Shall We Play a Game?
For the last few days, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to “gamify” my novel writing process. To give each day’s writing session a strategic goal. A certain number of pages, or words, or time spent. During October and November 2010, my goal was 850 new words a day–every day–and this period of sustained productivity was deeply satisfying. In a short period of time, I drafted an extremely rough 175 pages of my novel.
My progress lately, however, has been more difficult to measure, to quantify. Every day, I edit and shape the those pages I generated in the fall. Every day, I feel as though I’ve gained a little a little more insight into my character, into the book’s themes, and how the book will be shaped. But strangely, these achievements towards quality feel less satisfying to me than when I was focused strictly on quantity. So I decided to go back and reflect on this post, written during that period of high productivity.
Perhaps the reason NaNoWriMo has found such a following is that it encourages writers to turn an abstract big thing into a series of small concrete things. Words. Pages. Accumulating incrementally over time. Like racking up points in a video game.
Perhaps this is why NaNoWriMo is so popular with Generation Y: because it turns writing a novel into a game. A huge, dynamic multi-player game in which you accumulate words and pages instead of points.
Perhaps creative writing teachers should teach not just the craft of writing–which is basically the evaluation of what students have already written–but also the act of writing itself.
Perhaps writing a novel is a game–one you play against yourself, mostly. The only way to win is to get a first draft, and you do it bird by bird, page by page, racking up words until you have finished the draft.
Perhaps what has always separated “real writers” from “wanna-be writers” was that real writers figured out some way to get the writing done. More than likely, this involved creating some kind of internal rewards system or “gamification” to tap into the motivational part of their brains. And then they crafted, yes, and they used their talents and intellects, yes, but first, they had to write a draft.
Perhaps one of the reasons why we have more “real” writers in our culture, more books, is that we have more ways to create (or to pay someone else to create) the necessary reinforcement, and thus, more people who embark upon and finish books.
That’s a lot of perhaps-ing, I know. But I have a novel to write. Strike that. I have a three pages to write so that I can reward myself tonight with the PBS premiere of the revamped Upstairs, Downstairs.