Today I'm going to nag you and tempt you, like those little angel/demon figures in old Tom and Jerry cartoons: 'No you mustn't!' ... 'Aw, go on! You know you want to!'
First, the virtuous bit. At the end of October, I posted about NaNoWriMo, where people sign up to write 50,000 words in a month. I've been keeping an eye on some of you and the ups and downs you're experiencing - around this time quite a few are at the 35,000 word mark. This is brilliant! I decided not to participate, but there are times when I wish I had. I just couldn't choose which project to pursue and am not feeling the love just now with all things compositional. If you, like me, are not a participant, I would still recommend a look at the NaNoWriMo site: http://www.nanowrimo.org (And can somebody please tell me why when I type a link like this it doesn't automatically get a little line under it anymore to make it function as a link?)
If you go to the Breaking News page or the Fun Stuff page, either should lead you eventually to the pep talks page and this is useful and inspiring. They've asked various famous writers to give advice and encouragement, the latest being Philip Pullman. I recommend looking at his advice, and that of Naomi Novik, Jonathan Stroud, Sue Grafton and Neil Gaiman. If you read through them all you'll find common ground - they all say that a novel begins as a 'burst of enthusiasm' (Grafton). After the 'honeymoon period' (Stroud) the pain and disillusionment set in. It may be at Chapter 2 or at page 70 (Pullman) or much further in - but it will happen. You will run out of steam, run out of self-belief, feel no joy anymore. Ah yes, you're nodding your heads, aren't you? We've all been there. The only answer is to plug on - which these writers advise in wise and witty ways. Sue Grafton says: 'Focus on the job at hand. Ignore the urge to second-guess yourself. This is not the time for introspection; it's a time for charging on. Believe in yourself.' Naomi Novik says: 'Remove distractions. The internet ... is [a] phenomenal tool for procrastination and wasting time. Unplug your connection' - she's right, you know. You can do that after you've finished reading this blog - only after that, understand? Jonathan Stroud says a deadline is a great idea, forcing you to break the task down into manageable chunks: so many words a day, so many pages per month. That's the 'real writing', after the honeymoon and the 'phony war' where 'Scenes start promisingly but peter into nothing. Main characters turn out to have all the zest of a cardboard box abandoned in the rain.' (Careful - all that nodding is going to give you neck-strain.) Neil Gaiman reinforces this: 'You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die.' Philip Pullman concurs, saying you mustn't lose momentum: 'One of the hardest things to do with a novel is to stop writing it for a while, do something else, fulfill this engagement or that commitment or whatever, and pick it up exactly where you left it and carry on as if nothing had happened.' Given his level of fame he must be speaking from the heart: he is working on 'The Book of Dust' after the massive success of the His Dark Materials trilogy and he must have to keep his phone off the hook permanently. He adds: 'once you've established a daily rhythm of work, you'll find it energising and sustaining in itself. Even when it's not going well. This is a strange thing, but I've noticed it many times: a bad day's work is a lot better than no day's work at all.'
You're so right, Philip, we all say, nodding like crazy. Fired up, we turn the computer on, bring the document up - we last wrote a bit five months ago. We scrabble around for plot notes scribbled at the time. If we find them, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic cryptic directions: 'John gs X time to rply then Z ftttts'. We click onto Tools: Word count. Disappointing. Sigh. Type a few words. Erase said words. Type again. Tools: Word Count. Sigh. Need cup of tea. Type again. Decide 1000 words a day far too ambitious. Type a few more words. Hate them. Word count. Wail. Adjust daily word count ambition by incremental steps down to 500, 350, 200. Give up two hours later having written 163. Still, it's 163 closer to the goal than yesterday - or five months back. Mary Wesley was about 80 years old before she was published, wasn't she? That's OK, then.
Here's another suggestion: I'm not sure whether it's angelic or demonic. Angelic in intention, I suppose, demonic in execution. Go to http://lab.drwicked.com/writeordie.html - where there's a widget called 'Write or Die'. Dr Wicked the inventor of this instrument of torture says: 'The idea is to instill in the would-be writer a fear of not writing.' If you are writing, the Write or Die gizmo will penalise you if those keys stop clicking busily. In Gentle Mode 'a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing', in Normal Mode, 'If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.' And in Kamikaze Mode, 'Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself!' Aarrgghh!!! If anybody out there has tried this fiendish widget, let me know whether it worked for you!
Finally, wearing my demon's horns, let me tempt you, my Literascribees - betake yourself to www.timespellingbee.co.uk - I have my friend Muvva to thank for this one. I had no idea it existed until she mentioned it in her blog A Propos of Nothing in Particular (see side panel blog roll) - and I tried it out late last night. More than an hour vanished like magic as I racked my score higher and higher. If you are NaNoWriMoers, for God's sake, don't go there! Don't! (Aw, go on ...!)