Monday, November 12, 2007

NaNo Blogging: The Notebook

So, I'm rushing out the door in my last minute rush to get ready for my unexpected trip to the great white north. My laptop is a paperweight now but I was determined not to let the weekend become a complete waste. If it took me scribbling longhand until my fingers were twisted, that's what I'd do to get 1.7k a day. I grabbed a notebook, shoved it in my overnights bag, threw it in the car, and began the drive. Turned up the music and tried to think about my ailing plot.

My novel, Stalking the Wolf, is a mess at this point. In case my not talking about it for a solid week now wasn't enough of a clue. I'm having trouble. Not just writing it- although you wouldn't know it to look by my word count (But, again, a lot of that is fragmentary possibly even contradictory scraps. The actual coherent narrative is but a small percentage of the overall work at this point.) - but figuring out what to write at all. Going in, I knew there were problems with the plot. Holes where it just didn't make sense. Gaps where I had no idea what needed to happen to get from one side to the other just that there was, in fact, something that needed to go there. But I wasn't worried. My plot was huge and complex but fluid, I knew where to start, knew where I was going, and a lot of the details along the way. The few bits I didn't I'd figure out along the way. I'd write through them, in so many words, even if it meant a few frustrating days behind the keyboard.

Well, those gaps aren't getting any smaller. In fact, they're not so much plot holes as narrative abysses at this point. I can't figure them out no matter how I try. There's a big section in the middle of the book I have no idea how to solve. No clue what I need to set up beforehand or what to play off of afterwards.

Worse yet, I'm nowhere near close to getting there. I've spent nearly a week on this book and, granted, it's been a week full of distractions and half-hearted efforts (And, again, I know it makes me sound like a complete dick to say so but, yeah, I've got 60k and I haven't really been trying. For some people that's a lot. For some people that's an accomplishment. Not for me. Look at the archives. Look at how much content I pump out on a regular basis. I'm not everyone else. I'm me. And NaNo is a race you run against yourself. The bar is set where you want it. For me, that's higher than some. Not as high as others, maybe. But above the average. I'm not trying to make people who are struggling to get that daily allotment done feel bad. I'm just trying to find my own limits. To write as much and as well as I'm capable. I want everyone else to do the same because, for me, that's why this event is so fun. It's about setting aside your limitations and letting yourself go with the passion, the fury, the joy of creation. It's an intensely personal thing and it doesn't matter if you're going to breeze past 100k or if you're going to struggle to get to 10. You learn about yourself. About what you're capable of. And, dammit, I know that I'm better than what I've been doing.) but I'm not even out of the first of five planned chapters. There's so much to cover, so much to establish, so many characters and settings and arcs to juggle that I feel like I'm never going to get done. And, if you'll recall I don't want to just have a big word count. I want to come out of this month with a finished book. A product of my hard work that I can, finally, show off. At the rate I'm going I'm not going to get there. And I'm not sure just how much harder I can press before I snap entirely and sink into apathy.

I went into the weekend fully intending to work this out. To spend some time thinking about my novel structurally instead of from the scene-up level I've been working at. Take a step back and look at the problems, find the potholes ahead of me, and try to smooth them away. Thanks to the awesome powre of scribbling in my notebook.

A notebook is a great resource for a writer. I highly recommend it even if you're used to a word processor. Because in a notebook you don't just write. You're slowed down and it forces you to think more about what you're doing. Sentences, plots cycle and whirl in your head while the pen drags across the page, waiting for your hand to catch up to them. For me, at least. As they revolve around, though, they become leaner, stronger, more distilled than the raw stuff of imagination they begin as.

You can sketch and doodle, too. Create flowcharts and draw connections and lines in a way that you can't with, say, Word. An empty notebook is like a canvas. Just full of pages waiting for you to fill them up with whatever crosses your mind.

But in my haste I hadn't grabbed an empty notebook at all. I'd picked up an old one, half-ful with other notes, other ideas. I flipped it over, started working from the back so there wouldn't be any cross-contamination. But bored and stuck and frustrated by my unworkable ambition, I couldn't resist looking turning it back over and looking through the notes from the past that I'd left myself.

I'm glad I did because that notebook was one I'd used to jot down some ideas and concepts for a tabletop game that never materialized. A world created wholecloth for an unfulfilled purpose. An idea, in other words, just waiting for an opening. Because, within all those preparations and rules and templates that I'd created in the past, I'd also developed the lore of that world. The myths, the legends, that would inform the cultures of the place. And among them was an outline - a rough one by my current standards - of a story.

I read it once and moved on. But I couldn't forget it. I read it again. And then again. Because it was, I felt, a good story. One with some scale and wrought with meanings, laced through with symbolism and impact. One that I had completely forgotten that I'd ever thought of. Because, you know, like any writer I've sprinkled my past with any number of half-finished stories and abandoned plots that I can hardly keep track of them any more.

And, well, I've checked. If I ever worked this story out into a more finished product, I don't have any record of it.

As I drove home, I didn't think about Stalking the Wolf. I thought, instead, about that story I'd rediscovered. That I had, in that notebook a working plan for a story. Beginning, middle, end. Just waiting for me to come along and flesh it out into prose. About its flaws. About where it needed improving. It was a long drive from my cottage back to my home. But by the time I was pulling into my driveway, the blueprint had been laid out in my head. The details slotting into pace. The flow, the direction of a story. The logistics of what it would take to tell it. And I knew that, if I started on it, I could get it done by the end of the month. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not to my complete satisfaction. But a rough draft? It was possible.

And, now, I've decided. It was a difficult choice. Hard to let go of those sunk costs. But, in the end, I don't want to win NaNo. I want to write a novel. So, I'm putting my old novel into that pile of half-finished idea clamoring for a second chance. And I'm picking up that old idea to run with. I'm starting over with a brand new book. An ambitious one, in many ways. But no where near as ambitious as the last one. It's smaller, more compact, with fewer scenes and characters and elements to juggle. And I know. I know, I can get it done. If only I start right now. So, if you'll excuse me, I've gone from being so far ahead I was embarrassing myself to being well behind the pack. And I think it's about high time I started catching up.

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