Ten years ago, when I started teaching as an adjunct English teacher at a local college, I brushed up on my grammar. I fell in love with the basics of writing all over again: the parts of speech; verbals; clauses–both dependent and independent; appositives; and so on . . .
I had forgotten so much from high school and college.
For the first few years of teaching, I just didn’t understand why my students couldn’t get into things like direct objects and compound-complex sentences. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to cuddle up with a relative pronoun?
My students did not get into writing until I realized this: teaching grammar by itself is worthless; teaching grammar as it relates to writing makes so much more sense.
A book called Image Grammar first introduced me to this concept. I mean, it’s not that big of a leap, using grammar to actually improve your writing skills, fiction or non-fiction. But I surprised myself by not seeing it before.
Now, the reason I’m bringing all this up: I’m on the last round of NaNoWriMo and soon I will be editing my prose. I found this book called The Art of Styling Sentences. I know: the fact that I am excited about this book shows what a nerd I am. I can’t help myself. I love reading about sentence structure.
But just in case you are interested in seeing the different ways you can put a sentence together when you are editing and rewriting what you created during NaNoWriMo, here is a summary of all the patterns:
Yesterday afternoon I passed 40,000 words on my manuscript for NaNoWriMo. Only 10,000 words to go and I have until midnight next Friday. So I’m feeling pretty good. One thing though: my story won’t be finished.
Yeah, I’ll have 50,0000 words but I haven’t even gotten to the part that I thought I would be spending the most time on. But that’s okay. You know why?
Serendipity–the story is ending the same yet differently. One character I introduced and who hung around for a few scenes was originally meant to never come back. But the whole story is starting to pivot around this character. It’s actually much more interesting story than when I started.
Randomness–I introduced all these characters, items and plots seemingly at random, yet somehow they are all tying together rather neatly. I’m learning to incorporate anything I bring into the story as something with a purpose.
Sentientness–My characters have become real living beings and doing things I did not intend for them to do. Why? Because it makes more sense for them to do what they want, not what I think they should do. It’s like I’m typing and yelling “Stop the novel! That’s not how it’s suppose to happen!” But they do it anyway.
Empathy–I am an empathetic person. Sometimes, it’s a double-edged sword. I get hurt easily. I truly feel others’ pain. I worry about people I have no business worrying about. In the past, I wished I could bottle up some of my excess empathy and give it to those who really need it, but–wait!–I found an outlet. Being an overly empathetic person is one best tools ever for writing fiction. Hot dang.
Speed–Even if the story sucks, I’ve practiced my typing.
No matter what is produced at the end of NaNoWriMo, lessons are learned. If you are doing NaNoWriMo, take inventory as you wrap it up and ask yourself what you’ve learned.
When I finished working on NaNoWriMo last night, I had finally completed a word count ahead of schedule for the first time this NaNo year. By the end of the day November 11, I should have had 18, 337 words and last night around 9:30pm, I had 18,597. I’m also learning some new things along the way. Here’s my first evaluation of how it’s going so far:
Scene stealers: One of my characters ended up being a blast to write. I needed an aunt for my protagonist to visit. He brought his girlfriend to meet his rich aunt who raised him after his parents died. I thought of ways to make the aunt interesting, so what I did was make the aunt a six-foot-five, muscular, hairy-chested cross dresser. She goes around in high heels wearing long robes with matching turbans and sporting a five o’clock shadow. C’mon, guys dressed up as dames are hilarious–and fun to write.
Five hundred word chunks-It seems so much less daunting when I write in chunks of five hundred words a session. Five hundred words in the morning at the coffee shop before I go to work; five hundred words at lunch time; five hundred words in the evening. All I have left is 167 words and I have my daily quota. If I have to skip one of these sessions, then I’m only behind five hundred words.
Flashlight in the darkness plan-As far as planning my novel, I knew most of the characters–but didn’t spend too much time developing them beforehand; I knew how the story began and ended, but I didn’t know exactly how I would get there. I have just enough information to see three or four scenes ahead. It’s like walking in the dark with a flashlight: I can see three or four steps ahead. The characters grow as I give them actions and dialogue. The story unfolds in fun and surprising ways as I write.
Write as if your mother isn’t going to read this-You know what I’m talking about. There is some language that mom taught me not to use growing up. There’s some pretty steaming scenes, too. Nothing pornographic, but I wouldn’t pick those scenes to read to my mom in order to get her opinion on my writing. But, hey, if this manuscript ends up being publishable, all I can say to mom is, “It’s not me saying and doing those things–it’s my characters.” So there.
I’m going to be honest with you. I am having more fun than I have ever had for a NaNoWriMo, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every year. I can’ t wait to start writing tonight. I’m already 1,000 words done for my daily quota–it’s a good feeling.
Even though this is my fifth NaNoWriMo, Monday night I went to my first write-in.
I attended the write-in at Bearnos by the Bridge, a pizza joint in an old building that used to be a hotel. It sits next to a bridge that goes across the Ohio River. It also happens to be a thirty-second walk from building where I work, so at quarter till six, two of my coworkers and I meandered over.
On Monday night, Bearnos not that busy so the NaNos had their choice of locations to sit. We pushed two tables together, plugged in the surge protector to the wall and we were ready.
As is natural, everyone sat around talking at first–I mean it would have been weird for everyone to just sit down and start typing without introducing themselves to each other–but soon everyone quieted down and the clicking of keyboards on laptops could be heard. Occasionally, someone would make a wisecrack, a conversation would ensue and then die out.
One of my coworkers who walked over with me is in the same age bracket as I am, so we were cracking up at the songs Bearnos was piping over the sound system. It must have been a satellite station playing songs from our childhood in the 70s’s. Charlie Rich, Donna Summer–the whole spectrum.
I think what I learned from this write-in is that writing is not necessarily a solitary act. I’ll give the experience an A+.
That was the second line in my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I don’t remember using a form of “grip” twice in one sentence, but, hey, isn’t that what National Novel Writing Month is all about? Writing a story that humiliates you upon review? Writing prose that makes you dash to the bathroom and vomit in the toilet? Writing a manuscript that makes you want to run out to the highway and fling yourself in front of a Mack Truck?
Yes, “He gripped her hand in an even tighter grip,” is the kind of masterpiece I’m writing for NaNo. How about you? Besides writing style, grammar is also thrown out with the garbage. He’s another jewel from my first two days of NaNo:
“You’re home is lovely.”
Oh, that’s nothing. Please observe this grammar disaster:
“He saw something in the way she body tensed up.”
I’ve been living in fear all morning that the pronoun police will knock down my door and drag me away to grammar jail. Of course, there are more riches of embarrassment, but you get the idea.
Okay, here’s the part where I give you all of my excuses for the above catastrophes:
Even though I’m a pretty fast typist, my mind is going a million miles an hour when I’m writing. Typos are bound to happen.
I wrote from one to three in the morning because I couldn’t sleep.
I’m making things up as I go along. Yes, I had the names of my main characters. Yes, I had a vague idea of the plot. But, really, I’m making up ninety percent of it as I go along.
But, hey, I’m okay with these faux pas because I’m having fun. I know it’s really hard for many people to not edit themselves as they write. I look over my previous days work as a way to get the engines going, but heavy editing will have to wait until after NaNoWriMo is over.
So my challenge to you is this: just get it down on paper. Just write, write, write until you reach 50,000. Don’t look back and risk being turned into a pillar of salt. There will always be time later to edit. There will always be time later to catch those pesky dangling modifiers. There will always be time later to throw yourself in front of a Mack Truck.