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Archive for the tag “inspiration”

November is Almost Here!

The logo for National Novel Writing Month

Every year, when October rolls around, I find myself talking about National Novel Writing Month (the cool kids call it NaNoWriMo, I guess).  I talk about it with my friends who are writers, to see if they’re crazy enough to do it this year.  I talk about it with my wife, to see if it would rock the boat too much for me to do it.  And I talk about it to folks who have never heard of it before, which is a lot of fun.  It’s a really neat exercise and I’ve found myself drawn into it a couple of times.

For those who don’t know, it’s just an annual, month-long event to encourage people to write.  The one-size-fits-all goal is to hit (or surpass) 50,000 words in one, original, continuous story.  There are thousands and thousands of participants, of all ages, from around the world.  There are cool badges you can get, progress spreadsheets you can download and lots of active forums for people to support each other.  All in all, it’s a fantastic idea, with lots of potential.

The reason it’s so much fun to talk to new people about it is the variety of reactions I get to see.  Some are horrified by the idea of writing so much, so fast.  A few seem genuinely hungry for the challenge.  Most of them probably dismiss the whole idea as being too difficult.  It’s hard to argue with that last point.  Everyone has a job, or school, or yoga class, or a wedding… lots of ‘stuff’ to do.  And there’s that Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the month.  But my response is pretty blunt:  That is bullshit.  If you want to be a writer – an actual, professional writer – you will have to deal with this issue every month.

Now, I’m not going to advocate that everyone dump their responsibilities and do this wacky thing.  I don’t even think NaNoWriMo is a good idea for everybody (more on that in a minute).  But there is one, indisputably great thing about the event.  It shuts up your internal editor.  Everyone has one and some people let that nagging critic ruin most projects before they can get started.  The best thing you can do for your ability to write is to silence that editor for a while.  There will always be time to review and rewrite and reject your work later – but there has to be something there in order for that to happen.  NaNoWriMo gets a muzzle on the editor and pushes down on the accelerator.  That is a damn good thing.

The first time I did this, I was pretty nervous.  I owned my own business and my family kept me busy on top of that.  Nonetheless, I looked at it as a challenge I needed to face.  Before that Autumn, the longest piece of work I’d ever done was about 30,000 words, over the course of a few months.  In preparation for November, I plotted a long, winding story in my head.  I peopled it with characters and nested the plots inside one another.  There was a neat mechanism for switching between parallel stories whenever I wanted, if I got bogged down.  Just after midnight on November 1st I started writing.  I didn’t know how much or how fast I could write, but I aimed for that magical 1,500 words per day that would get me to the finish line.  I hit the ground running and kept going at a frantic pace.  After everyone had gone to bed, before work, or whenever I found a moment to steal, I was working.  Halfway through the month, on the 15th I think, I hit the 50,000 word mark.  It was an unbelievable thing, for me.  Granted, the story was only ¾ of the way through.  Also, the jumbled narrative and experiment with ‘nesting’ was a complete failure.  But I had done it.

There is a sense of wonder and awe, the first time you hit that word count.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it before or not, the relief is palpable.  It truly opened my eyes as a writer, for what kind of effort was needed to do my job.  I didn’t have to work that hard, every month, unless I wanted to.  But at the same time, I knew that I could if I was under the gun.  Up until that point, the idea of writing a novel-length piece of work seemed impossible; like a magical thing that other people could do.  And for that I’ll always be grateful for NaNoWriMo.

It's funny, because it's true. And also mean.

The whole affair doesn’t get a full pass from me, though.  For some writers, abandoning their inner critic for an entire month can be tragic.  Don’t misunderstand, I think that everyone could benefit from this kind of work, under the right conditions.  But a gimmick of a writing project is no substitute for actually sharpening one’s tools.  Writing isn’t difficult, and that seems to be part of NaNoWriMo’s message.  But good writing is sometimes very difficult and the only way to do good work is to go through the actual work.  The value for the month of November is quantity over quality.  Like I said, sometimes that is a very good thing – I certainly got a lot out of it – but please don’t ignore the other months.  Remember, once National Novel Writing Month is behind us, take the gag off your internal editor.  Who knows?  Perhaps you’ll find that critic a bit more reasonable, after a month long vacation.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, keep writing.  It’s the only you have to do, if you want to be a writer.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He likes to write surrealist/inspirational poetry in notebooks and leave it for strangers to find.  Someday, he’ll include a character in a story that does the same – because it’s funny, that’s why.

Resistance & Muses

I just started reading War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and I’m already smitten with it.  With a subtitle like “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles”, it seems like a no-nonsense manual for dealing with that most dangerous of foes:  ‘Writer’s block’.  It is one of the most talked about issues surrounding my beloved occupation.  In an ironic twist, it’s also one of the most written about.  Now that I think about it, it’s kind of galling too.  I mean, think about it.  You’re sitting there, twisting in the wind, your mind like this:

 

Not only does some joker not have the same problem, but they get their book published.  All on the back of your effort and anguish.  It’s almost as if they are profiting from your misfortune.  And ya know what?  There’s no…  Wait a second.  …  Okay, I’ve taken my ‘chill pill’ and had a cup of coffee.  I’m all better.

“Resistance”, is what Pressfield calls it and I like that.  Not only does giving it a name take away some of the power and fear, it also externalizes the issue.  ‘Writer’s block’ is something that is wrong with you, the writer.  ‘Resistance’ is something else, grinding on your productivity, keeping you from succeeding.  Damn, I like that idea.  Oh, here’s another cute ‘writer’s block’ thing I found, while I was supposed to be working: 

 

For a good portion of my adult, writing life I’ve been lucky to not be afflicted with serious blockage – in the traditional sense.  Sure, I’ve had my moments, when I knew what to write but couldn’t figure out how.  I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by good writers, with lots of insights on productivity.  I love the idea of ‘resistance’ and I’m going to plow through this book in no time.  But, I do have this other, related, problem.  It’s almost the opposite, in fact.  I’ve got Muses.

(Sounds like a medical condition, when I put it like that, doesn’t it?  “Sorry, sir, but the tests came back positive. It’s congenital Muses, all through your juicy head-meat. And it’s inoperable.”)

My Muses look like this, but with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, leather jackets and a reckless air about them. And booze.

I’ve got three and they’re all heavy drinkers, with flaming tempers.  I spend a lot of time not doing to writing I should be doing and the Muses get pissed.  There’s never much warning before they lash out and drag me into a creative space.  It’s happened in meetings, during hospital visits, funerals, weddings – you name it.  Whatever I was focused on is out the window and I get caught up in the turn of a phrase, or snippet of dialogue.  Sometimes, I’ll find myself doodling and the doodling becomes the blueprint for a series of robot-themed romance novels, or the structure of a hypothetical short film that just has to be drafted right now.  Usually, by the time I’ve exorcised one notion, six others have popped up.  It’s the desperate attempt to keep my soul in the creative sphere, I’m sure, but the net effect is to torture me.

They’re driving the speedboat and I’m floating in the water.  There are skis on my feet and I’m holding a rope.  In the best case scenario, I get a few seconds of warning before the boat takes off at outrageous speeds.  The Muses, they laugh and chuck empty whiskey bottles over the side.  Do they even know I’m behind the boat, desperately trying to stay on my feet?  Do they even know they’re driving a boat?!  And do they even care?  Well, of course they do.  The Muses only torture me when I’m not working, silly.  If I sit on my ass too long, they fire up the speedboat and we end up doing laps around the Pacific.  And they will only stop if I’m drowning or if I get back to work.

Can I complain?  After all, at least the Muses keep me well-stocked on ideas.  Right?  Well, I get both ways, coming and going.  And I damned well will hold on to my right to whine and complain.  You know what happens after the Terrible Urge to Create has seized me?  Right after the flood waters of (hostile) inspiration recede, I’m left with a half-dozen sketches of work – each one demanding attention, each one begging me to save it from erasure and dismemory.  It’s a kind of writer’s block, an overwhelming sense that I have too much on my plate, that I cannot salvage a damn thing.

Look, maybe this makes some sense to others, or (more likely) these are the ramblings of an overworked, undercaffinated fool.  But the point I’m meandering towards here is simple.  The forces of creation are not to be trifled with.  ‘Resistance’ wouldn’t be an issue if you weren’t compelled to do this work.  The only reason I do write is because I can’t not do it.  Heed my advice and listen to your Muse(s).  Don’t let them marinate in your laziness.  Do your work.  Sharpen your tools, pay attention to your craft and let the more angelic nature of your Muse(s) guide you.

When he’s not taking involuntary water-skiing lessons from his sadistic Muses, Patrick Jennings-Mapp likes to write scripts for puppet shows.  He doesn’t have any puppets, so he puts socks on his hands.  But sometimes, he just talks to his hands.  If you send your puppet show script to him at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com, he will give you a free puppet show script critique.

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