Every couple of years I have a bit of a crisis in regards to my writing. The pattern is always the same; I start feeling like my passion is flagging, like nothing I’m coming out with is as good as my old work, like I can’t seem to make the words flow on to the page in the way they used to. I brood, I dwell, I wallow and eventually write something good enough to put my doubts to rest until the next time.
Usually these periods come about when I’m not overflowing with ideas that I’m insanely passionate about. If I’m not in love with a concept then I don’t tend to rush to write it which means I don’t write much which means I start freaking out and sink into an existential crisis about what I’m doing with my life. Meanwhile I get short tempered, way too introspective and generally despondent about everything.
Because here’s one immutable fact that I should know by now yet seem to keep forgetting; writing, no matter what kind, is the only thing that is guaranteed to make me happy. Even if the idea isn’t the best one I’ve ever had, even if I don’t think I’m producing solid gold, just the act of writing and the satisfaction of finishing something can have me buzzing for days. And usually once I start on an idea, I’ll see it through to the point of having produced something at least somewhat worthwhile.
Which brings me to National Novel Writing Month. As you might have guessed, I’ve recently been in one of those grim writing periods. I’ve finished a handful of plays this year, a bunch of articles and blogs and way more dumb Boone Shepard short stories than I should be writing considering how much I’m meant to be working on. By and large, it’s not a terrible output, but it’s nothing on a year like 2014, where I not only wrote some of my best plays (The Last Supper, We Can Work It Out) but wrote the last three Boone Shepard novels back to back AND the sequel to Windmills that is yet to see the light of day but is probably the best thing I’ve ever written. After a hot streak like that, it’s hard not to feel a little like I’m flagging.
So a couple of weeks back my friend Sean, who I went to VCA with and who currently appears with me on Movie Maintenance, asked if I would be doing National Novel Writing Month, a yearly initiative where basically you try to finish a 50,000 word novel in November. I’ve known about it for a while now, but always sort of turned my nose up at the very idea. Writing a book to a set schedule because it’s a certain time of the year and not because it’s the right time to tell this story? What nonsense.
The whole Movie Maintenance crew decided to have a crack this year and initially I brushed it off. But on my birthday on October 21 I started a new draft of my play Chris Hawkins, a revisit to a character from my teenage years that I had attempted earlier in the year to middling results. Nothing in particular prompted me to start a new draft, I just wanted something to write. Within four days I knocked it over and felt like I’d nailed it in a way I haven’t about anything in a long time. And almost everyone I’ve sent it to has said it might be my best play yet. So, feeling pretty good about myself and my writing, I figured fuck it, why not? I can write a novel in a month.
I had an idea that’s been rattling around in my head for years, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic about three teenagers living in the last days of Planet Earth, who have to enter an unstable, reconstructed version of the world as it used to be in order to try and ensure a future for humanity, in the process coming face to face with the factors that led to our destruction in the first place. It’s complex, sprawling, weighty stuff that I always figured I’d write one day but never had the inclination to commit to. Yet after some uncertainty, I decided the day before NaNoWriMo started that I would have a crack at that idea. I’d done barely any planning, I wasn’t ready for it, it would probably be garbage, but I would have a go.
That first day I wrote 10,000 words. The most I’ve ever written in one day. I got to the end of that run feeling tired, burned out and totally satisfied. Since then I’ve wavered between 2-5000 words per day and currently, one week in, am sitting on 30,000, more than halfway to the goal of 50,000 by the end of November. And I feel amazing.
I’ve spent the last couple of days only writing. I’ll do some work, go for a long walk, plan the next section, then get back to it. I’m excited to get into the next chunk of the story. I’m finding myself feeling happy, positive, energised and ready to deal with anything. At the end of every day of writing I sleep like a baby.
And here’s the weird thing; it wasn’t a story I was desperate to write any time soon. It wasn’t some new idea that simply demanded to be told. And in some ways, I think that’s where the satisfaction has come from. The fact that I have forced myself to start work on this, been disciplined enough to see it through, and am fairly sure that what I’m producing isn’t total garbage. Some of it might actually be good.
The great thing is that creativity breeds creativity. Since I’ve started this project, I’ve had a bunch of solid ideas for new plays and other stories, things I really want to get cracking on but know I can’t until I’ve finished this. Which is my favourite feeling because it means that by the time I’m done I’ll be so itching to dive into the next project that I will do it almost immediately, which will lead to the next and the next and the next.
Can you tell that I’m kind of buzzing?
Of course, this could all be premature. I might hit a wall tomorrow. I might have jinxed my momentum even writing this. I might lose passion for the idea or read over some of it only to realise I’m in fact working on the next The Room. But saying all of that isn’t an expression of any real concern. I’m not worried provided I keep up the momentum. And as every day yields awesome new ideas for this book, I don’t see that happening.
So yeah, in short, National Novel Writing Month is great and if you’re a writer of any sort, it’s worth a shot. I was wrong to ever be a snob about it. Plus: doing it with friends means that you’re all surrounded by support and encouragement and a little healthy competition. And in a vocation that is usually very solitary, that’s not a bad thing at all.
Just some thoughts.