November is National Novel Writing Month, and while it’s still roughly five weeks away, I’ve decided to test my mettle and give it a try. As you know (from many, many posts), my experience of writing fiction is middlin’-to-poor, and while I have no illusions that I will produce The Great American Novel, let alone 50,000 words in one month, I kind of like the thrill of trying something new and frankly terrifying.
After all, what’s more terrifying than having to produce 1667 words a day for 30 days? (Well, ok, there’s a lot of things more terrifying, but this post isn’t about bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or singing in front of a live audience.) At 325 words per page (double-spaced, of course), that works out to five-ish pages of manuscript a day. Five manuscript pages… for a sustained vision with a sustained plot and sustained characters for 150 pages. *gasp* (Best not to look at it that way. I might reconsider this madness.)
I need to be terrified. I’ve had this thought recently that I really have been sitting on my laurels. It’s almost a year since I finished The Manuscript (the manuscript I sent to nearly 30 contests), and I haven’t produced anything of significance since. Yes, yes, I’ve written a few short creative nonfiction pieces and I’ve been diligent about submitting, which has resulted in a number of publications this year and I’m not discounting them. And I’m not discounting that I was even a finalist in one of the contests, which was gratifying and nice, and much better than just being an also-ran—but what have I produced?
What have I written this year that I can say, “Wow, look at me!” on December 31st and have auld acquaintances be duly impressed over a glass of cheap champagne?
The answer is, rien. Je ne fais rien. That sucks and it needs to change. But poetry lately is not working for me—I’m not feeling it. I was feeling it a few weeks ago, when I was going through my prose poem “renaissance,” but that has since dried up—because I wrote a bunch of trash and I couldn’t get it to work so I’ve left it behind like a bad Kirk Cameron film.
I could be all kinds of bitchy and blame my writing group which is currently on summer hiatus. (Oh wait, it’s Fall now. Yes, I’ll blame them.) No, no, I’m kidding—they all really have legitimate reasons they’ve abandoned me and our writing group… Ooh! Listen to me being passive aggressive! I know, Grow up, JC. Sometimes, it really is about more than just me…but I miss them and I miss writing with/for them… And I’m sad that right now everyone’s lives are so complicated that we can’t get together. But my not writing isn’t their fault, and I know it.
And… yes, I’m coming to a point about NaNoWriMo… I’m just not ready to make it yet.
I was sitting with Bob today at lunch, and I asked him what he was working on writing-wise. And he echoed a thought I have often had: he mentioned that he’s “got a lot of stuff but none of it fits together.” Listening to people talk about their writing process is so meaningful for me, because it reminds me just what a weird thing creation is—how capricious it is and how much we’re just sometimes at its mercy. I know some people really believe that they can only write when the Muse strikes them—I hear that from my creative writing students all the time—but I believe that the Muse can be coerced.
That’s right. The Muse can be coerced… by developing a writing habit. I realize I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard a thousand times. Blah blah get in the habit of writing blah blah write every day. So hence, NaNoWriMo. I’m fairly certain that whatever I write during the month of November will probably only be good enough to line the catbox with. But what I’m looking forward to is that commitment to myself and my writing—I figure, two hours a day should do it. If I can’t write 1667 words in two hours every day for a month then I should mail my Ph.D. back to Nebraska and ask for a refund.
But, wait, you ask, don’t you already have a writing habit, JC? Kind of. But not two-hours-a-day’s worth of writing habit. And certainly not a fiction writing habit. I think I want to do NaNoWriMo just to try it. To see if I can. To challenge myself. And also, to get away from dumb distractions for a few hours every day (*cough cough* Facebook—Twitter—Tumblr *cough cough*)—which is, itself, as terrifying as writing 50,000 words.
I guess the best part is, I don’t have any expectations. When I was working on The Manuscript, I really believed it was going somewhere. I wrote it out of order, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I had the expectation that when I was done, it would be a thing. And yeah, it’s a thing alright. A thing nobody wants. (Oops, sorry, I really need to get that cynicism under control.) Whatever “novel” or novel-like-thing I write this November, however, will be an adventure. Beyond that, no expectations.
Though surely, somewhere in that 50,000 words, there will be something of value? It can’t all be shit—because I’m not a shit writer. (I mean, not usually.)
Who knows, maybe if the story winds up being awful, I can Sharpie-marker all of the bad words and just keep the good ones and turn them into erasure poems?
And even if I can’t write erasure poems, I will certainly have a story to share on New Year’s Eve, about the time I got this nutty, terrifying idea to write a novel in a month…