Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Inky Black


The nights are fair drawing in, n’est pas? This is payback time for all those beautiful long days that merge into each other in June. The photo on the left is a night in November if you're in the middle of nowhere or if you're in the city and glance outside and your eyes haven't adjusted. Sort of. Some people don’t like it. Some people get all miserable and depressed at the sight of all that black outside. Some people long for the return of heat and daylight and deep blue skies without a single cloud in them. But some people find themselves longing for all that even in, well, June. So I want to disagree.

Okay, the weather in November is variable, but never hot, but the night is dependably long and getting longer and there is no question of working a ten hour day then going for a ten kilometre run in the park through a cooling breeze then returning home to make the dinner and still eat it al fresco at midnight. No, no, no, this is not going to happen. Instead the inky blackness envelopes us and invites us to work for eight hours (max) and return to hot soup and cheese on toast by the fire with a hot toddy for afters, and if you’re lucky, like me, a laptop on your lap to while away the hours, but only a couple of hours because the main point of winter is going to bed early with a hot water bottle, and ok, if necessary, another hot toddy, and a very good book. Mavis’s Shoe perhaps, but I’ve already read it.


This is very beautiful of course, Glencoe, but notice how it's taken from the inside of a fast, warm car. The cold outside is what we're trying to avoid.

Apart from the distractions of Christmas parties as they loom on the horizon and all the angst about what to buy the nieces and nephews, oh, and the kids, not forgetting the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and most importantly the mums and aunties (Hear that kids? You know who you are!), there is a great deal of peace to be had at this time of year and therefore the possibility for a great deal of dedication to writing. Perhaps this is why so many people I know are indulging in NaNoWriMo, aka Nation Novel Writing Month.

During the month of November, NaNoWriMo writers must produce 50,000 words by 23:59:59 on the 30th, not strictly speaking a full length novel, but very nearly. Certainly enough for a first draft. I think this is a great thing. I wish I had done it myself. As I lie fast asleep at 5am, I am profoundly jealous of my friend who is actually up and writing at that time before she puts in her eight hour shift for the council then comes home to feed her kids. I sound sarcastic but I’m not. I’m genuinely in awe of her stamina, although when my kids were younger a similar level of determined energy was required of me too. I’m also greatly impressed by her commitment to writing. She’s not actually a NaNoWriMo person. She’s been doing it for even longer. It’s become her ROUTINE. This is something I believe to be very important to successful writing, though to look at me at the moment you’d never guess it.

NaNoWriMo is a licence to write complete rubbish, to experiment, to forget about the finished product and concentrate on getting as many words on paper as you possibly can, to squeeze the words out and watch them fall into whatever ridiculous place they want. It’s probably best done with a bit of planning before the month begins, but that may be against the rules. I’m not sure. But it certainly fits with the way I like to work.

If I’m sitting down for a day’s writing, I have to write a minimum of 1000 words. I may write 3000 but I’m not allowed dinner, or the toddy, until 1000 words hit the screen. Sometimes this entails throwing down anything that comes into my head just to pass the finishing line, and sometimes it’s easy and the words just follow one another obediently into the blank space in which I want to corral them. And oddly enough, when I return to them the next day it often doesn’t matter how they went down there, quick, slow, easy, hard. It’s either complete rubbish or it’s not and often the act of forcing the ideas out produces something surprising and fun and interesting. Which is fine as long as I’m trying to write something surprising, fun and interesting.

But I do like the middle of winter with its silences and cool skies, cloudy breath and more dependable temperatures than any other Scottish season. My favourite is January. The madness of Christmas is over and there is an atmosphere of concentration which isn’t there at any other time, as if the world is one big library and everyone’s working very hard. Best month for geeks like me, I suppose, libraries being some of my favourite places.

1 comment:

  1. I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo. My wife has but I’ve never seen what she wrote. I’m a slow writer even at the best of times. I joked with someone that while they were doing NaNoWriMo I’d be doing KiloWordoWriteo. Of course I write every day and easily average 1000 words but that doesn’t mean a novel every couple of months; most of my time these days is taken up with blogging – “getting known” as Krapp put it. Someone posted an article about how to get noticed online if you’re a self-published author and one of her recommendations (and she was deadly serious) was to upload four full-length novels a year, more if they were shorter works. My response was short and simple: “How can anyone write four novels a year and maintain quality?” I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo and the simple fact is that I wrote my first two novels in about three months back-to-back so I know it can be done but I then pottered around with them for five years before they were finished-finished. Let’s face it the Philp K Dick’s of this world who can churn out book after book are few and far between. Writing is a habit and habits take time to form. Sitting down one November morning and suddenly making yourself write 1500 words a day will be quite a shock to the system. I have a new novel brewing. I’ve been thinking about it for months and I’ll probably make a start next month when my wife goes off to the States for three weeks but my writing routine is already established; I’ll back off the articles – I have a decent stockpile written for this purpose – and write instead. At least that’s the plan.

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