Write, dammit!

Tomorrow is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. As an example of mass hysteria, it’s pretty hard to beat. You simply go to the website, register as an offender, and then strive to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days. Many people do this. I know a couple.

However, I am not one of them. I often wish I were, which I know is insane, but I have this secret desire to have written a novel. Notice that I did not say that I hanker actually to write a novel; I just would like to have done it.

I did it once, of course. Back in the Adolescent Lit course we all had to take, we were given a choice of either a) reading and reviewing 70 young adult novels, or b) writing one. Ptttt, I said, if S. E. Hinton can do it, I can do it.

So I did it. Every Sunday morning at church, during the sermon, I’d outline the next chapter, then write it during the week. I think it ended up being fifteen chapters (not counting the “suppressed chapter 13”) and followed the fortunes of some teen members of a community theatre. Go figure.

I still can’t tell whether it’s any good, of course. The kids at ECHS I let read it (not all involved in the theatre, thank you) enjoyed it and clamored for more. The one agent I sent sample chapters off too several years ago returned it with a snippy note saying it wasn’t “creative enough,” whatever that means.

So why not do it again? I had started a sequel. The first one was Twelfth Night, New Day; it balanced the main characters’ emotional lives against the lunacy in Shakespeare’s play. The next one was called I Love You in Earnest, and of course our gang was doing Oscar’s masterpiece. I had decided to see if I could write a teen novel using a quasi-Trollopian discursive style (this was the early 1980s; it’s been done since), and the focus was going to be on a newcomer who was openly gay and how this raised the whole question of who is/who isn’t. You can see how that would dovetail into the whole Wilde/Earnest thing.

I never finished it. Either I lost steam, lost interest, got too busy at the theatre/GHP/whatever. I seem to remember not being able to figure out what would drive the plot; I had used a false alarm over sex in the first one and didn’t want to repeat that gambit. I had some vague idea of our newcomer’s performing an act of perfidy, but I couldn’t pin that down. What on earth could he do that would deserve the name? I didn’t want to involve his sexuality; that was a separate theme.

Anyway, here we are at NaNoWriMo and I envy those people who are going to crank out 1700 words a day. So what’s stopping me from becoming one of them?

The main reason is time, naturally. I have to crank out a dozen more songs before Christmas for Moonlight, and I’m getting nowhere fast on that project. Adding another daily task would be madness. Of course, part of me suspects that I might find my creativity charged by the daily task. Stimulating the brain to knock out the 1700 words every day might carry over to writing of lyrics and/or music. It might.

I could even make it about a guy writing a musical. I could.

Another very real reason, however, is that I don’t really have anything to write about. I know, I could just start writing. No one really writes a novel in November. They just write 50,000 words, which I suppose they wrestle into shape in the months between this November and the next.

But I really don’t have anything to write about, not like the way I have things to compose about. I have ideas and urges for the symphony, for Maila’s trio, for Moonlight, that I just don’t have for characters, plot, theme, and dialog.

There’s also the problem, and it’s personal, that any thing that I write about that looks even half like my life, and what else would I write about other than schools and theatres without having to go research the whole thing, raises immediate suspicions about just how much my characters are me. I’m thinking of our author Z now.

Finally, there’s the problem that I am not really an acute observer of humans, not even myself. In War & Peace, young Nikolai Rostov is finally about to see action in battle. He’s had a run-in with a superior over another superior who stole from his friend Denisov, and sitting on his horse waiting for something to begin, he starts to fret about this superior’s being so near to him and yet ignoring him. Within one paragraph, his mind concocts four different reasons for the man’s behavior. That’s the kind of incisive understanding of how humans work with which Tolstoy fills 1200+ pages and I can’t even imagine.

So, anyone else going to do it?

13 thoughts on “Write, dammit!

  1. This is my first year attempting such a thing and it should be very interesting. I am keeping a daily word count on my blog and I will infrequently post sanity updates on how it is going. I have told a bunch of people that I am working at this and everyone is behind me.

  2. Not me. Not now. For more insights into human nature, I highly recommend Stephen Pinker’s The Blank Slate. Wow.

  3. I would love to, but I also am hindered by time and other projects. Maybe next year…or the next.

  4. Don’t forget that David does this every year, and has religiously for almost a decade (I think). He also structures a class at GHP around it. The point isn’t to turn out a QUALITY novel; it’s simply to turn out 50,000 words. There’s some merit to it: if it doesn’t make you into a better writer, it makes you into a more disciplined one.

    p.s.- I was finally able to fill in the “website” part of the comment. I’m such a geek.

  5. My intervention at this point reflects two seemingly contradictory worlds of thought: Lacan and Deleuze-Guatteri. It reflects Lacan’s formulation of the “not-all” as the feminine logic incompatible, ultimately, with the masculine exceptional notion of “the one” (the phallus). Deleuze-Guatteri certainly mounted a critique of Lacan’s Freud in their project, but the distinction they explore, particularly in Mille Plateau, between the molecular and the molar, also seems relevant here. The Novel offers the usual phallic anxieties. Ho-hum. Let’s pop another cold one and barter with our justifications. At the lacunagroup blog, in the latest post, you will find another option: http://www.lacunagroup.org/blog/
    which can be seen as an entirely different logical approach to the idea of “the work.” Trying here to explore the feminine “not-all” instead of striving for the one culminating thing-the novel-which we are compelled to erect in the phallic absence, and trying to move beyond fixed and quantified molar entity-the novel-into a more molecular and fluid process of becoming something…else.

    Not holding this up as a competing notion. I offer it only because I found it an odd coincidence that I read this post after composing my post. Both posts are fueled by anxieties over the notion of “what to do.” Just a different way of responding

  6. Dale, just a comment about your post no.5. I was laughing as I read your original post and even said to Dawn that if you had continued a little more you could have reached 1700 words explaining how you had nothing to say.

    Believe me, I have had many such days in the past few years.I have half a dozen stories and one play partially done that have been just sitting there for two years. It seems my brain is working differently these days.

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