At the start of the day my intentions were clear: no writing today. I was ahead of myself with Nano, so no need to do that, I could just write a gentle blog post, do the crossword and have a cup of tea, after which the day could unfold as it wished. Well, what it wished was for me to begin a whole new story, using the title of a previous story but taking it in a whole ‘nother direction. And bang! Before I knew it I’d written an extra 2,000 words.
So that’s all good.
Next I thought I’d go out and deliver some leaflets for the election. What could possibly go wrong? Well, apart from the paranoid image I have of coming across some Tory householder who would release the hounds in the manner of Monty Burns, not much surely? Yet I’d not delivered two leaflets before I turned into the drive of a nearby house behind a hedge and stopped dead at what I saw.
Though there’s no sign outside I know this place to be a shelter for asylum-seekers, so when I saw a man covered in tattoos and wielding a cricket bat, you can imagine what thoughts went through my mind.
I whipped straight back home and called the police, first locking the door and checking that I hadn’t been followed. I told the woman what I’d seen and she said they’d send an officer to investigate. Resisting the urge to ask ‘will you let me know?’ like Tony Hancock donating blood, I put the phone down and carried on with my day. But I was curious to know what the outcome was. And that I think is the key to the success of ‘true crime’ programmes – because you get to know the outcome whereas in real life you usually don’t have a clue. Unless it’s a big case which is reported in the paper, you generally don’t find out what happened. I suspect what happened in this case is that the man with the cricket bat had scarpered long before the police got there. Either that or he was arrested. Or possibly cautioned. Or none of the above. I just don’t know.
Aaaand today’s incomprehensible Nano phrases are: ‘my 4thewords referral code is *******. Use to get us both extra crystals on signup,’ and ‘the official Nano team offers a two-week extension as 4thewords is a sponsor and I’m going to include the code here.’ Wow. Extra crystals eh?
Words fail me. Well, they don’t but you know what I mean. What the hell is all this stuff about? I know people use it to motivate themselves but what would I want with a picture of a crystal (for I assume that’s what it is) or even extra crystals? What even is a crystal anyway? Probably some collection of pixels that sparkles in your inbox. I don’t need that.
*Sigh*. I guess I shouldn’t criticise these things if they help others,but sometimes you wonder how Virginia Woolf or Emily Bronte managed to string two words together without the aid of certificates and crystals and the ever-incomprehensible Save the Cat Beats. (I still can’t get my head around that one.) Sometimes I wonder whether hardship can actually be a spur to the determined writer; when I think about how some women wrote in cold rooms with zero encouragement – sometimes being positively discouraged from writing, that’s all the crystals I need. Crystals of frost on the window-pane perhaps…
But some people on the Nano group are doing this against incredible odds, staying up till the early hours, writing with children on their lap, battling discouragement from family and ‘friends’ – it never ceases to amaze me how many people there are who would never dream of doing Nano but have no hesitation in discouraging those who are. As the saying goes, ‘blowing your candle out does not make mine burn brighter.’
I am officially half-way through Nano in terms of words, at 25,000. Actually that’s not strictly true as I wrote 2,000 before the first of November so at 27,000 I’ll be half-way there. Or should that be 26,000 as I’ll be aiming for 52?
Well. How’s it going? I hear you cry. And why not? It is actually going a whole lot better than I thought it would; when I was writing ‘Tapestry’ I set myself a goal of 750 words a day and that was a struggle, but at the moment this stuff is flowing like the floodwater currently making so many people’s lives a misery (our daughter lives in Doncaster and I’ve been messaging her constantly but she assures us that they’re not in the danger zone.) It feels like one of those balls you can get made with rods and – hang on, I’ll find a video as I don’t know how to excribe it, as Holly used to say.
Yeah. One of these:
Whoa, that’s scary!
So yeah, it feels a little like that, pushing ever outwards to explore the natural limits of the form where everything’s stretched to the limit. But we’re nowhere near that yet.
Actually ‘excribe’ is not such a bad synonym for ‘describe’ at least in terms of written description. A born poet, that girl.And I wonder what The Maze will turn out to be like? If recent videos are anything to go by she’ll be talking before long.
Dishwasher is being plumbed in today. I look forward to no more complaints about the washing up: instead we’ll have moans about having to empty or stack the bloody thing…
It’s week two of Nano, and I’m up to 18,000 words or thereabouts, but I have a problem. It’s this: I’ve begun a story about an illegal immigrant, someone trafficked from a war-zone in Africa (haven’t decided what part and that’s another problem) with the promise of work. Her one thought is to send money home so her mother and aunt can buy medicine, but she ends up in a freezer-trailer where she and a hundred others nearly freeze to death and is then taken to a nail bar (this may have to be altered as I think nail-bar slaves are mostly East Asian, but I want her to be somewhere public where she can look out on the world but at the same time be invisible.)
The problem is this: not so much ‘getting the voice right’ which I think I can do, but whether it’s OK to do this in the first place. Is it inherently patronising to presume to write in that voice about experiences I haven’t had? On the whole I think yes, because fiction is about the use of imagination, and if I can put myself into the position of a homeless man why not an African slave?
But politics is a tricky business. And so I ask myself, suppose a man were to write in a woman’s voice, would I think that was ‘appropriation’? Or, if it were done well, would I be pleased that a man had been able to empathise so closely with female experience?
Take Phillip Pullman (I hope you’re all watching the excellent ‘His Dark Materials’ on Sunday nights.)Not only is his main character a girl, he also has a number of well-rounded female characters who are powerful in their own right: Marisa Coulter, the witches of the North and women like Hannah Relf who heads Oakley Street, an anti-Magisterium organisation. The women in his books are neither evil (as they almost always are in CS Lewis) nor wholly benevolent but individuals in their own right, wielding power for good or ill. There’s no suggestion of tokenism; no feeling that he thinks ‘I must put a woman in here’ – it all appears to be part of his world-view, for which I salute him. Therefore, to return to my book, if the African woman wants to come into the story I should let her (and yes, I’m aware that ‘African’ is far too general and that I need to give her a specific country, culture and context. Which I will.)
I’m back on Facebook for the duration of Nanowrimo and I’ve been invited to join The Apostrophe Protection Society. I’m pleased people care about this abused and endangered little creature who is so prostituted that she’s paraded everywhere there’s an ‘s’ in sight or wherever two vowels together might indicate a need: the latest example being ‘agre’ed’. Horrors! This poor little mite is now so exhausted that I think she ought to be laid to rest for a few millennia.
In other news I’ve written 9,500 words so far in Nano, so I’m bang on target. To simplify matters I’m going for 3000 words a day which makes me slightly ahead and gives a bit of wiggle room if I have an off-day or a crisis. And it’s easier to add up. I’m going for 11,000 today, 14,000 tomorrow – and by the end of the week I should be on 21,000. But we’ll see.It’s kinda fun being on the Nano Facebook group, swapping ideas and so on, but I do find some folk very fixated on The Stuff. There’s a whole industry around Nano; not only the writing programmes and ‘aids’ but certificates (one person was grumbling that they couldn’t download their 1600-word certificate) t-shirts, mugs, motivational calendars, apps and god-knows-what else. Actually I was quite tempted by this mug but slapped my wrist before I could send off for it as I have to save all my money for our new dishwasher.
For this is now live! Which is to say that, following the plumber’s visit this morning and the announcement that they won’t have to drill through the wall to install a waste pipe, Project Dishwasher is Go! It will make a great difference to our daily lives and I was relieved to read in the Ethical Consumer (and other places) that for a family of four it’s usually better environmentally than washing up by hand – at least if you get one with a good energy rating. Which we will.
One of the great obstacles to writing is Thinking You’re On The Wrong Tack. You bimble along and then suddenly stop, putting a hand to your mouth. ‘This isn’t what I wanted to write at all!’ you cry. So you try to get back to the original vision but of course it’s faded, so the temptation at this point is to Give Up – and if you’re new to the terrible business of writing you may think ‘I can’t do this. I’m not a writer; a real writer would know what they’re doing…’ But sticking to one idea is like canalising a running stream; as Blake says, ‘expect poison from the standing water.’You have to go with the flow, even if the flow seems to be taking you somewhere else entirely.
But the flow is one thing; a flood is another, and what we see is that in Nano as in sport, overachievement is now a virtue; pushing yourself to the limit ‘and beyond’ is the new normal. For example; someone on the Nano Facebook group has already done 50,000 words. Just let that sink in for a moment: after only three days (or if they’re on the other side of the world, four) this person has written 50,000 words. That’s nearly 17,000 words a day, more than a thousand words an hour which I think counts as hypergraphia.And are they happy with their achievement? Are they satisfied? Content? Kicking back to enjoy the rest of the month? Nope – in fact they’re planning on doing 500,000 words in November. Five hundred thousand words. In one month. That’s more than sixteen thousand words a day or – assuming you work ten hours a day – about 1700 words an hour.
When do people rest?
What’s lost in this treadmill of constant production and achievement is not only rest but reflection. Nothing in nature produces continuously (or if so, it’s very short-lived) everything has its time and there are always periods of dormancy when nothing seems to be happening.
But in this society you are what you do. And we can’t allow that, can we?
PS if you’re interested I’ve written 720 words so far today.
How’s your day so far? Mine has been very productive; I started with an access of zeal, what with it being the first day of Nano, and it went uphill from there. So far I’ve written 762 words and I need to get to 2,883 so there’s a way to go yet, but I’ve decided to do it in three short bursts (could be 2, or 4. But 5 is right out…) anyway, it’s been flowing quite well so that’s a good start. One thing that helped me a lot was the Nano Facebook group. It was worth joining for the sharing and support; November can be a lonely month as you bash out your three thousand words (give or take) on your lonely laptop and I wanted to run an idea past my fellow Nano-ers. Often I find myself writing planning notes which then turn into semi-sentences and often bloom into full paragraphs. So my question to my fellows was: do you/should you include any or all of these words in your total count? The responses were very positive and encouraging, so I went right ahead and included them all.
There’s something about the number three today. This morning’s reading included this thought:
Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
I thought that was brilliant, and at the end of the post Richard Rohr (for it was he) encouraged us to return to these thoughts several times throughout the day. So I shall now do this.
Mm. That was good.If you want to get these meditations in your inbox you can sign up here.Anyway, back to Nano. So far I have titles for about eight stories in the collection – working title ‘Side of a Bus’ – all of which are related to Brexit but which actually have little or nothing to do with that subject. Anyway, I shall come back to this post and update it throughout the day, so keep checking back! Comments are appreciated, especially encouraging ones.
Kirk on hold…aaaaaaand I’m back. I’ve done my 3,000 words today (give or take) and it actually wasn’t too bad. Whether I can keep this up next week remains to be seen, but for now I’m off to fold leaflets and stuff envelopes at Labour Party HQ.