Saturday, 27 November 2010

NaNoWriMo: some thoughts I had about it all


1. There are many ways in which it felt like something other than just trying to write a novel, like some sort of life exercise, or a thing you might do as a discipline in order to learn about yourself and grow as a human being.  After all, people write diaries for that reason.  And let's face it, the thing really holding my diary back from being interesting is me. I've always disapproved of my own diary attempts as an unhealthy pandering to my innate introspective egotism. Hurray for leisure novelling!

2. It's wierdly emotional.  I started off feeling a deep and very satisfying hatred for my book, and this was the undercurrent of the whole experience.  It felt like the sort of emotion that a supervillain might feel for a hero, a fascinated and enjoyable detestation.  I also felt occasional flashes of triumph just at the thought of the sheer number of words I was getting through, and moments of deep pity, as if I had accidentally injured something helpless.  All the way through there's the disgust when you inadvertently reread what you've read.  I dealt with that mostly by ignoring it.  (If I were a Catholic I would have "offered it up".)  When I got to fifty thousand words I felt stupefied, and when I finished the whole story I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of terror.  The NaNoWriMo thing is not conducive to sanity.  The message boards are quite good for this, because they make you realise that everyone is a bit loony, and that this can actually be a strength, making stories more interesting, and helping to keep you going.  There are excellent posts where people ask for help with things like, if their hero has the superpower of turning things to jelly and he accidentally does this to the office block where he lives, what's his best hope of escaping from the 20th floor alive?  And would viscosity be an issue if you were trying to fill a cave with custard?  And there are memes like the travelling shovel of death.  To participate in that one, you simply kill someone in your novel with a shovel.  I killed a viking with a shovel, right to the back of the neck.  Go England!

3. Quality.  Quality is a big issue.  How could I possibly write 50 000 good words in a month?  I don't think I could.  Can I write 50 000 good words at all?  I don't know.  Usually when I try to write fiction, I write a few paragraphs and then worry about whether or not they're any good, and spend lots of time revising those bits, and then I give up.  Throughout NaNoWriMo it's been the case that I know that most of what I'm writing is awful, not "oh bother I'm disheartened with my work, I quite liked it yesterday but now I think it's bad" sort of awful, but obviously and straightforwardly bad from the moment it emerges from my fingertips. It takes the worry out of it if you decide to let it go and just get on with it.  But the whole NaNoWriMo thing is a huge exercise in humility.  You'd have to be a very bad reader, or one of those super-unrealistic people who sing appallingly at X Factor auditions, to think that you are writing something like a proper novel as you go.  (Or maybe you could be a genius like Dostoyevksy, but if you are I don't want to know about it.)  The NaNoWriMo people make this very clear, to their credit, and suggest you look upon what you write not even as a first draft, but a zeroth draft, or a halfth draft -- one month for writing, and eleven for revising.  In a way it's a shame they call it a novel at all.  It could be NaFiDraWriMo.  But the whole time you are writing you are humiliating yourself by doing something you care about and doing it badly.  It feels quite mature to keep going anyway.  That's definitely one of the hardest things about it, not just producing the words but quelling your self-dislike as you do so.

4. The anti-NaNoWriMo press annoys me.  It reminds me a bit of my school cello teacher.  I loved my cello though I wasn't that conscientious about practicing.  I hated playing those horrible concerts where  kids take it in turns to scrape through some "Tune a Day" piece about a happy pigeon or something, and all the parents clap all the kids on the understanding that that way their own children will also receive hearty applause.  I hated that.  One time I got as far as turning up with my cello and then just plain refusing to perform.  My cello teacher could not understand anyone not wanting to play for other people.  She said to me, if no one can hear you, what's the point in playing the cello?  I did not feel like that.  My favourited cello-playing times were with no one else in earshot,  trying to pick out tunes I knew or playing old favourites, or making things up as I went.  And however much journalists may act as if the only point in writing is to sell it (stupid Samuel Johnson) it's clear that a huge number of people do not write for that reason.  Look at fanfic and its amusing sub-genre slashfic.  People who write those know from the outset that they will never make money from them because they don't own the characters.  It has to be done as an expression of love (or other, stranger emotions).  No one goes to art classes and tells the painters to give up because they'll probably never sell their work commercially.  No one tells knitters just to buy their jumpers from M&S.  If I join a choir and sing in it, no one's going to say I'm fooling myself because I won't get paid.  I could go jogging, and I probably ought to, and I'm not going to be put off just because I'm unlikely to win any marathons or acquire lucrative sponsorship deals.  No, I'll be put off because I'm lazy.  People enjoy writing.  I would like to publish a novel one day, it's true.  It may well be that this one has to be one of those "I wrote four novels before I got one published" sort of things -- as you can imagine, I'm pretty scared to read the damn thing, so I don't know yet.  If that's the case, and even if I never publish any fiction,  then, nonetheless, it has not been a waste of time. It's been an experience.  It's been a painful and creative sort of fun.

5. If at all possible I'm going to do it next year.  I don't know what my work circumstances will be next year, but I think that an hour a day with maybe a couple of extra hours over the weekend is enough.  This year, even though I have hated my novel most of the way through, I have still found it very easy to motivate myself.  I have even managed to use the prospect of evening novelling to help me work on my freelance stuff during the day (much of what I'm doing at the moment comes down to formatting, and it does get a tad dull).  I think that next year I'll try doing something a bit crazier, perhaps involving talking rats.  Not something that could ever be commercial, but something I'd feel good about writing. The novel I wrote this year started out as a joke in my head, and I feel that if I'd left it a bit more jokey and undefined then it might have been more fun to write. There could have been pirates in it!

6. I printed it out -- it comes to 176 pages in 1.5 spacing, so I printed it duplex for the sake of the trees.  I made it a front cover using Wordle and bound it with four treasury tags.  I like that "people" is my most commonly used word.  I'm going to pretend that it's a deliberate calque on the Old English word ├żeod instead of just a word I overuse. And now I've got to reread the thing.  The idea fills me with dread.  I feel like I'm going to the vet to find out whether my puppy is riddled with disease. I'm going to reread it once quickly, for an overview of structure, and then, unless I feel I have to put it out of its misery, I will work through it several times slowly, revising properly, trying to turn some of the sentences into good sentences.
72, 288 words of historical detective story by me.

7. I won NaNoWriMo!  Go me!  Also, so did my only NaNoWriMo buddy, nwjvfoi, who started at short notice and improvised more, which I think may be more in the spirit of the thing.  Go nwjvfoi!  We rock!  Oh yeah!

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