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.