November 4, 2013

On writing like a child

Here's a fact for those uninitiated into the Writing World: November is an important month to writers all over the country (and dare I say...the world?). Known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short...though I can never say that without smirking because it sounds REALLY WEIRD DOESN'T IT??), November is the time when writers throw caution to the wind and commit to writing an entire book in a single month (goal: 50,000 words, or about 1500 per day).

It may sound impossible, but it's really rather accomplishable, as evidenced by the growing number of participants each year. Some people do it year after year, and the results of this mad dash of writing can be found all over the place.

I wrote most of the first draft of what eventually became Zombie Days, Campfire Nights during NaNoWriMo 2010. Only for me, it was more like "Write 60,000 words in about six weeks and then spend the next six months turning them into something even vaguely resembling a real book." But I was new to the scene, and it was my first attempt. 

What NaNoWriMo provides, at its most basic level, is a sense of community. A sense of, "Well, if my friends are doing it, maybe I can, too." A framework for putting your ideas into long-form fiction, regardless of consequences, and seeing if they pan out like you want them to.

I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. I think it does awesome things for awesome people. But no...I don't think I'll ever do it again. I'm much to much of a "slow and steady" kind of girl when I write these days...

But last night I was thinking about it, and I decided to offer out these words of friendly advice to all my friends participating this year, in hopes that maybe I can help keep you guys inspired.

So...here's a little story for you...

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Last week, I picked up Zoe from school in our Jeep. I knew Charles would be driving the Jeep the next day, and the gas tank was almost on E, so I decided to be sweet and fill it up. Zoe and I headed from school to the gas station.

Now, this was the day of her end-of-season soccer party, and she was super-pumped for it. I was super-pumped for her to FINISH HER HOMEWORK (yes, there's homework in kindergarten) before the party so we could go and have a good time and not worry about it. So we both had big plans for getting home on time and getting stuff done. 

Alas, it was not meant to be. For while I was stopped at the gas tank, I set the gas cap on the Jeep's rear tire. I do this every time I fill the tank. But I had an overly-excited, overly-chatty five-year-old in the back seat, one who kept saying, "Mom, Mom, Mom," and I let myself get distracted.

I left the gas cap on the tire...and promptly ran over it as I pulled away, smashing it to bits.

Oops.

Well, I couldn't exactly leave our gas tank gaping wide and expect Charles to drive it the next day. So thus began a journey to find a new one. With an increasingly grouch five-year-old in the back seat, mad at Mommy for having done something that screwed up our afternoon plans.

(Wondering where the writing part is? Don't worry...I'm about to get there!)

There's an Auto Zone about 10 minutes from where the gas cap lay smashed on the ground. When I told Zoe we were going there, she turned on the Epic Pout Face, and there's not much that drives me crazier than the Epic Pout Face.

I started to get mad. Why couldn't she just understand that these things happen? That sometimes plans change, and sometimes Mommy doesn't have a snack or a drink in the car, and sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

Oh, right, I remembered. She's five. No way will she understand it.

So I shifted gears (ha!!! The Jeep's a stick!!!), and looked at Pouty Zoe in the rear-view mirror. "Ok, babe," I said, forcing myself to smile. "Let's pretend....um....I know! Let's pretend we have to find the super-magic part to save the Jeep...and save the world!"

Her eyes lit UP.

"What are we saving the world from, Mommy," she said, tension and excitement suddenly palpable in her voice.

"Um..." I said. "Ummm...."

Zoe to the rescue! "I know!! I know!! There's a bomb, and we have to stop it! And we need the part to plug into the bomb and that'll keep it from exploding over...over....New York City!! Drive faster, Mommy! We need to get that part!!!"

She was bouncing in her seat, and, even better, her imagination was off to the races.

We spent the next thirty minutes saving the world from various dangers of her imagining. There were giant bunnies descending upon London...we needed to throw a bus across the Atlantic to stop those things from wreaking havoc on the London Bridge. There were trains running off the tracks over giant ravines. There were underwater creatures swimming up on the shores of New Jersey.

At some point in our adventures, we DID manage to buy a new gas cap for the Jeep, but by then it was clearly secondary.

We saved the world, over and over again, and we had a fabulous time pretending together.

And it made me think....how fun would it be to see a full story told from a child's imagination? I mean, a grown-up would have to write it...but can you imagine if he/she let a child dictate where the story goes? Because why can't there be giant bunnies attacking London? And why can't it be possible to throw something across an ocean to save the day? Isn't that what writing spec fiction is all about? Making the impossible....suddenly possible?

So...to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo (and for those of you writing in any other format this month...or next...or the one after that)...I say this: write like a child. Imagine with reckless abandon. Because I can think of no better way to throw curveballs into your stories that may jet you off in directions you never even imagined.

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