“You may delay but time will not.” (Ben Franklin)
I’m sitting outside in front of our weekend house, and it is freezing cold. I wear four layers: undershirt, shirt, sweater, jacket, and I have slung a blanket around my legs. I look like I ought to look like: sitting in front of a lifeless piece of electronic editing equipment, staring at the blank screen. I shouldn’t be here, I should be out having fun, exercising my muscles, firming up. Spending quality time with the family. Enjoying the last rays of the sun.
Instead I have committed myself (hardly anybody’s watching*) to doing this NaNoWriMo thing & write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in 30 days. Why did I do that again? One of those foul contracts the soul closes with itself, playing both devil and man, temptor and tempted. As I sit there, listlessly listening to my own blood rushing through a head that feels less than empty and more like a black hole swallowing all energy around it, I start having feelings of anger and disappointment in myself. That’s good! That’s true! Anything that’s true is good! Witness Stephen King (yes, that King, from On Writing, 2000):
“Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as long as you tell the truth.”
Now I write turning my anger and my self-loathing into a text, process into prose, stirring away from the image of myself, not pushing the feelings away but into the undefined body of the story of which I only have the dimmest idea. So dim in fact, that I’m hesitant to even call it an idea. An “ideoid” (don’t google this – you’ll get to a BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” and that’s not what I’m getting at…) is more like it, the fragment of an idea, a shard.
Yes, I’ve got an outline (I think I might have found it written on a hankie on the bus): dead Christmas lights are hanging off it like citizens after a lynching. I write, and I get to 617 words. My superstition motivates a singular search with the following result:
- 617 Squadron, RAF, “The Dambusters” was a single squadron formed during the Second World War to carry out a single special and dangerous task.
- Area code 617 once covered the entire eastern half of Massachusetts, and was coextensive with the Eastern Massachusetts L[ocal]A[rea]T[ransportation]A[ccess] #128.
- The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 617 represents construction electricians, sound and communications workers, and electrical transit technicians in San Mateo County, California.
- The GEMÜ 617 is a manually operated 2/2-way diaphragm valve with a low-maintenance plastic bonnet and an optical position indicator integrated as standard.
I am now convinced that I have put, through my writing, put an ink-stained finger right on the nexus of a bunch of intermingling, deep secrets. New food for thought and more words! As interesting as irrelevant!
Then I stop and I make my first fatal mistake of the day: I read what I wrote.
Don’t, cries my inner writer, who’s just only been unleashed and has barely begun to sniff around gathering fantasy animals round an imagined camp fire to tell stories. But I don’t listen, I bring in the inner critic instead, the hunter, whose step is thunder – and all the animals immediately scatter and when the hunter lifts his rifle ready to shoot, there’s nothing but a few hundred wispy words in the middle of a clearing, sad words, sad because the spirit that brought them to life for half an hour or so, was scared away.
Don’t read yet, I write on a post-it note and glue it to my forehead. Have a Schnitzel instead, wipe your mouth with dark chocolate, lean back, admire the wilderness around your writer’s cabin in the woods. Have a shag, bury your head in the pillows, plant a tree if you must, do whatever – but don’t read before you’re done. And perhaps not even then. Let your words compost, let them grow warts and hunches before you think of harvesting them.
Have someone else read your piece if you need it to be read but don’t let them tell you about it. Let them write their views in water and wash your mouth out with it every November morning. Just stay on the page.
(writing about NaNoWriMo throughout November until exorcised)
* a link to the Virtual Writers, Inc. Facebook group page. If you’re not on Facebook, this will do nothing for you.