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Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going

Watching a person write is one of the most boring things in the world. Please don’t inflict your process on us.

Try staring at this for a while. It’s boring, isn’t it?
Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s almost November, which means it’s roundabout the anniversary of when I last checked that I had muted the Twitter hashtag #NaNoWriMo and also its year-round ugly twin #amwriting. I just needed to be sure. I’ve just done this year’s annual check-up and yes – breathe a massive sigh of relief guys, wipe the sweat off that furrowed brow – they are still wholly blocked along with #NaNoPrep and also #NaNoWriMoPrep because I like to cast my dick net wide. To the best of my abilities I have ensured that the doors of my nuclear/NaNoWriMo bunker are shut tight for November, unless a Twitter technicality leaves me open to a torrent of inanity from everyone who thinks that peer pressure alone will be enough to make them finish their 50,000 word novel in the space of a month. I’ve got canned goods down here. I’ve seen The Road. I’ll be fine.

National Novel Writing Month is when 300k+ people sign up and swear to themselves/each other that they will write 1,700 thousand words per day, from 1 November to their final, juddering finish on 30 November. In one month they will go from being a primary school teacher or waitress or guy who fixes cars to novelist, which is a great thing. But over the next six weeks there will be a lot of people trying to help. There will be webinars hosted by people you’ve never heard of who have “novelist” and “writer” in their Twitter bio beside a black and white photo of them with their hand on their chin, wanting to teach you how to use a writing programme they designed to order to more easily organise your 50,000 words (accidentally set your novel in a shit place? Just do a universal Find & Replace and change it from Wigan to Paris! They’re basically the same, you don’t need to change anything else, this is a problem now solved – you can change this problem to a different colour on your problem chart). There will be blog posts telling you how to cheat your way to a great book (use the Snowflake Method! It’s like fractals but for stories! Here, let me explain fractals to you). There will be inspirational quotes to “unleash the novelist inside you”.  There will be articles about life-saving tips for writers written by previous NaNoWriMo participants, usually ranging from 5 to 12 tips, half of which are about believing in yourself. 

People will link to time-saving apps and spread the work about distraction-killing apps because while you are a person signing up to write a novel, clearly the last thing you want to do is actually write a novel. People will blog about the loneliness of being a writer, having been one now for three whole days. Others will talk about how they made themselves cry with a scene they just wrote, how they broke their own dumb heart. People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER. Plus actor. Or whatever.

All of Tumblr will be #writing the most politically correct book ever using all of their favourite hashtags (there will be no white people in these books, and if a white person is writing it they will be checking their privilege against everything that happens throughout, in footnotes). Some joker will bait the NaNoWriMo forums by posting an excerpt of Ulysses or Infinite Jest and asking for feedback, and they will be roundly rubbished on the boards for their rambling descriptions, superfluous words, and one helpful person will always suggest they pick up a copy of The Elements of Style by E B White to help them with the next few chapters.

Over on Twitter there will be thousands of these: “Bloody protagonist, taking the story in a different direction! Don’t they realise I’m on a tight schedule here?! #amwriting” and “Just realised why this novel isn’t making any sense. There’s a plot issue in the second arc. No sleep for me! #amwriting” and “what is another word for nervous? #amwriting”. Thesauruses exist. Other stuff to talk about exists. No one needs to know your process.

Because one of the most boring things in the world is watching a person write. They do not move. Their google searches are tedious; they google synonyms for words they just made up. If you ask a novelist how they wrote their book, it’s always “I researched a bit and then I didn’t get out of my pyjamas for properly ages.” That’s it. There was probably an exiting moment when a blob of apricot jam fell off a bit of their crumpet and they had to suck it out of the lapel of their dressing gown to avoid having to wash it properly. That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong – like everyone else with a Macbook and enough money to buy coffee, I sit in coffee shops and write my stupid novel. Pretty much everyone you know and love thinks they have a book in them, and pretty much everyone you know and love has roughly 3,000 words of it written in a dead file in the back corner of a hard drive three computers ago that they won’t tell you about. You are not special. No one cares how your novel is going. Maybe it’ll go somewhere, maybe it won’t. But the actual finished novel is entirely beside the point.

Just shut up and fucking write it.

Hayley Campbell writes for a number of publications, but then who doesn't. You should follow her on Twitter: @hayleycampbell.

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“I see the world in rectangles”: Life as a Lego Master Builder

Nathan Sawaya stunned colleagues when he quit his job as a lawyer to play with Lego full-time. Now everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama’s a fan.

Nathan Sawaya is describing his favourite Lego brick, shiny-eyed and grinning at the thought of it. But he’s not a child proudly displaying a beloved toy. He’s a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer, and well over six foot tall. The brick he is evangelising about is a small 1x2 socket plate with a stud in the centre of its top. He calls this a “Jumper”.

“You know your Lego lingo?” he asks, looking crestfallen when I shake my head. “It has only one stud instead of two, and it allows you to do even more detail because you can offset the brick a little bit. But in general, I focus on the rectangular pieces.”


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Sawaya is one of the world’s eight Lego Master Builders, having left his job at a New York law firm when he was 32 to dedicate his life to building Lego constructions full-time. His most striking works include a torso of a man ripping his chest open with bricks spilling out, called Yellow, a lifesize T-Rex skeleton, a two-metre long model of Brooklyn Bridge, and replicas of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and Edvard Munch’s Scream.

I meet him in a dark exhibition space in a tent on London’s Southbank, where his works are lit up around us. His latest constructions consist of a series of DC Comics superheroes, so we are surrounded by expressionless Supermen flying around us, capes realistically rippling, and a full-size Batmobile with glistening batwings. His boyish eagerness aside, Sawaya himself looks like a comic book villain – a hulking figure dressed in black from top to toe, with a long black overcoat, piercing eyes and thick dark hair.


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Back in his early thirties when he was a lawyer, he would come home after a punishing day at work and do something creative – drawing, painting, sculpting with clay and wire. He soon began to experiment with Lego, constructing models out of sets he had lying around the house. His son, now 17, was never particularly interested in playing with it himself.

“Eventually I made the choice to leave the law firm behind and become a full-time artist who plays with toys,” he beams.

His family was supportive, his colleagues jealous, and his bosses confused – but it wasn’t long until Sawaya found success as a Lego artist. He has had exhibitions of his work on every continent but Antarctica, and gained some high-profile fans. When he was US President, Barack Obama posed with one of his installations – monochrome life-size men sitting on park benches in Washington – and Bill Clinton has a sculpture in his office, as does Lady Gaga in a music video.

“That is the magic of Lego,” he says of his popularity. “It has become a universal language in a way.”


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Sawaya’s Master Builder status means he can buy all his bricks directly from Lego in bulk – not possible for us Lego civilians. He used to buy sets in toy shops and on eBay when starting out; now he can email asking for 500,000 red 2x4 bricks, say, and Lego ships them to him on wooden pallets. He has six million bricks on hand at his studio in Los Angeles. “Millions of each colour and shape and size,” he says. “And they’re all organised by shape and colour.”

He works away for hours at a time in his studio, with his dogs obediently at his feet, in what he describes as a “trance”. He plans designs on special “brick paper” like graph paper, but sometimes he free-builds from his imagination. “I do often see the world in rectangles,” he says, and sometimes he even dreams in bricks.

Just like children do with Lego sets, he simply snaps the bricks together – though he does dab glue between each brick, which triples the time it takes. He describes it as “therapeutic”, but says making a mistake can be “heartbreaking” – he can lose days and weeks of work at a time. “There may be times where I start questioning my choices in life,” he smiles.


Photos: Copyright Jane Hobson

Sawaya faced snobbery from the art world when he first began approaching galleries as a Lego artist. “Oh, is that cars and trucks and little castles?” was the response. He feels it’s now a more acceptable medium. “It makes art accessible,” he says. “And in doing that, it democratises the art world a bit. It allows people to relate to the art. Everyone has snapped a brick together at one point, every child has played a little bit with Lego.

“As an artist, my role is to inspire. And what better way to do it than through a medium everyone is familiar with? If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but very few people have marble at home they can chip away at.”

The first Lego creation Sawaya can remember making was a little house, when he was first given the toy at the age of five. He then made a city that grew to 36 square feet. When he was ten, he was desperate for a dog. His parents refused, so he tore all his creations down and built a lifesize one. “It was blocky and very multi-coloured, of course,” he says. “But it was that ‘Aha!’ moment – when I realised it doesn’t have to be on the front of the box. It can be whatever I want.”

The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is on at Upper Ground, Southbank, London, until 3 September 2017.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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