Tag: improvisation

I thought you should know. 😀

As I mentioned the other day, this year I am jumping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon.  I’m a total newb and I haven’t the first clue what I’m doing, but being clueless is half the fun, isn’t it?

Actually I am taking a different approach to this project than I typically do.  I’m a plotter, one of those folks who tend to plan my stories out to the nth detail.  Outlining and creating character sketches/backgrounds are tasks that are an integral part of my writing process.  I sometimes even go so far as to dig up pictures for my primary players and paste them around my writing space; this helps me better conjure images of my characters when they interact. 

While this process is important to getting the outline of the story straight in my mind, another wrinkle of my unorthodox approach is that once I sit down to write, I become more like a pantser.  Much of what I developed in my plotting stage gets tossed aside while writing the first draft.  It’s almost as if I create a blueprint of my story, right down to the addresses of key locations and dates of birth of main and secondary characters, only to deviate from this gameplan at every opportunity in the first draft.  I know what your thinking: schizo much?  Yeah, I know, but it’s worked for me so far, so why change it, right?

Still, that’s exacly what I’m going to do–at least for NaNoWriMo.  I’ve been curious about other writing approaches, recently.  I really respect those folks who can sit down with nothing but a blank sheet of paper and just let things fly.  In my mind, this kind of writing is walking on a tightrope, working without a net, letting go of all that is cautious and familiar and easy.  Dangerous.  Death defying.

So I’m taking the plunge.  This year, I’ll jump in the deep end of the pool, wing it, and just write on the fly, just see what happens.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done any tinkering with this story idea.  In fact, it’s been kicking around my brain for well over a year now, so of course I’ve given it some thought.  But I certainly ain’t gonna do the detailed plotting/planning that I usually do.  I’m just going to put one word in front of the other, until the thing’s finished.  What could be so simple, right?

I’m so curious to see how it turns out–and so anxious to get writing!–that I can hardly hold a coherent thought in my head (as this post no doubt attests :D).  What about you?  Got any big NaNoWriMo plans this year?  Is this your first rodeo?  Will your process be the same as previous projects?  What are you doing differently?

P.S. My NaNoWriMo handle is jpcircusboy, so come look me up if you’re in the neighborhood!

Yes, I am alive.

If I may steal a witticism from Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  😀

In fact, life has been very good to me these last few months and, excepting a conspicous lack of internet access which has so rudely and inexplicably interrupted my online life (as you dear reader have no doubt already noted), I have absolutely no complaints.

On the contrary, our new life here in sunny Sicily has taken root, truly.  The road to and from work is well travelled, beds made, candles lit, boxes unpacked, books and parcels placed, pictures hung, floors swept, mopped, made to shine in the lavalamp glow of our wondrous Mediterranean light, produce markets explored, fresh vegetables pawed and purchased, wines and beers sipped and savored, bedtime stories shared, and all the indescribable little things that make life worth living have been appreciated.  It’s been an amazing kind of miracle, really; the kind that’s hard to talk about without breaking into a knowing grin.

I have much to share with you and am excited to be “alive” again.  We have found a solution, though imperfect, to the internet access problem and so I will begin posting regularly, and will be around to your blogs in a jiffy to see what you’ve been up to.  In fact, let me pose the question: what have you been up to?  You see, I missed you–terribly!–and, like a distant cousin or long lost friend just returned from an extended journey, I feel the need to curl up next to the fire and bask in the stories and tales you no doubt have to share.

The writing, you ask?  Well, let us talk more about that in due time, shall we?  Suffice to say that though my word count is low–strike that! Virtually nonexistent better describes it–I have done much which I think counts toward the overall goal of perfecting my writing craft.  Trust me on this one.  Sometimes doing something looks alot like doing nothing.

So I pledge there will be more to follow–the proverbial end of the story, we’ll call it.  And one last thought before I get down to business: it’s good to be back!

I want you to drop and give me fifty push-ups.  No really.  Yes, right now.  No, this isn’t the Drill Instructor.  Just little ol’ Jon Paul.  That’s right, fifty push-ups.

Trouble?  Oh, I see.  That’s alright.  Maybe we’ll do them later, shall we?  OK.

To tell you the truth, before I joined the military, I could barely do twenty-five push-ups myself, so I understand.  I’ve had a few “practice sessions” in the last eighteen years so I could do the fifty now, if need be.  In fact, just about anyone who’s spent time in the military could probably knock out fifty push-ups without hardly thinking about it.

Here’s a different proposition: what if there was a book deal at the end of those fifty push-ups?  Yeah, like the magic lamp and three wishes–sorta.  If you did the fifty push-ups, then there would be an agent there ready to sign you and ready to pitch your book to anyone and everyone.  Oh, OK.  I’ll wait.  OK.  Oh, you’ll  figure out something?  Great.  OK.  I’ll tell ya what.  Let’s knock out this post and we’ll come back to this idea.

Hiya!  Today is Part Five of my six part post series Conquering the Page: Creating Your Own Fiction Writer’s Battle Plan.  If you missed any of the first four parts, they’re linked on the right sidebar.

So far in our Battle Planning sessions, we’ve identified goals and tasks and organized them into a staged schedule.  In other words, we’ve built the Battle Plan–or BP for short.  Having finished BP construction is a great accomplishment, but that only gets us half way there.  Your BP is still untested.  The quality of the effort we make to execute the BP and to judge our success are as critical to our long-term writing success as having a plan in place in the first place.

Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke, a late nineteenth-century military strategist, famously said: “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”  This is the military corollary to Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”  This will be true of your BP too; I can almost guarantee that day in, day out, month in, month out, your BP will not go the way you planned it to go.

What does this mean for us writers?  It means that we can have the best plan in the world, but there’s also this thing called real life that sometimes gets in the way.  Cars break down.  Kids get sick.  Sometimes we have to work late.  Sometimes an event occurs which changes the entire rhythm of our lives, but that shouldn’t mean that the writing doesn’t get done.

The trick to being successful has two parts:  1) get up on the writing horse, but equally if not more important 2) stay there!

When we talk about improvising and being flexible in the execution of our BP, what we are really saying is “Find a way to get the writing done, regardless of other demands on our time.”  Expect things to change.  Expect the two hours we set aside for writing this morning to become thirty-minutes.  Compensate.  Practice re-arranging your schedule to accommodate your writing tasks.  Sacrifice.  Make hard choices.  Give up the television show you love.  Buy voice recognition software for your laptop so you can record yourself on the drive to and from work.  Stay up a half hour later.  Get up a half hour earlier.  Get creative.  Do whatever it takes to get the job done. 

Think of it this way: every day you delay is another day before you get your book deal (or whatever your long term goal happens to be).  For success in the writing business, we need opportunity, but as Malcolm Gladwell argues, we also need to put our time in.  He believes that a person cannot become an expert in a field until they’ve put in 10,000 hours.  Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview following the release of his book Outliers:

Anything that is cognitively complex seems like it requires at least 10,000 hours. … It’s deliberate practice, so it’s focused, determined, in environments where there’s feedback, where there’s a chance to really learn from mistakes. What’s fascinating about this notion that expertise arises only after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is that it seems to apply incredibly broadly to an astonishing array of different professions – from playing chess to writing classical music to being a brain surgeon to playing hockey.

So putting your time in is key, and the key to finding that time is in learning to improvise and be flexible.  Practice writing, but also practice being absolutely ruthless with yourself in the pursuit of your goals.  Find a way to get it done.

Now back to the fifty push-ups.  Being able to do fifty push-ups without thinking about it comes from being physically fit.  If you want to succeed as a writer, you also have to attain a kind of improvisational fitness–beyond simple practice, until finding time for your writing is no longer a conscious effort, but an integral part of the day-to-day fabric of your life.

Years ago, when I graduated from Officer Candidate School, the Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant who ran the school gave each graduating officer a placard which I still keep handy and go back and look at from time to time.  It says “Be a contender, not a pretender.”

I believe that to be a true contender, you have to get the job done, come hell or high water, no matter what else is happening or what circumstances have changed.  Make yourself a contender!  Build flexibility into your BP!  Give your writing the planning, time and attention it deserves and you’ll be ready when the big writing opportunity presents itself.

Homework.  Take a look over your BP and identify tasks which may go by the wayside or are in conflict with other activities in your life.  Brainstorm and write down the work-arounds you’ll take to accomplish the task anyway.

Thanks for stopping by.  Part Six, Assessing Your Progress will be next week!

For fun, I leave you with this scene from “With Honors” starring Brendan Fraser and Joe Pesci, highlighting how important flexibility and improvisation can be.