It’s November again, and that means only one thing. Well, one month-long thing, I mean. It’s NaNoWriMo, that time of the year when people across the globe reach for laptops, pens or whatever they use to write with, to construct a novel, or part of a novel, of at least 50,000 words.
This year, I’m making the most of the pressure of needing to reach 1667 words daily to go back to one of my old projects, part one of what is, currently at least, a trilogy. I’m fond of the story, as it has developed a life of its own, but the writing at that time wasn’t good enough. I was a different person, then, and my writing has improved somewhat over the years. NaNoWriMo is my chance to force myself to get going on it again. Cutting bits out didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm. The thought of editing so heavily that entire plot threads and even characters would have to be written out was something I dreaded intensely. So I decided to start again. Write it from scratch, starting at page one. The story I’ve altered slightly, to reflect what happens later on in the series, but the rest of it I’ve kept. (Yes, I broke the habit of a writing lifetime and made the skeleton of a plan. Easy when you know the story already.)
And you know what? My love of this project has come back to say hello, waving its little flag and saying, why the fuck didn’t you do this ages ago? Well, I didn’t. But I’m doing it now. Technically, of course, NaNoWriMo is for writing a new novel, completely fresh, the idea being that you’re not precious about it and you can write freely, without baggage. But I know this story so well, and it needs to be rewritten, so this was the best way to bludgeon myself senseless and guilt-trip myself into starting over.
Another ‘rule’ of NaNo is that you’re not supposed to read over what you’ve written. Silence your inner editor and just write with complete abandon. I have a confession to make. I can’t do it like that. I know I’m not the only one, too. So when this evening I read over what I’ve written so far (all 3880-words-in-two-days of it), I was rather pleased with myself. It’s better than it was before. Not only is it better, it’s easier. Once I’d skidded past my daily word count goal for day two (3333 words), without even noticing, when I did see the word count and had updated it on my NaNo profile, I found I wanted to carry on a bit longer. So I did.
Also, Laz and I are using NaNo to collaborate on a project (shh! That’s not allowed, either). We’ve been meaning to write something together for ages, and now seems to be the time. Our original idea was to write something that was inspired by A Dream of Red Mansions, considered to be the greatest work of fiction in China. I’d recently finished reading it and it’s one of those books that will stay with me for ages. It infected me. It even made me understand some concepts of Chinese culture that can help me (with luck and a little determination) to better my kung fu. Laz being more of an SF kinda guy, we decided to set our novel on a generational space ship, with a society very like that of ancient China. (So far, we’ve written 3888 words between us.) What we’ve got so far is fantastic. I started, the first scene in a dojo, a senior student seeking words with his master. That being a setting I’m very familiar with, the tone of it was easy for me, and today Laz wrote scene three (we’re not writing it in sequence – in a project like this, that would be silly). Having already set the tone, he emulated that style and wrote the scene where the Emperor finds out about a minor event, which we will use to introduce a major character.
Every November, I get into the habit of writing daily again, and every November I tell myself that I’ll use the impetus to carry on writing every day, without excuses. Up to now, that’s never happened (this is my fourth NaNo), but this time I’m determined to make it happen, because… well… I’m a writer. I write, therefore I am.
And both of these projects are firing me up. I can’t wait to get going again (but it’s, like, majorly late, man, so I’ll wait till tomorrow – OK, later today – to continue). It’s an amazing feeling. There’s nothing worse for a writer than to not write. In my case, if I choose not to write, I have only myself to blame. But if for some reason I can’t write, if something is stopping me – I get irritable. I climb the walls. I scratch, I claw and wail. I get, in short, extremely pissed off.
Writing is a huge part of my identity. The fact we both write is just a bonus. Laz encourages (read ‘nags’) me to write, and I know to shut up when he’s writing himself. Because I know what it is to be right in there, not of this world but totally absorbed in the one you’ve created. Being disturbed from that, particularly for something unimportant, is fucking annoying. (I know. I’m guilty. I talk a lot. But I’m better now.) We read aloud to each other what we’ve written (especially important now, as we’re writing this thing together). I’ve never been great at that (unless you count reading Shakespeare at college, because that’s so easy to read aloud). So it’s making me practise. Reading from the NaNo novel, the part Laz has written, was easier for me because of its setting. Ancient Chinese formality. Martial arts etiquette. The Imperial Court. It demands to be read properly. And slowly.
We have another 28 days of writing furiously, and we will continue after, both, because that’s what we do. It’s who we are.