Kage Baker took her last writing class in high school, at age 17. That was in her last quarter of her senior year, when creative scheduling gave her a whopping 2 classes – World Religion and the aforementioned Creative Writing Class. She got A’s in both, and learned how to make potato latkes. (World Religion always did a Passover meal.) She went to her locker exactly twice – on the first and last days of school.
The next year, Administration changed the rules …
Kage hated writing classes. She didn’t even like teaching them, although she did participate in a few seminars once she was an established writer. But that was by way of paying it forward, which she regarded as a duty to the coming generation. (I learned from her by osmosis involving alcohol.) She herself looked at (admittedly excellent) programs like Clarion, and knew they would be fatal for her. It just wasn’t her way.
I’ve never dared subject myself yet to a peer-reviewed program; I think my head would explode. It’s taken all the guts I can manage to entice a few beta readers, and to let Kimberly edit things: and that latter act took encroaching blindness to overcome my terrified solipsism. However, for the last 6 years I have indulged in the manic frenzy of NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWri Mo is short for the National Write A Book In A Month program -it’s the hefty acronym for an online discipline wherein one writes 50,000 words in 30 days. It begins every November 1st at midnight, and runs through the entire month. You register your book, its synopsis, its cover (if you like) and you can get just as much or as little help as you want: everything from a dedicated writing buddy to all night group sessions in coffee shops. The idea is, once you’ve gotten 50,000 words down – the rest will come via momentum and rewrites. The idea is to write EVERY SINGLE DAY and establish the core of your novel.
This actually works. You can reach the word minimum by a mere 1,667 words a day – and really, that isn’t much for the determined wordsmith. It doesn’t matter how polished or rough it is, either- refinement is for later, these 30 days are just for nonstop bulk production. If you hit a blank spot, you can write “This is a blank – will fill in history of polydactyl albino physicists later” and go on to the next, better realized scene.
I have not always made my 50,000 words – but I mostly have. I have produced two entire novels with this as central process. One was the second Nell Gwynne novel, most of which was written during NaNoWriMo. The second is Knight & Dei, which is still being looked over at Tor. The point is, though – I really did produce most of 2 entire novels in, essentially, 60 days. And if I – who am plagued with disasters, in feeble health, and the very prey and plaything of malevolent Fate – can do this, anyone can! I can even do it again!
And really, one occasionally needs a gun held to one’s head in order to write. We all know this, Dear Readers. Many professional writers expend a great deal more creativity on ways not to write than they do at a keyboard. I am, sometimes, one of them … I can resist a lot of things, but sooner or later, the specter of A Book – any book; hell, a catsup bottle label – will get me. I cannot resist the printed word, and what I like best is someone else’s work. It’s a serious flaw, I know it is, but … the gravitational pull of the printed word is my primary weakness in life.
This is why the steam engine momentum of NaNoWriMo suits me so well. It’s like a death sentence every 24 hours. Get those 1,667 words in or die! I usually do it late at night, by candle light and the blue glow of the computer screen, crouched in the shadows like a desperate miller’s daughter with a pile of straw.
But, hey, whatever works, you know? We all tell ourselves stories to get things done. Kage used the daily sucking vacuum of my appetite for reading to power her own writing: she had to get something written every day, or I’d sulk all evening because I had nothing new to read. Sisters have a lot of uses for the truly creative.
At the same time that I am trying to knock out 1,677 words a day out on poor, long-suffering and inhumanly patient Marswife, I am also editing a friend’s work in the hope of getting it published. This forces a different, and just as useful, discipline on me. I can give myself excuses for not getting something done, but when someone else is waiting for my help – well, I must get off my spreading butt and be productive.
If virtue is not native to you, Dear Readers, it can be forced. That is my theory, anyway. So far,it mostly works. Two novels in 6 years of NaNoWriMo is an exceptional average. And I have yet to fail a friend in these delicate circumstances – it’s a survival of the soul kind of thing. I’ve lost quite enough vital organs lately; I want to hang on to my soul.
So in these dark autumn nights, I will write. When I can’t write, I will read and edit. I’ve got lots of tea lights and Yankee Candle votives, and left over Hallowe’en candy, too. My cool writing hat, my special writing necklace. Also, coffee.
And as long as there one more way to write than not to write, everything will balance out just fine.