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NaNoWriMo Notes: Why? Why Not.

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“Him: I am an artist, I am a man, I am a failure. (Whispers) An artist, a man, and a failure (loudly) MUST PROCEED.” e. e. cummings: Him: Act 3 Scene 3.

Sunday Oct 9th 2005:

Twenty- two days until November 1st, the first day of the National Novel Writing Month. As the last of the little goblins and goulies are headed to bed, sugar fixes sated for another year, I, with thousands of others, will officially begin the process of trying to string 50,000 words together and shape them into a novel.
NaNoWriMo
In an initial burst of enthusiasm I had envisioned posting daily updates, including excerpts from the day’s writing and commentary on the effort involved. Thankfully, saner editorial heads have prevailed, pointing out that it would likely leave me occupying a padded cell, giggling quietly to myself.

In place of that madness, I have taken it upon myself to try and provide you with weekly bulletins. I’ll be letting you know my progress and my state of mind as I stagger towards the finish line. Somehow within the maelstrom, I’ll find moments of calm and attempt to analyse the whole process.

Will I uncover any sure-fire techniques for speedwriting a novel or jumpstarting creativity? How hard is it really? Does working within a community of other writers actually make the job easier? Or will seeing others outstripping your performance destroy what vestiges of confidence you had at the outset?

I’m going into this blind. I’ve never completed anything of this length, so that’s sort of intimidating. The closest I’ve come to attempting something akin to this was writing a one-act play. There was the pressure of a deadline; I needed to be finished for the beginning of rehearsals&#8212but in terms of the word-count, there’s no comparing the two projects.

Then there is the matter of emotional investment; although theatre was important to me at that time, this business of writing has become central to my definition of self. That’s a pretty heavy thing to put out there, I realize, and probably sounds a tad unhealthy, in an obsessive sort of a way.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say that one of the worst things a person can do is define themselves by what they do. According to conventional wisdom, not developing yourself as something distinct from your employment leaves you an unfinished and incomplete person. The problem with conventional wisdom is that it leaves no room for the unconventional.

I have a problem with people who use “I am an artist” as an excuse for their behaviour, or their refusal to exert energy on behalf of anything except themselves. It wears especially thin when their definition of artistic endeavour seems to preclude actually ever producing anything. On the other hand there is a certain amount of truth in the dedicated/obsessed artist cliché.

It may sound pretentious to some; even to my own ears, there are times when it sounds self-aggrandising, but writing is more than just a hobby, something I like to do. It’s a compulsion. Asking me why I write is equivalent to asking me why I breathe. It’s almost an involuntary reflex.

I sit and visualize scenarios in my head, create characters, and start visualising words on paper in idle moments. I hear about a news item, or think of an idea, and the first thing I envision is an opening paragraph. I can’t begin to count the number of opening paragraphs for novels or stories I have composed in my head.

When people ask me what I do, I sort of mumble under my breath that I’m a writer. Perhaps being unable to work due to a disability has something to do with that; it’s my option to write, not something anyone is forcing me to do. But then again, that applies to almost anyone who blogs, or writes for the Internet.

What gives me, or anybody for that matter, the right to set myself apart from the “masses,” so to speak? The fact that I agonise over every word that I use, that I’m never satisfied with anything I write, that recognition is no big deal, that if I’m deprived of the opportunity to write I’m despondent&#8212or maybe nothing at all?

Perhaps being an artist has nothing to do with what or why, but with expectations. I have none. Oh sure, occasionally I dream of maybe publishing something (aside from online), and getting paid for my work, but when I set out each morning, I expect nothing in return. The gift of being able to do this is sufficient reward; everything else is gravy.

Of course, that all could be so much bullshit. Maybe I’m just another egotistical twat who thinks too much of himself. Hell, I’ve only ever finished that one play, a bunch of short editorial commentaries, and a couple of small volumes of poetry. There must be millions of people around the world at the same level.

NaNoWriMo represents an opportunity to test my resolve in a carefree atmosphere. Currently there are fourteen paragraphs of a novel sitting in the hard drive of this computer, representing about a year and a half’s sporadic output. I have to finish it some time or another, it would feel like a betrayal to those characters inhabiting the world I’ve created not to&#8212but at the same time it does not feel like it should be my first novel.

In fact part of the problem is that I realize I care too much about it to want to trivialize it with first-novel mistakes. I need to empty my brain of all the accumulated plot twists, literary devices, and extraneous nonsense that I have accumulated from years of envisioning novels in my head. What better way to divest myself of all that than in the damn the torpedoes, full-steam-ahead type of atmosphere generated by NaNoWirMo?

Well now that I’ve settled, in my mind anyway, why the hell I’m doing this, it’s only a matter of figuring out what the hell I’m going to do. The sensible thing would be to come up with an idea, compose an outline, create some characters, and come up with a variety of scenarios for them. Of course there’s always the option of just starting blind; sitting down at the laptop on November 1st with no plans, just an idea, and see where it goes. Ah well, I still have twenty-one days and just over eighteen hours to figure that out. I’ll let you know what I’ve decided.
Edited: PC

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    From what I’m seeing at the NaNoWriMo site, long-time participants have all kinds of approaches to this.

    Some do just as you’ve suggested here: sit down to a blank slate on 11/01 at 12:01 am. Some arrive at the first of November with a plot outline, character definitions, and a vague idea of themes and climaxes. [waving hand in air: me! me!]

    Some even start with a partly-finihsed work. While not strictly within the rules, the key is to write 50,000 new words for the month of November.

    I love the idea of purging yourself of all those writing gimcracks and furbelows. Maybe there is even a place for the Bulwer-Lytton opening sentence in there!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    People have different goals, too. Some think of theselves as one day having a real book, while others think that but deny thinking that and just write.

    The purest way is to sit down with a blank slate. If you haven’t written before, all the preparation is just extra pressure and baggage. And it’s less fun.

    Remember the motto: Quantity over quality. Once you roll with that – for this excercise – you can very much surprise yourself that you let quality slip in unannounced.

  • http://www.pippensqueak.blogspot.com gypsyman

    Hmmm do you mean something like: The waves of ideas that washed into his brain before the onset of NaNoWriMo was like high tide on the winds swept ocean front of inspiration…!

    Pat if I could figure out what gimcracks and furbellows are I would gladly rid myself of them…I’d just hope they weren’t contagous…

    Thanks Temple, I was pretty much of the same mind, but it’s a matter of convincing my mind of it. I’d guess that’s a case of matter over mind?

  • Jami

    This is my third year of doing Nanowrimo, and the most helpful thing I can suggest is to hide any and all distractions from yourself, and go to any local meetups. You’d be amazed how sane spending just an hour or so a week will make you feel, especially in the slow plodding of the second and third weeks. Besides, the MLs get goodies for you. :)
    Then again, I’m biased. I found the first year, I went in with nothing more than a half formed character in my head that had waltzed in the night before, and had little trouble making my 50k, but it was mostly junk, edited out to 25k before being scrapped almost entirely to a rewrite. My second year, I had a long plan, and got halfway and stalled. This year, I have some research, and the first few chapters vaugely outlined, but I don’t really know anything for certain about it beyond a general premise and the style I want to handle it in. Will it work? Hopefully so.

  • http://www.dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Bravo to anyone who gives this a try. I have heard of NaNoWriMo, but I’m just a lil’ chicken sh%t. : ) Too many excuses, not enough… fill in the blanks.
    Anyway…Good luck Gypsyman, I’m in your corner!

  • http://lagunasite.blogspot.com alpha

    OK, Gypsyman. I signed up and haven’t a clue as to what I want to do. It is your fault if I play the fool.

    But it is a fine idea, an interesting site with lofty goals. Just imagine–literacy sweeping over the globe!

    As for me, I must begin thinking on this and then trying to find time, the muse, and the courage. Your fault.

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple A. Stark

    This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you
    Temple

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple A. Stark

    and I will be signing up, as well.

    – probably fixing a previous nanowrimo novel of 78,000 words.

  • http://www.walloworld.com Bill Wallo

    I tried last year and fell by the wayside after a week.

    I’m going to try again this year, though. What was that about “If first you don’t succeed?”

    Anyway, good luck to those who choose to participate.