Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Length

I wasn’t going to do Nanowrimo this year but I seem to feel the need for a bigger project at the moment. National Novel Writing Month, when people all over the world commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November, is a useful way of getting a draft down on paper. My way of doing it is to divide the words up by the number of working days so that I generally aim to write 2000 words a day. This is surprisingly easy given that I’m not looking at all at the quality, just the quantity. It can be very freeing just to let rip without worrying, and on a good day I can just rattle the words off and sit back with the glow of a job that is at least done, if not done well.

The problem comes with the editing. How do you begin to edit such a pile of garbage? It would be like trying to sift through a landfill site – which some day people will have to start doing because we can’t keep on throwing stuff away like this. So I think this time I’m going to think a little bit about the quality as well and try to write 2000 reasonable words rather than just 2000 words that come to me on the spur of the moment.

There is of course any amount of paraphernalia associated with Nano: mugs, t-shirts, pens, books, certificates and of course the inevitable Facebook group. I don’t know if I’ll check in with the group much this year, because it seems to be full of people bemoaning the fact that they are behind, or else sprinters who write 75,000 words in their first week and are aiming for 200,000. Why? What will they do with all that verbiage? Is any of it good? It makes me feel tired just thinking about it. Not to mention the fact that they all seem to be writing SF or fantasy. Still, it’s an achievement to write 50,000 words in a month and I salute all who try.

Kirk out

Leave Means Leave Episode 10

Once the course began in earnest there wasn’t much time for socialising. Phyl was a Chemist so they didn’t coincide often in lectures; at first Anna missed her but soon she forgot. People talked about the beauty of the arts, but there was nothing to touch the power and beauty of the physical world. Anna was in her element; if there were texts they went unheeded – mobiles were not allowed, not that anybody wanted them – and for the first time in almost a decade, she was happy. The lecturers were, by and large, entirely open to being questioned over a pub lunch. ‘I love doing these courses,’ said one, ‘you guys are so much more engaged than my usual students.’ Anna reflected that if all went well they’d be joining these usual students; she wondered how that would go.

And then it happened. She’d just come out of a meeting with her tutor and been told that if all went well she’d be accepted in September to finish her degree course. ‘I’m afraid as you didn’t complete your second year you’ll have to repeat that,’ her tutor was saying, but Anna barely heard her. She was coming here in September! She was going to get her degree! Why had she ever let him interrupt it? If she hadn’t, by now she’d be –

No. She heard her mother’s voice again: ye cannae live in might ha’ been! Put yer feet on the ground! That was one of her mother’s favourite phrases; feet on the ground. Anna left her tutor’s office and ran straight into Phyl.

‘Hi! I’ve just been told -‘ she began: the expression on Phyl’s face stopped her dead.

‘Can we talk somewhere?’ Phyl looked deeply troubled.

‘Has something happened?’

‘Not here.’ Phyl looked up and down the corridor. ‘Can we go to my room?’

‘Oh! Of course.’ Anna had never been to Phyl’s room; it turned out to be in a separate block a few minutes’ walk away. As they climbed the stairs it occurred to her to wonder why they weren’t in the same building.

‘I applied late,’ Phyl said, replying to Anna’s unspoken question. ‘This was the only accommodation left.’


‘Oh, I don’t mind. I quite like it, in fact.’

Phyl’s room was bare and cold. Anna sat on a seat by the window; outside you could see only the bins and a store room. Phyl made them both some herbal tea (‘I don’t take caffeine’) and sat in a chair opposite. Then without preamble she said,

‘Have you heard of Munchausen’s by proxy?’


‘It’s a syndrome? Munchausen’s by proxy.’

‘Oh! Yes, I think so. Wasn’t there a woman in the news, a few years back?’

‘Yes. You realise what it is?’

Anna searched her memory for a few scraps of news. ‘It’s hurting others – that’s the proxy part. A compulsion to hurt others.’

Phyl nodded, like a tutor pleased with a student’s answer. ‘Well, I should warn you. I’ve got it.’