30 October 2008

To NaNo or Noto

This time last year I was about to embark on NaNoWriMo, but this year has been a different prospect for me. Last year, I was teaching two classes, both on a Tuesday, and as the first Tuesday in November (our final class) was a public holiday, I'd finished teaching by the beginning of November (though I still had late assignments to mark). This year, I'm teaching the same two, and have a Monday class and an online class, which has meant I'm still teaching into the first week of November, and have lots of marking to do.

That was my first strike against doing NaNo this year, because really it is about commitment, a big commitment. Last year I got myself off to a great start by going on a writing retreat with my friend Ellen and was flying, but once I came home that soon tailed off, and by the end of November I found myself with about 5000 words/day to write for three or four days. But I did it. Nothing like a deadline, right?

I still might have embarked on NaNo if I were in writing mode, but I'm currently in the middle of an edit. Or rather the tidy up after the edit -- going through reader comments. I want to get this done and off to my agent, rather than putting it aside and churning out another 50,000 words (as rewarding as that is!). I haven't even read over last year's yet -- that's a job for when this edit's finished. Nor have I worked out how to put my NaNo winner sticker on my blog.

Constancy is the trick to NaNo -- staying on top of the word count, rather than having days off and ending up with a big chase at the end. Constancy is the trick to novel writing full stop! It's much easier when you are immersed in the story: you are thinking, dreaming, breathing it. The cogs are oiled and spinning; the words flow. It's such a magical feeling. Those are the days when it's hard to understand how anyone could not want to write. The counterpoint is the time when the words are mired in mud, when the rejection letters are forming a pyramid in the letterbox, when everything you write seems to be crap. (In hindsight, it doesn't mean they were crap -- it's just a function of the self-confidence rollercoaster that many writers seem to ride.)

So this year I'll have to live NaNo vicariously through Luke, one of my students: the type of student who has sheer the determination and enthusiasm to get him through. I hope he finds it as rewarding as I did -- and maybe next year we can compare word counts as we go. In the meantime, go, Luke!

20 October 2008

Persuade me

Each summer, as the semester winds down (or after it finishes really), I go into reading mode. That's not to say I don't read all year round -- I do. During the year, though, I don't read as much for the pure pleasure of reading. I do read the novels we're studying in class, submissions for Poetrix, student work, the papers and Time magazine, the back of the cereal box, texts on writing, blogs, poetry, the occasional novel or short story -- all sorts of things. But I don't get to devour novels the same way I do on holidays.

The last two summers have been themed. Two years ago it was Dan Brown. I had been determined not to read The Da Vinci Code because of all the hype. Rarely does the book (or movie or whatever) live up to the hype. But then a student subbed the first chapter (prologue really) with an analysis as part of an assignment, and I was hooked. I went out and bought the book (the lovely illustrated version) and read it in about 24 hours. My eyes were bugging out of my head. Then I went on a Brown hunt.

Last year, it was Matthew Reilly. (Hmm, I can see a plot-related theme running here -- both writers are masters of tight plotting with lots of twists and turns.) I had similarly avoided Reilly and thought it was time I gave him a try. I started with Ice station and had to follow this up with the other Scarecrow books. I'm not sure I'd start on his other books -- there are just so many writers out there that I likewise should dip into -- but if he writes any more Scarecrow ones, I'm there. And I'm sure his others are a great read. Don't study him for characterisation (there's not a lot), but do study him for plot because he's brilliant at it.

This year it's Austen. So, I've moved away from plot into character, into literary. And the thing that persuaded me to do this was the 2007 BBC version of Persuasion. Do I love that show, or what? The funny thing is that I was watching it on the ABC, and it was only when I got to the scenes on the Cobb in Lyme that I thought, I've seen this before. I remembered having loved it, but hadn't remembered what it was called. Obviously, what I'd seen before was the 1995 one.

Earlier this year, I had a Pride and prejudice obsession, having fallen in love with the Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen film. So, everyone else, you can keep your Colin Firths. I liked him as Mr Darcy until I saw Macfadyen and the vulnerability he brought to the role. Now, the old BBC series seems a bit overblown (though not the all-too-brief appearance of Tom Ward, of course!).

And now it's Rupert Penry-Jones (Adam in Spooks) as Captain Wentworth, and Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot, who is not a modern hero in any sense of the word: not feisty but calm, reserved, angst-ridden, not proactive in getting what she wants. But perhaps she's more like me than Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet is, and so I can relate. I don't know. I do know that I've finally read Pride and prejudice and am now firmly ensconced in Persuasion. Already, I can see the writers have taken some liberties, but I have no problems with that (and in one sense they've made it a more modern telling by making things harder on Anne -- she misunderstands the situation surrounding Louisa's wedding far longer in the show than in the book, for example). 

A film adaptation is an adaptation and works best when people don't try to hold too religiously to the book. They're different media, so writers and fans shouldn't become overly precious or we might miss out on masterpieces like Lord of the rings, or the most modern adaptations of both Pride and prejudice and Persuasion.

And as far as my reading goes, I've got Emma lined up as well, and am thinking I must get Northanger Abbey and Sense and sensibility.

14 October 2008

Idyllic retreat

We're coming up to crunch time -- the end-of-semester marking spree, and never have I had more subjects to mark, so I can't say I'm looking forward to it. For a few weeks, it means I have to live, eat, breathe and sleep marking. I have had years where I've stayed up till 4 am and then got up again at 6 for another burst. Can't say it's very conducive to good health, but the mountain has to be scaled.

It also means my own work is pushed to the side. For a few weeks of the year, I barely even think about it, and I can feel myself get toey about it. So, with all this in mind, it was fantastic to get away with a few members of the SuperNOVA novel writing branch for a writers' weekend.

My mother tells me off when I go away like this. "You've got a family," she says. "It's selfish to leave them behind while you go on holiday." She's missing the point. This isn't a holiday per se: it's a chance to spend intensive time working on your novel. We do write. Or edit. And we do do it for most of the day. And the evening. And well into the night.

When I've been out with Western Women Writers, half the group wants to spend the whole time writing (I'm in that half), and half wants to spend half the time writing and half socialising. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Balance is a good thing -- if you're not too time-pressured. I relish the time to be focused. And I get a lot done. 

There's something about being away with other writers -- we all inspire each other to write lots. Procrastination is frowned upon. My friend Ellen is the task-master and gently keeps us all in line. Like me, she's not there to muck around. We measure success sometimes in words, or sometimes in more esoteric terms -- the feeling of having reconnected with your novel after time-out, or of nailing that difficult scene.

The worst part, always, is having to come home, and this weekend was a particularly short one, because of traffic concerns. But it's wonderful to have had dedicated time to spend with dedicated people -- something every writer needs.