Friday, November 14, 2014

NaNoWriMo, or discipline and distraction

November is the National Novel Writing Month (although it has now caught the attention of writers in many nations). Being a writer by intention and calling, I'm always writing a novel, but as an exercise in craft, NaNoWriMo raises some thoughts about discipline and distraction.

Committing to any creative work is a fine thing, a worthy undertaking, but for writers, our commitments to the real, lived world create the challenges – time, focus; in other word, distractions – that NaNoWriMo highlights.

Writing is hard; writing enough requires discipline. We are distracted by our technology, our habits, our connection to the Internet. Like many writers, I sustain this blog, a Goodreads profile, a G+ profile, and that's just writing. We look for the tool that will keep us away from online distractions, and there's even this, the Hemingwrite, a 'distraction free writing device', a fantasy gadget that mimics the writer's myth of the typewriter as perfect writing tool. (I've written on a typewriter: slow, noisy, and impossible to edit; the tech we blame for distracting us also speeds our task enough to contemplate writing 50 000 words in a month.)

But the truth is that our tools are ours to choose. That's a matter of craft, and discipline does not make the business of writing easier or harder, any more than the tools. It only creates the path to getting something done.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at the Canterbury Public Library, one drizzly evening in Christchurch, New Zealand. One remark, one figure of his, has always stuck with me: three hundred words a day. That's not much. About a page. It can take ten minutes to write, half an hour, an hour if the scene is complex, the inspiration sluggish. Sometimes, you won't make that, and sometimes you can write twice, three times, much more than that. But three hundred words a day is a discipline, something you can look to and encompass and achieve.

You can learn discipline, but the more important important thing is to exercise it.

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