So as it turns out, I have a short story accepted for this month’s issue of Beat Magazine. I didn’t even know in advance that this one was coming*, so it was a lovely surprise when it flashed up on my husband’s Google alerts**.
A lot of you will already know that November is National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. The idea is to write 50,000 words in a month, which in theory will then give you the germ of the Next Big Thing in novels. (In theory. I have also seen December referred to as “NaNoReMo”, or “National Novel Rejection Month”, in which agents and publishers have to clear their slush-piles of all the badly-written first drafts sent in at the end of November.)
I’ll admit that when it comes to NaNo, I have yet to come to terms with my fear and desire. Part of me wants to do it, because I hate turning down writing challenges. Even the gorgeous little writing seeds that appear like small, magical presents on the #amwriting hashtag make me feel guilty when I don’t act on them. The guilt of not taking up the challenge of producing fifty thousand words in a month and validating them on the NaNo website can make me break out in a cold sweat.
I actually did NaNo once, and I even hit the 50k target. Unfortunately, the words I wrote were so utterly horrible that I managed to almost destroy an idea I’d been gently nurturing into existence for about two years. So great was the train-wreck that was my NaNo project, it’s taken me another two years to go back to it and start work again. This involves binning off every single word of the original manuscript, and re-writing the entire thing from scratch at a more sensible speed. From this, I have taken the painful lesson that, as a writing tool, NaNo does not work for me.
But then you get to November and it feels like the whole world’s doing it, and they’re all working insanely hard, hitting their daily targets, while you plod slowly through the editing of one novel and rack up another few thousand words on another, and feel a vague sense of non-achievement and failure to participate in the prevailing zeitgeist, and…you know?
This year, I managed to find a compromise. I didn’t do NaNo. But I did find a writing buddy on Twitter (his name is Ed Fraser and his pleasingly eclectic blog is here). We decided that instead of one novel, we’d go for a target of six short stories.
Sometimes, every word of a story is about as hard to get out of your brain as your teeth are to get out of your jaw. Your characters won’t talk to you and your setting doesn’t look right and nothing about it turns out the way you want it to. Sometimes it actually feels as though you are physically wrestling with the text, rather than just attempting to get it down on paper.
Sometimes, you conceive the belief that your words are actually fighting with you. They are not your friend; they do not want to play nicely. Instead, they would much prefer you to go away and leave them alone and get on with something dull but useful, like folding washing or something, while they lie on the sofa and watch cartoons with their mouths open. (I think I’m still talking about words here. It’s possible I’m now getting them confused with “my children”.)
Sometimes it’s like that. And sometimes, it just…happens. The only limit on how fast you can turn your story into reality is how fast your fingers can move. Stephen King has found the perfect image for this in the title story of his brilliant collection, “Everything’s Eventual“; he calls it the “river of fire in your head”. That’s exactly how it feels. The river of fire is rare. Most of the time, you’re writing without the help of the river of fire; most of the time, you have to make do with hard graft and bloody-minded stubbornness instead. But when you get one of those days, nothing beats it. The river of fire is what writers pray for.
“Shaggy Bear Story” was the first of my collection of six. One more is finished, one more is in the works, and three more are little more than vague floaty ideas that I am attempting to pin down, so I think it’s fair to say I am going to crash and burn in a fairly drastic fashion on my six-in-a-month target.
But on the other hand, NaNo finished on 30th November. The new issue of Beat Magazine, complete with “Shaggy Dog Story”, hit the virtual stands on 1st December. So maybe just for once, I am being a little bit efficient after all?
* Of course I was aware of having submitted to Beat, and was very very keen to be accepted – I just didn’t know in advance that they’d decided to go with my submission. Definitely the very best sort of surprise.
** This is the traditional way for me to find out anything. All marriages have their own unique dynamics and traditions: in our house, the rule is, I always know stuff second. Also, he is in charge of putting the bins out.