Saturday, September 1, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up and Musings

Bwahaha.  Such a hopeful blog title with such a sad purpose: to tell you all that I failed, and failed horribly at Camp NaNoWriMo 2012.  I came in at a whopping 4969 words, falling 45031 short of the goal of 50,000.  Not even 10%.  Pathetic.

But while I wasn't writing very much, I was thinking about writing, about why I want to write and what always makes writing so hard for me.  The why is really the tougher part - I've wanted to write since I was very young.  While other kids were saying that they wanted to be a teacher (I sometimes said that) or a firefighter or a doctor or a waitress (I sometimes said that too), I was usually saying that I wanted to be "an author."  From when I was little I knew I wanted to write out of my love for reading.  I remember sitting down in the third grade and penning, not a story, but a list of titles of the stories I would write.  I remember that one such title was "Pans of Blood."  My literary tastes have clearly changed since then.

In the seventh grade I finally wrote my first book: Believe in the Ouija, which was a poorly edited tale of a boarding school where a Ouija board predicts mysterious disappearances, and included a lovely teacher whose place has been stolen by her evil yet genetically-identical twin sister (can you guess who did it?).  I took it upon myself to mail my manuscript to Random House and actually received a thoughtful, and very kind response (though it lacked feedback on my actual writing).

In college writing classes I had no problem meeting my deadlines and was generally happy with my work.  I wrote an honors thesis my senior year consisting of five connected short stories that won me a couple of awards (including some cash).  After graduating, I completed one NaNoWriMo a couple of year ago, though it was a bit of a mishmash of various unfinished stories that I never returned to.

So what's stopping me?  I think the main problem is that my writing bores me.  I tend to write what I call quiet stories: about people and their lives, without a central plot or overarching conflict.  I like reading these kinds of stories, and I think I even do a decent job of writing them (see cash prize).  But it's hard to keep going with them because I just get so bored.  So I've been doing a more conscious job of determining what about the books I read makes me want to read and ultimately emulate them.

I was reading A Storm of Swords when I first started thinking about this and looked up some stuff about GRRM's writing, and was overwhelmed by how much care when into his world-building: from the design of surnames based on geography and ancestry to the inclusion of details like almond milk, which apparently is not such a modern hippie product, but actually was used in the Middle Ages.  Now I'm reading A Prayer for Owen Meany (and remembering The Cider House Rules), and am blown away by how Irving creates his places, complete with a history and an environment with clear effects on the characters.  And I think I have my answer.  Or at least part of it.

The major thing that my writing is lacking is place.  I deal too much with characters' thoughts and motivations without developing the world around them.  I don't think I could create a world like in Game of Thrones, at least not without a lot more time than I currently have, but I definitely think I could and should do more on the level of what Irving creates: a real place that is a much a character as the people, that contributes to the development of the human characters, that gives things a sense of reality.

So that's what I'm going to work towards from now on.  Who knows if it'll make a difference but that's what I'm leaning towards.

Any advice for a hopeful writer bored with her work is most welcome here.  As confused as I currently am by my motivation to write, I still know that it's what I want and am not ready to give up.

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