Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Out there in the darkness

I’ve read all sorts of quotes intended to inspire writers, but I keep coming back to one favorite:

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
- E. L. Doctorow
This resounds with truth. I believe it absolutely. So why is it I often feel paralyzed, unable to write a word, until I have at least an inkling of where the story is going? Why do I feel such a driving need to know what’s lurking just beyond the illumination of my headlights?

My compulsion to know the whole story before I write any of it isn’t such a horrible thing when I’m writing short stories. These I can and often do work out in my head before putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. But to write something longer, say, the mythical great American novel, I have to be willing to keep driving into the darkness, not knowing what what’s hiding out there. I have to, at some point, trust that I’ll keep putting one sentence after another and they will, somehow, turn into an intelligible whole. I have to take that leap of faith.

So far, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve written some darned fine short stories, but nothing over several thousand words. At least, nothing complete. This past January, I belatedly took part in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it’s known to those masochists who have participated. The premise is simple: write a novel, a 50,000 word novel, in 30 days. At first glance it seems ridiculous. Who would want to do that? Who could do that? Amazingly, thousands and thousands of people both want to and can, including several people in this very writers group. Unfortunately, I’m not among them. My stab at NaNoWriMo ended somewhere near the middle of the month and near 30,000 words. And they weren’t bad words, in the quality sense. In fact, there were some pretty good chapters in there.

So why did I quit? It wasn’t the time commitment; I’d discovered early on that I could churn out the requisite 1,667 words a day without undo pain and suffering. Instead, it was the simple fact that I ran into the dark point beyond which my headlights couldn’t penetrate. I ran out of story, the story in my head that had been, if not fully formed, at least somewhat mapped out up to that point. And then I discovered I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t follow the NaNoWriMo premise of slapping words down no matter how crappy they may be and trusting that the story will create itself as you go along. It was too scary. I gave up.

Yes, I’m pretty irked at myself about that.

But I’m going to redeem myself. NaNoWriMo is coming up again in November, and this time I’m going to do it right. I’m going to do it during the right month, and I’m going to do it with the right attitude. It’s all about quantity, not quality, baby, and my inner editor can just take a flying leap. Which is exactly what I’ll be doing: taking a flying leap to that great unknown beyond the headlights. Scary or not, I’m ready to find out what’s out there. --Kelli

1 comment:

Nothingman said...

Hi, i like that quote a lot and i can't help but think of the things in the darkness! he he.
I have a story blog it's called A Story A Day, please do have a look, and any way i can join this humble cafe?

let me know about that and any rules of this cafe?