Love in the Time of Nanowrimo (or: 50,000 words? How hard could it be?)


Self-respecting writers hate deadlines. Deadlines mean responsibility. They come at you with pursed lips. They peer at you over the top of thick-rimmed glasses, with a disapproving tut-tut if you haven’t planted your backend into a broken office chair with only one remaining armrest and aren’t wildly typing, like a demented chimpanzee wondering when its 999,999 friends are planning to turn up.

There are some deadlines, however, that possess the grace and all-round good breeding to appear bearings gifts: cheques, mainly, sometimes cash.

But not Nanowrimo, oh no: it’s all about the ‘fun’. And the sense of community. And the prescription meds.

It’s a mad, insane, crazy idea. Commit to a deadline just because you can (and because everyone else is doing it). Not just any old deadline either – 50,000 words of a novel in one month. Not even a long month. Only a middling, average month.

November. With good reason. For one thing, in Northern climes at least, there’s not much else to do, what with all the darkness and the cold outside. So snuggling up with an overheating computer and a cup of steaming cocoa seems, even to some vaguely sane people, like a good idea.

People bitch and moan and wail and nash their teeth about nanowrimo, nonetheless, because writing novels is hard. Imagine smacking your forehead repeatedly into a brick wall hoping to shape it into Michelangelo’s David in time for the weekend, only to find it more closely resembles a brick wall with blood on it. Your blood.

Even the organised souls who spent September and October mulling through ideas and drawing up plans, creating characters charts and plot outlines, they hit the beginning of November and like Shackleton popping out of the tent for a quick pee break, find themselves lost in a desolate white wilderness of blank pages, haunting them like the ghosts of Russian nuclear submarines trapped below the pack ice, unable to move.

Desperate, like shades shuffling through Dante’s inferno, these poor nano-souls reach out for communion and fellow feeling. They head for Twitter and Facebook, to share their doubt and sense of existential dread, only to discover the gloaters who have already written 20,000 words by day two.

The ordinary mortals (and those not cheating with a little creative cut and paste) plod onwards, piling word on top of word, hoping they might, with a little encouragement, form themselves into coherent sentences. And if that doesn’t work, try a pitchfork. Or dynamite. Or crying helplessly into your empty bottle of booze.

Onwards, ever onwards, into the valley of death-by-a-thousand-typos, they keep going, counting words, adding them to the online tally, reading messages of encouragement and hoping no close relatives die or their lottery numbers come up or that girl form next door finally realises she does love them after all because they can’t take the time off. There are words to write. Words to write. Thousands more words to write.

And the clock goes tick-tock-tick-tock. Even in this padded cell, I can hear that damned clock. Can’t anyone turn it off? I hear voices in my head: are my characters talking to me? Have they taken over? Or am I dreaming? Have I finally lost it? Or found it? The secret, that’s it! It’s been staring me in the face all this time. Of course. I’ve done it now. No stopping me, no holding me back. I may be slumped over the desk with my forehead planted on the magic trackpad but fear not, my fingers are flying. I’m typing in my sleep, mainlining my subconscious straight onto the page.

I laugh in the face of deadlines. How long to go? Not long now… not long now… not long….

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