Writer's Block

I Write

The writers I know do many things. They teach Psychology and Journalism. Sometimes, Creative Writing. They arrange festivals and pour over Excel spreadsheets. They make cappuccino, macchiato, dirty chai, and any number of hot beverages from scratch. They sell books at chain stores and independents, while using their staff discount to buy books. You might think the aim is to single-handedly support the industry.

They are singer-songwriters and single mums. They are successful shiny people from the City. They are surgeons, administrators, and farmers, and also rugby players, and designers, and corporate whores, and small-business owners, and simply-no-goods. They dress in feathers and tulle, or jeans, or three-piece suits. They are heavy drinkers and they are seven years sober and they never developed taste for alcohol, opting for intravenous coffee instead. They are a cursed sort.

When Superman gets tired and longs for a simpler life, he puts on his glasses and changes into Clark Kent. When a writer comes home from her day job, she takes off her human skin — bit by bit by bit — and bleeds all over the paper, as instructed by Hemingway. If you think that is gross, you are not wrong.

I am not sure if time and money are the same thing, but I seem to be short of both all the time (all the money). It is difficult to be turning invisible bricks with only your tongue for an instrument. Elephants stay pregnant for twenty-two months, but a novel, from its conception to the publication, takes at least as long — often much longer — and the result is likely to be less attractive than a newborn elephant.

What I am saying is this: being a writer would be much harder without other writers.

Want to Write a Novel in November?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an enterprise that originated in America in 1999, but has since become a worldwide phenomenon. The goal is as simple (hahaha!) as completing a novel within the 30 days of November, where ‘novel’ equals a text of at least 50,000 words length.

I have never attempted it before, although I know some for whom NaNoWriMo provided that missing impetus which resulted in a draft of their debut novel, in the habit of daily writing. I have been thinking about trying it myself, the way people think about taking up yoga or getting back in touch with old friends. ‘That would be a great thing to do next life.’ I would probably still be mulling the subject over, were it not for a text I saw. Here is an excerpt from it:

To show up to play, puff out your chest like a damn proud toucan, and get shit done.

That is, perhaps, the single most important skill of a working life, no matter what that work may be.

I am here to tell you that you can do this. Not only can you do it, you can keep doing it. Take care of yourself, and this weird, stressful, wrist-aching trip you’re on can—like Red Bull, Daedelus, and garage-level genetic engineering—give you wings.

I’m going to tell you what I tried to say in 2002 to the NaNoWriMo forums, a notion that found little support and much scoffing then, but perhaps will find more friends now that I’ve spent most of the last decade putting my money where my mouth is.

You can be good and fast at the same time.

Though it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself, it is also important to know that quality and speed have absolutely nothing to do with one another. You can write something heart-catchingly brilliant in 30 days. You can do it in 10. There is no reason on this green earth not to try for glory. You’re going to spend these 30 days at the computer anyway. You might as well be mindful while you’re there.

This is Catherynne M. Valente, the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Deathless. You can see the full Pep Talk here (there are dancing skeletons and space whales in it).

I am a slow writer. I am a slow writer the way turtles are slow runners. It might have something to do with trying get everything perfect the first time around, which, frankly, does not work for large format. Historically, hard deadlines have been the only way for me to complete texts of considerable length, and now that the degrees are done, there is no sword of Damocles over my head. NaNoWriMo contains a deadline that is entirely self-imposed and voluntary, yet I am hopeful, as one cannot help but take it seriously. 50,000 words are no joke, even if you are writing comedy. (I am. Sort of.)

That leaves us here, on November 1st, 2016, the first day of NaNoWriMo. The working title of my novel is Bad and Rotten. The genre is crime. The day is Tuesday, and the weather is of the mediocre kind. The estimated length of the complete work is 91,000 words. By the end of the month I will have about half of it.

I Drive (Drive)

If I write for you, you get your novel. I tell you where we start, where we’re going, where we’re going afterwards. I give you a finale when we get there. Anything happens within those pages and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything a page outside of it and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re thinking it over. I don’t bargain. I write.

NaNoWriMo word count: 0
Total word count: 6,474

Let’s roll.

Current album: Lady Gaga, Joanne
Current book: Slavoj Žižek, Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours
Current TV series: Stranger Things, Series 1 (2016)

One Comment

  1. kottonen

    I came across the Prep Talk by Catherynne M. Valente via the Twitter of one Kiran Millwood Hargrave, the author of The Girl of Ink and Stars who also happens to be a fellow coursemate and a dear friend of mine.

    You can follow Kiran on Twitter @Kiran_MH, but be warned: her channel contains great book recommendations, cute animals, and feminist rants. …Yeah, I like it, too.


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