On the thin ice of the new day
(track 11 Warchild, Jethro Tull)
On Sunday afternoon I found myself – for my sins — on a hot tin roof. No, I wasn’t trying to get closer to heaven either with delusions that altitude or landing on my head would help. Not being very good at saying no, and feeling sorry for folk who don’t really need my help are sins of a sort too.
Australia is the country of very expensive labor, and ‘elf-an’-safety adding time, inconvenience and a huge amount of cost to anything involving being more than one step from earth. On the island ‘town’ piped water is unfit to drink (and most of us don’t have even that). So drinking water is rainwater, and everyone has big tanks.
Keeping gutters clear is thus very important. Getting someone in to do it, considering the labor and ‘elf-an’-safety is difficult and expensive. So most folk do it themselves, or if they’re getting on, either face the cost, and trying to find someone (no one does it as a job, no one wants to, because it’s bureaucratic nightmare), or ask a sucker. I think I have that tattooed on my forehead.
Now, I’ve been a rock-climber for more than 40 years and I’m still alive, which means I’m quite good at two things – high places, and assessing risk. So: I tend to get up on the roof and do the job in 10 minutes. I’m not being paid, so the bureaucrats as yet have no ground for fainting and shrieking.
In the case of this particular roof, the owners had fallen victim to that terrible ailment, excessive gardening, including fishponds and rockeries. And objet d’art, another dangerous thing. Both of these are awful when they occupy the place where, otherwise, one might put a ladder. They also make for lumpy and/or wet (and worse, with goldfish) places to fall to.
Now roofs come in steep and rope, or flat/gentle and stand… Steep mostly don’t need much cleaning, and gentle slopes are easy to walk and clean…
This was one of those awkward roofs, too steep for comfort, far too steep to walk, hard to safety-line effectively… but not so steep it couldn’t be done reasonably safely. It just needed something different… slightly sweaty-damp hands and feet, caution and slow spider-movements. It’s a balancing act between friction and gravity and just damp monkey monkey paws are slightly ‘stickier’ than dry ones. It’s why Fluff, the Galago in Rats, Bats and Vats (“Rats, Bats and Vats Series” Book 1) practice urine washing of his paws. I decided to give that a miss this time.
So there I was, gardening the gutters singing ‘Skating Away’. Yes, I usually sing when climbing things. Firstly, I’m out of reach of those who might want to shut me up, and secondly cliffs are popular with birds, and my singing prevents unexpected face-to-beak meetings. When I stop singing it’s hard, I’m in trouble or both. The gutters got done and the neighbors might well stop complaining about my singing one day.
The roof, like NaNoMoWriMo, took commitment. It is much easier if you’ve done it before. It’s also a long-ish task, which you can make into a nightmare – or you can keep cool and do it. You can fail, fall and actually get hurt (yes, as a writer. Writing is about confidence, about trusting yourself. So is climbing. And a writer’s life is full of rockeries, goldfish ponds and knobbly Objet d’art all waiting eagerly for a misstep).
The key is to try to land well… and to get back on that roof as fast as possible. It’s just like horse-riding (well, falling off the horse) and other foolish pastimes. Trust me on this, I am an EXPERT at failing at the foolish pastimes I will keep trying… and failing at, and getting back on straight away and trying again. If you fall behind with NaNoMoWriMo – you cannot afford not get on and push story. Even if you don’t finish inside the cut-off, you need to finish the race. It’s that or give up and make it much harder next time.
Like the roof… it’s too steep to walk fast, and in fact, trying to do it fast, to rush it… just doesn’t work. It’s a 30 day project. Slow and solid wins the day (and then gets picked up by an eagle and dropped on a rock – so if you do get picked up by the eagle (suddenly sell your NaNoMoWriMo book), be sure to bite the eagle (or the publisher) on the nadgers and hold tight (ensure you have a contract that will hurt them as much as you, if they drop you) Seriously, different people write in different ways, and none of them are ‘right’ – but for me keeping just above wordcount required works better than sudden rushes.
Too slow has the opposite problem. You’ll sweat off, and get nowhere. If you’re stuck, move on. You can always come fill that gap later. You can’t catch up a week’s or three’s worth of words, later.
Secondly, you’re writing for readers. That means you have to communicate, and they have to follow the story… which means, just like me reaching a hand making sure the next bit of roof is not too dusty or slippery, that you have to prepare the ground. Most NaNoMoWriMo stories fall at this hurdle. The writers are so busy chasing the words they don’t prepare the reader. They don’t foreshadow so that events and actions seem natural (even when they come out of left of field). If you don’t do this naturally – know where your story is going, and if young Freddie is going to be stranded on a desert island mention his Boy Scout background long before and in other contexts, it will not read well. Trust me. I’ve done this wrong myself. If need be, go back and insert it.
Thirdly – you are writing at pace. If you’re new to this, remember you have to carry your reader with you. There’s no point in racing around the roof and not doing the gutters. The easiest way – as with the gutters — is to start at the low point and work your way up, linearly. Linear stories, once which follow a simple sequence of events in one place, with one group of characters are easier to write, and easier to follow. Flashbacks are very useful, but they are harder to do well, and harder to orchestrate if you are pushing for words.
Fourthly, if you can’t sing, talk. Dialogue reads well, is a natural and easy form of communication, and is a great way of showing characters and story. And yes, it is quite wordy.
Finally: November – LIVE in your story. Don’t think about writing or politics or cuddling cousin Clara. There really isn’t a lot of room for anything else in your focus (start not thinking about the roof, and you’re going slip off it, start not thinking about the book and you’re fall off and NaNoMo too.) When you’re not actually writing, be thinking it.
“Well, do you ever get the feeling, that the story’s too damn real
And in the present tense
Or that everybody’s on the stage and it seems like you’re the only
Person sitting in the audience”
I do. I write a lot like that.