So if we say that, since I started Nanowrimo on the 6th of November, I have until the 6th of December to reach 50k words to win …
I have won Nanowrimo 2015.
I can’t “authenticate” my novel, because I do not have access to that hyperlink anymore, but the point is that my novel now stands at just over 51k words. And it’s only the 3rd.
In the words of Loki, Norse God of Mischief: “Sssomebody STOP me!”
Yeah, that Loki. I’m a ’90s kid.
Now, in terms of how many words I actually produced in the month of November, the number stands at just over 29k. Including what I’ve written over the past 2 days (including what is now yesterday), it’s 34k and counting. It is not impossible that I could actually get over the 50k threshold with entirely new writing, but seeing as I was going to be counting the novel’s word-count rather than my writing-done-in-November word-count anyway, it’s a moot point. Also considering that it’s after Nanowrimo and I’m claiming this win on a technicality at best, it’s an especially moot point.
But it’s my moot point, dammit, and I stand by it.
I know for a fact, just briefly remembering the words that I have, in fact, produced for the purpose of constituting this novel with, that I will be making some extensive revisions once I’m done. Those revisions will be much less about plot and much more about wording, because this is supposed to be YA, and I’m pretty sure YA doesn’t drop quite this many f-bombs. I vaguely remember there being an f-bomb in Vampire Academy at some point, but if that is true then I just as vaguely remember that it was only deployed once. Then again, maybe I just don’t remember the swearing because I’m used to swearing myself, and the levels present in the YA I’ve read are nowhere near high enough to warrant my special attention.
Throw in the fact that I am probably not going to be submitting this particular novel to publishers and, well, another point on my checklist of moot.
However, this is a writing exercise. The exercise is to produce a story that is, in accordance with my own personal tastes, one that adheres to a clear narrative progression, ticks off all the most obvious story conventions along the way, and just feels like a Proper Story. Not original or clever or inventive: a story that feels like it’s made out of story-ness. You can call it the Hero’s Journey, a Bildungsroman, the three-act structure – whatever it is, it’s something innately familiar to me and my storytelling skills. This exercise is to produce a story that is familiar, because it is a test to see how quickly I can write a story after thinking it up, and how fast I can throw a workable story together just by thinking along the lines of all the conventions and tropes I am familiar with. How well do I know them? How well can I employ them? How long does it take me? And by the end of it, does it look, feel and act like a familiar story? That is this exercise, and that’s all it is. I’m not looking to publish this story; I’m looking to tell it.
And the extensive revision I’m going to do once I’m done telling it is going to be making it even more familiar, ironing out the kinks and quirks that always find their way into my drafts because sometimes you just need to use whatever motivation you have to hand in order to keep writing, and sometimes that’s not what the story needs. That’s just part of the process.
Which is also part of the exercise, though not one I’ve really thought about. It’s not just making a familiar story as quickly as possible, with as short of a time as possible between conception and production to stress-test the structural integrity of my narrative skills. It’s also about testing my writing process, because it’s a process I intend to repeat many times throughout my life, and already have – though I’d like to be a lot better at it than I currently am. I’ve been writing academic stuff for the past 7 years, and while my grades have been everything from fails to the highest marks possible (and consistently high throughout postgrad, which I am pretty damn proud of), I’ve been fairly abysmal when it comes to the process of writing itself, leaving things to the last minute, only drafting them once, that sort of thing. It’s that sort of thing that I wanted to train myself out of with this project by putting the emphasis on speed. And speed is important for one simple reason: when I have an awesome idea, if I don’t get it down in writing pretty much immediately I might lose my passion for it, and the clarity and simplicity of purpose that comes with it. I want to train myself to capitalise on that moment of inspiration, to do away with the self-censoring and elitist shaming that I’ve internalised over the years that keeps me from jumping headlong into the indulgent act of writing only and exactly what I want to write, the second it occurs to me that it is what I want to write, and to turn it into a skill.
Because it is a skill. It is a skill to be able to switch off your inner critic and give in to your desires, exactly as they are, without modification for “properness” or “acceptability”. It is a skill insofar as concerns something as harmless and private as writing, at least, and writing a first draft at that (what I referred to for a while as the zero draft; I figure it’s best to just keep things simple), which you will never, never unleash upon humanity. It is a skill to trust your instincts, to hone them to the point where, on autopilot, you can intuit an entire fucking story from start to finish. It is a skill to do things that you feel very passionate about without holding yourself back for the sake of being “profound” or “deep” or waiting until you “get it” or your ideas are sufficiently “original”. It is a skill to be brave enough to write utter shit. Because out of that utter shit, you will find that your ideas are actually fucking fantastic, like you were going to wait for them to be. By writing utter shit, you will learn that you never had to wait for your ideas to get good enough.
And by writing that utter shit so that you can read it, you will also find that you can make your bad ideas good, and your good ideas even better.
As I said about two years ago, if there is one piece of writing advice I will actually presume I have the authority to bestow upon anybody, it is this: finish. And I will amend it a little bit here: when you finish, no matter when that is, your story will reward you for it. That’s just how it works. The only thing you really have to decide is when you want that reward.
I want it now. Since it can’t be now, because I have to deal with the laws of physics and the limitations of my corporeal form, Sooner Rather Than Later will have to suffice. And that brings its own sense of satisfaction, the satisfaction of writing something that you feel full and complete control over (because it’s generic as fuck) over a prolonged but still fairly short amount of time. Keeping the time of writing as short as possible not only means you’re less likely to lose your initial momentum, but also means that you’re more likely to stick to your key points and not get bogged down with filler, waffling as you stall for time to think of something actually interesting to happen. And by allowing yourself to use conventions and tropes – and even cliches – you keep the story moving and find ways to bridge gaps in the logic as they appear to you. You will always make shit up on the fly; the shape of the plan will always change as you carry it out. But the principles behind it will still work if you stick to them.
That’s what I’m finding anyway, and I am very happy that I chose to keep writing after the end of Nano – very happy that I want to keep writing. And all the while, looking forward to the next project, whatever that might be.
Last year, I allowed myself to relinquish the title of “writer” as my sole identifying label, and discovered that I’d been inhibiting myself by trying to make it enough for my fulfillment all on its own.
This year, I made myself do a shitload of writing and re-discovered the reason why I picked up the label in the first place: because I fucking love writing. But I especially love writing when I’m writing a lot.
Down with labels.
Long live writing.