Writing is hard. It is harder still when fighting battles with yourself.
Yet this is trampled on completely when November’s fad of eleven years, NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, comes around. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel by November 30th.
Like many other things around me at the moment, it is an alien existence. It has taken me three years to come close to 50,000 words for my thesis. Writers will be soon be surpassing that toil in less than 3% of the time.
NaNoWriMo has received a lot of strong opinion, largely because it encourages quantity over quality. The official page freely concedes, ‘Make no mistake: you will be writing a lot of crap’.
Sometimes I have sympathy for the freedom, precisely because adding 500 words of quality to my doctoral thesis seems like a colossal achievement. It is also something that, for better or worse, the world of academia has contemplated itself. But I also loathe it for the way it can disregard the graft that goes into a small amount.
Writing often delves into dark, private pursuits. This can make great novels, but equally can create torment when the emphasis is short rather than long, and quality over quantity.
This time last year, I was using my relative anonymity at a new university to write on dark private matters. This November, illness would not let go, and a bundle of commission work has involved similarly dark undertones. The back-story of the programme I have been working on centres around how UK teenage girls have fallen into crisis, and how their lives could have brighter futures. The proposed scheme is worthy, and it will revolutionize the landscape for youth employment if it achieves its ambitions, but it has been an uncomfortable subject nonetheless, and a time-consuming endeavour.
How widely does tone and address need to vary across different platforms? Here, the PR had to be statistical. The site copy had to be factual, directional and yet enticing. The speech to the press had to be explanatory, stirring, and deliberative. The speech to the contributors had to be epideictic, rich in sentiment and praise. Two other speeches for separate events had to be similar but different, had to use different quotes that were witty and female-orientated but not sexist or offensive, and had to be realistic about the economy but not negative.
There is also a certain amount of manoeuvring to accommodate sensitive material for different audiences. Handling the press carefully is essential. Even when the parameters of the main project are identifying a severe weakness (or absence) on their part, we need them on our side here.
And there is pressure. I am still a relative newbie to professional writing. To be entrusted with all of this material is a great privilege, not least because of the magnificent campaign it supports, and it is a dream start to a portfolio. I am close to making ends meet, which is all I ever wanted until the PhD was completed. But is it good enough? Will more work come along? Can I justify searching for it while my own research is desperately in need of attention?
Where I do engage with NaNoWriMo is that writing can be its own reward. I frequently start blog entries and discard them because I have long spent hours constructing posts and felt disappointed at the end product. Time simply cannot be spent undermining my own confidence, and the Promethean days of the summer still loom.
Clarity of expression, structure of argument, and flair of delivery are difficult to learn. You want it to come naturally, without tireless editing and re-arranging. Most challenging of all is accepting one’s own quality control – a tenet vital to postgraduate research. Mercifully, some forum activity this weekend (aided by inspiring minds) has lead to contributions that, for the first time in a good while, I can tolerate reading back. It is as unexpected and welcome as a Sunderland victory over Chelsea, and important because, for a slow and methodical writer, spending hours on short works is a risk.
As several private matters over the past few weeks have identified, risks have to be worth taking.
One such risk is the decision to head to Germany this week for a private album launch party, where I will be the UK’s only representative. I have to do this to crack a stigma that still haunts as vividly as a Weeping Angel.