Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pep Talk Wisdom

One of the great things about participating in NaNo is the pep talk emails that get sent out to all the participants. I'm loving Kristin Cashore's emails this year: they've been spot on every time.

Writing tends to be a very private adventure by its very nature, and so I tend to start thinking that I'm the only one fumbling to find my character's true voice or to weed out the dry parts of the story even before I write them. Then I get an email from Cashore, and it's like she's in my head, listening to me complain. The most recent email is no exception. She writes:

Here's what it starts to be like for me somewhere in the midsection of a novel:

(1) I've written the beginning, but I'm pretty sure it's a pile of crap.

(2) The end, when I even dare to contemplate it, feels as far away as Uranus.

(3) The prose I'm writing right now, here in the middle, sounds like a stiff little busybody who's sat down too hard on a nettle.

(4) I've discovered that my plot, even if it's an engaging plot, has sections that are not engaging to write, and I'm bogged down in those doldrums sections, when all I want is to move on to the exciting parts that are just ahead—but I can't, not until I've written the parts that will get me there. Boring!

(5) The house is strewn with post-it notes on which are written about a gazillion important reminders of things I must somehow remember to find a way to weave into the novel at some point, although, where, I can't imagine. Some of the post-it notes are written hastily in a code I have since forgotten. ("He is temperamentally sweet, but dangerous, like Jake." That would be very helpful, if I had the slightest idea to whom "he" refers, or if I knew anyone named Jake.)

(6) Worst of all, whenever I take a step back and try to examine objectively this unstructured mess that is half created and half still living in my head and heart and hope (and on a gazillion post-it notes)... I get this horrible, sinking feeling that my novel isn't actually about anything.

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Hell yes! That's exactly where I'm at right now. I just spent three hours getting my daily word count and at least half of that time was spent doing some editing and adjustments to the previous scene while the fixes were fresh in my head. The fixes really needed to be made for me to feel ready to write the next scene, but there are reasons why I don't normally edit like that while I'm in the middle of a book: 1) it takes a lot of energy, and 2) it takes a lot of time.

And then I read this line in Cashore's email: "Throwing out the last twenty pages you just wrote can involve just as much progress as writing three new ones."

I hesitate to make that the quote for this novel, for fear of drawing the wrong energy into the project, but just reading that line made me feel better about all the cuts I've already made and all the cuts I know still need to be made from the beginning of my story. And before my head turns ugly and I start thinking about all the ways in which this project has been much more difficult for me than Madison ever was, I'm going to get out of the house for a while.

1 comment:

Shaida said...

Graceling, Kristin Cashore's first novel, is pretty great. It's quite cool that she's involved in NaNo and sending out something like this. Have they always done these pep talk emails? I can't remember anything like it back when I was participating...