I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge where I attempt to create a first draft of a 50,000 word novel by writing just over 1500 words each day.. It’s a horrible and wonderful experience, but I’m learning a lot. For example, I am starting to understand the appeal of procrastinating on one creative project by working on a different one. I still want to write today, I just need to write something, anything else for a few minutes. I’ve even felt an inclination to start drawing again which is probably the creative equivalent of an actuary creating an excel spreadsheet with dynamic formatting to track study hours before actually beginning a study session.
So here’s a little distraction, about my distraction. More meta is more better, right?
I’ve been interested in writing fiction since I was a little kid. When I was in elementary school, being fed a steady diet of humanist science fiction from my father’s bookshelf, I told everyone that I wanted to grow up to be either a writer or a scientist. That was all I knew; books and science, and books about science. So I started writing The Best Novel Ever when I was in second or third grade. Surprisingly, it featured a female protagonist who was slightly crazy, not a hint of science, and only a slight wisp of fantasy. I was writing it because it was a book I wanted to read, instead of what I was being offered by my parents and teachers.
My work was kept entirely in composition notebooks under my bed. I remember keeping them slightly secret, using my allowance money to buy the notebooks and pencils. I almost exclusively used Ticonderoga pencils, which went for a premium in my elementary school classrooms when we let people borrow writing utensils. I think it’s also important to point out that the notebooks were all different colors, this was the mid nineties after all. Teal, and fuchsia, and hot orange were featured prominently. College ruled paper was sought but rarely located and treasured dearly when procured. I went through at least six notebooks total. There were a lot of drawings, maps, diagrams, rewrites, imaginary newspaper articles, letters written between my characters, a lot of random junk packed in there. I don’t want to give the impression that I had actually written 600 pages of story.
Despite my alleged interest in writing, this was the only novel I ever tried to write.
By sixth grade, I was still occasionally building the world where the story took place, but I had become overwhelmed by writing out boring plot points, and I was starting to appreciate just how long it might take to write a full novel. By the time I hit seventh grade, I was pretty squarely in the science camp, having observed that science and math were easier than writing well.
When my boyfriend wanted to participate in nanowrimo, I knew that he would have a better chance at sticking to the writing schedule if I was also writing with him. He wouldn’t have to feel like a kid stuck at home doing his homework, while I was going out to movies and stuff. I pretended at brainstorming for a little while, tossing around a few other story ideas ideas, silly things like rewriting the plot of that horrible Dracula Retold movie, or something random like a trashy romance novel. The entire time, it was pretty clear in my mind that I would be using the foundation I had built when I was younger.
The main female character, the map of the town she lives in, the floor plan of the house her parent’s built, and many other world building details have remained materially unaltered since conception. It took me only a few minutes to redraw the town map the moment I needed it. Some of these details have been living inside me my entire life. These ideas are all embarrassingly stupid. I have never felt so proud of doing something so poorly. But that’s the entire point.
Nanowrimo is an exercise in trying to finish something, not in trying to do something perfectly. It’s alright for me to simultaneously be proud of my work and wish that I had done a better job. As a consummate perfectionist, this is something of a paradigm shift, and I can’t wait to apply this perspective to other parts of my life. This could be the beginning of doing a lot things poorly…