I am not a novelist. A novelist is someone that novels, and I don’t. I want to. I mean to. But I haven’t (well, except this once, and nobody gets to read that), so I am not a novelist. I’m a writer, though, and a published one, and I’m a voracious reader, and what’s more I am Facebook friends and Twitter pals with a huge number of writers of all stripes, real and imaginary, so I have a couple things I want to make sure I say before the annual frenzy of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins on All Saints Day tomorrow. Some inconvenient truths, as it were, about writing this November, or perhaps any time.
1. You won’t find time to write. You won’t. You won’t make time, which is a stupid phrase anyway. How can you make time? You have the same time everyone else does. And you won’t get time, either. If you’re going to write anything this November, you’re going to have to hack time out of your month with a jackhammer. You’re going to have to put other important things on hold, shed those stupid timewasting activities that you love to indulge, and stick your fingers in your ears when new ones come up. If you don’t do this in what will be perceived as an irrational and even slightly psychotic manner, you will simply not write.
Why is this? Well, face it. If you are a novelist, you don’t have NaNoWriMo. You have PersonalNoWriLife. That’s what your life consists of, or at least part of your life does. But you are not that person. Your life does not – often painfully not – consist of novel writing. If you want it to, you’re going to have to delete other stuff that has been part of your life and is probably already in the bowl interacting with the other ingredients, to use a baking analogy. It can certainly be done. Absolutely you CAN do it. But if you underestimate the difficulty of it, even a little, you’ll have NaNoWriDay instead of what you intended.
2. Your writing is going to suck. I mean, not just that it will be a little unpolished, need a little buffing here and there. It will be a pit of slime. Your writing will almost all be garbage of the smelliest variety, and you’ll be able to tell, and you’ll doubt yourself and wonder why you ever embarked on this journey.
Why? Two reasons, one encouraging and one not so. Bad news first: because you’re not very good. If you were, you’d write more. A writer is someone that writes, and writes compulsively, and studies writing, and practices, and like anyone that practices a lot gets better. You don’t do this. If you did, again, you’d be only a peripheral part of NaNoWriMo, because you’d already be writing. So your writing will suck, because you’re not used to cranking out that much stuff in that short a period, and you don’t have the muscles. Good News: NOBODY’S stuff is good as it extrudes from the pen, so to speak. The first draft – and NaNoWriMo is not for anything else – should be so bad that even your family refuses to read it. It almost has to be. This shouldn’t bother you, even though it will. Nobody sees this but you, so your job isn’t to write well, but to write at all.
3. You can’t do this by yourself. I know, you’re supposed to hole up in a lighthouse on the snowy coast of Maine and write until your fingers fall off, but you won’t, and you can’t. This is not your fault. Nobody is invested with an unlimited amount of change mojo, and since this kind of writing is very different from what you are used to, you’re going to need all the mojo you have, and then some, to make it happen. You must have help. Get a partner – doesn’t even have to be someone that writes, just someone that will absolutely punish you if you don’t follow through. Bet someone that hates you $12,000 that you’ll put 50,000 words out from November 1 to November 30, put the money in escrow someplace, and I guarantee you find that you can make the changes you require in order to get it done, because that person will absolutely take your money if you don’t, and you know it. You need help. Get it.
4. What you write will not be publishable. Oh, I know all about Amy Tan and Christopher Paolini. You are not them. Your pile of stinking cow dung will not be good enough to get published, and if you send it off breathlessly to Bantam on December 1, you will find out why NaNoWriMo is followed by NaManuscriptRejectMo every year.
Why? Good writers have good editors. Some people are good at both, but nobody is good at both at the same time, and rarely is anyone good at both on the same document. You need a good editor, which you probably don’t have, in order to find the book that is hidden inside the big rock that you carved out of the mountain of possible English words over the 30 days of this experiment. So if you really want to be published, I recommend making December NaNoReWriMo.
And a bonus: you don’t even really WANT to write a novel. Look, the world is not crying out for more bad prose. There are eight people on the planet who will ever know that you wrote anything at all, and most of them will have lives of tragedy and disappointment entirely without your inflicting your attempt at a novel on them. They’ll smile and tell you that it’s great, that it’s life-altering, that it’s the equal of any of the bestsellers they’re reading now, and they will be lying, and both of you will know it. Why are you going to subject yourself to this? You like suffering? You like it when people run as you approach? You might want to make this NaNoReadMo instead. There are a colossal number of really good books you haven’t read yet, and some people that really are good at this novel thing would appreciate it if you’d notice and repair that.
So. That’s why you shouldn’t even try this.
But…you’re still here, aren’t you? Well, then, I have one more question for you:
Who cares what I think about whether you can do this?
You don’t. If you have something in you that you have to write, a piece of whatever-it-is that your soul will die if it can’t express, then do me just one favor: write it. Just sit down and start typing and let all the crap and the prose and the poetry and the ache and the pain and the joy of all of it come out through your fingers, and just keep going until you finish it, no matter if that’s this month or this year or even this lifetime. Go. Do. Don’t let anyone, least of all me, stop you. All my inconvenient truths are still true, but you are the God of this place, as a much better writer once wrote. You cannot be stopped by inconvenience.
If you cannot be stopped, then you cannot be stopped. So go.
On December 1, stop back in, and share what you’ve done. I’ll be waiting for you.
More politics. But not heavy stuff. You can handle it.
Dear Mr. Matheson-
You are my Congressman. I don’t like it, because I think you’re doing a fairly lousy job, but you are my Congressman at least until they redistrict me into Congressman Chaffetz’s district later this year, so I thought I’d write and give you a suggestion for how to better do the job we elected you to do.
As you might have heard, there’s been some wrangling about the budget recently, and the size of the debt the US has incurred, and also about the deficit the budget is causing. I know you have some ideas about those things, not that anyone is listening to you, because, let’s face it, you’re essentially invisible up there. Nancy Pelosi knows she can’t count on you, and the Republicans have your face on a dart board as one of their best takeout targets in 2012. Still, you seem a decent fellow, and this might be an idea you could use.
The Senate is supposed to pass a budget. They’re…well, they’re not passing anything. They haven’t passed a budget in over 820 days. This is hardly your fault, and I’m not blaming you for it, and I’m even willing to admit the possibility that it’s just a coincidence that this 820 days or so begins about the time President Obama was elected. This isn’t about pointing fingers at people; it’s about pointing out a direction to go. So the Senate doesn’t have a budget. In fact, Paul Ryan’s budget is the only one that’s been passed by EITHER house of Congress in a good long while, and it’s because I see that you voted “No” on that that I wanted to write this. Clearly you have ideas about what the budget should be, since you said with your vote that Mr. Ryan’s budget isn’t it.
Why not produce a budget of your own? You’re a “moderate”. You’re supposed to be a guy that can get us all to sit together and sing Kumbaya, so I would think that if those things were true, your budget ought to be a pretty good one. Can you show us what it is?
Actually, I have an even better idea. You love town hall meetings. I’ve been to them, and in my professional opinion, you’re extremely good at that kind of format. Personally, I like you. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. I think that’s true of a lot of people in our district, which is why you keep getting elected. Why not combine your skills at town hall meetings with a “budget session”, and get us all together and craft a budget plan. Utah Second Congressional District’s Budget Plan. You can take it to the floor of the House, thump it down on the rostrum and say “l0ok, people, this isn’t that hard. My district can do it. We have a plan. Where’s YOUR plan, distinguished colleagues, excepting Mr. Ryan, who gets a pass because he actually has one?”
I mean, that sounds to me like statesmanship. I won’t like the plan you put there on that rostrum, because you and I have certain fundamental differences of opinion when it comes to government. That’s okay. I have a feeling that you’d listen to what I had to say before rejecting it, which is refreshing all by itself. You have a fair number of radical elements in your district – they call them “Tea Party” people, as if there was actually such a thing – and this would be a good way to see if they have anything useful to say to you. My experience is that we as a people tend to be pretty bright about this fiscal stuff. You might learn something. And we might, too, hearing your ideas.
Pass out a budget summary. Have people mark it up. Talk about what you’d like to see cut, and what you absolutely can’t live with eliminating. Have a Budget Session, since the Senate seems incapable of it. Don’t you think that would be a valuable contribution to the debate? It isn’t like it’s over now that you raised the debt ceiling. We’re going to hit it again, you know. As a friend of mine put it the other day, raising the legal limit for blood alcohol level doesn’t make Congress any less drunk. I thought that was a good metaphor, even in Utah.
So that’s my idea, and I know you’re unlikely to read this or to do anything about it if you did, but I wonder what would happen if a substantial number of Congressmen did this. Can you imagine the fun of fifty or a hundred different budgets, all available online, all proposed and developed and marked up by the very people that are going to have to pay for them? Doesn’t that sound like a legislative process with some substance, instead of empty posturing?
Well, it’s just an idea. I’ll be seeing you, either way. Thank you for listening, and thank you for doing whatever it is you do, because even though we’re not exactly seeing eye to eye on this stuff, I’m glad it’s you in that seat and not me.
Chris Jones, one of the Lehi people that can’t figure out why we’re in your district in the first place
I don’t do politics here much anymore, and almost never do mortgage stuff, but today, I can’t resist. So you’ve been warned.
- The ceiling is going to be raised. It is almost certainly going to be raised by the August 2 deadline.
- There will be budget cuts. They will almost entirely be illusions, projected for years in advance, so that the “$2.2 billion” in “cuts” will be backloaded for future Congresses to deal with, and they will not be actual cuts, only smaller increases in funding.
- There will be tax increases. Real ones, starting right now. On you, and me, and especially “millionaires”, which is defined as those making $250,000 or more per year. Not indexed to inflation.
I’m the eldest of seven children, the first two boys, the last five girls. My sisters are intelligent, perceptive, and excellent judges of the character of men. They are writers, photographers, marathoners, and the finest mothers imaginable.
They are also bloggers, and my sister Allison’s Wonderland blog has a post about me that I thought I’d call your attention to. She understands me well.
The post is here. Comment, and return often. You’ll be well repaid.
I mean, when you think of it, there isn’t any such thing. Your life is measured in minutes the number of which you know not, but surely that 118 that just went by while you were playing FarmVille were part of it, weren’t they? So they weren’t free. Or maybe they came to you free, but they have intrinsic value, and when you gave them away, did you get as much in return as you might have? If you’re anything like me, you perform that little calculation all the time, and aren’t always happy with the math.
My job(s) are not confinable to particular hour blocks. I have a friend that’s a pilot, and when he’s in the pilot seat, he’s working. When the plane lands, he’s done. When he’s logged x hours over y days, he’s done. He goes home, and that’s it. He has free time, as usually defined. My job, like it or not, doesn’t have that at all. Some days I have no specific thing to do. Some days I have specific tasks that must be performed all day long and off into the evening. There is, in other words, no pilot seat. Or maybe better said, I usually have one cheek in the pilot seat at all times.
Recently I’ve become better at not being perpetually on call for work, even during the day. It’s also true that I’m a lot less constantly working than most of my competition. I never work Sundays, for any reason, and I’ve worked less than 10 hours of Saturday per quarter ever since I can remember. I rarely take calls in the evenings, no matter the state of the file, though of course there are exceptions. But what I discover is that that doesn’t help that much. I still don’t have free time.
My work life splits into three main channels, mortgage stuff, PerfectHome stuff, and writing (yes, all you that have urged me for years to do more writing, you’re getting your wish. You have been for a while, you know – I have over 500 posts on here). Any one of those three things could expand to fill the known universe, and all three threaten to do so practically every day. It’s only recently that I realized that writing was actually work, and that it had to be treated as such, or I would never do any of it. Because, see, if I wait to write in my “free time”, I find that free time never comes. So I have to schedule it like all my work.
So I go “off shift”, and then I don’t do mortgage stuff, unless I have to, or PerfectHome stuff, unless I have to, or writing, unless…well, okay, I’m nearly always writing. But I can put it aside to read to my kids, or what have you. So that means when I go off shift I have free time, right?
Sigh. I’m afraid I know the answer to that question.
I mean, once I’m off shift I can theoretically do whatever I want, so that makes it free time (ignore that that statement is true of every minute, no matter where I am). But in point of fact, to be a good writer I have to read a lot and research a lot more, so I have a stack of twelve (and counting) books that I need to read (and want to read), four of which I am actually in the middle of right now. Then there are the fun projects I’m contemplating doing, like writing a sci-fi screenplay, because I think I’d like to learn to do that kind of thing, so I have reading and writing to do for that, too. And I’m in the process of remembering how to play the piano, so I need to practice. The garden, which I love and which feeds my soul, needs weeding. I have eight children, all of whom do better with at least small doses of Dad every day. And then I married one of the most interesting, vital, and lovely women on earth, with whom I could cheerfully spend every waking moment, making plans, baking bread, just talking. I do better, I AM better, with a large helping of Jeanette every day. Being LDS, I know I need to attend the temple and read the scriptures, plus ancillary religious material. Rapidly, considering all the different roles I play and the person I think I really want to be, it becomes painfully obvious that I have no free time at all. To not do the things I listed would be to abandon roles and responsibilities that I cannot abandon without becoming someone else.
I thought through this this morning as I chatted with la belle Jeanette, and we were discussing doing something, and I said “I can do that in my free time,” which she giggled at slightly, because she is kind and despite all her perfections, loves me. All day I’ve thought of it. All day I’ve added things to and subtracted from my day, and invested the time I have a little more wisely, knowing that there were things I wanted to do that I wouldn’t be able to get to – ever – unless I were tighter with what I did now. And then a second ago, I remembered something I read from C.S. Lewis (how I love that man), writing as Screwtape, the demon. It goes like this:
The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift… He is also, in theory, committed to total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse…. he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself”. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day. [emphasis mine]
One day, I’ll be strong enough to relate the journey of the last month, as I came to realize for the first time since I achieved sentience that I am possibly not a huge disappointment as a person. That’s for another day. For now, suffice it to say that I’m coming ’round to the idea that I don’t have any free time at all, and never will have. I never really did, if it comes to that, though I didn’t know it.
This is going to have consequences.