There is no way I am ready to take on the challenge of attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 consecutive days, but the first day of November (also the first day of NaNoWriMo) seems like a good day to set a goal.
My plan is to write every day for 30 days. I recently downloaded the IDoneThis app for my phone, as recommended by Patti Digh, so I’ve written at least one sentence about my day for most days over the past two weeks. It’s not very creative, but it’s an exercise in accountability, I guess.
Over the next 30 days, I’ll be traveling out-of-state at least twice, attending a wedding, a high school play, and a choir concert. I’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner and decorating for Christmas. All are excellent excuses for why I won’t have time to write! My goal…navigate the obstacles.
The crazy, creative part about writing a blog is the freedom of writing it, posting it and moving on. I admit, I sometimes look back and make corrections but for the most part, it’s a task I complete with that last period on the page and then I focus to other things. It’s so freeing. You have to be a little daring because posting off the cuff means laying out something rough and unpolished. But, sometimes I think the result is better than a piece that has been edited to death.
Have you every finished a free writing session and looked back and thought, “Wow, that was in my head? I didn’t know that about me.” I like that feeling. I also love when someone reads something I’ve written and the perspective, based on his or her unique life experience, alters the effect. We often forget as writers that we are not alone in our writing. Each reader contributes to our story by bringing his own point-of-view. We can’t base our writing on this collaboration because we don’t have access to other brains (at least I don’t.) But, the result adds richness all the same.
Have you ever read a scene in a story and been transported to the location you’re reading about? Not actually transported but so involved in the story you could almost close your eyes and picture yourself there. Fred refers to the opening scene of George Orwell’s 1984 in which the reader finds himself in what Fred describes as, “a dystopia where military time is kept, where propaganda reigns, and where springtime feels more like midwinter.” For me, an exceptional example of setting up atmosphere is in the opening scene of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. She describes the trees with, “brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason.” We see in her African jungle, “A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen.” This girl can set a scene!
Rich description involves the senses, all of them. To really transport the reader, the writer has to put himself there first. Today Fred challenges us to set up some atmosphere for our characters so I’m going back to my neighbor’s barn. Since I’ve never been inside I get to imagine what it might be like. Here goes:
Bent over in the hot sun, I hear the crunch of tires on gravel as the little black truck passes by. I straighten my back and offer a neighborly wave. He’s gone. Mr. Orville is headed to town so it’s now or never.
I drop my trowel and handful of weeds onto the dirt and turn slowly to confront the barn. The boards are worn and faded, weathered by eons of sun and rain and frost. A ghost of the red beauty it once was, cracks in the gray slats show slices of sky near the hay loft door. I take a step into the pasture. The tall brown grass crackles underneath my boots. Orville cuts the grass in the pasture a few times every summer, but he was sick last fall and winter hit before he got in the final mowing. As I move closer, the shiny tin roof looms overhead. It’s strange. Orville keeps the roof of the barn in immaculate condition, but the walls seem to be rotting away. “What is he keeping in there?”
I approach the corner of the barn furthest from the view from Orville’s house. He’s gone but maybe his wife is on watch today. The earth around the barn’s foundation is mounded up. I have to climb to put my face against the wall. The boards are rough with age. Leaning in pressing my hands against the wall to steady myself on the raised earth, I peer through a crack in the board. I squint and close one eye trying to see into the darkness.
Well, that’s a start. Duty calls and my writing time is up for today. I think I’ll come back to this later to see where it goes. It’s true that scheduling time to write every day and sticking to it is inspiring. Now, it’s stopping to go to work that is hard.
Outlining as a first draft? Hmm, I’ve never tried it. It kind of seems like using structure as a basis for a first write might hinder the process, but Fred says our brains naturally organize things in this way anyway so I might as well give it a try. I’ve had my short story/book Turning Rows on the back burner for some time now so maybe it’s time to drag it out and make an outline. Here goes.
Jill’s father thinks she should get a summer job and talks to an acquaintance
Describe need for walking beans
Jill is picked up for her first day at work
Describe bean field and the job at hand
Introduce Clay, Adam, and Chris
Describe relationship between the girls and boys as they work
Girls keep to themselves
Boys try to get girls attention
Tall tales scene
Reveal how young people sometimes make irrational choices
Reveal Jill’s loyalty to Sam
Frank returns to the field
Describe progression of time
Girls under the tree scene
Begin revealing Chris’ dangerous nature
Show Jill’s inner conflict
Jill asks boys to leave and tension builds but then they go.
Describe the inside of Jill’s house
Show girls alone in bedroom
Getting ready for bed rituals
Silly girl time
Discuss the boys
Reveal Jill’s Dad’s authoritarian nature
Girl’s giggle and squeal
Dad opens door and yells for girls to get to bed because they have to be up early to get back in the bean field.
Lights out and whispered conversation before going to sleep
Reveals Sam’s adventurous side
Reveals Jill’s desire to do the right thing but her conflict at wanting to appear adventurous in Sam’s eyes.
Rise and Shine
Describe relationship between Jill’s Mom and Dad
Mom is housewife
Takes care of younger siblings
Makes breakfast for Dad and girls
Describe girls getting ready
Girls making their lunches and watching for Frank to pick them up
Back to Work
In the truck
Sam’s makes a bid for a hook instead of a hoe.
Boys make obscene demands
Jill gives her hook to Sam
Back in the rows
Show changes in how girls and boys interact with one another (more familiar)
Work day ends early
Summarize rest of week
Bike ride with the boys
Jill gets pressured
Sam saves the day
That was an interesting experience. It’s useful to get the chronology down on paper as a guide. Who knows where it will go from here. Fred says to use this outline as the framework for a type of free write first draft. I’ll give it a shot. Check back to see where I end up.