A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

Pushing words up the anthill

Monday, December 1st, 2008

After writing for 28 days, at least 3 hours every day, I am wrung out, but thrilled to have created a novel out of thin air.

As I think back over the story I see how each of the plot lines and characters contain elements of myself. All of the issues I’ve tackled are fragments of thoughts that have been busy little ants building hills for years in my head. Like the football-sized anthills forming a path across the dry lake bed I pass on my daily walks, these themes teeming with my own thoughts arrange themselves like giant footprints across the pages I have just written.

Once I sit down to read, analyze and ultimately revise my 52,000+ words, I will be looking at each anthill under a microscope, looking for the trails and the tunnels my thoughts have created and then followed line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page until the final words, The End.

My mind, like a community of industrious ants, has gathered and sorted and built from tiny grains of sand, and like those itty-bitty, but productive ants, I know now that I can start with the smallest idea, just a word really, and create a structure with purpose and direction.

Yes, I can do this!

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I am writing Chapter 8 of my 30-day novel and wondering why I haven’t written a word of dialogue yet. Being an essayist and poet, I don’t have much occasion to write dialogue, so I consult one of several books with which I’ve surrounded myself in the past couple of weeks to “teach” me how to write a novel. Remember, I’ve never attempted to write a novel before. I’ve read plenty of them in the past 50 years, particularly in the genre I’m trying to write, but I’ve never thought I could pull off the feat of writing one myself.

So now I’m drowning in self-doubts. Maybe I can’t (I know, I HATE that word, but it keeps creeping up on me) write dialogue. I need immediate remedial dialogue-writing help. I don’t have any novels I’m currently reading and I’m in temporary quarters so my library of favorites is on the other side of the country. I don’t have TIME to read anything right now, anyway. What to do?

There is only one thing to do. Just write it. And so, finally reaching a point in the narrative where I feel comfortable putting two characters in a place where they might actually speak to one another, I am forcing myself to write dialogue…by the seat of my pants.

And guess what? I CAN DO THIS THING! I can write dialogue, and it’s not pointless. It moves the scene and gives additional dimension to the characters and showcases their emotional state and their relationship…and…and…

I’m exhausted. I’m flying. I’m sailing down the hill on a sled or a two-wheeler for the first time. I’m walking on two feet instead of crawling on hands and knees. I’m doing it instinctively.

Surprise! I guess I’ve been able to do it all along. All I had to do was start.

Who knew novel-writing could be this much fun?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I admit it. I’m one of those people who has spent her whole life composing novels in her head and never writing one. I even try to live my life as if it were a novel. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do write. I’ve even been published (aside from these blogs), but the idea of spending months or even years working on a full-length novel (as many well-known authors have confessed to doing) really holds no appeal for a poet and essayist. I like something I can complete in one or two sittings. So when I heard about NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a complete rough draft of a novel during the month of November, my first reaction was to dismiss the idea of wanting to write a novel in the first place. After all, if I don’t want to write one, why consider writing one in 30 days? That’s 29 days and 22 hours more than it takes me to write anything else!

But I had to admit to myself that it was always a secret ambition of mine to compete with all those overachieving writer friends of mine who have at least one novel to their names. So finally, after all these years of wimping out in the novel department, I decided to give it a go, not having much training on how to write something as complex and important as a novel.  About all I knew was that I’d need to research characters and settings about which I knew little, and create a plot out of thin air. Well, NaNoWriMo makes all that seem like needless worry. As Chris Baty, the founder wrote, No Plot, No Problem.

I am now having a blast spinning gold (well, maybe not gold yet, but something) out of nothing. The characters and plot are evolving, talking their way out of my head to my finger tips, to the keys and onto the screen. I can’t wait to hit the computer every evening and type for 3 hours, just to see how it’s going to turn out. It’s like reading a book that hasn’t been written yet. Oh wait! I’m the one waving my wand and watching the paragraphs grow into chapters! I feel like a sorcerer!