November 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 23 - Just As I've Feared

Number of words translated today: 11,170.
Number of NaNoWriMo novel words written today: 160.
Barton Fink failing to write
Oh well, there's always the weekend. Or next month. Or next year.

November 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 22 - All is lost (?)

There's hardly a writer, or any other user of a word processor, this has not happened to. You spend several hours writing something and then, due to some technical malfunction or human error, it's all gone. You try to restore it with every possible means at your disposal - technological, mental, spiritual, necromantic - but it is hopeless, your great burst of writing, its value heightened by its very loss, is gone forever.
This is exactly what happened to me last night - three hours of vigorous writing wiped out by a single moment of distraction. Then I naturally attempted to create exactly what I have written, with only partial success - the scenes are all there, but certain words and images still elude me. And of course, as I kept telling myself, if I was writing longhand or using a typewriter this could not have happened.
Miguel de Unamuno at his desk
This whole ordeal naturally led me to think of my numerous literary predecessors. In a certain way, I was my own person from Porlock, irretrievably disrupting the flow of words, just as that unnamed character had disrupted Coleridge's composition of Kubla Khan. A closer and more prosaic story involves the fate of the first volume of Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, which was accidentally burned by John Stuart Mill's maid, forcing Carlyle to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.
Finally, of course, the attempt to rewrite the exact same words another has written before brings to mind the Borges story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (you may argue with me whether or not the person who wrote the first version of those lost thousand words is the same person as the one who wrote the second version; you will certainly grant me that the latter is somewhat more bitter, if none wiser).

So naturally yesterday's NaNoWriMo session did not amount to as much as it could have, and then today I was called back to a big translation project which will probably keep me very busy for the next few days or weeks, so it seems I won't reach the 50,000 word goal but, as I mentioned in my previous posts, I think this undertaking has already done a lot for this particular project and for my writing in general.

November 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 21 - Pinter on Writing

Some words on writing from Harold Pinter's speech upon being awarded the German Shakespeare Prize (1970):
The language used, the opinions given, the approvals and objections engendered by one's work happen in a sense outside one's actual experience of it, since the core of that experience consists in writing the stuff. I have a particular relationship with the words I put down on paper and the characters which emerge from them which no one else can share with me...
I believe myself that when a writer looks at the blank of the word he has not yet written, or when actors and directors arrive at a given moment on stage, there is only one proper thing that can take place at that moment, and that that thing, that gesture, that word on the page, must alone be found, and once found, scrupulously protected...
...You create the word and in a certain way the word, in finding its own life, stares you out, is obdurate, and more often than not defeats you. You create the characters and they prove to be very tough. They observe you, their writer, warily...
I am aware, sometimes, of an insistence in my mind. Images, characters, insisting upon being written. You can pour a drink, make a telephone call or run round the park, and sometimes succeed in suffocating them. You know they're going to make your life hell. But at other times they're unavoidable and you're compelled to try to do them some kind of justice. And while it may be hell, it's certainly for me the best kind of hell to be in.

November 20, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 20 - The Present and the Future

As far as I'm concerned NaNoWriMo has already achieved its purpose, I'm engaged with my novel on a daily basis, I've made significant progress, and I've already written a lot more than I would have written in this time if I was not participating in it. I'm still going to try to reach that 50,000 word goal, but given my current rate of about 1,500 words a day (which is actually pretty great when compared to previous successful writing streaks) and the gap between where I currently am and where I should have been by now (a pretty steady 10,000 words for the last week or so), chances are that's not going to happen.
J. M. Coetzee writing
I assume I'll be taking a break at the end of the month and turn to reading (I've hardly read anything other than short stories and articles since the month began; Coetzee's Summertime is at the top of my list) for at least a couple of weeks, then return to the material and hopefully complete a first readable draft (as opposed to the pre-first, or zero draft I'm currently composing) within a few weeks. Then it's revise revise and revise until I can't stand to look at it anymore.

November 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 19 - E. M. Forster

A few words from E.M. Forster about basing characters on people you know:

We all like to pretend we don’t use real people, but one does actually. I used some of my family... In no book have I got down more than the people I like, the person I think I am, and the people who irritate me. This puts me among the large body of authors who are not really novelists and have to get on as best they can with these three categories. We have not the power of observing the variety of life and describing it dispassionately. There are a few who have done this. Tolstoy was one, wasn’t he?

...A useful trick is to look back upon such a person with half-closed eyes, fully describing certain characteristics. I am left with about two-thirds of a human being and can get to work. A likeness isn’t aimed at, and couldn’t be obtained, because a man’s only himself amid the particular circumstances of his life and not amid other circumstances... When all goes well, the original material soon disappears, and a character who belongs to the book and nowhere else emerges.

November 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 18 - Over, Under and Around

So turns out I was wrong. I didn't work on chapter 2 yesterday, since at some point I decided I would have to do some more research and take some more notes before I understand exactly what I want it to include and/or achieve. I did, however, make a lot of progress on chapter 3. The point, I guess, is that I have to choose my battles, and while writing will probably always be a struggle (for me, at least), sometimes when I find myself constantly avoiding a certain chapter or scene I have to recognize that it's because I'm not ready to write them just yet (this is not always easy to tell apart from my natural tendency towards procrastination).
John Gardner writing
This sort of thing has happened before, with my first novel, and often delayed me for weeks or months, due to the linear and cumulative structure of that work, which did not allow me to skip ahead and work on a different part. The novel I'm currently working on is a bit looser and "jazzier" (a term borrowed from John Gardner's The Art of Fiction) so I am able to move about the various sections a little more freely.

P.S. If I wasn't doing NaNoWriMo this month I probably would have written something about Ben Greenman's article in The Daily Beast: Hey, That's My Line, and perhaps somehow applied it to my writing. Maybe I'll get to it in December.

November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 17

I think part of the problem in recent days had been the fact that I've been going back and forth, writing whatever scene I felt like and not really bothering to bring the whole thing together yet. while this was a good tactic to reach the almost 20,000 words I already have, I think now I should turn to putting all of these things in order and filling out the missing scenes in a more methodical manner.
I think chapter 1 is pretty much the way it's going to stay until I move towards reviewing the complete draft, today it's time to tackle chapter 2.
“I did not believe political directives could be successfully applied to creative writing . . . not to poetry or fiction, which to be valid had to express as truthfully as possible the individual emotions and reactions of the writer.” - Langston Hughes

November 16, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 16 - An Experiment with Time

Where does the time go?

I'm almost 10,000 words behind where I should be so today I'm going to try something new - never-ending pressure. Once I'm done with all my errands and translation work, I'm going to keep meticulous track of my writing, reporting back to this blog every hour or so to see how I've advanced and/or wasted my time doing other stuff.
  1. Starting point long delayed, due to translation work and other distractions. Nevertheless, about an hour into actual writing I'm up 400 words. I think I'll move to my friendly neighborhood coffee house soon.
  2. Coffee House tactic seems to be working, up 700 more words. I think I'll order another whiskey.
  3. 500 more words at coffee house, though I feel I'm running out of steam, perhaps time for a change of scenery.
  4. Calling it a night (at 4:38 AM) after 1,700 words. At least I surpassed the 1667 word minimum. Seems this constant pressure thing isn't any more effective than regular pressure, or perhaps it should be applied on less distracted days. Tomorrow looks pretty free. Wish me luck.

November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 15 - Half way?

It's day 15, which means by now I should have about 25,000 words written; in reality I have about 17,000 words, which is a little over a third. If I write 2200 words a day I should be able to finish on time, and that strikes me as doable, though I'd much rather have a couple of more 3500+ days to compensate for some future days I might not be feeling it.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez at his desk
I also feel like the novel will be much longer than 50,000 words (which would be a novella anyway, remember this post?) perhaps even longer than my previous novel (73,000 words), and it's making me think up of tactics for the future. Though reaching the 50K word count seems seems to be the right goal now, I think that at some point I'll have to stop, look back on the whole thing with a far more critical eye, and examine my notes to see how much the project has mutated since its first inception, and whether that's good or bad. For now, however, it's full speed ahead.

November 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 14 - "Write fast and get through it"

You might consider him an unlikely source for writerly wisdom and inspiration, but Hunter S. Thompson knew how to twist and turn words (and reality) to suit his own needs, and how to crank out the pages.
My theory for years has been to write fast and get through it. I usually write five pages a night and leave them out for my assistant to type in the morning.
[asked about writers who claim they can't write under the influence of drugs or alcohol]
They lie. Or maybe you've been interviewing a very narrow spectrum of writers. It's like saying, “Almost without exception women we've interviewed over the years swear that they never indulge in sodomy”—without saying that you did all your interviews in a nunnery. Did you interview Coleridge? Did you interview Poe? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or Mark Twain? Or Fred Exley? Did Faulkner tell you that what he was drinking all the time was really iced tea, not whiskey? Please. Who the fuck do you think wrote the Book of Revelation? A bunch of stone-sober clerics?
[asked about opening lines of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas]
[...] something else was written first, chronologically, but when I wrote that . . . well, there are moments . . . a lot of them happen when nothing else is going right . . . when you're being evicted from the hotel a day early in New York or you've just lost your girlfriend in Scottsdale. I know when I'm hitting it. I know when I'm on. I can usually tell because the copy's clean. [...] I never sit down and put on my white shirt and bow-tie and black business coat and think, Well, now's the time to write. I will simply get into it. [...] I'd say on a normal day I get up at noon or one. You have to feel sort of overwhelmed, I think, to start.
 You've got to be able to have pages in the morning. I measure my life in pages. If I have pages at dawn, it's been a good night. There is no art until it's on paper, there is no art until it's sold. If I were a trust-fund baby, if I had any income from anything else . . . even fucking disability from a war or a pension . . . I have nothing like that, never did. So, of course, you have to get paid for your work. I envy people who don't have to . . .

November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 13 - Outlining

This is what progress looks like:
This is an outline of about 70-80% of my novel, organized with post-it notes (some cut into smaller strips) over the balcony door (they seem to stick better to glass than wood or a plain wall). I spent most of my writing time yesterday working on it, but I think it was worth it since I was able to arrange the scenes I'd already written in order, and into fewer documents, and hopefully being more aware of the narrative flow would also help its later construction. Besides, it's always good to verify that what you're writing is actually going somewhere.
F. Scott Fitzgerald writing
I know NaNoWriMo is all about rushing to the end, but I think it helps when you know where you're headed. Plus, an outline is not a contract, you can always change it later on to suit different needs as they arise. I also managed to write just a bit more than my suggested daily word count, so while I haven't closed the gap that had grown considerably over the week, at least I didn't expand it either.

November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 12 - Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead! (and other clichés)

After a week full of distractions and abstractions, last night I was finally able to buckle down and write no less than 3,700 words. I'm still far from catching up to where I should be by now, and I'm resisting the urge to go over what I've written for fear that it'll be an awful mess, but for now I'm feeling rather optimistic about my prospects.
One thing that has helped me move forward is choosing the path of least resistance. If I feel like working on a scene that comes much later in the novel than where I am - either because it requires less research, seems more fun to write, or is already sketched out - then I just work on it. This method might come back to bite me on the ass when all that's left to write are complicated and hazy scenes, but that's something for future me to worry about. There's also the possibility that I'll reach the 50,000 word goal before getting to those scenes because, though I've written more than 50 pages so far, I still feel like I'm only scratching the surface of the material I have. Maybe this book won't be as short as I thought it would be.
John O'Hara at his desk
In other news, I just saw Galleycat is posting daily NaNoWriMo tips. Many of them are only relevant to a few writers, but some are worth glancing at. On day 3, for example, they suggest using cliché finder to weed out hackneyed phrases from your writing. The problem with the site is that you have to do it manually, meaning you have to suspect that something is a cliché already before checking to make sure. The worst clichés, however, are the ones we use all the time and are hardly aware of. A far more useful tool would be a website or program that scans your text and points out the clichés contained therein. Come on, computer and language geeks, there's your next million dollar idea - get on it.

Clichés contained just in that last paragraph:
  • in other news 
  • worth glancing at 
  • weed out 
  • million dollar idea 
  • get on it

November 10, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 11 - Do Not Try to Beautify, or Even Understand

Below is a tiny bit of writing advice excerpted from Jorge Luis Borges's series of lectures at Harvard in 1967-68. Though he was mainly speaking about the writing poetry and short stories (and as we all know he never wrote novels), I found certain passages to be very appropriate for NaNoWriMo writers:
When I write, I do not think of the reader (because the reader is an imaginary character), and I do not think of myself (perhaps I am an imaginary character also), but I think of what I am trying to convey and I do my best not to spoil it... When I am writing something, I try not to understand it. I do not think intelligence has much to do with the work of a writer...
When I write (of course, I may not be a fair example, but merely an awful warning), I try to forget all about myself. I forget about my personal circumstances. I do not try, as I tried once, to be a “South American writer.” I merely try to convey what the dream is. And if the dream be a dim one (in my case, it usually is), I do not try to beautify it, or even to understand it.
- Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse

NaNoWriMo - Day 10 - The NaNo Website

I don't use the NaNoWriMo website for anything other than updating my word count and seeing my personal stats (which, I'll admit, aren't looking too great right about now). The site has a lot of other interesting and/or helpful stuff, but these all seem needless distractions from actually writing ("Oh, and blogging here isn't?" you ask, to which I respond, "Quiet, you!").
Some stuff offered by the site includes details of "write ins" where writers are invited to write in bookstores and libraries (which, even if it existed in Israel, wouldn't appeal to me -  see my day 2 post about writing in public - though I have admittedly been seen writing in public recently), and of course the usual forums and pep talks for writers. It seems all I really need, though, is guilt, so please be sure to continually nag me on this blog, through Twitter, or if you're a friend, on Facebook or in person.
George Orwell Writing
Your inspirational quote of the day:
"All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
- George Orwell, "Why I Write

November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 9 - To Blog or not to Blog?

I must admit that I've been much better at posting a daily update on this blog than meeting the suggested 1,667 daily word count toward the novel. I'm at 8,700 words today, before my daily writing session, while I should be at about 15,000 by the end of the day. As I stated on day 5, a lot can happen in a month, often in matters entirely unrelated to the writing itself, and this is exactly what happened. Nonetheless, I figure that as long as my daily requirement to finish on time remains under 2,000 words there's still hope.
Roland Barthes at his desk
Worst case scenario, I'll add this month's bloggings to the overall word count, as footnotes, and call it Post-Modern.

November 8, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 8 - Signs of Weakness

Obligatory image of a writer at work plus an inspirational quote:

"I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable."
- Woody Allen, Annie Hall (1977)

November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 7 - "Never less than ten or twelve drafts"

Some words about writing (and revising) from Raymond Carver's interview with the Paris Review:
When I'm writing, I write every day. It's lovely when that's happening. One day dovetailing into the next. Sometimes I don't even know what day of the week it is. The “paddle-wheel of days,” John Ashbery has called it. When I'm not writing, like now, when I'm tied up with teaching duties as I have been the last while, it's as if I've never written a word or had any desire to write. I fall into bad habits. I stay up too late and sleep in too long. But it's okay. I've learned to be patient and to bide my time. I had to learn that a long time ago. Patience. If I believed in signs, I suppose my sign would be the sign of the turtle. I write in fits and starts. But when I'm writing, I put in a lot of hours at the desk, ten or twelve or fifteen hours at a stretch, day after day. I love that, when that's happening. Much of this work time, understand, is given over to revising and rewriting. There's not much that I like better than to take a story that I've had around the house for a while and work it over again. It's the same with the poems I write. I'm in no hurry to send something off just after I write it, and I sometimes keep it around the house for months doing this or that to it, taking this out and putting that in. It doesn't take that long to do the first draft of the story, that usually happens in one sitting, but it does take a while to do the various versions of the story. I've done as many as twenty or thirty drafts of a story. Never less than ten or twelve drafts. It's instructive, and heartening both, to look at the early drafts of great writers. I'm thinking of the photographs of galleys belonging to Tolstoy, to name one writer who loved to revise. I mean, I don't know if he loved it or not, but he did a great deal of it. He was always revising, right down to the time of page proofs. He went through and rewrote War and Peace eight times and was still making corrections in the galleys. Things like this should hearten every writer whose first drafts are dreadful, like mine are.
Raymond Carver writing
I write the first draft quickly, as I said. This is most often done in longhand. I simply fill up the pages as rapidly as I can. In some cases, there's a kind of personal shorthand, notes to myself for what I will do later when I come back to it. Some scenes I have to leave unfinished, unwritten in some cases; the scenes that will require meticulous care later. I mean all of it requires meticulous care—but some scenes I save until the second or third draft, because to do them and do them right would take too much time on the first draft. With the first draft it's a question of getting down the outline, the scaffolding of the story. Then on subsequent revisions I'll see to the rest of it. When I've finished the longhand draft I'll type a version of the story and go from there. It always looks different to me, better, of course, after it's typed up. When I'm typing the first draft, I'll begin to rewrite and add and delete a little then. The real work comes later, after I've done three or four drafts of the story. It's the same with the poems, only the poems may go through forty or fifty drafts. Donald Hall told me he sometimes writes a hundred or so drafts of his poems. Can you imagine?

November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 6 - Naysayers

My friend Dave (who recently published a story in the Brooklyn Rail about Tacos) was kind enough to forward me Laura Miller's rant against NaNoWriMo on The main point of Miller's article is that people should not be encouraged to write - there are already far more novels out there than anyone can read - but rather encouraged to read, since many of those already published and worthy novels go widely unread. To her the whole enterprise seems to be a pointless effort, serving nothing but the "commerce" of writing since "far more money can be made out of people who want to write novels than out of people who want to read them."

While this is true, and I agree with her assessment that unfortunately far too many of the people who wish to write novels hardly ever read novels, I think she's going after the wrong target here. NaNoWriMo does not cost the writers anything and does not encourage its participants to buy writing guides or join expensive workshops. The availability of NaNoWriMo to anyone who wishes to take part is both its defining characteristic and, in the eyes of its critics, its biggest problem. In my eyes, however, NaNoWriMo is nothing more than a tool, a simple device to kickstart my novel, and like any tool it can be used for any purpose by whoever is holding it. You can use a hammer to build a table or to bash someone's head in, but whatever you choose to do with it, it's kind of stupid to hold the hammer accountable.

I also agree with Miller's assertion that good novels would get written anyway, with or without NaNoWriMo, but if this tool is a more effective means of reaching this goal for some, what's the harm of using it?
Ralph Ellison at his desk
What I particularly disliked about Miller's piece is the either/or approach - as if you can't read novels and write them, with the implication that most people shouldn't be writing at all. By a rough estimate, I think I read about 120 books while writing one novel (and at least some of those books I only read because I was writing the novel), and I can't think of a single worthy writer who does not believe that the foundation of writing is reading.

Overall, the piece smacks of a sort of elitism, of a "leave writing to the experts" approach, which for me also had a certain consumerist undertone - that we should applaud the purchasers of books, and all aspire to purchase more, rather than attempt to produce anything of our own, even if only for our own enjoyment or fulfillment.

November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 5 - Why this might or might not work

Why I might successfully complete NaNoWriMo:
  1. I have the time - November is panning out as a month of little work, which is fine since I worked so much in October I don't really have to worry about getting by. This also seems to be a month where everyone around is busy so there aren't too many social obligations. Also, I'm not dating anyone, and have sort of decided to take a break from that whole scene for a while.
  2. So far so good - 6,600 words written in the first four days, the writing's coming out relatively fluently and not too embarrassingly awful. Most importantly - the pressure to write is actually there, I feel it, I see it in those little NaNo stats and graphs, constantly challenging me with how much more I have to write to stay on schedule, to be ahead of schedule, to beat the average, and so on. 
  3. The goal is obtainable - In October I dedicated 14 days (6-8 hours of work a day) to translating and churned out over 100,000 words. I won't deny writing is much harder than translating, but since I have most of the plot worked out, and only have to write half as many words in twice the time, I'm optimistic.
  4. It's been done before - Yes, everyone knows Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants was written as part of NaNoWriMo, but that's not what I'm talking about. Hemingway wrote the first draft of The Sun Also Rises in six weeks; Nabokov, after having the idea in his head for a long time, rushed to write Pnin through the summer of 1955I specifically named those two since they have additional characteristics in common with my work-in-progress, and so give me hope that I could actually breeze my way through a first draft in a relatively short period of time. 
Vladimir Nabokov writing
Why I might not complete NaNoWriMo:
  1. It's bound to get a lot harder - Right now I'm writing scenes that I've already worked out in my mind, at some point I'll reach sections that are a little less clear and encounter problems that I could not have foreseen at the start. Plus, I'm sure a certain fatigue will set in, probably next week, and the urge to go back and rewrite will only increase.
  2. The end is not the end, it's the means - Writing 50,000 words is just the start of the process, the novel itself will probably be longer, and will require editing, and additional research, so it is possible that at some point during the month I'll just decide that I've gotten as far as I can with this uncritical writing frenzy and turn to more research, or editing, or maybe even put the whole thing aside for a while to gain perspective.
  3. A lot can happen in a month - I could receive job offers I can't refuse, I could find myself suddenly busy with something involving my completed novel (I probably wouldn't mind that as much), I could fall ill, meet someone, lose my mind, regain my senses, or all of the above. All I can say is, stay tuned.

November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 4 - "Try to be better than yourself"

Here is a longer excerpt of William Faulkner's thoughts about writing which I referenced a few posts earlier. This is taken from the Paris Review interviews which are now also available online (and included on Donald Barthelme's reading list)
[a writer] must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done...
The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies...
William Faulkner Writing
The writer doesn't need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I've never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He's too busy writing something. If he isn't first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn't got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don't have time to bother with success or getting rich...
Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.

November 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 3 - Wait, So What Am I Writing About?

The more perceptive readers of this blog might have already noticed that I never actually said anything about the novel I'm working on. I'm not usually paranoid about posting my ideas online, and in general I don't really believe  that good literary ideas can be stolen. In this case, however, I'd rather err on the side of caution (and not be forced to repeatedly threaten my readers not to borrow or steal any of my ideas), and also try to avoid the danger of ruining it for you (this, I realize, is insanely optimistic since it not only presupposes the book will eventually get completed and published, but also that you would all read it). So forgive me for not divulging any plot details, or excerpting any scenes, or even telling you the title of the book; believe me that I'd really really like to tell you all about it because I think it's pretty interesting stuff, but right now I just can't do it.

Roberto Bolaño at his desk
This lack of response or feedback is one of the drawbacks of trying to write books instead of blog posts - you can be really excited about an idea or story and wish for everyone to know about it immediately, but in fact it'll probably be a couple of years (if not ten, if not twenty...) before it sees the light of day (plus, you'll probably never get a direct unfiltered response similar to blog comments; maybe an Amazon review if you're lucky).

November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 2 - Why I Don't Write in Public

Yesterday, en route from point A to point B, I found myself at a coffeehouse with my laptop, and so I did indeed sit down and crank out a few more words for my NaNoWriMo novel (now at 2100 words, with today's session still ahead of me), but in general I don't bring my laptop to coffeehouses. If I go alone I usually bring a book or a notebook, and in the latter case I usually write ideas and notes, but not fiction, and there are several very good reasons for this.
  • First, and there's no point denying it, people working on laptops in public places often look like complete tools, e.g.:

But I also have some personal, idiosyncratic reasons:
  • Though I usually write with some sort of noise in the background - talk radio, music, or even television - there are certain times when I have to shut off everything and sit in complete silence in order to focus on a particularly tricky or complex section/ scene/ idea/ whatever, which would be difficult to do in a crowded public setting.
  • I'm surprised a lot of "public writers" don't realize this about themselves, but I am fully aware of the fact that I do not make for an attractive specimen while writing. I scratch my head or beard, pull at my eyelids, bite my lip, yawn, stare blankly, and so on. All these natural tics that I don't need to worry about while I'm alone and focused on my writing suddenly become liabilities when I'm out in the world (and still single).
  • Most embarrassingly - when writing scenes and dialogue I tend to act out whatever the characters are doing, I'm not talking about pretending to drive a car or climb a mountain, but the little gestures that usually accompany a conversation. The character nods and I nod, he shrugs and I shrug, he winks and I wink, and so on, as if testing out if the gestures suit the words being spoken.
  • Finally, I sometimes have to read things I wrote out loud, to see how they sound and whether they make sense, but I know I'm not alone in doing this.
Walter Benjamin writing
More than anything, however, I don't like writing on a laptop in public because I feel that it makes me unapproachable, more unapproachable than if I was reading, or writing with pen and paper, because people on laptops are often assumed to be "working," in fact they're working so hard they can't even take a break for coffee or lunch, and have to keep working right through it.
Personally, there's nothing I like better than the casual conversations with strangers that develop around books or writing, and this just doesn't seem to happen with laptops (you can't really ask someone on a laptop what they're working on, what if it's their taxes? What if they're just tooling around on Facebook?). Anyway, if you happen to see me sitting somewhere in public, reading or writing, feel free to come up and talk to me, I really wouldn't mind.

And with all that in mind, here's your inspirational quote of the day:
"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 - Day 1

I'm well aware of the bad reputation NaNoWriMo has in certain circles, particularly those of the haughty literary kind - that it prefers quantity over quality, that there's no minimal threshold, that it's easy to cheat, and so on. Of course, since there's no actual reward at the end other than the novel itself (or however much of it you complete) cheating is pretty pointless. As for the other points, while they're all true, it really shouldn't matter as long as the target - which in my case is to keep writing - is achieved.
Right now I'm not in an MFA program where I would have to churn out material, I don't have an agent and/or editor pressuring me to work, and I don't even have a significant other or some other friend pushing me forward by constantly demanding to see what I've done. All I have to keep me at my task is myself, and I'm a pretty lousy boss - I let myself slack off, dedicate time to side projects (including this very blog and 2log) and flit from one project to another without completing any of them. So for me NaNoWriMo is potentially perfect for several reasons:

  • It has an arbitrary deadline, which nonetheless seems more valid than all the other ones I've given myself in the past (perceived public shaming wins again).
  • The deadline is only for the word count - at that point the book does not have to be in any sort of reasonable shape - it's what you'd call a "Zero" draft, not even a first draft, no one is expected to read it.
  • The focus is on writing, which is what I have the most difficulty doing - I can come up with ideas and write super-specific notes for days on end in my notebooks, without ever reaching the point of opening up a Word document and saying, "Go!" NaNoWriMo actually shows me that none of that stuff counts if there's nothing on the page (you'd think I would have figured that out by now...)
Bottom line, if it gets me writing then it's worth it; why should I care if ten thousand hacks are doing the same thing at the same time? As Faulkner already said (in one of the quotes that appear on the sidebar) -
"The writer's only responsibility is to his art... Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written."