Monday, 6 October 2008

Writing orgies, sweet apples and sadistic nuns

There are times when you know you shouldn’t do something.

When the only outcome is going to be trouble, such as the time when I climbed the tree in the play area at the back of our convent (I was six) to grab an apple, egged on by a bunch of peers and a girl called Sally, who I had a huge crush on (as did every boy in the class, to be fair).

I’d have done anything for Sally, but I ask you, what kind of sadistic bloody nun puts an apple tree in a kids’ playground and then gives them a slap for trying to nick one?

I’m kind of in a similar dilemma now, although it doesn’t involve Sally or nuns. Or apples, for that matter.

Next month is crazy month, when 100,000 writers, give or take, around the globe will lose all reason and embark on a 30-day orgy of writing.

National Novel Writing Month it’s called, or NaNoWriMo, or just plain Nano to us veterans. I say veteran, but I’ve only attempted it once, two years ago. I’d have had a go last year too, but a wedding and two-week honeymoon meant I’d have received a nun-sized slap around the chops if I’d even considered it.

The target each year is to bang out 50,000 words in those 30 days. To someone who writes full-time, that’s a stretch, but manageable. For a writer who grabs the odd hour here and there before and after everyday work and life get in the way, it’s a hell of a tall order.

I managed it, just, and I was on leave for a week. Fortunately, I regularly write past midnight, into the early hours, so the time was there – I just needed to utilise it, instead of procrastinating (I’m pretty sure procrastination wasn’t in the dictionary until the day I was born).

Not everyone is a fan of Nano – some critics suggest it is all quantity of quality, and they are right, to a degree. Anyone who cannot turn their inner editor off for the month shouldn’t waste their time attempting it. If they do, I’d suggest being locked in a padded cell with just your laptop and no sharp objects.

Because Nano does that to you. It drives you nuts. You know that each paragraph that you conjure will need to be fine-tuned at best, completely rewritten, or binned at worst.
Writing 1,600-odd pages a day, every day, for a week is tough. For two weeks, it’s bloody hard. Multiply that by two, and the dedication and focus you need to show shouldn’t be laughed off lightly.

While 50,000 words won’t give you a full novel (unless you’re writing for kids, perhaps), it does provide you with a) the knowledge that you can cut out all the bullshit and write when you put your mind to it; and b) 50,000 more words that you had a month earlier, which is never a bad thing. Sure, it will need a severe dose of editing and some rewriting, but you will have broken the back of your novel.

The main plus I took away from Nano was the realisation that I didn’t need several clear hours to get some writing done. Previously, if I didn’t have at least an hour I’d just give up. It took me that long to get in the mood, get back in the swing of the piece I was writing. That’s what I thought. Nano cured me of that garbage. Give me five or ten minutes now, and I can do a few words. They all count, the words and the minutes, and they all add up.

So, here I am, two years on from my first Nano and desperate to try it again. I know I shouldn’t bother. I’m juggling several projects that need finishing, including polishing off the first Nano that was unceremoniously dumped to allow me to finish The Manx Connection.

It would be foolish to embark on another project. I’ve told myself to think about 2009 and have another go then. What’s another year, as Johnny Logan once asked. Nowt.

And yet... it’s like an itch I need to scratch. I’m trying not to think about it, and certainly haven’t been over to the Nano site to see how preparations are going.

And yet... the plot for the project I’d like to Nano is fully formed in my head. It’s a young adult adventure/horror – think The Goonies meets Amityville – and it’s scratching away desperate to get out.

I must be strong. I must resist the Nano.

And yet...

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