Voices In My Head

I officially hit the halfway mark of NaNoWriMo, both in word count and days. My brain is in hyper warp. While I’m attempting to carry on everyday activities, I’m also thinking about writing, which is usually true, but at a higher level right now. I’m having conversations with the characters who’ve taken up residence in my head. Sometimes they get loud and pushy. And, for the life of me, I can’t make them do what I want. If I weren’t writing, I’d be worried about my mental wellbeing.

If you aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge in which writers all over the world participate. The goal is to write a novel in November. To be fair, it’s not a full novel; it’s 50,000 words. The average adult novel is about 90,000 words, and for teen novels, it’s about 55,000. However, it’s is a lot closer to a book than 0. The point is to give yourself a month to sit down and get that thing that’s been taking up space in your head down on paper. I kind of love it.

This is my third year, and I’ve “won” my last two. That means I’ve reached 50,000 words. By no means am I the first one done. I see people posting their numbers on Facebook and Instagram, and I’m blown away at how fast they work. I’m capable of writing 50,000 words at any other point in time, but I love dedicating a whole month to new words. It turns out I’m a slow rewriter. Giving myself the room to jump in with no other restrictions or rethinking what‘s on the page is kind of amazing. It’s freeing. The rest of the year is for clean-up.

Writers, in general, seem to break down into three categories. At least that’s what I’m told. Plotters, people who sit down and create a well thought out and detailed plan, including character sketches, timelines, and a plot. There are Pantsers. They have a thought, then sit down and let their fingers fly as fast as the ideas come to them. I’m a Plantser, a combo of the two. I do some planning, and then I let the story take me on a journey. I admire Plotters. I’m working on plotting and pre-thinking more before I write.  

This year I attempted just that. I have a little blue notebook, a gift from my mother in law (thank you, Linda) where I’ve been keeping notes. They’re more lists than paragraphs. Instead of carrying around the thought in my head all day like I usually do, I’m capturing them in this notebook. Over the past few years, I’ve been building a fictitious town in my head. Before NaNo started, I had to gather up my little notes from here and there. I didn’t know how much I love world-building until I started writing again. It reminds me of playing as a kid. This is nothing like the fantastic and meticulous work that other writers do, but it’s a big step up for me.

I also think a lot while I’m walking, hiking, and doing yoga. Swimming is where I do my best thinking, but there are no pools due to COVID. I miss how happy and creative the pool makes my brain. While my body is engaged with a steady motion, my mind can explore. I’ve started carrying the little blue notebook with me as I walk and hike, so I don’t have to keep repeating things to myself because I’m afraid I’ll forget. It feels kinda good to be prepared.

Mostly, I enjoy seeing where the characters take me. When I overprepare and try to tell my characters the story, it never works out. They know best. As Sweet Bee Writes, a NaNo writing buddy, said to me, “More like being born than created because they do seem to have a life of their own.” Yes! and shouldn’t they have a life of their own? We are trying to write them in a relatable way. For example, I can’t stand an overly perfect or overly evil character. There must be something about them I can connect with. It’s why I adore an anti-hero.

As a fan-girl for writers and writing, I can’t get enough of hearing authors speak about their craft—so many talk about how they can’t thoroughly plot a book. Sometimes you must let the characters tell you what they would do in a situation, how they would respond. In life, we assign our thoughts to other people all the time, like tropes and stereotypes. Which, first of all, is lazy. Plus, we’re often wrong. One of my students at the jail recently asked me who my favorite band is. I told him, Nine Inch Nails. He looked at me for a few moments with a furrowed brow. Then he said, “I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years.” We often observe that surface someone offers us and leave it at that. To me, one of the most extraordinary things about people is when they shock me. I dig it.

As I continue my strange journey into this fictitious town I’ve been thinking about for years, into these characters and their lives, seeing who overlaps with whom, I’m excited. When I’m done with NaNo, I’ll sit down and create a timeline, character sketches, make sure all the details make sense, and fill in the holes. I know this is backward of many writers, but it feels right for me. I don’t like to force things to happen or make characters do what I want. I revel in the discovery. Seeing where it all takes me and what’s going to happen next.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Are you aiming for some other goal or focus as we head into winter and another round of lockdowns? I hope you’re holding up well. This is a stressful time. I know I’m stressed out. Please find the support you need and the thing that keeps you whole.

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