Lockdown: The liveness of story

Truth. This is from my stats page at NaNoWriMo.org.

I slept decently Tuesday night. I think I got five solid, uninterrupted hours after a bit of a rough start. So Wednesday’s workday should have been super productive, but it wasn’t.

Darn it. I’m going to have to put in a few hours over the long weekend. As I always do during this long weekend. I did the proofreading on the staff newsletter, which I think came out great this time. Lots of good contributions from different corners of the company. But I did the hard part early in the week, so the proofreading was cake.

Took a nap after work, then watched Pitch Perfect 3 again for reasons I can’t remember.

The NaNoWriMo Skype got going early. I jumped in to chat but not to write. Writing didn’t come until later, and it was a bit of a struggle. I didn’t really get going until everyone else left, and hit 1667 words just past midnight. That’s exactly the daily average you have to hit in order to cross the 50K line on the 30th of the month. Happily, I’m comfortably ahead of that pace, so 1667 was just fine with me.

This is from the 2009 NaNoWriMo pep talk from Robin McKinley. Her novel, The Hero and the Crown, is one of the less-talked-about Newbery winners (1985) but it is quite good. Real fantasy for young adults the way it should be written. This makes the second pep talk from a Newbery laureate I read that one evening. Katherine Paterson was the first, and she’s one of a tiny number of writers to win it twice.

…every writer is different as every human being is different, one from another. (Some writers make their deadlines. Some writers know where they’re going. Some writers don’t mind not knowing where they’re going.) But the chief thing I would like to get over to you, as you look to me to say something inspiring about this maniac—I mean, this energizing and felicitious project to write a first draft of a novel in a month, is the liveness of Story, and therefore the unpredictability inherent in writing any story down.

You need that live, tensile, surprising strength between you and the story you’re trying to write, or it’ll die on the page. But this doesn’t make it easier. It makes it harder. It’s more exciting—more thrilling, more appalling: on good days you’ll fly higher than a peregrine cruising for dinner, on bad days someone will have to scrape you off the floor with a spatula. This is what writing is like. You have to write on through the highs and lows, the careens and the meditations of your stories. And that’s what you’re here for now: to write. Go for it. Good luck.

If I can do these impossible things, you can do the impossible thing of writing the first draft of your novel in a month. It’s a first draft! It does not have to be a thing of beauty! Don’t worry about the spelling (or the consistency)! Just write it. I bet you can even get to the end, and find out what it is.

And may you have an absolutely brilliant time doing it. Writing can be the worst, and often is—but it can also be the best. May you come out of that month knowing what you want to do next, and eager to keep going. Try to remember the peregrine days on the days that your husband/wife/roommate/dog needs steel wool to get you off the floor. And keep writing: the only way you can learn how your stories work is by letting them tell you. By putting live words together.

I really like the first part because I’m learning more, each time I read one of these, that every writer is different. But I also like the “liveness of Story” and the “unpredictability inherent in writing any story down.”

In my NaNo project, a cozy mystery set in a public Honolulu high school, I didn’t know who the killer was until I made my character sing an impromptu song about the people she worked with and why each of these people was the custodian’s murderer. It was silly and spontaneous and fun, and in the middle of writing my character doing it, I knew who the killer was.

I didn’t exactly know why, and as I approach my final few thousand words I still don’t quite know, although I’ve kind of mapped it out in my brain. I’m eager for the characters to figure it out so they can tell me.

I skipped breakfast, mostly because I spent most of the morning trying to decide what I wanted to eat. Then it was sorta too late for even me to call it breakfast. Around 1:30 I settled on pizza delivery. It’s only the second time since lockdown began in mid-March I’ve ordered pizza. It’s kind of strange; you’d think it would be a regular go-to, but I think the price turns me off, even on sale days, which this was. You pay the $5 delivery fee and then you tip the driver some amount expressing your gratitude for contactless delivery and businesses staying open, and it adds up to more than you thought you were paying.

I ate too much, too, which is another pizza problem. So I skipped dinner but by the time I was finished noveling, I was hungry again so I had a couple more slices for a midnight snack. Gave me incredible heartburn. Served me right, I guess.

I also had a late slice of pumpkin-custard pie, not because I was hungry for it (I wasn’t) but because I needed to clear room in my fridge.

I got a text from Sylvia. It was a photo of one of two Muzak control knobs in our office. The office is in the Interstate Building, which used to be the First Interstate Building, the home of First Interstate Bank. Our office is in the basement, and it includes two vaults (one for document storage, one for the server room) and other reminders that it was once a bank. The Muzak dials are others. Sylvia only started working in this main office a few weeks ago so she’d never seen them. She was properly amused. Although why she thought I wouldn’t have seen them is a mystery. They’re not in hiding or anything. Also, they don’t do anything because why would we subscribe to Muzak?

A friend of mine has a fancy cookie business in Texas, even though her day job is as a software engineer, and she posted some cookies related to Crush Girl’s favorite TV program, so I texted Crush Girl the link. She was appropriately impressed. Later, she texted me to tell me this thing she was working on for her Thanksgiving dinner had turned out great. We shared some thoughts about it and it inspired a few ideas in me. Good conversation.

That was it. Slow texting day. Slow writing day. Slow work day. But at least there were the Barden Bellas, I guess. And pizza.

Daily reminder to leave a comment if you need someone to connect with. I’m here for it. DMs, IMs, or texts. Let’s go.

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