Well, NaNo crew, how is November treating you? We’ve nearly concluded our second week of writing now, and our word goal for the end of today (Day 12) is 20,000. Doesn’t that just seem like a tremendous number? Let me be the first to admit that sometimes our goal seems absolutely ridiculous and overwhelming. There are days where you sit down and only hammer out 500 words in an hour, and there are days where you don’t sit down to write at all. It sometimes seems that the first ten thousand words were the easiest, and now fatigue sets in. Keep in mind that we’re not sprinting; we’re marathon running here.
Around Day 10, I had a bit of a crisis. I didn’t write at all on Day 9 (I played Magic the Gathering until after midnight instead), and when the stat counter on NaNoWriMo.org ticks over at midnight and it shows you that “at this rate you’ll be done on December 8th,” it’s really easy to get discouraged. Worse yet, I’d just written what I considered to be a fairly powerful piece that contained a lot of important character development, and I was suddenly feeling like I had written myself into a corner. I had created a better character than I had originally set out to do, but in the process made the original plot-point I had intended her for seem completely unrealistic and out of character. What was I to do? I shared my concern with my family at a family get-together dinner that evening, and we all laughed about it. My youngest brother suggested, jokingly, that I have everything that had happened so far be a dream, and have the character wake up and say “Now I’m evil, bwahahaha.”
In the past, this kind of conundrum would have had me backtracking into potential weeks of editing, as I tried to make adjustments to my existing work and to the outline in order to make everything make sense again. But the spirit of NaNoWriMo is “no editing,” so I made a difficult decision. With two hours remaining before my 3,334 word deficit became a 5,001 word deficit, I decided I would press on in the direction I was going and see if something suggested itself to me as I went along. And, what do you know, it did! As of this moment, I’m sitting in twenty-two-thousand words—yes, I’m actually ahead of schedule—and I think these last three chapters are some of the best I’ve written.
The two things that I credit most with this remarkable surge forward are the Salon and the music I’ve been listening to. Having a writing circle to turn to, bounce ideas off of, and just complain to on occasion has been a remarkable resource. I want to publicly thank each member of the Salon (although our private member roles prevent me from naming them aloud) for contributing to the health of the group, and for sharing your work. This group is really becoming what I had dreamed of it being.
The second part—having the right music—is nearly as important to me. I’m the kind of guy for whom music is an extension of brain function. I need the right sounds in order to think. One thing I’ve learned over the past twelve days is that music that is good for doing school homework is not necessarily good for writing fiction. More dramatically, music that is good to drive in the car to (everything from Judas Priest to Excision) may be good music for brainstorming (I come up with a lot of ideas in the car), but it is bad music for writing. In the past few days, I’ve found that the best music is either cerebral music without words (Beethoven’s piano sonatas have become one of my go-to favourites) or expansive music with incomprehensible words, like many forms of extreme metal. I’ve found post-metal band Neurosis and Ukrainian black/folk band Drudkh to be particularly helpful. Their new albums Honor Found in Decay and Eternal Turn of the Wheel (respectively) really draw the words out of me. I believe the key is to find some music that makes you feel strong emotions because of the musical content alone, not because you’re fixated on the lyrics. When you’re writing, you don’t want lyrics to be distracting you from your own words and thoughts.
I’ll leave you with another nine-hundred word excerpt from my as-of-yet untitled novel. This scene is the introduction of a fairly important character to the narrative, and demonstrates the dialogue-heavy conversational style that I usually produce. I will place a warning that it contains a dosage or two of strong language.
Sarah Little and Ashley Weaver shared a modest three room apartment on the top floor of the building. Granted, that was only ten stories, but it was still higher than most of the buildings around. The apartment featured a real, full-sized kitchen, which Ash prized above everything else. The kitchen was her zone, and the rest of the decorating was Sarah’s domain.
Sarah’s favourite feature of the apartment was the fireplace in the living room. An apartment with a real fireplace in New York was practically unheard of, even it was only a gas fireplace and not a wood burning one. Finding wood to burn in Brooklyn wasn’t nearly as difficult as it would have been twenty years ago—after all, the oldest forest in the world was only just across the East River, and the river itself was only four hundred feet away. But then they would have had to haul it up the elevator and store it somewhere and check for bugs—no, gas was fine.
The décor was mainly cream and burgundy—colours Sarah adored—with a fair number of black and white paintings on the walls, including two full length nudes of Ash and Sarah, one on either side of the fireplace. Sarah loved the artistic qualities, and Ash loved the shock factor. The couch sat kitty-corner to the fireplace, with a handmade oak coffee table in front of it. This is where Sarah sat the elf girl.
“Please, relax yourself. I’ll just put on some hot water, and we can have some tea,” she said, gliding around the living room, hanging her coat, lighting the fireplace, and moving a box of tissues closer to the girl. By now, she had stopped crying, but her face was streaked and her nose was drippy.
“Let me apologise for Ashley,” Sarah said, putting a royal blue kettle on the stove. Of all the things in the kitchen, the kettle was the only one that was hers. “She’s a wonderful girl, but she’s sometimes not the most friendly to…certain people.”
“You mean elves,” the girl said, speaking for the first time. Sarah, the negotiator, sighed.
“No, not only elves, although I won’t deny that she does find them particularly troubling.”
“You don’t have to do all this for me,” the girl said, standing up and mashing her hat back onto her head. “I’m used to prejudice, and I don’t want to cause you trouble with your friend.”
“Sit down, sit down,” Sarah said, waving a hand. “Ash will be fine. You, on the other hand, need somebody to treat you decently for half a minute. Do you care for Earl Grey?”
“Who?” the elf blinked.
“The tea,” Sarah said, holding up a jar of leaves. “Do you care for it?”
“I…I’m mostly a c…coffee girl,” the elf answered, a slight blush showing on her cheeks. Sarah wrinkled her nose.
“Well, we’ll just have to see by experiment, then,” she said, popping the air-tight seal of the jar and carrying it over to the couch. “Smell this and tell me what you think.” She waved the lid, and the sweet odour of bergamot wafted into the room.
“That smells lovely,” the girl answered, her eyes widening.
“That’s the spirit,” Sarah said, spooning an appropriate amount into a teapot. Do you have a name, Mostly A Coffee Girl?”
“I’m Emily,” the elf replied. “Emily…just Emily.”
“My mother’s surname is stupid,” she snarled, baring tiny white teeth in a gesture that reminded Sarah of Ash. “Fuck her! Fucking fuck fuck fuck!” Her slender hands were balled into fists, and the earlier uncontrolled sorrow had given place to uncontrolled rage.
Sarah didn’t comment on the outburst. She had learned from years of living with Ash that eventually, when she had said what she needed to say, Emily would be ready for help, but not before. In the meantime, there was tea.
“Would you like milk in your tea?” Sarah asked.
“Is it good with milk?” the coffee girl asked.
“I think so,” the tea mistress answered, “but some prefer it without.”
“I like milk,” Emily stated decisively. “Lots of milk.” Sarah laughed, her mirth loud and clear like a glass bell.
“Well then, you shall have lots of milk.”
Going out, a message came from Ash.
Bar. Get drunk. Sarah looked at the clock.
It’s 2 PM.
Fuck off. Oh dear.
“Is something wrong?” Emily asked. Sarah refocused on the moment, handing the girl her tea and putting a splash of milk into her own.
“No, why do you ask?”
“You just looked…upset,” she said, taking the first sip of her tea. She gave a contented sigh and sunk back into the couch. It was at that point that Emily first noticed the paintings. Her face turned extremely red, and she looked down into her tea. “You must be very close,” she said in her little girl’s voice.
“We are. Closer than most. I won’t pretend that I’m not worried about her. Silly Ash. She doesn’t mean badly, but she’s bound to get herself hurt.” The two girls sipped their tea in silence for a full minute, before Sarah spoke again. “But I don’t want to trouble you with all that. I thought you needed some peace, and for me, tea is a peaceful thing.”