Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Significance of Today and Tomorrow

For a very large number of people in North America, the signficance of October 31 is the opportunity to flaunt good dental health. Junior apprentice writer #1 will do so as a pirate (known for poor oral hygiene), junior apprentice writer #3 will do so as a bumblebee (known for production of an oral hygiene impairing substance), and junior apprentice writer #2 will do so as Thomas the Tank Engine (oral hygiene status unknown).

For a smaller number of people, the signficance of this date is 'National Knock Knock Joke Day'. Why this form of humor deserves such attention is a question for sociologists to answer; to mark the occasion, Apprentice Writer has built the phenomenon into one of her works-in-progress.

And for yet another group of people, the significance of this date is 'Listen to Your Inner Critic Day'. Apprentice Writer is uncertain of origins; is this day supposed to create awareness of or in people with impulse control problems? Theatre review aspirations? Psychotherapists?

However this day came to be, it has meaning for authors. An inner critic can be a valuable safety belt, leading the writer to trim words, thoughts, characters which muddy a story or slow it down, leaving only the best parts of a first draft alive. In this way, Apprentice Writer will spend today ruthlessly weeding seven chapters before sending them on to the pruning shears of a critique partner.

But there is another side to the inner critic. It can morph into an out-of-control tyrant, harassing the writer into the belief that nothing he/she has written is fit for reader eyes. How many brilliant creations have been killed by artists with overly harsh inner critics? During her first viewing of 'Shakespeare in Love', Apprentice Writer actually shouted 'No!!!' at the cinema screen when the lead character (after passionately writing all night) tosses the finished pages onto a bonfire in disappointment. Granted, he was disappointed by his girlfriend rather than his words on that particular occasion, and granted, the movie is a fictionalization of his life, but the principle remains: even the best authors can be plagued by self-doubt.

So if writers are sometimes their own harshest critics, making many a worthwhile manuscript stall indefinitely or die altogether, what can be done?

Ignore the inner critic.

This is the basic principle behind National Novel Writing Month.
The now global writing race runs from tomorrow to the end of November, with participants declared 'winners' if they achieve 50,000 words. This is next to impossible to accomplish if one weighs every word and punctuation mark. So the aim is to turn one's inner critic completely off, and just write whatever the creative juices provide without any judgement whatsoever, NOT STOPPING to go back and delete or even read again what one has produced until the very end. For many, once the madness is over, there is much lopping off of paragraphs and pages. But for some, there is an astonished recognition that this insane quantity-over-quality approach actually produced something fresh and viable. A concept, a character, a setting, a turn of phrase that wouldn't have come to life any other way.

The possibility is addictive, and keeps tens of thousands of writers of all ages and genres coming back every November. That, and the endless entertainment to be found chatting with like-minded participants the world over on the message boards.

Apprentice Writer will throw her hat into the ring, with the goal of finishing a first draft. It means self-discipline, dedication, and a good supply of Halloween loot filched from junior apprentice writers' stash.

It also means this blog will need to amuse itself until December.

Gentle Readers: if you don't nano - see you on the other side.
If you do - ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!


Unknown said...

Oh I'll miss your blog. At least keep us posted as to how well you're doing. I can't wait for tomorrow. :)

M. said...

christine, you're so sweet. will i see you on the boards?

Julia Phillips Smith said...

I'll miss you too, even though we've scarcely blog-met. But I'm glad it's because you're NaNo-ing. I'm unofficially NaNo-ing because I want to finish a WIP. So I'll see you in December, then.

Wylie Kinson said...

Good Luck, M!!
I'm not NaNo-ing and the fact that you are, along with juggling 3 junior apprentices leaves me in AWE.

M. said...

hi julia and wylie,
i am the kind of person who needs some sort of external pressure (like a hoped-for paycheck or deadline) to produce consistently. If my self-discipline were more steely i woulsn't need to fling myself into publicly stated commitments like nano (meaning i can't back out because it would be too embarrassing).

Anonymous said...

I'm NaNoing, too. :) If you like, find me and buddy me, and I'll buddy you! My NaNo page is here.

Best of luck with your novel! :)