Unfortunately Tilly does not like this song and she growled at it, but here it is anyway. The White Stripes with Seven Nation Army.
Possibly the tune that gets most into your head and presses repeat on itself.
I love it when you find bits of things that really resonate with you – when someone says something noteworthy or quoteworthy. Bits of songs or bits of poems or bits of novels. I can’t think of a life in which words aren’t a part of it. In fact, I’ve just read Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not A Painter which you might not like, but I really do. I think it says why I am not a painter either. I’d be writing ORANGES and never getting to the oranges. One day I will stick to the point.
Anyway, I am mostly loving the return of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which in my opinion should really be InNaNoWriMo since it is international. There’s a very healthy French contingent and even three people committed to it in Angoulême.
It’s a bit like a marathon. In fact, it’s what I do instead of marathons these days. You write 50,000 words in 30 days. You have no commitment to publish or to seek publication or to share. You have no commitment to finish. I finished one last year and I hope to do the same this year too.
I was kind of stuck for inspiration right up until the moment my fingers hit the keyboard. I had been playing around with an idea about science-fiction and time travel but it all got a bit technical in my head and then it ended up sounding like a bad episode of Quantum Leap. And then I thought about writing one based on life here during part of the Second World War but I am not a history buff and it would need a level of historical detail I’m not comfortable with. And not only that, I’d lose all my time researching the thing.
So I fell upon a kind of dystopian future that is a cross between prehistoric life and being a bit of an escape-and-evade novel. I started writing and it was pretty easy to find those first words and to find a style. At the moment it is kind of a diary with a numerical pattern. That’s as much as I can say at the moment, though if you know the poem Chronic Meanings it will shed a little light, although I intend mine to be a little more readerly. It’s first person present tense which is kind of unusual. I like first person. It’s like De Niro and method acting. You get under the skin of the narrator and you get to be a different person for a while.
At first I had no problem creating the narrator or establishing the setting and the opening. Then I thought about where it was all going to go. I mean, is there a future in a dystopian world? Should there be a happy ending? Should there be hope? I started digging through a few other dystopian novels for inspiration and I was still at a blank.
And it got worse.
I like to read around the subject when I am writing. It kind of puts me in the mood. I usually watch a few films and read a few books and then it gives me a better focus on where I want to go. But the first film I thought I’d watch was a version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with Viggo Mortensen.
I began to lose the will to live.
I’d written 5000 words which had the same aimless wandering, the same futility, the same notions, the same bleakness. Not a man and a boy of course. That would have been too close. But the same big brushstrokes: the lack of clarity over what happened; the lack of focus and purpose; the same behaviours from the survivors.
Then I read the book and I felt even worse.
I’d made the decision to write with only terminal punctuation (.!?) dashes and apostrophes. Any commas were removed. I wanted it terse and post-modern. I confess I was a little inspired by The Knife of Never Letting Go. I didn’t want it to be cohesive or clear. I was going for fractured and fragmented, brittle prose. I decided not to give the narrator a name or even a gender. They were to be nameless and genderless so that it could be anybody.
So what the hell does Cormac McCarthy do?
The exact same sodding thing almost to a tee. Not quite the same but almost.
Only he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner who published it seven years before the idea even came into my little brain.
I confess I was a little stuck. It was too similar and I hadn’t got an ending.
But I persevered. I had a little thing going with numbers which relates to my own little obsessive pace-counting. I used to do it when I was running – count paces – and it was kind of therapeutic. And I know numbers have all kinds of vested symbolism. So the main character was going to have a numbers obsession.
And in searching for a title, like Steinbeck, I turned to the Bible. I thought I could get something great from Ecclesiastes or Judges. But then… there is this book called Numbers. It was crying out for use.
And what is the book of Numbers about? A society on the move. An exodus. It’s about a promised land and taking possession of a promised land. A new Eden. It ends with a new generation ready to take over the country. It’s about faith and trusting in a higher purpose, an end-game. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
That gave me a great idea for the ending and a sense of hope. It also gave me a name for the novel as well as some great quotes for the main character. I re-read the Song of Deborah and that gave me some great inspiration too. I got to thinking about giving the main character not only a gender but an identity. I decided on Miriam. In the Bible, Miriam is the sister of Moses. And that gave me another route into the story because I was struggling to introduce another character who the narrator would implicitly trust. A brother can always be that character.
So there we have the process by which I arrived at a plot and some characters who are hopefully not some unplanned rip-off.
So this Monday I am Much Loving inspiration. It accidentally ended up being divine inspiration as well. Weird how that works. Hopefully this will keep me going through all the rain that is predicted this week. Long evenings and rainy days need some kind of occupation, I find. Here’s hoping you find that little flame of inspiration that ignites your creativity too.