and the people she meets.  Were I not to meticulously plan these out, to explore them fully first in my head, there's no way I could authentically write her experiences.

Maybe that's why I'm noticing every place I go, not the people around me but rather how the people interact and respond to their environments.  It's pleasantly draining because then I remember that other things should occupy my mind. School starting back up in two days.  The laundry in the basement that resembles the Fraggle Rock trash heap.  Holiday shopping lists barely touched by Black Friday shopping (another provocative setting).  But I believe in striking while the iron is hot, and if the creative Sarah is hyperactive this holiday season, I'm tempted to let the laundry grow and sit on a bench somewhere watching the places, not the people.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo, You Dirty Dog

Is anyone else being driven absolutely batty by NaNoWriMo?  (It's even exhausting to type out the acronym, with the correct capital letters and such.)  It has eluded me forever, and while I am progressing along at a beautiful pace this year, I find the endeavor seeping into almost every inch of my life.  And my jury is still out on whether or not this is a useful practice.

Sure it's pushing me to write write write.  And if I have to type the word 'the' 60,000 times ala Nicholson in The Shining, I am finishing out the month with a novel in my pocket.  I am in fact writing through my normal blockades where in past projects I've just stopped or skipped on to something else.  Characters who misbehave are tossed into the trash for now and make way for those who will fall in line and skip along with the plot I've devised.  I've simplified the novel's settings to track them more easily and add richer detail.  I downloaded the new index card application for my iPad (which is lovely, can't recommend it enough) and I am certainly more organized than I have ever been with previous projects.  This locomotive of a project is on schedule.  

But...and there is always a it healthy to go nose to nose with a project and not come up for air until it's finished?  Does life allow for this sort of a luxury?  I am lucky to have a support system like no other. My husband picks up the odds and ends rattling around the house that I may be dropping because I've got one eye on word count and one eye on plot progression.  My parents chip in too, constantly, despite their ridiculously busy jobs and responsibilities, providing baby back-up whenever necessary.  But I still feel like I'm walking around with one of those adorable/evil cones dogs wear to keep from scratching themselves. I feel like the 150 percent I'm pouring into my YA novel is coming at a cost to other areas.  Do my children understand that I can't be quite as fun this month because I'm writing nonstop?  Will my teaching suffer if I'm watching the clock and wondering when my next free hour comes to knock out the required 2,000-word chapter?

And fellow writers, aren't we already an obsessive and escapist group?  (Also repetitive, because I feel certain I've blogged about this before.)  I remember these writing blinders sustaining me in high school, a place that I was never too fond of.  I say this loving it now, although being on the other side of the desk as a teacher is a far cry from the angst-ridden and teenage nightmarish place many students experience.  As a teenager I wrote for hours, read for hours, reminded myself that there were a million unexplored worlds to creep into that made my own feel finite and not so oppressive.  I remember writing a novella in middle school actually, after Gary Paulsen came to speak to us, and I'm fairly certain I did nothing else for three months solid but write until my orange Mead notebook and Trapper Keeper were chock full of the stories.

No wonder NaNoWriMo is only a month, because any longer and I might forget my name.  Or my address.  Running a mental marathon filled with metaphors and alliteration, conflict and resolution, is no easy task.  But then again, at the end of November while I am feasting on turkey, I will in fact have my novel in my pocket.  So NaNoWriMo, let's call a truce.  Get me to the end of my book, and I'll stop griping about the annoying acronym or the fact that I may have forgotten to tie my own shoes, that brain space occupied by my writing.