NaNoWriMo Day 15: On Reading and Writing

We are half way through NaNoWriMo! Day 15! Keep going! I have an article in two parts for you today. Let’s first focus on the writing part. What have I learned in these first fifteen days?

Writing is hard. Writing every day, writing three pages every day is particularly hard. It is not the exam phase yet so I still find the time to do it. Mostly in the evenings. That’s the most creative portion of the day. Fuelled by a gazillion cups of tea (I don’t count it in cups of tea anymore but in packages of tea bags: probably around 3.) I made my way and wrote every single day.

So here are some statistics so far:

cups of tea: uncountable

characters killed: none – that’s fortunate…

emotional break downs due to unreached word count: 2

emotional break downs due to sleep deprivation: 5849

emotional break downs due to uncertainty what to write about: 38429373299

times cursing myself that I started this project once again: 15

times falling asleep on my laptop screen: 5

Ted Talks watched as inspiration: 34

The last two ones are accurate. Very accurate.

Things I have learned so far (also including last year’s Nanowrimo):

  • You can indeed force your brain to come up with something new every day.
  • Ted Talks and documentaries about Salmon and Climate Change help. Maybe not for every novel, though. If you want to write a blog entry about the environment every day because you are too afraid of fiction… yeah… might be helpful.
  • You can trick your brain into thinking that it needs less sleep than it actually does. Most of the time.
  • I need around 2-3 hours to produce a decent text the length NaNoWriMo founders want us to write every day. Another hour to fix all the major errors I have made. To freak out about how that text will come across. To stop myself from deleting everything. To search for motivational quotes on tumblr. To finally stop thinking and upload the finished text.
    Sometimes the steps after writing take longer than the actual process of writing. Which is I guess pretty accurate for a lot of authors out there. We are made to permanently criticise our own work and freak out about it. At least I can’t picture a process that would look different. Maybe I’m only giving myself a hard time?
  • That I, after all, really enjoy this emotional roller coaster that is writing a text a day.
  • That checking your word count after every sentence you have written is not beneficial to your overall text structure.
  • That it helps to silently mutter “Keep going” to yourself. Often in combination with some curse words.
  • That a lot of great authors have said great things about writing. I have written them into my calendar to keep me motivated. Hemingway said some great things…

All you have to do is write a true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.

Now that sounds easy, doesn’t it? He always makes it looks so easy that whole writing thing. Putting word after word, avoiding wrong ones, writing true… I’m more a fan of the whole: “Sit at a typewriter and bleed” thing. Simply seems more accurate to the whole process.

Crippling anxiety, self doubt, exhaustion and all those questions. Am I offending anyone by saying that? Could that be said another, nicer, more true way? Should it be said at all? Do I know enough about this subject to even have an opinion on it? Should I even write at all? Ever? Again? I suppose you, who are participating in NaNoWriMo or ever have, will know all these thoughts.

Now onto the reading part. I love reading. As you might have guessed if you read any of my articles. I invest my money in two things: Food and books. That’s about it. You have to physically drag me out of a bookstore. If I were to go to the library with you – you would have to carry three bags for me and wait approximately 4 hours until I am out of that building again. I just love books so much.

My problem, though, is that I do not have that much time for reading. That’s a common excuse, I know. But I have writing and painting and drawing and knitting and making music and all these other things I love. And uni. Obviously. At the end of the year I will have read around 50 books. That’s not that much. A book a week.

My strategy is to combine my hobbies. I am a woman, I’m able to multitask! Knitting or painting while listening to an audiobook. Reading a sentence, writing a sentence. Doing uni work and reading… Well, I have to work on that last one.

I’m really into biographies and non-fiction at the moment as I have already mentioned. I’m reading Barack Obama’s stories about his family, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. Those are what I call my active reads. There are a lot of books that I started and probably have to restart because I already can’t remember what they are about anymore. Too many books I’m reading parallel.

Yesterday I found a Ted Talk by an incredibly inspiring woman named Ann Morgan (https://ayearofreadingtheworld.com). She thought her reading was too narrow, just British and North American books. She decided to read the world in a year and so many people helped her on her journey. They send her books and even translated them for her. I am in deep awe of this project, I love it. My reading is a little broader than hers in the beginning but I often recognise that I really don’t know anything at all. The more you learn, the less you know. When people ask me what I like to read I tend to answer: Everything.

I love crime novels, poetry and fiction, sometimes young adult literature. I love novels about interesting people, about class and race and feminism. It is hard, though, to get these topics right.

Reading Bad Feminism, I realised that there are some deep flaws with some books I really like. I never thought about these! She raises questions that I never answered to myself. It hit me at first and I thought that her influence on my reading choices is frightening. It is good, though. Making me think about what I read and especially How I read is essential to a broader experience. Asking the uncomfortable questions means that I am not blindly accepting anything that I find in my books as true. That I’m seeking other sources, other books to confirm or contradict what I have read.

How I have read for many many years has contributed to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie names “The Danger of the Single Story”. I would not encounter other realities. I would not appreciate different tales of people I have never listened to. Last summer, as I discovered Adichie’s writing, I painfully became aware of my narrow reading. I changed it. At least as much as I could. There is some truth in it that most English novels we can buy are from English-speaking countries. The book market is not focused on the writings of other countries. However, it is not true that we do not have access to these books. If we just scratched the surface a bit and were more open about our choices – we would be able to find these books!

Here’s a story: One of my favourite films – a very cheesy one – “The Bridges of Madison County” starring the brilliant Meryl Streep is based on a book by Robert James Waller. I have to admit that I only watched the film. Which I normally avoid doing.
As I looked through the English bookcase in my local library, I didn’t know which books to take with me. The shelf isn’t that big but the choice is hard nevertheless. Therefore I didn’t read the titles of the books I was putting into my bag. I simply let myself be surprised afterwards, what I would read. Examining my new reads at home, I found “A thousand country roads”, which sounded beautiful. Guess by whom it was? Robert James Waller. It was the epilogue to Bridges of Madison County in novel form. Apart from the fact that I didn’t enjoy the book that much in the end, it was a very pleasant surprise!

What do we learn from this?

Each time I’m in the library now, I’ll pick some random books out of the shelf. I will read them with an open mind. I will try to get books from as many countries and regions and historical backgrounds as possible. I will try to get more books from women authors.

I simply want to widen my perspective based on a thing that I do every day and that is a vital part of me and my knowledge about the world: Reading.

Another very interesting thought is comparative reading. You take two books about similar topics or eras and read them at the same time. You compare the differences in their story telling, which facts they leave out or which ones they stress on. How they develop their characters or dialogue or story line. It’s such a fascinating technique to get more out of your reading experience and to develop more thoughts on books in general. It counteracts the Single Story.

Here is what I would like you to do:

  • Read a book from a country you never read a book from.
  • Read a book about a topic that interests you but that you have never learned anything about. Or about a topic that makes you uncomfortable. Find out why it does!
  • Read a book about a person you find interesting. A person who you wish to have met.
  • Read a book and tell me about it. I’m so interested in your choices! What is your favourite read at the moment? What would you like me to read?

Last but not least, I would like to thank you for your support and your lovely messages over the past two weeks, it really means a lot to me. And it kept me going!

Current Word Count: 25532

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