Saturday, December 1, 2012

Of Fickle Muses and NaNoWriMo

I've always been a genius at coming up with logical-sounding excuses. This is a decent skill to have when one is an attorney by trade and a serial procrastinator as a side endeavor. However, these past few months, I’d been focusing my talents on laying out all the excuses for why I have made no effort to flex my creative muscles and write something new.

"I work. And when I come home, I'm tired. And on the weekends, I have errands and I don't really feel like doing anything. And I dunno, maybe I'm just out of stories. I don't feel moved to write anything, so whatever I did write would just be 'blah blah' awfulness."

And everyone always nodded and agreed with me that these were good reasons. I was acquitted of the charge of being creatively lazy by a jury of my peers, so I felt justified in continuing to let my keyboard keys go cold. 

Honestly, what impresses people the most is my professional set up.
That and the free lemonade with purchase of a will.

Original image found here.

Except... I used to love it. When I was younger, it wasn't something I tried to talk my way out of like a kid trying to fake sick on a school day. It was what I did for fun. It was what I stayed home from school for! Honestly, I had felt that way until not that long ago. And then the excuses started falling out of my mouth and I started calling in sick to writing.

It is true that taking a day off can have fabulous results.
However, I suspect "Ferris Bueller's Three Years of Hooky"
 would have lacked the same hilarity.

Original image found here.

When NaNoWriMo rolled around this year, it was something I'd heard of and always wanted to try. And I admitted to myself that I hated that writing had stopped being such a big part of my life and had just become a dream I had when I had more time to care about such things. Something had to be done. Maybe NaNo was that something. A jumpstart for the dead battery of my writing life.

However, I was highly skeptical about the whole concept. I had always been a firm believer in writing in those fevered moments of inspiration where you can't type fast enough to keep up with the words spilling out of your brain. I didn't feel like such moments could be forced, and that what happened when you just wrote to keep writing was that your misguided stumbling landed you into a corner and you ended up deeding another story to the graveyard file. I’ve always needed to see where I was going clearly. I need those flashes where it's like someone lit a match in the dark room of my mind and suddenly, I could see everything the way it was meant to be.

On a good muse day, I can write ALL OF THE WORDS.

Original image found here.

But I also had to admit that this hadn't happened in a long, long, long time. And that a lot of my stories had gone cold when the initial fevered sweat of inspiration ran out and never came back. I just ended up discarding them and started anew when the next lightning bolt struck. The result was that I had actually finished few things, edited even fewer properly, and ended up with only one finished, publishable novel out of the dozens hibernating on my computer or in the Tupperware drawer of old manuscripts under my bed. Over two decades of letting my muse call the shots was availing me naught.

So I rolled the dice. On November 1st, I opened up a blank document and started typing. And typed more every night of November, no matter how little I had to say. I typed until 2 am on a work night and went in the next day dragging ass. I typed over holiday visits with my family on nights when I was so run down from darting from one gathering to the next that all I wanted to do was sleep. I wrote through my favorite TV shows (thank God for DVR, though) and through social events I could have attended and through nights when I was so exhausted I didn't even know how to spell anymore. Sometimes, I didn't even have much to show for it. Sometimes, was leaked onto my page was utter drek that got smacked down by the strikethrough button faster than you can say, "purple prose." And sometimes, I didn't even make my word count, no matter how hard I tried.

The NaNoWriMo word count at work.

Original image found  here

But over the course of sweating over my keyboard day in and day out, no matter what, it was like someone was turning lights on inside me until I was lit up like a Christmas tree. I went through the days, those hours between bouts of writing, feeling so tired that I didn't know my own name and so filled with joy that names and other such minutia seemed unimportant.

I'm not going to lie and say it's easy, or that it will always work out that way for anyone else who's struggling with being in a writing rut. It's been a hard knock life throughout the month of November, and I've had my share of complaints. (See my Tweet feed for details.) But I learned a few lessons that I like to hope will stick with me. At least until next year’s NaNo.

I learned that having to sit down and bang out 1667 words a night whether I was feeling blessed by the muses or not gave me panic attacks and sometimes resulted in directionless drivel.

I also learned that sometimes, the mere exercise of forcing my fingers to the keys resulted in my typing some unexpected detail that gave birth to an entire plot sequence, unlocking the new several scenes like a quest item in a video game.

I also level up with every 10,000 words. True story.

Original image found here.

I learned that, just like walking a little farther every day had given me ever-increasing endurance such that my leg muscles can now carry me over any distance, the more I exercised my plot brain, the more easily it brimmed over with new ideas. In fact, at this point, I can't shut the damn thing off. I've had to start carrying my notebook again and occasionally texting myself notes or voice recording snippets on my cell.

I learned that there were others just like me with key-shaped imprints on their foreheads from banging their heads on their laptops in moments of NaNo-induced woe. But we cheered each other on, and urged each other to finish. And I realized that even in NaNoless times, that same support was available to keep me plugging away when I was being tormented by blank pages or go-nowhere subplots.

I also learned, all over again, that I love writing. Love it like I love a warm summer day at the beach with the sea breeze tousling my hair and the sand tickling my toes. Like I love reading a good book while draped in an arm chair at a bookstore sipping some chocolaty caffeinated pseudo-milkshake. I loved writing as the best part of who I am and what I do, something that makes me feel like, even if there’s a million people out there doing exactly what I’m doing, I still have something special to contribute to the world. And I realized that no matter how busy I get, giving that up would be absolute madness.

This about sums it up.

Original image found here.

I was also forced to recognize the truth I had known all along: novels aren't just written by millionaire playboys and starlets with ghost writers. I suppose that happens on occasion, but more often than not, novelists start out as people with day jobs and bills and spouses and children and responsibilities. They had to beg, borrow, and steal all the time they put into their dream, just like I did. But in the end, the most amazing thing happened: their stories got told.

Just like my story is getting told now. My novel isn't over yet. Being in the epic vein, it’s still got a few K to go before all the loose ends tie together and I can sit back and contemplate the joys of the editing process. But it's a lot closer than it was before because I made time for that to happen, and I put the effort in whether I was feeling like it or not. And now I know what I have to do to make it the rest of the way there. 

No more excuses.