I wrote this post last week and thought I’d scheduled it for Sunday, but apparently not. It’s still relevant, although the word count has changed a bit. It’s about NaNo in the context of having been writing books all year.
An extract from some email correspondence with my dear Marmee on the subject of NaNoWriMo last week:
Me, Edinburgh, Monday afternoon
I’ve passed 21k so should get to the 23.5 tonight I think, although I’m still not feeling very inspired so it’s basically all attempts to explore the characters to see who is worth hanging it off… At the moment I’m feeling it’s the least inspired thing I’ve done all year. But maybe when I come back to it I will see something there.
Marmee, Blairgowrie, Monday Evening
Maybe the whole thing of 12 in 12 means you are more matter of fact and less impressed by your own writing than you have been in the past? Most of us are struggling to get anything down, which I suspect is a barrier you have broken through.
To be fair, on Wednesday in a lemsip fuelled dream-mare I churned out a thousand words allegedly from the point of view of a four year old boy. Even through my snottery haze I could see he was more articulate than most adults. This is less a matter of me being less impressed with my ability to write and more to do with the fact what I was writing was poor. If you can see at such an early stage that what you’re writing will need to be drastically overhauled, what’s the point in continuing in that vein? Well, the point this month, at any rate, is reaching the 50k word count.
Taking this further I am not particularly impressed by anything I’ve done for this year’s NaNo (apart from that hate sonnet, maybe, but even that was tonally completely against what I’m supposed to be doing). Overall it doesn’t feel like a novel yet – it feels like I’m writing towards the novel’s starting point.
There have been a couple of moments this month, whilst tinternet joins in with something I’ve been doing all year and seems to be a lot more on top of things than I am, where I start to wonder whether I’ve not only broken through the barrier of writer’s block but raced so far past the block that my inner editor may be lost forever. What if it’s all dross? What if none of it turns out to be salvageable? Will it all have been a waste of time? Will the likes of Louise ‘can you write a good novel in a month? #QTWTAIN’ Bagshawe-Mensch be proven right (an eventuality I am loath to be party to)?
I lean towards no, for a couple of reasons. One is the 10,000 hour theory as detailed in a book by sociologist Malcolm Gladwell (and brought to my attention by The Clear Minded Creative). The idea is that it takes 10,000 hours of focused work to become an expert at something. Over the course of NaNoWriMo you put in maybe 60 if you’re keeping at it for 2 hours a day, which is barely a dent in that overall period – but it’s a start. I can’t expect to be an expert after that but I am 1 166th of the way there. No point crying over spilt adjectives at this early stage.
The other reason I don’t see it as a waste of time, even if this genuinely is the most useless of the books, is because I’ve enjoyed doing it. Even at this stage, when I ought to be tired and careworn and cynical about the idea that my brain can still surprise me, I’m not – only last week a character went in a direction I’d never considered writing about before, and the day before that I took my first tentative steps to including a sex scene (which I’ve never even been able to contemplate before because I’m sure it’ll end up deeply embarrassing. It still might, of course. That’s part of the fun.)
I’ve also been keeping in mind a comment Doug Johnstone made at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, that before he writes a book he spends a couple of months doing stream of consciousness plotting and characterisation to work out who his characters are and what they’re about. It’s comforting to know a published author does this sort of thing as well, even if it wasn’t my original intent.
It feels a bit fraudulent to admit this is what I’m doing then big it up as a novel, even with the caveat of it being a crazy first draft written across thirty days of literary abandon. But there again, if it’s not a novel (albeit a very rough version), what is it?
In conclusion, then, the fact I’m not impressed with what I’ve written thus far doesn’t mean it won’t be good one day, nor does it mean it isn’t a novel at all. At the very least it’s a dent in the 10,000 hours I need to put in to make it a full novel rather than the seed of one. And it’s possible I may have beaten the demon of writer’s block forever more.