Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ~ Herman Melville
National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–started yesterday. Because I can’t resist challenges, I’d already registered as a participant. All I had to do was begin. Boot up the laptop, write 1667 words every day for a month, and pat myself on the back. And publicize my accomplishment. Publicizing allows other people to pat your back, too.
Here I must digress. 1667 reminds me of a story:
When my library converted to an automated circulation system, the staff typed, barcoded, laminated, and distributed several zillion library cards. A couple of days later, a freshman girl appeared at the circ desk and told me she wanted a different card.
She pointed to the barcode. “This one is against my religion.”
I examined it for heresy: # 1666.
I was tempted to say–quite reasonably–“No, dear. The number 666 is against your religion. This is 1-666, a different thing entirely. Now run along and have a nice day.”
Instead, I said, “It’ll take about five minutes.”
Some things aren’t worth arguing about.
NaNo isn’t worth arguing about either, and that’s what NaNo makes me do. Argue. With myself.
Every year, I sign up to write 50,000 words in thirty days, and as soon as November 1 arrives, I tie myself in knots.
NaNo is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about freedom. It’s about pouring words onto paper. It’s about turning off the inner critic and going with the flow.
I’ve never been good at fun. And I like to do things right the first time so I don’t have to do them over. These are not the best traits for a NaNo participant. Or for any aspiring writer.
Here’s another story. About ten years ago, I read Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels. I’d loved her Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Falling Angels was better. Exquisite.
Later I read an article in which Chevalier told how she’d written the novel. She’d completed the manuscript but felt something about it–she couldn’t say exactly what–was wrong. So she set it aside. Then she read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which is told from multiple points of view, and saw potential. She completely rewrote her manuscript, changing the third-person narrative to multiple first-person points of view.
Chevalier’s description of her “process” impressed me, but for the wrong reason. I should have focused on her dedication, her craftsmanship, her openness, her perseverance in the pursuit of art. Instead–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I put down that article thinking, “How could she bear to write an entire manuscript, draft after draft, hundreds of pages, and then cast it aside and write the whole thing all over again?”
I had hardly enough energy to read about it, much less to contemplate doing it.
Well, there’s my dirty little secret, spilled all over cyberspace.
I’m not lazy. I just have an active imagination. I become exhausted in advance of need.
And the thought of the NaNo variety of freedom leaves me in shackles of my own design.
Gosh, it’s so nice to have a blog. There’s nothing I like better than sharing my neuroses with people I don’t know. And some I do.
On the other hand–looking at the subject from, as it were, a different point of view–it’s possible that my neuroses are responsible for everything I write. For my compulsion to return to the keyboard. For my love-hate relationship with NaNo. For my ability to jabber all over a blog and then have the fantods at the sight of a blank MS Word screen.
I started this post intending to thank my critique partners for encouraging me to dive into NaNoWriMo, letting the devil and my 3400-word deficit take the hindmost. Unfortunately, in the course of self-psychoanalysis, I wandered off topic, and now I can’t think of an appropriate transition.
This is November. NaNoWriMo. Freedom. Death to transitions! Throw convention to the wind! Write bad drafts! Worse drafts! Quantity, not quality, counts.
So thanks, Austin Mystery Writers, for aiding me in this damp, drizzly November in my soul.
And thanks, dear reader, for enduring another 700+ words of self-indulgent cliched prattle.
Writing about the pain of writing is such sweet sorrow, I could prattle on till it be morrow.