At my writing course last night, we had a great talk by Markus Zusak. He’s exactly the kind of writer you want to succeed – he’s humble but very, very driven. He doesn’t think writers have great imaginations; he thinks they have problems, and the way they solve those problems will determine the kind of book they write.
The Book Thief took him three years to write, and at one point he wrote 200 pages in one month. It gave him, as he said, ‘a carcass to pick from’. Having done Nanowrimo twice, I can relate to that. It got me thinking: should I attempt a ‘Markus Zusak’ challenge myself? Could I write 200 pages in a month? That’s more than 2000 words a day, or six and a half pages. It’s about 65,000 words, 15,000 more than Nanowrimo. Hmmm. I wonder.
In another phase of my life, I know I could do it. And even now, I know I could do it, but a lot of other stuff in my life might fall apart in the process. I get precious little ‘down time’ these days and sacrificing all of that for the novel is a big ask. This is the part of serious writing that makes me uncomfortable: something that became evident when I spent a year writing full time. I’m not sure this is exclusive to writing, but to succeed, at some point you need to let go of your desire for a balanced life. Writing, and finishing, has to be an obsession. You have to become a workaholic. You have to let it consume you. Just the thought of doing what Markus Zusak did feels like a test of my mettle : how serious am I?
In Dorathea Brande’s classic book, Becoming a Writer, she offers a bunch of strategies to tackle procrastination. For caffeine addicts, she suggests setting out a flask of coffee at your desk the night before “to thwart your wily unconscious in the neatest fashion. You will have no excuse to postpone work while you wait for your stimulant.”
I don’t have time for procrastination anymore. For me, it’s increasingly the other way round. My writing is getting in the way of the building blocks for my day. As a new mother, I picked two iron-clad rules that had to happen before my husband left for work: I needed to eat breakfast, and I needed to have a shower. They might seem mundane to most people, but to a new parent, they’re a luxury.
But more and more these days, I feel like I’m losing ground. Now that I spend half an hour writing instead of getting ready, I run out of time to eat, unless you count two half-chewed toast squares abandoned on the floor by my daughter. I’m seriously considering laying out some food on the stairs to my office each night so I can take it up with me in the morning and snack while I write.
With that state of affairs, I shudder to think what life would look like if I tried to squeeze over 2000 words into each day, instead of 500.
I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet. The start of April is almost upon us. The beginning of Autumn here, and Spring in the North. If I’m going to do it, there’s an elegance to starting with the new month. On the other hand, perhaps what matters is my awareness that I need to raise the stakes. Maybe I won’t be able to match Markus’ feat, but I’m pretty sure I can push myself more. After all, unless you try something, how do you know what you’re capable of?