I write too little. A few days ago, I complained about and generally mocked National Novel Writing Month, but the truth is I wish I had the time to do it. I’m out of practice. I wrote more in college and the first few years of grad school, but now I mainly do research. The lack of practice is really starting to show. It takes me a long time to produce anything of length– often an hour or more a page. I can’t, and won’t, tolerate that pace if I’m going to get through the papers and dissertations stacked up here at the end of my grad school career.
I decided a few weeks ago that I would write every day. Not necessarily on my work, nor on this blog. Maybe just in a private journal, something every day to reacquaint me with the process, to give myself permission to just type without deleting and rewriting every sentence five times. Alas, at this I have utterly failed. I come home late in the evenings, and what little time I have left seems to get filled by running errands, packing lunches, paying bills, washing dishes… By 10 or 11, I’m so tired that spending an hour trying to hammer out a page hardly seems to be a good investment.
I recently reread my copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, which has helped. I generally think I write well, but a quick survey of a thin book points out many flaws in my prose style. Their admonition to “use definite, specific, concrete language” in particular cuts to my fundamental flaws like a scalpel. If I learn to write better, hopefully I’ll write faster too. Or maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I’ve written today, and that’s a start.
So National Novel Writing Month (often irritatingly abbreviated as NaNoWriMo) has begun again another year. For those of you who are not regular residents of Geeky Internetland, National Novel Writing Month challenges those who have too much free time on their hands to write a 50,000 word novel (175 pages) entirely during the month of November. That works out to a little less than 2,000 words a day, which may not seem like a lot to most, but scares the living daylights out of me.
When it comes to writing, I belong to the “type-a-sentence-then-backspace- furiously-and-edit-seventeen-times” school of thought. (It’s not a very good school.) It takes me a long time to write 2,000 words. Hell, it took me over an hour do to this, and this is, what, like 400? The thought of writing that much every single day is positively breathtaking.
Of course, the fact that it’s so much writing jammed into so little time is largely the point. If you’re going to tackle a project of that size, you really need a “damn the torpedoes” attitude. Part of me really wants to do it, to learn how to write now and edit later, because right now the torpedoes won’t leave me alone. I’m going to be involved in “National Doctoral Dissertation Writing Month” in the not-too-distant future, which will require a similar number of words, in a similar span of time, without the option of locking the manuscript in the sock drawer never to be seen again.
But I really can’t right now. I’m writing some papers at work, and since I like sleeping, I just don’t have the time. (I suppose I could just count the words in the papers and say they’re part of a novel; think anybody’d be interested in a thrilling page turner about structural bioinformatics?) And it’s a shame, because if I don’t get a little more practice, I don’t think my poor Backspace key (or my sanity) is going to make it.
As promised, here is the story, which I called “Three hundred and forty pounds”. I write using a program called OpenOffice.org, which is a free clone of Microsoft Office, which has nearly all of the functionality
without all of the unstable, money-grubbing evilness. If you don’t have OpenOffice (though you should give it a try!), you might want to grab the Adobe PDF version (which, granted, is also evil, but happens to have a free and ubiquitous reader).
I have learned to my considerable shock that people have, in fact, actually read this page. (I know, I can’t believe it either.) I would like to (a) thank the both of you, and (b) apologize for the relative lack of insane, semi-literate rants so far. Anybody who spends any time with me knows that hardly a day goes by without me getting red in the face and sputtering incomprehensibly about “President Bush” this or “reality television” that, or “grad school” the other thing (just ask my roommate). I merely haven’t written many of them down. Please forgive the false advertising.
To thank you (or perhaps punish you?) for paying me a visit, I’ll post a copy of the story I read at Coffeehouse this past Friday sometime in the next day or so. (I’d do it now, but I have to translate it from whatever crazy-ass language I wrote it in to English and I still have laboratory work left to do tonight.) See, this is what you get for letting me know you read my weblog. What have you learned? Hmmm?