Monday, November 3, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief

Ah, NaNoWriMo, that old ghost—back to haunt us post-Halloween once again.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m already 3,000 words behind (though, granted, I haven’t gotten today’s session in yet). I started a day late. And I blame Bob Dylan for that. My boyfriend and I watched No Direction Home on Saturday night after dinner, with his promise that it would inspire me. I would say, however, the effect was more simultaneous inspiration and dejection. Though the movie never went deep into Dylan’s writing process, the implication was that his most genius work spilled out of his head in a mostly final, perfect form. Photographs of his “marked up” lyric sheets showed that, for him, significant revision meant changing “old” to “ol’.”

It’s that kind of idea that can really wrap itself around your creative brain and start to constrict. Knowing you have to churn out 1667 words a day for 30 days straight, it’s impossible to believe that your most fatal mistake will be a letter where there should have been an apostrophe. It’s more like exposition where there should have been dialogue, or a hero where there should have been a villain, or a completely disjointed narrative mess where there should have been a plot.

And yet, that’s what we force ourselves to believe during NaNoWriMo: that everything we’re writing is perfect and doesn’t need changing. If we don’t fool our brains into believing that the words rapidly flowing forth from our pens are pure gold, then our inner editor will wave his mighty red pen and stop all progress in its tracks (my God, look at the mixed metaphors already taking hold). Unless you are one cocky sonuvabitch (or just deluded, or, well, published in multiples), November is a month of lying to yourself just to get from one day to the next—or even from one word to the next. It’s the suspension of disbelief in yourself.

How long does it take for the lie to take hold? I tell you, it won’t happen on the first day. My first day was so full of doubt that I couldn’t even start. But maybe two hours in on the second day, or five days in, or a week: it will happen. All your notions of failure will fall away, and you’ll start riding that high of the lie.

Then, maybe twenty days in, or perhaps at midnight on November 30, you’ll realize you didn't need to lie all that much, and maybe you do have some perfection in you, too.

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