The Numbers Game

It’s nearly the end of November – or, as it’s also known, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In a few days’ time, millions of would-be writers will be emerging from their shells, blinking in the morning light, having (we hope) banked at least 50,000 words on their novels in thirty days. I haven’t done NaNoWriMo myself this year, but I did set myself a writing challenge – to produce 60,000 words over twelve weeks on my fantasy-novel-in-progress, The Silvergreen Sea. My self-imposed writing regime has worked well so far, and I reached that milestone – my planned half-way point – a week ahead of schedule. So well done me – my sit-down-and-crank-the-words-out approach is thus far successful, in its own terms at least.

How about in any other terms? I’ve noticed that, when people ask me ‘how’s the writing going?’ they are sometimes bemused to receive a firmly quantified answer rather than a vague ‘fine, thanks’, and I can’t make any claims to rigorous quality control. Or indeed, any quality control. For the moment, it’s a numbers game: before you can polish your words, you have to write them. And there’s something very reassuring about the daily accumulation, the steady progression towards my goal.

Of course, there’s a strange tension between my neatly measured progress, and the nebulous nature of what I’m actually doing. I can claim I’m half-way through, but is my finished book going to be precisely 120,000 words long? Probably not. The truth is that I’ll just have to keep writing until I reach the end of the story, whether that takes 80,000 words or half a million. And then I’ll have to edit, revise, re-revise, cut, add, trim, make some tea, re-edit, re-cut, re-re-revise, cry into my cup of tea, feel like deleting the whole thing and throwing my laptop into the Trent and Mersey canal, cut some more, re-re-re-revise, call it finished, send it to my agent, await her comments, and then probably do a whole lot more editing and re-re-re-re-revising after she points out the gaping plot holes. I can pretend it’s a numbers game for now, but when was the last time you read a book review which said ‘the author wrote 115,765 words. Jolly good.’?

I’ve sometimes heard writing a novel compared to running a marathon. That’s true, only you don’t know how long your route will be when you start running, or where it’s going to go, and once you get to the end, you may have to go back and run by a different route. Also, you’re not running, you’re writing. So it’s not much like a marathon, really. It’s not like anything, except itself, and the only way you can learn to do it, is by doing it. And the real measure of success isn’t how many words you’ve written, but whether it makes the reader wish you’d written more.

But hey, 60,000 words is good progress, so I’m going to give myself a pat on the back and a G&T.

The Fan Manifesto

Lately, I’ve been seeing a few arguments, in various corners of cyberspace, about what it means, or doesn’t mean, to be a fan of something – should you buy the special editions, read the fan fic, wear the T-shirt? Who are the true fans? How can you tell them from the fake? Who is, or isn’t, permitted to be a fan of a particular thing? How should a real fan behave in the face of criticism of their beloved book/franchise/medium/pseudo-religion? Can you be too into something?

As is often the way with online arguments, a lot of this discussion can get quite… emotional. Here, for posterity, is my humble contribution, in the form of a handy five-point fan manifesto.

1) You can be a fan of whatever the hell you want, as passionately as you want. Ain’t no such thing as a guilty pleasure baby. It doesn’t matter when you were born, where you live, what you look like, which school you went to, who you dream about, what colour your hair is, if you piss sitting down, if you piss standing up, or who you are on a Monday morning. If you love something, you love it, and nobody can tell you otherwise.

2) There’s no right or wrong way to be a fan. You can be obsessive, you can be casual, you can be anything in between. Everyone started somewhere, after all. Watch the movie but don’t read the book. Write the slash fiction but don’t watch the show. Play the Android game but don’t buy the box-set. Wear the T-shirt just because you think it looks cool. You can read/watch/play/wear/write/listen/draw/consume/squee over whatever combination of stuff appeals to you, and if someone else thinks you’re weird because of it, that’s their problem, not yours.

3) Sharing your passion with others is great. Discussing passions with others is also great. Telling someone they’re not a ‘real’ fan because they don’t accept your headcanon, or they ship the ‘wrong’ couple, or you don’t like their cosplay, or whatever other reason… I think there’s a term for that. Oh yes, that’s right, it’s called Being A Dick. Don’t do that, people.

Is this a real fan?

Is this a real fan?

4) You can not be a fan of whatever you like. Everybody else likes something else – so what? Doesn’t matter what those Amazon algorithms say, not everyone who likes X has to like Y. Deal with it.

5) It’s possible to love something, but not love every single thing about it: to find certain parts of it troubling or distasteful, or just not as good as the rest of it. It’s even possible to hate some aspects of it; just as you can love a person deeply, but hate their alcohol problem. Acknowledging problems with something you love isn’t weakness, it’s maturity.

And if someone criticises something you love, it doesn’t necessarily mean they hate it, or hate you, or that you should hate them. Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion, and sometimes the greatest fans can also be the harshest critics.