Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Tale of Two Narratives

Archie: Don't you know that the whole world puts on a sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe?

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a lot and write it fast. To send your censor packing. Editing comes later. Craft comes later. Just git 'er done.

That's just the kind of thing that gives me the willies.

Some writers spit their first drafts out like melon seeds, then sit and polish those seeds into pearls. Some, like me, sit and polish a paragraph, then sit and polish the next paragraph, then go back and sit and re-polish because now I've got two paragraphs that have to be polished together, then move to the third paragraph to sit and polish, then go back to the first two paragraphs...

Wait. Let me try that again. See, it's like this:

I grew up watching All in the Family. In a classic scene from the series, A Sock And A Sock And A Shoe And A Shoe, Archie Bunker and Michael 'Meathead' Stivic debate the fine points of getting dressed. As Archie talks about the fishing trip they're about to take, Michael puts a sock on his left foot. Then he grabs a boot and starts putting that on his left foot.

Archie: Hold it, hold it. Hold it! What are you doin' here?

Michael: What?

Archie: What about the other foot?

(Michael shows Archie his bare right foot.)

Archie: There ain't no sock on it.

Michael: I'll get to it.

Archie: Don't you know that the whole world puts on a sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe?

Michael: I like to take care of one foot at a time!

Archie: That's the dumbest thing I ever heard, you know that?

Michael: It's just as quick my way.

Archie: Wait a minute, that ain't the point, you see what I -- (Grabs the sock Michael starts to put on.) Don't keep doing it, listen to me! Suppose there is a fire in the house, and you got to run for your life. Your way, all you got on is one shoe and a sock. My way, you got on a sock and a sock. You see? You're even.

Michael: Suppose it's raining or snowing outside. Your way, with a sock on each foot, my feet would get wet. My way, with a sock and a shoe on one foot, I can hop around and stay dry.

Archie: I think you been hoppin' around on your head. (Michael takes his sock back from Archie to put it on his right foot. Archie grabs it.) Wait a minute. Wait a -- listen to me! Supposin' the other sock's got a hole in it.

Michael: It doesn't have a hole in it.

Archie: I said supposin' it's got a hole.

Michael: All right, suppose it has a hole.

Archie: All right, it's got a hole in it. So, you ain't got another matchin' pair, so what are you gonna do? Your way, you gotta take off a whole shoe and a sock. My way, all you gotta do is take off one sock.

Michael: All right, if it'll make you happy I'll start all over again. (Reaches to take his boot off.)

Archie: No, no, no! You're halfway through! Now, jeez, get on with it, we're in a hurry! (Heads for the door, turns back.) You can start doing it the right way tomorrow morning. And do it that way for the rest of your life!

When it comes to writing drafts, I'm like Michael. I like to take care of one thing at a time.

But in the writing I'm doing for NaNo, I tackle one part of it like Michael, and I tackle another part of it like Archie.

I'm like Michael when I write about the #SciFund projects themselves, trying to weave their stories into a greater whole. I respond to the material already out there and incorporate more from outside the proposals. I look for connections and spend time shaping the narrative.

But I'm also writing about events occurring and that have occurred day to day, from Jarrett Byrnes's inaugural blog post "The #SciFund Challenge: A Call to (virtual) Arms", through the sign-ups, the formation of a community, the learning of new skill sets, the push toward launch, the launch itself, and the adventure that continues even as I type. (Congratulations to Kelly Weinersmith, whose project on zombie fish was the first to reach its funding goal!)

And there I'm Archie, throwing on a pair of socks and running shoeless through a fire. The only difference is, I love the sparks. But I've got to type fast or I'll burn to a crisp. I write spontaneously, throw words up on the screen, free associate, free write in streams of consciousness. I write phrases in shorthand, meant to be expanded on later. I toss in bracketed placeholders, reminding myself to insert a detail from my haphazard collection of links or look something up on the Web. It is by far and away the sloppiest writing I've ever done.

But that's what NaNo is for. And that's why December is called NaNoEdMo: National Novel Editing Month. (Or, in some circles, NaNoFiMo, National Novel Finishing Month.)

The two styles play off each other. After an intense session of Michael-writing, I can turn to the Archie portion of my draft and get all loosey-goosey. And when that makes me feel discombobulated, I can hunker down and become Michael again.

In between, I get onto Twitter and watch those pretty rocket flames.

Elissa Malcohn's Deviations and Other Journeys
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