Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spooks, Monsters, and NaNoWriMo

Spooks, Monsters, and NaNoWriMo

By L. V. Gaudet

© October 2010

If there is one holiday that inspires me as a writer, it is Halloween.

While many of the things we do for Halloween, running around in costumes and decorating our homes to scare the bogeymen away, yet inviting the spooks and ghosts with open arms and their favorite treats, have roots in Pagan rituals and beliefs – Halloween has become as Pagan as Christmas with Santa, flying reindeer and decorated trees is Christian.

While some of us will choose to celebrate either of these holidays in a more spiritual way, the bulk of us will continue to pray to the gods of commercialism and celebrate them as fun events celebrating family (Christmas) and your community (Halloween) with your family or community, holidays meant to bring us closer together, whether or not we celebrate the religious aspects of either one.

But that isn’t why Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love it because the more wacky your decorations are, the better they are. Skeletons having a tea party wearing Aunt B’s hat, witches protruding from garage doors, and giant hairy spiders that look like they’re doing the cha-cha-cha – it’s all good. Forget finding the perfect outfit and fussing over your hair for the holiday parties – just smear on some fake blood, back-comb that mop into an unruly rat’s nest, toss on a goofy costume and go have fun! And the gift giving couldn’t be easier or more fun. You buy a bunch of bags of candy and toss handfuls into the bags of eager kids while making the odd one perform tricks for your amusement.

But even more than that, I love the whole theme of the holiday. I love the festive spookiness.

I’ve always loved a good horror movie; and a good bad horror movie too. My favorite books have always been the likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other purveyors of the darker side of our imaginations. As a child I used to sneak to the basement, crank the volume down low, wait for the television to warm up, and sit much too close to watch Vincent Price movies late at night when the house is in darkness and quiet, and I was supposed to be in bed sleeping. He was my first favorite actor. Of course in those days we didn’t have cable and, being the second youngest of five, I didn’t have any say in television viewing and wasn’t allowed to watch those sorts of movies anyway. So, my earliest experiences were limited to the B horrors playing late at night on the good old trusty rabbit ears when I hopefully wouldn’t get caught.

Halloween is like a good B horror movie. You know it’s all fake, and much of it looks badly faked too, but it’s still fun to play at being scared and being spooky.

My love of horror movies and books influences more than my choice in favorite holidays. It has a strong influence on my writing.

As Halloween approaches, I find little ditties and poems about witches, ghosts, and all manner of ghouls rattling around in my head. I write little Halloween poems for my kids to share with their friends at school. I feel a terrible itch to haunt the spookier realms of the stores in search of wonderful new frightening decorations. I feel suddenly inspired to write like I’ve never written before, with both new and old story ideas popping into my head faster than I can possibly note them down, or even sometimes make sense of them.

And then – just like that – it’s all over. The kids lay about in near candy comas, parents wander the house picking up candy wrappers, and plastic skeletons rattle their bones forlornly where they hang swinging in the wind down the street from ghosts that look abandoned and forgotten in the light of the new day.

It is November 1st, the day after Halloween and – the first day of NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, and I’m more of an uninitiated myself than an initiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The whole idea of NaNoWriMo is to sit your butt down and write with it, literally. Ok, almost literally. It is writing an entire 175 page novel (that’s 50,000 words!) in only 30 days, and you are writing by the seat of your pants. There is no time for making detailed lists and outlines, no planning, no editing – just a crazed rush to write write write.

It’s like comparing Halloween to Christmas. NaNoWriMo is the Halloween of story writing.

Novel writing is like Christmas. It’s full of lists and rules and expectations, taking painstaking care to make everything perfect. The house decorated perfectly, buying the perfect presents, and making the all the right appearances for family dinners and Christmas parties. Regardless of your vision of it, that vision holds a certain amount of perfection needed. It also takes a lot of work, but at the same time you have to remember to make it fun. And, just like Christmas, you get out of it only what you put into it.

For NaNoWriMo, you throw all of that to the wind. It’s about having no expectations other than to write something and have fun doing it. It’s throwing on fake blood, mussing your hair and wearing something wacky instead of being perfectly manicured with perfectly coiffed hair and your best outfit. Instead of spending an entire evening at one party (working over that one scene or paragraph to perfection), you are running headlong from one to the next with wild abandon and a big smile on your face.

And the best thing about it is that anyone can do it. It’s not a private club where members must be authors published by the big publishing houses or wear special robes and hats. You don’t have to have a degree, be fluent in a particular language, or have a special set of knowledge and skills. If you can put words on paper or type them into a computer, then you can do it too.

And those who doubt their ability to write can participate with the comfort of knowing that even the seasoned writers are probably writing no better than you because they’re frantically rushing to put those words down too while crying out, “My lists! My outlines! My wine glass for some editing! Oh, won’t somebody please think of the readers?!”

Last year was the first time I’ve ever heard of National Novel Writing Month. In fact, I wondered if the first online stuttering I saw about it was some sort of slow moving viral madness travelling through the dark intangible world of the internet like a B thriller movie. And this is despite my playing with my love of writing for years. How can you write for years and never hear of NaNoWriMo? Easy for me, apparently.

I toyed with the idea of giving it a try last year, but was too chicken. Instead I gave myself a mini challenge in honor of NaNoWriMo just to see if I could do it – a mini challenge that I failed terribly. But, with volunteering in two classrooms and having a young child in half-time school, time when I could put in that kind of concentration on any task was a rare thing.

I’m thinking about whether or not I should give it a shot this year. Both kids are in school full time and I may have more time on my hands while looking for a job than I did surrounded by at least one kid most o f the time. It may be my only best chance of making the word count by the deadline. And, best of all, it comes fast on the heels of my best writing inspiration – Halloween.

But, like anyone else, I am not happy with failing. I balk to some degree at committing myself to something knowing that chances are pretty good that I won’t succeed. Considering that most writers will have to face a lot of rejection and failure in their lives, and many won’t make it to ever having a book published, that’s something you have to get over quickly as a writer. You train yourself to concentrate on quality, not quantity, and you hold on to that knowledge that you write because it’s what you love. After all, being a writer is not about being published or famous, it’s about doing what you love – and that is writing.

For one month you turn that all on its head and write for quantity, not quality – and all just for the fun of it, to remind you why you fell in love with writing in the first place, before getting into the tedium of endless lists, outlines, drafts, and editing.

Maybe we can help each other out by repeating this together:

“It’s all about quantity, not quality.”

“It’s all about quantity, not quality.”

“It’s all about quantity, not quality.”

– And I quote that line directly from the What Is NaNoWriMo? page on the National Novel Writing Month website.

Maybe I’ll see some of you over there. Maybe.



Anonymous said...

It's about quantity, not quality. It's about quantity, not quality. It's about . . .

L. V. Gaudet said...

Oh yeah, quantity, not quality. Shhh, inner editor - it's about quantity, not quality.