“I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank one.”
Nora Roberts

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Natalie Goldberg Was Right!
Sat 2006-11-11 23:02:42 (in context)
  • 13,461 words (if poetry, lines) long

She said "Get closer." She said, "What are you looking at?" She said, "Keep the pen moving." Presumably she's still saying all of that, and well should she, because it's true.

If the name is unfamiliar to you, get yourself a copy of Writing Down the Bones to start with. Read it. Do the "Try this" exercises. It won't take you long. At worst, you may simply decide it's all new age hokeyness designed to keep amateur writers eternally amateurs, and you'll kick the dust off your heels and move on. Or you may decide that it's a valuable addition to your personal arsenal of inspirational tricks and that you will go forth and do likewise forever more.

I'm in the latter camp. Today's NaNoWriMo session is an example of why.

Gwen is sitting at the big check-out desk in the bookstore, trying to figure out how to save both the store and her life. Doing the one seems mutually exclusive with the other. As she sits there thumbing through the phone book (SELF-DEFENSE, she thinks, and then thinks, but how much can I learn in a week? He said if I didn't clear out of here in a week I'm dead), she does like I do: her brain slides off the difficult thing and onto a thought more pleasant. To wit, herself as the owner of the bookstore she's loved since childhood, doing the things she idolized the previous owner for doing.

"Get closer," says Natalie. "What are you looking at?"

She runs her hand over the wood of the desk (sturdy oak, dark, glossy and smooth with age and use) and notes the many little cubbies, pigeon-holes, and drawers. One for every possible object. There is a cut-glass inkwell permanently affixed to the desk; the ink has dried to a crust in the months since the previous owner's death. Gwen will have to clean it out before she refills it. Metallic purple, she thinks, and remembers how the previous owner would take a quill pen from its place in that inkwell and write a fabulously curly-cued X at the "sign here" part of credit card slips and IOUs. Gwen imagines doing likewise. And because she is a young adult novelist, she imagines signing her name with that quill for teenage fans of her books.

The room takes on all three dimensions. I'm in there with Gwen. I'm reading the titles on the magazine rack, I'm lounging in the faux-leather chair by the window to the left of the door, and I'm opening the door to make the bells tied to the return bar jangle.

It occurs to me that what distracts Gwen from her reverie is a customer. Her first ever. A young girl here against the express wishes of her mother, who knows that the children who went missing over the past year were last seen at the bookstore. And, after much introductory conversation, the girl says, "Where is the quill?"

And Gwen looks around and says, "Crap! Where is the quill?" Neither of them can find it. Finding it will be vitally significant to the plot, especially as regards Gwen's relationship with the Bookwyrm and the Space Between The Stories.

The plot thickens. And all because Natalie Goldberg said "Get closer."

Of course, the guy I'm thinking of who can't stand Natalie Goldberg also doesn't much like NaNoWriMo, so this won't convince him. But for folks like him we can just pretend I didn't say NaNoWriMo, and that this is merely the first draft of a novel like any other novel. It is, actually. I simply happen to be writing it in November at the rate of 1,000-2,000 words per day.

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