I’m wasted on cross country! We dwarves are natural sprinters. Very dangerous over a short distance!
– Gimli, ‘The Two Towers’ (2002)
I was never a long distance runner. Ask me to run a 100-meter event and I’ll do the lot swiftly, petering out at the very end perhaps. But long-distance? I did try a 1400m last year. I was good for about the first 3-minutes before my cardio decided to take off into the sky and bid my efforts farewell. I struggled through somehow, sometimes having to walk, and geared myself up for one desperate, death-defying sprint to collapse over the finish line.
I’m having flashbacks to this as I embark on the last leg of NaNoWriMo, casting a thousand-mile-stare over the top of my computer screen to the green world beyond.
The last time I made a target was on Day 13, racking up 22, 118 words with a goal of 21, 666. And then the beautiful bar chart just started to flatten out. Regularity took a backseat. The brain was blocked worse than my sinuses in this slowly encroaching winter weather. Essentially, progress took off into the sky and bid my efforts farewell.
The mission since then has been, how do I revive it? November will be over in just over five days. I’m sitting on 30, 694 words out of 50k. Todays goal is 40k. How do I rack up those numbers? Could I? Should I?
The purpose of marathons is to attain a goal; usually the time period has a little leeway – and dropping out is often an option – and yet in NaNoWriMo, the former has constraints upon as runners. Essentially, asking you to overcome impossibilities by a deadline.
So, stuck here in the trenches, I’m forced to ask myself not whether I can or cannot, but why I should or shouldn’t. It’s taken some sitting down with myself, and incidentally, consideration of the process has lent itself to understanding one of the key themes of any hero’s story (a reversal of life imitating art perhaps?).
‘Winning’ is meaningless. ‘Overcoming’ is fruitful. Winning means claiming a title, a place, a victory. Wining can be hollow. Willing can be joyless attainment. Overcoming, however, means the strength to break the tallest barricades, cross incredible divides, reconcile things separated by innumerable degrees. And in considering this, I realise that my goal, in this reality-defying virgin 50k-words-in-a-month challenge and/or quest, is to overcome the 5 years of deliberating and inaction, to overcome the fear of making a wrong move, and to overcome the challenges of pulling together all the strings to make the marionette dance its liveliest jig.
‘Winning’ is meaningless. ‘Overcoming’ is fruitful.
Challenges like this one may seem to place precedence of quantity over quality. But they have a practical purpose as well. The first draft is a skeleton and a shell. It is the inner backbone and the outer framework. The sinew and flesh may have started to grow but they have not necessarily yet made a living creature, beautiful to behold. That comes later. You cannot sculpt a statue with no frame, nor construct a building without foundations or scaffolding.
This first draft will be rather dreadful. It took dedicating myself to complete this NaNoWriMo to realise and accept this fact. There are so many holes you could use it as a sieve. There are some scenes that exist simply as [huge-ass fight] or [mentor-figure trains protagonist and says something deep] in the manuscript. And that’s okay. The themes may not be totally unifying yet. The characters may have certain inconsistencies. But these are all the struggles that will come with the editing, and they are the struggle of every writer. They are the integral process of perfecting the work with every technique you know how.
A composer does not begin bar 1 writing out every note and dynamic marking for each instrument and each player (unless, perhaps, you are Mozart). He begins with a framework, perhaps adding some embellishments as they come to him. And then he goes back and reworks, time and again, until it resembles the bright, core idea that first made him leap for his pen and manuscript in excitement.
So, what is my point? Go the distance. Run it. Walk a little if you have to, but make it over that finish line. Improvement can always be accomplished, time after time and attempt after attempt. Do not seek to win, but to overcome, and the accomplishment will not only be more strongly pursued, but more powerful and more fulfilling.