I used to think that writing would be like being an acrobat… performing breathless feats, leaving my audience stunned on the ground. Sure, there would be practice, grueling hours of it (didn’t we have “writing exercises” in school?) but that wouldn’t be the real work. I would practice and practice and then, when the time came, I would fly free from my paper trapeze with effortless skill.
That was before I learned what being an athlete entails, how the effort is always effort.
Then I thought I would write like a magician… not a real-life magician who practices tricks and trains their fingers, but a fiction one who does great things in indescribable ways. I had these wonderful dreams and fantasies, all I had to do was learn the magic incantation to get them on the paper. Right? Wasn’t that what writers did?
I learned better. There were no tricks. There was no learning enough to feel effortless. There was just hard work and more hard work. Except when it wasn’t hard. When it was fun. I started to yearn back to my childhood, to the days when writing was recreation.
This year’s NanoWriMo novel is based on a novel I wrote in eighth grade, which in turn was based on a doodle my sister drew on a spiral-bound notebook cover. The doodle was of a punk girl gang. I decided to write about a girl gang in outer space. They would have pink mohawks and motorcycle-like space-bikes. It was going to be epic. It felt epic. Margi and Liz and Klepto (short for Kleptomaniac – I was young enough to think that was an awesome character name) zoomed across the galaxy, stumbling onto interplanetary wars and stuff.
Last year, I missed that playfulness. I felt like my writing was growing stale. I wrote a short-story version of Margi, Liz and Klepto (now Kleo) zooming around the galaxy for the write-a-thon, hoping to recapture the magic. I didn’t quite, but I got a solid ten thousand words done pretty fast, just recounting what I could recall of the plot.
So for NanoWriMo this year, I vowed to write a new version of that silly novel. To recapture playfulness. To have fun. To be spontaneous. We’re halfway through now, but something unexpected has happened.
It’s not playful.
I’ve reached 25,000 words without a single moment of giggling levity. I sit down, go “ugh how am I going to get another thousand words out of this beast?” and then I just… work until I have my word count for the day. Every single day I have had no hope of reaching the count when I start, nothing but decisions and work ahead of me. I start with a tiny bit of outlining, just enough for the day. Then I meet that outline, and wonder what I’ll do tomorrow. Each day is like a single piece of work, a brick.
I’m writing like a bricklayer.
I WANT to write like a bricklayer.
Okay, maybe not THAT bricklayer. (Let’s be honest and admit that laying bricks, like any other craft, has its moments of inspiration and its blocks.) I’m talking about what we think of when we think of the skilled trades: You show up, you do the job, consistently but not spectacularly. You get it done piece by piece, on time and under-budget.
Bricklayers are great creators. They start with nothing and work, and pause, and come back, and work some more.
How is NanoWriMo going? Well, I keep running out of bricks, but then I go and fetch some more. It’s not fun, it’s not fancy, and I really hope I can keep that up.by