Archives for category: Writing and Literature

Script FrenzyAs if Nanowrimo every November weren’t enough, the good folks at The Office of Letters and Light also run an event called Script Frenzy every April.  I’ve chickened out of it in the past, thinking that I wasn’t interested in writing a play or movie or TV script – but this year I’m doing it.  And I’m smack in the middle of it right now!

The best thing about it is that I never imagined writing a script before – in my head I’ve always been a future novelist. So I had no hangups about what I should be writing about or how I should do it. Having no baggage is great!

The second-best thing is how much I prepared beforehand. I read about 25 plays (luckily my husband teaches a course in 20th century American Drama at Goldsmiths, so I had a whole library of plays at home!), mostly from the 20th century, mostly from North America and Britain, purely because this is my favourite time period (oh, I miss the 20th century!) and location. It was absolutely fascinating to read them; although I go to the theatre several times a year I hadn’t read a play since university. I had some greats on my list, but my clear favourites were Angels in America by Tony Kushner, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, M Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, The Mentalists by Richard Bean (I know, I know, it’s 21st century), Aunt Dan and Lemon by Wallace Shawn, and the howlingly funny Hysteria by Terry Johnson.

And now I’m writing my own play. We’ll see how it goes.  I fully intend to finish the requisite 100 pages by the end of April so I can have the nice ‘I won Script Frenzy’ badge to put on my blog!

I won Nanowrimo 2010!

I won Nanowrimo 2010!

I won Nanowrimo again this year!  My 50,000 words were done and dusted by November 28th this year – mostly because I’d learned from last year’s experience of leaving it until the last minute to finish nearly half of my novel.  In case you don’t know, Nanowrimo is a month-long global novel-writing fest that happens every November.  I’ve been doing it for the past three years and have managed to get my requisite 50,000 words done on time each year.  Three for three!

I did have a horrible day in the middle of the month where I was a few thousand words behind my target, hating my novel, not knowing where it was going, and feeling like tossing it all in the garbage, but giving myself a whole day on a weekend to catch up made me feel all right again.  And the characters suddenly perked up and seemed much more likeable.  I’ve never divulged the plots of any of my novels before, but I’ll reveal a little about this one: it’s a murder mystery set in a small-town museum.  I may even try to revise it and show it to some gentle editor-friends.

Every year I get very excited about doing this project, but every year I seem to have a few bad (read: horrible, hair-pulling-out) days on the way, where I beg my husband to remind me not to do this again next year.  But the excitement and satisfaction of winning wipes all those bad feelings out and I can’t remember them… until the next time.  This must be what it feels like to write all the time.  Which I would like to be doing.  So now my challenge is to keep on writing after Nanowrimo ends, and not just do it in November!

Nanowrimo 2009 winner

Nanowrimo 2009 winner!

Yeahhhh!!!  I know this post is a few days later, but I think I was too much in shock for the first couple of days of December at the fact that I actually succeeded in doing the 50,000 words required to win NaNoWriMo.  I won last year, but I timed my sessions better and did a bit of writing onalmost every day of November that year, so I knew I would be able to do it.  This year I skipped a lot of days and still had 20,000 words to go on my novel with 5 days left.  I really didn’t think I could do it and I nearly quit.  Thanks to my lovely husband, who gave up his thesis time on our shared laptop, I managed to barricade myself in his office and write the last huge chunk in the last few days – with half a day to spare!  I’m still dazed from that much screen time, I think.

I won NaNoWriMo!

I won NaNoWriMo!

Wow, does my arthritic finger ever hurt.  I’ve been pounding away at the keyboard for about 2 hours a night for the last 29 days, with a final push of over 6000 words in a single day today.  But it was worth it: I reached the goal of 50,000 words, going over by about 3600 extra words and with one day to spare!  And without coffee.  Awesome.

It has been a month of incredible highs and lows. Mostly the lows were because of lack of sleep.  I’ve had a lot of work to do this month, so all my noveling has been done in the late evenings or early mornings.  (I’m proud to say I didn’t write a single word of my novel at work!)  My eyes are burnt out from looking at the screen, and my shoulders are killing me.  But I slogged through the bad days and got it done, and when I was having a good moment I really felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants.  In a good way.

I noticed that when I have a good moment, I’m typing so fast that I’m leaning over to the right, screwing up my face in the same tongue-sticking-out-in-concentration expression that I first remember noting, with some surprise, as I suddenly realized that I could see my reflection in our black lacquered Yamaha piano as I was practicing a piece.  What a revelation.  I hope no one ever watches me while I’m writing!

On days this month when I was having trouble writing, I was convinced that my novel was the worst thing anyone could ever write.  Now I feel like I’ve done a pretty damn good first draft!  I’m so glad I stuck it out.  I feel like I really achieved something.  I’ve never had a full first draft before!

I’ll be doing a little bit of work on it tomorrow, but then I’ll be setting it aside for two weeks so I can concentrate on other stuff, like all the crafts that have gone by the wayside this month.  I’ll pick it up again during the holidays, to start on the first revision.  For now: WOOHOO!

I am so close to winning Nanowrimo that I can hardly stand it.  I can’t believe I’ve been writing nearly every day this month and getting so close to the goal of 50,000 words.  I’m going to win!  Only 5000 left to go, and I’ve got 4 more days to do it in, including a weekend.  Luckily Thanksgiving doesn’t get in the way here in the UK.

It’s been very difficult at times.  I think the worst part was between 30,000 and 42,000 words.  I had come so far by then that I knew I couldn’t stop, but I worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to get to the 50,000 word mark before the end of the month.  It’s been pretty hectic at work, and I’ve gotten less sleep in the last few weeks than I usually do, so sometimes the stress got to me.  And sometimes I was pounding out the most inarticulate crap that I’ve ever seen (which is allowed, and even encouraged, during Nanowrimo!  Editing is for later).  Sometimes, though, I wrote something so good that I was amazed it came out of my head.  I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far.  All I have to do is write a few thousand words more to get to the goal.  It has definitely been worth it.

I meant to write this post eight days ago, but I’ve been too busy writing something else: a novel.  Well, a first draft, anyway.  It’s part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), an endeavour that’s been going on for the past ten years.  During the month of November, participants are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.  That’s 1667 words a day.  50,000 words is rather short for a novel, but it’s not peanuts!

Writing has always been my first and most beloved craft.  Unfortunately, it’s the one that scares me the most.  I can do all sorts of sewing, art, and craft projects, but when it comes to writing I balk.  My laptop is home to half-novels and half-stories that have petered out when I’ve taken too long of a break and then not had the nerve to return to finish my work.  Not this time.  I’m in it for the 50,000 words, even if I don’t sleep all month.  I’m going to get a full draft down, no matter how crappy it might be.

Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote a book called No Plot? No Problem!, which I picked up a few months ago at the wonderful Willesden Bookshop.  After reading it I decided I’d be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  Getting to 50,000 words is going to be a tough challenge, but having to concentrate on writing for most of the days this month will make me focus and get it done.  Some people have been participating for all 10 years, and some have ‘won’ every year (you’re a winner if you get to the 50,000 word mark). This year I’m going to win.

By the way, I’m not telling what my novel’s about.  That’s classified for now!

We went to see Complicite‘s ‘A Disappearing Number’ at the Barbican this evening.  One of the central themes is mathematics, and I was reminded how much I loved math when I was a kid.  It really is an art when it’s done for the theory and the pleasure of it.  Most kids I knew hated math and only did it when forced to (and not even then).  I read books about math for fun – there was a brilliant one called ‘The I Hate Mathematics Book’ which I read again a few years ago and it was just as good.  The performance this evening reminded me that there is a lot of beauty everywhere, in numbers as well as in things.  Don’t craftspeople create beautiful patterns?  Doesn’t nature work on a mathematical basis?  Working with mathematical principles in order to arrive at a perfectly crafted piece is probably something some craftspeople do without even realizing it.  I’ll be on the lookout for it more from now on.

We went to Poetry International last night at the South Bank Centre.  Four poets (Valzhyna Mort, Mounid Barghouti, Jorie Graham and Mark Doty) read from their newest collections.  The first two poets read in their native Belarussian and Arabic, which was quite interesting from our point of view, not only because the words seemed more forceful and vibrant in their original language, but because my husband could understand part of the Belarussian and I could understand part of the Arabic.  The English versions were projected onto a screen above.

Jorie Graham and Mark Doty, the two American poets, couldn’t have been more different from each other.  Jorie Graham spoke to the audience for as much time as she spent reading, and both her poetry and her words were solemn and passionate, addressing issues of the environment and American politics.  She read true to the line breaks in what are already quite difficult poems, so the effect was purposely disjointed and stilted, all done extremely well.

Mark Doty, by contrast, read in a most relaxed and conversational manner.  His narrative poems are humorous when read on the page; in person he makes them into the most hilarious stories you’ve ever heard.  I was crying with laughter by the last poem ‘House of Beauty’.  A wonderful way to end the evening.

Whenever I go to a poetry reading or a talk with an author, I feel inspired the whole way through and want to grab my notebook and scribble various notes even while the author is still talking.  I don’t, because I feel like it would be rude to appear as if I weren’t giving them my full attention.  So I wait until afterwards – but invariably, as soon as I step out of the event, I’m distracted by something that brings the calibre of my thoughts downwards again.  Last night it was getting on the bus – the conversation going on behind us was at about the lowest of possible standards.  It made me angry that in London (and anywhere, I guess) the mood can change so quickly from highly-crafted and thoughtful to puerile.  It’s too bad.

I’ll be bringing our copies of the poetry books on the Tube with me this week, though.  That ought to provide a few more well-crafted words than usual.

I’ve always been a fan of Jugendstil, the Austrian/German counterpart to art nouveau.  Today at the Vienna Cafe Exhibition at the RCA, I got a good dose of it in a fascinating exhibition curated by our friend Dr. Charlotte Ashby.

Typical Jugendstil was exemplified by the Cafe Heinrichshof, with an interior designed by Otto Prutscher in 1911.  Prutscher was one of the prominent members of the Wiener Werkstatte.  Photos of other Viennese cafes around the turn of the century showed similar art nouveau style design.  Other images charted the progression of the cafes from the 17th century to the 20th, and the role they played in Viennese cultural and social life.

One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition, though, moved away from the heyday of the Viennese cafes and into contemporary art and design, reimagining everyday objects influenced by cafe culture.  A silver spoon that melted and left traces in a teacup gave a new outlook on the everyday action of stirring sugar and milk into a hot drink.

The exhibition included an actual cafe (with cakes imported from Austria), serving some of the same items as were listed on a cafe menu from a century or two before.  The old menu, though, also listed prices for games or game pieces, such as dominoes, chess, and billiards, which patrons could play all day for the price of a cup of coffee.

The exhibition didn’t have a billiard table, but by all accounts the deliciousness of the strudel made up for it.