It’s that season again. The trees are being steadily shorn of leaves, but the grass beneath them grows, having slept out the summer. The pumpkins are being put away, whether in pieces after vandalism or whole and unloved past their expiration date. It’s November. It’s that time.
National Novel Writing Month is upon us again. Steel your souls against the waves of advice and unrelenting encouragement. Be ready, for they are legion and will not be stemmed so easily. Their teeth want your flesh, your attention and your belief. They want what power you have to give and take it for themselves.
Let me state my caveat and then get on with the supper. If NaNoWriMo is what gets you going and writing, then that’s wonderful. I mean that will all sincerity. You may not believe it, but it’s absolutely true. I remain method-agnostic in this process. If this event gets you moving, great. If writing fanfiction gets you moving, then great. I’m only conflating the two by way of convenience, though I’m sure that a lot more fanfiction will be written this month than in others.
All this said, the event itself is something that I don’t participate in, for a variety of reasons. Firstly in that it is a perfect growth medium for disappointment. The novel that is written (even the novel that is just drafted) in a month is in all likelihood not one worth reading. There will be exceptions to this. But I bet in all of them, there was extensive revision taking significantly longer than a month to execute. The truth of it is, you will not draft a novel in a month.
I have been writing for a long time, some of that even professionally. I wrote the first draft of my first novel over a period of about six months in 1991. The spine of the plot was a screenplay that I drafted in about three weeks previous to that. (Hint: it was not good at all.) When I was rolling on the co/ghost-writing thing, I was working on plot for around a month and doing 400 pages of draft in 3. That wasn’t every working hour of every day, sure. But I doubt I could have doubled efficiency, much less tripled it.
This month, if I am lucky and my efforts pay off, I’ll finish about a hundred pages of novella (of course, that means writing one hundred and fifty plus and throwing out stuff wholesale.) It will require revision after the fact. I’ve had practice. Yes, I have external complications, which is why I’m tempering expectation.
You should temper your expectation too, lest it become an Everest that you can’t climb without training and equipment (one of these is literal, one metaphor.) If you don’t have real-world concerns dogging you, then great, ramp up expectation. I am not in that position. My obligations are many and often some get short shrift (thinking that self-care ends up in that category.)
If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, then do so. Don’t expect a compelling result at the end of it. Expect that you’ll have a much shorter piece that with some work will be worth reading. Be pleased with that.
Fend off the bromides and anodyne of helpful advice accounts. Be particularly wary of anything that smells of snake oil and just wants your money. Be wary of the free advice that is not prefaced in bold type with “This is what worked for me, and I can only guarantee that it worked for me.” Be distrustful of success advice, or those who tell you that you can have a #1 bestseller in your category on Amazon if you game the system like so. Those books are worthless. Leaning on bestseller status isn’t worth it, and gets you far fewer returns than you think it does. Beware the writer as best friend and the cult of personality. Shunning it is a good plan altogether.
Success advice is your enemy. You might crave it. I did. I still do. I would love to have a life coach tell me something other than “keep rolling the rock up the hill” or “the rock only rolls downhill if you push it downhill.” Seriously. If you step away from writing for a day or three, you’re not a bad writer. You’re not even a bad person. If you have real life demands then honor those. Because your real life is just that (but be careful to know which demands are genuine and which are manufactured at best or pure distraction at worst.)
And know that being a writer is not a glorious profession. It doesn’t make you smarter or better or more honest or authentic. It. Does. Not. The attention of others is good right up until the moment that it becomes bad (and I’ve seen this pursuit burn up some folks right to ash – again, this includes myself.) Being a writer does not bestow a coat of ermine or even a visible badge that one can wave around to indicate an elevated status. Other folks may choose to elevate you on that basis (just as likely, they will seek to bludgeon you with that pedestal.) Both these are to be considered only on a minimal basis at best.
I know many other writers (and artists, and musicians, and assorted). They are all, to a person, smart, witty, cantankerous, difficult and exceptional. They would be all these things if they never wrote or created another god damned thing in their lifetimes, or even if they hadn’t ever. And, frankly, some of the most successful that I’ve met in these fields? Well, they’re not people that you’d choose to hang out with for an extended period because some of them are (wait for it) just plain bad people.
Please accept my apologies if this is not the comforting boost that you had perhaps sought on this, the month where promises are made that only winter itself can keep. The nights are indeed growing longer and even colder here, finally. The skies are heavy with rain.
You already know if you want to keep to this path or not.
Our supper served, back to more mundane matters.
My wife’s surgeries are completed. However, there is no proof that these procedures will have mattered at all until we go in for an appointment on Friday. So imagine undergoing two surgeries over a couple of weeks and then waiting another out to begin the process. This after literal and actual years of struggle against symptoms and medication that is notoriously unreliable. The frayed ends of my nerves are themselves worn down to invisible and fractally-complicated patterns, all quite tender.
I’m just waiting this out, as is she.
As alluded-to above, I’ll be doing the draft of THE QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS this month, hell or high water.
Work on the pitch for THE FUTURE AMERICA continues, but nothing I should show yet.
I bought far too much candy for Halloween and I really should hide it from myself.
Until next time.