The Word Search

I have a problem.

The words that I’m writing here, I’ve erased and rewritten about five times now.

There are better words to use. There are better ways to phrase this.

I can do better. I can always do better.

While this attitude can be very helpful in editing and trying to write something of quality, it horribly impedes my progress in first drafts and things like NaNoWriMo.

Because I’m always trying to edit as I write.

It’s an incredibly difficult habit to just put on hold while I write. But it just doesn’t work to sit and stare at the screen for ten minutes while I try to think of the absolute best way to word my wordy words. That’s what editing is for.

One way I combat this is to use a typewriter (no, I don’t take it to Starbucks with my curly mustache and big front-wheeled bicycle). It’s my version of writing with a pen instead of a pencil. As I write, I go along and whoops there’s a mistake oh well we must press on! Embrace the imperfections!

When I use the computer, I end up looking up every word to see if there is a better synonym out there (there is) or looking up pictures and researching the exact layout of the Louvre because one of my characters stopped by once. Google Street View is great for getting an impression of a real location, but it is terrible for actually writing something down.

This inner editor problem isn’t even relegated to writing. People ask me a question and the Jeopardy! theme song starts as I try to form the perfect answer. The clocks tick. Time passes. The leaves change colour and fall to the ground. Still, I search for the right words.

My sisters had a phrase when conversing with me: “Spit it out!”

I hear it when someone asks how my weekend went. I hear it when the burger jockey asks if that’ll be all. I hear it when I sit down at the keyboard.

Spit it out.

Spit it out.

SPIT IT OUT.

Get the words out of my brain space and into the real world.

Other than the basic not-enough-hours-in-the-day conundrum, this is definitively my biggest obstacle when it comes to writing.

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The Heavyweight

When I think about the act of writing, I tend to picture a montage. There I am, typing away at the keyboard, marking a timeline on a whiteboard, pinning pictures and pieces of paper to a wall connected together with yarn strings to map out a complex web of ideas, Eye of the Tiger is playing loudly and a quirky personal coach is egging me on.

Reality is a little closer to fifteen rounds in the ring with Apollo.

It’s ugly. It’s brutal. I am fighting to keep this story going but I can’t see where I’m going any more. I’m just taking swings at the keyboard, hoping something lands. I’m asking friends, relatives, and random strangers bizarre questions just so that I can bleed out some new ideas. Cut me, Mick!

Maybe I’ll lose this one. Maybe I’ll look at it once it’s finished and chuck it in the garbage. Maybe there’s nothing worth salvaging in the whole lot.

But it’ll be finished.

I’ll have stood up to the challenge. Seen it through to the end.

I ain’t no bum, Mick. I ain’t no bum.

In the Beginning…

The blank page offers itself as an untapped realm of opportunity. It is full of potential to be the incredible tale, emotionally poignant poem, or enrapturing truth. It is all up to you.

While all that open freedom for creation is exciting, it can at times be intimidating.

Where do I start?

In my tale of galactic battles of good vs evil, do I start with the unsuspecting farmboy on his home planet? Do I start with the theft of the blueprints that set the whole chain of events in motion? Do I begin my tale with the farmboy’s father and the setup of how galactic politics became the way they are?

As far as the actual words, do I start with ‘Once upon a time’? Or maybe ‘A long time ago in the future’?

With so many options, it’s overwhelming!

Take a breath. And another.

It doesn’t matter where you start. It doesn’t matter what words you put down first.

You’ll probably change it all later. You’re not going to ruin any potential story. But you’ll never tap into any of that potential unless you write something down.

This is something I have had to remind myself many times: it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to be. Improvement comes later.

You’re not painting the Mona Lisa. You’re not even sketching the Mona Lisa yet. This is the stick figure idea on the canvas of some Lisa person. The details and refinement will come later.

Sometimes I have to start out vague. Really vague. Then the details work themselves into a scene.

Sometime, somewhere, there is this galactic civilization ruled over by this really evil guy and his second in command. They make this big thing that can blow up planets, but the good guys steal the secret blueprints to stop it. They are on the lam, flying over this desert planet when one of the bad guy ships totally catches up with them and starts blasting the ship up. Two robots that have no clue as to what’s really going on are wandering around the ship, trying to stay out of trouble when they hear the announcement that the ship will be boarded.

“Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

Rebel troopers rush past the robots….

Sometimes getting that exposition out of the way and really getting into a scene is what it takes to get the snowball rolling. Those blurbs that are barely an outline of a story, maybe later you’ll tune them up. Maybe you’ll cut them out. But that’s not something to worry about now.

Right now, it’s time to put down some words.

We’ll make them pretty later.

 

Because It’s There

Inevitably, when I tell someone about NaNoWriMo they get this incredulous look and ask one question.

Why?

The goal of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month sounds absurd to many. The prizes for reaching the end are meager, there is no notoriety, and what you write isn’t going to be published. In most cases, what you write will barely even be readable without massive editing. So, why do it?

To that I answer: Why not?

Why not run the Boston Marathon of writing? Why not have a go at the Ironman Triathalon of literature? The El Capitan of Novel National Park awaits. Why not climb it?

Just like any physical endurance, this creative endurance trial pushes your limits and helps you to grow and discover new things about yourself. Accomplishing the monumental task is a reward in itself.

And you’ll always remember the journey.

Those I have spoken with about their experiences in marathons and triathlons always reflect on the journey. Yes, there is a little bit about the actual miles, but the journey they reminisce about are the early morning alarms for runs that started while sun was still below the horizon, the different shoes they tried to keep their feet from blistering, the foods they cut out of their diet to get in shape, the discovery that the wrong shirts can make your nipples bleed. They speak proudly of the scraped knees, the sore ankles, and how they learned to breath through side pain. Then there are the people they met. The people at the starting line who have gone through similar preparations, who are excited to endure and conquer the very same challenge. The people that they met several hours in, who were struggling the same way or maybe even worse, but somehow found the determination to continue.

Then comes “The Wall”. That point where they felt like they had pushed as hard and as far as they could. The point where they were on the edge of failure. Then they pushed some more. They reached down into reserves that they didn’t know they had and forced themselves forward. And they made it to the end. They finished. They conquered.

The trophy? Invisible.

The prize? Immaterial.

The experience? Everything.

So, here I go again, stretching my mental muscles and plotting the route I will take to write a novel in November. Some say it sounds a little crazy. Maybe so, but I prefer to call it a challenge. Some baulk at the idea. Some question why.

I have my answer.

 

 

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

– Sir Edmund Hillary