Writing All Day, Every Day
I gave myself every writer’s dream: a mini-vacation away from home, no chores, no work, nothing to do except work on my novel for an entire week. I’d hoped to get past this difficult spot in my novel, to add somewhere around 25,000 words to my manuscript and even (dare I say it?) to finish the novel.
Perhaps it was the revelation I received after turning 31. First, that it has been eight years since I released the first book in the Secret of Sentarra series – a move that I would regret but also the one that set me on the path to study publishing and create my own imprint. Secondly, that, now that I am 31, I have written about the world of Erilerre and Sentarra in various forms and countless versions – for over half my life.
Half my life has been spent with generations of these characters, and I still don’t know exactly where this story is going or how to make it get there??
From Professional to Procrastinator
So after celebrating my birthday with my parents and foster brothers, I settled into life at the Children’s Home armed with a journal and my laptop. I’ve written entire manuscripts in a month before; completing three drafts as part of various NaNoWriMos. And I was keeping a good writing schedule at the beginning of this year, averaging around 3,000 words every day. So I went into this week feeling like a pro. I didn’t expect it would be easy, but I knew it would be successful.
Five days later, I’m feeling like a battle-scarred amateur. Yes, I got words and I have aching arms to prove it. Yes, I got past some extremely difficult passages, transitional scenes, and storyline choices. Yes, I completed 11,837 words in five days, one of which was spent typing up the 20 pages I wrote by hand.
I also came up with all kinds of struggles, procrastination tecniques, and distractions that new writers (and some of us that think we’re pros) face. So, besides learning interesting tidbits about my story – such as that one of my characters was born during a wolf attack and if you cut out an entire section, a character may find his way into your story regardless – here are my top observations from my week of full-time writing.
There is No Ideal Writing Day.
Even during an “ideal” writing week, life will never be conducive to writing. Your body will hurt, you will get sleepy, the crises and struggles of loved ones will cause you to wander about the house worrying about the future. Kids will run in and out of the house. The phone will ring, the clients will ask for last minute changes, the bills still must be paid, and high schoolers will not move their graduations to accommodate your writing week.
You can plan all you want but if you’re really stuck, the best thing to do is just start writing. I had five different scenarios that I went over and over in my head. I had a character stuck to the mast of a ship for several days and no idea which person on board was going to have mercy on him and release him. In the end, that little rascal got his own self not only untied but off the ship, going exactly where he wanted to go. This is not the first time this has happened. Your characters, once developed, will take a life of their own and if you just trust them, they will do exactly what needs to happen to move the story forward. Oh, and you know that random thing they throw in there that makes no sense whatsoever? Just keep it. I promise you later it will become a key element to your plot because that is part of how the magic of writing works. Don’t question it – there’s no logical reason why this happens. Just go with it and blame it on your subconscious’s obsession with making connections.
Handwriting Verses Typing
Handwriting and typing both have advantages. I wrote in my leather manuscript by hand. I like doing this because it feels like doing what my characters are: recording an ancient story. It also has no distractions from the internet, hurts my wrists less than typing, and has built-in motivation like “You can’t get up until there are words filling this page.” Natural break points are a great thing. Typing is faster. Typing can get you into the zone and make you feel like you are making great progress. Typing doesn’t require taking more precious time to type up what you already wrote. So it really doesn’t matter if you type or write or change back and forth like I do – as my friend’s pep talk so accurately said, “Just write.”
Parkison’s Law is Real
You know when Parkison said: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”? I usually defy this law. I’m better than that. There’s something to be done, and I get it done. And my best hours are morning. Want to know how many days this week I started “on time” when I meant to start “bright and early?” Once. And I fell asleep an hour later. And yes, there were days when I stayed on the couch, scribbling out words well past the time my brain wanted to stop or I would have if it was a normal work day… but I still averaged about the same amount of words each day as I do when I write from 9-12. This could be really discouraging but when you think about it, it just means that I can be as much of a writer when I’m juggling half a dozen other things as when I have all day to mull over my storyline; and that, my dear friend, is a good thing.
Keeping the End in Mind
When you’re in the middle of a book – especially a long book – writing 3,000 words doesn’t feel like a big, exciting deal; it feels like a hamster on a cage, like checking off a chore-chart. You write 3,000 words so you can get up and write 3,000 words, so you can get up and write 3,000 words and it feels like slogging through mud. You know what happens? You quit slogging, you stand there feeling rain and mud seep into your boots, consider the cost of publishing versus how much people will pay, how many people will read your book only once if they read it at all and how much fun people are having doing things besides writing and you think, “What the heck am I doing all this for?” Because you’re not looking at the end result – you’re looking at each footfall sinking into the mud. I realized one of the things I needed to do was reestablish my writing routine: a certain time, a certain place, and a certain mindset. And part of that is creating a picture of the end result: the publishing, those special readers who are going to be impacted by my story, and why I’m telling this story to begin with. And I need to replay that every single day before my writing session. It’s the potion that will keep me from turning into a hamster.
No One Succeeds Alone
I sent out a text, announcing that my birthday present to myself was going to be a week to write. Which mean I had to spend the last four days of being 30 working like a maniac to finish my freelance work. Two of those days were spent with a severe bout of food poisoning. One friend (who happens to be a chiropractor) brought sustenance to my very sick self and put my ribs back in place so I could breathe. Another sent video pep talks which usually came in just when I needed them most and reminded me of the most basic lessons like writing is really just putting words on paper. Another friend called to see how I was progressing with the writing project. My family let me write, even with chaos around me. People are cheering me on even when I’m slogging and that both amazes and humbles me.
What I’ve Learned
So here I am on Day Six – also Saturday. I’m in a great place for writing, have nothing to do except writing, and I have only added a lame paragraph to my manuscript. But I have learned a lot this week and I have 11,837 words to prove it. I also have a paragraph of lessons I learned and jotted down:
1. Create a vision board/mind movie to keep the end goal in mind.
2. Establish a time to write and turn off the phone while I’m doing it.
3. Set a goal for 3,000 words every day. That is a bit of a stretch which makes it challenging but keeps things entirely doable.
4. Make a chart or some way to track progress in a physical way so that it feels like I’m making progress.
5. Begin keeping hours tracked and words so I can get a better idea of my own work habits.
6. Create a writer’s creed that I say before every session. This creed will define my desires for the book’s effects, my goal for each session, my permission to write imperfectly while drafting, and my belief in my ability to be the kind of writer I want to be.
The biggest lesson of all is: Give yourself a break. Write your words, but be kind to yourself. You don’t have to have an idea life to write. Your words don’t have to be pretty in the first draft. You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going with this book. Just write.