Wednesday, 24 October 2012

MeNoLikeNo NaNoWriMo

Well, it's almost November again, and that means that the NaNoWriMo hashtag will be soon be appearing on Twitter feeds and Facebook posts all over the English-speaking world.

I'm a writer of sorts, so this is the type of thing that should warm the cockles of my heart, fuel my imagination and cause my "I can type 100 wpm" fingertips to tingle with delight and anticipation.

Should. But doesn't. In fact, I have real problems with NaNoWriMo, and in this post I'll tell you why.

Before I begin...I'm sure that many people will have a fantastically enjoyable month. Some writers may find it beneficial to their work and it may even release untapped creative skill, energy and inspiration. To those people, I can only say: "Well done, and I'm glad you enjoyed the experience."

So, what's your big problem, then, Jane, you may ask yourself. Are you jealous or something?

I don't know if I'm jealous of someone who can write 100,000 words in a month, though I know damn well that I couldn't. This feeling is similar to the non-jealousy I feel about some fool--oh, sorry, I mean person--who runs a marathon. I couldn't do it, so from that perspective a marathon runner has something over on me---big-time. Am I jealous of that person? It's possible, but not very likely.

Back to NaNoWriMo. This event strikes me as something akin to "National Loose a Bunch of Weight Real Fast Month" Yes, rapid weight loss might enable some people to lower dangerously high BMIs. It might encourage other to make permanent healthy lifestyle changes. But for most people, such a month would eventually backfire, the weight would pile back on, and the experience of wild success followed by rapid failure would demoralise and depress, making any real weight even harder to shift.

Of course, with NaNoWriMo, there's no chance of such a reversal. You write the words and nobody takes them away if you don't keep up the momentum (At least, I don't think they do.)

But what happens when an aspiring writer runs out of steam on, say the 10th of the month? Does he or she feel like a loser? Not like a proper "novelist"?  There may be many talented people for whom failure during NaNoWriMo is a real personal defeat. They may not realise that, in fact, writing a novel in a month, is actually quite a daft (if not dangerous) aspiration.

And what about other writers, who are struggling with deadlines, or desperately trying to get a new project off the ground after a submission to an agent or publisher has come back to them, rejected? How do they feel--the blocked, the demoralised--when a million wannabees are posting:  Just nailed my daily 5,000 words!  #nanowrimo

Sick, that's how they feel!

Obviously, I'm being just a tad flippant. Any serious writer would know that  NaNoWriMo is a bit of fun, or use the challenge to push themselves through a stagnant or dormant piece of writing. A real writer wouldn't expect success after only month, or give up if they failed to hit their word-count.

What really bothers me, though, is the way NaNoWriMo seems to present writing as something that anybody can succeed at as long as they write enough words in a short enough time. Of course, many people can write novels, but only with talent, and only after long periods of hard work, diligence and devotion to craft. Similarly, many people can write 100,000 words or so in a month, but the chances of producing something even remotely resembling a "novel" are extremely unlikely.

To me, NaNoWriMo  trivialises both writers and writing.

Maybe I just know too many good writers who are still struggling to get published, or too many authors who've worked for years and years before seeing their work in print. I know the hard slog that real writers put in day after day. To have that dedication and perseverance mocked by an event that makes writing seem like a hobby (buy an official Thermos!), a sport (wear badges and stickers!) or even a  charity (try on a yellow wristbands!) really annoys me.

Yes, anyone can call themselves a writer.That's not new. Grab yourself a notebook and a pen, put on a beret, sit in a cafe.  But to call yourself a novelist? Just because you went on-line, did a lot of typing and used a hashtag?

 That's really #takingthepiss

Friday, 5 October 2012

Write Through This

Sometimes it's hard to be a writer (sung to the tune of "Stand by Your Man" by Tammy Wynette)

OK, let's change that to all the time it's hard to be a writer (doesn't scan very well, but never mind)...

Firstly, there's the self-doubt that needs to be overcome (or at least contained) on a daily basis.

Secondly, there's the ever-present reality of rejection, misunderstandings, dashed or thwarted hopes.

Thirdly, there is the difficulty of getting a piece of work started and the hard slog of getting it finished, edited, polished, submitted...

Not easy. Not for the faint-hearted or the lazy or the insecure.

But there are times when being a writer is made even harder by circumstances well beyond the world of agents and publishers, far outside the processes of drafting, editing, submitting.

There's the day job, for one. For most writers, a paid job is essential. For some writers, work may be a hard physical slog or one that seems menial and soul-destroying.   For others, that day job can be a demanding one like teaching or social work, which are not stressful and time-consuming, but can also use up valuable of creative energy...

And then there are those pesky kids, who are generally more time-consuming (and stress-inducing) than any spell of 9-5!

And if all these things aren't enough of a hindrance to creative work, there are the other difficulties, often invisible to the outside world. There are personal problems--illnesses, relationship issues, financial hardship, worries about children, parents, friends.

Writers may seem to non-writers as people who thrive on conflict and high drama, but what most writers need in order to to flourish and to stay focussed is quiet and calm. What can we do, then, when the "real" world just isn't co-operating.

The answer is, of course, to paraphrase the title of Hole's 1994 album: "Write Through This."

I have never liked the idea of writing as "therapy" (except in certain clinical situations, obviously). I have never written about my own experiences--I was never a journal-keeper or a diary writer, even as a teen. But writing has, at times, been a sanctuary from a turbulent emotional situation or, at least, a place to hide out or lay low for awhile.

Writing can be a safe haven, where the writer can, temporarily, stay in control. It's an escape hatch to a world that can be molded into any shape. And even though it may be hard to write when the world is caving in or the bullets are flying, writing can be a bunker, a suit of armour, a shelter from the storm.