November is it, I told myself. National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo.
I would sit down and pound out 50K words in thirty days. I would be in a lovely online community of writers all working toward the same goal, I would finally finish something I’ve been working on for what feels like ages. So why am I wasting my time decidedly not doing what I told myself I should be doing?
I’m a pantser.
In industry parlance, a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants, writes when it becomes impossible not to, when the scenarios and the words come out of nowhere and need to break free. That’s when pantsers sit at the keyboard, make that cursor move and the blank page fill. It’s akin to running to the bathroom and unloading whatever is in my gut. When I feel that familiar twist in my brain, when that bolt of lightning hits, everything seems as clear as day. The words knit themselves together and it’s all I can do to capture them and write them down before they’re gone. Because that’s the underside to being a pantser. That wonderful fugue doesn’t last. It eventually dissipates, like mist clearing on a sunny day. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no specific trigger, which is why my stuff is sporadic and very often makes no sense.
Forcing the fugue is difficult, and again akin to sitting on the pot and waiting for things to come out. I’ve done it a few times. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t. It’s painful and frustrating, and what comes out is almost always unsatisfying.
It isn’t that I don’t know where I’m going when it comes to telling a story, but plotters do much better when it comes to finishing a work. They have an outline, they come in prepared, they follow their own structure and ultimately come out with a finished work. I’ve tried to make myself one, but I just can’t seem to do it. The rigidity of it gets too tedious for me, although I really should find a balance between enjoying the journey and reaching the destination.
I’m a compulsive self-editor.
This is not a good thing, as many writers will tell you. The best way to write is to ignore the impulse to edit as you go, to keep going until you run out of breath, to shoot now and ask questions later. Editing is a thing that should be done when everything is over, and I am aware of this as I write, but the urge to tweak the phrasing here and a comma there is almost impossible to ignore. So I get caught in an infinity loop of going over and over paragraphs, sweeping for issues until I lose my original train of thought. (I’m doing it right now!)
I have a thing about pre-empting things. It may not make sense to most, but I believe if I’m working towards something, have a goal that I intend to reach or a project I want to come out with, talking about it will jinx it. It sounds ridiculous as I write it, but I just can’t seem to shake that feeling. It’s the way I work, which is why I tend to announce things once they’re nearing completion or are already achieved.
One of the first requirements of NaNoWrimo is announcing your novel, giving it a working title and a brief synopsis. Sure, no one is going to read it, and no one gives a shit, but I do. I broke the no jinx rule with one project I’m working on – talked about it, shared it, and it’s stagnated. I feel I talked about it too much and blame myself for oversharing. Officially announcing on NaNoWriMo not only breaks my no-jinx rule, it ups the pressure of actually finishing something I’m not sure I can even finish.
Not even started, and I’m already stumped.
I work better alone.
I chase Le Hubs out of my work space (which happens to be the bedroom) because I can’t write if he’s around. Remember Invisible Boy, the kid who becomes invisible as long as no one is watching? That’s me. I can’t write if someone I know is in the same room.
I’ve written in the library and this particularly lovely coffee shop along Broadview which sort of worked, because I was surrounded by strangers doing their own thing, but I find the best places to write are the ones where I am surrounded by absolutely no one. Writing is like tennis – a solitary experience. It’s just you and your keyboard and the untapped reserves of your own imagination, your opponent a blank page that needs to be filled.
NaNoWriMo is filled with a community of passionate writers who want to fulfill the same goal. It’s nice to be with people of the same bent, but sometimes knowing about the progress they make frustrates me. It makes me ask myself why I’m not making the same progress, why my own word count isn’t as high, why I’m not closer to the end of my work.
It makes me feel petty and small (not something I enjoy being) and it’s the opposite of what the community is intended to be, which is uplifting and encouraging. I know. I make myself sound sad, anti-social and maybe even borderline mad. Yes, sometimes I am all of those. Still, I have no problems sharing once it’s done, but until then I think it’s best I keep to myself.
Look at that, a thousand words and none of them on a NaNoWriMo project. I still really want to do it. A part of me wants to use this month to just flush out everything inside, like a mental colon cleanse. I’d come out on the other side refreshed and ready to edit. Or I won’t, and I’ll spend the next few months beating my head on the wall out of frustration. I guess time will tell.