One thing that I like to do when I’m feeling sick is practice Python. I’m what you might call a promising beginner coder. It’s something that I want to get good at – really good, if possible. I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy writing. Unlike writing, coding might actually pay someday – not that writing has done me bad, but let’s face it, its not going to cover my monthly barrel of bats, nor my bespoke acne cream, nor my shipment of Pakistani mangoes.
During the Bad Year, I resolved to work until my daily financial goals were met every day. I calculated what I made at my part-time library job(s) minus gas and daily extravagances like food. Whatever else needed to be spent that day, whether that was a portion of the rent or a medical bill, was what I had to make before I collapsed from exhaustion. I had fractions upon fractions going – I needed to make approximately $50 every day just to cover rent – but no matter how I cut it, I was putting in 16-hour days, working literally from the moment I opened my eyes until I passed out. I’d go to sleep with my computer on my lap, wake up, and start typing again right away. I was a writing fiend, and as we all know, fiends live in Hell.
Previously, professional writing had been a fun jaunt on the wild side, a little wooliness for my otherwise orderly career progression. I’d gotten there slowly after writing school destroyed my initial desire to write fiction – it wasn’t until years later that I published stories again. And I’ll always have listicles to thank for getting me there! Thanks, listicles!
But once you monetize something, it becomes a millstone. It doesn’t matter how much you like it. Suddenly it’s not who you are, but what you do. Who you are is about identity, love, joy, and probably chakras or something. What you do is about money. It’s nice to think that you can mix those two brews and end up doing something you love for money and get paid for living your best life, but in my experience, the money wins just because it makes more demands.
God I hate money. I don’t hate achievement, I don’t hate fame or recognition or success or work, but I hate that money is how we measure personal value. Specifically, I hate that money is also what we need to spend to survive – the main societal measure of our individual success and self-worth going on the budget sheet to cover rice and beans for this month. Do I have an alternative? Nope! I just think that the current system is harmful.
I have digressed. Back story: I’ve been sick for like four days, maybe longer. No, it’s not Covid. Yes, I am loopy and distracted. This is why now is the perfect time to practice Python. Also to stay up late and finish a blog post.
I have a love-hate relationship with coding. I’m naturally pretty good at it, but when I take a class, I seem to draw a jerky professor who believes, at best, that a woman trying to code is just so ineffectual and pointless that it’s cute. I am not cute and despite my best efforts to be sweet and nice and gentle I am naturally very direct. It is also hard to brush me off on account of the fact that I am unfortunately me, so any given professorial-stand-in-stereotype has tended to try and break down my ego instead. This strategy is actually pretty effective, and I am now plagued by self-doubt and the thought of taking a coding boot camp or another coding class ever makes me wince. I know that not all professors or whatever. I have had some evil luck and have heard reports that much of the coding world is just like this. At my age I don’t have time for nonsense. Sue me if you don’t like it.
So because my relationship with coding is a tetch uncomfortable, coding is an ideal candidate for future money-maker. I can learn it myself (I am in fact making good progress) and scootch into the profession by demoing my skills. I can sacrifice it on the alter of the money gods without too much regret and even with some relief. At the same time, it can be done online on a freelance basis for a decent return. (Eventually. I’ll need to glom onto a bunch of freebie open source projects first to prove that I know my stuff.)
The fact is that times are strange. I want to believe that my current job, which I like, is stable, but who knows? Libraries are suffering financially along with everyone else, and if enough economic dominoes were to fall, my safety would by no means be guaranteed. In a worst-case scenario, I wouldn’t feel confident using writing as a parachute again – a year ago I still harbored fantasies of going full-time as a writer, but we have a mortgage now and everyone who can work online will – and the jobs are likely about to go poof. My resume already looks funky enough due to the Bad Year that I suspect I’ll always have some trouble job searching in libraries. I need a new backup skill, and it’s got to be solid.
So cry havoc and hunch over a keyboard! Time to set aside a little coding practice every day after work, to struggle with modules and indices, and to remember that an array cannot bite me harder than I can bite it. And if worst comes to worst, there’s still the bookstore/vegan deli concept. Perhaps grammaries and seitan will save me in the end after all.
National Novel Writing Month is proof positive that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will eventually work your way out of whatever task you’ve got before you. I believe that’s the actual point: to give writers confidence that they can, in fact, move forward with whatever they set their minds to.
This hasn’t been how I’ve NaNo’ed. Personally, I have no trouble setting down words – between my various writing clients, I’m sure I near 50,000 words a month at the best of times. If anything, my main struggle has been to focus on one single piece for thirty days. This November, I didn’t even try. Between growing this blog (hello hi how are you,) writing for Book Riot, and ghosting for persons redacted, I barely got my cathartic political battle royale off the ground. I did write the particular scene that I wanted, which made me cackle with glee at my own cleverness before I consigned it forever to the fire.
Beyond my unattractive tendency to be amused by my own work, I need to burn at least some of what I create in order to stay happy as a writer. There are times when writing is like riding a bicycle in the sense that it’s an empowering exercise. Then there are times when I’ve been pedaling so long that I begin to flag and worry primarily about where I’m going instead of taking joy in the action. I love a chance to enjoy the process of writing without having to worry about producing something good, or useful, or even saleable.
November, increasingly, has been my opportunity to write drivel. And I look forward to it with tremendous relish.
I don’t research and I don’t edit. I don’t worry that nobody will buy my work or that an editor would hate it. Nobody will ever see my NaNo writing. It won’t impact the rest of my career in a negative manner and my mother will not be ashamed of me. It’s true freedom, and it’s the delete key that caps it off. I don’t think I’ve ever kept one of my NaNoWriMo novels, even during those years when I’ve been able to focus hard enough to generate something coherent.
As a result, I tend toward bizarro fiction for NaNoWriMo. It gets weird. Gory, too, usually. I’ve had characters trapped in an enchanted Target with bloodthirsty love gods. I’ve had the Judeo-Christian deity Yahweh transformed into a rubber ducky and smiting people for their bathing behavior. I’ve had politicians cannibalizing each other. My hard drive is a bloody, disgusting mess in November, and then December wipes it clean. I’ve always admired those writers of extreme sci-fi, exemplified by Carlton Mellick III of Satan Burger fame, who fly their freak flags from the highest pinnacle. That’s commitment. It’s never been what I wanted, but it sure is fun to moonlight.
For my own part, I’m coming to realize that writing isn’t a monolith. Pieces that I write for fun and never publish are valid as personal entertainment, as writing that I do just to blow off steam and because I enjoy the craft. Listicles that I labor over, articles that I research, and book reviews that I blitz through don’t need to be as precious to me as the time I spend making something that I like just because. I could send a billion ghostwritten biographies out into the universe without once thinking of them as my precious babies, without ever considering them again at all except as points on my portfolio and solid pieces of work. But when I junk a NaNo novel, that’s the apex of my year. I never forget the joy of writing something redonkulously dumb, scrapping it without concern, and moving on with my life.
I have never felt the need to polish or publish my NaNos, not from this year or any other. I technically won the word count and I did have fun writing about someone whose name rhymes with Ditch McDonnell barbequing and heartily enjoying the roasted rump of someone whose name rhymes with Ronald Dump, but I’m equally comfortable not continuing the story. It was never meant to be completed or shared. That’s not what NaNo is about – for me.
In fact, there are a lot of successful novels that have come out of National Novel Writing Month. I did a whole bit about them over at Book Riot. I think that’s wonderful. At the same time, I’m not sorry I’ll never be one of them. I’m a rebel, baby. Someday I’ll write a serious novel, but it sure as hell won’t happen in November! The point of my journey is just to get some invigorating exercise.