Monday, February 20, 2012

depression is stupid - part 4

In November of 2010, after a brief spate of depression in October, I decided to do something crazy, just for kicks: I participated in National Novel Writing Month. The aim of this is to encourage the creative spirit, I'd say. Participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during November, starting from scratch.

I just jumped into it. I wrote a ridiculous book: the autobiography of a character I'd invented 20-some years ago called Biff Nurfurplerberger, who is a pop music singer-songwriter. The autobiography was written by two authors, Biff and Simon Ratmason, both of whom are unreliable narrators. Several chapters, and many depictions of events, flat out contradict what is stated elsewhere. Silliness abounding. (It's called Cake, and that link sends you to the Amazon page for it.)

It was the sort of satire I've been writing since I was 10. I pulled out every trick in my book. In one chapter, maybe my favorite, Biff (I think it's Biff - it's sometimes unclear whether the text is Biff's or Simon's) describes his role in the Beatles, and his feelings about the break-up of the band. Another chapter, the existence of which is denied by the foreword to the reader (which is pretty clearly not written by either Biff or Simon, but unsigned), is about the worship of cats. I stole the text from the Catechism. (Do you get it?!?!)

It was a blast. I cackled - yes, cackled! - while writing it. I finished the 70,000 word opus in 30 days (I crossed 50k on the 15th), and never looked back. The result was exactly what I wanted it to be, and I don't think there are more than a couple dozen words I would want back. Seriously.

In 2011, I decided to try again. This time, I had a serious novel in mind. Again, it was satire, but a dark one. It was to be a slightly futuristic, dystopian novel about a world run by one corporation, where repairing anything is illegal. The corporation has a division called Quality Assurance that makes certain that products break, by having what they call Warranty Workers break into people's homes and damage their appliances.

There was absolutely no way I could complete this project, like I did Cake. The story was too complex, involving too many characters' arcs. The world I was creating had to take more time to invent. I struggled, but I got through my 50,000 words.

And I hate it. I regard it as a complete failure. To write this book - which I still think would be an excellent book - I'd need to start over again.

My expectation for myself was that I would write around 60, 70 thousand words of the same clean, shiny prose as I had for Cake. That was impossible. Cake relied on about 30 years of developing a satiric, silly voice, a flair for absurdity and cognitive dissonance. This new contraption had to be seriously written, had to be funny (in that dark way - almost the way Kafka or Beckett are funny), had to carry the story, and had to be consistent.

This really, really, can't happen with a story as complex as I had in mind.

I approached the project with an all-or-nothing attitude, which is, of course, another characteristic mental attitude of depression: if I am not totally successful, I am a total failure. (Note also that the depressive does not give himself/herself credit for any past successes.) Since I could not succeed in those terms, I counted myself a failure, and I got nothing positive from NaNoWriMo. I can't even bring myself to share the book with anyone but my Loveliest, even just to ask how to start it over again.

Setting yourself up to fail is one more way that depression is stupid.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

In other words, you broke in and wrecked your manuscript.

That's almost funny. Try again.