Today is Day Two of CampNaNoWriMo. And before anyone comments, yes I do know that two consecutive days of writing is hardly blog worthy. However, the first two days of CampNaNoWriMo have taught me four valuable lessons as a novice writer:
1. Don’t Be Afraid of the (Second) Blank Page
I have always disliked this advice. I’ve read it countless times in Writer’s Digest articles, blog posts, memes and even Facebook writing groups. I still dislike this advice even when I write it myself. I dislike it because telling someone to not fear something they are afraid of, does nothing to help that person to be less afraid. For years I have had stories, characters, plots and twists swimming around in my imagination. I have spent hours daydreaming the stories until they are so real I could almost believe that I read them in a book. When I’m driving, I hear entire conversations and arguments between my characters with the same clarity as an audiobook. This is not unusual for writers. The rub for me has always been taking something which is so dynamic inside my mind and getting it down on paper, without it becoming dull and lifeless.
When I have managed to write the beginning of the story in which I am currently living, the greater struggle comes with the second blank page – Chapter Two. I have practiced the art of creating an engaging opening. Then I polish, edit and tweak it. There is so much emphasis on first chapters, opening sentences and hooking your reader from the first word, yet I’ve never seen an article titled “Chapter Two – How to Keep it Going”. If I gain nothing else from CampNaNoWriMo, I will forever be grateful that today I wrote my first ever Chapter Two. CampNaNo has given me a strict deadline and while the target of 50,000 words is self-imposed, my public commitment on social media to write a novel during CampNaNo is enough incentive to make me face the blank page of Chapter Two.
When I sat down to write, I had no idea how to get from the end of Chapter One to the end of Chapter Two. But I had my Plot Embryo and a character desperate to jump off the page and into her story. And as cliched as it sounds, once I began the first sentence, my story started writing itself. Which brings me to the next lesson I learned…
2. Embrace Change
My opening chapter was a perfectly acceptable first draft. I know there are scenes and dialogue requiring attention but I got the important information down and the story and protagonist were established. Once I eventually wrote the first sentence of Chapter Two, I had a case of the ‘What If’s?’ What if she reacts this way instead? What if she finds out a secret? What if instead of killing off this character they have a secret identity? Before long I realized that the main character I had created needed to be as unusual as her name. Her escape from a nomadic lifestyle had to become her greatest adventure yet. This could not simply be a coming-of-age story unless I wanted to give up part way through due to boredom. Within the space of one sentence I found myself the most unlikely writer of an action, adventure and possibly spy novel.
Fortunately, this change of genre supports the protagonist and fits very nicely within my Plot Embryo. This new exciting genre allows for greater plot twists and I feel exhilarated rather than daunted by the challenge.
3. A Little Procrastination Goes a Long Way
As I have admitted, much of today’s procrastination was due to the dreaded Chapter Two. However, as I drank copious amounts of coffee and binge-watched Community (an unhealthy new addiction for which I whole-heartedly thank Rachael Stephen and Dan Harmon), I was thinking about my story. I had planned to kill off one character and create an emotional trauma for my protagonist, but it just didn’t sit right, as though I’d be missing the bigger story.
So I imagined all the different ways this character could be written and how that would affect their relationship with the protagonist. And I have to say, if I hadn’t spent the morning procrastinating and thinking about this character, I’m not sure I’d have been hit with the ‘What If’s’, which was the very break-through I needed to conquer Chapter Two.
4. You Can’t Type Unless Your Fingers Are on the Keyboard
A little procrastination goes a long way, but it can only be effective if it comes to an end. Before long, whether you feel inspired or not, you have to put your hands on the keyboard and start typing. If your hands are in the kitchen baking bread, they’re not typing; if they’re folding the laundry, they’re not typing; if they’re anywhere other than the keyboard they are not typing and you’re not writing.
I play piano. I had lessons from the age of six right through university, and with the exception of a brief period in my teens, I thoroughly enjoyed them. Even at the age of six I knew that unless my fingers were on the keyboard, I couldn’t play or practice anything. Writing a story is like learning a piece of music. You work through it a section at a time. It takes time and effort even, and perhaps especially, when you don’t feel like it.
CampNaNo has not given me anything tangible I couldn’t have given myself. But what it has given me is a sense of accountability, a sense of community and a desire to rise to the challenge. My piano teacher always told me that the life of a pianist is a lonely one. I know this to be true and I had always considered the life of a writer to be the same – one of solitude and loneliness. However, like accompanying a choir or playing with an orchestra, CampNaNo offers a unique moment to join with others in creating something greater than a solo performance.