How to write with your eyes closed (Nanowrimo pep talk)

First, write with your eyes closed.

This is my sixth nano, and no, I probably won’t succeed in 2012 – but that isn’t the point.

That was never the point.

Becoming a writer (one who writes strings of words connecting thoughts into paragraphs and paragraphs into stories) was never about reaching 50,000 words. It was about writing words on a computer. You see the difference? The words are what remains; the word counts are just a flighty tease always just ahead of your horizon.

My problem wasn’t learning how to become a writer. It was figuring out how to do the writing. Learning that I cannot write in some environments (like airplanes – so why can’t I accept that I’ll never do any writing in economy class?). I cannot write at all times of day. I cannot even write for more than an hour without getting fidgetty. I can’t write long sitting in a chair.

The good news is that I didn’t have to do any of those things to succeed. I learned how to lie on my back and pound the keys of my laptop with my eyes closed, and you know what? Some scenes started to pop out. The longer I gave myself the freedom to write, the more good stuff I got. Sure, there will be a lot of editing ahead, but it cannot possibly be any harder than editing a blank page.

And maybe I’ll need to rewrite half the scenes in this book. That means I don’t have to rewrite the other half.

Everything you do is progress. I used to live in fear that if I started writing a novel based on this great idea, that I would somehow ruin the idea by backing a dumptruck full of the wrong words and splattering them all over my computer file. It took years to realize that the page in front of me is not the book. The computer file is not the book. There is no book. When it hit me, I was as dumbstruck as if someone had just whispered “there is no spoon!” to me. There is no book, and while I might be sad if the computer file gets deleted – it is just a computer file.

The book happens when your computer file gets shredded twelve times and shaken all around over a garbage can and something respectable comes out. Truth is, science research is like that too. Most anything of value takes toil and tears. So knowing that, you should feel a little more calm about what you doing. Start to enjoy the idea that you are in the “easy” part of a long process – because that’s true. I used to write narrative nonfiction, and the writers in my group thought it easy, because I’m just writing down what happened, and using words other people said – if I can remember them all.

But instead it was just the opposite. I wanted my characters say more, to mean more, but I was limited to what they actually said and did in real life. It felt constricting. So I started writing fiction.

Editing fiction is more like writing narrative nonfiction. While you’re writing your nanowrimo first draft, your writers can do and say anything. So what if it doesn’t work out? So what if you write the characters into a dark room with a vampire and no means to escape? That’s okay. You can always fix them up later.

Well, when you edit, you do it with your eyes open. Now all those plot holes need to be filled, or you need to rip out scenes – even whole characters – so that you can fill in the gaps. Editing should be 80% cutting or rewriting, and only 20% expanding. That’s because any time you expand some idea, you usually break some other idea in the book. When you frantically nanowrite, you have the distinct advantage of keeping most of the book’s characters and events fresh in memory, so you are less likely to blunder the good parts with logical impossibilities.

When you get too smart for yourself in the editing, you do just that. So keep yourself focused on cutting out everything that is not the story.

Like I’m about to do with this blog post. Here is the edited version:

First, write with your eyes closed.
A writer learns to type words into a computer, and you don’t need your eyes open – any decent typist can type 1000 words intelligibly.
Never forget your goal: Your story is worth more than a word count of 50,000 words for silly website.
Once I learned how to lie on my back and pound the keys of my laptop with my eyes closed, I became a better writer.
The story emerges from your collection of words when you shred your masterpiece and accept what remains.

So start to enjoy the “easy” and “painless” part of writing; Your first draft is full of possibilities; your edited draft needs logical scoffolding to stand up to the scruitiny of the world. Editing should be 80% cutting or rewriting. When you cannot cut any more, you’re ready to share it, listen to feedback, and edit once more.

Nothing is ever done, but most of it will be publishable after 3 rounds of rewriting if you wrote with your eyes fully closed, and editing with your eyes and ears fully open.

Now, if you are looking for a good word processor for writing in the dark – look at Atlantis.

If you want to stop plotting by moving all your plotting into a non-word-processing environment, try trello.

If this talk isn’t peppy enough – here is the “best of” nanowrimo pep talks.

Last year’s nanowrimo pep talk.

P.S. – I did not give myself credit for the 899 words in this writing post. Now I have to get serious about my novel (again).

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