NanoWrimo: Coming Up For Air


As well as hacking out a couple of thousand words a day for Nanowrimo, I had also intended to keep a blog talking about what problems and story blocks I was encountering. The idea, nebulous as it may have been, was that I discussed various kinks in the story (even as no one was listening, which was at least very likely), I would be able to recognise the solutions to whatever narrative problems I was having by seeing them at one step removed, by the simple method of just talking about them.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that. I haven’t been able to keep a blog detailing the progress of my novel in progress, simply because it hasn’t. I did about a thousand and a half words on the first day (which was an effortful hack job) before real life got in the way, and I haven’t been able to commit any more time to the damn thing. Some of that is the same reason why many other nanowrimers (is that what we call ourselves? I haven’t checked) fall by the wayside as the month goes on – full time job, etc. Actually, I will go as far as to say (to be arrogant enough to say, in fact) that if you ever set out to complete Nanowrimo, and you didn’t have a full time job and/or a family to occupy your time, then you probably don’t deserve to be a writer. I mean, there are people I know who are hitting their targets every single day. And they have a full time job. And a family. And it’s not like they’re neglecting any of their duties, or locking themselves away with the laptop for hours on end (maybe just a hour), but the point remains, they’ve got a lot of demands on their time, and they’re still hitting their targets.

Me? Yeah, I’m way behind. We’re on Day 10, and I still haven’t reached 2,000 words. That’s pretty much fatal, especially when you consider that I’m working seven days a week, and some evenings. (why the hell are you wasting your time/word count coughing up into a blog then, I hear you ask. I can hear you ask, incidentally, because I’ve got a particularly febrile imagination that’s just starved of affirmation. Well, we’ll come to that.) In the big race to November 30th, 50,000 words strapped under our belts, I’m quite dangerously behind. I’m like the kid that you chose last in track, and I’m doing a half-hearted jog roughly sixteen miles behind everybody else, too wheezy to ask anyone to wait. What am I saying? I’m not like that kid. I was that kid. But anyway.

It would be very easy at this point to throw in the towel, to give up. To not finish the damn thing. It would be an intelligent move, too: I’m curating an evening of short plays in December, and seeking other scripts for a thing in March. Added to that, I’m working on something for International Woman’s Day (also in March), and there’s an open air theatre script, another script for next Christmas, possibly something for the Brighton Fringe and ohgodwritingitalldownlikethat makes me realise just how many projects I’m juggling at the moment. And, it’s worth remembering that all of these things are going to result in little or no money (more often the latter). So, it would be a smart move to junk the NanoWrimo work in progress: I don’t win anything, it’s reasonably unlikely to be read by anyone anytime soon, and it’s very likely, if and when it gets finished, to be reasonably terrible. So then, the question is: what’s the point? What do I get out of it?

The short answer is, of course, not much. At least not immediately. But the real point I’ve already mentioned, albeit in a throwaway fashion. NanoWrimo gives you the purpose – the excuse, even – to finish your damn stuff. Yes, I could put all my attention on the other projects right now (and it’s not like I’m exactly ignoring them, I put some work into them every single day), but one of the major challenges of having so many creative projects on the boil with hazily defined intentions and even vaguer deadlines is that every single one of those projects becomes a distraction – the Shiny New Thing. This is the problem when a project becomes slightly too hard, when it stops being fun: maybe you finally have to do some research, or you’ve already written all the exciting sexy stuff – now you have to write all the boring, nuts and bolts expostiony stuff (and then put lots of effort into it not sounding remotely boring, or indeed expostiony). It is then obviously very easy to get distracted by the other Shiny New Thing, the piece of work which still needs the fun explosion scene to be written, the project where three hours of work don’t seem like work. The net result is that you end up with lots of work that has some fun scenes in them, but are ultimately incomplete. And here’s the kicker: those fun scenes aren’t nearly as fun as you think they are, because they won’t have the set up (and probably not the resolution) that is required to make them truly succeed. You know the set up, it’s in your head, but nobody cares about the big explosion if they don’t know about the people causing it / trying to stop it / caught in the middle of it.

So, to have an excuse to actually FINISH YOUR DAMN STUFF is a good thing. Rather than bailing on something when it becomes just a bit difficult, you are forced to commit to finishing. The deadline is arbitrary, the pressure to finish is entirely fictitious. But you’ll know. YOU’LL KNOW. And if you’ve announced that you’re embarking on NanoWrimo, other people know, too. And that, in theory, shames you into having to complete your draft. This, I suspect, is the reason why so many ‘writers’ (speech marks intentional) can’t help talking about their work in progress at parties. Obviously a big part of it is that talking about a good idea is much more exciting that having to edit and redraft it, but I think another big pull is the belief that if you announce it to the world, you are making a verbal contract that you can’t back down from. Of course, this doesn’t actually work: people can and do back down from such verbal contracts. And that, I think, is where NanoWrimo comes into play – it makes it sort of ‘official’, and more particularly, since you only have a month to play with (and not one of those pesky thirty one day months, neither), you absolutely can’t think to yourself ‘well, it’s not going so well, I’ll do it next month’. Because next month is too late.

So, yeah. Why am I wasting time (and words) on this blog when I could be filling up a word count on the novel? Mainly it’s because I have already spent such a long time away from it. I’m not expecting this novel to be any good in its first draft (I’m not even expecting it to be readable), partially because I will be making it up as I go along (not necessarily a good idea), and partially I don’t have any genre-supports (thriller, horror, suspense) to help me bridge any gaps in storytelling. So, whenever I’m away from the computer, it’s a vast, impossible project. Too much to cope with, and it makes my mind shrivel in fear. But – and this is what I remember from the last time I did NanoWrimo, when I was away from the computer for about a week – once I was able to get back into the writing – by the simple and frankly underrated act of just putting one word after the after – the rest of the world just fell away. Once I started writing one word, the insurmountable mountain became a tarmacked road. Listen, I don’t have to worry about editing and polishing until December.

So this blog has just been a starter, reminding me that I can still put one word after the other, and they don’t even have to be particularly interesting. If I can do this, I can get stuck back into the book.

Alright, then. I’m going in.


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