Friday, November 15, 2013

Exorcising the Horror from NaNoWriMo

Many timidly face the decrepit blank page, especially as the conclusion of Halloween marks the beginning of that national sprint called NaNoWriMo. During these moments of angst and fear, it’s best to turn to an author who knows a thing or two about cranking out some riveting prose.

Stephen King, perhaps the horror genre’s most prolific writer, wrote the too-seldom-read treatise "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft." The following four tips from King’s book will take the chill out of that blank page.

"There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."

So much of writing starts with an idea that is expressed in the written word.

There are a variety of ways to coax out these ideas. One is to initially ignore it. Take a break from the current project and work on something else; give the subconscious time to work on the idea. Come back later and the idea might be waiting for you.

Another method is to have a classic brainstorming word mapping session with other NaNoWrites, peers, friends, a spouse, or your mother. One of the benefits of this type of collaboration is the crystallization of certain ideas. By talking through an issue out loud, as opposed to on the page, the idea may be more clearly identifiable.

Oft times, a change of scenery can be helpful. Take a laptop or even a pad of paper and a pencil to the library, the kitchen, the book store, the mall, or even outside for an hour. By taking advantage of these strategies, you might find the perfect idea to solve a particular problem.

"When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

Writers are storytellers - first tell your self the story, then rewrite to remove what is not your story.
That process of eliminating distractions is one part of the greater battle of rewriting. C.J. Cherryh once said, "It’s perfectly OK to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly." Give yourself permission to write a miserable first draft. Remind yourself that no one is going to read it except you. So many writers spend so much time on the first draft that by the rewrite, exhaustion quickly sets in. For these writers, running spell check is as much of a rewrite as they can muster.

Change your paradigm and commit to be a great re-writer and to expend your best time and energy on the rewrite. There are a few simple steps to help focus on the rewrite. First, grant yourself freedom to write a fast and sloppy first draft. Then, after you have assembled the raw materials of words, sentences, and paragraphs, go to work building something worth sharing. Remember, it is fine to be a horrible writer, as long as you are a brilliant editor.

Sometimes you might write something that is so impressive, so clever, and so witty that you can’t believe that you came up with it yourself. We all do it. You read it over and over, basking in your own brilliance. You marvel that you wrote something so pithy, insightful, and deep: each line is filled with clever allusion, insights, and hidden meaning. Warning! When this egocentric energy wriggles into your writing, beware. That little passage might need to be eliminated.

When a writer gets too clever and personally thinks his or her written word is so spectacular, the opposite is likely the case. It’s well advised to be suspect of any writing that you personally find amazing. Have an objective third-party read it and give you an honest appraisal. If it is not universally incredible, rewrite.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut."

 Read great authors, read newspapers, read dictionaries, read everything. Spend your leisure time writing: write a journal or blog, write on your commute, write on napkins—just write.  The more you read and the more you write, the better writer you become.

"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to … take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page."

The power of words is the power to change lives.  The ability to fill a blank page with the right words is the way a great writer is distinguished from the mediocre. Coming to the page with that attitude will help you to achieve the desired results for yourself and for your client.

Imagine the difference if figures in history "came lightly to a blank page."

"About 87 years ago, a lot of people traveled some distance to a new land and brought with them some pretty good ideas" sounds a lot different than "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

"Don’t ask us what we can do; do things for us" would not resonate through time as does, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

"I imagine that eventually we can live together and hopefully get along most of the time" does not inspire in the same fashion as, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

This NaNoWriMo and at all times, commit to taking one of these helpful tips from Stephen King and implement it into your writing. This commitment to becoming a powerful and persuasive writer will  may result in making a lasting and significant contribution.

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