It’s been a while since I’ve graced your computer monitors with incessant rambling. I heartily apologize, but the people in my office have, by and large, stopped sending out absurd e-mails for me to mock and, since that makes up the bulk of the posts on this site, that means I have nothing to post.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I have. I made it through National Novel Writing Month again this year, and that’s, essentially, what I’d like to talk about today. Be warned: This is going to be more of a rant than anything else. I will come across as a jerk, because my filter has been worn down to nothing after the last couple of weeks. And, further, I can’t guarantee that you’ll get anything from this.
First of all, definitions for people who may not know: National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo) is an Internet Thing where people decide to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in one month – November. This translates to around 1,700 words a day. There’s no monetary commitment for this (though the home site of the contest does run off of donations), and you don’t get anything except a little print-at-home certificate after you verify your word count on the website.
Now, I fully understand that I have been writing for a while, and really pushing myself to write a significant amount per day for a couple of years now. This means that, generally speaking, my personal goal of 2,200 words a day is only about twice as much as I usually hit.
I recognize that amount is staggering to people who are just starting out, and to people who look at writing as more a hobby than something they really want to do with their life, and I respect that. Writing’s a shitty gig with shitty pay and shitty benefits. Unless you a) know people, b) are very lucky, or c) are the reincarnation of a past literary great, you’re not going to get very far. That’s just a fact of the matter.
But, the thing that gets me about the community is the general ruckus that’s built up about the word count. I get it. It’s a hefty amount for a pretty short time. But don’t you think that daily posts in the forum about “OMG I’M GOING CRAZY LOL!” are a little bit overkill-y?
You signed up for this thing, and, in my mind, you should be willing to either sit down, shut up, and write/type/key/whatever, or back out and try again next year. That’s just the way it is. You’re not getting anything out of this aside from the knowledge that, yes, you made it, and by virtue of making it, you can probably do the same next year. Thus, to me, taking the time to make those posts on forums displays a really annoying tendency I like to call “The Attention-Grabbing Writer.”
The Attention-Grabbing Writer makes cutesy writer jokes, does something flaky and goes, “LOL that’s because I’m a writer!” They will most often be seen sitting in a Starbucks with a syrupy coffee drink, distracting themselves by posting on deviantArt or something of that nature, and, by and large not writing.
I was once an Attention-Grabbing Writer. I still have my days when I am. However, to those of you who may be AGWs, I’d like to make this plea: When your literary heroes talk about how necessary it is to write in solitude, and without distraction, take their advice.
That’s not to say that you can’t go to a coffee house. Hell, I wrote a good portion of my book this year at Barista Parlor in East Nashville, surrounded by kids, gorgeous hipster girls, and listening to their great music. But, there’s a difference between doing that and going with a group of people who you know are doing the same thing as you, and if you do that, you – I think, unless you’re a very outgoing person and would do this with utter strangers – will be more tempted to make in-jokes about your work.
See, you do need a lot of concentration and quietness to get any writing done at all. Narratives are twitchy beasts and will skedaddle at the first sign that they’re not being watched—much like toddlers. And, like toddlers, they need coaxing and a firm, guiding hand to go anywhere in life. You won’t be able to give them that direction if you’re spending time shooting the shit with other people. The narrative, after a brief while, will totally escape you, and you’ll return to your Word document with a newfound feeling of panic, realizing that you botched it.
Which then brings me to another point of confusion I have with this thing: The anxiety. This isn’t your job, man. If you’re seriously worried about it, then leave it. Take your time. Not everyone can get over a thousand words a day. It’s rough, and it takes a lot of work to hit even that at first.
But, most importantly, don’t work yourself into such a fit that you can’t get any work done because you’re focused on what you can’t do. In other words, if you’re looking at, say, 800 more words to do that day, and you just can’t manage it, don’t freak out. Call it a day, start it tomorrow. One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re working on a story or novel, and you hit a point where you have just a little bit of an idea where to go next with it, that’s the sweet spot. Stop there. You’ll give your brain more time to work out the details of the upcoming plot and, more importantly, more time to refresh itself.
Because writing is work. It’s mostly low-paid work that’s only rewarding if you think of it as rewarding, but it is work. And just as some people need to unwind after a day at the office, some people need some time to unwind after churning out a few pages of material.
But seriously, leave off the quirk-writer jokes. It’s obnoxious.