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The Novel Land

Lauren E. Mitchell, with apologies to T.S. Eliot

“A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most kick-ass form.
It's a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path.
This is especially true when it comes to creative pursuits.”
i

I. THE OPENING OF THE FORUMS

NOVEMBER is the cruellest month, breeding
Accusations of cheating, mixing
Trolling and double-posting, stirring
Writers to new heights.
Heather kept us sane, staying
Up all the long nights moderating
So the forums stayed flame-war free.
The new site surprised us, with shiny region headers
With Google Calendar; we dropped everything
And went on to add events, to see if it worked
And bounced happily when at last it did.
Non siamo pazzi, siamo MLs.ii
And when the forums are filling, growing with returning Wrimos,
Our people, we'll take them out to Starbucks
And barbecues. We'll say, Wrimos
Wrimos, here we go. And off we'll go
In the chatrooms, there you feel savvy
We write, much of the night, and go insane in the mornings.

What are the words that suck, what adverbs grow
Out of this literary month? Dear writers,
You cannot edit or backspace, for you must show
A heap of written words, where the count matters
And the inner editor gives no aid, the spellcheck no relief
And the grammar splits infinitives. Only
There is comfort in the ML lounge
(Come into the comfort of the ML lounge)
And I will show you something different from either
Your Wrimos at write-ins squabbling over powerboards
Or your Wrimos online boosting their word counts
I will show you here that you need not panic.
                Son forse un poeta?
                No, certo.
                Non scrive che una parola, ben strana,
                la penna dell'anima mia: "follia".
iii
‘You gave me a halo first a year ago;
They called me a cherished friend’iv
-- Yet when the halos were delayed from the Office
And did not appear on profiles, we could not
Make them show up, they were not
Encouraging and golden, and the techs knew nothing
Looking into the lines of code, the servers.
01101000011000010110110001101111?v

Madame Lindseyvi, community liaison,
Is overworked, nevertheless
Was on the ball with signing up new MLs
With a lightning-fast keyboard. Here, said she,
Is your access to the regional forum
(There are shiny new tabs this year. Look!)
Here is Dragonchildevii, the Lady of the Stick
The lady of banninations
Here is the MLs’ Lounge, and here is the Furnace
And here is the admin forum, and this thread
Which is about a troll, or some creature like that
Which we are forbidden to yell at, as we do not know
Their true intent. Fear death by flameout.
I see crowds of Wrimos, waiting for November to begin.
Thank you. If you see dear Chris Batyviii,
Tell him to get that video camera out of my face:
I am trying to get some work done here.

Insane forums,
Under the drowsy fog of a sleepless morn,
A crowd flowed into the sign-ups page, so many,
I had not thought the site would call so many.
Shoutouts, short and too frequent, were posted.
And each mod sighed and relocated them,
From random places to the Shoutouts forum,
To where overachievers kept on posting
With a gleeful shout on the attaining of 50K.
There we see many we know, and congratulate them, crying ‘Finished!
‘You who were last here on December three!
‘That plot bunny you left in the day care centre
‘It’s been breeding! There are babies!
‘They’re rampaging through the forums!
‘Oh, put up a rabbit-proof fence, that’s for the best
‘At least it will put their claws to the test!
‘You bunny enabler – plot breeder – you dare!’

II. A GAME OF SNAPS

THE forum we post in, like an untidy room
Looks so confusing, where the threads
Collide and make no sense to the outside eye
When looked at by one who doesn’t know the games
(Not an easy task; there are many)
Double-posts proliferate in corners by accident
Reflecting the bugs in the software that
Are yet to be worked out; the techs are on it
From simple threads about characterisation
To threads about corrupting wishesix
Erroneous information fed to newcomersx
Who ask silly questions – troubled, confused
By the in-jokes of old-timers; posted in there
Are words from thesauruses, then associatedxi
With new words to continue the theme
Plucked from feverish brains of writers,
Complicating the game with each new line.
Crazy threads fed with procrastination
Bright yellow stars framed by the red books
By which we know there are new posts.
Beside the title the post count is displayed
As they near 500 a lockdown is sought
To keep the forums from crashing, beneath a single thread
So rudely filled; yet there above it
A new thread begun, with unstoppable posts
And still they post, and still the replies come,
‘Mirror, ball!’ to befuddled earsxii
And other repeated memes of tradition
Are posted in this forum; Calvinball,
The Last Post, wish-corrupting, last sentences written
Changing single letters
Under the pretence of making new words
Threads expanding out
As people reply in different places and accidentally branch.

‘My word count is low tonight. Yes, low. War with me.
‘War with me. Why do you never war? War.
‘What are you writing about? What writing? What?
‘I never know what you are writing. Write.’

I write another hundred words.
The muses are quiet tonight.

‘What is that noise?’
                Write or Die going beepxiii.
‘What is that noise now? What is the computer doing?’
                Eating my words.
                                ‘Did 
You write anything? Did you beat the timer? Did you write
Anything?’
I wrote 
Another post on the forums.
‘Are you writing, or dying? Is there nothing on your page?
                                                But
O O O O that regional email—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
‘Come to our write-in! Come to our kick-off!’
‘I shall rush out right away, and buy a pen
A notebook, so that at the meet tomorrow
I can write something new.’
                The fresh coffee at ten.
And if writer’s block, a piece of chocolate
And we shall play a game of Snapsxiv
Infecting the world and waiting for inspiration to strike.

When the forums went down, I said—
I didn’t mince my words, I said to the computer
SITE TEMPORARILY DOWN FOR MAINTENANCE

Once the forums come back, I’ll be ready
I’ll have the kick-off details and the write-in news to give them
To get my Wrimos excited. I will watch them write.
I’ll get them all going, and they’ll hit 50K.
I will, I swear, I’ll rev them right up this year.
And I’ll write as well, I said, and show them the way
To attain the purple barxv, it’ll be a good time
And if we don’t reach it, we’ll have fun still, I said.
Page not found, said the computer, 404
I hit F5 again, and waited for it to look
SITE TEMPORARILY DOWN FOR MAINTENANCE
I didn’t like waiting, so got on to Twitter
140 characters, a tiny little amount
Next to our exalted fifty thousand words
They ought to be ashamed, to look so underachieving
(Although it’s quite convenient)
I posted some reminders, just one-liners
It’s getting people’s attention that counts
(They’re RSVPing already, and the site not all the way ready)
Then Facebook, and LiveJournal, to say the same
Here’s the event details, I said
The site’s not quite up yet, but here’s the info, I said
Come October first, you’ll be able to sign in.
SITE TEMPORARILY DOWN FOR MAINTENANCE
Well, the site came back up and I rushed to sign in
And I hit refresh again, once I’d put my details in
SITE TEMPORARILY DOWN FOR MAINTENANCE
SITE TEMPORARILY DOWN FOR MAINTENANCE
Bloody caching. Bloody cookies. Bloody Firefox.
F5, F5. Bloody dash to get online.
Bloody impatience, my great vice, bloody inability to wait.

III. THE GENRE SERMON

THE genre menu is puzzling; the decision between
Adventure and fantasy and horror, the confusion
Between mystery and suspense. The lines are blurred.
Sweet forums, stay up, til I finish this post.
The menu bears no distinct guidelines, instructions on
Choosing a genre, defining a story, picking a plot
Or other way to select appropriately. The lines are blurred.
And ‘other genres’ is too undefined for many people;
They beg for aid, showing their synopses.
In the Other Genres forum they posted and waited...
Sweet forums, stay up til I finish this post
Sweet forums, stay up, for I write not much or long.xvi
But in the thread in a plaintive voice I hear,
‘What genre do you think I should write in this year?’

A plot bunny crept sneakily into my outline
Bringing with it the famous Mr. Ian Woonxvii
While I was wrangling the overlong threads
One afternoon in Outside the Box
Musing upon the rebels, the other-than-novelists
And on the word counts of the Overachievers’ Clubxviii
Blue bars rising steadily, becoming green
And at the end of the month turning purple
They post in the forums throughout the year
Yet in the thread in a plaintive voice I hear,
The sound of another Wrimo lost for words
Crying aloud that this challenge is absurd
O the moon shone bright on their endeavour
And on their typewriter
Determinedly saying, ‘Computers? Never!’
7|-|3y ||\|\/0|<3 7|-|3 1|_||)|)|73 (14|_|53xix.

Write write write
Type type type type type type
So rudely interrupted
For food.

Insane forums
Under the drowsy fog of a sleepless morn,
Dragonchilde, the forums moderator,
Sleepless, with a mouthful of coffee
Bleary tiredness in her eyes
Asked another Wrimo as nicely as possible
To reduce the size of their signature banner
Followed by locking a heated thread.

At the midnight hour, when the empty page
Calls to all writers, when the pent-up ideas
Flood onto the page like the Nile
We the MLs, though tired, encourage people to write
Across the whole world, as each zone
At the midnight hour, gains access to the word count
Updater, and promptly crashes the site.
The techs awake all night, clear the bugs out
Answer questions, and make the forums run.
Outside the sun is rising, but no bed
For Danxx, who hasn’t slept in days.
On the desk are piled coffee cups
By the dozen, pure black caffeine fuel.
We the MLs thank him heartily
And hopes he will have a good night’s sleep
As Dan awaits the sandman’s caress.
He, the mythological man, arrives
Perhaps imaginary, but certainly there
One of the dreams that we all share
Sweet sleep after ending this crazy dare.
The time is now excellent, we all say
The site is working, the Wrimos are writing
Fantasy, new age, mainstream, adventure
Erotica, science fiction, chick lit, horror.
And still undecided, the other genres
That don’t quite fit into one of those
Or parody, literary or humour,
Religious, young adult or satire.
(And we the MLs have our own trouble
Choosing a story, choosing a genre
With all our responsibilities doubled
By the extra numbers signed up this year.)
Suspense or romance or supernatural,
Mystery, thriller, historical or spiritual.

We pause and rest a moment, but only one
Painfully aware of the influx of threads
Thirty days and the challenge will be done
And weary MLs can at last seek their beds.
When December finally comes and
The forums fall quiet, one after another
We’ll ease the carpal tunnel from our hands
And be glad for a while that the madness is over.

‘This plot bunny snuck up on me in the forums’
And we look at our Wrimo, with that bundle of fluff
Oh dear muses no, not another idea
A thriller, with some sort of romantic stuff
Psychotic killers and shy pointy-eared elves
And an unhappy ghost with multiple selves
Where satire meets smuttiness: where the walls
Between realities fall
Dimensional crossovers; gotta write ‘em all.

        The writer sweats
        Words and blood
        The forums groan
        With the weighty threads
        Long posts
        Grow
        To infinity, or a lock at 500.
        The forums host
        Expanding threads
        From clever word games
        To the very Last Post.
                Miscellanea
                Glossolalia

        Supernatural and horror
        Bringing fears
        The fantasies are epic
        Ten-part tales
        Science fiction
        Futuristic fables
        Highbrow literary works
        Mainstream musings
        Erotic offerings
        The new age novels
        Spiritual stories
                Miscellanea
                Glossolalia

‘Boredom and curiosity.
Google brought me. A challenge new
Called me. By October I had a character
Waiting for me to write about them’
‘My muse was out to lunch, and my pen
Had run out of ink. After I refilled it
It leaked. I cursed and wiped it up.
I had no equipment. How could I start?’
‘On the NaNo forums
I can connect
Bacon with Baconxxi.
The endless connections of actor to actor.
The posters, fellow posters who expect
Bacon’
        la lia

To Other Genres then I came

Writing writing writing writing
O muse, you abandon me now
O muse you abandon

writing

IV. WRITE OR DIE

Wrimo the novelist, a fortnight in
Forgot the proper words, and hit writer’s block
And looked for help
                                A simple program
Promised to help them out. As they wrote and wrote
They paused for a moment to think what came next
And the program ate their words.
                                Gentle or kamikaze
O you who hit 50K and look so accomplished there
Consider Wrimo, who was once prolific and busy as you.

V. WHAT THE WRITERS SAID

After the calendar turned to November,
After the blue bars began to fill
After the agony in NaNo Ate My Soul
The shoutouts and the crying
Word counts and books and exclamations
Of ‘Fifty thousand!’ at busy write-ins
They who were writing are now finished
We who were writing are now finishing
With a little panicking

Here are no words but only blocks
Blocks and no words and the ticking clock
The clock counting down the minutes to the end
Minutes of endless blocks with no words
If there were words we would easily write
Amongst the blocks one’s words are trite
Brain is dead and muses are all on strike
If there were only words amongst the blocks
Long minutes drawn out to unproductive days
Here one can neither write nor scribe nor note
There is not even caffeine in these minutes
But sugarless decaf without taste
There is not even chocolate in these minutes
But dried-up cheese and biscuits
Lying forlornly on the plate
                                If there were words
        And no blocks
        If there were blocks
        And also words
        And words
        A story
        A narrative amongst the blocks
        If there were the letters of words only
        Not discouragement
        And muses complaining
        But words bursting through a block
        Where the keyboard rattles in the quiet study
        Click clack click clack clack clack clack
        But there are no words.

Who are the ones who seek to encourage you?
When you falter, when you’re at the end of your tether
Who has you look ahead, to the end of the month
To see the purple bar waiting ahead of you
Writing will happen for you, guaranteed
If you lift your pen or sit at your computer
—But to get to that point now is up to you.

What is that thread there on the forums
Challenge of gauntlet-throwing
Who are the regions who are competing
For the most words, for the glory of battle
Watched by others tensely
What is the count now on the scoreboard
Leaps and bounds and no backwards steps
Growing blue bars
Saskatchewan Sydney Edinburgh
Madagascar Nashville
Insane

A crazy Wrimo stayed up one time all night
And Chris Baty thought it wasn’t a bad idea
And instated a writing dangerously nightxxii
Though the goal wasn’t clear
The highest word count, or most sugar consumed?
And people put pen to paper
Or put fingers to their computer
And in the wee hours their characters were doomed.

In these four weeks that comprise NaNoWriMo
In thirty days, with ideas burning
Thousands upon thousands of eager writers
Will take up this challenge, at work and at home
And in class, with furtive scribblings
Unable to explain to anyone
What the arcane word means:
Na no wrimo, na no wrimo
In our secret language. Then rolling eyes
Shaking heads

But still undiscouraged we wrote on
Waiting for words, while the lazy muses
Gathered their strength, and inspired.
The countdown ended, timed in letters.
Then spoke the writers
NA
Novel: what have we written?
Many stories, some short, others long
The careful phrasing of a brand new tale
Which an age of editing can only improve
By midnight we have completed
Something that many never even attempt
Or considered possible, denied by lack of time
Or a refusal to believe in the creativity
In their busy minds.
NA
NaNoWriMo: I have heard the denial
Of the possibility to do so much in one month
We think it incredible, until we sit down
With keyboard or pen, and remove from the prison
Our waiting muses, who’ll inspire
The magnificent madness of the month.
NA
Narrating: The muses responded
Happily, to the hands waiting with pen and paper
The words were there, and then the plot evolved
Quickly, with characters moving obedient
To authorial whims

                                I looked upon the forums
Posting, with the too-short month behind me,
‘I think congratulations are in order.’

Writing Month is finished now finished now finished now

But for those who do not wish it to be over
There will be next November—O writers writers
Plans for next year beginning on December first
This enthusiasm I have smiled at every year
Why then we’ll stay here. NaNo will come again.
Novel. NaNoWriMo. Narrating.

                Stories stories stories


i Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!
ii ‘We are not crazy, we are MLs’, as best as I could manage.
iii Aldo Palazzeschi, ‘Chi Sono?’.
iv One of the donation levels in the store. Donors can choose to have a golden halo appear on their profile.
‘Halo’, in binary, according to the internet.
vi Lindsey Grant, Community Liaison.
vii Dragonchilde, Forums Moderator.
viii Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo.
ix The ‘Corrupt a Wish’ thread in Games, Diversions, and Other Exciting Forms of Procrastination.
The ‘Egregiously Erroneous Information’ thread in Games, not actually misinforming newbies!
xi The ‘Word Association’ thread in Games.
xii The ‘Malkavian Mindf**k’ thread in Games.
xiii From the website: ‘Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you're fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.’
xiv Snaps is yet another thread in the Games forum.
xv The word count bar turns purple once a novel of 50K or more words is validated at the end of November.
xvi A blatant lie, but what can you do?
xvii A traditional NaNo inclusion, usually referenced in Reaching 50,000.
xviii Usually posted in This Is Going Better Than I’d Hoped, a thread where Wrimos challenge each other to do more than 50K.
xix ‘They invoke the Luddite Clause’, in leetspeak.
xx Dan Duvall, Tech Manager.
xxi The ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ thread in Games.
xxii The ‘Night of Writing Dangerously’, a fundraising event.


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