Yesterday, of course, was Hallowe’en, and after dressing up for work I liked my pirate costume so much I decided to leave it on for the rest of the day. If you haven’t tried it, you can’t imagine how empowering it is to stride through the mall buying bras, shampoo and birthday party gifts, in full pirate costume with a parrot on your shoulder. Plus, you get a lot of smiles. (Because it was Halloween. If it hadn’t been, I imagine I would have gotten much odder looks).
Then I went to Chapters with my Neo for one of my rare happy breaks and sat down to write like a pirate for awhile.
The obligatory Hallowe’en pics of my kids being cute in costume are up at Flickr, but I’m not really writing about Hallowe’en costumes today; I’m writing about writing. Today is November 1, the beginning of NaNoWriMo, and I am going to write like a pirate for the next 30 days.
This may sound as though I’m confusing two great internet traditions: NaNoWriMo and Talk Like a Pirate Day, but no. Piracy is closely linked to my own personal philosophy of how and why I’m doing NaNo this year.
I’ve been participating in the online frenzy that is National Novel Writing Month, in which writers support each other as they attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days, since 2003. Between 03 and 06, this produced drafts of 4 novels, of which one has since been published, one has been accepted for publication, one is out looking for love in all the wrong places (publishers’ slush piles, mostly), and one is sitting on a shelf gathering dust, waiting till I feel strong enough to meet its editing needs.
I’ve grown to love the bizarre energy of November, of having one month in the year when writing comes first and I really push to create something new despite whatever barriers life throws at me. But last year I decided the last thing I needed at this stage in my career was another unpublished manuscript lying around, so I didn’t do NaNo 2007.
November 2007 was terrible — lifeless, dead, uncreative. And I had this great idea for a novel about a road trip involving three unlikely friends … but I sternly pushed it aside and went on with editing or freelancing or life or whatever I was doing.
Well, you may recall what happened. By March, the road trip novel refused to be stifled any longer, and it burst out, and I wrote 50,000 words in a month after all, and now, look! I have another unpublished manuscript around needing editing.
So obviously, this is something I need to do. But once again, I’m not sure I want another pile of 50,000 words unready for publication. All through October I’ve been swaying back and forth, discussing with writer friends whether I should do it or not, and if I do, how I should approach it. I’ve lured Karen in, and she’s all geared up for her first NaNo. Katrina, whom I first met through NaNo 2004, is up for another year, another novel. Uppington, whom I dragged into this NaNo thing in the first place a couple of years ago, is doing it but says she’s trying to focus on being playful and having fun with it as an antidote to her “serious” writing. (But she also says I should leave my parrot on my shoulder throughout November, so should I be listening to this person?) And the Smartmouth Mombie, who wants to put more emphasis on her writing but doesn’t particularly want to produce a novel, has committed to writing 50,000 words of SOMETHING in November.
And what about me? What I’ve discovered as I’ve looked back on my NaNo experiences is that while NaNo is great and I love it, the purposes for which it was designed don’t exactly suit my needs. The goals of NaNo are to help writers get past writers’ block, past the inner critic that says, “You can’t write a book!”, past the fear that they have nothing to say, and just get the words out there. Get the clay on the table. Those who are serious writers can then take it and shape something out of it, while others can just bask in the glow of having DONE IT.
But for me, writing 50,000 words, though it’s more than I usually do in a month, is not the problem. I do have faith in my own ability to get words on paper, because that’s pretty much what I do. For me, the benefit of NaNoWriMo is that in a life where my priorities — mom, wife, teacher, reluctant homemaker, volunteer, and, oh yeah, writer — crowd in on one another and clamour for first place, November is the one month in the year where writing moves up the list. It’s when I give myself permission to be, first and foremost, a writer. And beyond that, it’s when I give myself space and time to work on one of my own creative, speculative projects — something I’m writing just for the love of it, rather than because I’ve been hired to do so or even because I have a contract to get it published.
For the last couple of months I’ve been working quite hard on two manuscripts which my inspirational publisher is already expecting from me — a novella about Joseph for a Christmas gift book they’re producing next year, and a young-adult version of my novel about Queen Esther, to be released at Camporee next summer. Both those projects have been absorbing and engaging, but they haven’t really been risky or pushed me a lot because I know they have homes to go to, and I know they will be well-received when they get there. And I have a workable draft of one, and two-thirds of a workable draft of the other, well ahead of deadline.
Risky would be, say, putting a month’s work and 50,000 words into my time-travelling monk book, a project dear to my heart which I keep putting on the back burner. So that’s the goal. I’ll push aside all the sensible stuff, sensible writing as well as everything else sensible, and for this month I will be a creative writer, working on a crazy project that might or might not turn into something publishable. I may not literally keep the parrot on my shoulder (though I’m not ruling out the possibility), but I will adopt a no-holds-barred, full-steam-ahead, take-no-prisoners attitude to my writing.
I will write like a pirate.