Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Notes #1: Trusting Yourself When You Write

November is National Novel Writing Month, which I'll use as an additional push to keep my novel-writing on a tight schedule and maybe finish this draft of the book earlier than my 12/18 self-imposed deadline.

One issue that's important to me and that I struggle with is trusting myself when I write. In Ann Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, I came across a great analogy for what it's like to write an early draft of a novel:
E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.
and later she writes:
You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

Letting go and just writing is still something I need to work on. What helps is to remind myself that I need a warm up period - usually during the first fifteen minutes or so of writing I'm too worried about how things will turn out; I'm too much at a remove from the work. But if I let myself ease into the writing, my grip loosens on the steering wheel and I can drive into that dark night, with only a hazy idea of my destination and some milestones along the way, and focus instead on what the headlights are showing me. If I drive without trusting myself, the car will move in fits and starts, and I'll inch along, lose momentum, and stop at the side of the road, unable to continue.

What it comes down to is fearlessness and trust. I must be able to trust myself and what I'm capable of when I write. Instead of fearing the blankness beyond the blinking cursor, I need to barrel into it with everything I have. Sometimes it doesn't seem like much, but time and again I surprise myself. A character that seemed to go nowhere suddenly has a story, a motive, a purpose that makes sense. A location I mentioned in passing twenty pages back becomes I place I can walk through and touch and smell. I just have to keep writing.