Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NanoWrimo: Words come forth

It's Tuesday, 2nd November, and I have commenced NanoWrimo for 2011. I would be scared to do impromptu performance poetry, but this is in some ways the same thing, only it's 50,000 words in one month rather than two minutes on stage in front of an audience. And I don't reveal what I've written until afterwards. So in that respect it's a bit safer. More like a Master Chef show, where I can just cry at the end if my dish doesn't work out.
But it's not like Master Chef because I don't have a set of ingredients, either handed to me or selected from the Master Chef pantry. Some writers would say, "I have a blank piece of paper" or a blank screen, but I don't agree with that. That's a bit like a footballer looking at the scoreboard - there ain't no game going on there; it's on the field. So where's the field? It's in your head, or wherever else you choose it to be.
My book is not exactly in my head, it's just above and a bit in front of my head, in a cloud. It's my job to bring it out of the cloud, the same way Michelangelo drew David out of the marble block (but don't trust me on my knowledge of art history).  I have been preparing for NanoWrimo by not thinking about it, by emptying my head. I've just been conscious of it as a cloud of potentiality.
Someone reviewed my first novel, The Ten Thousand Things, and criticised it by saying I should have called it a memoir. But although the story was essentially a part of my history, it wasn't until I looked at it as a story, not an exercise in pedantry, that it came alive and I could write it. And I learned in school that fiction can express truth more than most history books do.
And another thing, a while ago I read this statement: "A memoir is perhaps the last thing a person needs in life, somewhat like a coffin." I didn't write a memoir, I don't intend to, and I'm still alive. I'm sure there are benign ways to think about memoirs, but the concept gives me the impression of self-satisfaction, and a need to have the last word, or perhaps simply the expression of a need to retain people's attention, to hang onto relevance by talking about past deeds. I'm still looking forward to new deeds.
So, how's my new novel going? Well, I've started. I could say, it's too early to say. I could still be saying that on 29 November too. It's taking shape. I've started somewhere. That's important, as a first thing. I've been chatting to readers, just to get them comfortable. So far there haven't been any explosions, kidnappings or acts of heroism. (Well, no, that's not altogether true; I have talked about a heroic person.)
Paul Simon has a recent album (which is splendid) which has a song about an ageing (let's say he must be in his fifties or sixties) guy who has been writing a screen play for years. It has a scene of suffering where the protagonist, an ex-Vietnam vet who is estranged from his family, loses the plot and says and does things that break the relationship down completely. Having mulled over the story, the writer decides that what he really needs to do to make the play successful is to throw out that scene, and substitute a car chase, and a race across the rooftops, where the man saves a whole family. Heroism. It's very "today".
So, no, no acts of heroism in the first chapter.
I've been delving into my early adulthood. I'll tell you that much. So I could say I'm writing a personal history of the second half of the 20th century. Yeah, that's it. Tell your friends. If there turns out to be no heroism, there may be some heart-wrenching anguish. But who would presuppose what lies in the dark?
A week ago I wrote this about the new novel: The third story takes off from where my first two NanoWrimo novels left me. This means going back to the beginning and retracing my steps so I can remember where I was intending to go.
Now, after close to 4,000 words, I think this is true so far. I always start in my study, among my books. And I love this process of having to write, today, telling whatever story it turns out to be, just from what emerges onto the page. Yes, the sceptics can scoff. I still put my stories before you all, and with the help of the internet, I can do so more than ever. I still have a garage full of copies of my ethics book and The Ten Thousand Things, but I don't need to do that anymore. Sustenance, the second novel, is available on via print-on-demand.
And somewhere, among the torrent, or through the very torrent, of words, I manage to do this: "I write to express the possibility of living with integrity and love, strength and joy, ethics and creativity".
Here's where you can look at all my books, and buy them: 

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