Things I’ve learned – Camp NaNoWriMo edition

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy. The murderer may have acted on a sudden mad impulse; he may be penitent and amend; but a spy is always a spy, night and day, in bed, at [the] table, as he walks abroad; his vileness pervades every moment of his life.”

– Honore de Balzac

A multitasking overachiever, I am not.  If I am writing, I’m not blogging.  If I’m blogging, I’m not writing.  And if I have an exam coming up – well then, all bets are off.

Lately, I’ve been writing – a lot.  Well, a lot for me.  I am a slow, methodical writer who sometimes gets caught up in mechanics.  I’ve been known to spend an afternoon contemplating a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph only to delete it completely for lack of relevancy.  Such is my process, for better or worse.

Right now, I am participating in this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo challenge.   The thing that attracted me to it was the adjustable word count.  The traditional 50K word requirement is a bit more than I can reasonably handle given my “life load” and meandering writing style.  So, I picked a number I felt comfortable with, and away I went.

Now, as we approach the finish line, I am feeling confident, almost accomplished.  If projections are correct, and I don’t fall into some hidden sinkhole between now and Tuesday, I will reach my goal with time to spare.

Of course, as with everything in my life, I look at this endeavor as a learning experience – and I’ve certainly learned plenty over the last month.

I learned…

…that somewhere in the midst of three incomplete drafts and six outline revisions, Retribution lost its…well…retribution.  Let me explain.  All characters need motivation.  Anna’s driving force has always been the primordial need to avenge, to repay in kind the wrongs leveled upon her by men of unmitigated evil.  It is that encompassing compulsion that keeps her from walking naked into the ocean and setting her shattered soul adrift.

At first, I didn’t notice the omission.  I ticked off word after word, paragraph after paragraph, scene after scene without giving it a second thought.  Just a happy little writing clam – not a care in the world.   Then, at the 15K word mark, it hit me square in the forehead.  Do you know that feeling?  It was like someone gave me a good knock on the noggin and said, “Hey, stupid.  Where did Anna’s retribution go?”

Um…hmm.

Shit.

…that I have an appointment with outline number 7 – on May 1st.

…that utilizing the “comments” feature in MS Word helps stem my crippling need to edit as I write.  I am learning to mark it and move on.  I’ve also learned that if I print the scene along with the comments, my writing group will critique my notes, too.  Very helpful. Unless the notes are filled with nonsensical ramblings and make me seem slightly schizophrenic.  Then they are just embarrassing.

…that no one in my house is interested in me until I sit down to write.  The moment my laptop opens, I become the most needed person on the planet.  And the grumpiest.   My family thinks writing makes me crabby.  Sigh.

…that changing the name of Anna’s brother makes him so much more likable to me.  This go around, I don’t seem to have the overwhelming urge to kill him off sooner rather than later.  I might not even kill him at all now.  Can someone explain that to me?

…that if Ben doesn’t die, then someone else must.  Who shall it be?  Leo, Cooper, Elliot, Kyla?

I know who, but I’m not telling.

…that wine and writing do not mix.  Seriously.

“Friends don’t let friends write drunk.”

Write on fellow campers.  Write on.

On the agony of writing

I’ve written in some capacity since the third grade.   My first completed work was an alternate ending short story inspired by Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.   I was very proud of that story.  I sat for hours, hunched over my desk, No. 2 pencil biting into my short stubby fingers, the eraser worn to the quick, and labored over every single word.  When I finished, I felt proud.  I had written a story.  From beginning to end.   I turned it in to my teacher, confident that I would earn an A for such blinding brilliance.  It was a great story.

My teacher saw things a bit different.   The evil Mrs. Rupe promptly tore my work to shreds, citing a laundry list of flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings.  She gave me a C.

I always hated Mrs. Rupe.

I’m not bitter about it.  Really.  Though, I do hold a special place for her at the top of my list of unforgivable grudges.  She was a miserable human being who should have retired from teaching long before 1980.   But for all of her petty viciousness, and she was awful for so many reason beyond just giving me a C, she did teach me a few important lessons:  writing is subjective, rejection is a rite of passage, and criticism keeps a writer grounded.

Of course, such lessons are meant for those who can actually finish something in a timely manner without falling victim to the hazards cluttering the road to success.  I seem to be having a bit of trouble navigating that thoroughfare, at the moment.   Or perhaps, it’s my mode of transportation that is faulty.  I blame the outline – I think it has a flat.

For several days, I’ve struggled to write a single scene, introducing a solitary character.   My trouble started when I made the decision to give Anna a brother.  His name is Aaron and he is a total pain in my ass.   I thought he would add an emotional depth and focus to the story, but instead he’s done nothing but cause me heartburn and an endless headache.  The latter may be from banging my head on my desk out of frustration.   I’m not really sure.  It’s hard to differentiate.

The way I see it, I have three choices:  delete him completely – move on and pretend he never happened; kill him slow and painfully – my novel is titled Retribution; or scrap the scene as it is and start over.

Oh lord, maybe I should tweak the outline again…ugh.

Writing is brutal; its hard; its agonizing.

I think I hate it.

But, I love it.

Note to self:  buy more Advil.