Writing Acoustically

NaNoWriMo is about applied writing … it’s not about planning, editing or publishing. It is a month of writing every day… of getting words down in “long form.” And getting miles-and-miles of words done too. It sounds overwhelming when you think about it like this, a marathon-run of words, but you will need to achieve thousands of new words a day if you want to write a book. 50k is your minimum, but you’ll aim for 80k and above for a fantasy novel. Thousands will have achieved it before you did and thousands will complete their NaNoWriMo 50k word marathon long after you have finished yours…

So I thought I’d go over the ABCs of applied writing ahead of November… and what I mean by APPLIED WRITING is the essential exercise of writing (so to speak) rather than all refinements and those time-wasting post-production procedures that go into the craft of authorship and (although they are important) can’t be done unless you have your 50 thousand rough words in the first place.

I have broken these ideas down into easy chunks, but before I go into more detail, I want you to compare yourself to a recording artist. How does a pop musician work? Does a musical artist create ready orchestrated sounds that are fully configured, handsomely produced, professionally designed, neatly packaged, and appropriately branded? Of course not! Their songs start life as rough, low-tech, rudimentary, perhaps even crude & clunky pieces of simple improvisation… yet one day those crude little songs will transform into ultra-sophisticated masterpieces that audiences will fall in love with.

It’s the same with you. Just like a musician, you will work with simple improvisations before you go into the studio to construct multidimensional masterpieces.

Think of NaNoWriMo as a rehearsal room and NOT as your recording studio. The month of November is where you lay down your most rudimentary, low-tech demos. This is where you will formulate some rough ideas that can be (much later) produced, packaged, and perfectly branded in the studio.

So, what is writing acoustically?

To continue to labour the analogy between you and the pop star, do you suppose that a musician walks into a rehearsal room with a pile of sophisticated instrumentation and loads of machinery? Mmm, no. They don’t, because that would hamper their creative drive and hinder versatility. It would stop their creative juices flowing. They enter a rehearsal room with their simplest instruments. A guitar to strum. A keyboard to create a riff. Maybe a drum. And, of course, a voice to hum some tunes. They wouldn’t want anything to interfere with the fluidity of their raw creative activity.

I read that the Rolling Stones were (literally) locked in a dark closet and told (by their manager) not to come out until they had written a new song. This was at the beginning of their career, and after a few songs written this way, they were permitted to come out of the closet, but only into the hallway! I know another guy who shuts himself away in a shed in Northern Scandinavia for two weeks. He won’t come out until he’s written ten songs. That’s the goal and the deal he set himself.

So what does acoustic mean? Well, for storytellers like us it means: not electrically enhanced, not mechanically honed, not reworked, not rearranged, and certainly not redesigned or edited. It’s the simple, raw form of words. The half-idea put into approximate language. And left for later.

Try these acoustic approaches to applied writing:

  • writing acoustically, make notes with pen & paper. Tolkien made his notes in long-hand (though he suffered severe rheumatism.) Jane Austen used a quill. So did Charles Dickens, plus he was left-handed, so he had to adapt his nibs. If pen and paper were good enough for these authors to write their notes, it’s good enough for you
  • writing acoustically, try some abstract thinking, do these simple exercises: i) some people are visual thinkers, so start a picture based mood board ii) some people are logical thinkers so make a list of all the place names you’d like to use in your novel, be as fanciful and magical as you like, but put the list in a spreadsheet and make it alphabetical iii) some people are pattern thinkers, so make a play list of sounds that inspire you and create the playlist on Spotify or Soundcloud
  • writing acoustically, try writing in little squirts! Daydreaming like you just did (above) is good, but add ten words to your last vision. Do not check it, do not sharpen it. Just write ten words. Done that? Don’t check them, don’t go back and never edit. Be strict with yourself. Now write for 10 minutes. Yes, now. A ten minute burst. Do it. Set a timer. And stop. STOP after ten minutes. No going back, no editing, no sharpening. This is just flexing and loosening what I like to call the “muscles of your mind” and that last ten minute writing sprint will, of course, be nonsense. But we can use it, oh yes, we can use it, as you will see shortly…
  • writing acoustically, play with your words. Tolkien didn’t just create words, he created entire languages. If Tolkien isn’t good enough for you, what about Shakespeare? He invented over 1,700 words, most are still used today. If those authors did it, so can you. Let no one tell you that you can’t create your own words. It’s what authors do. It’s our thing. In fact, it’s our business. So go back to your ten word vision (above) and replace one (just one) of those ready-made off-the-peg words with your newly made-up word. It feels good doesn’t it? Does it look right, sat there on the page? Does it sound right? Does it fit? Read it out LOUD. Now. Be proud. Because you’re writing like Shakespeare. You’ve only been doing this for about thirty minutes and you are already creating language!
  • writing acoustically, play with sentences. A sentence is just a string of words that, when intertwined, make some sense. It is a vehicle of expression. So go back to your ten minute writing spurt and find a string of words in among all that tangle. Try to fashion a string of words that you locate in that littered mess… try to find something that has implication: something that perhaps titillates, or invites, or conceals, or suggests or exposes. When you’ve found or assembled something, write it out, that new sentence. Now take a break. You earned it!
  • writing acoustically, play with vibes. This is where you will want to go deep inside your own head. What are your genuine emotions, desires, or repulsion right now… at this exact time? What is it that really worries you? What pleases you? What’s eating you? What’s defeating you? What’s gladdening you? Put these thoughts down. In words (you don’t have to use complete sentences unless you really want to, so use bullet points) but play with the vibes of the moment. Can’t find the right words? No problem, use pictures (add them to your mood board) or sounds (add them to your playlist)
  • writing acoustically, play with concepts. A concept is a mental structure. A vague idea is called an inkling. But a concept is perhaps more fully formed than an inkling (though not by much). Sometimes it is better to use symbolism than words to get close to an abstract concept. I call this bit of writing the fancymongering bit… (that’s my own word, not Shakespeare’s) but you can call it whatever you want. What you will want to do here, though, is focus your mind… focus on something that can’t be grasped. But can this “thing” be experienced? Go back to the bundle of nonsense you wrote in ten minutes and see if there is something hidden in that muddle that can be felt? Is there a colour that can be seen? Or a flavour that abides? Anything you can smell? Anything that oozes, sprouts, or drools? Something that pounces out or hisses in your face? Yes? Good. Circle that word or sentence (or thought). And be proud. Because now you’re playing with concepts… and that’s the hardest part of novel writing. Well done. Many congratulations.

    Next week: creating baseline structures & cause and effect in novel writing

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” out NOW on Amazon Kindle

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