It’s OK To Be Crap
So I’m more than likely going to fall totally silent next month as I bash furiously at my keyboard like several angry monkeys in a vain attempt to write a 50,000 word novel when the nearest I’ve ever been is a 2,500 word essay. Thinking about it though, I always wrote my university essays in the space of one day and that included reading whatever it was I was supposed to be writing about and checking the internet out in the background, and 2,500 words is a lot more than the 1,613 words per day in need to average to meet the 50,000 word goal. (And I always got 2:1’s for my essays.) So I reckon as long as I don’t get hopelessly disheartened and give the whole thing up as a bad job I might be able to manage it.
But anyway, as I was saying, I will be all passions spent writing average fiction next month, so I wanted to write about what I think that’s going to be like. And also I can’t really write about much else as I’m not allowed to start writing until next Wednesday, the 1st.
I guess I also want to crystallise my expectations of what it is I’m actually going to be churning out next month. I used the word “average” in a hopeful way; as I mentioned above I have never attempted a writing project anywhere near this scale before, in simple word count or in the requirement of stamina that it’s going to take to motivate myself to keep banging out words night after night after night that actually make some sort of sense and cohere into something vaguely entertaining. The biggest barrier to this, knowing myself as I do, is that I am constantly going back and editing things mid-stream. I hate for things to be less than perfect and my brain constantly picks faults with what I’ve written that I then am compelled to go back and correct. There is a saying in the world though and I think it’s important enough to this topic that I’m going to put it in block quotes: “Perfect” is the enemy of “Good” Trying to make things perfect is often directly at odds with trying to get things workable, or finished. This is a life lesson I have yet to learn. Not necessarily knowing when to throw your hands in the air and say “fuck it” (although that is a skill I seem to be a master of only when I am in a remarkably bad mood) but knowing when something is in a state in which it is acceptable, fit for the task for which it has been created, and the improvement of which will not yield any greater end result.
I am hilariously bad at this, and I know I am, and I know it’s something I need to work on, and I also know that I don’t seem at all able to manage it. This is especially noticable at work, where I will spend countless hours tweaking and fiddling with things to make them *just right*, when all they are going to do is sit on a wall and get ignored, or sit on a shelf edge and get torn and ignored. If I can get a handle on this, what might be termed the Jo Brand Housework Approach (“fuck it, it’ll do”) then I know I will become better able to manage my time, but I can’t seem to help myself. I want things as I want things.
This is I think going to cause me issues next month. Philippa, a friend of mine who has undergone the NaNoWriMo challenge twice, says the trick is to kill your inner editor for while and get writing words down. Some of it will be shite, but it’s a great discipline. That pretty much sounds like nails down a chalkboard to me. My inner editor is, basically, the one doing the writing. Not looking back for a while and just charging headlong at it is totally not my style. It would be nice to think that this is going to be one of those neat little TV scenes where, by judicious use of a montage and some appropriately inspiring music I learn this deep life lesson about how to kill my inner editor for a bit and just *write*, and it’s a struggle for the first few cuts of the montage but by degrees it starts to come to me and at the end when the keychange comes in I’m writing like a boss and of course this means I have learned the life lesson and I’m ready to go out in the world and apply the lesson to real-world situations at work and also my novel is awesome. Sadly, in my experience, life doesn’t work like that. It takes blood sweat and tears to learn the lesson once and then you have to keep learning it, looking over your own shoulder to make sure you aren’t slipping, starting from scratch again because you’ve totally slipped back into old habits. So yeah, getting to that point is going to take effort, and probably years. But as Philippa says, NaNoWriMo is great to get into the discipline of writing first and editing later.
A second and related perspective on this is that I have to be prepared for whatever it is I write to be absolute shit. Whatever aspirations I have to be a writer of fiction, I need to remember that I am effectively starting from scratch with it at this point. I haven’t written fiction of any kind for more than ten years. Conversational blog posts are one thing, plots and characters and and dialogue are quite another. I’m a beginner, and what I come up with first time around is probably going to be tripe. It will be rehashed from stories I’ve experienced before, derivative of others, probably badly paced and badly structured with characters that are caricaturish, unbelievable, or just plain boring. Basically, what I write is probably going to suck really big donkey balls.
And that’s OK. I’ll get better. Each time I’ll be (hopefully) a little bit less crap. I’ll try my best to accept criticism without curling up into a ball and crying; I’ll write more, I’ll learn how to write by writing a whole hell of a lot. I mean, there will be another NaNoWriMo in November so that’s another novel right there. The fact that I’m struggling desperately to come up with enough material to get this one off the ground is neither here nor there. Once I get into the flow of writing it will come. I remember back in the day when you just used to grab hold of a strand of something and start tugging at it and before you knew what you were doing you had found the edge of a tapestry you didn’t even know was there and the rest is just dusting the tapestry off and making sure it hangs straight. It almost happens by itself. I remember that feeling of it happening without any concious thought on my part and I cant wait for it to happen again. Obviously it won’t all be like that and there will be many, many days where I will be scratching my backside for something to write down. But when it clicks, it’s worth it. I wrote a poem in college which won that years poetry prize, and writing it gave me that exact feeling, like I didn’t actually put any effort in. I may dig that poem out and publish it on here, one day.
Of course, at some point in the process I’ll have to revive the inner editor. It seems to me that writing stream-of-conciousness style (or more accurately vomiting all over the page) for month is pretty much pointless if what appears at the end of it is a confused muddle of words that I’m going to have to pretty much throw out and rewrite from scratch. Depending on how many actual words I manage to form over a particular period of time, going back and re-reading it some part of the way in is going to be absolutely necessary to make sure I’m actually keeping the plot on the right tracks (hollow laughter at the idea that I’ll actually have a plot) and that my main characters at the start of the book are not unexpectedly completely different to the same characters at the end; that they’ve undergone some change but are still recogniseable rather than two completely different characters who happen to share the same name. Oh God, the more I write about what’s in front on me the more scared I get.
By the way, I’ve done my best to write this blog post without actually backtracking every five minutes and rephrasing everything, as a little bit of practise for what’s to come. Also, my apologies if this post seems excessively long, drawn out, droney and boring. It’s because it’s exactly 1,613 words long, by far the longest post I’ve written. This is the volume of words I’m going to be tying to write each day next week and I wanted to see what kind of a task it actually was. Turns out? Quite hard. And it’s hard enough when I don’t really have to worry about a narrative or what my characters’ motivations are; pity me, gentle reader, next month, and more importantly pity yourselves if I ever ask you to proofread the novel that comes out of me typing like a bastard for a month…