So Long, and Thanks for All the Fist

trophyHappy Thanksgiving to everyone world-wide who recognizes the day. Holiday or not we all have things we can be grateful for, probably more than we would immediately think. It is important to occasionally take note of these things and give a little thanks where thanks are due.

We are also nearing the end of November, and all the Nano participants are pushing through toward the finish line, or they have already finished, or they are coming to grips with the fact that there is not enough month left to finish the stories they have attempted to tell.

I’ve been reading some of the comments, some of the folks out there are having a particularly trying time right now, some of you have become discouraged and depressed, especially for those who now know that December will indeed soon start, whether or not they have reached their goal. A few have even started doubting the validity of the contest and the goal, or whether it is really an achievement worthy of mention or celebration. There are many among us who have become jaded and cynical and wish nothing more than to infect the rest of us and spread their shitty outlook.

I take issue with a few aspects of the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month and some of the virtues it seems to encourage. I think word count is over emphasized, the goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days says nothing about quality, and can almost be said to condone sloppy writing as any novel length story pounded out in just one month is surely going to be missing some of the more delicate sensibilities a good piece of literature can convey, and many of the more celebrated works of literature have been tinkered with and pored over meticulously sometimes for years.

So while I do not fully endorse some of the tenets of the challenge, I do not want to belittle or trivialize anyone who has actually attempted the feat. As I have stated before, fifty thousand words in a month nothing at all to scoff at.

No, it’s not a finished project, surely it will need a coat of bondo and a few appointments with a cold, hard chisel to chip it into better shape; any book done right is the result of a rough draft improving through a succession of rewrites and editing. Even if you manage to crank out the fifty thousand words there is no guarantee at all that your story will be in any way a good story or well written manuscript. Very little instruction is offered about how to develop a story or build a believable world for your characters to play in.

But no one who has participated in the challenge, whether they made it to end or not, whether they stumbled upon their masterpiece and published the work for a crowd eager to read, or whether they scraped out a few clumsy pages and threw their hands in the air and gave up when they ran out of road and couldn’t think of a way for their story to proceed. No one here should feel like a loser, like they wasted time, or like they had committed their energies in a worthless venture. No one who wrote one more word than they had yesterday should feel like a failure.

In my mind, from this perspective, the whole design behind the Nano challenge is to get people writing who wouldn’t otherwise, encourage an artistic attempt from a group of people who would not otherwise take the time. How many of us hear friends or family say they’d like to write a book one day. How many people ever do it, or even ever try? How many bucket lists get filed away forever with certain items still not crossed off.

No one who made an attempt here should be too disappointed if they didn’t make the fifty thousand word goal, as I have said and as I am sure you are ready now to agree, it is no easy feat. It can achieved if it’s trained for, but to the uninitiated and unprepared it can quickly turn into an unscalable wall. 1667 words a day, everyday.

This little piece I am currently writing just passed seven hundred words, to give you an idea of the amount you have to write everyday. And I am seasoned and I am used to cranking out a few thousand words in a sitting. I have a personal pledge to write at least a thousand every day. It ranges, for me, between half an hour if I am well prepared or really inspired, to a few hours if I am struggling. And it does take some focus and determination to keep developing and invented new things to say everyday.

Anything that encourages us to think a little more, to read a little more, it is hard for me to consider this a bad thing. Anything that gets the general public to read more, I can’t begrudge anyone who would participate in such an endeavor. On this one, we all win. We all truly deserve a pat on the back and a round of applause.

No one here should feel at all like a failure. If nothing else, we can write again next year. No no one who played along walks away empty-handed, we all have earned a consolation prize; a new novel to edit, some new ideas to work on, or a new favorite author or genre to investigate, or indeed even just a better appreciation for the written word, and the art and craft of creation.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

How to Win the Race

runnerThose of you keeping score at home know I have been watching from the sidelines, cheering for everyone participating in the Thirty Day Novel challenge. Quite a few members of the writing groups I haunt are playing along this year, each of them committed to completing a fifty-thousand-word first draft of a novel in the month of November.

To be sure, this is no easy task. Pounding out a thousand words in an evening on facebook in itself is not a particular difficult challenge. Anyone who has participated in any of my reddit arguments knows to come with a bucket full of adverbs and a readiness to type, fast and loose. But keeping that sort of pace, well over a thousand words a day over an entire month, many will admit it is far easier said than done.

So, the same as every year, the race starts out fast and strong, I scroll through the pages and see the reinforcements of will power and the inspirational rants, and almost as soon as the starting gun is fired, the resignation letters start to trickle in. Fifty thousand words is too many, the month is too short, the day job leaves no time to write, there’s nothing left to write about anyway. The days progress and more people question their ability to remain committed as more casualties fall off at the sides. It can be disheartening. Here at the end of the month the comments I read are split in three; the folks crossing the finish line with the challenge completed and a clumsy new pile of sentences, spaghettification on their harddrives, the people still writing and pushing through the days and the doubts, and the stragglers who have fallen behind and have given up, some committed to finishing their tales when they find the time, others have grown to hate the words they were writing and the act of creating, and have vowed never to write again.

There is always next year.

And I think I should reiterate here that I don’t think the challenge is in any way impossible, it is not easily accomplished by the uninitiated.

I know a few of the little pieces I have put together have given hope to some writers and seemed helpful, the ‘Two-Headed Writer’ and a few other writings about writing, but I think perhaps I should have started my lessons earlier.

Here’s the thing, we have to complete the training before the start of the race.

And the best lesson I can give and the only one that can be shown by example, is the lesson of consistency, of writing every day.

After a considerable dry spell, I have returned to writing consistently, everyday for the past few months. I made a pledge in one of the writing groups to pound out a thousand words a day, everyday. At first it was a struggle and a task. But once my mind started moving again and my fingers started tapping easier, the movements became fluid and the activity flowed easy. The words seemed to pour out of my head where once I had to pluck them from their vines. Clumsy and awkward.

But the real secret of this trick is, the more accustomed you become to writing everyday, the more natural it becomes, the more a part of you it feels. It becomes more than just typing, it becomes something you have to do. These days, if I am not writing my brain begins to race, my fingers itch and feel cranky. I want to write, I feel congested and interrupted if I don’t.

Writing everyday becomes easier because I recognize what it takes to write everyday and so I seek out inspiration and attempt to employ every writing prompt I encounter. If I’m not typing my fingers get fidgety It’s a bit of a catch 22 or the horse-before-the-cart, but that probably only proves its validity.

So really the lesson to learn here is before you take on a commitment to writing every single you we should first get in shape by writing every day. Exercise for the brain. The marathon is finished one mile at a time. I could scramble to the end of my street if the house were on fire, but a race of any duration would double me over and shoot cold sweat from my forehead.

But when my fingers are accustomed and my words get used to wrapping themselves into intelligible patters, it becomes an engine that likes to keep running. My fingers want to type and so my mind looks for thoughts to throw together and attempts all the different combinations that might make them work.

The easiest way  you can prepare for the Thirty Day novel challenge is to get used to writing everyday. Sixteen hundred Sixty Seven words a day will put you at the finish line on time. The best analogy for this race is how closely it resembles running a marathon. Get your fingers folding easily and set your brain to sort your ideas. Start early, write often. Learn to run, for we will race another day.

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

November Novel: Finnegan’s Haiku

nanoStarting at midnight, when the Calendar flipped over to November, it marked the beginning of the ‘National Novel Writing Month’. I’m not sure how long this tradition has been going on, I think it dates back to the late 90’s. And it’s not National, it’s World Wide now.

I was thinking of participating this year, especially as I just found an outline for a novel I thought I lost, but I decided against it. Really, I want to use this time to edit my short story collection and possibly ‘Aftermarket Soul’, get that beast ready to face the public.

So my goal is to use the energy and inspiration from the NaNo participants to get me through my edits. But as midnight started to strike in the different time zones, the excitement really was palpable. It’s a sort of literary marathon I suppose. The goal is 50,000 words in a month, a rough draft of a novel in 30 days. Really, it’s not too much, it comes to 1667 words a day, which, when I know where I’m going, is maybe 45 minutes of typing.

It is a great participatory event that gets people writing who wouldn’t otherwise write, get’s people to finish a novel that they otherwise wouldn’t. Tonight I am happy to cheer from the side and tell them all to ‘Keep typing! Don’t look back! Don’t edit, and Don’t blink!’ I’m actually having a whole lot of fun encouraging them to keep going.

A few people, of course, have to up the ante. I know of a few who are pushing for 50,000 words in 5 days. Some are pushing up their personal goal, 150,000 words for the month.

scribeSo in my sleep deprived too-much-Halloween-candy obnoxious state, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I told people I would participate, but that I would write the fifty thousand words all in Haiku.

Someone figured out that it would be 2942 Haikus I would have to write to get to 50,000 words. But that wasn’t ridiculous enough for me. I announced that my NaNo project would be to rewrite James Joyce’s experimental ‘masterpiece’ novel ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ in Haiku form.

And I got a few down before I fell out of my chair laughing in a chaotic fit of self-satisfaction.

river run past Eve
and Adams, from swerve of
Shore to bend of bay

the fall: ba-ba-ba-

Yes, I do have a very bent and twisted sense of humor, I think I was exposed to Monty Python at too young an age, but this is some of the best fun I’ve had in ages.

But it’s harmless fun, I’m not trying to demean anyone or the mission. I think it’s a great event to get people writing, and I will continue to cheer everyone on as I trudge through my edits. I hope everyone achieves their goal, as I said a few thousand words a day really is not that much.

Keep typing friends! And I hope next November that I may join you.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter