Saturday, November 14, 2020

NaNoWriMo 2020 – Mid-book brainstorming sessions


Scott D. Parker

As of today, all NaNoWriMo writers should have reached the end of the second full week. It really helps when 1 November is a Sunday. And we have reached the halfway point in the month. By the numbers, as of today, all writers should be around 28,000 words in their 50,000-word novels. First of all, if this is where you are, Congrats! You are more than halfway through the month of November and more than halfway through your book. It’s an awesome feeling, isnt’ it? Just wait until you type “The End.” That never gets old, no matter how many books you write.

I’m curious: how many of y’all are writing your NaNoWriMo novel without an outline? Writing into the dark, as Dean Wesley Smith calls it. I’ve done them both ways, but sometimes when you write into the dark, you can hit a snag or write yourself into a corner. I’m then compelled to think my way out of the corner. Sometimes, that comes in the form of backtracking to a point where my story went ‘off track’ and then start again.

What that entails for me is to put a halt to writing the current scene and ask myself a few questions about the scene, why I’m even writing it, and where do I think the story is going from there. Naturally, this process puts the kibosh on new words, but it also opens the door to the next scene.

I use the quotes on ‘off track’ because you can make a genuine argument that no story, no words you may have to delete, is truly a waste. They may not make it into your final manuscript, but they were essential to getting you to The End.

Mid-book brainstorming sessions. It happened to me back in NaNoWriMo 2018 and even as far back as NaNoWriMo 2015. Interestingly, in both years, I hit my snags around days 11 through 17.

Of those seven days back in 2015, five of them involved not only writing but reviewing the scope of that novel. It seemed I was writing scenes that kept affecting subsequent scenes and I just had to keep going. Two things happened back then. One, I had my best day of writing at that point with 3,538 words. Two days later, I experienced my worst at 1,703.

Writing a novel is not a short process. It is long. There will be good days and there will be bad days. The key factor is to keep going. Just keep moving forward. You can do it.

And the theme for this week is simple: if you have to stop or slow down and reassess your novel from the vantage point of the middle, do it. What’ll happen is that you will likely open the floodgates for the rest of the book.

But here’s a more down-to-earth, nuts and bolts piece of advice: If you are truly stuck, finish the scene/chapter you are currently writing. Look no further than that. Just finish this scene, and trust your creative subconscious to help you along. Chances are good you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

So, NaNoWriMo folks, how are y’all doing? 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

If I Could Only Write That Book...

Take all the writing classes you want, read all the books on writing, use whatever fiction writing software -- nothing teaches you more about writing fiction than reading other fiction.  And broadly speaking, when it comes to novels in particular, I would say there are two types of books you read and enjoy, the books you love but know you could never write and the books you love but feel just possibly, conceivably, you at your best imaginable self, a writing self that's elevated but realistic, that encompasses your talents and limits, you could perhaps write.  

I don't remember who wrote it, but I remember reading years ago a piece by a writer who said that when he was younger he felt that a novelist to shoot for in terms of quality and achievement, someone he felt could be within his range, was the American writer Nathaniel West.  He was talking specifically about West's two best works, Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust.  As this writer saw it, you had with West someone whose lasting literary stature no writer would reject as beneath them.  At the same time, the two books, both short, didn't feel to him like books on a level utterly beyond his capacity to create.  Maybe even here he was being optimistic, but I took his point as a good one.  Great as it is, The Day of the Locust is a dark, biting, satirical work that one could see using as a model for something you might write, but you'd be unlikely to think the same thing of, say, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.  That's not to say that if you set out to write a dark, biting, satirical work you'd produce a book on the same level as West's book (odds are extremely strong you won't), but I don't think it would be delusional to use West as a level to shoot for, whereas with Pynchon, in all honesty, it would be.

One could fill in whatever writers one chooses in this model, and I think the idea applies.  In my case, after many years of writing, I know that I will never write a long book, so anything beyond a certain length is a book I can love and learn a lot from but not one I could hope to approach.  But it's not only about length.  It's also about language.  Take two of my all-time favorite novels: Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea is less than 200 pages, as is Djuna Barnes' Nightwood.  Now I know I'll never write a book as great as either of these two books, but one at least seems like a book I can hold within my sights as an ideal to shoot for when I write a book, and that Rhys' novel.  Her book is fierce and intense and it's brilliantly written, but it uses very simple language.  Most of the words in the book are one and two-syllable words.  You read it and feel that damn, damn, if I could just get that much better, I myself could write a book somewhat close to this one -- maybe.  Barnes on the other hand, with her dense, ornate style, her sheer linguistic inventiveness, forget it.  I would never even think of trying to write anything like Nightwood

I just finished a book that for me falls somewhere between the two poles I've described, and however I look at it, I do consider it a hypnotic and unputdownable read, and that's Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream, published in Argentina in 2014 but translated in the US in 2017.  I read it as the last of my October horror reading, a one-sitting, three-hour read of its 183 pages.  It's a book, like Rhys', that uses the simplest of language to get across the most intense and unsettling effects, but in how it's designed, as a sort of strange and elliptical conversation between a young woman lying gravely ill in a clinic and boy sitting beside her who is not her son but has an intimate connection to her (I'm being purposely vague here), you get a complicated but accessible story that will scare the hell out of you.  It has to do with trauma, toxins in a ravaged environment, damage done to human souls and bodies, and maternal (or parental in general) anxiety. The original Spanish title, Distancia de rescate, translates as "Rescue Distance", which in the story refers to the ever present distance a mother is aware of in relation to her child and the possible dangers that could strike her child. How quickly could the mother cover that distance to her child if danger struck?  And if she could cover it, would that change anything?  Would she be able to "save" her child from the danger?  I can't recall the last book I read that created such a sense of unease in me, and that unease only increases as you turn the pages because the book, very easy to read, has no pauses of any kind. It has no chapter breaks, no asterisks breaking up passages. It really does read like a fever dream, a seamless nightmare that does not let you go.  

So is this book one to put on the side of "love it but I know it's beyond the reach of my abilities" or "love it and it's one to add to the list of those I can use as a model to strive for"?  As I said, it's somewhere in between, but I do know it's exactly the sort of book, short, eerie, spare, unceasingly suspenseful, a book that doesn't quite read like any other book, that I dream of writing.  

What can one do?  Only the obvious: keep trying.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Fine Gathering of Guests

One perk of contributing to Do Some Damage is the pool of talent willing to guest blog. Though I try to run any posts that might be provocative past "The Elders", I've always been given freedom to invite whom I choose. I completely take advantage of this and the respect Do Some Damage has acquired and I lure my favorite writers and creators to share their thoughts or stories. See, I'm selfish and think only of what makes me happy and learning about and learning from these writers makes me happy. But, just this once, I'm thinking of others. I've picked through the archives and found a bounty of excellent guest contributions and I offer them here, for your perusing pleasure.

 Inside The Mind of Beau Johnson.

Nicola Murphy Starts Women's History Month

Susie Henry Starts Women's History Month with Poetry

Celebrating Women's History Month

S.W. Lauden Serves Up Music and Memories

Terri Lynn Cooper on Crime and Punishment

Dr. Anjili Babbar and Dr. Myron T. Strong, Lessons of Crime Fiction

One Giant Crack in the Glass Ceiling

After the last few years, I honestly thought that there wouldn’t be a female president in my lifetime. I don’t think that any more. We’ve just elected a woman vice president of the United States. A woman of color! A woman in the top job no longer seems impossible. I’m going to savor this.