BrokenJPG

A Copywriter’s Blog
In which my true motivation is revealed.

It’s Nov 2. This is significant, because I’ve just lived through what will hopefully be the scariest Halloween I ever experience. The one where I spent four days at my parent’s house with The Wife and Spawn, convinced that our apartment was underwater from Hurricane Sandy. I now know what it’s like to lie awake and try to come to grips with the fact that nearly everything you own is gone. To realize you may have no home left. To-

Woah, there. That was getting dark. Let’s try this again:

As I said, it’s Nov 2. This is significant, because November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s the time when everyone is supposed to sit down and bang out 50,000 words by Nov 30th. Or die trying.

I’ve been meaning to try it for the last three or four years, but I always forget about it until halfway through November. But this year, I had a sharp reminder in early October that NaNoWriMo was coming.

An old friend of mine wrote a book. I hadn’t spoken to this guy for years. He’s the sort of person Hollywood bases a “true story” on. He put aside his own goals and future to support his family. Works long hours at a thankless job he doesn’t want, but excels at it anyway because that’s just who he is. The kind who always wanted to be a writer, but had no idea what he was doing or how to even spell for chrissakes.

So we’re catching up, and he mentions he finished his book. Yeah? Wow. Can I read it?

Sure, he says. I’ll email it to you. Let me know what you think.

I get the doc, open the file, and watch as Word chokes on it’s own inadequacies.

It’s a 400 page novel.

It’s been edited for grammar and spelling. It’s formatted with page numbers and headers and everything.

Four. Hundred. Pages.

The right thing to feel would have been happiness. The right thing to feel would have been joy for my old friend’s incredible accomplishment. I felt some of those things later. Right then though, watching Word choke as it opened page after page of characters and plot and cliffhangers and emotion?

I was furious.

That son of a bitch, with his soul-crushing responsibilities and a schedule that not even a 9-yr old Nike assembly line worker would envy, wrote a 400-page novel.

Yes, I’ve written two books. But if you look carefully, you’ll notice that at best there’s a 50/50 split between word and image in them. Because I never learned how to write outside of the context of advertising.

I’m frightened of it. I want to do it, but the enormity of the task defies me. After the Dick Book, I wanted to write a collection of short stories. I got serious about it for a month, too. Woke up every morning and wrote down the story ideas and plot points that were in my head. But the harder I tried to write them, the worse they became.

In my head the stories were perfect. But the second I tried to commit one to words, it became a limping, broken thing. I took this pure, beautiful concept of a story, and made it mortal. Worse, it was deformed and in pain. Safer to close the file, put the folder somewhere on my hard drive, and put us both out of our misery.

This friend of mine, this arrogant bastard, shattered every excuse I ever had. My schedule was tough? He hadn’t had a night free of work or distraction in years. I didn’t know what I was doing? I write every day for a living. I was taught how to manipulate words by some of the most talented motherfuckers in the advertising industry today. I had to know more than he did. My stories might suck if I put them on the page? At least his are on the page. At least his exist. Even if only half a dozen people have read his unpublished but very real novel. It exists.

I don’t have a novel to write right now. I don’t have the desire to write one, either. But I have a folder full of short stories that I’ve been avoiding for years. And I’m putting at least 50,000 words of them on paper before 12:00am November 30th. They will suck. I will commit horrible travesties to the concept of plot and grammar, and to the bond between reader and storyteller. And then I will edit them until they’re worthy of representing the ideas I haven’t been able to express for years.

Two things drive me. One is the desire for mastery. It’s a very powerful force, and this video explains it way better than I ever could. And the other?

Base fucking envy.

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