Nanowrimo 2015: 6020 …

… and counting.

I didn’t win Nanowrimo. I can’t physically write fast enough to close the gap; 5k words in 5 minutes is … a tad beyond my current abilities.

But in a way, I prefer it this way. It gives me something to look forward to.

And it also lets me focus on this story, instead of trying to win a badge.

And what I’m finding is that I actually do like this story.

It was supposed to be a writing exercise. I adored it as a writing exercise. And even though I’m still writing it as I would a writing exercise, it’s just so rewarding that I can’t help but appreciate it more than any writing exercise I’ve ever done before. I might just keep this one.

I might even submit it for publishing.

But for the time being, to everybody else who took part in Nanowrimo this year: well done. Whether you met your goal, got some of the way there or just dabbled; whether you did as much as you wanted, less than you hoped or lost interest partway through, the important thing is that you gave it a shot, that you did something. It’s not supposed to be “write for a month”, after all; it’s supposed to be “write intensively for a month”. You can – and should – keep writing long after Nanowrimo, and I advise to not treat it as a separate experience from your overall writing journey, but a noteworthy event that makes up part of it, one that you can include the lessons that you learnt during it in the broader scope of your writing because, at the end of the day, it’s just another part of your writing process.

So congratulations to everybody who took part, whatever stage you finished at. You’re writing. And that’s what counts.

Nanowrimo 2015: there’s always next year

Despite the euphoric recklessness that I ended my last post with, let’s be serious. I’m not finishing my Nano novel by the end of Nano.

That’s because I’ve identified that what this story needs is more than 50k words, and while I’m not entirely averse to pulling an all-nighter to get it done, it’s a matter of brainpower. After being awake for X number of hours, you just run out of stamina and focus, and iterative and predictable as my current plan is, a plan is only good if you’re able to stick to it. It’s physiology, not craft, that I think is going to be my undoing; I just don’t think I have what it takes to write upwards of 20k words between whenever I get home from counselling tomorrow and 12:00 a.m. December 1.

That’s not to say things are going badly, though. Far from it. After re-binging most of Season 4 of Teen Wolf I finally made myself (continue to) sit down and write up my plan for the rest of the novel. And it’s fucking great. It’s predictable, it’s generic – it feels like every story I’ve ever known, and that’s exactly what I want it to feel like. I just need the ending to come together, and right now I’m thinking that maybe, actually, I can just leap that hurdle when I get to it, find it as I write my way towards it. I’m putting all of the learning I’ve done in the past 23 days into action, and it feels like it’s working already. I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish with Nanowrimo.

Except for the part where I “win”.

And that’s fine. 50k words is a very arbitrary – and small – word-count, and this is only my second Nano, the first one that I really devoted myself to and had a project that I was passionate enough about that I actually wanted to try and get it done quickly. I still think I can get it done quickly, like in the next 4-5 days, maybe even 3. But not 1. Today was planning, and even if I spend all day tomorrow writing I’m not going to get this novel finished.

Now, I might still “win” Nanowrimo, in that I might get up to 50k words before December 1. And if I do, then fantastic. I’ll upload whatever it is that I’ve got finished by that point and continue on my own – or just have it as a mark of pride that I crossed the 50k-word point without a shiny internet badge to prove it, and just write a post about it instead. I feel awkward about the thought of uploading an unfinished manuscript just to “win”, especially the thought that other people will then be able to read it in its incomplete form. But maybe that’s not how it works. Maybe I can update it and upload the completed manuscript when I eventually do finish it. Or maybe nobody can read it at all. I’m not quite sure how it all works.

Either way, I am going to finish this book, and I’m going to finish it this week. And considering that I didn’t even start Nanowrimo until day 6, technically I’m still going to finish a novel in a month – just not a calendar month. The important thing for me is that I am going to finish, I have actually learnt – or started to learn – the things I hoped that I would by participating in Nanowrimo, and that it’s all going to be done soon.

By the end of the week – and quite possibly before then – I will have completed my fourth novel. That’s enough for me to look forward to.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and get everything done tomorrow, calling upon reserves of stamina and focus I currently do not believe I possess.

Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

Nanowrimo 2015: my plan, apparently

Including today, I have 2 days to write 12k words and finish this shitty YA werewolf novel according to the Nano word count. But even though I know this – and knew yesterday that I had 3 days to accomplish the same task – my brain seems to be making its own plans.

It’s planning for an all-nighter.

I fucking hate all-nighters; I pulled an all-nighter on Wednesday to submit the revised first chapter of my MA on time and my sleep pattern is still fucked up. Yet this is the “plan”, apparently, and I can feel my mind clicking into place, transforming into all-nighter mode and it’s infuriating to feel myself preparing to do this thing that I hate when I very obviously do not have to do it.

It’s the pressure. I understand. I crave the pressure that all-nighters bring (as a response to the risk of missing a deadline), because it removes the responsibility of making the effort to do things like plan, schedule, self-discipline, that sort of thing. Instead I can just use the stress that comes with the all-nighter as fuel to get whatever I need to get done … done … kind of like auto-pilot, using energy reserves that I don’t have to will myself to tap into, and can instead just sort of enjoy when they come to me, like how little kids prefer to be carried instead of walking/crawling sometimes. My preparing for the all-nighter is me staring at my Nano project – or whatever project, mostly academic – with my arms outstretched and an expectant look on my face that says, ‘come on, I haven’t got all day’.

Except I do. I have all day to get something done now. And the thing is …

I already know I can’t get this done in 50k words.

The only way I could get this done in 50k words is to draft something that, in my opinion, isn’t worth drafting. So here’s my evaluation: back at the start of Nano I artificially bumped-up my word-count by including all the stuff I’d written before Nano, which was about 20k words.

If I want this story to hold together as a first draft, to fulfill my fantasy of completing a writing exercise that requires me to allow myself to use every iterative, generic, predictable trope and cliche in the book if it results in a story that feels like a story and not just a bunch of ideas …

I have 2 days to write about 20k words.

Because I think that’s about what it’s going to take to make this story feel like a story.

I don’t like this plan. I don’t like it because it basically means that no matter what I do, I’m stuck with an all-nighter’s worth of work both today and tomorrow, and there’s no way out. And I also don’t like it because this wasn’t what Nanowrimo was supposed to be.

Nanowrimo was supposed to be me learning what it took to treat writing as work and to work with discipline; squeezing out a few thousands words here and there in a random pattern throughout the month and then blasting out 20k words over the last 2 days is not discipline. 20k words is more than what I’ve written all month, and even if we include my thesis chapter as part of what I’ve written this month it’s still basically me attempting to write the same volume of words in 2 days that I’ve written over the last 28. It’s not the word count that bothers me. I can easily write that much. It’s the fact that this is proof to me that I haven’t learnt what I set out to learn, that I haven’t reached and will not reach the goal I set out to reach by the end of the month, which is more than a novel. It’s a habit. A practice. A discipline. I have not learnt that discipline.

At least not if I decide that I have to learn it in a month.

Which is pretty fucking stupid.

Looking at my project now and what I feel I should have done to make it work more smoothly, I can identify a few things. I needed a clearer plan, in order to help more evenly distribute my writing over the month; if I knew all the scenes I wanted to write then I could have estimated how many words they might have taken and planned accordingly. Also I could have bounced around the story a lot more; one thing I have learnt is that writing out-of-sequence is really liberating, and I honestly think I would not have gotten as far as I have if I had stuck to my old habit of writing from start to finish, trying to make the process of writing a book the same as reading one.

I also could have used more time to plan. What scenes do I need? That’s a key question, but how long is it going to take for me to decide that? Not long, due to the nature of this writing exercise, which is “the first thing that pops into your head”, pretty much. This exercise was to see how story-ready I could make the first thing that popped into my head, and by and large I think it’s worked. It’s not the fact that I needed not very much time to get this done that I’m disappointed with; it’s the fact that I didn’t give myself any time to get it this done.

But then again, this is learning. Finishing Nano – that’s a goal that is separate to my learning as a writer. Nano is a race.

Writing is running.

I think it’s not so much that I’ve gotten tunnel-vision during Nano; it’s that Nano – specifically this rather low point in Nano – has made me realise that I’ve had tunnel-vision as a default state when it comes to writing. When it comes to learning and achieving goals in general. Like if I don’t “make it” or “get it” by X arbitrary point, I should give up, because I failed at X arbitrary, time-restricted achievement. But writing is something that I want to do forever, and something I’ve already been doing for over half my life. In fact way over half my life. I always count my having started “writing” at age 13, but I’ve been doing it basically since I could write, just not with the self-conscious, guilt-driven zeal that I accumulated in my adolescence. And I wanna be done with that.

And that was the whole point of this shitty YA werewolf thing. To actively fight back against the shame I’d internalised for daring to use things like tropes and even cliches to build stories out of, because they’re not something to be ashamed of. They’re useful tools. If you’re stuck, then they can help you get un-stuck; they’re wheels for your storytelling vehicle. Wheels get worn out over time and you need to replace them, but you still fucking need wheels. I’d been refusing to put wheels on my vehicle because they weren’t the exact wheels I wanted, and so I didn’t move very much.

I wonder now if this is why I learnt that very valuable lesson with Tallulah, that time spent does not equal progress made. Maybe it’s because I was trying to progress without a way to actually move.

Well, the fact that I can see all of this means that I am learning. All I have to do is take that learning out of the context of Nano and expand it, step back to see the bigger picture – a lifetime of storytelling, and writing specifically in this case – and make that the territory I want to map with this lesson. Planning. Time-management. And being completely, utterly shameless in what I write and why. The “why” really sums it all up: because it’s what I know works, and what I want to use right now. That has to be enough. And that has to be enough long after Nanowrimo. That’s the lesson.

With all that said, Nanowrimo still ends in 2 days, and this is day 1. So what’s my game plan? Give up on winning Nano and get started with pacing myself to build up a sustainable habit? Or a mad dash to the finish where I try to put as much of this lesson into practice as I can over today and tomorrow, and hope that the fatigue I’ll suffer afterwards doesn’t make me lose momentum so badly that I can’t pick it back up without going through something as arduous as this all over again?

That first plan sounds very responsible.

So let’s do the second one.

Because this is the year of risk-taking, and goddammit, I said I was going to finish Nano this year.

So let’s finish.

Time to do some last-minute planning.

Nanowrimo 2015: 3790

I’m up to just over 38k words now. Almost 4/5ths of the way through.

It’s getting there.

This story is going to suck.

Well, this draft is going to suck. This draft is going to suffer because I’m going to try and make myself stick to the word-limit set by Nanowrimo instead of using my own, and it’s going to mean rushing through a lot of stuff that really deserves more room to breathe.

I dunno. I want it to feel solid. It could feel solid in 50k words, but only after editing. And I’m not editing as I go. Much. I think if I stick to my formulaic plan, I will get it all done fairly soon. Maybe not in exactly 50k words, but close to.

God I’m tired. It’s been a long day. A pretty good day, overall, but long.

Anyway. Not quite the home stretch yet, but I’m on, like, the home stretch on the way to the home stretch. I’m just not getting the joy out of this project that I want to be getting out of it.

But it has been a long day. And in the end, this is just a writing exercise in disguise. I think after this I want to work on a real story.

After this. This first.

Part of the Problem

I’m not quite sure how news really spreads, but this debacle with Scott Bergstrom, whose self-published YA novel The Cruelty has been optioned by Jerry Bruckheimer, has been on my mind. There’s a lot of snark on the internet, and for a few years I’ve been delighted to feel like I’ve been adding to it. I have to say, though, that I really admire the positivity that seems to be coming out of #MorallyComplicatedYA, where amidst the criticism there’s people just promoting YA novels that prove Bergstrom dead wrong.

There was one post somebody made under the hashtag that got me thinking. It started with something like “So I could either be really mean about Scott Bergstrom – who I’m sure is a really nice guy in real life – or I could do something positive with my time”. And I thought: you know what? That’s probably true. Scott Bergstrom is probably not setting out to shit all over YA fans and creators; he’s probably not an MRA crusader looking to “redeem” the genre from its association with girls, women and femininity by bringing his manly perspective into the mix. He’s got an attitude that probably results from subtle misogyny, not aggressive misogyny. And that’s not beyond criticism, at all, but it also doesn’t mean he deserves to have people he’s never met talk shit about him.

Kind of like how YA fans and creators don’t deserve to have some random dude talk shit about something they’re deeply passionate about and invested in.

Like, yeah, his feelings might get hurt, and that sucks for anybody, but also he got his self-published book optioned by Jerry fucking Bruckheimer. If he’s getting Pirates of the Caribbean money and still has time to feel bad about being flavour of the minute on social media’s hit-list, maybe he needs to re-evaluate the moral complexity of his life.

But none of that is really the point of my rant today. Today, the point of my rant is that I realised that I had to cop to the fact that I am actually part of the problem here. I read YA. I read a fair bit of it. I started 2 years ago in a concerted effort to read more stuff written by writers who were not middle-aged white dudes, and to that end it worked, and I found some good stuff. And a lot of stuff I couldn’t stand as well.

One such thing I couldn’t stand was Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Maragaret Stohl. There is a lot to criticise in that book, so grotesquely fascinating that I read it all in one sitting, and I imagine it was kind of like how people who read My Immortal and didn’t immediately grasp that it was a troll-fic felt. It was so terrible that I had to read all of it. Like Bergstrom – if my generous assessment of his character is in fact accurate and not just generous – I don’t think Garcia and Stohl are malicious at heart. I don’t think they set out to write one of the most misogynistic, racist, body-shaming, all-around despicable pieces of writing I’ve ever borne witness to. But like Bergstrom, they did do something shitty, and they are responsible for that.

So I wrote a review. It was called “Beautiful Authenticity”, because I was all about exploring the notion of “authenticity” in books at the time, and it’s something I still want to follow through with because it’s an interesting topic. What did I criticise in this review? The deplorable girl-hate and the fact that the characters who were meant to be the bitchy high school Plastics were actually some of the only halfway decent characters in the entire book, because at least they had each other’s backs? The shameless use of the Mammy stereotype in the character of Amma, which Garcia and Stohl seemed self-conscious about in the way that their only other PoC character kept quoting MLK – in defence of the feelings of a white teenage girl aristocrat in the antebellum south who can fucking do magic, because that was MLK’s real dream – which only served to draw even more attention to how hideously racist the book was? The way Ethan Waite, our sensitive, good-mannered, gentlemanly hero, regarded every girl in his town who wasn’t Lena as a slut?

I did brush over that last one, but only because Ethan truly is a despicable character. The other things, though – no. I was concerned with something far more important.

I was concerned with the fact that Ethan didn’t read like an “authentic” straight, cisgender teenage boy.

And I went off. Even as I was writing it, I could feel that I was crossing a line that not only probably shouldn’t be crossed, but didn’t even need to be crossed. There is no need to criticise a book for having an “inauthentic” representation of a straight white cisgender able-bodied neurotypical middle-class English-speaking teenage boy; that doesn’t fucking help anyone. I tried to avoid gender essentialism, even though literally my entire fucking argument was gender essentialism; I tried to avoid being transphobic because, well, that’s shitty, but I was also writing a 10k-word post about how Ethan wasn’t an “authentically male” teenage boy, so you can probably guess how that turned out. I basically did what I’ve seen done on Goodreads one thousand too many times, and gave in to my urge to generate some cheap internet bile, without considering how it might affect anybody besides me who came across it.

And, of course, I went after Garcia and Stohl. I criticised them of not doing their research – into straight white teenage boys – I criticised them of writing badly, but rather than looking at the writing, I made it about them. And that’s the part that got me when I read that comment about Bergstrom probably being a nice guy in real life, because even if he isn’t, he might be. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be so utterly shitty to him. And what got me about that was knowing that I’d already done it to Garcia and Stohl.

I am not under some pretension that any of those three writers have or will ever lay eyes on this blog. I write this for me, and I’m pretty sure that if this site counted views on your own blog, I would be my own most frequent visitor. I wrote “Beautiful Authenticity” for me, because I had a lot of pent-up, only semi-serious vitriol to spill, so I spilled it. It’s the internet, after all; that’s what it’s “for”.

But I wish it wasn’t. And so, “Beautiful Authenticity” has been taken down. It’s gone private – I don’t want to delete it until I can fish out what valid criticism is actually in that post, but at the same time, I don’t want to be contributing to the same kind of misogyny that Bergstrom, intentionally or not, is perpetuating. Especially not in YA. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of prevalent trends in YA, just as there are in any genre, yet YA is the one that seems to be singled out for abuse – and given that it is mainly read and written by women, I think we all know why that is.

It’s because the letters “Y” and “A” are geometrically designed to inspired hatred and disgust when combined in acronym form. Our primate brain responds to these patterns with primordial outrage and rails against them in a blind panic for survival; like runestones, these letters trigger an irresistible change deep within us that it’s misogyny, okay, it’s fucking misogyny, that is literally all it is, welcome to the real world where misogyny is in fact an actual thing.

And it’s a thing I want as little a part in as possible so – two years too late – if Garcia and Stohl ever did read that post, or anybody who identifies outside the traditional gender binary ever came across it: I am sorry. I was a petulant little shit spewing hateful, sexist, transphobic crap because I was bored and giddy and didn’t feel like thinking about my actions while I chased my snarky vision of the zeitgeist. I promise to never do it again. I don’t want the internet to have one more under-thought hate-dump because of me; I don’t want that to be my legacy or a habit that I embody, and I don’t want to make it anybody else’s problem. So for that fact that that’s exactly what I did with that post, I am truly, deeply sorry.

If I do return to Beautiful Creatures in the future, it will be to address the actual issues that I have with it. And while Ethan’s characterisation is one of those, I’ll need to get to grips with why it bothers me so much before I publish that opinion for other people to read. Much like Bergstrom probably should have considered why exactly he thought much of YA was not morally complex before deciding to not only insult an entire sub-culture of readers – of which I am a member – but to write a book in this genre he thinks so lowly of that sounds about as morally complex as The Fast and The Furious.


Anyway I have my own morally not-complex YA novel to attend to; including today I have 5 days to write somewhere between 15k and 25k words if I wanna win Nano, and I do, with a fierce and burning passion. Let’s get that badge.



That went surprisingly well

It is currently 4:01 a.m. where I am, and I finished the revision of my thesis chapter approximately one minute ago. All in all, it didn’t take anywhere near as long as I thought it would; I had visions of myself frantically trying to pretend my brain was functioning hard enough to be able to act like it until 6:45 a.m. But 4 is actually not bad.

Also I finished the fucking chapter so YAY now I can focus full-time on finishing my shitty YA werewolf novel until I have to write the next chapter and go through this entire process all over the fuck again.

Except no, I won’t go through it all over again, because this time I am going to learn from my experience and, instead of leaving shit until the last minute, I will maturely, responsibly and sensibly allocate time to work on my thesis the moment I leave my meeting with my supervisor on Friday. And it will all work out, and I will never have to pull another all-nighter again. The end.

And now my head is starting to throb very painfully in an area the size of a pin-point on the side of my skull and I’m taking that as a sign that I need to go the fuck to sleep, so to sleep I will the fuck go.

Nanowrimo full-time writing activate!