Tuesday, December 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo Redux, and paper and stuff

1. NaNoWriMo Redux:

Another year of NaNoWriMo insanity has come and gone, and I managed to squeak past the finish line for the sixth time. Yay, me! This was the second time I've handwritten it with fountain pens start to finish, in spite of my good intentions on the typewriter front. I don't exactly understand my own reasoning there. Part of it was that I'd started out by hand, figured out my average page count, and it was easier to stick with the figuring if I didn't switch methods. Partly I just liked (some of) the results I was getting. Partly I once again got all obsessed with fountain pens and ink, and I tend to focus on one obsession at a time. And I also got into the habit of hitting the coffee house at six thirty or seven every morning and writing for a solid hour before heading off to work. I'm still not at a point where I'm comfy lugging a typewriter into a very quiet early morning coffee house to type.

In any case, I finished. What have I learned? What did I come away with? Well, for the third year in a row, I have a story I think merits finishing and polishing. It needs considerable rewriting, but my stories always do. I'm a figure-it-out-as-I-go writer, and sometimes my stories are a bit like a game of telephone. I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite the scenes that I understand better now that the characters have fully evolved. But the story is moving. I have a head start; I've slogged through the sometimes tedious and scary initial stages of inventing characters and scenes and figuring out the skeleton of the plot. I love that about NaNo. I still have a good half the story to write, and a lot to trim away. I can't really blame NaNo for the bits that need trimming. It's more to do with my own tendencies as a writer: if I get stuck, I spin my wheels, and the story takes awhile to move on. Much of the wheel spinning will need to come out in the rewrite, but without it, I never hit the ground and move forward. Honestly, this is another reason paper works for me. I need to see all of those stages where I'm trying to figure out where to go or how to say something important. On paper, my character may say the same thing four different ways, and of course that's redundant. But now I can come back when the story is done--after I know *exactly* who that character is--and choose which of the four ways is really, truly them. I love that.

OK, now for some negativity. You know that old adage about monkeys on typewriters? Well, you know and I know it's a bunch of hooey. It doesn't matter how much time you give the monkeys, they'll never pound out anything but gibberish. Sometimes I feel like one of those monkeys. There are lots of inspirational little sayings out there about needing to write so many words of dross before being able to write a really good novel. But the truth is, you do need a certain amount of innate talent and creativity, or you're basically like one of those monkeys: no amount of time and effort and books and classes and critiquing is going to change the fact that there's a limit to just how good you're gonna get. Skills can only be honed within one's limitations. I tell myself that it doesn't matter, because I'm only writing for myself, but--and many of you can identify with this, I think--there's a little part of me that still wishes--at least some of the time, or now and again--that I could be that big famous author I dreamed of being when I was first learning to form sentences on paper. And there's still that little voice that says writing isn't worth it unless I am capable of doing just that, but I'm not, so why do I try? No matter how many times I tell that little voice to scram, it still pops up now and again to ridicule me and tell me that what I'm doing is pointless and painful and will only mean I leave piles of paper for people to laugh at when I'm gone.

Wretched thoughts. But can anyone identify sometimes, at least a little bit? I've been plotting ways to kill the little voice, but it tells me my ways aren't nearly creative enough. Poisoning with an antifreeze smoothie has been done. Shooting is soooo messy and overused. Dissolving with acid tends to muck up the carpeting if you drip....

2. Paper and stuff

Thanks to the guidance of fellow typecaster mpclemens and a 20%-off coupon I found on DIY Planner, I picked up some Circa/Rollabind disc-binding goods right before NaNoWriMo began. My entire 50,000 words fit into one letter-sized Circa notebook, on lovely fountain-pen-friendly heavy HP laser paper that I punched to fit. I also punched 3x5 cards to add notes in various places, especially questions and comments for the rewrite; added articles that I wanted to references; moved pages around or took 'em out as needed. It's a perfect system for a writer. You can combine typed pages, handwritten pages, reference material, pages of different sizes and shapes...all in one notebook that holds together nicely. I was impressed with how well it worked for me.

So, naturally, during the month I went to Wal-mart (during an hour when no one was there...) and picked up a stack of my old favorites: el-cheapo composition books (the Made in Brazil ones with nicer paper). This is my logic for you. Especially considering that the Circa stuff is a pretty hefty investment.

Not that composition books don't have their points, for sure. One thing that concerns me a bit about the Circa books is that you *can* move things around. It's not like anything fell out in spite of all the flipping through the book I did over the course of the month. It seems less likely to come apart than the average spiral book, honestly, especially if you use heavyish paper. But it's still an irrational fear of mine. I've never had a comp book tear in all my over twenty years or so of using them. And they're the perfect size. And they're cheap. And I am immediately comfortable with scribbling in the margins and drawing doodles at the top of the page and writing all my hard to spell words inside the covers, etc., etc. They're a well known and loved quantity.

But I can't mix them with typing or easily add any other information to them, and therein lies the rub. I usually just combine them with a smaller notebook for any notes that don't fit in the margins (since I number the pages, I can even mark what comp book and what page the notes apply to), but it's not quite the same as having one package. I like 'em both. I'll probably use both. I'm using a composition notebook for the next section of the story, for example, if only because I felt guilty about having 'em otherwise. But I struggle with the inconsistency of it all.

I'm fortunate that these are the complex issues of my life right now....


mpclemens said...

Well, I can certainly relate to #1, and I've some ruminations about this that I need to write up on my own. I am of the school of thought that believes that many of us could, with practice, be passable writers, if we focused on that, and (in my case) spent more than 30 days a year actually trying to write. I'd love to be able to say that this year's attempt will -- by some magical process -- vault my name to the top of some Bestseller list, preferably the kind that rains tuition and mortgage payments. And those old niddling fears are coming back now that everyone I told about NaNo is asking me questions like "did you finish?" and (worse) "are you going to get it published?" when I'm still struggling with "are you going to let me read it?" Glurk.

For #2, don't sweat it. If you're most comfortable with 99-cent comp. books, then so be it. My own Rolla-bound draft could as easily be held together with a big binder clip (free when you liberate them from work!) or shoved in an old boot box. I've got thoughts on how to use the disc-bound system now that I'm done with the draft stage, and I'll rant about these as well once I have my thoughts together.

Elizabeth H. said...

I'm still totally sold on the Circa stuff for a lot of purposes. It's the perfect solution for my music papers, for work, and really, for much of my writing. For typed manuscripts, I think it's the way to go. Yeah, you *can* use a binder clip and/or a box, but I like being able to flip through it without pages getting all scuffed up or lost. I've been going back through works I want to edit and disc binding them. So it's not a waste, having the tools. Not at all.

But there's something about the old cheap comp books (92-cent, actually...and 50 on sale if you catch 'em right...) that works for me, much of the time. I think it's as much nostalgia and the comfort of the familiar as it is any objective quality of the things. I like the Circa notebooks, too. And really, there's no reason I can't wobble back and forth between the two, at least on a serial basis. But, being me, rather than reveling in my options, I'm beating myself up for my inconsistency.

Strikethru said...

Ooh, you have a punch? Now that's what I need, a punch. But the things are so *&%% expensive!

SIX nanos!? I personally do not know of anyone who's reached that number. Hats off to you.

Elizabeth H. said...

The punch is a marvelous thing. But yeah, it's ridiculously expensive. I did use a 20% off coupon, and I see them going on eBay (by regular sellers rather than the outlet) for about the same price as I paid new, so I figured it wasn't a horrible risk.

And hey, compared to the Myndology punch, it's downright cheap...right? Right?

I can justify almost anything if I work at it hard enough....

It really is an integral part of making the whole disc binding thing live up to its reputation for flexibility. And almost *anything* will stay in place once punched. Punchable items have to be relatively thin, though.

Catcher Ltd. said...
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Anonymous said...

I did nanowrimo too but not on the typewriter.

Anonymous said...

I did nanowrimo too but not on the typewriter.