Sunday, December 1, 2019

Winner Winner! NaNoWriMo Dinner!

I took up fiction writing this Fall and had a very validating experience writing within the NaNoWriMo program in November.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) tells me they are "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing." And it offered just enough structure and support to be encouraging, with very few restrictions to keep me from doing the work.

I trained as a journalist in college because even though I was always a solid writer in school, the creative projects filled me with fear. I chose journalism because it came with a comforting collection of rules: a specific assignment, length or word count, audience, style guides. There was always an editor who would call me out for going in the wrong direction.

In broadcast, I had to write for the specific anchor or announcer to read it properly; some people love alliteration and others will try to have you fired for making them look dumb on air. So there's always a filter, a ninja course to run through.

I thrived when I had to write within specific formats and under deadlines. I would discover ways to be clever with a headline or a turn of a phrase, specific word counts or space limitations. I then used the rules from one format to quickly adapt to others: from broadcast to social media to sales manuals.

The idea of a big, white piece of paper glaring at me and demanding creativity from me has always been too inhibiting. I was intimidated as a writer by the lawlessness of fiction ...
so, I didn't take the challenge head-on and build up any skills in fiction writing. I enjoyed and took comfort in the structure journalism and copywriting provided.

But I was always reading, always keeping track of authors and screenwriters. I had more than a passing awareness of story structure and character development, the path a hero belonged on and I got mad at writers who didn't help a character live up to their full potential. If I had trusted myself a little earlier, I may have not had to stay an outsider looking in for so long. Or, I may have always needed to get to a point in my own maturity and experience to have a story to tell.

I had both a story come to me with a clean, clear problem to resolve, and distinct arcs for characters, limited time windows, and the willingness to set down my inhibitions for a month to sit down and write it. Then I did it because "why not write a novel in a month!?"

I hit 50,000 words on November 28 on Black Cat Walks in the Moonlight. Click here to read the first three chapters. Its about a family struggling with their immediate loss of their cat, and all the past losses this triggered for them. I was deeply interested in the family. It's not really about the cat. She's just a CATalyst. Haha. I found a writers workshop group that has been so rewarding already. I have several elements still to add and expect it to roll up at about 80,000 words by the time its done. November was for setting my old shit aside and writing. December and January are for finishing and editing.

Life has a funny way of unlocking doors long before you realize you can open them. It will always be tempting to say 'A story found me and then I just happened to write this.' But the reality is much more basic: I have trained myself over years of delivering on client or format requirements to recognize when something is both clear and interesting. And I have been keeping a lively Idea File that I have migrated across the life of three computers. That's about 12 years now. I must have notes on close to 15 stories. But I didn't trust myself to solve my fictional problems until this year.

I'm still nervous. I spent all of November stealing hours from family and work to put together a story that I thought was interesting. When it looked like I was going to hit 50,000 words and win, I started to panic. I worried that I might put all of this effort into this story and then never have another idea. I understand that's common. I recognize "what if I never close another deal again?" from selling, and I hear it from artists, actors, and writers in interviews all the time. So I'm in good company.

The answer to that universal worry is the same as in any other setting: you have to apply yourself and accept that there might be failures. It won't always work. I learned how to write news and ad copy because I practiced and a few times I really got things wrong. I learned how to sell by putting myself out there with an acceptance that I might not get the deal; a lot of people said no, and lots more probably will, too. It's OK.

I might not be a great writer. I might never get paid for it, but I have some stories to tell. And there is no good reason I can't and shouldn't try to write fiction. David recently said that I was uniquely qualified to be successful here: I write pretty well and it's not a big deal to hear 'no.' Ha! I'm unstoppable now!!

The best part of pushing myself to find the discipline to write has been a very welcome surprise. Work has its frustrations. Middle age life has its frustrations. I was allowing all those frustrations to feel too important. I couldn't let anything go and relax.  It seems I didn't have a satisfying outlet for my creativity. When I got up early and took an hour before work to write, I went to work much calmer. I had a pressure valve. Bonus.

I look forward to your comments about Black Cat Walks in the Moonlight.

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