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by Hedgebrook Guest

Writers, I have generally observed, tend to write their first draft from one of two camps. They are either Outliners or Outlawers. Outliners prepare; they are ready; they have journals and graphs, stimulating scents and special writing music and Outlawers… well they don’t. I am a hand on heart confessed Outlawer. There is only one way I can write the first words of a new project, and that is running with my hands in the air screaming towards the amusement park of my imagination. I arrive at my keyboard on day one with a 100 different half-blown cobbled together ideas, scenes and sketchy characters all breaming inside me like a stove full of pressure cookers ready to blow. Then once, I start writing there is no real rhyme or reason to my first draft. My process goes something like this, Okay, first the Rollercoaster, no, no the Carousel, then the Ferris Wheel then I have to tackle those high swings and OMG is that the Haunted House. Usually what dictates the first tentative lines of my latest masterpiece is what shouts the loudest in the vaudevillian theater of my imagination. I can often start right in the middle of a story some odd, unimportant scene that has been haunting me for weeks. It comes to me complete with a gang of derelict characters that have been following me around like a bad smell hollering “me, me, pick me, write me.”

Some of you are nodding and smiling and some of you have no idea what the heck I am talking about, as you would no sooner arrive at a first draft unprepared than at church naked. But I wanted to write this to encourage the fly-by the-seat-of-their pants writers the “Outlawers,” the ones whose process lies outside the bounds of natural law.

“Outlawers” is a made-up name in case you thought for a second I was smarter that you. It is a name I have for all of us “out of the boxers” –oh that sounds naughty – but I guess you catch my drift or my draught if you’re out of your underwear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my way is better. I actually have Outliner envy, how I wish I had all my scenes neatly typed up on a clipboard and knew everyone’s name, eye color and weight before I started. How much easier would my job be?

I tried to plot once–it was for a screenplay. It was beautiful, a fabulous shiny new storyline all ready to go, all 110 pages written out on little index cards. But the ink was barely dry on the words “Fade in” before the protagonist turned to me and told me to shut up and listen… and that was that. I have been chasing characters around ever since recording everything like a frenzied reporter from one of those black and white film noirs. I have very little to do with it–I just get out of the way and let them lead. I have more characters called ‘Jane Doe” in my first draft then a New York City morgue. Alas, this is the brain I was given, and, like a yarn factory broken into by a gang of mischievous cats, you know it’s all in there, you just have to unravel the whole thing.

Which is why NaNoWriMo and I are a perfect fit like cheese and biscuits, coffee and cream, chocolate and anything. Na-no-what-mo? You may be saying, and there may be one last writer who hasn’t heard of National Novel Writing Month. And for that one person who has just left the convent after ten years of seclusion here is a breakdown. On November 1st crazed wild-eyed coffee-drinking writers bolt out of the gate like a charge of bulls at Pamplona and race as fast as their pens can carry them to 50,000 words by the end of November. The idea is no editing, just writing, no over-thinking just writing, no ‘bum leaving seat’ just writing. Having run the Nano gauntlet three previous times I have got used to the highs and lows of the month long process, so for all you “Outlawers” and maybe a few of you sneaky “Outliners” who are intrigued by running naked, just this once, here are the things to remember as you go.

Firstly, when you take to the page each day, do it with reckless abandonment. Throw yourself into the written word, revel on every twist and turn of your story that makes your stomach flip-flop. Keep reminding yourself this is not the version the world will see, this is you on a day out, having fun with your characters, this is you playing. The worst thing you can do during Nano is to loose your sense of play. Now to meet your character like this can be just a little awkward at first, not unlike a blind date that is 30 pounds heavier and 20 years older than his profile picture, but work with it, it’s just an adjustment, just a tweak to let go and enjoy the ride.

Secondly, if you write yourself into a corner think of the craziest thing you can do with your characters and write it, you can always change it the next day, but in giving yourself permission to be creative can open you up to have fun and thus get creativity flowing again. Erin Morgenstern wrote her wonderful story “The Night Circus” during a NaNoWriMo frenzy a few years ago. She admits she was locked one day with her looming word count hanging over her like a balloon of iced water so she took her characters to the circus. Out of that one odd move came the cornerstone of her whole story.

So write this down and put it by your laptop, “There are no wrong turn days only no word count days.”

Thirdly, let go of that “thing”, that one thing you know you have, that thing that is always tapping you on the shoulder while you write. For me, it’s adjectives; they love to taunt me, the perfect one hanging just above my head, just out of reach like the ripened plum. So, I fool them I write the word “incredulous” for all my needed adjectives, this saves me having to think of a new simulating shiny one every time. So, dear writer, figure out what that is for you, maybe it’s your “grammar brain” or “editor brain” or it’s your “I need to know where this is going brain,” whatever it is, let it go…did you hear me… LET IT GO… gripping the handrails of the big dipper will only make your body hurt, and before you know it, you won’t be having fun anymore.

Then, lastly, as you sit to write remind yourself you have the best job in the world, even on 500 word count days, because you are a storyteller. So pass the popcorn and the amusement tickets, because guess what, those fairground riders get to change the world, one word at a time. See you all at the beginning of December and I hope it is an “incredulous” ride for you all.
Jpeg-Oct-1st-SK-RWBC-FullRes-FRONTandBACK-w-BLEED-and-ISBNbox-Corrected-Spine2-2-page-002-413x600Suzanne Kelman is Master Class alumna and the author of “The Rejected Writers Book Club.”

She is also a multi-award winning screenwriter whose accolades include Best Comedy Feature Screenplay – L.A. International Film Festival (2011) Gold Award – California Film Awards (2012) and Winner -Van Gogh Award -The Amsterdam Film Festival(2012).

Born in the UK she now resides in Washington State. Learn more at http://about.me/Suzanne.Kelman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members. 

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