“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.
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—but 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—or 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—but 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.