The Beast That Is Nanowrimo

PrintThis year I am not doing Nanowrimo. I am in the middle of a major edit of a novel I hope will be published. But I have participated in years past and may do it again next year.

Though I am not doing Nanowrimo this year, I have come up with an image that kind of goes along with the exercise. Writing a nanowrimo is like riding a bull or a bronco at a rodeo. You get on, then you are in for a wild ride. And it ain’t like riding that mechanical bull you see in some bars. This one’s wild as wildness can be. He’s bound and determined you ain’t going to get far on his back.

No matter how you practice for that sucker, it ain’t like riding the real thang. You get on, then the chute opens and you’re in for the write of your life. I ought to know. I’ve done four of ‘em. Nanowrimos, that is. Not bull rides or bronc bustings. I may be a little nuts but I’m not crazy.

I start out well enough. October 31 I have my spurs and my chaps all ready to saddle up and write that fellow into the dust. I have my outline. I have pictures of my main characters. I know who they are and they know who I am. And to cliché a phrase, I’m chomping at the bit to get at that Nanowrimo. He’s not about to best me this year. Sure, he’s a little red-eyed and has that snarl. That’s to be expected.

So it’s November 1, and I rise from my bed. I grab my big mug of coffee. I know I’m not going to get a good ride out of that bull without a cup of joe. I crackle my knuckles. I lower myself easy into the chair, then I face the future.

The blank page.

I check my outline. I peruse my notes. I realize. This bull just isn’t ready to fly from the chute. He’s gone tame on me. What am I to do? Go choose another bull. It’s too late. It’s this one or it’s nothing. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I give the bull a kick and it’s off.

I start on a scene not in the outline. “What? You can’t do that,” you say. But, oh, I can. It is written by the scribe who writes such things that I can. I take a gander at my outline and start to wonder what really happened to get this booger going. Why is Mr. Main in the mess he is in? Has he been messing where he shouldn’t have been messing? You can imagine my surprise when I finish almost a thousand words that first day.

Over the next few days, well, actually it is more like over the next week or so, I write 25,000 words and more. I am up to that first scene in my outline. I’d let the beast take over and lead me wherever. I would sit down to work on a scene and start writing, then somewhere a character, a prop or even a setting showed up unplanned. All I can say is “Very interesting.” Then continue on.

After thirty days of sweating the blood, sweat and tears it takes to ride a Nanowrimo, I have my 50,000 words. I have bloody fingers and calluses on my rear. But it’s been worth it.   It’s a tough ride and I’ve managed to stay on that bull’s back for the entire thirty days of November and then some.

Fermenting

One of my favorite words is fermenting. It’s such a fine word. Letting something sit on the brain and allowing the subconscious to work on it. That’s fermenting for you. I get a line like: “I am a horse, have always been a horse, would always be a horse. Until the witch turned me into a boy.”

The first thing that happens: I am startled. Where did a line like that come from? I don’t know but I am ready to follow wherever it leads. Whatever dance it chooses to perform.

Now some may think I should whip it into shape, make it become what my little pea-sized brain wants.

But that’s not the way of the tao, as Laotse let us know over twenty-five centuries ago. I let it go fermenting. I stick it in the back of my mind, check in every so often. Used to think I was the only one who did this. Then I heard the playwright Edward Albee talk. He said that he will get an idea, stick it away to allow the subconscious to work on it. Check in six months later and see where the idea has flown. Then back into the subconscious again. He does this over a two-year period. Eventually it is full-grown, and a work of art.

After a bit of fermenting, I pull it out for the old look-see. Just so you know, a bit may be six months, sometimes shorter, sometimes more. Nope, it’s not ripened and back into the old subby-conscious it goes, tucked away in the cool, dark places where it gets a chance to grow healthy. From time to time, I pull it out for some nourishment.

Once the idea is ready for the garden, I take it out into the warm sunlight of consciousness. Water it some. Feed it some plant food. And off it sprouts. Soon I have a full-blown work.

It takes a lot of patience for fermenting. It is well worth the time I give it. Look at what it did for Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen. What a lot of writers blame on writer’s block, I call fermenting, giving a work time to sprout muscles and spread its roots.

So be patient. Do some fermenting.

Do you have a favorite word?

An Uncle Bardie Writing Tip: The Odor That Keeps On Giving

So this is the twenty-seventh month of writer’s block. You look at your last few words of Chapter 13, better known to you as “The Martians Need Tweezers”. You love the characters and you love the plot. But somehow your muse slipped on a banana peel and had to go to the ER. The doctors tell you she is going to recover, but, for now, she is in a coma in intensive care. You just don’t know what to do. You have a royal case of the stuck in a holeskies and don’t know how to dig yourself out.

Well, Uncle Bardie is coming to your rescue. He has the perfect first aid to get you through.

All you need do is introduce a new character and a new smell. Every time Mr. Newby walks into a room, the other characters discuss the character and the smell. Here’s an example of how that might work:

It’s a party. All the neighborhood is there. Two neighbors are in the corner, discussing the world situation.

Then Neighbor 2 asks Neighbor 1, “What’s that smell?” He has concern in his voice.

“Oh, that’s John,” Neighbor 1 says. “Quite pungent, isn’t he?”

“Who invited him to the party?”

“The Author.”

“Well, can’t we get rid of him?” Neighbor 2 wants to know.

“I wish,” Neighbor 1 says.

Neighbor 2 is ready for some action. “Then let’s do it.”

“Hold on now. You know what happened to the last Character who tried to do something like that?”

“No,” Neighbor 2 says, kind of worried now.

“He ended up in a lake with a bullet in his head. Author was not pleased at Mr. Character’s reaction to the introduction of Character 2 in the story. I think Mr. Character was a bit jealous. After all, he had done all that work, slogging his way through ten chapters. Then Author has to introduce Character 2 at Plot Point One to give him some competition for his Lady Love, Miss Sure Thing. Well, Miss Sure Thing was no longer Miss Sure Thing. Mr. Character took care of Character 2 all right. Author was  mad about that turn of events. Not only did Mr. Character end up with a hole in his head. Author made him suffer before he went to the Character Graveyard.”

“Hmmm…” Neighbor 2 says.

“But John over there, I don’t know about. He sure has a good case of fouluptheroomitis. Unfortunately it’s quite common in new characters these days. I do hear that they have a vaccine in the works for it.”

“That’s good to know. You think I would get some brownie points from Author if I went over and talked to Smelly John.”

“I doubt it,” Neighbor 1 says. “But you can try.”

Neighbor 2 drifts over to the other side of the room.

Neighbor 1 says to a friend, “Guess there goes another smoozer.”

Friend says, “Yeah, the smoozers are always the first to go. Author sure hates a butt kisser.”

As you can see by this example, this exercise should get the story back on track. It sure helped me.

The Writer’s Life

The novelist sat down at his computer desk and sipped his coffee. It was November 1. Time for his annual exercise with the National Novel Writing Month, better known  as nanowrimo. His past three excursions into nanowrimo-land had turned out successful. After much needed editing, each novel was published, sold well, and received quite a lot of positive criticism.

Usually he prepared for the exercise with several months of planning. Not this year. This year he had nary a clue of what story would go onto the blank page, staring back at him. This year he was going to wing it.

His cell rang. Instead of letting the caller leave a message, he answered. Twenty minutes later he hung up, then stared at the blank document before him. It stared back. What to write, what to write?

He reached over for his cup. It was empty. This was no way to start a novel. He needed more coffee. Off to the kitchen, he went and brewed himself a second cup. Looking over at the sink filled with dishes, he realized that he couldn’t write with dirty dishes in the sink.

Twenty minutes later, the dishes were washed and dried, and he was back at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Then it came to him. He did not have clothes for the meeting he was supposed to have with his publisher two days away. Can’t have that.

As he pushed a load of laundry into the washer, he realized he was not getting any writing done. The machine began its washing. He looked at his watch. Three hours had passed and he didn’t have a word on paper yet.

No wonder I can’t get anything started. I’m hungry.

Sitting at the kitchen table, he bit into the first of three toasted cheese sandwiches. He searched the newspaper before him for ideas. Nothing in here but murder, murder, murder. He took a sip from his soda. Gee, I’ve got to give up sugar. But it won’t be this month. That would be a distraction from the novel I have to write.

An hour later the laundry was finished and the sandwiches eaten and the dishes washed. Still no idea what his nanowrimo would be. He had heard of writer’s block before but this was ridiculous. He turned on the TV. There was a Tarzan movie on. It hit him. Finally an idea. Off went the TV.

He stared at the blank page on his computer. “The man,” he typed. No, that’s not right. Got to give him a name. What name? Oh, I’ve got it.

On the screen appeared the words, “Jack Peters raised his rifle and aimed at the charging rhino.

“Click. The gun misfired.

“The rhino closed in on him.”

“Hold on there,” Jack said to the writer. “What makes you think I am agreeing to this? Ain’t no way I want to be gored by a rhino.”

This had never happened before. A character talking to him. His characters always did what they were told.

“Shut up and do as you’re told,” the novelist said to his character.

“I am not going to be gored by a rhino. Just so you can get in some imaginary word count so’s you can brag to your girlfriend that you’re a big stud of a writer. Who do you think I am?”

“You’re a big game hunter. American, if I remember correctly. Yes, definitely American. Now get to work.”

“No. No. No. That is not how it works around here. You know, if that beast gores me in the right place, I could be dead. Or even worse, impotent. That may have been good enough for that Jake Barnes fellow but not for me. I’m having none of that.”

“You don’t have any choice.”

“And you want to know something else? If you don’t make your move with that woman of yours, I’ll take care of her for you. All she needs is a man. You ain’t him.”

“Leave her out of it.”

“Okay,” the character said. “But only if you do the right thing and let me take that rhino down. Otherwise she’s all mine.”

“Geez, I never had this kind of trouble with a character before.”

“That’s ’cause all your characters have sucked big time. I’m the first real character to appear in any of your novels. Since it’s my story, I get some input. And my input is that I am not gored by a rhino. You hear me?”

“Okay,” the novelist begrudgingly agreed.

“Well, let’s get to it.” The character returned to his place on the page.

The novelist typed. “Jack dropped to his knees. He threw his rifle aside. Grabbed the gun lying in the grass next to him. The rhino was three feet away and charging. Jack aimed and fired. The rhino dropped at his feet.”

The character stepped off the page again. “That’s better. Now keep it up.”

Near 500 words: The What-if Principle

What if you are stuck starting a story? Or what if the dreaded writer’s block has attacked you in mid-sentence? You are siting in front of your computer and there’s that monster of a blank screen. As the Ghostbusters used to sing, “Who you gonna call?”

Well, I have a simple solution to those dilemmas. It’s worked for me hundreds of times. it’s called the What-if Principle.

When you can’t think of what to put on paper, write the words “What if.” Then think add a phrase to that. Like “What if the boat sank” or “What if Mr. Darcy told Elizabeth Bennet that he was gay” or “What if your character got hit by a bus” or “What if I wrote a funeral from the corpse’s point of view.”

Once you have written down that What-if phrase, then ask Why. And keep doing that for as long as it takes for you to start writing a scene. Here’s an example of the process:

1.What if my character, Joe, doesn’t get out of bed on Monday morning.
Why? His girlfriend DeeDee dumped him the night before.

2.What if DeeDee hears Joe didn’t show up for work and she calls him.
Why? She’s having second thoughts about dumping Joe.

3.What if Joe doesn’t answer the phone.
Why? He finally drags himself out of bed and takes a shower.

4.What if Joe’s sister, Marsha, shows up at Joe’s house.
Why? She is worried about Joe because he was dumped.

5.What if DeeDee drives to Joe’s house and leaves angry.
Why? DeeDee doesn’t know Joe has a sister. She see’s Marsha’s car and thinks he has a new girlfriend.

By the fifth or sixth What-if, there’s at least enough to provide momentum for the next few scenes.

Try it and see if it works for you. I know it does for me.