Listen to Your Story
What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2015
How much different is writing from life?
In both we make decisions that carry us forward. Sometimes those choices work out well. Sometimes they drop us in a dead end. Mostly it is not clear where the choice leads, and so we carry on.
Writing 1667 words a day through November’s National Novel Writing Month forced me to look at every scene and imagine how it might move the story forward. Within the first few days, every scene, every action, nearly every word seemed full of, well, pivot. The story could turn 180 degrees—except the commitments my characters held worked time and again as a rudder, pulling their choices along a true direction.
Choice after choice makes the story. Along the way we interact with characters who enter the story because of our choices. And these characters bring with them yet more choices. Our commitments impact how we choose, drawing us like a lodestar consistently one way or another. But even those long-term commitments enter the choice-making machinery of writing and life.
Do you agree that writing and life move forward in a similar way? One difference is that with writing you get to go back and change the story.
You can’t do that with life.
Or can you?
Producing my story brought to mind Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, a book I’ve recommended to many friends. Palmer’s advice gets at the nub of both writing and living: peering into the facts so far and taking a courageous view on where those facts could lead. Palmer realized, in looking back over his life, that a particular commitment had been leading him in ways that did not fit with what was happening and where he was meant to be.
In writing you lop off a sentence (or paragraph or chapter) to move the story forward. In life you make tough but wise choices that put you on a better trajectory.
Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston