I am doing nanowrimo this year. Nanowrimo is a project where writers across the globe (or rather across the internet) commit to writing each day in November with the goal of having 50,000 words of a piece of (usually fiction) writing by the end of the month.
The last nanowrimo I took part in was a resounding success – for me anyway – because I wrote the bulk of what became my novella, Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls. I ‘m very proud of that book, and not least because it marks my first completed piece of full, or at least novella length fiction. I, like many of you I expect, have sat around in various bedrooms and living rooms through my life, imagining myself as a novelist. Of writing THAT book. Of being A WRITER. Like ‘Jonathan’ in Teddy Thompson’s song, I have spent almost as much time in those same bedrooms and living rooms with nothing to show for my fantasy. For that is what it often is.
It’s not that now, having written my novella I am full of confidence, or of self-worth based on my secure identity as ‘writer’. I still sit around dreaming, chewing my proverbial pencil, and not making my ideas into tangible characters and stories. I still feel like a failure as a writer relatively often. But I have a kind of reference point, a starting block. I know what it feels like and looks like to write a book of fiction. I know I can do it again. But. Well. I am not sure I can do it this November. 50,000 words are stubbornly refusing to flow from my fingers and my mind. Ideas are falling flat on their faces. Metaphors are flying too near to the sun and coming crashing down in front of me. This time, nanowrimo is as hard as it was natural last time, as frustrating as it was enjoyable, as disappointing as it was satsifying.
I am quite an ‘all or nothing’ person with creative writing. This contrasts with my approach to other aspects of life, such as work, and even non-fiction blogging, where I tend to plod along, keep doing it, until something valuable appears. But with fiction (and poetry) I am impatient, wild, lazy, moody, dramatic, non-commital, insecure. Maybe a bit like how I am in ‘romantic’ relationships. And you may guess I’m not exactly brilliant at them.
So rather than do what I have done before, and throw a strop, chuck my writing implements at the wall, and storm off into the sunset, I have come up with a couple of ways to keep at it, to plod along, when I am really not feeling it. The things I am doing instead of giving up nanowrimo are:
1) Keeping a journal. I started writing a journal this summer, when something happened to me that just had to be written down. And I realised the writing down helped me deal with what was happening. So I carried on writing things down, events, thoughts, feelings, tweets, conversations, the occasional idea, all in the privacy of my notebook. Now I am onto book three and this journal-writing lark has become a habit.
2) Practising Mindfulness I have been aware with some of the principles of meditation for a long time. I have done a little bit (before throwing one of my strops and giving up) and read round the philosophy it is part of. Mindfulness, a key aspect of meditation, is ‘paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience’. So far I mainly practise it on my walk to and from work. I pass through a park and make a point of slowing down (my sister often complains I walk too fast) and noticing what is around me – the changing colours of the autumn leaves, a shock of cold air, a man placing a poppy wreath on a memorial. And I am already feeling some beneficial effects. I am beginning to notice I am less stressed, and more leaning towards feelings of contentment, sometimes even joy. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, some of which has the potential to bring me down. So mindfulness is one strategy I have found for staying, wherever possible, up.
3) Being social Another tendency I have as a writer, and a person (there is only one of me), is obsessiveness. I personally don’t think that is such a bad thing. Foucault’s Daughter wouldn’t exist without my obsession and my ability to spend long periods of time focused on one thing. But once I get into a project, a thought, a book, a PhD, I find I lose track of other people sometimes. My need for human contact, and my responsibilities to my friends and family. So, whilst I am not gripped with The Best Idea In The World, I am making sure I get out and see people. So if and when inspiration does strike, I hope I will have built in some kind of social life, in the new place I am living and working, and elsewhere. And who knows? Maybe some of my social interactions will find their way into my stories. Don’t worry I won’t tape our conversations. But well, you know what writers are like. Everything is material to us.
So if you’re doing nanowrimo, but aren’t doing it, maybe these notes will help you get out and stay out of the rut. Or maybe you have some tips for me. I would love to hear how you deal with that lack of spark when it inevitably descends.