Embrace Your Weirdness

NaNoLogoIt’s day one of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2015, and all over the world writers are clacking away in an initial rush of writing joy. The journey has begun. The climb up the mountain is on. Yes, there will need to be some oxygen intake along the way, but right now everybody’s yodeling.

To me, that’s the great benefit of NaNo. For one month there’s a community of writers engaged in the same pursuit—completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light. Life sometimes intrudes (it tends to do that). But those who keep on producing the words will feel an exhilaration that proves at least one thing: they are not chairs. They are writers full of passion and ideas and fervors and dreams. Some people never get to feel that way about anything.

That’s why you, writer, need to appreciate the gift you’ve been given, the gift of being slightly weird.

Yes, writers are weird. We’re weird because we do things like this: A friend has been in a terrible accident. We rush to the hospital. We enter the room. The friend is hooked up and bandaged. We go to him and take his hand. “I’m here for you,” we say.

At the same time, half our brain is thinking, This would make a pretty good scene. I wonder what they call that machine over there? Maybe I can ask a doctor some research questions before I leave. Maybe—

“What’s that? Oh, yes, yes, I’m here for you!”

And we wouldn’t have it any other way! I mean, who wants to walk through life in the tight shoes of the ordinary? We lie for fun and profit! Remember that great line from A Knight’s Tale, uttered by Chaucer: “Yes, I lied. I’m a writer. I give the truth scope!”

There’s nothing more joyful than giving the truth scope.

Let’s see it in your pages! In my recent book, VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing, I include a clip from John Fante’s 1939 novel, Ask the Dust. Here it is, and can’t you just feel what it’s like to want to be a writer?

Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town. A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya hya: there’s a place for me, too, and it begins with B, in the B shelf. Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett, not much that Arnold Bennett, but I’d be there to sort of bolster up the B’s, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream!

“Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.” (Ray Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing)

So whether you’re NaNoing or not (this year I have to transfer my gusto for NaNo to a project with an end-of-November deadline) make this month one where you surrender yourself to the joy of being that strange bird, a writer. You get to create fabulous worlds, unforgettable characters, blistering dialogue, scenes full of tension and conflict. You can write about zombies or lawyers (though some people think there is little difference between them). You can write about great loves and losses, go to Mars or New York.

And if perchance you are in one of those places in your mind, with a glassy stare on your face as your characters begin improvising––or maybe your lips are moving as you make up the dialogue––and someone happens to mention that you’re acting a little weird, simply say, “Thank you!”

Carpe Typem everyone. Have a wild and wonderful November.


18 thoughts on “Embrace Your Weirdness

  1. Thanks for confirming that we’re all a little nuts. I’m often moving my lips when I take a walk in the morning. I’m always staring into space. And life experiences are truly fodder for our imaginations. Fiction writing is a passion and a gift. If you’re a true writer, you can never quit. It’s who we are, so giving ourselves permission to be weird and knowing we are not alone helps nurture the writer soul within us.

  2. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim.

    Or as Nancy wrote, “confirming that we’re all a little nuts.”

    I like to think that “gift of being slightly weird” actually helps me maintain my sanity. If I had to stay focused on my day job, and could not have those weird moments, I would go insane. I call it recharging my battery when I look at new and unusual technology, that we take for granted, and I see ways that technology could be diverted by the evil antagonist, or ways the lead could use it to get out of a tight spot.

    If we could not be weird (make that “special”) this world would grind us down to automatons trudging through our daily existence, hungry for a breath of fresh air.

    So, yes, when someone catches us, and mentions we’re acting a little weird, say “Thank you” and silently express sympathy that they don’t have “the gift.”

  3. “Carpe typem” indeed. *insert smirking face* Best Latin bastardization ever! (for today, anyway)

  4. You nailed it, Jim. Love your “tight shoes of the ordinary.”

    I go through every day hearing that little voice in the back of my mind as I watch a tragedy unfold, like your hospital scene, or a moment of great joy. I’m constantly filing the details away for future use in a story. It’s a weird sort of detachment from events, the distance of the observer or journalist. Yes, we participate in life, but often we stand back, watch, and take notes while “normal” people are caught up in the chaos. We desperately want life to make sense, even when it defies all explanation, and we’re driven to attempt to explain the inexplicable in our writing.

    Or maybe we writers just have a defective chromosome 🙂

  5. A plea for being nuts. That comes at the right time for me.

    I got some traction on chapter 1 the other day and I was afraid to go back and read it because I had a feeling it was too out there. But it works…in a nutso kind of way, just like that Fante passage you shared. NOW…the hard part is reeling it in just far enough, with just enough craft to make the madness mean something.

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  7. Thank you, Jim, for encouraging us with our NaNoWriMo challenge. I’ve just completed my words for today (it’s my second year) and I was already caught with the “glassy” look at the lunch table earlier. My husband says it’s okay since he’s my biggest cheerleader (literally).
    On the way home from church my muse had me convinced someone had sneaked into the back seat of the car, and now I’ve got to figure out a way to get that into my mystery draft. I’m relieved my sidekick-muse showed up on time. Last year was fun–but hard.
    1 day down–29 to go.
    I’m part way into your new book, VOICE (I’ve read three of your writing books so far–love them all) and the timing is perfect as I’m going to write more freely while remembering my characters have a history (baggage/issues) to tap into. And I’ll give my antagonist reasons I shouldn’t totally hate him/her.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  8. “Yes, there will need to be some oxygen intake along the way, but right now everybody’s yodeling.”

    Brilliant 😀

    I’m in. I signed up two or three times before, but never got past the first couple of days. This year I will.

    Why is this year different?

    Because now I know how to finish a novella. I’m going for several short stories and novellas. Not a novel yet.

    And yeah, we’re weird. I walk my dog, and I describe the smells I encounter, I describe the things I see and hear. I need exercise with settings.

    When I put the dishes into the dishwasher, I hear voices in my head. My hero and heroine are discussing over dinner. Their dialogue is printed on my mind, and later I can write it down.

    This is life. This is wonderful.

    Oh, and I wrote 3,993 words yesterday.

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