Shake Me For Service: National Novel Writing Month and a Challenge from Yours Truly

Friday, November 4, 2011

National Novel Writing Month bills itself as "thirty days of literary abandon."  I like that.  I would like to add, as someone who stands in supreme awe of anyone who can write 50,000 words in a single month, that NaNoWriMo is a challenge for the extremely brave, the highly disciplined, and the bold of heart.  Within this month, entire worlds will be created, characters revealed, plots escalated.  As someone who can get caught in the tangle of a single paragraph for hours (okay, sometimes days) I do not know how this gets done.

The point of NaNo is to get a first draft done.  To make the broad strokes, to test an idea.  But what happens after those first 50,000 words are inked (or dotted), is, in my mind, even more crucial.  It's during revision that the music of a story is found, the real meaning, the finer possibilities.  It is during revision that the actual story emerges.

I care perhaps too much about language.  I want to take risks with it, yearn to push it.  I will write, for example, an Emmy character in You Are My Only who doesn't speak with ordinary cadence and doesn't read the world through cliches, because I think we have a responsibility as writers not just to tell stories, but to try to tell stories artfully, with originality and daring.  I will spend ten years working the sentences of Small Damages because I cannot let those gypsies, that south of Spain, that music, that old cook down.  I recognize that I am in a growing minority.  I recognize that what is art to me could be just so many plot-obstructing words to another.  I recognize that my passion for words, my own preference for authors who make sentences that are not just compelling and clear, but startling and fresh, is Beth showing her quirky stubborn side.

Still, I am in that constant hunt for a real writer writing.  I will fill my shelves with Julie Otsuka, Julian Barnes, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Enright, William Fiennes, Chloe Aridjis, Kim Echlin, Jane Mendelsohn, Ron Hansen, Colm Toibin, Colum McCann, Per Petterson, and so many more (and here I have purposefully not included any of my friends, so that you can be assured I am being completely objective) because I am inspired and informed and given hope by their commitment to the pure, hard jewel of the single sentence.

It has taken me four paragraphs to get to the point.  My point is this.  I am running a contest.  I am seeking, from the NaNo writers, this:  A single sentence as it was first written in the heat of a NaNo moment, and that same sentence after it has been reconsidered, revised.  Please send your entries to kephartblog AT comcast DOT net before December 20.  I will list my favorite transformations here and give the winner a signed copy of either a You Are My Only hardcover or an ARC of Small Damages, my novel due out from Philomel next July.  (The winner will choose.)

I hope that those of you who are so inclined will help me spread the news.

For more posts on (and examples of) the making of sentences, click here, here, and here.


Wendy said...

I love this post, Beth, because I totally agree with you about finding that perfect language, that sentence that makes your heart sing. For me, Nano works to get the story out...but clearly the second part, revision, is perhaps the most important (and the one I struggle with because that is usually when I start to feel totally inadequate as a writer). I think I will have to take on your little challenge (if only to get an ARC of Small Damages)!

By the way, you have listed some of my most favorite writers in this post - writers whose use of language has surprised and delighted me!

Serena said...

wow...good contest...though I am not participating in Nano this year with the baby....not a set amount of time for writing...and deadlines always make me crazy...probably because the day job has so many deadlines.

ARC of small damages almost makes me want to join Nano just to enter, though.

I will wish Wendy, my dear friend, good luck in entering because I think she is being too hard on herself --especially if you've ever read her reviews.

patti.mallett_pp said...

Awesome! I love it! And there is one spot where I will go hunting for that line. But it's in last year's NaNo writing and, for now, I must concentrate on this year's work. Last year I told my daughter that reading over my story was like hunting for gold in a manure field. BUT, there was a bit of gold to be had. I wrote one scene that made me believe there is an authentic writer in here somewhere, well-hidden as she be. This year, I write for the same reason, to attempt to spin a bit of gold. The kind of writing you mention, Beth, is what I long to produce. And I believe there are a wide variety of ways to do that. So far, what I've written, well, it's pretty stinky. But, earlier today, I thought I saw a tiny glimmer. It might have been a reflection from the sun coming in the window on my left. Or maybe, just maybe....

Anonymous said...

Oh this contest! And the post...yes, the magic comes with revision.

KFP said...

Looking forward to reading the results. Helping to pass the word. I tweeted it.

Beth Kephart is looking for "the pure, hard jewel of the single sentence" and issues a challenge to NaNoWriMo writers:

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm a horrible NaNo failure, though I admire those who can use this system successfully. Word count goals paralyze me. There are weeks I'm stuck on just a handful of words -- and for me, that's the way it needs to be.

Lilian Nattel said...

Great idea, Beth. There is already too much pressure to be fast and too much emphasis on more sooner. Some redress is in order.

Zoë said...

love this! I've already gone through several edits on my first sentence, I'll have to remember to send one after it's had a few more tries :)

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