Tuesday, 1 November 2011
The Hare and the Tortoise do NaNo*
Once upon a time there was a Tortoise. Her name was Ms Plotter (Beatrix, if you were on first name terms with her, but that took a loooong while) and she lived in a carefully constructed box at the bottom of the garden. Ms Plotter had many fine qualities: she was steady as a rock, methodical and tenacious. Somewhat shy and retiring, but hey, who's perfect? Ms Plotter minded her own business, which happened to be the Writing of a Novel entitled Slow. Every few years she would add another chapter to her oeuvre. This chapter perfectly echoed the stepsheet made of colour-co-ordinated index cards that she had created before writing a single word. She would then spend several months refining and editing said chapter until it was perfect. All this made her very happy.
Autumn came. On the first morning of November, Ms Plotter opened one eye and pondered: should she begin another sentence or hunker down and prepare for a long winter sleep? She was just turning these possibilities over in her mind when her noisy neighbour, who happened to be a Hare called Ms Panter, squealed to a halt beside her and yelled:
'NaNoooo! sweetie! NaNoooo! NaNoooo!'
- nearly deafening Ms Plotter, who retreated into her shell with all the speed she could muster (not much) in case there'd been an accident.
Ms Panter breathed heavily, but didn't go away.
'Quick, dahling! Quick!' she gasped. 'We have just 30 days to do it.'
'Do what?' said Ms Plotter, wishing the hare would go away and do it, whatever it was.
'Finish a novel, dahling -' and with that, Ms Panter was off, laptop bouncing, on another circuit of the lawn.
'Bloody norah,' Ms Plotter muttered. 'It's That Time Of Year again.' It was bad enough in March, when the Hare and her mates went berserk and dunked dormice in teapots. But this was worse. Much worse.
'It's a race to the finish!' Ms Panter was back again. Panting.
'Finish?' Ms Plotter muttered. 'Who does she think she's kidding?'
'Only sixty-thousand words, sweetie - it'll be a piece of p**s -' and off went the Hare, whispering 'what ifs' and 'and thens' and oohing and ahing like nobody's business.
After that, things went ominously quiet for a while. Ms Plotter kept her eyes open just in case, and, over the course of the next week completed another 78 words of her oeuvre. Then removed 43 of them.
On November 7th, the Hare cast herself, gasping for breath, at Ms Plotter's feet.
'Oh-God-oh-God-oh-God dahling -' she panted, like something from When Harry Met Sally, only considerably less seductively.
'Something the matter?' Ms Plotter resented the interruption. She was just getting into her stride. 'Did you get lost?'
'Lost?!' Ms Panter said. 'How can I get lost when I don't know where I'm going? No. It's just that I can't - well, I can't get them down fast enough...'
Ms Plotter cautiously checked the Hare's nether regions. Everything seemed intact. 'Get what down fast enough?'
'The words of course!' the Hare foamed at the mouth. 'The ideas, dahling. The inspiration, the muse, the whole, whole - damned - thing. You know?' And off she raced again. The Tortoise licked her pencil and very slowly crossed a 't'.
On November 14th, on one of her perambulations of the lawn, Ms Plotter discovered Ms Panter stretched out on her back, her face to the sun.
'Given up, have you?' said Ms Plotter.
'Hardly, dahling! I've pretty much finished, in fact. Thirty days? Pah! That's for wimps.'
'What's the title?'
'Around The World in Eighty Minutes.'
By November 21st, the Tortoise had completed a whole paragraph. Although it still needed a good edit.
She plodded up to the Hare, who was crouched on the grass, tongue out and forehead furrowed, still writing.
'Thought you'd finished?'
The Hare looked up. 'I have, sweetie, I have. Just the query letter to send off, and I'm done. I should have an agent by the day after tomorrow and a nice juicy deal with a top publisher by the end of the month.'
The Tortoise sighed. 'Aren't you going to revise it? At least read it through?'
'You can't improve on perfection,' smiled Ms Panter.
Winter came. On the last day of November, Ms Plotter settled into her box of straw, her index cards arranged neatly in a file, the crisply printed page of her manuscript baside it, ready for Spring. Her eyes were half-closing when there was a sharp rap at her shell.
'Sweetie! Wake up!'
Ms Panter was leaping around, trembling with excitement. She thrust a brown envelope under Ms Plotter's reluctant nose. 'It's arrived. From the agent. Just as I said it would.'
The Tortoise opened one eye. 'Open it, then.'
The Hare tore the letter open and read the contents, her ears quivering.
'Dear Ms Panter...read with interest...today's competitive market...with regret...bog off.'
'I'm mortified. Mortified, dahling.' Through streaming eyes, she saw the Tortoise withdrawing her head into her shell. 'But hey...there's always next year. We could do it together. You and me, eh, sweetie? What do you say - yes or no?'
Just for a moment the Tortoise stretched her head out from the safe confines of her shell and blinked very slowly.
'NaNo,' she said, so quietly that the Hare could barely make out the word. 'Nah. No.'
*NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month