Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Day Ten: Procrastination

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I hate my characters, I don’t care what happens to them. I don’t want to write about them today. I’m doing what any of us would do: sitting in front of the computer, with my novel file open, browsing the internet. I’ve read most of the Guardian online. I’ve checked my inbox on several social networking sites, and written long replies to strangers who contacted me with idle questions. I’ve checked for comments on my poetry on WriteWords, and grown maudlin because nobody ever understands my poetry. Then I turned to the biggest contributor to online procrastination: the NaNoWriMo website.

If I am not making progress on my own novel, I reason, I can at least help others with theirs. I therefore browse the ‘Plot and Character Realism Q&A’ forum, where writers can exchange knowledge which with relevance to their novels. I have had helpful responses to queries about abstract art and the nomenclature of Buddhist singing bowls. ‘What a wonderful use of technology,’ I hear you say. I realise that it is bad form to bitch about what people say in forums, but my pot of annoyance has finally bubbled over.

Too many Americans ask stupid questions. Too many of them give equally stupid answers.

One American with literary aspirations wants to know about the process of crossing from South to North Korea. I rather want to write a summary: “sneak up to the DMZ, step on a landmine, and allow your body parts to splat gracefully onto the ground. Alternatively, avoid the landmines and see which side spots you first, if you prefer a death by bullets.” Nicer people than me are helpfully explaining that the two are at war, and this part of her plot might be difficult. Another asks how an attractive woman might seduce a teenage boy. I’m tempted to respond “by being present”, but they are having an in-depth discussion of methods, and I wouldn’t want to interrupt. One girl wants to know what it is like to ‘be a minority’. What can I say? “We all are, love, but especially you.” The most stupid question has to be “did the Nazis occupy France during World War One?” but my favourite is “why would a sex-addicted 21 year old want to kill herself?” Why indeed?

The aspect which makes me want to scream is the quantity of questions asking “What’s it like in Britain?” Part of me wonders if the American market is crying out to be flooded with Anglophilic books. If it is, then why don’t some of the Americans who visit Britain write them? Surely there are enough tourists to fulfill the demand? But, no, those who have never even called into ‘Europe’ feel the need to set their novels in sleepy Dorset villages. So they post their questions for Brits to answer: “what do English people use instead of swear words?”, “what do they call the telephone directory in England?” and “what is different in England, compared to America?” It never seems to occur to them that their ignorance of us could be mirrored in our ignorance of them, so that we would not know what we are different from.

Fortunately, there are other Americans willing to step into the breach. Take, for example, the case of girl whose main character is moving to Edinburgh. The author has never been there herself. Luckily, an American who once spent a day there can inform her that “the locals are EXTREMELY nice.” She had been “surprised after all the animosity of the English at Heathrow Airport,” which surprised me, too, given that they were simultaneously in the presence of someone who capitalises adjectives for emphasis and in the most cheery, bustling tourist spot of Southern England. Happily, she found that “in Scotland everyone always seemed to be in a generally good mood.” That made me suspect that she was lying about her visit, but there were plenty of other Americans willing to contribute. “The money is ridiculous,” one notes, “especially the coins. They have no 1 Pound bills. Not that I ever got anyway.” She helpfully adds that when eating out, one must ask for “the check”, noting “that is just the culture.”

Even this, I think I could have ignored, if it wasn’t for a perfectly innocent post asking how aware Brits are of American politics. As Brits posted their replies, Americans emitted virtual shrieks of horror about British ignorance, not only of national politics, but also politics at the state level, and of ‘basic’ necessary facts such as the number of states in the States. I’ll happily admit to having no idea how many states there are in the USA, counties there are in Britain, or even sitters there are on my local library board, if you’ll leave me alone.

I’ll tell you what I do know about, though. My characters and my plot. I’ll leave you to your silly questions, I have writing to do.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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NaNoWriMo Lessens by Day Seven

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Day seven and my novel only has 7684 words. Distractions are setting in, mostly in the form of other writing commitments. My writing group requires a short story on the subject of shoes I remember from my childhood, and my writing class asks for a 2000 word story with a snowy setting. Can I manage this along with 2000 words a day of novel? It seems not.

Even more than that, ideas have begun clamouring to be written down. A few days ago, a friend told me that he hated living a cliché. Two days later, another friend reminded me that Flaubert famously chose the most banal story he could think of when writing ‘Madame Bovary’. Those two things were combining in my mind while I was struggling to understand my male characters and make them sympathetic. My only reader to date has a desire to punch my main male character, apparently. So, I thought to myself, I shall write about being a clichéd male character, thus teaching myself how to see their lives from the inside.

I hope that I am wrong about what it is like to be a man. I spent most of the day inside that head, and I don’t want to go there again, not even for the edit. He started out sympathetic, but it all ended with violence, rape and the possibility of suicide. So now I have a story that doesn’t fit anywhere in my novel and is unsuitable for my shockable writing class. It is possibly a hideous insight into my psychology. Hopefully the one about my fear of Clarkes’ foot measuring machine will be better. I can hope.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 8, 2009 at 12:16 am

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NaNoWriMo Day Three

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I have 5848 words! Even better than that, I have four characters and the beginning of a plot. I’m feeling a little uncharitable to my exes, as I look at the monstrous character I have created of them, but we’ll see if I can make him a bit more sympathetic as the novel progresses. Otherwise we won’t be able to appreciate his pain when we torture him.

Katie, my main character, is having a bit of a rough time. I’ll share the worst part of her day with you, and admit that this is hardly fictionalised– it happened to me last week. Forgive the lack of polish, at 2,000 words a day, what can you expect?

The bus stopped about two hundred yards from the station. After a few moments, when the engine stopped and the lights went out, the passengers looked at each other enquiringly. Two people made a snap decision to walk the rest of the way, grabbed their rucksacks and clomped down the stairs. Everyone else shifted uneasily and waited. Katie began to feel rather silly, hanging around on a bus to take her a couple of hundred yards. Everyone sat in silence, evidently wondering why they were delayed, and alert for sounds from downstairs. Finding the situation ridiculous, Katie decided to go and find out what was going on.

Downstairs, the couple with the rucksacks were standing in the wheelchair area. The driver was absent and the doors were closed. The passengers downstairs were are silent as those above, and the light straining in through the grime on the windows was perceptibly dimmer. “Does anyone know where he’s gone?” Katie asked the group, but no one replied with more than a shrug or a shake of the head. Katie leant against the luggage rack beside the door. The driver would have to come back. It seemed suddenly stuffy, down here, and the ceiling felt very low. She unwrapped her scarf from around her neck, where it seemed to be pulling too tight, but the sensation remained. In the heat Katie unbuttoned her coat. Someone shifted in their seat, further down the bus in the dimness, and Katie was suddenly aware of shadowy presences all the way down the bus. Total strangers. She knew nothing about them, their thoughts, or their potential actions. Everyone was so still and quiet, she wondered how long their unresponsiveness could continue. Would they sit here quietly while night fell? What would make them react? She didn’t look up at them again, but every grey patch she saw took on a threatening aspect. She didn’t want to be here, it was too small, too hot, she could feel sweat gathering and tugged at her scarf again, except that it wasn’t there. She couldn’t breathe. She needed to get out. She pushed her right hand against the “In emergency push door” sticker, but the door didn’t budge. She lifted her other hand and pushed with both, but the strength seemed to have gone from her arms and the doors maintained their position without a quiver. Why didn’t somebody help her? They must be able to see me struggling, how much I need to get out. All the passengers facing me are just sitting there, watching and mute. They don’t want me to get out. They want me to stay. What are they going to do to me?

Just as Katie made a strangled noised and threw herself bodily against the doors, they opened so that she tumbled out onto the street. When she had righted herself and took two gulps of cold air, she noticed the bus driver standing next to her with a slightly worried expression. He was clutching several bags of change. “Keep your hair on love, I was only gone a minute” he said.

Katie became aware of how crazed she must look. “I wanted to get out. I think I’ll walk from here.” she said.

Katie walked very slowly to the station, enjoying the light and the cold air as people bustled past her. She was suddenly very cold.

Armed with a ticket, Katie found a bench on platform nine to share with two old ladies and their shopping. She flopped gracelessly onto her seat and tried to understand what had happened on the bus. She must have seemed so ridiculous. But now, she couldn’t seem to think straight, and felt rather like sitting on the floor and bursting into tears. She didn’t know why the grubby floor, littered with sweet wrappers and chewing gum, seemed more inviting than the bench. Perhaps it would be quieter down there. The station seemed to be invading her: the announcements, the comings and goings of trains, the cold wind, the stale coffee smell, and the women next to her discussing the comparative virtues of Primark and TK Maxx. She swallowed and realised that her mouth was papery dry, she desperately needed water.

As Katie was fumbling in her purse for change, her train drew up. It was a short train, and crowds formed at each door, preventing passengers from alighting. She found herself unexpectedly in the middle of one of these crowds, being pushed as people tried to create room for passengers to get out and jockey for position in close proximity to the doors. Once on, she gestured for two people to go ahead of her. They walked two or three paces up the aisle and stood there, blocking the thoroughfare, while they removed magazines and ipods from their bags, undulated out of their coats, folded them and stored various items in the rack overhead. People behind Katie were craning their necks to ascertain the cause of the delay, and those still outside were pushing, fearing that they wouldn’t get onto the train before the doors closed. Eventually the two of them sat down. Katie, moving quickly, passed them and chose in the first empty seat facing her. She clutched her bag to her chest, and gave a relieved sigh to be out of the bustle and no longer in anybody’s way.

There was a blockage behind her, though, caused by a looming black shape on her left. Katie was sitting in its shadow. She looked up and saw a man staring down at her. Katie asked if there was something wrong.

“I was about to sit down there, when you just steamed in and took the seat!” He was very irate.

“Oh,” said Katie. She looked around at the three other seats available nearby and said “I can move, if it is important to you.” The man said nothing, but continued to stare at her, anger twisting his face.

Katie stood up, avoiding everyone’s eyes she sat down two rows behind, glowing with humiliation. The man took a seat across the aisle from the one she had vacated. Katie sat and stared at the back of the man’s head, thoughts bouncing around her head: had she been unwittingly rude? Why could she not learn the rules? other people shoved and trod on her toes, played loud music, shouted details of their personal lives into mobile phones, drank beer, leered and smoked pot on trains. Why was she, merely seeking a seat, a target? Having fought for the seat, why didn’t he take it? What a futile attack! She would show him her tears, and induce some guilt. But he would get defensive, she knew, and justify himself, or think that she was emotional, overwrought, a madwoman, which, to be fair, she possibly was. She closed her eyes and tried to hold it in.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 3, 2009 at 11:22 pm

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November is National Novel Writing Month. You would think that a global community of writers would be able to avoid making ‘National’ the first word of the name of an international event, but I’m not going to let that put me off. The concept is this: over 100,000 people worldwide will each attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in November. That divides up into 1666 words a day. At the end of a month of frantic writing, those of us who have not thrown down our pens in horror or frustration will be rewarded with more slush than we can ever expect to edit. I’m going to do it.

Wannabe writers all over the time zone will be beginning at midnight with a cup of coffee and a blank page. I’m not entirely sure why they do that, but I think it may be connected to the reason why people queued until the early hours on Harry Potter release dates. I intend to start tomorrow, mid-morning, with a clear head and a rising loaf in the airing cupboard to provide a good excuse for frequent breaks. I will hang up my apron and begin my masterpiece.

I am participating because I have a great fear of becoming one of those people who talks about writing a novel and never actually does it. My father spent years believing that there was a novel in him and then, unfortunately, found that someone else had already written it. I fear the wrath of published writers, who seem to have a pathological hatred of those who speak of writing without doing it, as if considering yourself capable of the feat they have accomplished is an unforgivable impudence. I was recently quizzed about my career plans by an a writer, an editor and her assistant. “What do you really want to do?” they asked. I said I honestly didn’t know. What would be the point of ruining a friendly atmosphere by putting them on the defensive? If I had finished a manuscript I could, with integrity, say that I want to be a writer.

So tomorrow I will write something. I am a little threatened by my fellow NaNoWriMoers. They have plans. They write in genres I have never heard of (can anyone explain steam punk?), with intricate plots and supernatural characters. All I have is a strong memory of an established novelist from Sheffield telling me to write what I know. I wish that he hadn’t: I hated his book about his poverty-stricken childhood. My problem is that the only thing I really know is myself.

A few days ago I conceived an idea for a novel with someone rather like me as a main character, and a vastly improved version of an ex-lover as another. Chapter perspectives would alternate between the two. It fell through at the start of the second chapter, when I realised that I can’t see things from anyone else’s perspective. A helpful writer/publisher in New York invited me to send him the manuscript of ‘Hegel’s Whip’ when it is finished. He liked my idea for a book about a young woman exploring the British fetish scene. The problem wasn’t only the painful nature of the research, but also creating a plot in the series of fragments I created on the theme.

I hope that my finished novel looks like the literary lovechild of Deirdre Madden and Milan Kundera. In the next twenty-four hours, I’ll take 2000 words on any topic. Wish me luck!

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 31, 2009 at 11:10 pm

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