I only announced my NaNoWriMo novel a week ago, and I’m already scrapping it.
It has nothing to do with the characters—I was already imagining their different reactions to scenes from my life.
It has nothing to do with the main themes of friendship, trust, and truth. There aren’t many other themes that I could use to shake my readers to their core (except love).
It has everything to do with the story. I was very excited about the story in my novel from last year, and I just don’t feel the same way about my idea for this year, so it’s gone.
Whatever my new novel is, my process for finding the story is going to be different. I’m going to start with a couple characters and themes and see what story comes from them. This may not seem like a very efficient way to write a novel, but I’ll give it a try for a week. If this doesn’t work, I still have time to switch things up before November.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a month away, and my novel planning has just begun.
First, let me give you some background around the story. I had an idea six years ago of a group of rich people who use their wealth to create world peace. It was supposed to be a graphic novel called Deterrents with a lot of allusions to Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. Now it’s becoming a novel.
Rather than starting my novel from the same place as my original idea, I’ve decided to make it more of an origin story for the main character. He’s a wealthy 30-something who is looking for a new adventure in life. He comes from a fairly prestigious background but doesn’t like being recognized for it. He’s part Kennedy, part Bond, part Timothy Ferriss.
This year I’m also looking forward to participating in NaNoWriMo community more than ever. Sitting down with other people who are focused on their writing is very motivating. I also like the idea of being social yet anti-social at the same time. It’s an awkwardly comfortable feeling.
For those counting, this will be my fourth NaNoWriMo. I haven’t won yet, but I write about 5,000 more words each year.
NaNoWriMo starts in November. It’s currently September, and I already feel like I’m behind.
Last year, I spent a week planning Those Who Are Yet to Come. By the end of November, I only got to 25,000 of my 50,000 word goal.
In April, I put ever more planning into Overheard (my ScriptFrenzy play). Again, I only reached 27 of my 100 page goal.
This year, I want to spend all of October planning my 2012 novel with a storyboard or research (all in Scrivener, of course). But I need to spent September brainstorming ideas, coming up with a title for me to rally around, and creating a cover to keep me inspired.
So the challenge I need to face now is to find a novel idea. (Hahaha.)
The biggest obstacle is Alan Staph. I’ve told a few more people about him over the last week, and the feedback has been positive—which is great that I haven’t been wasting my time but it makes it more difficult for me to know how to manage my time.
No matter. Whatever happens in September, I will be writing, so I will be happy.
At the beginning of this summer, I read the article “The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar.” As I went down that list, I felt like I was reading some sort of holy book for the first time. Not only were these rules good, they had proven to be effective again and again.
But I ignored those rules for about a month. I legitimized how those rules were great for storytelling, but I was confident that, as an artist, my writing didn’t have to do those things. I went out of my way to think of stories that didn’t abide by those rules. And I didn’t get far.
Then I thought about storytelling in general. From Greek theater to reality television, there are some very specific rules that keep audiences captivated. Sure, Pixar doesn’t nail all of the rules possible to storytelling, but I’d make the case that they hit some of the most important rules—especially when it comes having characters that people want to hear a story about.
Long story short, I ended up with Alan Staph, which is great and fine for me, but I feel like an idiot for wasting a month. The important part is the lesson I’ve learned: It’s important to have rules to storytelling.
And that’s transferrable to other areas of my life. How many times had I ignored specific instructions because I thought I could do it without them?
Have you ever tried putting together IKEA furniture without the instructions? You don’t get very far. If you put a couple screws in the wrong spot, your new dresser is going to become a Swedish curb accessory on garbage day.
Life is difficult without rules. A simple lesson, yes, but it was one that I never expected to come from Pixar without learning it through the humorous antics of talking toy or the father of a lost fish or a super-proud race car driver. (Wait, maybe that was a lesson I was supposed to learn from Cars. Better re-watch it, just in case.)
So my writing about Alan Staph hasn’t stopped. It’s so nice to be writing short stories again. It’s also nice to have a consistent character because I can get into his head and tinker with how he acts in different situations.
For that reason, I’ve decided to share five facts about Alan Staph.
Alan has a motivation problem. It’s not horrible, it’s just not good. As in, he doesn’t get much done at work. As a matter of fact, I’ve written about him being at work in two stories now, and he’s not done anything related to his job while at his desk. Though he did join the gym once to try to get sculpted like a Greek god, he stopped going after the first month.
Alan is quirky. Not much of a surprise, I know, but it’s true. Alan, like any software developer, loves having structure to life. That has made him a good introvert. But there are times when he’s stepped outside of his comfort zone to chase after a girl (who is always the wrong girl) or end up in some sort of mischief that immediately made him regret leaving his apartment.
Alan loves Bewitched. This may be part of his quirkiness, but it’s so good that it needs to live on its own. Alan has been collecting costumes and props from the 1960s TV show since he was in high school. While some of his friends were getting into sci-fi and anime, Alan adored Samantha, Darrin 1, Darrin 2, Endora, Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur, and Gladys and Abner Kravitz. I don’t remember why this is important, but it is or was or will be.
Good things don’t generally happen to Alan. Do you remember that day when you stepped in gum, arrived late for an important meeting, were totally unprepared for said meeting, missed breakfast and lunch, found out your underwear was showing through a rip in your pants, and your friend called to say they were moving six states away? That’s most days for Alan.
Alan is likable. I only realized that Alan was likable tonight. I wanted him to be someone who you didn’t want to like, but that’s not who Alan is. So here I am, stuck with a character who is likable because of his good nature. I’m a little bummed about it, but I’ll get over it.
I’ve surprised myself by blogging from two conferences already this year. “Surprised” because I don’t consider myself a conference blogger, but writing about my experiences has really helped me process the large amount of information I’ve been given in such a short time.
This Thursday and Friday, I’ll be at the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit. For those who are unfamiliar, the Summit pulls great church, business, and organization leaders together to share best practices, new techniques, and insightful knowledge over two days.
I’ve attended the last four years and I’ve seen Bono, Jack Welch, Catherine Rohr, Tony Blair, Gary Haugen, Tony Dungy, Blake Mycoskie, Cory Booker, Seth Godin, and many more. Each year I walk away wondering how I will ever remember the wisdom and learnings I was presented, and there’s a part of me that wishes I could walk away with more.
This year, I will be one of 8,000 watching the Summit live in South Barrington. Another 62,000 attendees will be watching the satellite feed all across North America. The neat part is that I will be watching the whole event in a room that about 50 people have access to—the Summit’s social media room. I get to be in there for my job (I’ll be tweeting from @WillowCreekCC), and each year I’ve been in there, the room has gotten just a little bit bigger. If there’s one downside to being in that room, it’s that I can’t always tell the mood of the auditorium from what I’m seeing on a screen. Some speakers command a presence when they speak, and that doesn’t always translate over a monitor.
So expect to see a couple blogs before the end of this week. Plus I’ll be tweeting parts of the event from my person Twitter account (@iphilpot) as well as from my Google + and Pinterest accounts. (That’s right. No Facebook love from me.)
In my last post, I admitted to not having written much recently. Since that post, I’ve written a lot. The ideas have been pouring in. Particularly on a new character. So, today, I would like you to meet Alan Staph.
Well, you can’t really meet him. It’s not because he’s made up. For a small fee (or maybe if I was caught up in the moment at a party), I would be more than happy to act out the actions and mannerisms of any of my characters. I guess I could do the same for Alan, but it might be considered rude and disrespectful.
You see, Alan is dead.
Yes. I’m writing about a dead guy.
Now you may be a little confused (or you’re not confused at all because you’ve come to expect strange things from me), so I will answer a few questions about Alan.
Why is he dead? I had an idea when I was writing my first story about him—before he even had a name. The idea was for a collection of stories about him. The collection is titled Short Stories from the Short Life of Alan Staph. When that idea came to me, I had no choice but to make sure he was dead. And since I was writing about his life when the idea arrived and I realized Alan was already dead, I created a paradox. Alan is only dead because I was writing about his life and had an idea. He has to be dead to fulfill his destiny.
How did Alan die? Very unfortunately. It’s also very unfortunate that I don’t how he died yet. I thought about contacting the morgue to get the official cause of death, but I’m hoping I’ll find out what happened to him when I get a hold of his mother’s eulogy. (Hint, hint.)
What was Alan’s life like? Just like for most of us, Alan’s life was fairly boring. I’ve decided to write about some of the more interesting parts of his life, though the banal will undoubtedly seep in. Alan, like everyone else, will have a sleepless night where he’s stuck watching an infomercial about the world’s best food processor that can be his for three easy payments of $19.95. And he’ll buy it. And he’ll never use it. And he will hate himself a little bit for it.
When can I expect to get a hold of Short Stories from the Short Life of Alan Staph? Not soon enough, but I’m working on it.
This past weekend marked my first wedding anniversary. Erin and I went to Niagara Falls to celebrate. We stayed at some absolutely gorgeous hotels and snapped some great photos at all falls. It was incredible!
Leading up to the trip, I was thinking about how little writing I’ve accomplished since Script Frenzy ended. I haven’t written much of anything in the last month. I was hoping to take advantage of the extra time away from work to focus on some personal writing. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
But something did happen. Something that always happens on vacations. I caught myself creating stories on the trip. I noticed people in the crowd and gave them stories.
An elderly Asian woman was there because some sinister/misunderstood/genius villain was waiting for her to leave the ransom money on a bench near the Horseshoe Falls so he would release her son who had been abducted in Belize a week earlier.
A young couple stops to kiss in the middle of the Rainbow Bridge on their way to the U.S. from Canada. He’s about to propose, reaches for the ring in his pocket, but the moment catches up to him and he hesitates. She notices something is wrong and asks him about it. He pulls the ring from his pocket, but he loses his grip and the engagement ring that once belonged to his grandmother has fallen two hundred feet into the water below.
And the ideas just kept pouring into my head throughout the day.
Since the return from the trip, I’ve come to realize that the ideas for writing isn’t the problem. It’s finding the time to write. And that’s when I noticed that, word for word, the last twelve months may have been the most productive months of writing I’ve had since I was seventeen.*
And I’ve been a newlywed for those months! All of the changes—moving twice, sharing a schedule, planning out shopping, making new married friends, etc.—and I’ve somehow still been able to produce pages.
So how did I do it?
I’m not completely sure. I can say that Erin is very supportive of my writing. The challenges of NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy have been a help too. What doesn’t help is that I like being alone when I write. It’s very difficult now that I’m married and “alone” doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. Apparently that doesn’t matter because I’m still getting the words out.
Will I do anything different going into the second year of my marriage?
Maybe. I may try to find some time in my schedule to visit a coffee shop on a regular basis. I’ve already started carrying a small Moleskin with me in case I ever need to jot an idea down. I’m also going to try to win at NaNoWriMo this year by starting my researching and plot planning early.
But even if I don’t do those things, as long as I can do just as good this year as I did last year, I’ll be a happy husband.
*At seventeen, I was young enough to not understand how incredible it was to write three short stories and ten poems a week. By nineteen, when I did understand it—and when I’d had enough experience to start writing better—writing became a much bigger challenge and I quickly learned what writer’s block is.
I had the opportunity to hear author and artist Craig Thompson speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing two weeks ago, and I’ve had a hard time shutting up about it. It was really great to meet him, ask him a few small questions, and get his autograph (and a picture) in the cover of my most favorite of his books, Blankets.
The picture of the inside cover is there on the right. The only part he didn’t draw when I met him was “Blankets”, which was part of the book print.
As he started drawing the picture, I asked Craig if I could tell him a story about that specific copy of his book. He was gracious enough to listen as I told him about how that was about my eighteenth copy of Blankets (definitely more than my twelfth copy, definitely not past twentieth). I told him how I first heard about his book from my friend Laurel who read about it in Spin magazine just after it was released in 2003. She purchased a copy at a comic book store on Madison Avenue when we were walking from the Ogilvie Metra station to Navy Pier to watch the Red Bull Flugtag. I can’t say that Laurel watched a single flying machine crash into the water, because she was so into reading the book. At the end of that day, she begged me to buy it for myself. So I did.
I admitted to Craig that I didn’t read Blankets until later that year when I saw Seth Cohen had included it in his “Seth Cohen Starter Pack” for both Anna and Summer in The O.C.‘s Chrismukkah episode. I read the 582 page book in just a few hours one night. It was funny and personal and beautiful. I immediately hopped onto AIM to tell a friend of mine about it. She didn’t have a job at the time, so she couldn’t buy it. I made up my mind that I would just give her my copy and buy another. Then I repeated the process a few weeks later.
I went on buying copies of Blankets and giving them to friends for a few years. Then I ran out of friends who hadn’t read the book, so I kept the last copy I bought. That, as I told Craig, was how I ended up buying eighteen copies of his book. He was very gracious and thankful, and he noted it under my name.
But something happened in my head as I was telling Craig the story. I realized that my way of telling my friends about Blankets was, essentially, evangelism. I thought through my whole story and how happy my church friends would be if I replaced the book Blankets with the Bible. But I had always told those friends that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my faith. That I wasn’t wired to evangelize.
But here I am, with my eighteenth copy of Blankets and about a half dozen Bibles on a bookshelf that I’ve accumulated over the years. Bibles from my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I haven’t given one away. I haven’t talked to a friend on AIM late one night telling them how important it is that they read this book.
Deep inside of me lies some disappointment. But, right next to that disappointment, there is hope.
I heard Erwin McManus speak at the 2011 Global Leadership Summit, and I absolutely loved what he had to say. He spoke about how Christians have lost their ability to be the best storytellers. He said that Christians didn’t have to communicate the Bible message at every turn but they should use their creativity to tell any story. At the end of his message, he begged the audience: “We need a revival of storytelling.”
I couldn’t agree more.
And I think that Craig Thompson is a great storyteller. He’s not a Christian. He doesn’t have to be. His level of storytelling can still be something I aspire to. Something to sharpen me.
I started April with a lot of energy toward Script Frenzy. That energy kept me going for about a week and a half before it was forced in another direction.
April is always a busy month at my work, but I thought I could keep it under control this year. But circumstances beyond my control changed my plans. But I’m happy with the outcome—two beautiful websites (one that’s complete and another that’s waiting a week or so to launch).
I don’t want to take sole credit for those websites. I was one of a team who put out a great product. Maybe next Script Frenzy I should work with a team. But would I feel satisfaction from my writing if it wasn’t the solitary exercise that I have come to enjoy? I don’t know.
I was also distracted from writing by the Festival of Faith and Writing, and I don’t feel that might time could’ve been better spent doing anything but attending that conference. I loved talking to people at the Relief table, and I loved being around other authors. I even wrote a poem shortly after the conference that I am proud of.
April was a month well spent, and I am proud of how it ended. I plan on continuing to work on my script, including creating a poster for it and everything. As I keep writing, I’ll keep updating.