Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mission accomplished!

This morning at about 10:30 I passed 50,000 words with my NaNoWriMo novel. It took another 1,316 before it felt as though I was done telling the story, but at 50 thousand I was essentially done, I just needed to wrap up a few loose ends.

I cried. Not a big howling cry, but some tears and a sniffle or two. Anyone who knows me knows I tend to get teary pretty easily, but this was different from crying at the end of a good book or film. This was a lot like the way I cry at the end of the PMC, when I know I've done something substantial. Something that leaves me a different person than I was before I began.

So what was this whole experience like? I wrote at the beginning that I was passionately enjoying the process and found it was giving me a writing discipline I had longed for but hadn't yet achieved. It has been that and more.

It has been thrilling, frustrating, exciting and inspiring. It's been a bit like falling in love. It's all I really want to talk about, all I can think about and now that it's over I find myself longing for that first rush again. I'm a little at a loss about what to do now that it's over. I know, the obvious answer is to write more and I shall. I am, for instance, writing now. But what I really want and need to do is write more fiction. That will come, I have several projects in mind, but for now I need to process the process.

I've had the pleasure of meeting people who were lurking in my imagination and seem to have wills of their own. That part of the process was hoped for and even expected; I've occasionally had characters go in directions I wasn't expecting in other writing projects, but this time they really took off. I was writing things I didn't plan, meeting people I didn't know were coming into the story and hearing dialogue with an unexpected clarity because the characters were all so distinct.

I've been reminded of how all these characters are parts of me, so I've had to process some of my own feelings and experiences in the course of mining my own life. When I've written an episode out of my life into a character it becomes easier to let it happen to someone else, let them hurt and heal. But since the characters are all part of me who's really healing?

I've discovered I know more about narration and story than I thought. All those years of telling stories have helped me learn how to write stories.

I also learned how to sit down, shut up and write. I think that this has been the most valuable part of the experience for me. Having done this I know I can do more, that written language works as well for me as spoken, improvised language.

How am I different, how has this changed me? I've written a novel. I was always one of those people who was going to write a novel someday and now I've done it. Someday is now. This means I can write another and take more than 25 days to do it. If I've written something decent in 25 days who knows what I could do in more time - say two months? Maybe even three?

It's no wonder NaNoWriMo has been such a powerful experience, as I'm sure it is for many participants. For now, I'm going to let the novel rest, then look at it in a little while and see if, with a rewrite or two and some workshopping, I might begin looking for a publisher.

Oh, and in case you're wondering - no, you can't read it yet. It needs tweaking and lots of it. It's about five generations of Jewish women, storytelling, cooking, and how we define ourselves through the stories we tell.

Kind of like the way writing a novel has helped me redefine the story I tell about myself.

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wish I may, wish I might

My friend Jim swears up and down that if he had a single wish, he'd wish for a soundtrack, one that plays all the time along with his everyday life. That way, he says, he would always know what was about to happen. He'd know if someone was friend or foe, love interest or miscreant, and would just have a leg up on things. Personally, I bet it would get annoying and besides, I think most modern movies are overscored; I certainly wouldn't want an overscored life. I worry I'd end up with a laugh track.

I saw a movie the other night (Flushed Away, silly fun) that had a feature I would consider instead of a soundtrack - a chorus. Admittedly, in this film the chorus was composed of slugs singing relevant pop songs which I'd rather avoid, but the whole idea of a chorus, as in a Greek chorus, has some merit. If only the voices in my head actually told me something useful. (You know the kind of voices I mean, I hope. The running commentary on my actions and those of others, not what I imagine psychotic voices are. Though who knows, maybe those are psychotic voices, just with volume control.) Anyway, if the voices in my head said useful things, uttered reminders and warnings and helpful comments that would be pretty cool. As it is, the voices hum the same refrain from 1970s TV theme songs over and over again. Or ask me if I should buy shoes that look like hers. Things like that. An occasional Greek chorus might be handy.

So what would I wish for if not a Greek chorus? I think about that a lot, probably more than is really healthy. I tell stories about it, write about it, plan for it. I can never make up my mind because wishes seem to be very tricky things. In stories wishes never turn out well. The wish-giver, be it djinni, angel or god always turns the wish somehow. The moral seems to be don't wish, but live. Act. And yes, be careful what you wish for.

This makes me very careful about what I say. I rarely utter things like, "Oh, I wish for an ice cream sundae!" or "I wish I could fly!" Even writing those examples here makes me nervous - who might read that and decide to answer in some tricky way? Please don't. Instead I might think about wishes, but I don't say them. It's too dangerous.

So instead I live. I act. I try to make the world a better place. I hope that if I ever truly do have the opportunity to make a wish I won't need to use it, that I am living big enough that I don't need anything more. Maybe that's my wish.

Because I'm not even really sure what I would wish for if I had the option. Certainly not a soundtrack.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The tales we tell

It's funny how things come together sometimes. I'm finding myself in one of those confluences of life and art where I'm forced to notice the world clearing its throat at me, telling me to pay attention.

I'm writing like a wildwoman for NaNoWriMo, almost 24000 words in 12 days. This is more than I've ever written in one burst before. I'm enjoying it and the process is making me acutely aware of how fiction is culled from our own lives. This is no surprise, of course, but the intensity of this writing, thousands of words every day, is stripping any pretense away from the process. Portions of this book, episodes here and there or various character traits, are pulled from my life, from the lives of those around me and integrated into my characters. If I had more time or if I end up rewriting with an eye towards publication I'll file off the serial numbers, but for now, it's pretty transparent. As I'm writing I keep finding myself writing about the time when I... or the story my father told me about... or the way my mother... and so on.

At the same time I've been thinking about the way we tell the stories of our lives and the way those stories are often fictions. We don't mean to lie - we aren't lying - but we are the epicenters of our own lives and the stories are constructed so that particular telling, that truth, is told such that we are the heroes or at least the protagonists. And if the stories get embellished a little, so the stories are more interesting, who else will know? The arguments are a little fiercer, our responses are a little wittier, we are a little kinder or learn a more poignant message. However it works out, we are still at the center of the story that would, were it told by someone else, probably be a very different tale but no less true. We are all telling the true fiction of our lives all the time.

When I perform a piece of fiction it is no less true than an autobiographical piece. In fact, it may be more honest, because it has no pretense of not being filtered through my own lens of bias, hopes and ideals, hence the name of this blog.

All of this thinking was crystallized when I started reading The Thirteenth Tale in which a writer of fantastical fiction decides it's time to finally tell her true story, something she has never done before. I know my personal stories are no more true than my recounting of Eve or the djinni's story. Likewise they are no less true. And this novel I'm writing as a crash course in creative fiction? There is truth there too.

When you tell someone a story about your life don't worry too much about the details. Don't worry if you fudge the dates or enhance your role a little. We all do it. Take it from me, a professional liar, the truth of a story may have very little to do with how factual it is. Go ahead. Be a hero. I'll be listening, but I won't tell.

(c) 2007 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Man, what a rush.

It's kind of like driving cross country non-stop, but noticing all the little details on the way. No, maybe it's more like eating the best meal you've ever had and savoring every single bite, then doing it again. And again. No, it's not like that either. Maybe it's like talking a deep breath and jumping into that icy lake; no matter how well you prepare you aren't ready for the shock of it and when you climb out you know you are utterly alive and want only to do it again. It's kind of like that. So far.

NaNoWriMo is like nothing else I've set out to do. It's a simple enough premise - write a novel in a month. Fifty thousand words (that's 5-0-0-0-0 words) in thirty days, quantity over quality. No excuses like, "I've been thinking about writing a novel for years," or "I just don't know what I'd write about." You just do it, full-bore writing with no time to agonize about the details.

I'd never heard about this before last month, when I was at the National Storytelling Festival and saw an old friend wearing a NaNoWriMo t-shirt. I asked about it, she explained and I thought, "Wow, that's nuts." A week later I signed up. This seems to be a pattern for me, I signed up for the Pan Mass Challenge the first time thinking it was crazy too.

So far I love it. It's encouraging a writing discipline I've always hoped for but never attained. When I get stuck I just strike out in another direction because this novel is for my own entertainment. I don't have to worry about what anyone else will say. And you know what? It doesn't suck! I think all the years of storytelling are a great help with plot and character and my risk tolerance. Something isn't working? Go in a different direction! Can't think of a word? Say something else! What's the worst that will happen? I write something I wasn't expecting that might be better!

I love the feeling of being in flow when writing and am finding it happening far more easily than I expected. I suspect much of it is that I have a deadline to work against (I'm almost at 12000 words so have quite a few to go) and that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I win by even trying.

While I'm sure at some point I will be annoyed, frustrated, discouraged, embittered and about to give up, for now this is ecstatic writing. I suspect this has the potential to be another life changing event, again like the PMC (funny how those spontaneous decisions to be a little mad are the meaningful ones). I hope it does. At the least I hope I don't forget how good this feels right now.

I urge you to try something this grand and foolish sometime. It's utterly liberating.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer Creative Commons License
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