Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Since I Haven't Played Poker For a Few Hours...

I read Joe Speaker's last post, and it lit a little spark... so this is all his fault if it doesn't pan out. If you're really not interested in hearing me navel-gaze for a few-too-many words feel free to come back tomorrow when I'll probably be talking about how someone managed to issue me with a good junk-kicking in Mookie's tournament.

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In Joe's latest post he mentioned having a run at NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. I believe I read a post recently from the Good Doctor about him doing it as well. What is it? To be honest you would be best served by going to the website and reading about it, but essentially it is about challenging yourself to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a month (November). Their website lets you have your own account which includes your current word count, message boards where people can bitch and moan, all sorts of goodness. But let me step back for a moment.

Like many others, I enjoy keeping a blog because it lets me write regularly. As anyone who has read a book on creative writing knows, one of the "top tips" for aspiring writers is to try and write every day. This doesn't mean that you need to slap down pages for that Great American Novel 365 days a year, but rather that you are regularly writing something... be that a journal, a diary, or, I don't know, a poker blog.

Once upon a time I fancied myself an aspiring writer, despite what is generally displayed here (that would be quickly churned out gambling reports featuring too many hypens and ellipses). The thing is, not only can it be difficult to ensure you are writing as often as possible, but producing something like a novel is damned hard. The best way to avoid this fact is to, of course, not write. Or only attempt the odd short story or essay.

In 2001 I got wind of NaNoWriMo, and was immediately intrigued. Writing 50,000 words in a month without stressing over each word, each sentence. Just pound it out, and go from there. It sounded like the perfect vehicle for my to test my writing ability, a fantastic way to get myself to really knuckle down and write dammit! I was so excited by the idea that I went out and used a chunk of my meager savings on an out-of-date used laptop that I could lug about the place. I spent the week before November 1st (I had totally bought into the "month of November thing") writing ideas on index cards while sitting by myself in Sydney pubs.

I began writing at 12:01am on the 1st of November. I wrote 15,000 words in three days. I took my laptop with me to work, and wrote during my lunch hour. As soon as I finished at work it became my habit to head down to a local bar, order a beer, bring out the laptop, and tap away. I discovered that while writing furiously it took me about 45 minutes to consume a schooner of Tooheys New, which was about how long it took to listen to a cd. After that time period I would get up, go to the bathroom, change the cd, and order another beer.

The best part about writing in a pub was the reactions of other people. It was blatantly obvious with the way I was attacking the keyboard that I wasn't crafting a spreadsheet for work, and a surprising number of people came up to ask what I was doing. When told that I was writing a novel people's reactions were universally amazingly positive. Even when I informed people that, no, I wasn't published, nor was I expecting to in the near future, that I was doing this as a personal thing, they all expressed how impressed they were and how cool it sounded.

I had also decided early on that if I was going to finish the 50,000 words I was going to embrace my budding alcoholism. When I wrote at home, I drank like a champion. The local bottleshop began to recognise me. I was so pumped about my writing that every now and then when I had drank enough alcohol and was happy with the day's output I would go out and drink at a pub I liked to frequent. I can directly point to NaNoWriMo and say that without it I wouldn't have gone up to a girl on a Tuesday night and uttered the immortal lines: "I saw you here last Friday night. I just finished a chapter, what's your excuse?" Ann Marie and I started dating shortly thereafter.

The writing avalanche just didn't stop. An online friend (yes, I had online friends before poker) who was also doing NaNoWriMo for the first time asked to see some of my writing, said she loved it, and asked to read some more. This only served to feed the beast, and I kept pounding away on my poor laptop. I passed 50,000 words sometime on the 18th of November. I celebrated by having a drink. I finished my tale, all 74,000 words of it, on November 28th.

I can honestly say that I have seldom felt that sense of accomplishment. To be so excited by an idea, embrace it whole-heartedly, and have it bear such fruit was just fantastic. To vomit that many words in a month, while still holding down a full-time job, is tough. I knew going in that to be able to make the deadline was not going to result in a masterpiece... or even something that was in the same zip code. Still, re-reading what I had written in an alcohol fuelled fenzy I was a little surprised at how much I liked it. It needed a lot of work before it was going to be anything truly readable, but I liked the foundation.

I had every intention of revisiting it, giving it an edit, rolling out a second draft. After all, I had put so much work in, enjoyed it so much, I owed it to myself. Right? I studiously put the manuscript away for a few weeks before getting out a pencil and giving it a going over. I then put it down again.

I never really picked it up after that. I still have a hard copy of it somewhere, and I know I have it in digital form, but I really haven't looked at it seriously since then. I emailed it to a friend of mine who once showed interest... but that's really it.

The next November, while Ann Marie (who was still my girlfriend) was travelling, I had another tilt at NaNoWriMo. This time I decided upon a setting and style that just didn't feel right. Instead of the words issuing forth in an unstoppable torrent I had to wring them out, drop by drop. But damned if I wasn't going to finish, and I managed to stagger to the finish line just before the deadline, knowing that what I had just devoted a month to was probably destined for the trash. Even so, the feeling of accomplishment was there, if not reaching the euphoric heights of the previous year. In retrospect that shouldn't have been surprising; even if I had matched the output of the previous year, there is no way I could imagine the second time being as sweet as the first.

Since then I haven't really done much writing on that scale. In July 2003 I began a month-long holiday to London and Ireland (where I would travel the country with the lovely Ann Marie) immediately prior to my leaving Australia for the US. I figured that it was a really good idea for me to start keeping a diary. After all, if you don't record your thoughts and experiences while travelling around a country with an ex-girlfriend before moving countries, when are you ever going to? I managed to keep my diary for almost a year before it fizzled out. I picked it up again for my trip to Paris, but I only kept writing for the duration of the trip.

I didn't try and three-peat with NaNoWriMo in 2003, giving myself the excuse that I was still acclimating to my new life in the US. In 2004 I don't think it even registered with me. Last year an old friend of mine in Perth mentioned it in passing, and I half-heartedly offered to join him if it helped make him take the plunge. Much as I had hoped, he didn't take me up on the offer.

Last year was when I really started to read poker blogs (you can blame Wheaton for pointing me at the Good Doctor). I knew that I wanted to start my own blog, but managed to put it off until early this year, sparked by a great finish in a tournament. While recognising that a lot of my fellow bloggers were aspiring writers, or in some case were currently being paid to write, it never really occurred to me that I was flexing those same muscles. After all, just amongst poker bloggers there are so many talented writers, not to mention those out there that don't spend time describing bad beats to a virtual audience. Sure, every now and again the words came like they did in 2001 (this post being one that jumps to mind), but I never thought much of it. Reading that post today from Joe just kicked open those doors in my mind that had been closed for so long.

It's not just NaNoWriMo the idea, not just the reminder that I was able to do it and how great it felt, but that I have so many stories intertwined with completing the damn thing: hunting down and buying the laptop at a dodgy Asian lap top store, the full story of how I met Ann Marie, how I began to be a big Dandy Warhols fan, my rundown apartment in inner-city Sydney wedged between the red light and gay districts... which just reminds me of all the stories I have tucked away, and how much I love telling a good story.

Does this mean I am going to start writing again? If I am going to be honest with myself I don't know if that's going to happen, at least not in the short term. But I get the feeling that somewhere deep down a fuse has been relit. Let's see if the bomb goes off.

7 Comments:

  • Here's the problem Garth, once the fuse has been lit, it's going to keep burning until it explodes (wow, I carried that analogy all the way through). Just by writing about writing, you're setting yourself up for the inevitable NEED to write. The need that forces you to put down the beer, ignore that the CD has ended and just pound away at the keyboard until the creative juices have been fully squeezed out.

    If we don't see you for days, we'll understand why.

    By Blogger Jules, at 5:02 PM  

  • One of the many reasons I enjoy reading this blog is because of the good writing.

    I used to be interested in writing, but have since realized that I'm not that great of a writer; or maybe I am, but my thoughts on the subject are that I either blatantly suck (as far as sentence structure and general style) or I just don't have the "it" which most great writers possess.

    Change100 also demonstrates great writing abilites in her blog.

    By Blogger DP, at 11:42 PM  

  • Thanks for the comments guys, I appreciate it.

    By Blogger Garthmeister J., at 8:44 AM  

  • Great post, Garth! I hope you do take up writing again, and post your shite on this blog for us to read and enjoy.

    By Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo, at 11:11 AM  

  • NaNoWriMo sounds intriguing, and I'd love to give it a shot, but I know that I would never be able to do it unless I was on a month's vacation. My commute sucks ass.

    By Blogger Matt Silverthorn, at 11:33 AM  

  • hey Garth,

    Loved the story and in fact this was my maiden voyage to this fine blog you have here - what a post to start with - Love it specially all the mentions of Sydney and the pubs and the beer and the music!!!
    I could write 50k words - and and and and.....

    AussieDave

    By Blogger davee3283, at 6:56 PM  

  • Just write. Don't ever stop.

    By Blogger peacecorn, at 1:15 AM  

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