Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Master of My Domain

by Holly West

When I first started writing seriously, I devoured every bit of writing advice I could find. Oh, how I loved those Buzzfeed-style lists of tips that, if I followed them, would magically turn me into a bestselling writer. Or, failing that, make writing easier, and hopefully, better.

Now that I have several years and a couple of published novels under my belt, I've kind of gotten over my addiction to writing advice. Not because I'm any better at it than I was when I started, but because for me, reading all those posts became a form of work avoidance, as though reading about writing was somehow the equivalent of actually writing. What began as a source of inspiration and motivation ended up being a time suck. I also got a little bored of it. So I quit, cold turkey.

Recently, however, I've been toying with the idea of tackling NaNoWriMo, which itself is problematic. There's something about the idea of hunkering down for thirty days and emerging with a terrible first draft that makes me all tingly inside. But my issue has never been the ability to write terrible first drafts. I can practically do that in my sleep. It's the revisions that get me. I lack the required focus to revise and polish a manuscript in a timely manner.

In short, I have no business doing NaNoWriMo until this current WIP is finished.

But I digress. The project I have in mind for NaNoWriMo (which I most certainly will not be doing) is a different structure than I've written in the past. Or at least I'd like it to be. Somehow, no matter what I endeavor to write ends up being a "whodunit." Which is okay, because I like "whodunits." They're just so damned hard to write.

All this to say that in my quest to write something a little bit different, I dipped my toe back into the pool of writing advice and found a couple of helpful things. Not that it matters, because I'm pretty sure I won't be doing NaNoWriMo.

Find a Master Work AKA What Kind of Book do You Want to Write?

When I first read this one, I thought, "well, duh." Of course you have to start by figuring out what kind of book you want to write. Usually, this pertains to genre, tone, et cetera, and the standard advice is not to chase trends and to "write the kind of book you'd like to read."

I can get behind that, but this particular tip went one step further and suggested a novice writer find one specific book--a master work (MW), if you will--to help you define what you want to write. I suppose you could also use two or more MWs, the way they do in pitches. Like HORTON HEARS A WHO meets BABY DRIVER, that sort of thing.

Anyway, it's not about cribbing from the MW (this sort of thing is frowned upon) or even following its structure. It's about identifying those elements of the book that excite you, inspire you, make you want to read it, make you love it. Those elements that make you want to take a stab at writing a book yourself. As you write, you'll develop your own voice, style, and plot, but using the MW as a loose guide, especially at first, will help you move forward.

In accordance with this advice, I've identified a master work for my next WIP (the one which will probably NOT be a NaNoWriMo project). I'm not telling you what it is, find your own if this advice tickles your fancy.

Neglect Everything Else

This isn't to be taken literally, unless you have very few responsibilities and almost no loved ones (which kind of describes my life but let's not dwell on that). Recognizing we're all busy, writers are often told to carve out an hour or two each day to write and keep that time sacred. So what this is really saying is neglect everything else during your writing time.

This is definitely useful advice, but I interpreted it differently for myself. For too long, I've been a dabbler. That is, I have my fingers in too many pies. And though it's well documented how much I love pie, I've come to the realization that I need to be more selective in my flavor choices. Limit it to two, or maybe three.

What the hell are you talking about?

Pie, in this case, is all the options life has to offer. What roles do I play? Wife, dog mom, writer, knitter, painter, house decorator, blogger, aspiring fitness model, etc. While I admittedly have far fewer obligations than most people my age, I'm still way too diversified. If I want to achieve my personal goals as a writer, I need to neglect pretty much everything else except for maybe the dogs and the fitness. My husband can take care of himself.

Put another way, I need to do a better job of prioritizing my life. Let's start now. Priority 1: I WILL NOT DO NANOWRIMO THIS YEAR.

(Actually, I will be doing a modified version of NaNo, during which I'll finish revising and polishing my WIP).

But enough about me. Will you be doing NaNoWriMo this month? What kind of planning do you do prior to starting a novel? Do you ever choose a "Master Work?"

6 comments:

Art Taylor said...

I love this post!!! (And I've been on and off about trying again with NaNoWriMo this time, mainly because I need to get going on my own WIP.)

Good luck to you!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I too think about it every year but it is not the way I write. I labor over every word and just can't move on till I am happy with it. I doubt I could get a short story done in a month much less the first draft of a novel. Kudos to those you can.

Scott Adlerberg said...

I won't be taking part in NaNoWriMo - it's definitely not my thing - but I really enjoyed (and chuckled over) this post and the ambivalence you express about whether and in what form to take part in NaNoWriMo.

Holly West said...

In spite of everything I wrote here, I woke up this morning, saw all the NaNoWriMo posts and thought "It's not too late! I can do this!"

You see, I'm hopeless.

But no, I really am going to finish my WIP. Really, I am.

sarahmchen.com said...

I'm also doing NaNoWriMo. Kind of. I'm like Patti. I can't just vomit out a first draft. I wish I could. I write slowly and carefully. But I think it's possible to do 1600 words a day every day (Right?) and finally complete my WIP. OK, one aspect of my WIP that I've barely started. And if I miss a day, I'm not going to shoot myself over it. But look, I'm already getting distracted by blog posts. At least it's Holly's blog post and it's about NaNoWriMo. So it's all good. Right?

Holly West said...

Ha ha, Sarah, don't be like me.

But I think the energy generated by NaNo is a good way to get some solid work on any project. So let's do this.