Put one word after another

Word count: 18451

I’m taking a break at this word count because it means I’ve finally caught up. It’s not midnight on the West Coast yet by any means, but at the moment only 5% of NaNoWriters are officially caught up. I owe it all to the muse. When deprived of Internet access for an hour or two, she can really crank out the words. She’s written about 3,000 today, to make up for her inexcusable laziness and surfing yesterday. Actually, now that I count them, I think she wrote almost 3,000 words yesteday, too. Why did I feel so much more productive about it today?

Maybe I’ve stopped fighting and learned to love the technobabble. The title of this entry, Put one word after another, is one of the two pieces of advice from mystery author Julie Smith that came in my NaNo email today. The other one was, DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN! Translated, they mean the only way to write is to write, and the only way to finish is to stop obsessing about quality—very NaNo advice. Yes, it’s the brute force approach to writing, and it’s working well for me despite my pro-muse prejudices. (I’ve been watching too much of The Forsyte Saga - pro-muse makes me think pro-Boer.) While doing some novel research earlier this weekend I stumbled across a quote about the muse; this is what got me muse-musing again:

But it is a fact that, in addition to memories from a long-distant conscious past, completely new thoughts and creative ideas can also present themselves from the unconscious–thoughts and ideas that have never been conscious before. They grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche.
We find this in everyday life, where dilemmas are sometimes solved by the most surprising new propositions; many artists, philosophers, and even scientists owe some of their best ideas to inspirations that appear suddenly from the unconscious. The ability to reach a rich vein of such material and to translate it effectively into philosophy , literature, music, or scientific discovery is one of the hallmarks of what is commonly called genius.
[…] The British author Robert Louis Stevenson had spent years looking for a story that would fit his “storong sense of man’s double being,” when the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was suddenly revealed to him in a dream. –Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols

Note that Jung said that, not me. I’m not claiming to be a genius - it’s all too likely my muse has hit on a vein of fool’s gold. I’m just trying to make a meaningful distinction between which of today’s 3,000 words the muse wrote (the inspiration) and which ones I wrote (the perspiration). One thing that makes it hard to diffentiate is the out-of-nowhere quality of all creative thought. Even if you’re piecing together your latest romance novel out of selections from the Cliche Thesaurus, the arrangement is probably still original. So perhaps the question is how original?

I’ll take an example from yesterday rather than today, because it illustrates my point. I was writing a nondescript party scene, in which my main character was chatting with a minor character who just popped out of nowhere the last time I wrote a nondescript social scene. Both characters are refugees from somewhere else, and they were catching up with one another when suddenly, Minor Character pulled something out of his ear! I had no idea he was going to do that. Main Character was extremely interested in the technology behind the little microphone from Minor Character’s ear because he used to make similar devices Back Home. (I blew up Home in the first scene. That was fun.) It turned out that the Ear Device was created by an entirely new female character. And look, there she was on the other side of the room, ready to provide a needed love interest for Main Character. I had no clue, until the ear incident, how I was ever going to get Main Character involved in this new society.

So of the approximately 800 words in the party scene, I would say most were written by me, but at the point where Minor Character pulls Ear Device out of his ear and brings together even more threads of my plot than mentioned above, that part was the muse. I went on to finish the scene with a nondescript introduction of Main Character to Female Character.

To put it too briefly, the muse has been responsible for the plot of my novel, because she’s good at pulling threads together. I didn’t outline beforehand; in fact, I didn’t even come up with the subject of the novel until the week before. Up until then I had been considering several other ideas from my sci-fi universe’s timeline (two of them children’s stories), and even a disaster novel I’ve wanted to write for a long time. This was the only idea that came together, and it came together from several directions, including, oddly enough, a conversation with a coworker about an old mainstream novel she’d read.

I don’t mean to imply that the muse can’t write prose - she can. She’s written some lovely sentences in her day. Muse-prose is the sort of stuff that echoes the themes of the novel, and at only 18,000 words there isn’t much to echo yet.

Some NaNites have claimed that they’ve spent the first 20,000 words on character development and still don’t have a plot. I’m afraid I may also have this problem. I have mostly dialogue and flashbacks so far, and the character development is almost done. I think of it as my main plot all being there, but it’s more of a thematic direction than a logical sequence - there’s definitely not enough action. Aside from Ear Device, which just appeared yesterday, I have no subplots. I need to get at least one subplot in before I reach the end of the main plot, because subplots have to tie in to the main plot at the end.

I know what Julie Smith would say - stop thinking and get back to writing.

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