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Sunday 15 December 2013

Why do I do it?

One day I'm going to... Then November comes around and the challenge hits you between the eyes. OK, so one day... today is that day. The First of November starts National Novel Writing Month; a day of hope and trepidation for anyone who has ever thought of writing a novel. A whole month of creatively splurging words across whatever typeface you are working at; paper, screen, Ipad, Android and  all wrapped in a tidy package. Thirty days to reach the target.
Why? What is it that encourages myself and thousands of others to sign up and squirrel another workload into already busy schedules at the time of year when the decorations are starting to appear for Christmas; as carols and Christmas songs begin to drift through the speakers in the shopping malls and supermarkets like an aerosol drug designed to loosen the bonds on wallets and purses.
It's the challenge, the taunt of come on then, come and have a go if you think...you have it in you. The pressure  of the words and the daily tally, 50,000 in 30 days is the sort of pressure that crushes doubt in a mad frenzy of scribbling, typing or both. Can you hold the mental,  creative and imaginative threads together long enough. Can you mix the stamina and bloody minded determination to see it through, cross the 50,000 word line within the 30 days and watch the validation screen flag up a winner; or still be in there when the clock ticks 11.59.59 on the 30th and see the figures change to 00.00 Dec 1, battling onwards.
Does anyone really lose with NaNoWriMo, or is it the real win-win scenario.  The challenge pits you against your strongest and meanest opponent, who knows all your temptations, weakness, and strengths and exactly how to undermine you; and you have your greatest ally with the same information, and the twist? They are the same; you!
That's the winner; you arrive at the end of the month having learnt something about yourself, and you have tasted what it must be like to write professionally, a daily workload, a climbing word count drawing towards a fateful The End where the story pauses, most of the loose ends tied up, but with an opening perhaps to lead the story arc into a sequel and beyond.
I was asked what NaNoWriMo means to me, and I chewed over the answer for a couple of weeks. It was a release, a confirmation of a way of doing things. There are two main personalities in National Novel Writing Month, plotters and pantsters, the question is where are you when the clock strikes midnight and the writing begins. Are you surrounded by plots and plans or unfettered by detailed preparation and plunge in, writing by the seat of your pants, winging it through the days towards the December deadline.
I go for writing by the seat of my pants,  I tried the planning and plotting but it felt like I was puling in two directions; bashing myself over the head with plot it, plan it and then write it only to find that when the characters found their own voice I was completely stuffed, they had read the notes and were determined to do anything except what the plot-line demanded. 
I wanted to go straight in and tell the story, see it unfold before my own eyes so the words dancing across the page were new and fresh to me. 
NaNoWriMo's uncluttered approach felt right, here was a bunch of people fired by enthusiasm and, apparently, caffeine with the nerve to go for it. Careering along a storyline waiting to see what the characters would do next is invigorating and scary! 
Make your characters believable and believe what they are telling you, it's their story, they live in the world of your imagination, but you are not in control of them,. Respect and they will respect you, and hopefully give you a story worth telling learn to trust what they are saying. Storytelling is a natural part of being human, so why make it unnecessarily difficult. If the Novel is intimidating, look at yourself as a  storyteller and be part of that great and ancient tradition, there have been storytellers, sat around  wood fires in ancient camps and propping up the woodwork in hostels and public houses for centuries, millennia, or multiples of both.,.
Writing is part of day to day life, too long without scribbling and I start to feel edgy and uncomfortable, and I go back to the typeface. The deadline of NaNoWriMo gives me a much needed boost, naturally it kicks the word count into orbit, but the confidence that I can meet the pressure and have the commitment to see it through without sweating about the details; just getting the story down in any shape ready be knocked about and rebuilt where necessary is welcome.
Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of "No Plot, No Problem" cites the deadline as the writer's most powerful tool, the Damocles' sword hanging over the keyboard. It works for me, focusing the mind and boosting concentration, and NaNoWriMo? 
Ancient cave paintings were the visual aids to storytelling and the themes are eternal, and for me National Novel Writing Month is a reminder that however solitary writing can be,, I am not alone, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people with something to say through the medium of the story. Whether plotting the minutest detail, winging it with half a wing missing and an engine shot away, literally on a wing and a prayer. Whatever your first line, Once Upon A time, in the beginning, it was a dark and stormy night, the scream shattered the night and his blood ran like ice through his veins. Be the storyteller and leave the day to day, step into the eternal and explore; travel in time and space, past, present and future - not necessarily in that order - or look at your own backyard through another pair of eyes.

NaNoWriMo is over for this year, but I'll be there next October waiting for the clock to strike the hour and shift the calendar from October the 31st to the 1st of November. I won't be alone, and if you chose to make the journey for yourself for the first time or for a return visit; travel well my friend.