Sunday, 20 November 2011

Does writing fast mean writing crap?

The world is ablaze with fingers tapping furiously on keyboards (or quills on parchment, whatever is your bag). It's November and these days that means two things:
1. Moustaches (if that makes no sense, google Movember)
2. National Novel Writing Month.

I'm a woman in my early thirties. Thankfully, moustache growing is a few years off yet (all things in good time). But NaNoWriMo?

Now that's tempting. However, commitment-phobe that I am, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I flirted with the website, posted my registration and then promptly disappeared. I was disappearing under an avalanche of work. My baby had a cough. I was too busy to write.

So I didn't. I daydreamed. Or twilight-dreamed to be precise. It's what I've always done in that lilac time just before sleep comes, when my muscles are easing back and my head is floating. I play with stories. Tease out characters. Dress them up, dress them down, given them trouble.

I've got a word for it now that I didn't know before. I call it composting. I've stolen that from someone, Stephen King perhaps (I liked On Writing a lot).

In the times when I can't write, I dream. I weave the stories and allow the idea to come. I build up a world in my head. Until at some point it just spills over and I sit down and write. Words come out of my finger tips, racing like ants. The page fills. I can write 5000 - 10000 words in a day.

At the beginning of November I had written 5000 words of Boundless as the Sea. At this midway point I've written nearly 30,000 of Boundless and about 5000 of Daughters of Leda. I've written on approximately four or five days, which means averaging 6000 words each of those days. Not bad.

Question is, is it crap?

And the answer is - no. Or at least I don't think so.

So let's take the month of November. Lots of folks are writing every day. They're clocking up their word count, making time. At the two thirds point they're on their way to hitting their goal.

Steady, planned. Getting there.

I have never, repeat, never been able to work like that. Not in my day job, not in my academic essays. I'm boom and bust, always have been. I'd cram my head full of reading, assemble pages of brightly highlighted notes and then I'd mainline coffee and write a five thousand word assignment right through the night. And it worked. At least for things of that length. I got the marks, good marks in the main. Firsts, sometimes.

The downside is, you burn out. You live for deadlines and then you flop. You can't sustain it over long periods (dissertations for example). Unfortunately, real life goes on. When your fire is more of a damp squib you still have to get your arse out of bed and go to work. And the world doesn't work to your schedule. Stuff needs done, delivered. Children need parenting, meals need cooking. Everything doesn't stop just because you're on it and the muse is calling.

There's a balance.

So some days I write, some days I don't. I go to work. Some weeks I'm on fire, some weeks I'm not. I paint, bake and do the mummy thing. But sometimes we just huddle up and watch cbeebies.

I'm thinking that this is okay. It might not be how it's supposed to work and from the outside it might look a little bit like chaos. But it works for me.

So I'm taking a stance on the 'you must write every day' brigade and indeed on the 'you must stick to one thing' police. I'm saying be a jack of all trades if it pleases you. It helps to keep the balance. Let your wordsmithery starve one week and then feast the next if it works for you. Why the devil not? Flick between two stories if your mood demands. Put your novel on the shelf for a few weeks if you need to, it won't go anywhere.

Just keep composting. Keep turning it all over, thinking it throw, exploring the angles. It's still writing.

You just haven't written it yet.


Andrea said...

I remember my dad telling me (when I was about 15 I think) that if a hobby feels like a chore then you shouldn't be doing it. Do something else for a change, do what you WANT to do. And when you come back to the original hobby make sure it's a time when you'll enjoy doing it.

It's something that's stuck in my head and I try very hard not to turn hobbies into chores. Keep it fun and don't worry about targets.

I think the only reason people go on about writing every day is because it is easy to let a few days rest slip into a few years. But only you know whether that will happen to you. And even if it did it might still be the right thing for you to do. Every one is different.

Meg McNulty said...

Good advice from Dad! If it isn't fun, give it a break. :-)