MyNoWriMo

Why failing NaNoWriMo can still be a success story

Each year when November rolls around, I promise myself that this will be the year that I will be ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the year that I write my novel. Then I forget about it until mid-November, when I promise myself that I will be more organised and prepare for NaNoWriMo next year. It’s a pretty consistent cycle, or at least it was until this year.

This is the first year I have actively participated in National Novel Writing Month and I was so excited to work towards the 50,000 word goal. I was not going to let myself down this year.

In hindsight, I think that doing NaNoWriMo this year was never really going to work.

Due to a combination of weather induced illness, increased hours at my part time job, university exams (and their associated stresses) and my internship, I was not only busy seven days a week, I was also dedicating all my “free” time to one of the above things. After a strong first week, I fell behind my writing goals hugely.

At the end of NaNoWriMo, I have written just under 10,000 words of my novel. Not exactly a raging success in terms of word count. However, my NaNoWriMo venture has not been in vain. Whilst I am not walking away from November with a complete novel in tow, I learnt a lot about myself as a writer. This is cliché, I know, but things don’t become cliché without a reason. This year, I really needed the cliché.

Earlier this year I had a massive run of writing, largely due to the fact that I had joined a writer’s group at university. I was writing whenever I wanted to, and was gradually building up confidence to share that writing with people. However, meetings halted quickly and I was alone with my writing once again. And I stopped.

When NaNoWriMo came around, I had been toying with an idea for a novel, having done an extensive plan in lieu of doing any actual writing of the book. NaNoWriMo was the perfect excuse to create writing goals and actually do some work on it. Get back to writing again.

NaNoWriMo also gave me the perfect excuse to get over my fear of writing in public. I have always been incredibly nervous about writing in public places and so I made deliberate moves to write as publicly as I could – on public transport, in cafes, in the break room at work, pretty much everywhere I would normally feel uncomfortable writing. When people asked me what I was writing, instead of hiding it and pretending it was uni work, I openly shared that I was working on a novel, and answered questions people had about my writing (within reason, I’m not giving away any spoilers). It made me less self-conscious about my work and allowed me a little more creative freedom when it came to public spaces. Ultimately it was a great experiment in self-confidence and sharing my work.

For the first time in a long while, I felt happy when I was writing. I enjoyed spending time with the characters I was creating. I was writing about something I cared about. Writing became my sole focus.

It quickly became too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. But NaNoWriMo was a huge reality check. It taught me an important lesson about my limits. I was getting angry with myself if I didn’t keep up with my daily goals, to the point where I was staying awake until I reached a satisfactory word count – even beyond the target I had set myself. It was unhealthy in more ways than one.

From that point onwards, I looked at NaNoWriMo as a perfect opportunity to explore how best to enjoy writing without running myself into the ground. I spent less time working on my novel, valuing genuine happy and constructive writing time over a word count. I spent time on posts for this space, exploring writing things that I had not tried out in a while, short opinion pieces that I could write without the pressure of a long term project such as novel.

Learning about my limits as a writer was an important lesson that NaNoWriMo taught me. Running myself into the ground to achieve a self-imposed and at times unrealistic goal was costing me the ability to sit down and enjoy doing the thing I love. I’m still writing the novel, but I’m taking it slow, writing when it genuinely feels good to write. NaNoWriMo taught me to put myself before my writing, be a little selfish with my time and be realistic about my boundaries. And if that isn’t a small success in itself, I don’t know what is.

Sure, writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month works for some, but if doing so means that you are writing to the point where it becomes unhealthy, you shouldn’t feel guilty for stopping. If NaNoWriMo taught me anything, it’s that you should never force something that doesn’t work for you.

Writing should never be an unhealthy burden for someone who calls themselves a writer.

© Hayley New 2015

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Stop Hating on (My Friends) The Vegans

Why we should stop making jokes about vegans and take a good long look at ourselves

Vegans. The vegan is quite often the butt of your jokes, the person you imagine chaining themselves to a tree to save it, or shaming you for eating a double bacon cheese burger (which in all fairness is probably their absolute nightmare).

But the increase in veganism is not something we should be joking about. The increase in demand for vegan options in the supermarket, restaurants and cafes has a lot of benefits for the rest of us, not only in what we can choose, but what it will challenge us to do. Despite your misdirected laughter, the vegans have a lot to teach us about being genuinely good people.

***

A while back, when talking about my dairy intolerance with a friend, she asked me “why don’t you just become vegan?” My response: “Why would I want to make it harder on myself?”

The truth is, trying to accommodate a food intolerance in your diet is difficult. You are constantly realising the foods that you once loved have the very thing you are intolerant to in the ingredients listing (goodbye salt and vinegar chips, goodbye Tim Tams). For me, vegan alternatives in the supermarket give me the opportunity to identify and enjoy more of the things I would normally not be able to have because of their dairy content. But that only a small part of the reason I love the vegans*.

To be vegan, that is choosing to give up those things, to consciously decide that you want to make a lifestyle change based on your personal beliefs and attitudes. And that is a BIG deal. One that should gain a little more respect than it currently does.

Being vegan can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, and so I don’t want to make a judgement on what veganism means to vegans. As someone who is non-vegan, that is not something I can speak for. Instead, I think it is important to note that vegans are people who are making conscious decisions to enact change by changing a part of their lifestyle. To completely alter your consumption of not only food, but other goods made from or containing animal by-products is a huge effort. To do it with the full knowledge that you will likely be a punchline in popular media and in small everyday interactions, that is an act of courage.

***

Many a coffee shop worker has asked me if I’m vegan when I ask for soy milk in my tea, almost accusing me of being something shameful. One person even asked if I was trying to be “one of those trendy vegan hipster types.” To be honest, the first few times I felt insulted, not because of their passive-aggressive tone, but because I didn’t want to be lumped with the vegans. I wanted to be as far away from the vegans as one could possibly be, as if the shame they were projecting was contagious. But that has changed.

Being ‘accused of veganism’ shouldn’t be something I, or anyone, should be afraid of, and it shouldn’t be anything to ‘accuse’ someone of in the first place. We wouldn’t make fun of someone with a life-threatening peanut allergy who said no to a Snickers, or anyone who was doing social or charity work who decided to make a public stand for human rights. So why would we even consider laughing at someone who is making the conscious decision to make changes in their life to ensure the welfare of animals? If we are putting down people who value life, what does that say about us?

Because to be ‘accused’ of veganism is to be accused of being a strong human being with a desire to make positive change in the world and actively making choices to enact this change, despite the difficulties they will face in everyday life. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I’m not going to complain if someone mistakes me for someone with that sort of sheer determination and courage.

 

*Shout out to the vegans who made Loving Earth Caramel Chocolate. You, my friends, are gods.

 

© Hayley New 2015

50 Thoughts I Had Whilst Watching Episode One of Marvel’s Jessica Jones

I watched the first episode of Marvel’s Jessica Jones. It was brilliant. Please note, the following list contains spoilers for the show (obviously).

  1. Cool theme music, very old school detective show.
  2. Krysten Ritter. Love her.
  3. Wait is David Tennant in this? I didn’t know that.
  4. “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around.” The people in Hell’s Kitchen sure seem to.
  5. Why is everything so dark? Is New York having a blackout or something?
  6. You are going to regret breaking that door Jessica.
  7. Is David Tennant the bad guy? Please tell me he is not the bad guy.
  8. I love that Jessica is so over her super strength, like it is the biggest inconvenience in her day to day life.
  9. Is the broken door thing going to become a running gag?
  10. Yeah, stop with the door Bob.
  11. I would have killed the GoPro too if someone was filming me all the time.
  12. Stop being so rude, car guy. Bad karma is so coming your way.
  13. I told you bad karma was coming your way.
  14. “Laser eyes”, how did you fall for that?
  15. I’m loving the strong female lead here. Took you long enough Marvel.
  16. Seriously Tennant, stop.
  17. Jessica is me if I had superpowers. Disgruntled and sarcastic.
  18. Hello bar guy.
  19. Go with the hot bar guy Jessica.
  20. No seriously, I love this bar guy.
  21. Apparently, so do you Jessica. Good for you.
  22. Wow, you look a little broken.
  23. Honestly, how you didn’t throw up before now is a miracle given how much you drink.
  24. Trish (billboard lady), you look a little too happy on those posters.
  25. OMG HE IS THE BAD GUY
  26. Yes restaurant guy, he is probably coming back. That’s why she is having a flashback.
  27. Why are you going to Hong Kong? He’s got mind control, he can totally get to you in Hong Kong.
  28. That lawyer is having an affair. As if there aren’t enough morally questionable people in this show already.
  29. Speaking of, Malcolm, dude, don’t steal TVs.
  30. I want to meet Channing Tatum too Zack. Also nice cardigan.
  31. Jessica, let me introduce you to a magical thing called a door. Maybe use them sometimes.
  32. Who is this billboard lady to you Jessica?
  33. It’s not her PTSD billboard lady, he is back.
  34. HE’S NOT DEAD TRISH. HE’S A TIME LORD. HE CAN REGENERATE. HE IS SO BACK.
  35. The police definitely can’t help with this Trish.
  36. This is so beautifully film noir with the lighting and the saxophone and all. Love it.
  37. This place looks a little grungy for the doorman.
  38. Jess looks pissed off guys.
  39. Can we call her Jess? Is that allowed?
  40. “You missed me.” OMG TENNANT NO STOP.
  41. That girl is dead. She is so dead. Opening of SVU girl in her underwear on a bed dead.
  42. Or maybe not.
  43. THIS THE WORST POWER A VILLAIN COULD HAVE.
  44. “You don’t know.” Trust me, she definitely knows.
  45. Why are you sending her to Omaha? We just established that Hong Kong is still probably not far enough.
  46. No! Don’t shoot your parents! STOP!
  47. Could her smile be any creepier?
  48. Jessica looks so angry.
  49. Oh, she’s definitely not going to Hong Kong now.
  50. I’m definitely watching the next episode.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is available on Netflix now.

 

© Hayley New 2015

On Storytelling: A Discussion Of The Privileging Of Certain Forms Of Storytelling Over Others

Part Two: ‘They better get this adaptation right’

A few years ago, in a relatively short space of time, it was announced that a number of YA novels that I had been reading were in the process of being adapted for the screen. Naturally I was really excited to see this characters and stories that I had loved for so long were going to ‘come to life’, that I was going to be able to experience these stories in a new and exciting ways.

Yet, when the time came, I found myself sitting in a cinema with my friends, avid readers of the same books, angry at the very film I had been so excited to see.

In many cases, the films had left out parts of the novels that were dearly important to long-term fans of the respective YA series they belonged to. One film completely altered the second half of the novel’s plot. One film completely changed the tone of the story to appeal to a younger audience. Both films were widely regarded as failures and neither elicited a sequel.

***

There are many things that usually anger the readership of a novel adapted for the screen – casting, special effects (or lack thereof), exclusion of in jokes or major plot points, costuming, sets, the list goes on.

Casting is usually the first point of contention for the readership, as often the image of the characters they had in their mind is highly specific to their own imagination. No actor is perfectly going to match the image in your mind. The same goes for the rest of the film.

No film has ever claimed to be the novel it was adapted from. These movies often come with a note in the opening credits that mentions that the film is merely “based on” or “inspired by” the novel from which it was adapted. Adaptation is not a process of replication. It is a process of inspiration and construction of a new piece of creative material.

More importantly, film adaptations, particularly films adapted from Young Adult Fiction, have immense power, even if the films themselves are not very good. Each film and each novel are part of the same adventure into storytelling, the different forms, whilst each with their own style, form, audience and success, informing one another. Both sides introduce their audiences to each other, and encourage a crossover into experiencing different forms of storytelling. Much in the same way a popular book encourages its readers to watch the adapted film, a movie can be a gateway to discovering the particular storytelling ability of novels. After the film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones was released, a film that was not particularly well received by the novel’s large fan base, I knew a lot of people who decided to read the series for the first time, something that made me feel that the film, despite disappointing me, had still achieved immense success. After the recent release of the popular film adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian, I went out and bought the book myself. These films, with different audiences, different genres and different levels of success, both had the same impact.

They made people interested in the stories they were telling.

However, it is important for me to say that the reason I view these movies with such admiration is not because they increase the novel’s readership. I’m not interested in privileging one form above the other. I’m interested in what these mediums can offer each other, with the upmost respect for the role of storyteller they offer for audiences with different interests and access.

The same goes for movies that garner more interest than the novels they are inspired by. I have watched plenty of films that I enjoyed far more than the book it was adapted from. The film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, is one of these films. Whilst I did enjoy the book, the medium of film allowed opportunities for the creative team to re-imagine certain elements and add new plot points that only increased my admiration for the world it represented. Tom Ford’s brilliantly artistic adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man begs its audience to be involved in a discussion of the film’s storytelling ability, the way it captures a viewer and wraps them so tightly it the story that they refuse to let go even when the end credits roll. These films are just a few in a large collection of films that prove the power of their storytelling ability, but they don’t diminish the power of the novels they were adapted from. They simply explore different stylistic choices.

Neither medium is better than the other, however, in many cases, one medium is often better suited to the story it is trying to share. The particularities of each form allow certain ways of storytelling to work. Some stories work better in a visual form, others in a form that allows extensive written introspection. Books and films are equally important for those interested in storytelling, both offering unique ways of sharing imagined experiences*.

It is clear, to me at least, that in the battle between the novel and its film adaptation, neither one of them loses. Anything that brings stories to an audience and engages them in a discussion of these stories holds immense value. It is impossible for us to judge something that involves us in the act of sharing stories. The stories themselves are too important.

 

 

 

*I am not saying there aren’t bad movies, much as I wouldn’t say there aren’t bad novels. I simply refuse to judge the success of either form in their ability to captivate an audience and share important and meaningful stories with these audiences.

 

© Hayley New 2015

Breathless

The soft honey sun

oozes its brilliant light

upon skin sprawled out

below the sky.

 

A game of hiding

lost once more

with sharp warmth

and bee buzz.

 

The kink of limbs

bent back twice

and twice again.

Beaten out against the grass,

 

Pressed down into the earth,

and like the stars

pressed upwards.

Breathless,

both breaking and broken.

 

© Hayley New 2015