Once more into the breach – As some of you may have noticed, recent entries here at Liminality have focused on Korea or translating or both. In fact, you’d have to go back three months to find an entry that mentions neither. I guess this isn’t really surprising, since I live in Korea and pretty much all I do these days is translate. There was a time, though, when I talked about a lot of other things (like, for example, writing). I don’t know if this is an indication of the direction in which Liminality is heading or just a phase. Rather than going into an angst-filled whine about what Liminality is and what I want it to be (or if I even want it to be anything), I will simply say that today’s entry will be about neither Korea nor translation. In fact, chances are good that I will not write about those two subjects for the next month and change.
The reason for this is that November is National Insanity Month, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. I did NaNoWriMo last year, and although my “novel” is no longer online, you can still read my comments on preparing for the insanity and my summary of the aftermath. Or not. I’ll be honest with you, I have no intention of reading them, mainly because a) I wrote them (even if I have little to no memory of what I actually wrote), b) I am already firmly in the grip of this year’s November terror, so I’d like to put off reality as long as possible, and c) that second entry is the longest entry in the history of Liminality.
In truth, though, last year was a piece of cake. There were times that I pretended it wasn’t because I felt guilty about having it so easy, especially when a friend who shall remain nameless was watching a pink sweater unravel before his eyes. I had been thinking about the story long before NaNo (notice how the acronym is getting shorter—by the end of the entry it will simply be “N”), and when it came time to start writing I was bursting with ideas, energy, and enthusiasm. Though I didn’t have the whole thing planned out from the beginning, I was always thinking far enough ahead to avoid a creativity buffer underrun. I flew past the 50k word mark on day 19, I think, and after only 23 days of writing I finished the novel at 62398 words.
As a result of that experience I created the Workshop, which hasn’t quite turned out to be gushing outlet of creativity that I hoped it would be, and has only seen a handful of updates over the past few months, but in one fit of creativity it did give birth to a fairly interesting short story (that may someday find its way into the Writings section here). I could give a ton of different excuses for my lack of output at the Workshop these days, but this month the overriding factor, I think, has been a fear that I might somehow use up all my creativity before November. I didn’t do any warming up before NN last year either, so this is nothing out of the ordinary.
Overall, though, I would have to say that this year is probably going to be a lot harder than last year. For one, I have no idea what I am going to write about. The starting gun goes off a week from tomorrow, and I don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin, let alone end. I have no setting, no characters, no seed of a story, nothing. It’s kind of liberating, in the way that drunkenly charging down a steep hill toward a brick wall at the bottom is liberating. Until you reach the bottom of the hill, of course, at which point the experience goes from liberating to flattening. My brick wall is the first of November, and I am hurtling toward it with an inebriated grin on my face.
I did have an idea for a story at one point. Rather, I had a seed—a gimmick. For me, seeds are usually “what if” questions. I start with the answer to that question and then my imagination takes over. Last year, the seed was, “What if you could have your dreams tailored for you?” This led to the title character, the dream tailor (because “dream weaver,” however cool it may sound, is already a song by Gary Wright), and to his customer and my protagonist, Farren. The story dealt with dreams, which have always been a favorite topic of mine, and the writing, even when it sucked, came relatively easy. I do remember that there were days when it just wasn’t clicking, but I got through them.
The seed for this year’s story was, “What if someone found a blank journal in which entries mysteriously appeared at certain points in time?” I was fascinated with this idea at first and thought it would make for a great story, but I was having trouble moving beyond the seed. The seed invariably leads to other questions that need answering, and the main question I struggled with was, “OK, if these entries are mysteriously appearing, who is writing them?” I came up with three possible answers: 1) they are written by a ghost, 2) they are written by another person who somehow has a connection with the journal through time and/or space, or 3) the journal itself is sentient.
I didn’t want to go with the first answer because I’ve already covered this ground in another story (the lone Workshop story that I managed to complete this past year), and I’d rather not obsess over a ghost story for an entire month. The third one was thrown in for the sake of completeness, and I never really seriously considered it. Incidentally, when I shared these thoughts with my wife, she said, “There’s one other possibility. Your protagonist could be schizophrenic and write in the journal while dominated by his other personality.” I replied, “True, but once the schizophrenia was revealed the journal would lose its mystical nature.” She said, “That’s true, but why does it need to be mystical?” The only answer I could come up with was that I like introducing elements of fantasy in otherwise realistic stories.
Anyway, I struggled with the follow-up questions for some time, but I was never able to come up with any satisfying answers. That is, none of the possibilities I came up with excited or interested me. I didn’t feel the same urge to write that I felt last year. Then again, now that I’ve written this down, I’ve thought of a way to keep the journal important in the schizophrenia story—the journal would be a link between his two personalities. But it’s too little, too late. I actually think that would be an interesting story, and I may attempt to write it at some point, but it’s not going to be my novel for this November. I think my fixation on the journal stifled a lot of other creativity that could have been going on, and I decided to cut my losses and get out while I still could.
That was a few days ago, and except for a few stray ideas wandering about my cranium, I am no closer to having a story for November than I am to learning how to sing Gregorian chants while standing on my head in a cornfield. I feel the tiniest bit of apprehension about this, but only when I think about it really hard and try to make myself nervous. I don’t know why, but I seem to be fully prepared to embrace the brick wall.
This is surprising, at least for me, because this is not the way I work. I need to think things through in advance. I need to have a solid grip on my story before attempting to write it. I take notes—I scribble over pieces of paper, writing down characters’ names, relationships, motivations, etc. I do not just open up a new Word document and start typing away tabula rasa. I did try this at the Workshop recently, just to see how it would go, and it started out fairly well. But with no destination I found myself quickly bogged down in tedium, grasping at plot twists and turns like an old car coughing forward in spurts until the engine finally gives out completely. Needless to say, this does not bode well for what I may very well find myself faced with come the first of November.
I tell myself that I am going to come up with something, but I also know that I am a terrible procrastinator, and if I don’t come up with something now I’m not going to come up with anything at all. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to come up with something right now, of course. I had no intention of doing that when I started writing this entry, and I have no intention of changing course now, not when things are hurtling along so smoothly toward oblivion. No, I just mention this to justify, in a twisted and preemptive way, my inevitable failure to think of an idea before November. Or maybe I’m using reverse psychology on myself. I guess we won’t know until November. Correction: I won’t know until November. You won’t know until December (best case scenario), or until the story falls apart at the seams from a painfully obvious lack of planning (worst case scenario).
Even though I have no idea of what I am going to be writing about, I do have a good idea of some of the things I am not going to be writing about. For one, I will not be writing about that stupid journal. I still think there is a good story in there, but I also know that it’s just not happening for me right now. Maybe it needs more time to ferment. Or maybe it’s just a really crappy story and my brain is still in the process of accepting that. Another thing I am not going to write about is Korea. In the Korea thread (Korea doesn’t actually have a forum, just a thread in the Asia - Elsewhere forum; more on why in a bit) in the NaNo forums, someone asked if people were going to write about Korea. Most of the denizens of the thread responded in the affirmative, one of them even saying something to the effect of “how can you not?” Well, it’s easy. You just write about something else. This year, I am not going to write about Korea because I don’t think that living in Korea should mean I have to write about Korea. And if you’re thinking that this is some sort of non-conformist temper tantrum, well, you’re right.
I am toying with the idea of writing completely realistic fiction. This comes from my wife’s comment that I seem to be obsessed with fantasy (she didn’t actually say “obsessed,” but I’ve never been one to pass up the opportunity to make a mountain out of a mole hill). I don’t think fantasy is a bad thing—in fact, I think it is a good thing, otherwise I wouldn’t be obsessed with it—but I do like challenges. It might be fun to move away from fantasy and try to plant my feet firmly in reality. That is, it might be fun to do that if I had an inkling of a story to run with. As it is, chances are good that my completely realistic story is going to be gate-crashed by fire-breathing ninjas on winged steeds.
All that being said, though, I am supremely confident about this month’s Marathon of Madness. I am confident because, story aside, the most important thing I learned last year was that it’s not really that hard to write 50k words in a month. Even on my worst days, I never slipped below my goal of 2k words, and most days I finished above 2500 words. He may hate me for saying this, but the unnamed fellow above is probably a better example for this point than I am. I had a story that was fun to write, but he was struggling with a story that didn’t want to go anywhere—and he still wrote the 50k words.
Here’s the thing: NaNo is about writing, yes, but it’s about quantity, not quality. And the fact of the matter is that just about anyone can write 50k words in a month if they put their mind to it. People who fail at NaNo do not fail because they are terrible writers (though they may very well be), they fail because they do not have the willpower to see it through. NaNo is about determination. It’s about keeping promises you made to yourself. And though I may spew out 50k words of pure nauseating drivel this year, I will get it done. There is not a speck of doubt in my mind about that. As long as I am conscious, I will write.
And, to ratchet up the excitement this year, I have decided to be the Municipal Liaison for Korea (kind of like the area cheerleader/organizer/forum moderator). The reason Korea doesn’t have a forum of its own is because no one has been insane and/or stupid enough to volunteer to be ML. I have stepped forward, though, and now we will have our own forum and the Thank God It’s Over party in December will be more efficiently planned than it was last year. Those are the main reasons I volunteered, but I also think I have a secret desire to see just how far I can push myself before my mind gives up and abandons my body to face the consequences of my actions alone.
I will most likely write one more entry before I plunge into the Great Abyss of N, and come the first of November there will be a notice on the front page of Liminality directing the brave and/or foolish to the Workshop, where I will be retiring for the entire frenzied month of November. But I just thought I would give you advance notice, you know, so you don’t go into shock at the sudden absence of my brilliance and wit. And on that note, I am signing off and heading straight to bed. I’ll most likely give this a quick once over before posting, but there will be no detailed editing done tonight. I have been hit with a sudden cold or something and my head is refusing to stay in one piece. So good night, wherever you may be, and I hope you’re feeling a lot better than I am right now.