So I got one essay handed in. Turns out that 5000 words gets eaten up kinda fast. Also turns out that I can, in fact, plan out what I’m going to write before I write it and then stick to that plan. I mean there’s always deviation and stuff, but I most certainly adhered to the direction and structure of my plan, even if it was not with perfect 1-to-1 accuracy. And it worked really well, and if I get a passing grade for it then so much the better.
The second and final essay is also longer and due on Halloween, which is why my Nanowrimo plan felt so convenient, starting right after I handed it in. However, since a whole bunch of us collectively asked for a little extension I might actually have until next Monday to hand it in, and while on the one hand I like the idea of just getting shit done by Halloween and then being finished and free to move on to the next thing, I also want this essay to be good, because happy as I am with my ability to make a plan and stick to it with the essay I handed in today, I do wish I’d had more time with it, to let the ideas settle and get a chance to look back over it. It could have been better. I mean it only had one draft so that kind of goes without saying, but my point is that I don’t mind the idea of putting off Nanowrimo for a couple of days in order to make this essay better, especially considering that this essay goes towards determining my academic future and shit, which Nanowrimo does not.
Nanowrimo does, however, give me the opportunity to put that whole “make a plan and stick to it” thing into practice in long-form writing, a novel instead of an essay. My “shitty YA thing” was the project of choice going into it, a chance to take a break from Tallulah and get some much-needed space, a change of perspective so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes, and you already know what I’m going to say, right?
I kinda want to use it to draft Tallulah.
I mean I don’t think that I will. I’m pretty certain that a break would do both me and Tallulah a lot of good; and through writing another story I could come back not just with the rejuvenation of taking a break, but also whatever lessons I’d have learnt from getting to grips with a different story. But the reason I kinda want to use Nanowrimo for Tallulah is because ever since I decided I’d be making huge changes to it, I’ve started thinking about what it is about the story that I actually feel moved to tell, rather than feeling like the entire story – the story as-is, in writing – has to remain a singular entity. I’ve been getting better at just focusing on the parts of the story that I’m moved to tell, and while there’s nothing like a coherent picture of this new version yet, I’m starting to feel hopeful that, given time, I’ll be able to put together a story that I really want to tell, rather than a collection of ideas that I feel obliged to deliver as a package, some of which I like and some of which I feel like I can’t afford to give up, because I have nothing to replace them with.
And the Nanowrimo thing is because in a lot of ways, this feels like starting a story from scratch: going with bits of story that feel urgent but don’t necessarily have anything else to them, no completion, just moments that feel like part of a larger, as-of-yet untold story; not feeling like I have to tie everything together yet and just enjoying the process of feeling out these ideas. I’m concerned about this being just a case of yearning for something new, but I don’t really think that’s the case. The ideas that I like are ideas that I’ve had for ages; this feels like I’m really paying attention to them, giving them their space and allowing them to stand alone for the time being, instead of trying to force them into a narrative.
So basically I have resigned myself to the drawing-board with Tallulah. After almost three years of trying to write it, it would be very easy to look at this as a huge setback. But right now I’m thinking it’s better late than never. Right now I remember how hard it was to cut through the filler of the zero draft and get to the actual story buried underneath. It’s not a matter of giving up on the story; it’s realising that I never had that much story to begin with, and that this could be my chance to shrug off the choices I made that have turned out to be more obstructions than anything else, go back to that handful of ideas that I actually wanted to work with and develop into a story – and actually do it.
I’m hesitant to commit to this because, again, it is easy to look at this as a huge setback, and because the fact of the matter is that I know, if I apply myself, I can turn what I’ve got into a serviceable narrative and flog it off for publishing and, importantly, finally be done writing the fucking thing. So it’s the old cliche artist’s dilemma, choosing between artistic merit and pragmatism. What keeps me from deciding to just do that, to take what I have and force it into a coherent shape even if I don’t really like it, is the fact that, at the end of the day, nobody may want to publish my stuff no matter how good it is. So I may as well be really fucking happy with it, put my best foot forward, all that stuff.
I have plenty of ideas that are easier stories to navigate, simply because they’re ideas that took root when I was younger and more interested in narrative-driven stories that had good characters, as opposed to my artistic bent during undergraduate study, finding appeal in concepts of culture and politics and building stories out of them in order to develop an argument, more or less, 0r the brief but fruitful transition period just after I’d broken off contact with Wickham and any and all ideas just came spilling out of me, some driven by characters, others by narrative, and some just propelled by fun. I don’t want to exclude myself from telling any of these kinds of stories; I’m not going to force myself to become the long-suffering artist who creates complex characters and tries to realise them as realistically as possible; I’m not going to swear off experimentation and even perfectionism in order to just get something serviceable and solid written and ready for publication. I’m going to do both, and hopefully more than just those two options, according to what’s best for each story.
Tallulah is a story that needs time, as far as I can tell. Well, not so much time as work, which will consume time, but it’s an important distinction. This decision to take Tallulah back to the drawing-board is me learning once again that time spent does not equal progress made; and at the same time I really do think I need to write this other story instead of forging ahead with this brave new revision of Tallulah, because it may well be that I’m trying to make huge changes because I’m frustrated with how long it’s taken to get not very far, as opposed to these being changes that need to be made. I feel like they do, but I don’t know that I’m right. And I don’t want to sabotage this story. Even if there are only little bits of it that I truly believe in, they’re worth saving, and they’re worth doing justice to.
If I want my wish-fulfillment, maybe I need to wait a bit.
Hopefully I’ll hear about this extension soon enough; I do want it after all. But if we don’t get it, all that means is that I’ll be finished in the next couple of days, for better or worse.
Or just hand it in late and hope that the deducted grades will be more than made up for by the brilliance of my academic mind.
I really want that extension.