So, NaNoWriMo this year has so far been a brutally wonderful experience. While I am behind, I am writing more consistently and with more confidence than ever before. There are two reasons for this that immediately come to mind: first, I am setting aside time to write and doing my best to just write. Currently, that means 1-2 hours each evening (after 8PM, when either my daughter has gone to bed or I get home from work) and two dedicated pockets of 90 minutes on Sunday morning and during my laundry run. What makes me pleased about this is that, for the first time, I feel horribly guilty when I am not writing during a designated time. I have the compulsion and the desire to use that time to write.
The other reason, which partly buttresses the first one, is that whether I am writing a description of a city, a fight scene, or a diplomatic exchange, that I regardless of what I am writing, I embrace the fact that I AM writing, and that even the worst crap, the most awkward prose, the lamest idea, is progress. Everything is forward motion.
That doesn’t mean that everything I write has inherent utility. In fact, when I look at some of what I have written, I find awful passages, stilted dialogue, and vague descriptions full of cliche. I also find promising writing, but what is important at this stage is to accept that I am doing the basic task of getting words on the page/screen. If I am writing crap, that crap has to be written to clear the way for the other stuff that is rolling around in my imagination. I used to refuse to write when things got difficult, but what I am learning through this exercise is that getting the flow going, getting the mind working, and stimulating my creativity is what is important. And as a result, good stuff comes out, and other ideas come out that can be improved or that can serve as a gateway to others emerging later.
I was thinking about this last night after encouraging a friend to wade through the crap, regardless of how it might feel to do so. I was having a bit of trouble as well (and did not make my word goal last night), trying to work through a flashback scene. I took a sort break, and happened to see that Holly Black’s NaNoWriMo pep talk had arrived in my email inbox. It was not merely inspirational, it was a blueprint for how to change your thinking about the process, how to see the struggle as necessary to get through to the accomplishment of finishing. The idea that most resonated with me right then was “You don’t have to believe you can; you just have to do it.” So, instead of staying bogged down, I started on the next section, and found that I had worked out an idea that could be expanded later, and that had given me some insight into the plot that led to a much more interesting scene that provided some of the texture that I have felt lacking in the novel to this point.
Of course, this sort of fortuitous situation does not always occur; sometimes, crap is crap, and just needs to be exorcised from your brain and from the page. Once you see word count and the task of writing as not just abstract goals, but a concrete part of the process, the notion of crap itself can change. Writing crap is setting yourself up to get to the good stuff, to utilize your artistry and work up an intellectual sweat, to get yourself into a groove where the words that come inspire something better, or create a moment that makes you smile. Taking the hard work seriously, and realizing that the results of your efforts will vary and need shaping, means affirming to yourself that crap has a place in your process, and that it will always be there, and that dealing with it will make you more disciplined and more productive. Writing crap, and loving it, means that you are a writer.