Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Indiscriminate reading and indiscriminate writing by Mary Smith

Last month the DH and I went to the beautiful island of Arran, often described as Scotland in miniature, for a holiday. I took along a pile of research material for the WIP (or maybe I should call it the ‘work nearly in progress’) and did not look at it once. Instead, as the weather was good – not only not raining but actually sunny and warm – we did a lot of walking and climbing.
On the summit of Goatfell I discovered the DH has no head for heights. It’s nice, isn’t it, when after twenty plus years of marriage you can still find new things about your partner? Even though, it turned out, we both forgot our wedding anniversary which was during our holiday. However, we enjoyed many delicious dinners out over the course of our holiday, so I guess we did celebrate it, even if unknowingly. I also enjoyed having plenty of time to read.

I read voraciously and, having abandoned the worthy research books I’d brought, I read indiscriminately, and it was lovely. I simply left my critical faculties on one side and didn’t think about structure, plotlines, what worked and what didn’t, or assess whether characters were sufficiently developed. I knew I was not going to discuss what I was reading with anyone – I just read.  I devoured J K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy (39p on my Kindle!), New England Rocks by Christina Courtenay, Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro, The Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen (rather unpleasant central characters reminded me of Gone Girl), an Isla Dewar, title now forgotten found on the rented accommodation shelves, a M&B medical romance, both title and author’s name now forgotten also on the shelf and I started and abandoned a misery memoir in favour of Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

From indiscriminate reading to indiscriminate writing – it’s NaNoWriMo time. In case there is anyone out there who doesn’t know about NaNoWriMo it means National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that during November you sign up to write a 50,000 word novel – 1,667 words a day. You sit down, you write. You don’t edit, you don’t worry about plotlines going round in circles, or characters refusing to do anything, never mind not doing what you want them to do.

I have tried it in the past. In fact, I blogged about it a couple of years ago when I was feeling confident I was going to achieve the target, but I failed. I think it was the second or third time I had tried and given up and I felt so depressed by my failure last time I vowed never to put myself through such self-inflicted pain again. Last year I deleted all NaNoWriMo emails. This year I ignored them until the day before it was due to start someone emailed to say she would read my novel No More Mulberries, but not until December as she was doing NaNoWriMo. I wished her luck, explaining why I was never going to do it again. She suggested I give it another go and we could be NaNoWriMo writing buddies. Guess what, I signed up again!

I decided, though, to use the writing time for something which isn’t really a novel. For a long time I have been saying I want to write a blog about the situation with my father who has dementia and what that entails for me and my sister, especially as his wife has been in denial about his condition and hinders the care process every step of the way. I thought it would be a good chance to write up the material, the anecdotes, the arguments, the heart-breaking moments and the amusing episodes (quite often those two go together).

Past the half way mark and I have managed to keep the word count on target. If I can keep going I will have 50,000 words of a rough – very rough – draft of something which I hope I can edit, polish up a bit and post bit by bit as a blog. As my father lives totally in the moment, forgetting everything from who he saw to what he ate, within a couple of minutes I’m giving it the title of My Dad’s a Goldfish. I’ll let you when if it goes live.

Is anyone else taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? How is going for you?


  1. It sounds like an idyllic holiday, Mary - and very well deserved, I spent our wedding anniversary in Turkey, while DH was in Edinburgh. Completely forgot when I booked it!

    Good luck with NaNoWriMo. I've never tried it. I feel I write quite enough completely wasted words anyway! But I think it's a great idea to write about your Dad. Dementia is extremely difficult to deal with and come to terms with, but has lots of funny moments too. I have a character with dementia in my novel currently seeking a home. It was tempting to make her a much bigger character, but she was hijacking the story line!

    Good luck with it all.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Glad I'm not the only one to forget wedding anniversaries!
      I thought writing about my dad might be cathartic but I'm not sure if it is as there are times when I am writing I feel such anger welling up I want to lash out. However, I will keep going and perhaps the anger will work itself out and I don't think I would have written up as much of it if I wasn't doing NaNoWriMo - just hope I finish it this time..
      I look forward to reading your novel.

  2. Love it Mary. Both the idea of indiscriminate reading and indiscriminate writing. I'm doing a lot of the former at the moment and v. little writing of any description.

    Keep going with NaNoWriMo, it sounds brilliant. In fact I'm thinking of making January my own personal (non-Na)NoWriMo. Anyone want to join me?

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Gill. I did enjoy my couple of weeks of indiscrimante reading, though it is worryng how titles and authors are so soon forgotten.
      I don't think I'll join you in January because if I do get to the end of November with NaNo, I think that might be enough for a while, especially as I'll have a big mess of words, mostly in the wrng order, to sort. But, I'll cheer you one.

  3. Holiday sounds idyllic, Mary, and I love the random reading. The first thing I do on a cruise is to choose a book from their library by an author I don't know - have read some really good books that way!

    I joined up for NaNo again as it worked so well for me last year, but I forgot how busy I'd be this month and eventually took the word counter off my blog. I'm still writing a few things but the project I'd aimed to do is taking third place! Good luck with your draft - great idea.

    1. Thanks, Rosemary, the holiday was lovely - at least, until we heard dad had ended up in hospital, after which it is a bit less relaxing.
      I haven't been on a cruise - yet - but at my local library I often take out a book by an author I don't know, which sometimes leads to reading a lot more of their books.

  4. Glad you enjoyed the holiday Mary - and interesting that you found something worth reading! In my experience books in holidays cottages have usually been left behind for a reason (famously, on one occasion, because the last few pages were missing AND it was a whodunnit).

    Good luck with NaNo - I don't think it matters what you write, as long as you write something.

  5. The holiday flat didn't have too bad a collection. I feel your frustration and reaching the end of a whodunnit and finding the pages missing. I suppose, though, you could written your own ending! I used to leave behind books I'd read on holiday but now I have a kindle I'm afraid future tenants miss out.

  6. One of the best blogposts I've ever read, Mary - anywhere. So poignant the bit about your dad.
    As for NaNoWriMo I thought that was how everyone wrote because it's how I do it....I know better now!

    1. Thank you so much, Linda.
      If I manage to get to the end of November with 50,000 words I shall be very pleased and I hope the daily writing will also have established some good habits for the future such as 'just sit down and do it'.