Thursday 17 October 2013

To those who say NaNoWri-NO!

It's always strange when you see people getting angry at something that is, at worst, harmless, and at best really quite proactive. Nanowrimo is one of these things. It's a challenge to try and write a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) entirely within the month of November.

Some people scoff at NaNoWriMo. Some people get angry at it. I can only assume these are people who get annoyed at anyone trying to do something new, be it learning to paint a picture, play an instrument or learn another language.

"Ah-ha haha ha," the NaNoNoSayers say. "You're not doing it well! Don't you understand that you need to spend years and years doing this before you're good?"

I may be misrepresenting this a tad. But I've not seen many good criticisms of NaNoWriMo either.

Personally, I'm a fan of NaNoWriMo. It's a big, silly, thing and it's marvellous. I've attempted it once (and failed magnificently), and I've used it as a kick up the arse to get some serious word count down by going along to all-nighters at the rather wonderful Big Green Bookshop, which allow a large number of people to all sit in the same place at the same time and write a lot. (Seriously, the bookshop is fab - I run their writing group as well, which I've wittered on about elsewhere).

I found it to be a fantastically encouraging thing. The worst I'd say about it is that it's a bit odd. But only in the way of being in a room of people who are enthusiastic about the things they're enthusiastic about tends to be odd. I've been involved in conversations about how nobody uses twitter any more (two years ago) and about how I'm strange for not having heard of the cupcake-murder genre of novels (which combine cupcake recipes with murder mysteries to produce  presumably delicious, delicious murders). But they've also been welcoming, fun and completely non-judgemental (unless you haven't heard of cupcake-murders, of course).

I don't understand why some people consider NaNoWriMo to be a negative thing. But I do have my theories.

I once heard a story about someone who enjoyed going to high-flying Hollywood parties and whispering in people's ears "Have they found you out yet?". It's cruel, but it portrays a simple truth.

We're all scared, deep down, that we're not very good at what we do, and that despite the hard work we've put in, we don't belong. That if we get any success, it can end up feeling easy, and failure feels like only a matter of time. We all have to balance the voices in our head that involve our ego telling us that we're the greatest artist since Orson Welles and our fear telling us that we shouldn't be allowed crayons in case we accidentally write something on a wall somewhere and someone realises how shit we are.

Writing a novel is hard work. But it's also something that's easy. That anyone can do.

Not writing a good novel, no. That's hard work and involves hard work and talent. But putting 50,000 sequential words on a page that tell a story, however good or bad it is? Yeah. Anyone can do that. It might be good. It might be bad. It doesn't matter.

Anyone can do it. You can do it. Even within a month.

That terrifies some people.

Because it is still hard work. And it's something that can involve long hours in front of a pen and paper or a computer or a fresh victim and a knife. And it's something that can involve a lot of time of not knowing what to write. And that can absolutely suck to feel, when you are just sat waiting for the right word, especially when the police may turn up at any point.

It sucks because it feels like failure. Failure to function in your fundamental nature as a storyteller. And as a result, when you finish in your hard, struggling labour and you finally give birth to your precious, vulnerable little word-baby, it feels like it was a part of you. Physically as well as emotionally. You're exhausted, but damn it, you achieved something. And it took every ounce of your blood, sweat, tears and semen (writer's block leaves a lot of time free for masturbation), but you did it.

And then some fucker comes along and does what you did in years in a month.

And it doesn't matter that they've written a rough first draft only, and it has more holes in it than a zombie corpse in Texas, and it's nowhere near a finished novel.

Because you would kill to be able to write that much in 30 days. And because you see all the flaws in your own work anyway, and deep down, you're worried that it actually is that easy and you're the one that makes it difficult, and this reminds you that you took too long to write it.

They're making it look easy. And it isn't. It's difficult. It's painful and you have to gouge the words out of your own skin sometimes in order to make that sentence make sense.

Every sentence you write has to be perfect. Anything less is just playing at a craft.

I've been there. I've had writer's block. It took me four years to write my first novel (I Am Legion). My first book that got published took me two days (POV). Go figure. But I'm definitely taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.

If you're the kind that has to craft every sentence, and has to pick every word, and endlessly and endlessly writes and rewrites that first chapter, here's my advice for you.

Take a month off. Do NaNoWriMo. Don't criticise it - see what you can learn from it.

Sure, some of the books that come out of NaNoWriMo are going to be awful. But some of them are going to be really quite good. A handful may be spectacular. But you know what each and every one of the people are doing that are taking part?

They're getting better at being writers. Because the only way to get better at writing is to write.

They're moving forward while you stand still and rage at them for being able to do it.

It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard work. But it's going to be a different kind of hard work, and it may actually make you better as a writer. It may make you learn to trust yourself a little bit better.

Parts of writing are easy. They're the fun parts. And people who take part in NaNoWriMo, in my experience, have had a lot of fun.

And that's the big question at the end of the day, and it's the one that all of this revolves around.

Why shouldn't writing be fun?

Thoughts? Questions? Want to tell me why I'm an idiot and why NaNoWriMo is an insidious beast that will devour literature? Comment below or talk to me on twitter.

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