NaNo Update #2, or: Why is fiction a thing?

Well, we just passed the halfway mark a couple days ago, so I thought it might be time for an update.  Last week I caught a cold, which slowed me down a little bit, but as of today I’m hovering around 22,000 words, so I feel okay about my progress.  But I keep asking myself, “22,000 words of what?”

My NaNoWriMo strategy is all about quantity, not quality.  Just get the words down on paper.  Don’t look back, just keep writing, and make sense of it in December.  Preparing for NaNo, I had no idea what I was going to focus on, and on Halloween I decided, whatever, I’m just going to write, and I’ll see what I come up with.

The only parameter I gave myself was for my novel to be a collection of linked short stories, which gave me some flexibility as far as content goes.  So I have 22,000 words of setting descriptions, detailed character sketches, and the rough drafts of stories that have faint elements that thread them together.

This has been my first attempt at fiction in a couple years.  And I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it.  After spending so much time doing memoir, focusing on conveying memories as richly and precisely as possible, just making something up feels a little clunky, unnatural, strange.

I guess I’m just out of practice.

I started noticing this shift while I was writing my book and having a difficult time focusing on novels that I should have been able to thoroughly enjoy.  I kept losing interest, feeling like I was witnessing the author create fan-fiction of their own lives.

As I’ve been working on fiction these past few weeks, I keep noticing The Truth, Real Events, and Things That Actually Happened, bleed into the stories I am trying to make-up using my imagination.  So I’ve been writing them down, figuring that it’s best to just put them on paper and get them out of the way to make room for the stuff that is Fictitious.

But when I read the Fact and Fiction, I can’t help but wonder, why make it up?  Why not just let the real things shine?  Why deconstruct reality to make a new collage of experiences?

I don’t expect real answers to these questions.  In fact, more questions keep coming–

Why do we come back to fiction?  Why do we pay attention to stories that aren’t real?  Why do we care– deeply, ferociously– about characters that are born out of someone’s imagination?

And I’m not just talking about novels, but TV and movies too.

Personally, I was left a little devastated after the season finale of Breaking Bad.  I woke up the morning after, and remembered, oh.  It’s over.  And felt sad and empty for the next week.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that.

It was a damn good show.

But I have heard and witnessed incredible stories in real life: stories of unconditional love or sudden tragedy, stories about revenge, jealousy, betrayal.  Stories of great come-backs, when things happened just like in the movies.

Isn’t it a little backwards to choose to be an audience for something you know is unreal, but love and admire this unreal thing for it’s beautiful portrayal for what is real?

Well, I’ve been writing both, and I’m not sure what all these words will come to, but I think it’s important for people to know that the unfolding of our lives is beautiful.

Since the beginning of the month, I’ve been looking for a good book to read.  None of the novels or non-fiction that I’m usually drawn to were really doing anything for me.  I was searching for something that might help me make sense of all the work I’ve been doing for NaNo.

Then I remembered a book I bought last year– The Reenactments, by Nick Flynn– a book that I bought when I went to a discussion he was doing at the Brattle Theatre about The Reenactments and the movie it was based on (and the book, Another Bull Shit Night In Suck City, the movie was based on).  That night, Amanda Palmer performed before and after his discussion, and when I turned around in my seat I saw Neil Gaiman eating a bucket of popcorn.  It felt like somestars of creativity or inspiration were aligning, so I felt compelled to buy The Reenactments.  But when I went home, I could hardly get 20 pages into it before I put it down and didn’t pick it back up.

Until last night.

There are a lot of intense musings in this book.  And memories.  And analyzing what it means to be a person, to have lived and seen things, and the way we hold on to these experiences.

I read 100 pages in one sitting.

In one passage, Flynn quotes Virginia Woolf, and this quote has helped provide context to my current artistic process, and maybe to life, in general–

“Behind the cotton wool is a hidden pattern; that we– I mean all human beings– are connected with this; that the world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.”