Oh my gosh! It’s my first time, and it is so scary. I’m not sure if I can take on something so substantial. I’m taking about NANOWRIMO. Get your mind out of the gutter!
National Novel Writing Month is upon us, and I have never taken part before. I have, in fact, written a novel. That was over a semester, of course. This time…things are very different. Obviously, I have no tips to give as of yet. Jobe has written an amazing post filled with treasures for you all. I suggest you check it out.
As of now, I do not have a title for my new novel. I do have some notes and a general direction in which to go. There are dozens of write-ins scattered throughout the month all around LA. If you sign up at nanowrimo.org, you can see what gatherings are going to take place in your area. If you want to follow my progress, you can buddy up to me. Username: Darby Riales. I’m so creative.
I have written about how to guard against writer’s block in the past. Perhaps it might help a bit.
So, this is my first time. That doesn’t mean that it has to be painful. Let’s all try to have fun and make it as memorable as possible. If you wish to share your own personal experiences with NANOWRIMO, feel free to put that comment box to good use.
It’s no secret that some of our greatest works of literature come from deeply felt tragedy. Everyone, no matter what walk of life s/he comes from, experiences loss, betrayal, pain, anger, and even hatred. These things make us human, but they do not define us. What defines us is how we cope with life’s obstacles. Some people paint. Some people play sports. Some people meditate. I write.
In this article, I will give my tips on how to convey personal experience into your writing without falling into a pit of despair.
Emotions are raw and powerful things. They can easily spiral out of control when you are trying to recall an intense memory for your writing. When I am about to write a tragic scene, I first recall a pleasant memory. (For Harry Potter fans, it would be like the memory you would choose for your patronus.) I keep this memory in the back of my mind while I dig up the sad one. (The sad memories are like Dementors. They can suck out your soul if you are not careful.) If I feel myself becoming too emotionally compromised, I will simply think about that pleasant memory. It pulls back from the edge, and I am able to finish my work.
If it sounds too simple, that’s because it is. Our emotions are what make us so great at art and literature. All of our emotions, not just the tragic ones. Love, joy, companionship, just to name a few. So, when you want to go deep into the psychological realm of your character, just keep in mind that s/he should be experiencing all of the human emotions. Even if the story is centered around tragedy, there should be something uplifting in it because life isn’t all tragic. Life is what you are giving to your characters when you choose to put them on paper. The best writers cover all aspects of it.
Have you ever just not felt like writing? I have, and that is perfectly okay. I used to experience guilt whenever I couldn’t muster up enough creativity to put something profound on paper. There are two problems with that.
1.) Writing is supposed to be enjoyable, especially for someone who identifies as a writer. I have been making up stories for the vast majority of my life. When I was 12, I came up with the idea for my fantasy/adventure series. I had so much fun making maps, character profiles, and small conversations between my characters. Throughout high school and college, it stopped being fun mainly because I didn’t have the proper time to dedicate to my story. I would feel a surge of creativity coming on, but I couldn’t capitalize on it because I was busy memorizing some long forgotten mathematical equation, writing a news article for the paper I was part of, or dealing with some kind of drama associated with being a young adult. Even when I switched to the Creative Writing track in college, my creativity was put into other things. It wasn’t until I took Novel Writing with Dr. John Vanderslice that I had an excuse to aim my creativity bubbles at something I had longed for since the age of 12. Now, I have the second rough draft of the first novel in my series. To summarize, don’t feel guilty about not being in the mood to write. It will pass, and you will find your groove again.
2.) Not everything you write has to be profound. I am incredibly guilty of this. For example, my post about travel writing was one of my favorite nonfiction short pieces I’ve written. I was genuinely happy with it. I thought I could repeat the same magnificence in my next post about small towns, but I will honestly say that it wasn’t as good. That’s okay. I would much rather be a writer known for a few amazing works than a dozen subpar ones.
One never knows when the creativity bubble is going to show itself. We also can’t tell when it’s going to burst, so better to get at it when we have it! I write in bursts of creativity, not a constant stream. I would love to know your thoughts and even your own creative personality types. Feel free to tell me about how creativity comes to you in the comment section below.
The world is a small place. It’s true. One may travel across the sea and happen upon a former classmate, an old neighbor, or even a step-sibling’s first grade teacher. It happens. True adventure does not only come from visiting the most grand places around the globe. One may find a spark of inspiration from the tiniest of towns, a road less travelled, or an unattended field.
Three digits. My favorite places to visit tend to have a population of three digits. I find that it is just enough to teeter on the brink of a Ghost Town while still maintaining culture and life. On my recent road trip down Route 66, I drove through many intriguing places. Some had long since been abandoned. Others simply had one working gas station, a dinosaur from the good ‘ole days. There were a few who had managed to survive the building of the Interstate. Not thrive, mind you, but they did have a steady pulse.
Williams, AZ. How desperately it wants to be Las Vegas without gambling, 5-star hotels, or anything relatively fun to do. Williams had a nightlife of neon proportions. BBQ, live music, vintage Coca-Cola, and gift shops galore! Not a place for a vegetarian, such as myself, but a place nonetheless. I found great joy in rummaging through postcards and snapping photographs of antique signs. I can use these. After finishing up at the Grand Canyon, I made the two hour trip down to Williams. It isn’t too far from Flagstaff. Being extremely exhausted I didn’t have the energy or will power to fully enjoy the experience of the town.
Seligman, AZ. This may very well be my favorite stop. On the journey back to Los Angeles, I made a point to spend some time here. I had driven through on my way in and took note to come back. What a grand little place. Time disappears. I found myself entranced by the endless photo opportunities. (Always take the time to snap that picture.) I lost myself in a spectacular gift shop where I spent over $200 on postcards, magnets, Route 66 merchandise, and an $80 Western Cowboy hat. So that’s how they maintain their healthy pulse! A band of Harley Davidson riders mowed through, stopping for some ice cream before heading back onto Route 66. In their own way, small towns are just as intriguing as big cities. While one may run out of things to do in a small town, one will never not have something to look at.
Using your travels to inspire great writing is not the same as writing what you know. As I mentioned in previous posts, I do not believe in that simplistic approach. However, visiting new places has a tendency to spark our imaginations. Whether it is the sound of a massive waterfall or the saffron color of a certain autumn-turned leaf, inspiration can be found anywhere you look for it.
I recently took a road trip from Los Angeles to Flagstaff using Route 66. Honestly, the view wasn’t so different from the Interstate, except in a few select places. After my first night in Flagstaff, I made the short journey down to Sedona, the legendary and mystical home of the Red Rocks. I can truthfully say that I have never seen anything so beautiful. Who would have thought that a desert could be so magical? Photographs do not do it justice. In a rented, well-equipped jeep, I took to the off-roads. I saw the Seven Sacred Pools at Soldier’s Pass. Native peoples believe the pools are magical due to the fact that they never dry up no matter how bad of drought the region is having. The pools were buzzing with life. Hundreds of tiny tadpoles swam about, biding their time until they become adults. Also along this trail was a massive sinkhole that could have devastated the area. It didn’t though. Deep down at the bottom, trees, bushes, and ground cover grew up through the rumble. How persistent! On the second trail, this one much higher than the last, I stopped at the Hunaki Ruins. Carved into the side of a mountain more than one thousand years ago were the remains of what used to be a community. It was quite humbling to see just how far this country has come. In the evening, I stopped by a park, swam in a flooded river, made friends with a snail struggling in a thunderstorm, and took some of the most breathtaking photographs in my life.
On day two I braved the torrential rains and headed up to the Grand Canyon. Words cannot describe the forest north of Flagstaff, especially during a thunderstorm. I passed a small chapel on the side of the road, and it beckoned me to turn back around. I spent a good hour in that place. I wasn’t praying or attempting to plan an event, I was simply listening. The smell of the rain, the sound of nearby thunder, lightning illuminating the dark forest in the backdrop; it was almost too much for my senses. I waited for the rain to stop before moving on because in Los Angeles we do not get hardly any. Being from Arkansas, a state well known for its pop-up weather, I have developed a sort of longing for that rain. I finally made it to the Grand Canyon, the main reason for my road trip, and had no trouble finding parking. The place was slammed, but I simply got lucky and found a spot right up front. It wasn’t a long walk to the edge. I was beginning to think the experience would be ruined by the throngs of people pushing and shoving. However, once I got to the guard rails and looked out at the painted canyon, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. It didn’t seem real. How could this place, this seemingly never-ending place, be real? It was as if I had just stepped into a painting, and everyone else melted away. I spent the rest of the day exploring viewpoints that were less travelled and watched the now distant thunderstorm rage on against the vibrant sunset.
Do you have to goes on a cross-country trip to find inspiration? Of course not. We find inspiration all around us wherever we are. I will admit that actually experiencing the beauty of Arizona has opened my imagination even more. Pictures and videos cannot explain the majesty of it all. I can say with the utmost certainty that I will be using my travels to my own writing advantage.
Next week, I will write more about travelling, but it will focus on small towns. Stay tuned!
It’s no secret that a good imagination can go a long way, but it’s always good to have a little travel experience to help flesh out your ideas.
If I’m working on my fantasy novel, I can create anything I want. However, if my story takes place in our world, I’ll need to accurately describe the environments the characters are in. Sure, you can kind of guess, but experiencing these environments first hand will give you much more material to work with.
I’m currently on a road trip to the Grand Canyon from Los Angeles. I purposefully took Route 66 to have more experiences. (This post will be short and sweet since I’m writing it on my phone.) Pulling to the side of the road to touch the black rocks and prickly plant life, feel the oven-like heat, and listen to the sound of desert nothingness is something only a real experience can adequately explain.
More on my trip and how to use vacations to your writing advantage later. For now, I’m off to enjoy America! See y’all in two weeks.