Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C: Get your Character on.

A little-known secret, even to my closest friends:

This morning, at precisely 5:45am, I began writing my novel.

I'll admit, I'm a three-time-Nano-dropout.  Chris Baty and the gang could probably write a book based off the excuses I've come up with each year in order not to finish.  Things like, "November sucks.  The pacing of my novel sucks.  My idea sucks.  This bagel sucks."

Or, the ever-important "bathroom break," where I hide for three hours so as not have to face the disgusting jumble of mishmash I just spent the last two hours trying to get down on my computer, standing in the corner near the towels playing Angry Birds on my phone.

I can't Nano.  It's just not my style.  I've tried it--three times I've tried it--but the intensity and the pressure of the whole thing just doesn't work for me.  The problem, My Problem, isn't that Nano doesn't work for me.  My Problem lies in the fact that I have let the idea of National Novel Writing Month turn me into an "all or nothing" writer and that, my true writing friends, is where the failure comes in.

Mid-November, when I shut the lid on my laptop for the final time and walk away, I begin strategizing for next year's Nano.  "Next year, I'll make an outline.  Next year, I'll slow things down a bit.  Next year, I'll wake up even earlier.  Next year, I pinky-swear I will not get on Facebook."

So there becomes a void, the chasm I've created, in which I promise that I'll simply fix everything next year.  In the meantime, I spend the next roughly 365 non-leap-year days in suspended procrastination.  I call it "planning."  I call it "revising my strategy."

It boils down to "I'm not doing shit along the lines of a novel, thanks for asking."

All that has changed.

Rather than reliving the frenzy associated with November, I spoke yesterday with a friend regarding pacing.  Pacing seems to be the subset of writing that gives me the greatest concern.  I still haven't reread the hodgepodge I so-delicately sloughed from grey matter to keystroke during last year's regal attempt, but I do remember having some concerned moments where I would be thinking, "Goodness gracious," except that's not really the term I conjured at the time, "I'm 27,000 words in and nothing has happened yet!  They aren't doing anything!"  This can be a rather frightful realization.  Talking about needing to get to the point:  I was sitting at my workstation while The Point was off on some Pacific Island getaway.  The Point was more elusive than the Jersey Devil.

I was searching for The Point, or even its second cousin, The Action, but they were no where to be found.

I stood yesterday under a covered awning, discussing writing with my all-time mentor and amicus in scripto as a new name was brought to light:  John Dufrense.  Not a new name for my former Creative Writing professor, but a new name to me.

As I rushed home to my Nook Color, my handy credit card billing information stored safely within the confines of its little Nook walls, I began the planning stages of My New Novel.  Oh yes, I imagined myself sitting at my workstation (this is the glamorous interpretation:  in real life, I slouch over my laptop a la Quasimodo), steam rising from the coffee cup within reach of my left hand (another interpretation, as my coffee does not "steam" considering I get by on reheating yesterday's leftovers), cigarette dangling from my lip (this is true), pounding away at the ol' non-ivories.  I imagine my characters suddenly coming to life, revealing previously unknown tidbits about their lives, all while I'm following along from the plush confines of my "I-bought-it-at-Target" grey fluffy bathrobe.  Oh, in my mind's eye I'm gloriously laboring over the "tick tick tick" of the keyboard...

And then I read ol' John Dufrense's advice.

I'm not sure where John Dufrense lives in relation to my house, but it feels like he just kicked me in the head and took off running faster than I can catch him.

But he's right.  From my Nook to your ears, John Dufrense wants me to start slow.  He wants me to write my novel, oh yes indeed he does, but he wants me to write my novel in six months.

"Six months?" I holler to no one in particular.  "Six months?  Well shit, Mister Dufrense," (and I say it all snobby like that), "why don't I just go ahead and plan a vacation or something?  If you give me six months to write my novel, I guarantee I'm going to use the first month finishing my hardwood floors and baseboards.  The second month you can look for me outside the perimeter of the fence line, rehammering those pesky boards that have started to come loose.  Around month three, Mr. Fancypants, I'll be caulking the panels in Aidan's room, getting ready to paint.  Grab a brush, John.  You can help me out.  You do know how to cut in, don't you?"

Mr. Dufrense just stood there all akimbo, his French eyes waiting for me to shut up.

It was a Mexican stand-off right there in my bedroom.  For every excuse I shot at John Dufrense, he just stood there, taking it.  It felt like me against Sparta:  I could sense John Dufrense and his band of writers increasing the tension of their bowstrings, on the cusp of releasing those arrows that would eventually block out the sun.

Or, in last night's case, the lamp on the nightstand.

So I stood there, John Dufrense and I, and finally I ran out of things to say.  I picked the Nook up again and I started doing everything that John Dufrense told me to do.  I sulked about it for a while, mumbling about how I just wanted to write, I didn't want to do any of this stupid planning, but ol' Dufrense just gave me that shifty Dufrense smile, put his hand on my head, tousling my hair, and walked away.

This morning, I woke to the sound of the alarm after giving myself two extra "snoozes."  I picked up my notebook, came out to the porch, and began getting to know my characters.

I'm finding them pretty interesting.   :-)

Much love,