Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo Forums: Terrible Advice for Writers

The best writing advice I’ve ever heard comes from science fictionist Ray Bradbury, who basically said that you’ve got to write a lot of crap for the good stuff to finally make it out.

If I’m ever a famous writer, I’ll pass this advice along, but add what I call the Nefario Principle: It’s got to be good crap.

Here’s what the Nefario Principle means: You’ve got to be trying hard to write the good stuff even when you’re writing the crap, or else all you’ll ever be able to produce is crap.

Point in favor of the Nefario Principle: Much of the advice given in the NaNoWriMo forums, most particularly those focusing on the magical 50,000-word count necessary to “win” the contest. I learned a lot more about writing a novel churning out 120,000-plus words which I took seriously in “Considering How to Run” than I ever would learn using the language-inflation tricks proposed even tongue-in-cheek by those in the NaNoWriMo forums. Here’s a sampling:
I know you have them, what are your down and dirty tricks (without cheating) to reach 50k. Last year I wrote out the full names for EVERYTHING.

A persons name. Instead of Dr. Pascal, It would be Doctor Pascal Jonathan Himes
+3 words

I had a company named Shilo but the full name was Shilo Helping Hands Psychiatric Care and Rehabilitation Facility. Ridiculous to write each time, but I did.
+7 words
It got annoying but my main character worked in the hospital so the name was mentioned oftened and he ran into a TON of people so it was + two or three words all the time.
No, no, and no. I know the ethic here is “edit later,” but I’m kind of in the Richard Rhodes/”How to Write” camp when it comes to thinking why should I purposely load my writing with crap I know I’ll have to edit out later to meet some artificial word count total when I should instead concentrate on making my writing better, economizing on time in the process?

Do I have such tricks? Yes. I’ll do a little Virginia Woolf repletion once and a while – but it’s for effect – I hope – rather than word-count padding. Or word – count padding, I should say, increasing the word count in that phrase from two to four in the process.

Then there’s this, which is even worse:
Over complicate everything: "And he did then, with much gusto, verily grip his fingers around the weisswurst, a german sausage made from the meat of veal, otherwise known as baby cows or calves."

(This isn't mine, but a firend of mine's) Complain: "I hate so and so. She ticks me off so much. She's always telling me that I have to edit instead of rewriting everthing. I don't want to edit. I want to rewrite it. And who is she to tell me to edit? She's not an editor."

Flower language: make a character that sort of rambles on and on "Her hair was every color imaginable--blue, purple, red, green, black, brown et cetera (always two words--it's proper and boosts your word count), et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, amen."
This leaps right over John Steinbeck’s desire for occasional hooptedoodle right into the poodle factory where you’ll find yourself concentrating too much on mundane details and forgetting that your reader wants your characters to tell the story – and even tell them what they look like through action rather than description. A good writer gets out of the way of his or her characters. This kind of writing just puts the writer in the way, like my kids in front of the TV when I’m trying to watch.

I know the joke here is that the word count is an illusion, but they can’t track stats on NaNoWriMo if they’re saying “At the end of the month, have written a good book.” No. That’s too subjective. It’s easier to build little bar charts focusing on word count rather than on quality – though they can tout that “Water for Elephants” was a NaNoWriMo originee, so quality is there! Meh, I say. I’m only doing NaNoWriMo this year for fun anyway. The word count is secondary. I’m a lot more worried about getting my characters to the final destination than I am about how many words I can use to get them there.

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