Word Count: (In my defense, I cut out a whole chapter.)
There’s an odd, two-in-the-morning sensation when one has been fighting prosthetic monsters and awakes quietly in bed. It’s the sensation that finds nothing odd in seeing the floating cupboard above the wardrobe which wasn’t there before. It inspires one to address the cupboard with inspiring words: “I don’t care what you look like! You shut up!”
Another moment brings clarity. And a horrible, sickening dread that I had been very, very silly.
I’d decided to accept the nanowrimo challenge. Why, exactly? Had I, all unknowing, defaced my sanity in a wild obsession with sound and fury?
The immediate answer resounded yes. But only because I’d decided to write in the first place. Nanowrimo was another question entirely. And the matter seemed less clear.
Angst is fashionable for a freelancer–especially when writing a first novel. Angst, self-doubt, shaky confidence of personal greatness. The solidarity of suffering, of being underprivileged. Fear of a slowly lowering glass ceiling crushing you, that tersely polite rejection slips do nothing to reassure.
I supposed I brought these early morning worries on myself. I’d stayed up too late doing algebra to confirm what I already knew. I’m writing .510, a solid 6k words behind my self-imposed deadline.
My article stalls, unfinished, the stacked books pleading for citations. My short story languishes mid-scene, the scathing repartee lost. And the novel-length manuscript–only 51%.
STOP: Discuss the following questions with the imaginary group in your head, then donate them to your nearest flea market.
- What negative childhood bogeyman experience does nanowrimo remind you of?
- How do you think the misbegotten freelancer feels?
- How do you think the childhood bogeyman felt when you grew up?
I’ve begun to feel as haunted as my own protagonist. With the decided advantage of knowing that I am haunted, and having an idea of what’s haunting me. For all its charms, I don’t think it’s nanowrimo.
For a fantasy writer, there’s an odd appropriateness to waking at 2 a.m. in sweat like vinegar, cussing at floating cupboards. Rationality, cohesion, dissolve into an bewildered alertness, an openness that receives the presence of otherness without comment. (Other than the needed, assumed comment–that appearances shouldn’t speak unless spoken to.)
It’s waking onto the border, the place where such things happen. And where such things are dealt with as they happen.
What stymies us into writing is that midnight longing for the other side, the unpredicted and unexplored. Fantasy unlocks a realm of questioning and challenging, letting us ask what we will of what we want, without pre-approved answers cropping up like cupboards.
Writing of any kind should be a process of discovery. The most spiteful character can be that spiteful, merely because she has a potential for sainthood. The most despicable character has–creepily–my sense of humor. The cupboard really can float, after all. This is what haunts us. The snark is a boojum.
“Ye gods!” he muttered. “Let me live by what I have—it’s less than you think.”
After my own midnight revelation–who cares what floating cupboards look like?–I went on to write a scene in which my POV character had his eyes closed. It was somehow liberating. At about the same time, I realized he was a magician. That was just weird.
What about my nanowrimo angst? My woeful lack of word count? My sudden existential crisis?
Yes, it’s madness. It wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t. Writing is a process of letting yourself be haunted. Writing under self-imposed deadline is simply acknowledging the haunting.
Sit. Write. Otherwise, it’s all just midnight words.