You all know I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo and anyone who asserts that “real writers” write every day. I abhor the idea that “real writers” have discipline and can crank out a novel a year. Those tenets are judgment calls and patently not true. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. But even though I don’t believe that putting 1667 words a day to the page makes you a writer, at least not a good writer, I internalize those concepts. The idea that I’m a failure if I don’t get on the writing treadmill haunts me.
This morning, while laying in bed [read as: being lazy on a Sunday morning], I read Storytelling, Slowed Down: On Writing Vertically which in turn pointed me to Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living. And an emotional light came on. I’m not such a lame writer after all. I have a process that works. For me. And I’m not the only one. Someone famous, someone considered a “real writer” wrote like I do.
Both articles point to a writing style used by Andre Dubus who cleverly, and eloquently, summarized my method of writing, long before I ever stated writing.
Dubus writes an idea in a notebook, and then leaves it alone: “I try never to think about where a story will go.” Planning is an act of control, and “I will kill the story by controlling it; I work to surrender.” Ever the Roman Catholic, Dubus first sees “characters’ souls.” Faces appear next, and that “is all I need, for most of my ideas are situations, and many of them are questions.” Only when Dubus sees the first two scenes is a story “ready for me to receive it.” Then he writes.
I don’t necessarily write an idea down, although I do have a small notebook that follows me around and has become a place for ideas about the story I’m working on. But many times those ideas are left behind, replaced by other ideas as the characters develop in my head.
During NaNo last year, 2013, I tried to make myself write, and I did, write that is. But instead of creating, instead of enjoying the process, I wrote, and I was miserable. What I wrote was miserable. One night I wrote the requisite 1600+ words, and you know what happened? My character, Sinclair, walked around. For 1600+ words, my character wandered around noticing things. It was crap. Because I didn’t know him, because he hadn’t formed yet. [I stopped after that, BTW, didn’t even try to finish NaNo.]
My characters tend to, like Athena leaping fully formed from Zeus’ head, only reach the paper when they are sure they want to exists. I don’t force them into situations. I create the idea of them in my head, and then I let them decide what they want to be, where they want to go, how they want to tell their story.
Good, bad, or indifferent, my writing style is like that. Now I know that I write vertically. And I suspect many writers do the same even though most of us are afraid to admit it because modern thought says if you write every day you are “good” or “real”. I don’t make those judgment calls. I don’t hold myself up as a shining example of the “good”. And it infuriates me that many do. I’m a real writer, and I don’t want to fit in a box. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want my writing to be another clone.
If writing every day works for you, that’s great, but it doesn’t make you a better writer or more real of a writer than someone who doesn’t. Just sayin’.
I’ll leave you with a long passage from Nick Ripatrazone’s post, Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living:
The folly of horizontal writing is that it convinces writers that fiction writing operates on a production model. If they simply sit at the desk and pound out page after page, the story will come. That might be true, but Dubus argues that such forced work creates a lot of “false” fiction. Curiously enough, by seeking to undermine the stereotype that writing is the result of inspiration, writers have fallen for the other, no less romantic opposite: that writing is factory work, and daily devotion is rewarded with final drafts. Both approaches are magical thinking. Vertical writing is no less work, but it is better work, work at the right time. It requires patience in the willingness to wait for a story to feel ready to be written, as well as the attention and focus necessary to inhabit the story once gestated.