Okay, before I start, sorry this is so late. It was one of those days I felt like just staying in bed. Probably just trying to kick the auto-immune attack, which has gotten better, gotten worse, gotten better and now is worse again. I wish my body would find something more interesting to do than fighting itself, really.
Next, next week I’ll get to to the character that suits the tale, but right now, from talking to a bunch of you off facebook, there’s something else I must talk about. Most of you have finished nano. I didn’t even start because NNWM seems to bring on the “November disaster.” Actually this might not be true, since we got the November mess (not a disaster at least) in the form of doing the last things needed to sell the house, and then the autoimmune attack, which is probably a result of the stress by closing on the house sale. At least that’s what older son — who-is-not-yet-a-doctor and not-practicing-without-a-license, but who has lived with me for over 20 years and knows more of health than I do — says. So I didn’t NANO or even WRIMO. November might be one of those months I sit around reading a lot of depressing mysteries, or something.
However for those of you who did and who are contemplating the results of your efforts in some dismay or, worse, who are betting mobbed by people who know nothing of writing and who tell you a novel written in a month can’t be good — there is no set time to write a novel in. A novel is either good or isn’t good on its own merits, not on the time and effort you put into it. I have very little use for the Marxist theory that labor equals value, and I have even less when it applies to writing. An experienced writer can, if pushed, write a novel in a week that is considerably better than what most inexperienced writers could do in a year.
There is something else about writing, too: you learn by doing. It’s a weird thing, and one I don’t particularly like. Like most people who came through a rigorous academic training, I hate the idea that there’s stuff I can’t learn just by reading about it, memorizing, comparing, analyzing.
When I first took the Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop and they told me that I should trust the process my mental (I’m not stupid enough to say these things out loud, actually) answer was that I’d never met Mr. Process, and why should I trust him.
But writing is a craft, as well as knowledge, and if you’ve ever done any craft at all, you know it’s practice more than anything else that allows you to get those even stitches, or those precise brush strokes.
It’s deceptive because the craft of writing is mostly mental, but it is still a learned and practiced skill.
So, practice is good for writing, but what does that have to do with NANO, other than the obvious fact that getting a novel written in a month allows you fast practice?
Lately I’ve been playing Mah Jong on my tablet to fall asleep. I’ve noticed that if I consciously look for the pieces, it takes me forever and I totally blow the game. However, if I’m playing half-dozing, and just sort of blindly press on pieces that I don’t even remember seeing, I get a game done in an amazingly short time, and without having to reshuffle.
In the same way I’ve said that some of my best work to date has been done when extremely ill, extremely tired, or just for whatever reason not fully me. For instance, my first published short was written while high as a kite on morphine (legally — I’d given birth and was recovering from a uterine infection.) My best paying (in royalties) work was written in three days, and after a concussion, which means I have no memory of writing it. (None. I had to read the novels when I got it, to see what was in it. For the curious, Plain Jane under the house name Laurien Gardner.) My award-winning novel, Darkship Thieves, was — yes — a NANO work.
So, what does that prove? That you should do morphine?
Please don’t, unless you’re in it for some other reason. Though I understand the temptation of writers who get addicted to substances to shut down the critical voice.
But occasional experiments in writing very fast might not be bad for you. (Or me, though I think the only reason I was able — emotionally — to do Plain Jane that fast is because it wasn’t under my name or even my pen name, but a name the house used for several people. I need to get over that, I do. Clearly it was a good work.)
Because writing is craft. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read on how to do it, but when you’re actually writing, you should shut down your critical voice, and just write. You can always fix it in post if you really need it.
I know there’s no way to verify this, though I could post before and after stories, but when I went through my drawer of published and unpublished work, in order, to figure out which could be salvaged to do in e format, I found a huge difference between the stories before I undertook to write a short story a week for a year (while writing novels.)
Before, even with all the time I gave them, were tentative and clumsy. After, even with writing them in three or four hours, they were authoritative and fluent. The difference is almost unbelievable.
So — NANOWRIMO is over but writing isn’t.
Stop reading this and go write.