It’s the 31st. It’s a brand new day. I’m flush with a second back to back NaNoWriMo win.
The manuscript is not done however and I’ve put in another 500 words this morning and more are coming. I know that if I stop and take a break because I’ve made the word count, there’s a chance I won’t finish the book. It would be a shame. A finished first draft is easily moved up on deck when you decide to revise it. An aborted draft is just, well, unfinished and it’s hard to put a decent ending on something when you let it sit too long.
Whereas, you should let a manuscript stew a while before going back for revision.
So how did August go in general? Impressions and thoughts below:
August, August, August, you were both good and bad.
- When you are on a marathon, don’t take a long break. My first week of August was a vacation. I had my home completely to myself in the daytime and planned to spend that time writing. On the first day I felt a bit drawn and decided “What the heck, I’ll take a little break and then work.”. The result was a week where I wrote maybe 4000 words and did none of the planned revision. I was rested mind you, and that isn’t something to discount, but writing-wise, the week was an almost total waste.
- Schedules and routines elude me. July was like clockwork. I would sit at night at my desk in The Basement Office and I would bang out 2000 words. Clockwork. Easy. August, my mind and body rebelled. Most nights would find me completely drained and stressed and unable to do more than maybe 500 words if I struggled. Meanwhile, I found myself waking up earlier and earlier and getting 500, 1000 or even 1500 words done before 6 am, something I never did in July. I reached 100K because of it and because of my 1000K lunch hours at work.
- If I can write 100 words, I can write 500. Early on this summer, I said I would win by inches. Writing whenever I could 50 to 100 words at a time. This was true for July, it wasn’t for August. I think in August, the story was well and truly underway so writing longer stretches came easily. My 1000 word days turned (of necessity, but also naturally) to 2500-3000 word days (and yesterday I put down an impressive 9K day). My 50-100 word sprints have turned into 500 word dashes that take only marginally more time.
- Breaks are good if you mean to write a lot in one session. When you absolutely have to get 5000 words down, breaks are golden. I found that taking a short 2 to 5 minute break every 500 words helped tremendously. In the last week, every 1000 words I’d give myself permission to spend 15 minutes in Minecraft, or Borderlands. The result was a fresher mind and faster, more fluid writing and sometimes I’d even forget about the break because the words were coming too easily and too fast to stop.
- A bad day means a bad day of writing unless you manage to snap out of it. Last friday, a crucial writing day, was a write off. My wife and I had had a very bad restaurant experience that was all the more damaging because it made me so very infuriated. I found it impossible to let it go enough to get writing. That day I only managed about 600 words and I don’t think they were particularily good words at that.
- Surrounding yourself with smart people that want to help is a good thing. My wife is reading what I’m writing and generally likes it. Her growing confidence in giving me critique on my writing and ideas is of immeasurable worth to me. In fact, when I told her about a spot where I was stuck and I described the plot (she hasn’t read any of August’s output yet), she was taken aback and said “Oh. Wow. That’s not where I thought you were going at all! Oh wow, did I have that wrong.” (Note: I’m paraphrasing. I’m a writer not a court stenographer). The discussion following I learned that her impressions of a particular character where I had been ambiguous in my writing were a lot more insightful than mine and took the story in a new direction I hadn’t considered. In fact, her impressions made the story better and I sacrificed almost 2000 words to use it. She’s immensely pleased at having contributed despite the fact that I insist she’s ALWAYS contributed. Writing may be a solitary profession, but I could not write without her anymore than I could write without all the support I get from the rest of my family and friends, especially our newborn Writer’s group which I am remiss in scheduling the next meeting. I need to jump on that.
- Don’t hide your ideas from people. I’ve run into a lot of writers who are reluctant to share what they write, I’ve felt that way at times also. I’m coming to realize this may not be a good thing. Ideas are cheap. Ideas are everywhere. Any successful writer has that story where some boor at a cocktail party approaches them and says “I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’ll give it to you, you write it and we’ll split the money!”. That’s not how it works, but I think the story only gets half of it right. Ideas are cheap and not a big part of the novel, but a good idea can make or break the work. If you’re missing a key point, you might get stuck. I did. Discussing it allowed others to give me the benefit of their ideas, which lead to more ideas which led to me being able to finish my manuscript. Ideas are cheap and plentiful and should be discussed, I am hard pressed to imagine where this would be a bad thing. I’m not saying read an incomplete draft verbatim to some stranger on a bus, but general chatting about it to folks.
- Back to Back NaNo is just a hair too much for me right now. This last week I’ve been feeling very burned out on my story. This could have led to some very bad writing, which for NaNo is ok, but for a story that I believe is not really acceptable. I’m reading back and forth right now and I’m happy to say this isn’t the case that I like what I’ve written but I think now that I’ve done it, I won’t do it again. I’ll still do NaNo in November, I just won’t pressure myself to output 100K on such a deadline. Thinking about it, I think a comfortable pace would be either more/faster or less/slower. I could conceivably see myself writing 4000 words for 30 days and not feel too badly at the result and I can also see myself working on a project for 3 or 4 months at just over 1000 words a day. Now that I’ve reached 100K I’m comfortable with that.
- Keeping your mind on writing, but not on my manuscript is good for me. One thing that was a factor in helping me write consistently every day was keeping my hand in. I had to spend time on life and work of course, but in the downtime, reading about writing or listening to a writing related podcast and learning about the craft kept me focused and interested. I’d like to believe that I also improved what I was working on as I heard a good tip or piece of advice that got stuck in my ear during the day. I did plenty of recreational reading as well, which was also valuable, but keeping the craft front and center really helped keep me on track.
- There’s no such thing at a block. There’s an easy cure. I feel stupid, but better. I suffered from a major writing block for a decade and that decade I did not write. I now realise that there’s a very very easy cure for a block. Just write. If it’s really bad, talk to a few people, bitch and moan and then write. That’s the key. It’s only a block when you stop writing. If you just take a deep breath and start writing, eventually the block will just break. You might write crap for another 1000 words and those words might be a total loss, but I ask you dear reader, what’s better? Losing 1000 words during NaNoWriMo or spending an angsty decade not writing? I wish I could travel back in time to 1993 and slap myself for being an emo douche.
- If you didn’t do the research, fake it and get it done. This story requires, demands a lot more knowledge of different cultures and mythologies than I currently have. I see this as an opportunity for some interesting reading in the coming months. I think I ran into an obstacle a few times each week because I simple did not have the required information. Wikipedia let me stumble through. It’s ok. Fake it. You can fix it on the rewrite. Of course, it’s much better to plan ahead and do your research, but if you didn’t for some reason, don’t let it stop you from writing.
- It’s really awesome when your story surprises you. I had a very short window to prepare for this insane summer of writing, so despite my pitiful outline (which at first I thought better than it was, oh I was very much mistaken) I mostly got through this by discovery writing. I knew roughly where I was going and what I wanted to accomplish, but the day to day stuff kept surprising me this month. I’d frequently type away and just burst out with an “Oh cool!” and “Oh yeah…that’s awesome!” and when that happens and it feels right, it’s the best feeling in the world. If your work doesn’t do this to you at some point (for outliners, I can see it happen during a detailed outline) then how is it ever going to happen to a reader? Cultivate those moments, savour them, I think they mean we’re doing something right.
- I‘m really ok with a first draft that needs a lot of work. I’ve been listening to Laurence Block’s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” on Audible during my commute and this is a point where he and I agree to disagree. I don’t want to push hard to write my first draft as if it was my only draft. I don’t think it encourages sloppy writing. I do try to write as well as I can, but I feel that if I rewrite the same scene over and over to get it perfect the first time, or mull over my next chapter too long so that it’s pristine when I start typing, I’ll never get anything done. I won’t know if my story works until it’s on paper. It’s only then that I can see what’s working and what’s not working and then I can judge whether it can be saved on a rewrite. I can accept that it may not be worthy of rescue, I have several manuscripts that aren’t. I’m glad to say that I believe this one is. In January, I will work hard to fix it because there’s a lot of meat there and it deserves the effort. NaNoWriMo is built upon this way of thinking. It’s ok to suck. Just write it.
Well, that’s a lot to say about 100k of writing. It was a great experience and I feel a definite sense of growth as a writer.
Actually, it’s a good feeling because I don’t feel the need to point out that I am a wannabe writer anymore. I don’t think that I am anymore. I may not be a professional writer, as in I haven’t sold my work yet, but that will come in time. I don’t think someone can spend every day writing, or a couple of months writing 2000 words a day and not be a writer.
Now am I a successful writer? Well, that depends on your definition of success and mine. That topic is for another day.