September is ending. Here in my native northwestern forests, the colors of the big-leaf maples and alders paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold. Lower in the canopy, bursts of red and scarlet from our sumac and vine-maples shout that autumn has arrived, and summer is leaving.
In the high country, golden larches surprise those hikers who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. They might think the forest is dying when really, it’s just going to take a long nap.
The autumn forest feels mysterious, a place of change and shadows, with depths we can’t really know.
The sky is also changing. Our days are shorter, and while the sun is shining this week, the monsoon months approach. Rain will be our most constant companion, or heaven forbid, lowland snow.
I don’t mind the snow now that I don’t have to drive in it, but something about the slightest dusting sends the Northwest into a panic. By the middle of October, gray overcast skies seem to linger unending, eternal. Visitors from sunnier places wonder if the sun will ever shine again.
I always tell them to wait a day or two. When the clouds finally part, they reveal a shade of blue so beautiful that words can fail me.
These are the writing months, the mad dash to finish that first draft, and the build-up to NaNoWriMo. These are the days when inspiration knocks on the door, calling “Trick or treat!”
In October, I begin prepping for the month of intensive writing.
If I am going to be effective, I will need to make an outline of the basic story arc. I will make one even when my novel could end in several different ways.
Writing a story as it falls out of my head can be fun in short bursts. However, my years of experience with NaNoWriMo have taught me that I will quickly run out of ideas of what to do next if I don’t have some sort of guide.
In some novels, it feels as if the authors became desperate at the halfway point. Random sex and violence occur without any real feeling. It’s a terrible temptation to kill someone just to stir things up and raise the emotional stakes.
I don’t want to be faced with that dilemma. I intend to begin writing on November 1st with a solid notion of who the story is about, what their problem is, and where the story will go. For me, good preparations are the key to a finished first draft. Sometime toward the middle of October, I will share some of my simple nano-prep ideas.
There are times when someone must die to advance the plot or fire up the protagonist, but readers get angry with authors who kill off too many characters they have grown to like.
Autumn and winter are also my reading days. In October I immerse myself in reading, mingled in with the writing I ordinarily do. I admit that some days I get so into what I’m reading that I forget to cook dinner.
Today’s autumn glory will intensify and linger for a few short weeks. Then, the rain we Northwesterners are famous for will move in.
Those few leaves fortunate enough to go unraked will become soggy and moldy, waiting for the wind to set them flying. They will huddle in the gutters and against the foundations of buildings, seeking warmth and perhaps regretting their freedom.
And when the skeletal remains have turned to soil as all leaves must, perhaps a seed will take root. Maybe one day, the seedling-tree, nurtured by this year’s broken remains, will shade me as I walk.
In autumn, my ideas for stories are like fallen leaves. I cast them flying in the wind that is NaNoWriMo, letting them go where they will against the framework of my world and plot outline.
All I can hope is they come to rest in a place where they will nourish the seeds of the story I intend to write when November 1st arrives.
Credits and Attributions
Albert Bierstadt – Autumn Landscape PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons
Autumn Landscape with Pond and Castle Tower-Alfred Glendening, 1869 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons