Two books, one year

I was able to get about half of a chapter done last week. I set myself up in a Second Cup downtown, ordered a small chai latte, and plunked down in a chair near a fireplace display. This was another of those writing sessions where I discovered things as I went along, reasons why things work, explanations, etc. I also wrote a major contradiction, but staying true to NaNo rules, I ignored it and told myself it will get fixed in editing. Also, I didn’t want to cross out a whole paragraph of text. On a computer, it’s nice to pretend it never existed, it stays pretty. Here, every mistake shows up as a bar of black ink, or a furious scrawl.

I really enjoyed the latest NaNo mail I got. The beginning of it reads:

I recently met a woman named Ruth who approached me with her head hung low. “I’m sorry, but I failed NaNoWriMo,” she plaintively said. “I only wrote 10,000 words.”

I hate to hear such words. They disturb me like few others.

“You didn’t only do anything,” I replied. “You bravely signed up to make creativity a priority for a month in a busy life. You dreamed up a fantastic novel idea. You wrote thousands of words. You established creative momentum in your life. That’s huge!”

– Grant Faulkner, executive director

I wasn’t beating myself up over not having reached my goal of 50,000 words in one month, but it’s always nice to have reassurance. NaNoWriMo is such a supportive group and I don’t know that I would be working so hard to finish another book right now if I hadn’t participated last year and then again last month. Before NaNo, I was under the illusion that writer’s block was real, that the best time to write was when inspiration struck, that somehow I would find myself flooded with ideas and thousands of words would come pouring out in an afternoon.

Also, their attitude of plunging ahead and never looking back helped me realize that the elements of a rough draft do not have to be perfect. They have to lead from one scene to the next until the end of the story is found. Then the heavy machinery can be brought in to polish and clean and reshape until a scattered mess of points resembles a journey, until the characters are consistent and defined, until a pile of words resembles a book.

By the time this post goes live, I should be applying these lessons over another chai latte, continuing the journey of my characters. As I write this, I’m just shy of 20,000 words. If I continue at this pace, I’ll hit 100,000 by the end of August. I’ll have two rough drafts, or perhaps one rough draft and one second draft, all in the space of one year. It’s hard to believe I could go from having so many unfinished drafts to two complete rough drafts in such short time. All because I decided to try something different and challenge myself. (Okay, because my husband got tired of my whining and told me to do something. Thanks, dear. I really appreciate it.)

Your regularly scheduled visit to the sandbox

I have decided to update Thursdays at 17:00 Eastern Time (GMT -4:00), which means I will be writing my posts in advance and scheduling them to publish at that precise hour. It’s what I did for my last post. I never feel right announcing any sort of plan until I’ve sort of succeeded at it, that way I never end up saying, “I shall do this!” and then it doesn’t happen.

I haven’t been keeping up with Camp NaNoWriMo unfortunately. People must have been validating their word counts since yesterday, while I have accepted a defeat of sorts. It’s not a real loss, though; I’m still writing most days at my snail’s pace, taking advantage of the train ride home. I find I’m lousy with my promise to write more on the weekend, though. I have a table set up in the corner of my living room with everything I need to write, including a pair of speakers I can plug my phone into so I can put some mood music on. So far this weekend, I’ve been playing Minecraft. Building towers is fun, building worlds is better… I have to remind myself of that.

I have reached a point in my story where most of the major characters have appeared. I have made some drastic changes from previous attempts; there is a master/apprentice pair, and this time, on  whim, I’ve decided to have them be romantically involved (the apprentice is of an appropriate age, don’t worry). Elsewhere, there is a murder, and the murderer then masquerades as his victim while all assume that he (the murderer) has fled. I am embracing inspiration, letting it take me a little off course, telling myself that if these changes don’t work out, I can fix them later.

The rough draft is my sandbox, where I can play and experiment and try things I might not dare to do if I take myself too seriously. This is my hobby, and I should have fun, right?

A change of scenery

I meant to post last weekend, then I felt bad for not having much of anything to say and for thinking of taking time away from my NaNo project. I am so far behind on my goal. I’m trying to berate myself just enough to light a fire under my ass, but also be realistic enough to accept that I may not get to 50k this time around. The main reason for this would be the switch from typing up my first draft to scribbling it down by hand. Typing is easier and quicker. I am infinitely more pleased with looking at nearly 70 pages of handwritten words, though.

I frequently have to remind myself to resist the temptation of spending time typing up what I’ve written so far in Scrivener. I want to save that step for when the first draft is complete, so I can give myself license to make edits as I go, to add in things that I meant to write the first time around but didn’t get to. I don’t want to do any editing at all until the first draft is done. I feel that’s a trap I’ve fallen into too many times; I get carried away with ideas I have for making the story better, and it never gets finished because I end up in an endless cycle of revising as I go. Even if I don’t meet my goal with Camp NaNo, I have to carry the lessons I learned from NaNo last autumn if I expect to get this all out.

Last week, I took a day to leave work early and set myself up in a café across the street from my apartment to write. I ordered a chai latte, streamed Songza over their free Wi-Fi, and wrote for nearly two hours. I responded to a few text messages from my husband, but other than that I didn’t touch my phone. When I began, I noticed people coming in and ordering and sitting down. By the end of it, I was so engrossed in writing that when I stopped, I wondered how the place had filled up without my noticing it. It felt good to set aside all the distractions and focus on getting the story out. I plan to make this a weekly thing, but I haven’t been back yet.

I liked being out in public and having fewer opportunities for distraction. No cats, no kitchen cupboard, no piles of DVDs/blu-rays/what-have-you. Sure, my phone could have offered up a number of diversions, but it’s surprisingly easy to ignore. I was there on a mission. Ideally, I would have written at least enough words to meet my NaNo goal for one day; I stopped just shy of 1,500. Handwriting really is so much slower for me. I’m glad I learned how nice it feels to put myself in a different setting and get to work, though.

As it’s looking more and more like I will be unable to meet the goal I set for myself, the thought I’m repeating is, “It’s okay if I don’t make 50,000 words as long as I write every day.” I am not writing everyday, though. Mostly, but there are days here and there that I skip. It seems like it’s a difficult line; I want to write often, to feel like I’m progressing in my story. I don’t want writing to feel arduous. I want it to stay fun. I want to give myself permission to read or listen to an audiobook or play a game if I don’t feel like writing any particular afternoon.

I shouldn’t ever forget that I’m the one who makes the rules here. I’ve got almost seventy pages more than I had at the beginning of the month. My book seems about a quarter full. These are positive things. I just need to keep going.

Starting early (in notebooks)

I’ve been itching to go for a while, I had stuck a notebook in my bag with the plan of writing out Destiny longhand during the commute, taking advantage of those large chunks of time. April just wasn’t coming fast enough, though.

destiny notebook

Then I realized that I make the rules, and I can start before April if I like. Yesterday and the day before, I got several pages written in my little notebook. I counted the words from the first day, dismayed to find that I only write about 600 words in an hour. That’s no problem; if I can make myself use the train ride every evening to get writing done, I won’t beat myself up over the word count. It’s supposed to be a unit I use to motivate myself, not some bar I hang too high above my head.

So I’m not sure how this will play into Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’m happy as long as I’m continually making progress with my story.

I find with writing longhand, I have more time to think about the words I’m putting down.  I give myself the chance to consider other choices, to cut phrases shorter, to spend more time imagining the scene unfolding rather than just plunking down words rapidly. I’ve decided that even if I can’t make it to 50,000 words in a month, I want to write this whole thing out longhand before I put anything on the computer. Then, as I’m typing, I can make quick changes and get a sort of second draft out of it.

Another advantage is the payoff of seeing my handwriting covering a page. I enjoy typing, and tweaking fonts and whatnot, but no matter how much I customize them, the letters on a screen lack the identity my own scribble has. I love when I really get into it and write quickly, my words becoming a jumbled scrawl that only I can decipher. There is also the plus of not having to struggle with formatting in different word processors; I can indent as I like, throw in dashes, special characters, etc. I’m decent at computers, but it can break my rhythm to take a minute to figure out how best to format a particular bit of writing.

There is also the mobility of a notebook, having the entirety of the project in one place regardless of whether I have a cell signal or remaining battery. I will probably keep my outline in the cloud for when I need to consult it, but it’s nice to not have my chapter summaries nearby. I feel like I have more freedom to deviate.

One thing that remains distracting is my music choice. I really need to get off my ass and make some playlists to write to. I have a few albums that have a nice mood, but I have to gather my favorites and put them all together. I’ll work on that this weekend to be ready for the train next week.

It feels good to be writing again.

(Also, thanks to WordPress for sending weekly e-mail reminders that I haven’t been meeting my posting goal. I find them encouraging and guilt-inspiring, making me want to think of something to say and come write about it.)