This month marks a year since I started writing in this blog regularly. This anniversary has got me thinking about how writers decide how much time to take to create something and how writers know when to stop deleting and re-writing. How do you know when you are "done"?
I am considering an unusual experiment to learn how to write creatively with a deadline. I have written many, many papers in university and college on a deadline. I was proudest of some that I wrote when the adrenaline was high (not too high, as I was always laid back about school, but higher than normal for me) and I had only hours left. School papers are obviously different from creative writing in many ways. A school paper deadline is less daunting because the criteria for it is clear. There is often a formula.
My experiment will be to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to begin and complete a novel of at least 50, 000 words in the month of November. I will likely go into December because I am starting this late.
A couple of my friends from university who have done NaNoWrimo have suggested a few times for a while now that I participate. I was hesitant because I don't write really any fiction any more and have never so much even completed a short story, let alone a novel! Also, the idea of placing quantity over quality irked me. I've never been fond of committing to paper words and ideas that I don't like. At least, I don't let those words -- paragraphs, rather -- stay on the page for long. Picture tortured writers in the movies ripping pages from their typewriters, crumpling them and throwing them onto a lapsed pile of crumpled pages in a wastebasket and on the floor.
NaNoWriMo will be a good exercise for me, though and not just because I'm not working or in school, or doing much of anything. Forcing myself to meet daily word counts will force myself to stop censoring myself and just keep writing. I think so many ideas and insights are lost when we don't allow ourselves to write things because we are self-conscious.
I'm thinking of writing a novel comprised of letters between two sisters and one of those sisters' diary entries. This sister will have some sort of illness that will force her to stay at home for a year and postpone her career, halt friendships, etc. while her sister, with whom she is exchanging these letters, is building her career and traveling. The novel will be about the ups and downs of trying to live a full life despite life being on pause. Using letters and diary entries will emphasize the character's physical disconnection from people, furthering her development as a writer, but also as a hermit. This will be her sick writer identity. When she interacts with people by phone or in person, she will have another identity I haven't decided on, but her illness won't really be part of it. At least she'll try to keep those identities separate.
Obviously (especially to people who know me well), this novel will be semi-autobiographical. It's a shortcut to story development and writing what I know will also help me reach my word count in such a short time period by rendering research virtually unnecessary. If I were seriously writing a novel, I would opt to write about people and experiences I was less familiar with. I would thoroughly research by talking to people, visiting places, researching vocations, etc.
I know my ideas are good for a novel are good, but I'm not afraid of people stealing them. They can only steal the premise, not my style or execution, both of which are uniquely my own.
There are some things I will not write about in my NaNoWriMo venture or any other attempt at fiction, unless or until I experience them for myself. In a few of my attempts at short stories, my characters have been sexual beings or have noted behaviours of other sexual beings (ahem, male sexual beings) mainly because of my curiosities about romance and sex, as well as my superficial goal to be edgy and irreverent. I guess a sickly virgin is the ideal innocent character anyway, eh? Maybe she should be very religious. Nah, who am I kidding. I'm an Atheist.
One of my friends I mentioned who recommended I do NaNoWrimo also suggested I look up a group of NaNoWriMo participants in my city and go write with them. I won't because I am a solitary writer. Maybe I will try that next year, though. I enjoy being friends with writers and it could be fun to bounce ideas off people and let them bounce ideas off me. Also, writing in a new environment with a bunch of people could be an interesting stimulation.
If you are participating in NaNoWrimo, please let me know how your novel is going!