Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This Is Crap.

NaNo is well underway. How many of you are keeping up with your word counts?

Of course, word counts in and of themselves can be a little deceptive because, let's face it, not all words are created equal. In fact, that premise is built in to the whole freewriting/NaNo mindset. Authors are given tips such as,

If you don't feel like writing a scene, just write, "This is crap," over and over again. Eventually you'll get so sick of writing, "This is crap," that you'll start writing real words. Either way, you can still hit your word goal for the day.

Frankly, that's one piece of advice that worries me. A lot.

I'm no expert on creative psychology, but I've done some reading and two things have jumped out at me.

First, the creative subconscious is almost wholly unable to distinguish facts from lies, sarcasm from literal truth, exaggeration from reality. What you present to the creative subconscious is accepted at face value, without question. (I forget where I learned that. One of those books on flow, I think. Maybe the one by the guy with the Eastern European name, Mikhail something?)

Second, the whole purpose of freewriting is to better open the channel between the conscious and the subconscious part of our mind. You put your fingers on the keyboard, and you keep them moving no matter what, ignoring the urge to edit before the words are even out. This is supposed to help train the deeper part of our creative mind to be more accessible. It widens the spaces in our minds through which information can move from the deep level to the surface.

Do you see where this is going? You open a pathway to that deep creative subconscious, which can't tell truth from fact, and then train it by telling it, "This is crap," over and over again.

Seems a bit dicey to me.

Instead, why not try Natalie Goldberg's focused freewriting technique? Pick a topic related to your book. Any topic will do. Your hero's childhood memories. The villain's favorite foods. The significance of the color red as a thematic element in your plot. Writer's choice. And, as you're writing, if you get stuck, switch to another sheet of paper or another computer file, and write on your target topic. Just keep it moving. Keep the ideas flowing. And keep it focused on the task at hand, which is generating material that might someday turn into a book.

There's another little mind-training trick I picked up from Dorothea Brande's classic book, Becoming a Writer. Choose a time of day at which you will write. And then, no matter what else is going on, when that time arrives, write. No exceptions. It's a bit Pavlovian, but it works. After three weeks of writing at ten p.m. every night without fail, you'll find that it's pretty darned easy to write at ten p.m. in week four. Skip a day, and you'll find that trained pathway is a bit harder to navigate all of a sudden.

I've often wondered if Nora Roberts doesn't rely on a similar dynamic to create her tall stack of new books each year. I read an interview with her once where she said she never takes a day off, because she's afraid that if she does, the tap will turn itself off. (Or words to that effect, anyway.) You know, I always say that if you want to learn methods for success, you should pay attention to what successful people are doing. And you can't get more successful than Nora Roberts.

So, let's hear it -- what are your favorite productivity tricks and rituals? What about superstitions? And how is NaNo going for all of you so far?

eta: Theresa


Ian said...

NaNo is going very well for me so far. I'm 7000 words ahead of the pace and I haven't written much at all yet today.

I find that I'm very productive in the mornings - in fact, I've been waking up a lot in the 3- to 4 AM range oftener than I'd like, and I figure Well, I'm up, I might as well write before I go in to work.

The nice thing about having a job like mine where I don't have to really think about it is that I can think about what I want to write next and mull over plot problems and whatnot all day long, and then when I sit down to implement them later, it's a cakewalk.

If you want to read my WIP entitled Pariah's Moon, just email me and I'll hook you up.

Ian said... you suppose you could each sign your posts? That'd be made of awesome.

green_knight said...

I've slowed down on Nano because I hit the point where I needed more research for increased authenticity. I'm fine with this - I've written a fair amount this month on an exciting project.

I don't have a problem with my inner editor - she takes notes of story arcs,inconsistencies and pacing; and I write on regardless. Telling your subconcious something your inner critic already whispers at you anyway is a stupid strategy - if you hate it that much, go away enjoy yourself, and recharge your batteries; write another day.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

I did not NaNo, but perhaps NaNoers who are stuck could write, "Today I write" over and over instead of dissing themselves? :) Failing that, there's a quick brown fox who wants to jump over a lazy brown dog they could describe in detail.

Genella deGrey said...

I can't NaNo. I put too much pressure on myself as it is to write M-F all year 'round. Besides, I'm working with my editor at the moment and while in editland, I don't count words.

I do, however, wish the very best to all NaNoers!

Rachael Herron said...

I'm good! I think I could finish tonight if I wanted to (only 2000 or so away) but I'm not feeling well and my real goal is 75,000 anyway, so 50K isn't going to be a big celebration.

I'm a write-every-day kind of gal, for about the last year. It's the only thing that's ever done the trick for me. And it's not a certain time of day, but as soon as I wake up, whether that's 4am on work days or 8am on days off. First thing, make coffee, go write. I love it.

therese patrick, author said...

Great blog, I've heard the "this is crap" advice and immediately cringed. The exercises you've described work best for me.

I write in the morning quiet, four at least 20 minutes like a journal, then my designated writing time is for my current project.

Serena said...

NaNo is not going well. I think in winter, I'm more prone to poetry writing...that has been going well.

As for the tips you provided from goldberg and brande...I think those will help me a lot. Thanks.