I’m currently sitting on 25,112 words for the book I’m writing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Is it difficult? Yes. Is it fun? Sometimes. Will I finish? Only time will tell.
A little bit about my process: I’ve been toying around with the idea for a book called “CookHaus” for about a year. I wrote some short stories about each of the characters, plotted out a story outline, and solicited friends for music to inspire the novel. “CookHaus” is a story of a house full of chefs in Portland, Oregon, at at the end of the book I’m pretty sure they all die. I haven’t written the end yet so I’m not really sure if that’s actually going to be the case.
In order to prepare writing about cooking and chefs, I’ve been watching a lot of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. I’ve read passages from cookbooks aloud in my room. I’m reading as much food writing as possible. But, at the end of the day, it’s simply not enough. I want to write accurately and entertainingly about food, but I don’t feel like an expert at all. I don’t know the terminology for food preparation, kitchens, or even job titles for specific functions in restaurants. It’s been a maddening process trying to write about something that I don’t really know that much about, even though I have some experience of working in restaurants as a waiter.
The way I’ve worked around this is to have my narrator be a clueless novice who observes the workings in the kitchen without having to know all the technical terms. He is dazzled by what he sees but doesn’t necessarily have to know what’s going on, as long as he describes what he thinks he’s seeing. At some point I may have a chef/cook friend look over the manuscript, but for now this will have to do. The point of NaNoWriMo is to get 50,000 words down on paper regardless of whether or not you’re happy with them. If you’re constantly worrying about the quality of what you’re typing, it slows the creative process almost to a halt. I’m a fan of creating something start to finish, and to improve upon the process each time you return.
In my creative circles, I’ve realized that many people implement a NaNoWriMo-esque approach to making art. One of my friends participates in Game-Jams, weekend-long events where programmers get together and try to assemble a working prototype of a video game in 48 hours. The creators of “Rick & Morty” got in the habit of making lots of short animations very quickly and submitting them at a high volume to different contests and media outlets. The recipe for getting your foot in the door appears to be “make a lot of finished work.” This fills your portfolio with a ton of content, but it also allows you to learn at every step of the creative process without getting stuck.
Let’s look at two approaches to writing a novel. Person X has a great idea, so they sit down and try to write the thing for a week. It’s a really good idea, but after ten pages they are no longer inspired. They let the project rest and promise to revisit it when they “feel it” again. The book never gets finished.
On the other hand, let’s say Person Y vows to write a book in one month, no matter what. They write 1,667 words a day even if they completely loathe them, and their end product is a book! For better or for worse, they have a novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. They can edit the piece to improve it, or they can simply bind and sell the rough draft (not recommended, but I used to do that shit). Even though they know they want to write something better, they’ve finished a project. They’re already doing better than Person X who is still waiting for inspiration to strike.
One of the reasons artists become artists is because they want to make good work. It’s really tough on me when I write something and it doesn’t live up to the standard that my role-models have presented to me. I want to write as well as Patrick Ness. I want to make TV scripts that are as incredible as “Stephen Universe”. And when I try my hand at it, I’m going to learn that it is really really hard to write something that good. However, not getting discouraged and finishing the project anyway will bring me much closer to improving my craft than constantly starting and stopping a third of the way through.
So, I’m going to keep going. A lot of the pages of my book include scenes where my narrator lies back and stares at the ceiling. Sometimes I don’t know what to write so my characters sits in limbo and has really boring internal monologues until I get rolling again. It’s brutal, brutal work. For a while I thought that I should quit trying to write because of how much emotional strain it puts me under. But I can’t. I love writing so much that I would feel like a phony if I didn’t do it. The work I put in is incredibly rewarding, especially when I manage to finish.