Saturday, November 14, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 14 - How Losing is Done.

The month is almost halfway over and I'm 3,973 words behind. Yesterday I did a whopping 263 words, which is my lowest daily word count yet. I bet this blog post is longer than that.

In my previous post I mentioned how I write in three blocks throughout the day. An hour in the morning while lying in bed (like right now), 30-60 minutes on my lunch break, and 1-2 hours before I doze off to happy land. But yesterday I slept in, and because I slept in I forgot my lunch at home so I left the office for lunch, and then I passed out from mental exhaustion around 10:30. I was asleep before my wife came to bed.

And that's how you get 4,000 words behind, my friends. That's how losing is done!

It also doesn't help that I've been distracted this week and writing my story has felt like I'm back in college doing research papers. And when I do sit down to write I find myself more interested in writing these blog posts than my story. Yes, right now I'd rather write about my writing than actually writing.

Wait...I've had an epiphany. Yes, why didn't I see it before? The tension is gone in my story! This blog post is filled with tension, but the story has become dull and flat. Remember what you wrote in the first blog post, Ben? Excitement, tension, drama! It's gone! You lost it! But where did it go? And how can you bring it back?

That's it, screw the outline. I'm going rogue. It's time to throw Gabby in the water.

Cue "Eye of the Tiger."

Bum....bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, buuuuuuummmmmmm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I LIE AWAKE

I LIE AWAKE

My eyes are closed and head is down
The mind's a race, hear every sound
And though I do not look around
My feet feel like they're on the ground

I have a dream about my friends
Who all forsake me in the end
And every single word I send
Gets broken up and left to mend

I suppose this means that I'm asleep
Though I still dream I'm on my feet
And every thought I think is deep
And what I think is on repeat

I know this thing inside my head
That keeps me here, the waking dead
Means every single night I dread
This struggle fought inside my bed

I think of all the years gone by
And all the moments when I cried
To wonder when or if I'd die
Such mem'ries now a lullaby

I think of God and if He is
A magic force that can forgive
A yearning soul, alone I live
Amazing grace, my soul I give

I think of all the thing that changed
The progress made, the times forgave
To think that now I’m not a slave
I've conquered much inside this cave

By morning's dawn, I'm not as bad
As all the sadder days I've had
So one may say that I am glad
To lie awake

Saturday, November 7, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 7 - Hitting the Wall

In order to write 1667 words a day for 30 days, I've had to spread out my writing time into three sessions per day. I find myself waking up at 5:30 AM lately. Not on purpose, but rarely have I ever have the luxury of being woken up by the alarm. So I pick up my tablet and use this time to write. It's nice because the kids aren't awake, I'm in my nice warm bed, and the only distractions are my gargling stomach and my fantasy basketball scores. I can pump out 500-800 words before I start my day.

The second writing session is during my lunch break. The third is at bed time. Lunch is always the most difficult time to write because I'm in work mode. There are also more distractions like customer calling in, fantasy basketball scores, or a Tupperware full of leftovers.

Before I go to bed can also be difficult. Distractions include children, fantasy basketball scores, and sleep.

Except for the nighttime session (sometimes) I get no more than an hour each time. I have to write fast and I cannot be concerned with the quality of my writing.

"What's that?" you say, "Isn't the quality of your writing important?"

Well...no...it's not. Not on a first draft at least.

What non-writers don't understand (and what I didn't understand for a long time) is that the first draft never looks good. In fact, your final draft may have little resemblance to the thing that gave birth to it. Of the two short stories I've now published, neither of them resemble much of the first draft. Over the course of three years (each) I tweaked them, rewrote them, gave up on them, resurrected them, rewrote them again, tweaked some more, and then finally showed them to someone. For a beginning writer, the first draft is almost always trashed and no sentence remains the same. But the more experienced you become, the better your first drafts become and the writing process becomes shorter.

So, on day 7 of NaNoWriMo I find myself facing a wall of frustration.
I now have written about 10,000 words of my novel and most of it will be tossed. By the time I complete the final draft I will likely have written 200,000+ words to get what I hope will be a 75,000 word novel. It's frustrating to know I'll be throwing out almost everything I write and the little burst of creativity I felt at the beginning is gone. What keeps me going is a desire to see the final product, even though I know it could be years away.

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo - Day 2 - Learning to love transitions.

I've discovered a new joy in writing.

Creating transitional scenes has always been difficult. These are scenes where the characters are walking, driving, standing around, or just thinking. I get bored with them.

I try to outline my stories chapter by chapter before I write. It helps to organize my thoughts and ideas. But I never outline transitional scenes because I never thought they were important to the plot.

"If you hate them, why write them?" you ask. Well...have you ever sat through an action movie that jumps from one action scene to the next? Something by Michael Bay perhaps? After about an hour it feels like you're the one getting pummeled by giant robots. Transitional scenes help slow down the pace of the story, and if properly balanced it can be a powerful tool in helping to build tension and setting for the next the scene. I'm finally beginning to understand this. And it's a blast to write.

For example, the story I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is about a 16 year old girl who moves to Maine to live with her estranged mother for the summer. When I created the opening scene the story  jumped right to the girl sitting on an airplane and she's reluctantly talking with the dirty old man beside her. This is important to the story, though the reader does not realize it at this point. I created it to be the introduction to the girl, the old man, and to the girl's mother. It's a funny scene and I'm happy to finally have written it.

But when I began writing yesterday I decided that it might be more interesting to include details about the girl's journey. Suddenly, all the terrible experiences I've had in airplanes and airports over the last decade and a half came flooding back to me. I'm not just talking about the long lines going through security. That's all people focus on when they share traveling experiences, but it's really not that bad. I'm talking about waking up early, finding parking and shuttles, long layovers, sitting alone in an empty terminal in the middle of the night, shrink-wrapped day old sandwhiches, trying to find an empty stall in the bathroom, trying to find your gate as people scramble past you in the hallways like it's Walmart on Black Friday. And don't get me started about flying with kids. That's a whole other monster.

In addition to these inconveniences, your first time flying can be frightening. And it would be a far more horrific experience if you did it alone. Adding some of these details helped make the scene on the plane much more powerful.

Even after the girl lands in Maine, I included a transition scene between the airport and when she meets her mother again. Originally, I had her getting off the airplane and going directly outside where her mother is waiting with the car running. But this is not interesting and the tension is flat. Yes, by this point the reader understands what a terrible person the mother is. It's discussed in the previous scene. But wait, do they? NO! They don't! I've told you about it, but I haven't shown it yet.

So...

Instead, I have the girl walking through the airport. She's exhausted, confused, and lonely. In a daze, she wanders outside only to realize that her mother is not there! She calls her mother to find out where she is and it turns out her mother forgot!

Drama! Tension! Excitment! Now the reader really hates that terrible old wench!

Finding herself stranded at the airport, the girl is on the verge of a meltdown. But someone unexpected is there to help her out. Who? Why, it's the creepy old man from the airplane, of course! He offers her a ride. Tired, angry, and desperate, she accepts. Now, when she finally meets her mother...

Drama! Tension! Excitement!

Used properly, these short, seemingly unnecessary scenes can be powerful for building up to the next plot point. As you can tell, I find myself enjoying them like never before.