Unbroken

November 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm (Uncategorized)

I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–for the first time ever this year. For those of you who – like me just a few weeks ago – have never hear of NaNoWriMo, let me tell you exactly what it is: collective insanity. No wait; I mean it’s a very cool opportunity to join other writers across the world to beat yourself to a pulp, er, push yourself to write the book you have inside you. In a month. My snarky asides notwithstanding, NaNoWriMo truly is an amazing opportunity to stop thinking, “I could write a great novel,” and just freaking do it. In a month. You can choose the 25,000 or 50,000 word options. The NaNoWriMo Web site helps you track your daily word count, find and be connected to writing buddies, and stay focused on getting your novel done during the month of November. Look for me there. I chose the super-imaginative login name of rebecca.stanfel.

My 7-year old son, Andrew, had more fun choosing his NanNoWriMo login: Lego EXO Special Forces Battle. Gee, I wonder what he’s interested in? Before you call Child Protective Services on me (“She’s making her 2nd grader write a 50,000 word novel in a month!”), let me be clear that NaNoWriMo offers a kid version with kid-friendly word counts—either 250 or 500 words.

Since all Andrew ever wants to do these days is play Lego Wii games, connive for more Lego Wii time, or complain about how little Lego Wii time his evil parents allot him, I was expecting him to resist the idea of writing a kid-sized novel. So, I spent an afternoon marshalling my resources to convince him.

Here’s how the conversation proceeded.

Me: I am going to write a novel this month using this very cool program called NaNoWriMo.

Andrew: NaNoWriMo. Hah!

Me: Do you want to write your very own novel.

Andrew: Yes! Can we start now?

Me: I don’t know what I’m writing yet.

Andrew: I do!

Me: Don’t you want to outline it first?

Andrew: Nah, I’m going to draw pictures to go with it.

And this has pretty much set the tone of our family NaNoWriMo interactions. Andrew is fearless, innovative, and non-procrastinating. I am cautious, stymied, and have made up multi-page to-do lists to avoid starting writing. (Clean cat box. Make bed. Pair socks. Watch snow melt. Write down a theme for NaNoWriMo. Shred paper with theme on it and place into cat box. Clean cat box. Repeat.)

I’m exaggerating. Sort of. My biggest obstacle to getting writing all things NaNoWriMo is that I just got a dose of chemotherapy last week, and it makes me very tired. Still, despite my exhaustion, I’ve found plenty of novel-reading and snow-melting time and very little get to work time.

That all changed yesterday. I picked Andrew up from school and we went to my office to launch our NaNoWriMo projects. My goal is to finish the memoir version of this blog—which a couple of agents are interested in seeing. Andrew’s is to combine as many Lego themes and types of battles into one cohesive work that contains robots, high-tech weapons, and as much gore as his Mom will let him get away with. We got treats from the café downstairs to sweeten the work. Andrew got 4 mini-donuts. I got a coffee with three shots of espresso sunk in it, and still, amazingly felt tired.

I typed a title and paused. In the pause, I could hear Andrew’s pencil squeaking and scratching out a symphony next to me. I wrote a sentence. I backspaced over the sentence and rewrote it with no changes. I sighed and took a peek at my partner. His page was black with writing. I had one sentence, a crappy sentence at that, and wanted to quit.

It hit me then. Andrew wasn’t pausing to re-read his every word. (If he did, he might have noticed that he had a LOT of misspellings.) He is simply writing down the ideas that he thinks are funny and cool. He likes getting the stories out of his head and onto the page. If he can draw an awesome picture to go with the words, so much the better. He didn’t write, erase, loathe himself, write again, erase again, and want to give up on living. That’s what I do.

I decided to use Andrew’s unbroken creative spirit as inspiration. No more sighing, self-hatred, and real-time micro-editing. I would write my story without stopping. I would mend my own creative spirit that got shredded by perfectionism and nit-picking.

And a funny thing happened. I wrote 800 words in an hour. Even stranger, I enjoyed writing them. I didn’t need any more espresso.

If I can’t have Andrew by my side for every day of NaNoWriMo, I can still use his energy and delight as my example. Who knows? I might even write into my story a night-vision robot, a massive Lego battle, or some blood-drenched illustrations.

14 Comments

  1. Martha Kohl said,

    Love it. And love that this is your third post in a short time (all really interesting posts, too). Quality and quantity. It doesn’t get much better than that.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Martha!

      It feels really good to be writing here more consistently. Several of the workshops at the amazing writing conference I just attended stressed the importance of blogging more regularly. I was a little daunted to learn that I should be posting not once, but 2-3 times a week–every week. But then they also said not to spend hours on each post, that we should keep them simple and short. You; as someone who has edited my stuff, know how I feel about short: why use 2 words when 10 will do? Short pieces work when you’re funny or pithy, but I’m neither so won’t do short. Then at the airport on the way home from the conference, I had a little talk with myself. Why not try their suggestions before giving up on them? So I did. And while I haven’t yet gotten to a short blog post, I’ve written 4 much shorter ones. I even enjoyed writing them, and I’ve had time to work (or freeze up on) my Nano project and also keep puttering away at a couple of articles in the pipeline.

      This reply to your comment isn’t following my new, short(er) rule about all things blogging. Just know it makes me very happy to know the greatest editor (and damn fine author too) likes my blog.

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

      xo
      rebecca

  2. Amy Pridemore said,

    Love this! I think I may need to borrow Andrew for my drawing projects. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you just got to blow up your inner critic and take your various Lego pieces and put them together any which way. Wether they stand or fall, look like a jumbled mess or a cohesive structure, in the end you have created something and every time you do, you get a little more confident, a little less critical and a lot more competent. Love that you are writing more!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      You can borrow Andrew any time, Amy. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but although his creative spirit is unbroken, his attention span certainly is.
      (Actually, on the day I wrote about in this entry, he wanted to keep going when I was ready to take a break.)

      I love the Lego imagery as a way to envision the creative process. It’s so true. Sometimes it all comes together out of the jumble. And if you let yourself, making something concrete out of the jumble is fun, no matter the outcome.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Whenever you need some 7 year old creative intensity, just say the word. I’ll even pay the postage.

      xo
      Rebecca

  3. Rayna said,

    That’s awesome!! I can only hope that Dov will give me as much joy and inspiration as Andrew gives you!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thank you, Rayna,

      I bet Dov will be an amazing creative companion…in fact, he probably already is with your Music for Young Children classes and other ventures.

      Speaking of your other ventures…we all were just blown away by your latest master cake creation photos that you posted on Facebook. Wow!

      Andrew asked, “Does Dov get to taste all her cake batter and frosting?”

      Sending lots of love from the three of us to the three of you,
      Rebecca

  4. Wendy Barron said,

    I forget that you’re a Nanowrimo newbie! Andrew has the right of it. It’s all about word count in November. Quality of prose is negligible, and quite unnecessary; editing in what December-October are for!

    So send your internal editor on vacation to Mexico or the Arctic Circle or somewhere equally remote, wave goodbye to her (or him), and focus on filling the page with black. Don’t worry about whether the words are any good – some of the won’t be, but the sheer volume you crank out means that, equally, at least some of them will be very good indeed. And you can fix the crappy ones later.

    800 words in an hour? Is EXCELLENT progress. Go you!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Wendy, for the great advice!

      I am luring my internal critic off to Mexico as you suggested with promises of sunshine and bottomless tequila.

      I really appreciate the support on this big adventure. Knowing that other writers like you have actually accomplished NaNoWriMo (and are daring to do it again!) makes it all a lot less frightening.

      How is your book progressing? I hope very well.

      Thinking of you,
      Rebecca

  5. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    Brilliant.

    Another metaphor is to shoot your editor in the head for your first draft. Then revive him for the second.

    And, last but not least, a youtube video called, “Dare To Suck.”

    You are inspiring!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Leanne,

      Yes! I like that shooting-my-editor-in-the-head idea for getting the first draft done. It’s similar to what Bob Dugoni told us in his “Rambo Editing” workshop at SiWC. Keep the editorial and creative minds distinct. Get the words out–all of them–before trying to fix them. I was glad I could let Andrew’s zeal unfreeze me. My goal tomorrow is indeed to dare to suck…

      Hope your Nano project is flying from your mind through your finger tips and that you are having fun writing.

      Rebecca

  6. Paul said,

    I’ll take a copy of Andrew’s book please.

    3 posts in a week. On the Rebecca vs chronic town scale – I hope that means you’re feeling pretty good

    Paul

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Paul,

      I think Andrew’s book will be awesome. It will certainly have a lot of Lego themes, violence, and nifty high tech weaponry. As such a loyal reader, I owe you fair warning. Andrew is a God-awful mercenary when it comes to his literary output. (I could learn a thing or two from the boy on that end of the business.) He routinely charges us $1 for ownership of a 5 page comic (and we’re not talking small writing on those pages). I hate to think what the definitive Lego EXO Force novel would cost you. Maybe I could sneak a copy into the scanner. I mean, you have been a really loyal reader. 🙂

      I’ve indeed been feeling a little better. More importantly (at least in terms of my writing output), I was so lucky to be able to attend a motivating and inspiring writers’ conference in Canada last month. It helped push me to take all my writing more seriously and to try and blog 2-3 times per week (with shorter entries). I’m trying to just write, even when I’m feeling crappy. This means letting down my perfectionism enough to get the words out (and posted).

      Thank you so much for staying in touch. I love getting comments from you.

      Rebecca

  7. Marianne said,

    I need to do this with James. I think it would help to see what he would come up with. I think it would be similar to Andrew’s…

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Yes, do try it with James. Seeing 7-year old, uncensored creativity is really something to behold. I find it inspiring. And kinda cute.

      Hope the words are flowing beautifully,
      Rebecca

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