So a few weeks ago, I went to see Ruby Sparks, which as a film is basically what you’d get if you combined (500) Days of Summer, Stranger than Fiction, and Pygmalion. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but this post isn’t going to be a review so much as it is my thoughts on one of its prevailing themes.
The main character, Calvin (played wonderfully by Paul Dano), is a struggling author, who hasn’t written much since the highly celebrated novel he wrote a decade prior to the beginning of the story. The opening of the film itself sums up Calvin’s problem: He wakes up early, sits down at his typewriter, then promptly begins not writing. Sound familiar?
Now, the film offers a variety of reasons for Calvin’s writers block, some stated outright (Lack of social interaction, lack of romantic interaction), others only hinted at, (unresolved issues of parental approval, and the overwhelming pressure to produce an adequate follow up to the best-selling book he wrote as a teenager). There is no active resolution for Calvin’s problem, aside from his psychiatrist’s insistence that he writes a page worth, which he would “like to be very bad” and a subsequent sudden burst of inspiration that kickstarts the plot. And though Calvin does ultimately complete his second book, by the end of the film this is framed as closure, rather than overcoming writer’s block, and thus his ailment is reduced to a plot device.
Now, as I said, I really enjoyed this film, and while I didn’t find myself deciding that I needed to remodel my life to make me more like its characters (Apparently I’ve matured as a person since Juno came out. Who’d have thought?), but I did feel inspired to write, both by Calvin’s character, and by the screenplay, written by Zoe Kazan, (also the female lead).
So, with this resolution in mind, I came home, ready to write. But, we went to a late showing, so I had to go to bed. Then I was at work for ten hours, but after that I could write for sure. Or, you know, I could spend an hour on eBay looking for typewriters (Okay, so maybe I’m not completely over the whole “imitating what I see in films” thing). Then, I realised I hadn’t blogged for a week, for one reason or another, which was something that I really had to do. But at least I had a topic to write about, so it could be finished quickly and then I could get on with writing other things.
I think you can probably see where I’m going with this…
It took me about a week to actually manage to sit down and write anything coherent. Given a prompt by my girlfriend (who was sick of my moaning about not being able to write) I managed to write 700 words in about an hour. The most I’d done in what feels to me like years, and what’s more, I actually felt excited about what I was writing. This was on the 28th of October, and for the first next two nights I continued this story, managing to keep it going rather than just running into a dead end as I do often do. At about half ten on the evening of Halloween, I decided once and for all that I definitely was going to do NaNoWriMo, so instead of continuing on with this story (which I’m still really excited about), I began writing a historical story that has been floating around my head for the better part of a year. Like Calvin therefore, I am writing again.
Now, the NaNoWriMo program has a lot of faults, first and foremost, it doesn’t encourage quality writing. Generally a token acknowledgement is made of the idea of editing once the month is finished, but it is very much quantity over quality. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Yes, I would be the first to admit that I am perhaps not putting as much effort into my dialogue and phrasing as I ordinarily would were I trying to write, but this is a first draft, and I’ve not completely given leave of my own integrity. Even browsing various communities of people doing NaNo is driving me crazy, because people are so desperate to increase their wordcount they are shoehorning nonsense into their stories.Yes I could write 50,000 words of drivel, but what would be the point?
I’ve written more words of fiction in the past week than I have done since about 2007, the year I started my undergraduate. People may rally against the idea of arbitrary targets, but as one of my friends said when he read my declaration of intent “You are definitely a glutton for punishment / need a structured and busy life!” It is this structure that is helping me do what I enjoy, and while the pressure is in itself not the most euphoric of sensations, it’s a hell of a sight better than sitting, miserably, in front of my laptop waiting for an idea to magically appear in my head.