The Quest for the Sword of Justice! Part 497: Well, that was unexpected!
This is my NaNoWriMo 2016 project…but it’s actually just a rambling blog and not part of the main story.
Hey everyone. It’s rambling blog time. If you’re looking for the next part of the story, you’ll have to wait for/skip to the next one.
I got an ear infection last week. It was no good. I don’t recommend it!
I hate ear infections. I know they don’t rank very high on the list of the world’s possible ills…but it’s hard to think that way when you have one inside your head. They are an omnipresent force. I didn’t get them that often as a kid, and I’ve heard tell that they’re usually worse for adults. The last bad one I got was back in 2005, which was not my best year, so in addition to the constant unpleasant sensations of the ear infection, I had the emotional baggage of 05 to deal with.
This will probably all sound like an excuse to those of you who don’t know me personally. And that’s exactly what it is. I found it almost impossible to focus on writing for the last week…so I didn’t do any of it.
Turns out this was kind of great. Except for the ear infection part. That part was stupid and dumb.
Taking a forced break from NaNoWriMo made me really examine the whole exercise, and think at length about both its positives and negatives. That’s something I’ve actually done every year. The negatives are why I didn’t participate in 2014. The positives are why I did participate in 2015.
So I guess it’s fitting that now I find myself stuck in the middle.
I learned about NaNoWriMo first through friends at school, and then was reminded of it in 2013 by a youtube video created by Nika Harper. “I could do that,” I thought. That was it, really. That was all it took. So I did it…and then I didn’t let hardly anyone read the book.
NaNoWriMo is kind of a stupid thing. It tasks participants with writing a “novel” in one month. I put novel in quotation marks for a variety of reasons:
- The length they ask you to hit is actually more like a novella, or a really short novel, or a baby little baby novel.
- They don’t actually tell you what a novel even is. The format of the novel is something that people go to school to study…but it’s also something that lives in the collective social consciousness. I don’t think they give people specific-enough guidelines, either way. A more tightly-structured program that actually taught you about writing and not just about fighting deadlines and insecurity would be much cooler.
- They pitch it as a competition with yourself… and then make it a competition with other people and time. The web site has a friends list. It allows you to track how your friends are doing on their novels. This is a very sharp double-edged sword. On the one hand, yes, the infrastructure exists for you to support your friends…but it’s also really easy to just constantly compare yourself to them. Or, you might be in a situation like I was this year where your whole friends list falls into inactivity after one day, and you’re alone, writing, like a torch in the night.
Writing is hard enough without it being a competition.
-The people that started it did so, in part, so they could get dates more easily. I’m serious. They thought it would be easier to get dates if they had written novels. Ugh. This has haunted me since I learned it.
I think the non-profit foundation that they’ve established now does some good things. I think that the goal of getting more people to write is a noble one. Even though my own resume as a professional writer is a strange, twisted, meager path, I think of writing as one of the fundamental arts. I’ll get more into that later.
Still, the more I think about it, the more I realize: The only thing NaNoWriMo is good for is getting you off the starting line. And hey, starting journeys can be hard. Really hard. Especially when it’s a writing journey. NaNoWriMo seems expressly designed for you to prove to yourself that you can write a long document. Once you know and have internalized that, its value becomes much more hazy. I suppose it could be good for re-establishing a daily writing habit…but as time goes on I’m not sure how valuable that is either.
I’m not technically a writer. By that I mean that I don’t get paid on a regular basis for writing. At least not right now.
But we are all writers. We do it all the time. On the internet, in school, on phones…writing is everywhere. It’s in film. Television. Art. Science. Business. You get the idea. Writing is a fundamental component of human existence in the year 2016.
And yet, there’s no one roadmap for how to do it. You can use all sorts of physical tools. You can use a pen. Or a keyboard. You can use a pencil. Or your fingers on a screen. You can use all sorts of different languages and systems of grammar.
All of those things can be taught, and studied…but the most effective technique will vary from person to person. Often the biggest stumbling block is self-doubt. Is this good? Do I know what I’m doing? Do I even like this?
NaNoWriMo’s magical solution for self-doubt is for you to just ignore it and keep going. And this can totally work. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it feels stupid. Sometimes it’s feels like you’re writing just to fill up the numbers on a progress bar and not to make any actual artistic progress.
Practice can help too. But it’s hard to practice writing original material that’s supposed to be flying out of your imagination. I got pretty well-practiced at writing expository essays in school, and at writing tech and game reviews when I was working for a small tech magazine. In fact, reviews are the thing I have the easiest time writing. I have a template in my head that’s pretty easy to generate and fill-out, and I can deviate from that template as the product, and my whims, require.
The novel rarely offers such structural comforts. And even then, fiction does not usually lend itself well to templates. Fiction is the realm of the unknown, like animation is to film. You can write whatever words you can think to write. You can describe any scene your imagination can conjure. That’s what makes it so enticing and difficult.
The Sword of Justice is a story I’ve tried to write a few times. I always get bored with the structure of my stories. I have a hard time writing a story from one or two points of view in one genre. Inevitably, I introduce a stylistic device. Or a new genre. Or a random character who flew in out of a different story. Then I’m interested again. But now the complexity presents its own new challenge. Now I’ve got to keep a whole bunch of plates spinning in the air. Sometimes that keeps my brain interested, and other times its overwhelming.
I really wanted to finish NaNoWriMo this year. But I don’t think I’m going to. I suppose I could just paste a whole bunch of junk text onto the end of my story and get my “winner’s badge/picture” whatever. But what am I really winning? What am I really winning in the years that I’ve actually won? Am I just celebrating spending a whole bunch of my free time creating some mediocre text that I now have to mostly throw out? It kind of feels that way.
I’m fascinated by how quickly we all develop an internal barometer of what’s “good,” and how fast a crowd consensus rises out of that. Do we have an innate sense of what is objectively good in media? Or is it just driven by personal taste? Should we be more aware of those tastes? How do we cultivate those? Can we always trust them?
Heh. Look at me writing all these big questions. This is fun. It’s like a bad philosophy class.
My normal daily writing routine is thus: I pack up my laptop and a pair of headphones in a bag, and I go to a coffee shop. I get coffee. I meticulously clean a table, hopefully one at one of the extreme edges of the building. I unpack everything, and I put the headphones on, and I write for an hour or two while listening to music. This was my routine before NaNoWriMo. This was my routine while I was still trying to do it. This is the method I’m using right now to write this horrific ramble.
It’s a cliche, but it works….and everyone needs to find the method that works for them. That’s hard. NaNoWriMo does nothing to help cultivate this. It does nothing to teach you, it just throws you into the pool. It should have flexible schedules and goals, and more actual tips that aren’t just eloquent versions of “keep going.”
Listening to music and writing took over time I used to use for playing video games. Also, sometimes I go down the rabbit hole of watching youtube videos. I miss when I played video games more. That helped to cultivate my little inner critic, and I think I need more of that. I think that even if writing is your only job, you need to find as many ways as possible to continuously develop those inner tastes, whether that’s reading other books, watching movies, or whatever. That always helps me…and I almost never do it.
So. To sum up. I’m going to keep writing The Quest for the Sword of Justice, and I’m going to keep publishing it…but there’s no way I can finish NaNo this year unless I cheat. But maybe the whole thing was never worth it in the first place. I’m sure that many of you feel differently. And I’ve obtained a lot of benefit out of it myself! But now I’ve got to go my own way, and relentlessly pursue the things I find the most creatively interesting, without the threat of a ticking clock and a progress bar hanging over my head.
It’s already hard enough, and I think NaNoWriMo might secretly make it harder. Especially when you get an ear infection. Don’t get an ear infection. It’s hot garbage.