this is a first, folks. more precisely, two firsts and probably one last.
the first and the last: this is definitely the first time you’ve seen me say OMG here, and quite likely the last. it’s just not the kind of thing that makes me ROTFLMAO (okay, that was probably also the last time i said that).
and NaNoWriMo? that stands for national novel writing month. yup, i’ve signed up with them. i’ve committed to working on a novel every day of this month. don’t know whether i’ll write the requisite 1,666.7 words a day that would qualify me for an entry to be the winner but that’s not what this is all about.
what is it all about? it’s about chasing that dream of crafting an “extended fictional work in prose; usually in the form of a story” … “a conviction of our fellow-men’s existence strong enough to take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer than reality“… “a representation of civilization” … arrrgh! can i handle that?
tim robbins seems to think so. the author of even cowgirls get the blues sent a pep talk yesterday to all us aspiring novelists. i want to share that with you here because i think what he says is inspiring way beyond novel writing.
take it away, tim – hold on to your canoes, folks!
when you sit down to begin that novel of yours, the first thing you might want to do is toss a handful of powdered napalm over both shoulders”so as to dispense with any and all of your old writing teachers, the ones whose ghosts surely will be hovering there, saying such things as, “adverbs should never be…”, or “a novel is supposed to convey…”, et cetera. enough! ye literary bureaucrats, vamoose!
rules such as “write what you know,” and “show, don’t tell,” while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. there is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: whatever works, works.
ah, but how can you know if it’s working? the truth is, you can’t always know (i nearly burned my first novel a dozen times, and it’s still in print after 35 years), you just have to sense it, feel it, trust it. it’s intuitive, and that peculiar brand of intuition is a gift from the gods. obviously, most people have received a different package altogether, but until you undo the ribbons you can never be sure.
as the great nelson algren once said, “any writer who knows what he’s doing isn’t doing very much.” most really good fiction is compelled into being. it comes from a kind of uncalculated innocence. you need not have your ending in mind before you commence. indeed, you need not be certain of exactly what’s going to transpire on page 2. if you know the whole story in advance, your novel is probably dead before you begin it. give it some room to breathe, to change direction, to surprise you. writing a novel is not so much a project as a journey, a voyage, an adventure.
a topic is necessary, of course; a theme, a general sense of the nexus of effects you’d like your narrative to ultimately produce. beyond that, you simply pack your imagination, your sense of humor, a character or two, and your personal world view into a little canoe, push it out onto the vast dark river, and see where the currents take you. and should you ever think you hear the sound of dangerous rapids around the next bend, hey, hang on, tighten your focus, and keep paddling”because now you’re really writing, baby! this is the best part.
it’s a bit like being out of control and totally in charge, simultaneously. if that seems tricky, well, it’s a tricky business. try it. it’ll drive you crazy. and you’ll love it.