Wednesday, November 4, 2009

W: Writing, words and Wednesdays

Letter of the day is a little Sesame Street, but I don’t care. I enjoy my little crutches. Especially now. It’s November. And November is National Novel Writing Month. One guess as to what I’m busy doing.

So instead of visiting writers’ homes I’m staying home and writing. This is day four. It’s going well so far (knock wood). I’m cautiously optimistic and having a lot of fun. I won’t go into details yet. Maybe later. Anyway, my plan is to keep exploring America here on a weekly basis—probably musings about American writers and their thoughts on writing. For my own inspiration.

I’m still thinking about the writers I “visited” this fall. I envy the ones who got free housing and didn’t have to worry about paying the bills thanks to someone else’s largesse. I worry about the fact that so many of them seemed to suffer from depression or other mental illnesses and wonder that if there’s some genetic link between writing and those illnesses. I noticed that most of them had erratic work histories (granted, most were nineteenth-century folk, and the world ran differently then), and that gets me to thinking about my own résumé.

But for now, I’m just happily banging away on my keyboard and creating a novel—well, at least a “shitty first draft” (as Anne Lamott so beautifully put it). I’m keeping good thoughts and doing the math on how many words per day I have to write in order to reach the 50,000 mark by month’s end. It’s 1,667 per day for 30 days. But I know I’m not going to want to write on Thanksgiving (that’s a food day), and I’m sure there will be at least one other day that’s bound to get problematic schedule wise. So if I figure on 28 days, I’m looking at 1,785 per day. Heck, I’m going to shoot for 2,000 whenever I can, so that it will make up for the few miserable days I’m bound to run into when I can pound out only a few hundred.

All right, you’ve guessed it—I’m using the math as a distraction. Poking numbers into a calculator means I’m not dancing my fingers across the keyboard.

It’s got me thinking about some other numbers. One fact I gleaned at the Mark Twain House and Museum was that he wrote four thousand words a day. With output like that, he’d get through National Novel Writing Month in less than two weeks.

Then again, maybe not. He wrote an essay called “When a Book Gets Tired” in which he explained that he often had three or four projects in the works at a given time, because each would have to sit for a time when it he hit a snag with it.

“It was by accident that I found out that a book is pretty sure to get tired, along about the middle, and refuse to go on with its work until its powers and its interests should have been refreshed by a rest and its depleted stock of raw materials reinforced by lapse of time.”

Don’t tell me this. There is no room for a “lapse of time” in a thirty-day span.

Another thing about numbers, consciously or not a number of my historic friends used banking as a metaphor when they talked about writing. Do you think that the money question was always nagging at the corners of their minds and influencing their literary imagery?

Twain (in an essay called “Comment on Tautology and Grammar”) explains sloppy word repetition on “the fact that the writer’s balance at the vocabulary bank has run short and that he is too lazy to replenish it from the thesaurus.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to his journal as his “personal savings bank” in which he’d deposit thoughts and then later withdraw them as needed for his writing.

I get the sense that both men considered the value of the words and ideas they were dealing with and tried to be wise about their saving and spending.

I wonder (in fleeting moments so far) if I can come up with 50,000 words on short notice. Act now! This offer won’t be repeated!  Will I mentally be turning my pockets inside out and scrounging between the sofa cushions for spare words?

And then I second-guess my marathon of choice. I could have gone for the Brattle Theatre Movie Watch-a-thon fundraiser. I could happily watch movies all day long. Unfortunately for me, the timing of the Watch-a-thon and novel writing month are in direct conflict, so I guess it’s writing for me.

Plus, I’ve already started typing.

Twain wrote in another essay (“Reply to the Editor of ‘The Art of Authorship’”) that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

I’m going to be writing 50,000 of the suckers. Maybe a few of them will be right. Certainly a lot of them will be wrong. But that’s what rewrites are for. Right now, I’m going to get my kite and my key and get back to that novel.

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