NaNoWriMo has become something of a staple for me over the last few years. Taking November to thrash my way into a novel has some real positives: it guarantees I write something in a given year, even if there a bunch of other stuff happening (edits, global pandemics, tv work, dogs eating my hats, whatever). This year I’m comfortably over 30k and it’s not even the midpoint, so I feel pretty good. And, predictably, I’m in the 30k Valley.
I have no idea if that’s a thing for anyone else.
The 30k Valley is the calm place I hit after the first frenzy of creative energy, especially if I’m not really working to a plan. Even if I am, this is the space where the plan encounters the real world. Variations and tangents start to peel the story away from the pure idea, and the kinds of issues you can’t imagine until you try to write something make themselves felt. “Oh, yes, I started the book with the main character in leg irons, how can they win a marathon?”
I mean “calm place” in both the positive and the negative sense. On the one hand, 25-30k is where I start to feel I’m writing a book rather than practicing my prose style. It’s enough to tell me I’m not wasting my time, but still a sufficiently moderate investment that I can cut and run if it’s just not going anywhere. (The Sunk Text Fallacy is not your friend - or at least, it isn’t mine… have a gorgeous photo of a sunken wreck…)
On the other hand, I also do mean “calm” in the sense of “becalmed”. The great storms that pushed me out to see have briefly abated, and now here I am wondering if I’ve got a map, and asking myself which weather pattern to aim for next.
I realise I’ve absolutely mixed my metaphors there. I like to think the storm sits inside the valley, like properly coded html (see what I did there?) but probably not.
Someone(s) asked me recently how I work when the world’s like this. I think the question was both “how do you think writing and writers should respond to crisis?” and “how do you not go mad?”
Responding is, I think, inevitable. People wrote on-topic around the pandemic, for example, with a lot of wall and island imagery, and I suspect we’ll get a generation of literary flavours which come with the events of the Covid era and how it looked to different eyes and sounded to different ears. Grief and trauma have been mainstreamed, but so have resilience and courage, foolishness and… and so on. I personally tend to be oblique, and the circumstances of my own life have been so weird and sad that I can only imagine it’ll all come out in the strangest ways.
I finally gave up on dystopian fiction in 2020. It just no longer works for me as a form of critique. Nothing I can write that is not actual apocalypse fiction is truly more dystopian than the world we inhabit, if only because characters in my stories always end up taking charge of their fates, a luxury or perhaps a fantasy in the realms we actually inhabit. But that doesn’t mean I won’t write things that get called dystopian, because so long as the word exists it will be applied to stories with bad societies, even if those societies are (un)arguably better than what we have.
But I might also just have fun for a few years. I’m writing a kids’ book this November, though who knows if it’ll ever see the light of day? It’s notionally dark and disturbing, but it’s more like a funpark with evil Gaultier styling.
And how do I not go mad?
With difficulty. Writing helps. Twitter does not. Exercise and good food. Hugs. Jokes. I have an unfortunate addiction to eBay auctions for vintage Dale of Norway jumpers. I love the new trend for mending and workwear (obviously I fixed my dog-brutalised hat). I have limited patience for anywhere that demands I adhere to early 20th Century aristomilitary-derived design to be allowed in.
I cook. I tell stories. I try to work out how to be less of an asshole tomorrow than I was yesterday.
But it’s a scary moment and we should all be good to ourselves. One more time for those in the back: this article was my lifeline.
Notes from the edge of relevance. You’re welcome. Add your email for more.
New mantra: "I try to work out how to be less of an asshole tomorrow than I was yesterday."
Thank you for all the words! I especially like these ones today.
It is the point where you have rowed out far enough to have lost sight of the safe shore you left but not far enough to have sight of the safe on to which you're heading.