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NaNoWriMo and the Forcing Function

In 1993, when I was working on One Giant Leap for Mankind, the silver anniversary commemoration publication to the Apollo 11 lunar landing that I developed and edited, Apollo 10 astronaut Thomas Stafford used a term I’d never heard before: “The forcing function.” In Stafford’s view, if you want to create something truly innovative or creative, you need a forcing function — an outside force that propels you past your own preconceived notions or limitations and into higher performance and excellence. In the case of Stafford and his fellow Apollo astronauts, the forcing function was laid down in 1961, when President Kennedy proclaimed the mission of landing on the moon before the decade was out.

I think of the forcing function often, especially during some of the innovative, deadline-based projects on which I have worked. It is true that when our backs are to the wall, many creative types put together their very best work. We suspend our doubts, distractions and tangents, focus deeply on the matter at hand, and put together books, pieces of music, paintings, sculptures, dance performances and illustrations that reflect our higher potential. Since I grew into adulthood while on a daily newspaper staff, I know all about forcing functions: we faced them every day, required to produce pages and stories between 6 and 9 a.m., when the newspaper was typeset and plated for the presses.

Some things never change.

That’s why I love NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. What became an honorary month for novelists has grown into a program that celebrates the novel-writing process and encourages writers of all ages and persuasions to sit down and create a work of fiction — by using the forcing function as an impetus. By signing up on the official website, you become part of a supportive world of other writers in your region that are trying to do the same thing — write a novel in a month (or at least much of a novel). It has been deeply inspiring to read emails and Facebook posts from writing friends who have cranked out 10,000 to 30,000 words this month in their efforts to complete their work of fiction.

As of today, more than 1.75 billion words have been composed by authors nationwide as part of the NaNoWriMo program. Jump in and add to it!

As for me? Crazy writing, client and teaching schedule and all, I’ve taken the plunge. I finally signed up yesterday and am 3,000 words into my next novel, “Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s,” which I have wanted to write for a couple of years. Will share excerpts on here in future blogs, but suffice to say, the forcing function kicked in and I’ve got 12 days to shape this idea into the makings of a novel.

Which reminds me: time to sign on to the NaNoWriMo website, log my word count to date, and write some more.

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Here is a sneak preview of comments I made in the free ranging interview that I conducted with Mary Jo Campbell of Writer’s Inspired. The full interview will post Tuesday (March 23) morning at 10 a.m. CDT, after which you can post comments if you’d like:

ON EARLY CAREER: “My formal training took place in the real world – and through reading voraciously, in all genres, from the time I was very young. In 1977, when I was 17, I was hired as a sportswriter by the Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) in Oceanside, CA. My editors, Bill Missett and Steve Scholfield, were true old-schoolers: get in and out of the story, get quotes, get two independent sources to verify every fact. Accuracy and unique angles meant everything to them. And making deadlines. I use that training every day. Also, they let me write for all sections of the paper, which enabled me to become a versatile writer.”

ON WRITING PROCESS: “I do not look back once I start each day. I write for four or five hours, then touch up what I wrote. The next day, I repeat this process. I find it incredibly self-defeating to continually self-edit in the middle of a writing session. It’s like giving the inner censor license to kill – which it will. It will kill your creative process. But for me, it’s important to look over what I wrote after the day is complete. When a draft is done, I rewrite it once from scratch, then move into revision and polishing edits.”

ON CREATING THE WRITE TIME: “I’m a fast writer, with a tendency to be very impatient, so it surprised both my friends and me that I would take 10 years to compile a book. The Write Time never started as a book idea. It started as writing exercises I cooked up for the workshops that I teach around the country. One day in 2007, I sat down and realized that there were more than 250 of these exercises, all created for workshops – and, more importantly, all field-tested by the workshop participants. They liked the story-telling aspect to the exercises and the content very much, so I thought, ‘Why not add 116 exercises and make a one-a-day book about it?’ Those last 116 exercises were by far the hardest to write.”

Check out the full interview Tuesday, March 23 at http://writerinspired.wordpress.com.
To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

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