This years Nanowrimo (the annual event in which writers attempt to write a novel (or 50,000 words of one) in the month of November, hence NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth) was my best attempt yet. I managed 6000 words or, to put it another way, 12%. Neither way of expressing it sounds particularly good. In binary terms; I failed. But like I said, it was my best failure yet. Two years ago I managed to write zero words, as it coincided with my wedding. 50,000 words in 30 days is 1666 words a day so by the time I got back from my honeymoon I was 11,662 words behind schedule but, on the other hand, I was successfully married. Last year my Nanowrimo effort was even worse than zero. Instead of writing something new I spent the month editing a novel I had already written, so my output, while un-quantified, would have actually been a negative. 6000 words seems pretty good by comparison.
Nonetheless, a fail is a fail. What went wrong this time? I started learning how to drive. A good chunk of my time and almost all of my brain power was taken up with it. Every time I sat down to write all I could think was ‘clutch then brake or brake then clutch?’ or ‘second gear when approaching a junction or when leaving a junction?’ or ‘when does the blind spot get checked in mirror-signal-maneuver?’ Before I knew it I was off to Yahoo answers to get the info I needed to tackle these pressing concerns and the flashing cursor of my unwritten 50,000 words flashed away unseen.
What I have discovered about driving, in my limited experience of the task, is that it is all about multi-tasking. Coordinating your eyes, hands and feet all at once. You know what I am good at? Mono-tasking. Multi-tasking does not come naturally. At one point I was making so much effort to do all the different things that need to be done at once – pedals, blind spot, mirrors, indicators – I forgot to steer. My instructor, cool as a cucumber, just says ‘Now Toby, what have you forgotten to do?’ as I drifted across two lanes of traffic toward a brick wall. This driving lark might take some time.
It’s really got in the way of my reading too. I have spent more time reading the highway code, as well as endless pages of contradictory information about driving on Yahoo Answers, than a decent novel. Yahoo Answers, I have discovered, is not necessarily a good place for solid information. But this is just more evidence to support my claim to being a good mono-tasker. Currently I am learning to drive. Everything else has to wait. Nanowrimo never stood a chance.
But the 6000 words I have written are not going away and the other 44,000 will get written at some point. The thing that appeals to me about Nanowrimo is the acceptance that care-free nonchalance is the only way you can possibly write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you are going to make it (and I probably never will, but bear with me,) you simply have to hurl words at the screen. You have to hurl them and move on. There’s no time for reading them back again. That’s a sure fire way to start editing. What Nanowrimo does is give you a chance to create a lump of raw material, a shapeless mass, which can be sculpted in to shape later. It’s a bad habit perhaps, but I edit as I write. What I did this November (and do feel free to disregard anything I say as my Nanowrimo, as plainly stated above, is a threepeat of failure) is to just write notes. Sometimes it would be one line about what the scene needs to be. Sometimes it would be one liner of amusing dialogue, or a character note. Sometimes I would get writing and a whole lump of something would emerge. I didn’t start at the beginning and work through it chronologically. I just dropped the cursor somewhere close to where felt right and jotted things down. I’ll fix it later.
I’m quite enjoying this new way of working. The last novel I wrote was written with strict chronology, and it was a real headache. I think you can even feel the passing of the years in the prose. That’s not a good thing. What I am doing now feels organic and free flowing. Even if it isn’t flowing very freely because, even as I write this, I am trying to remember the order of things you have to do when you start a car.