This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.
– Neil Gaiman
This is the first year I’ve even heard of Inktober, which is like the NaNoWriMo of October – one ink drawing every day for an entire month. 31 days, 31 drawings. I’ve dabbled in art (used to draw and doodle over everything in school), but like many other creative pursuits, it fell by the wayside over the years. So as part of my re-focusing, I decided to take up the challenge of Inktober (even though I had major resistance to the idea). And you know what? It was fun! I did a lot of scribbly drawings, and though not all of them are masterpieces, I managed to actually make a thing every single day. Some of which I even like. Go figure.
So for the curious, gallery below the cut.
Tomorrow is NaNoWriMo! I don’t really have any specific words of wisdom or anything. I’m in this as much as anyone else. But I am super pumped that there’s such a good crew of people doing this with me. The clacking of mechanical keyboards will be furious and deafening.
Remember, there is no trying. Just doing.
“Use this month to make words that you would not have made otherwise.”
– Howard Tayler, Writing Excuses 12.44
Here’s the novelist agreement from No Plot, No Problem and Chris Baty himself. Read it, take it to heart, sign it. And then tomorrow, we write!
It’s almost the end of October, so now is a good time to pause and reflect on the month. This October has been particularly meaningful to me because I re-focused on my personal goals and admitted some personal truths to myself. It was a month where I was more conscious of my jerkbrain (the part of my brain that’s terribly mean to me and tells me I can’t do things) and the various ways that I (used to) set myself up to fail. One of the most insidious ways is how I used the word “try.”
I imagine this is how pretty much all of us are raised. I use it liberally, sprinkled into the promises I make myself and the promises I make other people. And it seems like such a small, harmless little word. So easily inserted into something to prove how earnest you are. We’re all taught not to make powerful statements for fear of falling short, so we add in this small verbal tic to make things sound sweeter and more gentle.
How little we realize that we are semantically encoding failure into our thought processes.
Okay, so actually it came out last Thursday. But my copy didn’t get here until today (I was a dummy and chose 5-6 day shipping because dumb reasons).
When I heard that Philip Pullman was writing a new trilogy called La Belle Sauvage, I was incredibly excited. The new trilogy opens with The Book of Dust and is set in the same world as His Dark Materials but ten years earlier.
Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) had a huge impact on my formative reading years. When I picked up The Golden Compass and met Lyra and Pantalaimon for the first time, I was a child (at a guess, maybe in 5th or 6th grade). I had never read something before that resonated with me so profoundly. As Stephen Koch says, “Whenever it strikes, it is invariably telling you something vital about yourself. …The shock of recognition is a moment of excitement that shakes the soul. It may be hard to describe, but like other forms of love, you will know it when you feel it.”*
His Dark Materials left an indelible mark on my reading psyche, and taught me about loyalty and honor, friendship, sacrifice, and independence. Reading and re-reading it helped me through a lot of struggle and dark times. To this day, I still rank the trilogy at the top of my favorites list though it’s been years since I lost myself in those worlds.
All I want to do now is slide into those pages and be warmly welcomed home. (I try really hard not to hype myself up too much, but I don’t think that’s working this time.)
Excuse me now while I go devour some words. I’ll let you know how it goes.
*From The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, Stephen Koch
There’s more than one way to outline a story.
(TL;DR Story outline template at the end of this post!)
You’ll see a myriad of methods published all over the place about the best way to do it, but ultimately, the best method is just the one that you’ll use. That is, if you plan to outline at all – many people don’t and discovery write their way to success.
I haven’t done too much research into all the different methods, because I just latched on to the first one that I learned about (from Writing Excuses, natch), which is the Seven Point Story Structure a la Dan Wells (he originally got it from a role-playing book, but it’s now widely associated with him). The idea is that every story goes sequentially through the following seven points:
- Turn 1
- Pinch 1
- Pinch 2
- Turn 2
Guys, it’s less than 10 days until the routine-wrecking madness of NaNoWriMo begins. It’ll be a time of what Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, calls exuberant imperfection. Packs of industrious writers will descend on coffee shops and libraries, furiously banging out words and more words in social silence. In less than 10 days, we’ll begin the slog towards 50,000 words. This last week or so is a good time to go and find your writing tribe – meet kindred spirits on the NaNo forums, join servers on Discord – the people who can keep you accountable and hopefully motivated throughout the month. People to commiserate with and vent to and bounce ideas off of. It can help if they share your NaNo approach, but it’s not necessary.
As I’ve touched on previously, people who participate in NaNoWriMo fall into two main camps.
As part of NaNoPrep, I’ve been reading a few books on writing to refresh my conceptualizations of the essential elements of stories: structure, character, style, etc. It’s been highly gratifying so far to remind myself of the mechanics of writing, and it’s rebooted my brain a bit to read more critically as well. I generally find it rewarding to get into the nuts/bolts, nitty/gritty, guts of things, although sometimes I’ll do it to distraction as a way to procrastinate the actual doing of things. (Constant vigilance in the War of Art and all that.)
In addition to reading and brainstorming, I’ve also been working my way through season 10 of Writing Excuses. Writing Excuses is a bite-sized podcast (~15 minutes per ep, tagline: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart”) that contains a lot of depth and a lot of insight.
Sometimes, though rarely, you can come away from reading something feeling like you’ve just caught a glimpse of something true. And while you might not be able to explain exactly what it is, you know that it moved through you in a way that left you knowing something differently. That’s how I feel about “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Machado. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful lyrical pieces of prose that I’ve read. When I was finished, I felt… something. Like someone had explained a part of the world to me that I had trouble naming before even though I had always known its existence. I came away from it knowing I wouldn’t have the words to explain, but that I would have to share the story.
It’s part of Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties (affiliate link). The stories are loosely based in style and structure on fairy tales and fables. They are stories about women’s bodies and women’s lives. As soon as I finished “The Husband Stitch,” I ordered a copy of her book.
I’ll leave you with some links to a couple pieces that can better explain:
- What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch,’ Jane Dykema (Electric Lit)
- Fairy Tales About the Fears Within, Parul Sehgal (NYT Books)
Go, read, lose yourself in some beautiful words, think: “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Machado (contains sexually explicit language).