A guide to failing NaNoWriMo

Pro tip: don’t voluntarily take on the challenge of writing 50 000 words in 30 days while simultaneously trying to finish your degree. It doesn’t end well.

This year was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. With two days and 20 000 words left, I can say with certainty that I’m not going to make it. I spent the first half of the month trying to squeeze in writing around working on the final assignments of my degree. Needless to say, my creative work was far more interesting that 12 pages of Renaissance literature analysis, and I frequently had to force myself to work rather than write. For a while, I was pretty much on track, but those last few essays broke my stride, and I never recovered. By the time my last assignments were submitted, I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting before my laptop for a moment longer.

That being said, NaNo did teach me about my own process. I found myself more motivated to complete uni work because I wanted to write in the evenings, which were by far my most productive hours. There were many late nights, which were oddly satisfying. I took to writing on my phone during train trips and lunch breaks to make the most of that down time and get ideas on the page while they were fresh.

NaNo forced me to stop thinking about writing and just write the damn thing already, and for that alone I’m glad I took on the challenge. Sure, the 50 odd single-spaced pages I have at the moment probably aren’t very good – I haven’t gone back to read them yet – but some day, with a bit of work, they might be. I’m hoping that what I’m working on now might eventually be worth pushing to publication. I’ve always wanted to write like this, I’ve had these ideas bouncing around my head for years, and finally, finally putting them on the page feels amazing. I’ve learned better habits. I’ve learned that a little bit written each day is better than nothing at all.

I’ve had my fair share of rolled eyes and heavy sighs when I tell people that I’m writing a YA contemporary fantasy novel where my heroine joins the fight for magic-users’ rights, constantly being asked ‘Don’t you want to write real literature?”, but I’ve more or less become immune to it. I love what I’m writing. I’m enjoying it. And right now, at this stage of the work, that’s what matters.

I haven’t won NaNo this year, but it has helped me achieve more with my writing in 30 days than I’ve managed in the past three years. At the end of the day, I suppose that’s not really a failure at all

November is nearly over, but my novel is far from finished.

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Music To My Eyes

Last week, I bought Brian Tyler’s score for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. I already had tickets to an advance-screening of the highly anticipated film, and listened to the soundtrack eager for a teaser of what was to come. I was not disappointed. When the album had played through, I plucked out my earphones, took a deep breath and sent my best friend a message saying “This  movie is going to be awesome”.

Some people judge books by their covers. I judge movies by their music.

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(images from http://www.soundtrackmania.com/thor-the-dark-world-soundtracklist.html)

This may seem a little strange, but it has not failed me yet. Thor: The Dark World was indeed awesome. It’s soundtrack had not led me astray. Music is as much a tool of communication as speech or text, one simply has to know how to read it. Or listen to it, I suppose.

You cannot listen track by track or cherry pick certain tunes and ignore others. That would be like reading the third, seventh and ninth chapter of a book, and expecting to understand the story. I need a straight run at it, an hour or so to experience it properly, no skipping or fast forwarding. You listen to it unfold, like watching the movie itself. You need a comfy chair so you won’t be distracted by how much your back hurts, and something to keep your hands busy, a book or a journal, but nothing that requires your full attention. Get a good pair of headphones – nothing fancy, just a comfy pair with decent sound – and hit play.

The best film music is powerful, but not overpowering. When you listen to it you shouldn’t even notice it’s there, not until the strings swell or the brass kicks up and the choirs sing and you’re forced to sit up and pay attention. There will come a moment when the music makes you straighten your spine, makes the hair on your arms stand on end. In the movie, it’s the moment when the beacons of Minas Tirith are being lit, when the Avengers stand together facing down alien hordes or the Black Pearl sails triumphantly into battle against the Royal Navy.

It’s those moments that set film music apart from instrumental music – the moments of characters and story and scenery through the music, the cues you can match to moment in the film, the motifs that mirror your favourite characters, the themes that conjure a world in your imagination. This music has the power to make the ordinary extraordinary. 

I bought Ramin Djawadi’s Pacific Rim, and walking to the train became a march to face down monsters. Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek turns driving to work into piloting the Enterprise. Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes turns grocery shopping into crime-solving adventures through Victorian London. Is is fanciful and childish? Probably. But a well-chosen backing track can make the most mundane chores an adventure, and we could all use a little adventure in our lives.

A month or so ago, I received a call from a gentleman trying to sell me tickets to the Sydney Symphony’s 2014 season. It went something like this.

Him: I see you went to see Pirates of the Caribbean and The Return of the King with us this year.

Me: Yes, I like film music.

Him: You must be a music student then?

Me: Nope, I just like film music.

Looking back, I realise that’s not quite true. I like stories. And in my stories, music is just as important as words.