These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and what writing means to me and for me.
This because November has ceased to simply be November and has been (irreparably?) replaced by NaNoWriMo. It hit me just before November rolled around, when an innocent post on tumblr made it across my dashboard; something about the last three months of the year. Halloween, NaNoWriMo and Christmas. Because yes, isn’t that true? It certainly seems that way, especially if one spends a lot of time on social media. Everywhere I go I meet word counts and pep talks and frustrated writers. And I realised: I’m caught in that trap and I didn’t even notice it.
The thing is, I’ve always been a writer. Storyteller. Reader. I learned to read early, and just as early I was telling stories, and it wasn’t long before I was writing them down as well. I used to find a lot of joy in reading – veritable bookworm, I – and as much joy in writing, if only for the challenge of putting down the words that would become a story in the end. I’ve read through entire libraries and written through countless notebooks. I don’t remember half the things I’ve read or a fraction of the things I’ve written, but for a select few that have somehow struck a chord with me. Often, I remember only key scenes. Has anyone read the Emily of Moonsomething books? All I remember is that Emily grew up and became a writer, and once she let a man she fancied read one of her novels. He told her it was drivel and she, upset, burned it. Then – and this is they key part – she got angry with herself for letting herself be let down by this man, and set out to rewrite the novel and write it better. And she did.
I read those books when I was very young, but that one scene has always stayed with me. It’s very telling, I think.
When I say I’m a writer, I don’t mean: I’m a writer who never writes because of a perpetual writer’s block which leads to a lot of staring at a blank document or notebook, but I will insist I’m a writer, even if the last time I wrote a single thing was years ago. I’m a writer.
When I say I’m a writer, I mean: I can’t imagine a life without writing. I can’t imagine a life without characters and plots in my head, and scribbles in notebooks and research and fifty half formed storylines and another fifty fully formed storylines. I can’t imagine a life without sitting down and writing, to a playlist consisting of the keystrokes caused by my fingers, to a playlist of the plot evolving in my head, to a playlist of stray dialogue escaping my mind and making it into a note, to be used later. I can’t imagine a life without writing the end and feeling that rush of joy and happiness that comes with knowing good work. I’m a writer.
Of course, I am a writer every minute of the day. But I don’t write every minute of the day. I have a job, I’m still in education, I have a life outside the walls of my apartment. But I write, daily, in productive periods, monthly, in quiet periods, and weekly, in the periods in between. The amount of work I’ve produced already could, in printed form, fill about two shelf-metres. I write because I love my craft, I write because I want to develop my skills, and I write because it is such an essential part of who I am, that I can’t not write.
In my previous post on nano, I briefly compared the years that I participated and how I’d done in each, but what I utterly failed to realise then, is that the years in which I failed, I failed because I was writing for the sake of writing. Not because I wanted to.
See, for me, nano has become this competition. Not against others, don’t get me wrong, but against myself. It’s become this huge thing every year, where if I don’t participate in nano, I might as well hand in my pen and resign myself from my self-imposed title of writer. Because everyone does nano, right? Every layman, every professional, everyone who loves writing – they all do nano. And because I am a writer, therefore I must too. And I must do it every year, and I must complete my 50k words, or I am not the writer I think myself to be.
Here’s where I’m wrong.
I’m not saying that nano has sucked the joy out of writing. It hasn’t. But the problem – my problem – with nano is that oftentimes it’s simply writing for writing’s sake. In 2011 when I did about 15k, I only made 15k because I felt like I had to pile on the words. In reality, the thing I was working on could’ve been just as fine in much fewer words, if not finer. In the years I won nano, I won because my projects were exciting and I wanted to write them. I wanted to complete them and see my characters through their stories and set that final dot that marked the end, and know that I’d enjoyed the journey.
I believe that this year’s nano has turned into another of those “I must, therefore I’m doing it” and at the same time I’m worrying that I’ll have something to write, because else I won’t make the word count. And why am I worrying, if not for the fact that the drive behind this year’s nano isn’t the joy of writing, but the pressure of simply producing? I might as well just type in an endless string of sghfslg kjfls kjfd until I’d reached the 50k necessary to win a glorified .jpg winner’s banner.
I would much rather write a short story of only 10k if that meant I enjoyed myself, rather than struggle to make 50k of something I don’t believe in, but am simply writing to reach a damned word count. That’s not what writing is about for me, and I’m really fucking glad I realised it.
With that being said – I’m off to enjoy what’s left of nano. And if I make it to 50k? Well, I’d call that a miracle. The story I want to write doesn’t have 50k in it.
Happy NaNoWriMo – I hope you’re all enjoying it. I know I will.
I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get to it. And this time I will actually be smiling about it.