Creative Shame and Why People Like Me Need NaNoWriMo
When I was teenager, I was, for a short time, serious about becoming a writer. I even remember borrowing The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook from my local library and leafing through the pages; I might have even written down a few names and addresses. I wasn’t what you would call confident, but I was pretty efficient in my approach, despite lacking one key element in my plan: a finished manuscript.
(I just remembered that during the time I had the yearbook in my hands, my Nintendo DS was stolen by someone punching through my family cars’ front passenger window after I had left my bag inside to go to a Chinese school celebration dinner. It was really fun eating at my grandparents house while everyone had their Nintendo DS and I was on my stomach leafing through that hunk of a book. Sorry for the segway, let’s get back to my very undramatic life.)
I had never and have never written a full manuscript. When I was a teenager I abandoned the idea of becoming a writer because I became trapped in a vicious cycle of low self esteem regarding my own skill. I wrote a few pages, planned around seven novels in detail (oh yeah, I went there) on an old version of Word. Those 20+ pages and the plan were deleted. I bought beautiful (OK, they weren’t, they were tacky as Hell) hardback notebooks and began writing furiously in pencil (that always started fading after a few months) and then tried but failed to tear those pages out to start again. (By the way, those hardback notebooks are well bound, so don’t even try. Otherwise you’ll end up trying to burn the thing or it’ll be tossed in a mixture of anger and shame to the back of your cupboard.)
And I was definitely right. I was terrible.
But I was a bad writer because before being a good writer you must be a bad one. Whether you like it or not you must be rejected and critiqued and learn that you are not a special little inspiration story. You are not JK Rowling or Stephen King. No one can romanticise your struggle to be an “artist” unless you actually become successful. You’re not a film character, a book character or any kind of player in any kind of game; you’re a hypocritical walking contradiction heavily influenced by the environment you’re raised in, your financial status, the privilege (or not) that comes with that status, your race, your upbringing, your luck, your DNA and whatever chaos the world throws at you. You may not have a Batman like tale of sadness and vengeance, but sure, you’ve been dumped and heartbroken and once had a big argument with some person who meant a lot to you. And whole host of other shit.
When I was thirteen I loved manga to death. I obsessed over stories and characters. I loved J — pop and Naruto and I was fucking thirteen. How good do you expect a thirteen year old to be at writing? I was probably decent for my age sure, my teachers had told me that, but really, you’re meant to be terrible. You’re cliche, your punctuation is spotty, you haven’t read enough or written enough. If I hadn’t deleted those attempts all those years ago I would go back to these and cringe. Die. And want to destroy them all over again. But now, as an adult, I wouldn’t. If only I had kept on writing, kept on being rejected — where would I be now, a decade later? I would be better than I am now, for sure. Do something enough times and you’re sure to improve.
How is it that I am happy to dedicate two years to learning a language, months to learn inDesign, and yet when it comes to my own writing, which is so much weaker than I want it to be, give up so easily? Why haven’t I progressed past my thirteen year old self?
Because I’ve simply reshaped my thirteen year old psyche in a twenty-two year old one, which in many ways, is far worse as my loathing has become far more sophisticated:
Thirteen years old: I’m bad at writing, I’ll never be as good as XYZ.
Twenty two years old: I’m bad at writing, I’ve googled all these tips and I can’t follow all of them, I’m a failure because I’ve got an English Liteature degree but write like an arsehole (check out any of your old essays, even the well graded ones) and I’m not deep enough, philosophical enough, I haven’t read enough criticism, I don’t know all the literary forms and terms, I’m out of my depth,I’m too stupid.
Thirteen years old: What if nobody likes my writing? What if I don’t get famous enough to become a proper writer?
Twenty-two year old: What if all the critics and readers on Goodreads hate me? What if I become famous and people start emailing me to tell me my book is racist/bad/a rip off/ tacky? What will I say to the people I deeply admire and respect who read my book if they don’t like it?
The list goes on and on. A desperate need to write and a desperate need to be liked and a desperate need to have honesty from my readers. I don’t want to offend, I don’t want to be hated, I want to float in a magical neutral ground where people like me a lot but nobody who dislikes me has anyway of bursting my bubble.
What fantastical fairy land is this? My own stories aren’t as crap as this, what am I, a little paper person that must be admired from a distance and delicately handled, lest you tear my legs off? If that’s the case put me in a shredder and put me out of my misery.
All of this fits in well into a reason why people like me need Nanowrimo. When I think of Nanowrimo it’s easy to think of a legion of nerdy-ish folk, all triumphantly raising our pens into the air, ink stained and weary from the battle of writing our first novels, all of which, of course, will be amazing and bestsellers and let us pat ourselves on the back for throwing that ring into the volcano. It was hard guys, but I finally did it. Yay me! Where’s my Nobel prize?
Nanowrimo does not create amazing first time novels. People who take the time to put pen to paper and consistently churn out words that will need heavy editing and rewriting, make great novels. Nanowrimo is a carved out space, an option for those who need a little bit of comradeship when going through this whole novel thing. No romance, no eureka moments, just a quiet team effort and the recognition that while we are all having our own writing catastrophes in our own brains, so is the next guy.
I’m a lazy, excuse filled arsehole who managed to shame myself into a creative drought for damn near a decade, convinced that it was the world’s fault, starting projects but never quite finishing or deleting them out of existence in an attempt to forget. But Nanwrimo is something I’m willing to go through.
Oh, by the way, that seven novel saga was about a girl who lived in a world where people had tattoos that came to life. She had a tattoo (named Merl) that would come off her body and manifest in physical glory as a sarcastic lemur that she would eventually learn to semi fuse with, so she could have lemur like claws and a tail and have lemur like abilities. She was also a demon exorcist btw. In this world tattoos weren’t limited to normal animals either, I eventually wanted characters who had tattoos of legendary creatures (Chinese dragon hellooo) and “element” type dudes who could have a tattoo of a diamond and make diamond weapons (diamond is a element guyz trust me) and Jesus Christ I was waay too heavily influenced by manga back then ok byeee.