galloping bareback in the dark

image by happy via @flickr

I find I approach this blog often in a very measured, thoughtful way. Not that I coddle my words, but I do try to gather myself before I open its pages and begin to write, to filter my thoughts like the act of sifting grain which inspired it.

But I am in the midst of a liberating month, the month of nanowrimo which—critiqued by some, lauded by others—for me is a very joyful experience. I literally sit down and let my fingers race over the keys, giving them my permission to take me where they will, and what I end up with after thirty days is a  gloriously messy mishmosh. I know all too well that what results is a bloody mess, because this is my third year doing it, and while I produced “novels” during the other two which I do believe will some day be ready to venture out from my clutch, they are in eternal edits. But that’s okay.

I can’t quite describe how it feels, for me, to let my imagination take me where it will, although I read something that the author Chris Cleve wrote to this year’s participants, in response to how much preplanning and structuring should go into nano, and it made me smile:

A novel is a living thing and it resists containment within the structures we erect for it. Even worse, the novel has intelligence and it will inevitably turn against its creator.

[…] …the job of a novelist is to explore human emotion and motivation. You learn more about your protagonists as you write them. If you are not very often forced by your characters to bin your masterplan, then you are a wooden and a formulaic writer indeed. So, better than having a planned structure is to begin with a character or two, and a theme you intend to explore, and an initial direction you plan to start exploring in. Don’t be alarmed when, on arriving at what you thought was your summit, you realise you’ve climbed up the wrong mountain. That’s why novelists go through drafts – because plans go brilliantly awry.

Brilliantly awry indeed! I did start with an idea for a plot, and by the second day my characters (most of whom hadn’t existed in my initial plan) had totally hijacked it, and the bad guy became the good, the good guy the bad. I’ve got falcons in my story, and salmon fishing, unexplained deaths, separations and asundry illicit liaisons. It’s a riot of character and plot, half of which will most likely end up on the cutting room floor when I sit down to edit it. Trust me, editing at this preliminary stage is very little about punctuation and spelling, but about refocusing the story, taking out entire chunks and tangents and adding others and then starting all over again, and again and again… But you see that is what is so exhilarating about this month, because it is not about careful revision but about living without fear, it is like galloping bareback in the dark, terrifying and tremendously thrilling.

The message of nano, and of Chris Cleve, is that in order to produce something good, you have to produce, and you have to let your ideas flow. What’s interesting about nano is that you are not supposed to go back and edit, or reconsider…it’s full speed ahead, each and every day or until you reach the 50,000 word mark. What’s amazing is that you really have no idea what’s come out until afterward, the next month or the next or months later when you get into it again, and you actually find passages that you don’t even remember writing. I love that, or as Chris describes…

Something I’ve learned is that it’s very hard to tell, at the end of your writing day, whether you’ve done great work or bad work. The quality of the writing is hard to judge until you’ve had some sleep and got some perspective on it. Often sheer euphoria at your own brilliance will keep you writing late into the night, and you can hardly sleep because what you’ve written is so damned good. Then you wake up the next day and read it, and you realise it’s a pile of self-indulgent crap. This happens to me two days out of five. Then you get the opposite case, where you beat yourself up because the ideas are coming so slowly and all your dialogue seems timid and pedestrian. A week later you might look back on that day as a pretty solid performance, where your characters were honest with each other and maybe even created a couple of touching moments.

Here’s another part of Chris’ “pep talk,” and spoke of “rediscovering [his] very first motivation – the love of working with language and character.”…

I’d say that is what motivates me now. I simply enjoy sitting down in front of my screen and exploring my characters. I like the mental work of solving the problems of plot and structure. I like exercising my freedom to write as I please, for readers who have the freedom to read as they please. I like not needing anyone’s permission. I try to remember how lucky we all are to live like this. I see it as a temporary state of grace and I find that very motivating.

How lucky we all are to live like this, to have the ability to let our creative juices flow, a “temporary state of grace.” I never for a moment take it for granted, for it is indeed a luxury.

My steed calls me (I’m at 33K or somewhere around there…wish me luck!)

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2 thoughts on “galloping bareback in the dark

  1. I should probably start reading those pep talks. This was fabulous. Thanks for sharing it. I, too, am enamoured of galloping into the unknown with completely unreliable and headstrong characters. I’m still working on last year’s NaNo novel, so this year I’m doing flash fiction, journaling, character studies, and world building exercises. I didn’t think it would be as much fun, but it is!

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