Tuesday, October 26

So there's this thing called National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that in November, you pound out a hundred fifty thousand words of novel. There are little counters on a web site, and associated writers' meetups. It's a big topic in places where people gather on the Internet to make comments about writing instead of actually doing any writing that isn't about writing. Friends have been suggesting for something like a decade now that I ought to participate, and so once or twice I have gotten about as far as roughing out a really awful first chapter. I'm not opposed to the exercise, but there are some important problems with the idea of me writing a novel. They could probably be outlined as follows:

  1. I hate writing fiction.

But just now I got to thinking that maybe this is actually my year to participate. Sort of. I mean, I don't think I've got it in me to write a novel. I don't even think I've got it in me to write a short story. The best I can manage these days is maybe something around the length of a hackneyed plot synopsis of a nonexistent film

J. Smith keeps to himself mostly. If his neighbors don't know much about his past, maybe it's just that they've never had much cause to wonder. That's all about to change. Mr. Smith's past is about to catch up to him, and nothing in the sleepy small town of Baxter will be quite the same afterwards... (PG-13. Kevin Spacey, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lacey Chabert. Dir. by Ridley Scott. C+)

God, that was agonizing. I can't even model bad fiction convincingly in my head. I think a profound hubris is demanded of every novelist right at the place where you enter the field. Making up a story is making a contract with your audience that you will lie to them convincingly not just about what happened — that's the obvious given — but about the plausibility of your lie about what happened. Suspension of disbelief starts when an author has the balls to just plain fake it everywhere their own data is imperfect or the mechanics of the story unrealistic.

I'm an arrogant person, and probably middling dishonest, but I can't carry this off. I can't write a story with rocket ships in it, because I don't know how rocket ships work. I'm a straight white male from the small-town American middle, reluctantly pushing 30, and I am frequently unsure I know what that's like well enough to fake it. The idea of telling a reader implicitly that I know what might happen to, say, a gay teenaged girl in the suburbs of Atlanta is terrifying.

I don't know what doctors do, or how to clean a gun, or what it is actually like to know what the hell you're doing in a fistfight. I have never tried heroin, dropped acid, tended bar, or scaled a rock wall. I don't know how to get around in Tokyo, how a waiter keeps six orders straight in his head, or what it feels like to be pregnant.

I read this piece of forum trolling the other day - a guy supposedly posting on an image board after doing a couple of years in prison. Like a lot of the commenters on the MetaFilter post where I found it, I more or less bought in for most of its length, whatever my nagging suspicions. It's a compelling and in its own way kind of brilliant piece of writing, and on closer examination it's got to be total bullshit. This guy, he has what I lack. I could probably fabricate everything he fabricated, and maybe even do it more plausibly, but I don't have the chutzpah to sell it.

(I'm sure you could argue right about here that a steady diet of genre fiction in my youth has left me with the idea that I have to reach much further outside of mundane experience than is necessary in order to write fiction, but what I'm trying to get at is this: I'm not up to it when it's a two-lane highway any more than I am when it's interstellar travel.)

ANYWAY, I'm not going to write a novel. I'm not even interested in writing a novel. I already have an unused guitar sitting in my bedroom. It doesn't need an unpublished manuscript to keep it company.

I am kind of interested in the idea of writing a whole lot of words in the month of November, so I think I might just try to hit that 100k 50k. I'm going to fail for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that my hands will already be twisted little balls of agony from all the flailing I'm going to have to do on a keyboard at work, where we are about to dump months and months worth of fresh code on a public who will immediately and perhaps even justifiably loathe us for the effort, but it still seems like a good idea.

Since I'm already breaking the rules, we'll just say I started about two hours ago.

This entry is roughly 873 words. In the interest of full disclosure, here's how I'll keep track:

lynx -force-html -dump ./26 | wc -w