Let’s give credit to Springsteen and the Old 97’s. I’m in a good mood. Nothing substantive has changed in the last week but I feel…..is it too soon to say? I feel momentum building.
This week I finished the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. I think that’s another good sign. I might have strategically placed my crossword puzzle pen over a couple of clues which are, um, stretching it a bit. I won’t go so far as to say they’re incorrect, just possibly a looser interpretation than is desirable. It’s not that I never finish the crossword, but it’s rare enough that it feels worthy of celebrating. Some weeks you know by clue five or ten that it’s a lost cause. Sometimes? You’re on fire.
Way back last week when it was still October, I got a little cocky with my literary success. And now it’s November, so I’m kind of doing this:
My sister sent me this book, written by the guy who started NaNoWriMo. It’s hilarious, but there’s also some wisdom to it. (My sister, btw, gets to give me any advice she wants to because a) she is 8 3/4 months pregnant and can do whatever she likes at this point, and b) she also finished a novel in 30 days during NaNoWriMo. So she has street cred.) So this guy started the write-a-novel-in-a-month thing with some friends in 1999, and now something like 200,000 people attempt it every November. He talks about it in a week-by-week framework. It’s fun at first; you get bogged down and want to give up in the second week; by week three it’s a complete mess but there are whole passages of brilliance, and by the end you’ve explored all kinds of things you didn’t intend to, and you’ve spent a substantial amount of time immersing yourself in the craft of writing. You may or may not have the germ of something you could edit into something beautiful, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s about the act of writing.
I did some brief and haphazard research on NaNoWriMo, and wow, people are opinionated about it. The snarkiest critic I saw is entirely humorless, and I pray fervently that I will never get stuck next to her at a cocktail party. I think most people understand the point of the exercise: it’s a demented challenge; you should take it seriously but not yourself, necessarily; and it’s about process, not product. It’s about making time to write, and doing it with no excuses. It’s about supporting other people doing the same thing.
I’ve already broken some key rules (such as, my novel is not even a novel) and my goal has nothing whatsoever to do with the 50,000 word count in 30 days. I found out tonight I can bang out 2000 words an hour (my handwriting is terrible, see crossword puzzle above, but I type like the wind) so for me it’s not about word count. It’s about this: I believe we all have at least one novel in us. And I believe the novel I am compelled to write, right this minute, is going to be terrible. Absolute dreck, self-indulgent and over the top and ridiculously bad. Which is why I am going to get it out of my system, right now, and see if there’s anything good back behind that.
One of my design professors was a complete psychopath, but was right about telling us one day, “I think you’re all afraid to start this part because you don’t want to make any mistakes! I’m telling you, start making mistakes, and start making them immediately, because you absolutely have to work through all of them before you can make anything worth keeping. Don’t waste another second. Get busy making mistakes.”
So tonight I did. I met with a bunch of other people and their laptops and everyone started their novels, right there over the leftover Halloween candy on the tables.
I started with a burger. This writing thing is not for the faint of heart, or the frail, or the risk-avoidant. Best to go into it well fortified.
And willing to make a bunch of mistakes.