November 28, 2016 · 9:41 am
I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month–National November Writing Months–that thing where you try to write a 50 000-word novel in a month. It’s good to write a full novel again. But it also reminds me how excruciating the process of creation actually is.
The minute you try put that thing in your head down on paper, it just sits there dry and lifeless and so, so far from what it was meant to be. The idea you had was good. That’s why you started writing it. But the reality of your ability to communicate this idea with others destroys all your joy in the idea.
The excellent thing about NaNoWriMo, and things like it, is that it forces you to keep writing despite your despair over your writing. If you’re going to churn out fifty thousand words, you can’t stop and mope. I think more than once in my past I’ve given up because my new project’s writing was objectively horrible, without continuing to work through to the reality that this horribleness only lessens if you keep creating. You can’t always think rationally about what will make your idea come to life. You’ve got to live with your idea and work it out, and somehow that breathes life into it.
As creators and artists, we’ve got to live with the reality there will always be a gap between the ideal in our heads and what we produce. This is usually good–it’s this awareness of that gap that drives us to keep improving our skill. To keep getting better. Until maybe one day we do produce something good.
In the meantime we do have to face the dragons of depression that come with creation. And it often is real, dark depression-y feelings, not a mild approximation of depression. A few thousand words in to this novel this month and I was absolutely miserable. I was only destroying what I had in my head, poisoning even the original idea I’d loved so much.
Then I wrote a few words that were maybe a little bit good.
And so I know it’s worth it to keep fighting to get that idea out. Failing at getting what’s in your head out in the world feels worse than never trying, but it’s only though grappling with your own thoughts, painfully facing your own limitations, that your idea develops. After all, not working with your ideas leads to depression too.
I’m getting close to the end of NaNoWriMo now, and close to the end of the fifty thousand word goal I’d set for myself. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near the actual end of my story. So it looks like I’ll have to force myself to stay in my writing habit after all!
Have a great November, guys! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo too–may you have the strength to finish! Comment below on whether you’ve enjoyed creation–or just comment on what you think about the process of creation in general.
June 13, 2014 · 4:33 pm
Remember back in November I said I managed to spew out 50,000 words in a month in order to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Well, I may not have mentioned those were handwritten words, so really my total of 50,000 was a guesstimate. I have recently been occupied in typing these words up. And the result… well, do you think I over- or under-estimated?
Over. Definitely over. I’ve hit 46,000 words and I still have a third of the manuscript to go. Which leads to the question – why on earth would I use such an inefficient method of writing? I mean, handwriting? Hasn’t that gone out with the dark ages? They don’t even teach that to some school kids anymore!
Well, let’s bring in the authority of the New York Times on this issue, through their article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” I’ve written before about how I feel less creative typing, and how handwriting helps me to actually connect to my subject. Turns out there’s actually some scientific indications that this is not just a weird anomaly that occurs only in me.
According to the study quoted in the article, children who wrote text by hand not only produced more words (hello to me overachieving on my NaNoWriMo word count!), but also expressed more ideas (hello to the fact I feel more creative handwriting!). The article ends by quoting psychologist Paul Bloom as saying, “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important. Maybe it helps you think better.”
As I said in my previous post, “My theory is that typing and handwriting use different parts of the brain, and in me only one of them is linked to creativity.” Wouldn’t it be neat if I wasn’t completely off-base? But then – what does this mean for technology? Are our computers soul-sucking beasts that are slowly draining away all of our society’s creativity?
I think not – to some extent the dulling effects of technology can be overcome. I can write far better by typing than I used to, though my fiction still comes out sounding wooden. More practiced authors, especially those raised on computers, will strengthen the brain’s creativity-into-typed-words pathway even more than I have. But hey, maybe someday someone will do a survey of all this century’s ‘greatest’ literature and find none of them have been typed – who knows? Get a scientist to research that.
So if you ever find yourself faced with a blinking screen and a bad case of writer’s block, why not try writing something the old-fashioned way? You might surprise yourself.
January 11, 2014 · 11:21 am
“A writer—someone once said—is a person for whom writing is difficult.”
– peptalk from Lev Grossman, during Nanowrimo
A writer with real genius makes writing a book look easy. When you read the book, you don’t feel all the blood and sweat and tears the author poured into the manuscript – you just follow a good story. Which leads to a persistent belief of writers that writing itself should be easy too. That, when the words just aren’t flowing, something must be wrong with you, as a writer.
I always get discouraged when writing gets difficult. Sometimes ideas just flow, and you know what you want a story to be – but when you sit down and write it, you just can’t squeeze out the words. Every sentence is agony, and you just think, at this rate, this novel will take ten years to finish. And then you give up.
But writing is difficult, and that’s okay – you are a writer as long as you keep stringing one word after the other. Not because you find it easy to do so. But because you keep trying to do it. (And it’s always comforting to know “real” writers don’t define themselves by how easily the words flow for them either.)
So I’ve got to break out of my procrastination funk I’ve fallen into since finishing my NaNoWriMo novel! I’ve barely written anything (because Christmas is so busy, I told myself), and haven’t edited anything at all. So hopefully I can do better!
My writing goals for this year:
- type and edit my Nanowrimo novel, and decide whether it’s worth showing the world or not
- write something new
- edit and publish some old stuff that I feel pretty sure is worth publishing, but which I haven’t gotten around to yet
How about you – any writing or reading goals for the new year?
December 1, 2013 · 12:30 pm
I finished my 50 000 novel. Yay! However, I clearly thought I could keep up with my novel and post regularly on this blog as well, and that… didn’t go as smoothly. But here’s a post to remind all you lovely readers that I have not forgotten you. 🙂
I learned quite a few things from writing a novel in a month (something I never doubted I could do, but still, something I’d just never done before). However, I’ll just outline two things here:
1.) It’s true you don’t have to feel inspired to write. Sit down with a pen and paper (if you’re like me and still write by hand… otherwise, sure, pull out that laptop), and write something. It might be terrible strings of words. But so often, after a couple of pages of absolutely awful prose, you put down a scene that it actually good. Something that connects with what you actually meant to be writing all along. And you can put down your pen at the end and feel good about writing after all.
Forcing yourself to write a novel in a month really drives this lesson home.
2.) Number one is still true. At the same time – every once in a while there are days where you just cannot write. I think I had only one or two days where, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my word count for the day. There are days where your brain just doesn’t work properly for some reason.
BUT, the important thing to remember is – you can’t predict a good writing day versus a bad one ahead of time! Many days I thought would be bad turned out to be productive. So the trick is, as so many other writers have emphasized, is to just write every day. Even if those terrible, blocked days do actually exist, and make a writer’s life miserable… the good days absolutely make up for it.
By the way, my writer’s profile on the NaNoWriMo site is here, if you’re interested. Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? And if you did, did you learn anything?
November 4, 2013 · 9:43 pm
Since I’m plugging along through NaNoWriMo at the moment, I thought it’d be appropriate to share this lovely illustration from the New York Times that a friend shared with me. Let’s hope there’s not too many unresolved subplots and plots holes in this manuscript, but hey – I guess that’s all part of NaNoWriMo, huh?
The Story Coaster, from the New York Times