Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Last NaNoPost

One day a Japanese art student became bored during his university exams and decided to fool around with some paper. Four years later he finished constructing this incredible model city, made entirely out of two things: paper and craft glue.

The construct, named "Castle on the Ocean" by the artist, is roughly 8' X 6' and stands about 3' tall. It features a castle based loosely on El Temple de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain (the same church that I discovered has doors made of words) as well as a cathedral, a school, a factory, a theme park and an airport. It also comes with electric lights and a train that moves.

No one can deny how magnificent this paper city is. But here's the kicker: after the exhibit the creator plans to set the whole thing on fire and burn it down.

Yep. You heard me. The artist spent 1,460 days building this magnificent construct so that he could torch it.

While I acknowledge that Watura Ito has every right to set fire to his paper city (and I've torched enough of my own work to understand the compulsion) I wish I knew Japanese and his phone number, so I could call and talk him out of it (this is assuming he hadn't already burned it.) This isn't just some bored student's art project. This is incredible, and gorgeous, and makes my heart hurt just to look at it. This is what I consider the only real magic in the world.

How hard can it be to find one art student on the other side of the planet, and what is the Japanese for "Dude, have you lost your mind?"

Over the last month you NaNo'ers have been building your paper cities, and while they don't resemble this gorgeous construct anywhere except maybe in your head, like Mr. Ito's art they are the product of thought and imagination and a lot of effort. What's cool about yours is the possibility that someday, when I or someone else reads the end result of that five pound stack of used bond paper, you're going to take us on a personal, guided tour of your city, and we'll never have to leave our homes. You'll introduce us to the people who live there, and show us what's happening, and laugh and cry and yell along with us as we explore it. We might even come back once or twice or thirty times to do it all over again with you. We might tell our friends about it, and they'll tell friends, and they'll tell friends . . .

Unless you don't finish your paper city. Or you do, but then you decide to box it up, stick it on a shelf, or drop it in the back of a drawer. Or you just park it on your hard drive and forget about it. What's the difference between doing that with your novel and setting fire to it? Well, if you burn it, you might have enough time to roast a marshmallow or two and make a s'mores. That's about it.

I know what you're thinking. Oh, yeah. I'm not psychic. I've been there, and it's probably some variation of this: My paper city sucks. I didn't build it right. It's not as good as [insert title of your favorite book.] No one will want to look at it. I hate it. Why waste my time and humiliate myself by showing it to anyone? It's better if I just forget about the whole thing.

It's not better. It's giving up. You just spent an entire month building a city and you're going to set fire to it before anyone even gets a glimpse. Ever hear of an exercise in futility? What you're thinking about doing is the definition.

Your paper city may not be finished, and may require another month or two or six or even a year of work to complete. So finish it. It may not be fabulous, or exciting, or even resemble a city. So edit it and make it right, or start over and build a new city. What you construct might never be as good as your favorite author's book. So build and submit it anyway. Because if you don't build and finish and edit and submit, you'll never know if you could have made something magical for the rest of us. You won't learn if it really didn't work, or anything useful from the mistakes you made. You'll just be the proud owner of a stack of printed paper gathering dust, like a million other writers who were too afraid to try.

Look at this one more time:

This is what is waiting for you. Not everyone can build it, and it's hard work simply to become skilled enough at your art to get to this level. You have to study and practice and fail a bunch of times. You have sacrifice things in order to build, and those things are usually a lot less work and much more fun. You'll be made to pay for what you build in a thousand different inventively painful ways. You might even build every day for the rest of your life and never do anything as incredible as this paper city, or if you do, you might never be given the chance to show it to the rest of the world.

This is why I completely understand if you'd rather do anything else than this gig, and I mean that sincerely.

But if this is who you are, if this is what you do, then know that we're waiting for you to show us your castles. We want you to guide us through your cities. Don't tear down your construct because you're afraid. If you do you're not just giving up on yourself, you're giving up on us, and we need your magic in our lives.

Thanks to everyone who has come to PBW all month to join in and offer encouragement (you illuminated my November city and made the job quite a bit easier) and congratulations to everyone who has participated in NaNoWriMo. Whether you finish by the 30th or not, you've done something amazing. I hope you keep making the magic real.

Related Links:'s photo gallery of Wataru Ito's Castle on the Ocean.

How the lighting of the paper city was accomplished.


  1. That is truly incredible. How eloquently you describe our process as writers is inspiring. Thanks for sharing your insight, as always!

  2. Beautiful post. And castle.

  3. I'll miss your daily posts about NaNo. They have inspired, challenged and motivated me. In fact, if it weren't for reading your regular blog posts, I wouldn't have heard about NaNo in the first place. Thanks for that.

    I didn't think I could finish the 50K, but I did, and early, too.

    Every morning I would read your NaNo blog, check your word count, take a deep breath and start cranking out my story. I was thrilled the day I actually caught up with you, and there was that glorious day I passed you by 1,000 words. Course, that was a tiny, momentary rush as you immediately left me in your literary dust, but still, it was fun.

    The point is, I read your books, and your blog, and because of that, I not only entered NaNo, but finished. Thanks for that, too.

  4. Castle on the Ocean is amazing. Can it be taken into protective custody? Declared a wonder of the world?

    Thanks for the encouraging words, I've been very discouraged about my paper city.

  5. This was exactly what I needed to hear I think. I need to finish making my paper city. I won't stop until I do.

    I wrote over 4k yesterday because I was behind. I almost gave up then and there, but I remembered how important Nano was to me and I wrote more yesterday than any other day...probably more than the whole year even. So, I went from being frantic that I would not finish to knowing if I just pushed a little harder I would.

    Thank you Lynn for having a place like this for me to go this month when I was afraid or uninspired. Your posts helped me continue when I desperately wanted to give up. Now I know I am strongth enough to do this and I am happy.

  6. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I can't believe he's going to burn such beauty but at the same time I can sorta understand it. Mr. Ito's intended action reminds me of the sand mandalas that Tibetan monks create as a way of showing the impermanence of everything.

    The idea of non-attachment is one of the tenets, I believe, of Zen Buddhism. I don't know if Mr. Ito, the artist, is a Zen Buddhist. Perhaps he just wants to burn his paper city. But what an achievement.

    As for my paper city, I'm afraid I didn't make my goal of 50,000 words. I'll probably only wind up with about 20,000 by 11/30. But I'm so glad I started the novel. I haven't been this excited about a story in a long time and I will continue to NaNo into December and probably beyond until it's done.

    So I didn't "win" NaNo this year but I feel like a winner for having started. :)

  7. Thank you, Lynn. I needed to read this - not for this year's project, which I've only just begun to build, but for the project I finished earlier this year. It's been eating it's head off in a drawer because I've been afraid of polishing it only to have it rejected.

    So... As soon as this WIP is drafted, while it's curing, I'm going to take out that forgotten work. I'll polish it, put on my asbestos undies, and query it out. Thanks for the kick in the pants. I needed it.

  8. Keita haruka9:44 AM


    That's all I'm going to say. And thank you. :-)

  9. This (you) are awesome, Lynn. I didn't do NaNoWriMo, but I will be returning to full time writing Dec 1. (Lost my job) I didn't realize how much I needed your encouragement to open the doors of my heart and "release my magic" again. Keeping those doors shut is so much easier and safer. I can still dance with my characters whenever I want, build their world, find answers to their problems, introduce them the joy of love without a thousand critics (most of which are in my head) shaking their Mordor-ish fingers in my face. (That’s what a few months on the corporate rack taught me.) But what good is my light, if I hide it; deprive others who might find themselves (and maybe even a bit of healing laughter) in my H&H’s world?

    Nina, beginning to feel the joy of going back

  10. The castle is incredible! It reminds me of photos of a dream.

    Thank you for reminding us to keep our dreams alive.

  11. When I was an art student, we were asked to create an illustration, any subject or media we wanted, for a major point grade. Then, when we were done and graded, we were assigned the task of destroying it and presenting that destroyed piece as a new, conceptual art. A lot of students - myself included - had a really tough time with it, and some simply could not tear apart what they'd labored so hard to create. I ultimately took a razorblade to a full color portrait of a young, gently smiling John Belushi. Cutting it up into smaller and smaller pieces made him look like he was made of shattered glass. Which, I guess, he was.

    The finished, destroyed piece was and is amazing, worlds better than the portrait alone. Not only that, it taught me to be fearless in my creativity. If the worst that can happen is the piece gets destroyed... it's not so bad. In fact, it can be really liberating. I've easily tossed chunks of thousands and thousands of words without regret, dumped I dunno how many kitchen experiments in the trash with a shrug, and slashed apart things I've sewn just to use the pieces in something else. I don't even hesitate to do such things anymore, thanks to Mr. Belushi. So while I flinch at the thought of burning that beautiful paper city, I totally understand his plan to do it.

    All that said, you definitely hit the nail on my head with: You'll be made to pay for what you build in a thousand different inventively painful ways. I still struggle with that, with paying for what I build. Sometimes the cost isn't always obvious and sometimes the bill comes due long after the work is done. That's what I struggle with now, the fear I face every time I sit down with the laptop. How much blood will I shed for this? I much will it cost me? Sometimes the price and the fear is just too high.

    Thank you for all that you do for the writing community. Thank you, too, for always being encouraging. You've helped countless people find their voice, and given them hope that they too can join the ranks of the published.

    I hope you and yours have a grand and joyous holiday season. And thank you again. We'd be lost in the dark without you.

  12. Oh, wow. Fantastic, fantastic post. Definitely spoke to me. I think I'll share it with my other writing friends. :)

    Thanks so much for the inspiration.


  13. That is just breathtakingly beautiful. I hope a museum snatches it up before he torches it.


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