Most people do something relaxing or fun for their birthday. I am not most people. On January 17th, I set out to write 50,000 words in one month—NaNoWrimo in January. So far, I’m not impressed with myself—I’ve only written 18,000 words. Ugh.
But there is a silver lining. This past month, I have learned a lot about myself as a writer, and I’ve taken some brave steps toward taking myself seriously as one. The key was literary abandon.
Something awesome happened when I decided to sit down and write 50,000 words. I chose a story that I had done very little planning on and absolutely no outline. (There are few stories like that in my files). I had an idea of what direction I wanted to go in with the story but I had no clue where my pen (or keyboard) would truly lead me. This was the best thing I could have done for myself.
I felt free. And it was as terrifying.
How could I possibly write something when I didn’t know where it was going? It forced me to stop thinking so much, and I let my heart take me somewhere wonderful and new. I didn’t know what would happen to my characters, and it was exciting!
This past month, my sister said something that really helped me. Don’t worry about getting your character into trouble; it’s their problem—not yours—to figure out how to get out of it. That’s when they reveal what they’re made of. All the attributes you give them show when the characters works the problem out for themselves. And your storytelling is the better for it.
In the beginning of my story, my character falls into a lake of ice. I started to wonder how she would get out of the situation since she was alone. I started to worry about hypothermia. I mean, who needs a dead main character at the beginning of the story, right? But since I was writing on the fly, I just let it flow. Quite like real life, the answer came during the next chapter, and I had a fun time writing it.
Gee, fancy that—writing can be fun!
But that was the problem. For so many years, I would think up story ideas that would excite me, stories I looked forward to writing because I knew it would be fun to do so. But then I would get bogged down in outlines, and character sketches…and more outlines…and plot sketches…and more outlines…you get the picture. All of this because I was too busy trying to get it right.
In the introduction of John Dufresne’s book, Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, he states:
“Uncertainty allows for, even encourages, revelation and surprise, while it prevents the manipulation of character or plot to suit your preconceived, and usually ill-conceived, notion of what the novel must be. In writing the first draft, you begin to work through all the uncertainty and advance toward meaning.”
I don’t know about you, but I want there to be meaning in my writing. I am going to continue on in uncertainty and see where the road takes me.