I edit books for a living. I LOVE what I do. I feel incredibly lucky that there are people who trust me with their writing. I'm amazed at the courage people have to put so much of themselves down on paper and then share it with others. And, more than anything, I am astounded by the sheer number of people who manage the hardest thing of all: writing the darn thing.
I've been "writing a novel" for more than fifteen years. "Writing" is a misnomer, though, because while I've been doing a lot of thinking about writing, reading about writing, wishing I was writing, planning my writing, making spreadsheets about writing... I've actually been watching a lot of TV. Sure, I've also been raising kids and singing in a band and running occasional races and taking up yoga and starting a business and reading a lot of other people's writing and taking vacations and a whole lot of other things. But still. Not writing. When writing is supposed to be the dream, the life goal. How do so many people do this?
I've had some flurries of activity over the years (every five-year-milestone birthday spurs me into a few months of action). I've had moments of epiphany (like the recent time a friend and mentor told me his best advice: "Stop writing the beginning." I'd been finessing that beginning twice a year since 2009! Eureka!). I've gone back and forth between pantsing and plotting, each time believing "aha! now I've found my magic formula!" I've had many, many moments where I resigned myself to just never doing it, deciding that if I was really honest with myself, I probably wanted to have written a novel a lot more than I wanted to actually write one.
Sure sounds like I'm building up to "I've found the answer!" doesn't it? Well, no. But I'm trying two new things this year, which feel good so far:
1) National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words, good or bad, in the month of November. Starting today. I've known about this for years but somehow it never really occurred to me to do it. The compressed amount of time, the support, the website to post your daily wordcount, the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of others are also doing it—I think this could be a huge boost. Also, my MOM is doing it, too! It was her idea that we both do it, in fact; she's already proving to be a great accountability partner and writing buddy.
2) I'm telling people. I'm blogging (hi!) and tweeting and sharing my progress. I'm also taking a weekly workshop in which I have to actually share my writing with others—scary! Already I'm finding that the support and encouragement of others is really helping to get me going, as is the pressure of knowing I'll have to report to all of them as time goes on. Who knew that all these years of not telling anyone about my goals had been so inhibiting? It's super hard to tell people—especially when they inevitably ask "What's your book about?" and what comes out of my mouth sounds completely lame. (Note to self: work on elevator pitch.) But it's helping, so I'll press on.
Will this be the year I actually finish a first draft? I hope so. In all my reading-about-writing, I've almost never come across an author who finds the process easy. It's probably always going to be true that I'd rather have written a novel than write one. But maybe, just maybe, I'll one day experience both so I'll be able to say for sure.
Damn. Should've put this blog-writing time toward my novel!! (In true NaNo style, this post is more freewriting than edited blog post; please forgive the rambling.) For the rest of the month I plan to chronicle the process here daily, but briefly. A couple of lines a day at most. Come back and see how I'm doing. And leave me a note—I could use the encouragement!
Words written today: 2,578 | Running total: 2,578
November 1: Day 1 is easy. Went to bed by 10, got up at 5:55, poured myself a cup of coffee (which I'd set to brew automatically), and sat down and did three 25-minute bursts (Pomodoros) of focused speed-writing... and I got 1,800 words in! Then I had almost an hour in a coffee shop while one of my kids was at an activity, and I did another 750. Woot! 2,578 words for the day, to be exact. Feeling good. I'm off to log it on my NaNo page and then go to bed. See you tomorrow.
Words written today: 1,891 | Running total: 4,469
November 2: Same routine this morning, plus a little extra over lunch. Work is piling up and making it harder to get to bed early, though—curse this freelance life! Okay, no, don't... but there are days I do wish I could turn it off! Anyway, still feeling good about Nano so far.
Words written today: 1,741 | Running total: 6,210
November 3: Today I managed my early-morning routine again but no extra during the day. Feels amazing to have the goal met by 8am, though, so I'm not stressing about it all day.
Words written today: 1,729 | Running total: 7,939
November 4: The problem with having goals met by morning is there's no pressure to work in the evenings... so I went out last night and ended up not getting to bed till nearly 1am. So 6am was definitely not happening. Luckily I had my writing workshop today, and I also did some writing on the subway there, and a few other short spurts, and here I am at 10:45pm squeezing in a final 100 words to make sure I hit my daily count. Just made it. With the time change tonight I should be fine to resume my early mornings tomorrow.
Words written today: 1,823 | Running total: 9,762
November 5: Today was haaaaaard. I didn't get up as early as I should have, so had kids bouncing around. I had this great idea that I could just keep the laptop open and just keep coming back to it to write a sentence here and there for as long as it took. It technically worked, as I did finally manage to get my goal words down for the day, but it took several hours and really did not flow. It was rather like pulling teeth, in fact. However, this is exactly what NaNoWriMo is for; I'm learning to press on, even when it's hard. Without NaNo I most certainly would have given up today.
Words written today: 2,062 | Running total: 11,824
November 6: And today... was easy! I got up at six (despite having had a bit of a tough time falling asleep last night), wrote for three 25-minute spurts, and wrote 2,000 words. It felt great. Maybe it helped that I was writing a scene that I've had in my head for some time—it's sort of pivotal to the story, so I knew it well already. And maybe it helped that the house was quiet. Either way, I'm over 10,000 words (for which NaNo gave me a nice shiny virtual badge; I do crave these little rewards) and feeling amazing again. Yahoo.
Words written today: 1,866| Running total: 13,690
November 7: I'm writing this three days later. Don't even remember. Wrote a bunch of words, apparently. It's all a blur. I'm. Just. So. Tired.
Words written today: 2,019 | Running total: 15,709
November 8: Maaaan it is hard to drag myself out of bed at 6am. I do not like early mornings! But forced myself out of bed and lo and behold, the words were just flowing. Very stressful day with too much work on my plate, so I'm really glad I got this out of the way first thing (or else I guarantee it would not have gotten done.) So I will press on.
Words written today: 2,049 | Running total: 17,758
November 9: Wow. Almost 18,000 words, all in a row, telling this story that I've been outlining and thinking about for years. ("The novel" I've been trying to write for 15 years has not always been this one; there have been lots of different ideas over the years. But I've been noodling around with this one for probably five or seven years.) I can't tell you how awesome this feels. I love seeing my story actually come together! Of course, I'm definitely still freewriting. It'll need a ton of rewriting. Which is fine - editing is what I do. Writing a draft of a whole novel is generally not what I do, so if I can get that out of the way I can get on with the fun part. (I have a theory [possibly a delusion] that editing my own work is going to be easier than writing it. Time will tell.)
November 17: Yeeks, I got way behind in my updates here. And I found out my Aunt Linda was checking! I have a reader (Hi, Linda!)! So, I'm back. And, thanks to my daily texting/emailing with my mother, I have a more or less decent account of how it's all gone down over the last week.
Words written: 959 | Running total: 18,717
November 10: Couldn't sleep last night till nearly 3am! Ugh. So I didn't get up at 6 to write. Turns out I write best in the early mornings ("best" being a strange concept in this nutty world of speed-writing). Work is very busy, so I had a hard time getting to it. Glad I wrote myself a bit of a buffer early on.
Words written today: 2,241 | Running total: 20,958
November 11: Back on the horse today, up at 6. Also had my lovely Saturday writing workshop, which allows quite a bit of writing time too. So all in all I felt great about this day!
Words written today: 4,195 | Running total: 25,153
November 12: Okay. I know it looks like I had an amazing day. 4,000 words is pretty great. Today was a special day at the mid-way point of the Firefly workshop, where we had an entire six hours in the studio devoted just to working on our individual writing projects. It was a very, very neat experience, writing in total silence with all these other women around me also writing in silence for hours and hours. But it could've been so much better if I hadn't been out till 2:30 last night and up again at 8am. And also if I hadn't shared four pitchers of sangria between four women before the night even started. (It was a great fun reunion night that I don't regret for a second, but I did have higher hopes for the studio writing day!) I was also writing some fairly boring "connecting" scenes—it sucks to write scenes you know will need to be rewritten entirely or even cut eventually! It just feels a little wasted. But it all goes toward the wordcount so I'll take it.
Words written today: 1,610 | Running total: 26,763
November 13: Didn't get up early but squeezed it in throughout the day. Definitely not the best method!
Words written today: 1,851 | Running total: 28,614
November 14: A now-typical early morning write. Felt good.
Words written today: 2,647 | Running total: 31,261
November 15: Wednesdays are good because I have an hour to kill from 5 to 6pm while I wait for my kids at their activities, so in addition to my morning write, I dashed off another 1,000 words at a Starbucks.
Words written today: 1,145 | Running total: 32,406
November 16: Struggled to get the words flowing today. More boring scenes that I haven't entirely got fleshed out in my head—I know where I need my characters to end but but I'm not 100% sure how they're going to get there, and I'm struggling! I finally gave up and gave myself permission to stop struggling and dive in tomorrow to a more exciting scene I can already envision. I posted this on FB today:
An interesting thing has happened this month as I'm busy speed-writing a novel in 30 days: I am now disappointed if I *only* manage to write 1,000 words in a day! Must keep up this work ethic! I'm at 31k words in 15 days and still feeling great, if a little tired from the 6am wake-up time.
Reminds me of training for marathons back in the day (waay back)—I remember actually thinking that running 5k was barely worth my time, cause it was so short and easy. Ha! Imagine. I tried to convince myself I'd maintain that mindset for life, too, but it didn't stick. 5k is definitely not short OR easy anymore.
Words written today: 2,868 | Running total: 35,274
November 17: Ahhh, so much more fun to write a good conflict scene. I'm really gearing up for some big confrontations in my story, which I have outlined fairly well, so it's flowing! I even did most of tonight's writing in the evening, which I had previously decided was never going to work. I guess it can surprise you sometimes.
p.s. is there really no 30K or 35K badge, NaNoWriMo? I live for those badges!
Fast forward: Soooo at this point I stopped updating this post; I got very much wrapped up in the writing, and then I actually finished!! And then updating this post got less important. And now it's January 11. But I kept track of the stats so here you go, for what it's worth:
Nov 18: Words written: 1,818 | Running total: 37,092
Nov 19: Words written: 109 | Running total: 37,201
Nov 20: Words written: 2,084 | Running total: 39,285
Nov 21: Words written: 2,405 | Running total: 41,690
Nov 22: Words written: 1,889 | Running total: 43,579
Nov 23: Words written: 1,025 | Running total: 44,604
Nov 24: Words written: 1,518 | Running total: 46,126
Nov 25: Words written: 716 | Running total: 46,842
Nov 26: Words written: 1,325 | Running total: 48,167
Nov 27: Words written: 1,922 | Running total: 50,089
What a ride. I even kept going for another few weeks to actually "get to the end" of my story. And then I took a big chunk of time off Now I'm busy trying to work up the course to go back in and start revising. Writers, I'm still in awe of what you do. Amazing.
And now I get to use this: