Stories from the heart

If you haven’t read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman yet, you probably should. It’s easy to read but has so many different layers to it. An example of perfect storytelling, in my opinion, and something for me to aspire to. Of course, Amanda Palmer has a much more compelling blog post on why you should read it, so I won’t try to convince you. That’s not what this post is about. What I want to talk about is what Amanda (aka Mrs Gaiman) eludes to in her post, the marriage of fiction and reality.

Every author puts something of themselves in their work, whether subconsciously or not. Our experiences shape how we think. But to put yourself out there, and consciously put your past in your work leaving people guessing like Neil Gaiman did, that takes a lot of courage. And as I’m finding out, also a lot of skill.

I bring this up because I’m working on a short story at the moment, a tale that I started long ago with my father when I was still a little girl. Since he passed away, it, and all our shared stories, have taken on a new light. I want to get them out there now more than ever. So now I am trying to incorporate my own feelings about my dad’s death with the old story and turn it something that incorporates the old and new state of affairs. All fiction, but deeply personal. I have no idea if I’m going to be able to pull it off, but I hope so. It would be a fitting tribute to his memory, and a catharsis at the same time.

As positive as the experience could be, I am finding it very difficult to keep writing, to find the right tone and plot. ‘Pure’ fiction is so much easier, freer somehow, not just because this would dealing with my past but also a story started with someone else. I want to stay true to it, but of course I am a different person. Different from my father, different from my past self. It will never be as it would have been. I guess that is something we must all accept at some point in our lives. In the meantime..

Writing, Writing..

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Lessons learned from my just-about win.

The first four years I did NaNoWriMo in November, I won easily, with plenty of time to spare and a word count of +60k. So I figured this year would be much the same, even with an increased social life, and set my daily word count goal at 2000 words. I failed that goal miserably, barely making it to 50k on the last day. This is what I learned from my almost-failure:

1. It’s ok to put your own life before writing. I loved my time away from the novel, travelling, meeting people, seeing new places, and I don’t regret it for a second. That said..

2. It’s really hard to get back to writing if you skip a few days. Next year, I am definitely making sure there are no holidays booked in November, because even though I had a great time, I really struggled with getting back into a rhythm. Before the start, I figured I’d just come back and write 4000 words in a day to compensate. I barely made it to the minimum 1667 the first day. There’s a reason professional writers write every day.

3. Plot ninjas are life savers. I was frustrated with struggling to write, didn’t like what I was writing, and overall just wasn’t motivated. So I had my main character kidnapped and turned the novel upside down. I don’t know if it improved things, but it certainly helped me to keep writing and get me interested again.

4. Past performance is no indication of future success. I was too cocky with my word count planning, and I paid the price. It was a very humbling experience, and I’m glad I had it (but still won in the end.. phew 0.o). It reminded me what NaNoWriMo is all about; not to write loads of words, but to push yourself and do the unexpected.

5. I’m incredibly proud of the NaNoers in my region who managed to write over 10k words on the last day and make the word count goal. I have no idea how they managed to keep going, but they made it, with no permanent injury to their backs or typing fingers and no use of tricks (like writing down lyrics) either. I can only hope to have the same motivation and investment in my story (which I really didn’t have this year..) if I were ever to fall so far behind.

6. I need feedback. I kept thinking my writing was awful, and wondering if I’m actually improving as the years go by. The only way I am going to know for sure is to let others read my work. So that’s my goal for next year.

So that’s what I’ve learned this year, I would love to hear what other people have learned, so please comment.

Best. Gig. Ever.

On Friday, to celebrate my 5th(!) NaNoWriMo-win, I went to see Jamie Lenman, the former Reuben frontman who has just come back with a new album of his own. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it turned out to be the best gig I’ve ever been to.

AKA sexy moustache man

Jamie Lenman himself

Why, you may ask, was it so amazing (and why am I talking about something seemingly not about either brains or writing)? Well, the song I liked most off his new album, ‘I ain’t your boy’, was all about how he couldn’t be the person he was back when he was in Reuben, and so I never thought he would perform any of those songs. Imagine my surprise when the first bars of one of my favourite Reuben songs started playing!

What I learned from this, what I wanted to convey in this post, is how unexpected events can spark and energise you. Sure it was going to be a good gig anyway, because I love his new music, but there’s nothing like an unexpected boon to get the neurotransmitters all excited.

This is similar to what a good novel can do, if something unexpected happens in it. If one can create something new, unique, one can transform the reader. To write something you hadn’t thought about before, something that comes up naturally, it can give the same kind of high. So, that’s why I participate in NaNoWriMo, that’s why I’m a pantser (i.e. someone who writes without outlining first, not a panther like autocorrect keeps trying to change it to); to surprise myself. Sure, more often than not I surprise myself with the utter drivel that I’m writing, but occasionally, just every once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised by what on earth my characters are doing, or where the plot takes me. And that feeling, that unexpected-Reuben-songs feeling, is why I keep writing.

Now, time to get back to it.

In case you are interested, here’s the double Jamie Lenman single: