The spotlight has been turned off, the glamour is over, but the hard work continues. Day after day, with no one taking notice and with no fanfare the endless battle between man and muse is fought out in front of the laptop in my kitchen. I’m alone now, no support groups or chatty emails, and now it’s becomes work. I seem to be suffering from a malaise of the keyboard, and it’s so much more of a struggle to write this month than last.
I must be suffering from post National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) traumatic stress syndrome. For those countless millions who don’t know, I spent the month of November welded to my laptop churning out thousands of words a day in an attempt to write 50,000 before the month ended. I was able to breeze through and finish the month with a comfortable 75,000 words.
Naturally I had visions of completing a first draft before Christmas. January would be spent merrily polishing and editing the first draft, carefully fine-tuning it for publication. In turn this would be followed by a February of mailing out letters to fortunate publishers who didn’t know it, but were only awaiting the arrival of my manuscript to make 2006 their best year yet.
The best laid plans of mice and men (can someone explain that to me, I’ve never figured out what one has to do with the other) and all that shit seems to be coming true for me. Since the end of November I have maybe written 15,000 words if I’m lucky. I sit down at the laptop with every intention of writing my ass off but invariably something happens that prevents it.
After a couple of paragraphs I’m too tired that I have to stop because I can’t get my eyes to focus on the keyboard. Or even worse I’ll start thinking instead of just tapping into the story and letting it flow. All through the month of November I was able to just sit down and know what was going to happen, or what had just happened to the people in my story, and I would simply report on it.
Part of the problem of course is that the excitement of the contest is over. That helped to drive me forward each day. It gave me the impetuous to write so even on those day when I would be tired I would try to put down a couple of hundred words in the morning. This is where the suffering from post NaNoWriMo traumatic stress syndrome comes into play.
The thrill of the weigh in is gone, how many more words until I’m done? How many words over 50,000 can I get in a month? Watching the numbers pile up on a daily basis until they reached the required amount was like a fix to a junkie; a shot of instant adrenalin that could carry you through the next day’s work. Sometimes the feeling of a job well done is just not enough as far as gratification goes. You end up wanting something a little more concrete.
It’s harder to make myself start writing, whether in the morning or the afternoon it doesn’t matter. I still want to finish, and publish this story. I haven’t lost my faith in its quality and I’m still enjoying writing it when I do. All of a sudden though, I feel like I’m writing in a vacuum, alone and unsupported.
A writer’s life is supposed to be like that I know. Long hours of solitary confinement with your implement of choice. Just you and the words on the page staring back at each other. There’s no comfort to be derived from words that you’ve written yourself. They just stare back at you confirming what came out of your brain and nothing else
Before NaNoWriMo I revelled in that atmosphere; me against the world has always been the way I’ve felt anyway, so the writing life has always seemed to suit me ideally. All of sudden though it doesn’t seem quite enough anymore, up until now I had never experienced a group of like-minded people. Now that I have, I realize that you don’t have to live a stereotype to be a writer.
That doesn’t mean you can carry on conversations while writing, but it is all right to chat to people about writing once you’re no longer working. I used to abhor people who would sit around coffee shops all day long and talk about being artists. They never actually did anything except run down people who actually managed to produce stuff on occasion.
Having been exposed to far too many of those types of people for far too long, I had stopped talking about what I did. It wasn’t until I started writing at blogcritics.org that I began to realize there was a community of writers who could talk and work. NaNoWriMo drove that home even more because I got to know a few of the writers from blogcritics a little better outside of the site and in the context of being fiction writers.
At first I thought when I started having difficulties writing at the beginning of December it was only natural for there to be a letdown after the intensity of the previous month. It was only as the month progressed and nothing seemed to be changing that I began to wonder if there wasn’t maybe more to it than I thought.
There are the usual things that one can’t control that have intruded; and December with its accompanying holidays seem to have more real world problems than most months. So initially it was easy to lay the blame at the feet of those distractions. However I would find myself with plenty of time to write and be sitting at the computer actively trying to avoid actual writing again
Ironically it wasn’t until I was offered the opportunity to host my own forums on a web site that I realised what I had been missing. Ashok Banker, the author and blogcritic contributor as time allows, very flatteringly offered me a forum on his newly expanded Epic India portal.
Even before I had given him an answer he set up “Gypsyman’s World” at the forums page. Much to my surprise the first sub-forum I set up was something called “Artist’s Colony” which has the express purpose of being a place for people to post and talk about their art.
You can leave links to your work so people can read it and offer critiques, you can compare notes on what inspires you, and so on. Exactly the type of thing I used to despise and claim not to have any use for. But I do, we all do, art cannot exist in a vacuum. There have to be people who are going to read, listen to, or see what you’ve done or it’s just self-indulgence. If that’s the case, than how can you create if you have no contact with others on some level or another?
Even if it’s just to say to somebody else, “well done” or to hear somebody else say, “good for you”, simple human contact is very important. It reminds us of who we are writing for, and lets us know that we are not the only ones going through this type of struggle. When we hear about how someone else is struggling with their muse, or is on fire with inspiration we recognise the feelings as being similar to the ones we experience our selves.
Being a creative artist of any kind is a highly individual experience. So much of the work is done in our heads that if we’re not careful we end up living there and getting stuck there. If we can air out our ideas in a supportive and understanding atmosphere the chances are that we will find ourselves able to work our way out of any blocks that have occurred.
The best lesson I learned from NaNoWriMo was that even though I have to work alone when writing, it doesn’t necessarily me that I have to be alone with my work. There’re plenty of people out there in the same boat, when we all paddle together it goes a lot quicker and in a straighter line.