Writing novels under pressure

‘Who’s up for the Nano this year?’ Someone asks in my writing support group chat. Yes, let’s go, five friends who have been trying to write a novel for about four years, and all five of us are eager, like every autumn, to get started at once or take up the cursed literary project we’ve been dreaming of (sometimes stuck for days). None of us is a professional writer (does that exist, is it viable, is it desirable?) and today begins the NaNoWriMo (acronym for National Writing Month, a collective challenge that arose in the United States where a bunch of people set out to achieve the same goal at the same time: to finish a literary work in one month (it can be a novel, a poetry book, a stage script). Each person establishes a number of words per day to be written with rigorous discipline. Does quantity take precedence over quality? What does this have to do with the times of creation? But what are the times of creation? Only the country of productivity could come up with such a system. And the country of naive illusion. The important thing is constancy. Because, of course, with it everything is possible! Yes, some successful works, especially in the fantasy genre, came out of a Nano. Many other works are also written today under the pressure, not only of a self-imposed deadline, but also under the sign of the times of precariousness and lack of sleep.

Andrea Abreu wrote her opera prima Panza de burro animated by Sabina Urraca while working in a branch of Intimissimi. Lara Moreno already warned me: you have to steal time from the summer to be able to write, and if you’re lucky. With the poet and translator Gloria Fortún we set up “Nano nights” at the feminist space Entredós in 2019. Only one of us, Cova Díaz, finished her first version of a novel (which is still awaiting corrections and publishing). It was a collective achievement. Sometimes I think that we should take writing off the altar of the room of one’s own, already difficult to achieve in the midst of the housing crisis. Initiatives like #TodasEscribiendo, promoted by the researcher and cultural critic Lecturas en Común, bring together people who need something more than their own room connected to write. We need support, network, community, someone on the other side. And time. Which is the same as saying money. Maybe it’s time to claim the £500 part of Woolf’s quote. Who will provide the money for us to write? When do those who don’t have time to write write write? Where do novels come from in our country? If only the same people write, who makes the publishing world go round? Already successful people, eventually very young people, and very tired people (all the rest). But, above all, what would it mean if the stories didn’t always come out of the same heads, from the same social classes?

What has helped me most in my work as a mother has been a good paediatrician and a place in a public school. What would help us just as effectively to be writers? Scholarships, grants, space, advances, decent rates for collaborations. Without material resources, salaried work will never release us from its jaws, even for a short time, to write. Who can work, care, write, be in networks (yes, for almost all of us it is already much more than a diversion that you can’t choose to leave)? I think of Muriel Spark in 1960, at the age of 43, making her own Nano, and in one month she wrote the prodigious The Fullness of Miss Brodie, pouring out by hand and in unbound notebooks her ruthless female Benjamins Institute with the efficiency and precision of someone who has no more time. In the film My Salinger Year (available on Filmin), a young aspiring writer and worker at Salinger’s literary agency, she casually meets an already successful Rachel Cusk over lunch. ‘You have to want it more than anything in the world.’ Maybe you need more than desire, Rachel. The young aspiring assistant writer, token or coincidentally named Jo, is humiliated on the subway, not by Rachel and her success, but by her boss who can’t conceive of one of her little curmudgeons wanting to or being able to write. She goes back to typing up the agency’s model letters while she keeps cornering her novel project, her project, her tremendous desire to become a writer, in the tiny apartment with no heating or doors that she shares with a boyfriend. Perhaps NaNoWriMo was invented for people like that, like us: to dream for a month that you can dedicate yourself to writing. Welcome, November.

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