On Writing and Deleting One Hundred Thousand Words

Preamble Ramble

In past years, my once-a-year first-draft efforts were all about addenda to the world containing Kensrik (the entire world in question is not called Kensrik, not any more than our entire world has ever been called Spain, Portugal, France, or Austria); or they were about trying to come up with something that was officially distant from the series, just to prove I could do something else (I feel like I have yet to convince myself, however). Including the act of blowing up one prior manuscript to grow three others from the parts, I have churned out one rough draft each November from 2008 to 2016 that was meant to have prospects.

2017 has been a year where we learn that nothing is unspeakable or unthinkable if you know whose speech or thinking to look for; otherwise, so many of us would label 2017 as unspeakable and unthinkable and be satisfied to lock it away in a vault, where it can gather the dust of time (I wonder what music a certain blogger is listening to right now, to inspire such an out-of-place reference). 2017 has been a trend- and rule-breaker in the most painful ways, so in this one regard my efforts have been congruous with the times.

The Purgation Novel

In November 2017, I churned out 100,215 words. The following graphic is a crop of a screen grab, and this visual was generated by stuff from the Office of Letters and Light and their web interface.

2017 NaNoWriMo Stats

Stats for my efforts in November 2017

Not 48 hours after November was finished, that manuscript and every backup of it that I can think of was willfully destroyed. I did it, as I had planned to do from the start. There might be some relatively cute and innocuous snippet of it floating around somewhere that’s hardly worthy of mention (and yet, boom, mention it I just did), but this was a manuscript that one hundred per cent needed to be written by me and one hundred per cent did not need to be read by anybody.

I described this to a certain dabbler friend who dubbed it “The Great Catharsis Novel”. This can’t be far off the mark, but from my few university years, I remembered catharsis to be “the proper purgation of pity and fear” in a dead specific way (granted, an English translation of the source material, not the source material that I can’t read). I can’t be sure that this is dead-on for what I was purging, but I was purging, so I believe it’s safer to call this The Purgation Novel. I can think of a couple other things to call it, each of which are equally unflattering comparisons to bodily functions. Moving right along.

What, on the top level, was purged?

Complete silliness. A bogus narrator with an absurd name who mocks the reader and the writer like the beginnings of his sections are diss tracks, then gets put in his place by the writer. A helpful and delightful giant shaggy muppet-like creature vaguely resembling a caterpillar. Stories that were started once, shared too early, utterly put down by an audience, and got lodged somewhere in my brain because I felt barred from writing them, so that I would end up repeatedly thinking of snippets of them at night yet shied away from expressing them because of what other people had done to me at some prior time. Stories where the internet is as magically absurd as was presented to me in 1990s cinema and television, by people with a poor grasp of what the internet was at that specific time (because who wants movies about dialup modem sounds and graphics loading line by line?), and inspiration from at least one X-Files episode. Personal fantasies of being able to confront the worst people in life via extended choreographed fight sequences, inspired by over ten years of martial arts career, with on-the-nose Batman dialogue references. Purging of frustrations with the most hurtful moments in childhood that helped set me on a crooked course of mental health issues; purging of guilt for things done under compulsion of poor mental health, or nonexistent understanding of consequences; naming and deconstruction of the most frustrating non-arguments ever repeatedly encountered from people who can’t possibly be serious; confessions of dire thoughts in the past and for the future. The mundane frustrations of awkward social encounters during a workday contemporaneous with the creation of the text.

By about ninety thousand words, I was running on fumes and just looking to hit a word count number. Like the last lurches of any purging process, I used the extra time to make sure every drop or chunk of that which was to be purged was gone.

In telling you this, I risk having already told you too much.

Deletion as banishment

Deleting a work of that size, that magnitude, is emotionally difficult even when it is the safest thing to do. For nearly half the month, I was working at a five thousand word per day pace. Then I got sick, and was trying to pop medications and work through it for exactly that dire need of money, and output necessarily fell from that point before it would later rise again (though not to the same level, because the need was not felt so strongly once the “winning streak” was snapped beyond my personal point of return). If you feel the magnitude of an effort, though, letting go of that work could feel harsh.

But the thing about hidden diaries is that someone who cares to read them will eventually find them. Whether it’s during my lifetime or after that, they will be found. They will be read. There is an imagined penalty for what would be revealed, because the key point of having The Purgation Novel is to express what should be publicly unspeakable, what should be kept quiet for the comfort of people we love, because expressing it somewhere in text can help me but having them discover it would be thoroughly unhelpful to everyone including me; yet refusing to express these things anywhere would hurt me inside every time I deny the urge.

Never be convinced that the point of writing something is always to have others read it. You’re the one who sets the intentions for your work; you say whether a given text is there to be distributed, or to be a Purgation. You’re the one who could reveal personal truths for yourself through this method, and have the process change something in you for the better even if no one else will understand or see this text not meant for their eyes. The product most visible to others is text, sure, but as a writer the first product is you, and what’s being nurtured inside you. You are the first reader, you are somebody, you count too. You do what you need to do, and that means if you don’t need The Purgation Novel, then you know best that you don’t need it, and all I’m really doing is describing something I did for me in case the act might serve as positive inspiration for anybody else.

(This is why I’m never calling this blog an advice column. I’m painfully aware that some people demand advice be a finger pointing at them and a voice of authority making demands of the one apparently correct way they should do things. You’ve gone pretty far astray from something if you’re looking here for ironclad authority about anything.)

But it does become a ritual of sorts. The text codifies what was purged from the self. The voluntary act of deletion serves as banishment.

Sunrise, wrong side of another day

There is a sense of time for me. In the context of my personal life, and knowing directly the compromises of compulsive behaviour, “never again” is rendered farcical too many times to be written or spoken unironically. “Never again provided I feel powerful enough to choose otherwise”, slightly truer in some way, though longer and clumsier. But this means something else for banishment. Banishment means “I am pushing this away now as best I can”. Now is the operative term. I can do my best to speak to today.

I’m glad my powers of speaking to the future are limited and non-determining. If you knew how negative I can be compelled to think about the future or what’s possible, you would know it’s for the best that the future remains uncertain in the most positive way. Sitting in my hemp-cotton undershirt and stretchy cotton shorts, taste of Sunday morning pancakes and maple syrup still in my mouth, I am satisfied to feel like many things are as left behind as they can possibly be. I look forward to the next year’s work.