I did the calculations three times to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. The numbers never changed.
I had four days to write over 24,000 words to complete my 50,000 word novel for the National Novel Writing Challenge. That was over 5,500 words every day. Even for me, that’s a lot. I’m pretty ambitious, but I sat back on the couch and shook my head. “There is no way.”
I’m going to miss the Nanowrimo Challenge I thought I was going to pass with flying colors, earned from years of approaching my writing like a pro. I’m going to have a half-written manuscript on my hard drive because I need to return to my current series in December. I gave up and went to bed, telling myself not to push anything. Just rest, get well, and recover from an exceptionally bad week.
But by the next day, I decided I wanted to finish that book and I could do it 1,000 words at a time. I could create the habit of sitting down and writing 1,000 words — then take as much of a break as my hands needed. It would be like boot camp, I decided.
You know what? It worked! I planned out my writing sessions — a generous hour and a half to hit my 1,000 words and then two hours of a break. Since I wasn’t doing any freelance work, I cleared my schedule for four days. Here’s what I learned:
Though I occasionally turned on a song for inspiration or let a soundtrack play in the background, I found that when writing came down to the line, I did better with no music at all. While music can enhance an emotional scene, it can just as easily ruin it when it flips tracks or there is an abrupt change of storyline. All that time I spend looking for the perfect song for this scene is interrupting the flow of my thoughts and taking up time I could have been writing. Though I’ll still use music when I’m writing, I can be most effective by completely turning it off.
Break It Down
1,000 words might be a lot — and it is. But it’s still less intimidating than sitting down thinking you need to write 2,000 or 3,000 words in a certain timeframe. If I can’t do 1,000, I can do 500. But 1,000 is good for me personally – it gets me into the flow that happens sometime after 3,000 words – and past the 7,000-word stall that is part of my normal writing pattern. I hear that runners find the same thing where they have to pass a point of resistance, get into the flow, then meet the second place of resistance and again the flow. I don’t know if that’s true. I always ran in sprints. But I know it’s true for me when I write.
Getting Started is the Hardest Part
Planning the exact hours I aimed to write helped me get past the urge to push them off — and having a short timeframe helped me stay in the session. I allowed an hour and a half to take the off the pressure. It rarely took over an hour and sometimes I surprised myself with a shorter timeframe than I even knew I manage.
Take a Break
I struggled on the third day. But that was also when I picked up a technique from Dr. Leaf about our oversaturated brains and how you can protect them by just taking a 16-minute break to let yourself daydream and your mind rest. That’s all. No judgmental thoughts about not having productive thoughts. No stressful repetitions that I’m not supposed to be thinking about anything or guilt if I think about something productive. I just sat and watched the fire and thought about whatever happened to come into my head. And it worked. I thought I would be bored, but I started looking forward to the little breaks at the end of my sessions. Then I moved on to clean the house or work in the garden or do whatever needed to happen before my next scheduled writing session.
Don’t Judge My Writing
I had a deadline to meet. I also had no outline, since I left my Writer’s Journal at my family’s house during the Thanksgiving holiday. Without the journal, I had no quick reference for names, chapter outlines that I only saw once when I writing them — and no way to access the journal again before the end of the month. So I reminded myself that this is a draft. A subplot counted if it was just mentioned. I could develop it later. If I needed to change a past event, I just wrote as though it had happened or hadn’t happened. If I forgot a name and didn’t want to break the flow of my thoughts, the character became known as ***. I’ll find the name later. If I didn’t remember exactly where a chapter was going or a story twist happened, I just kept writing and trusted the characters. And they came through. I finished my manuscript at 60,000 words on the last day of November with a storyline that made sense and created a complete arch. Seriously. I haven’t even run spell check on it or read over the scenes but it doesn’t matter. I finished my novel. I solved the mystery that’s been in my head for four years. And I proved to myself that I could do something I didn’t think I could.
Now, I’m planning on continuing the 1,000-word habit for my series I’ve been trying to finish. I have a new goal, though I don’t have entire days to devote to it. I’ll be trying to keep four writing sessions, three sessions for “The Creator,” and one 1,000-word session for my blog. It may be an article, it may be a free writing session about what I want to teach, or it may just be ramblings about the choices I need to make for the direction of Stage to Page. But it will be material and it will reinforce the habit I wanted to create.
So when people ask what I did this week, I get to answer, “I wrote a novel. What about you?”
P. S. If you’re curious about individual sessions, here are my notes below. The last few sessions turned into alternations of writing, resting, and doing something unrelated in ever decreasing sections of time. Sometimes, I even forgot to take notes about the session or got onto so much of a roll that I went past the 1,000 words at a time rule. Don’t judge. 😉
It’s 6:06 AM on Thursday Morning. I had a hard time sleeping last night and dozed from 4:30-5:40 this morning. Slightly groggy. VERY thirsty, but I can’t get any water right now. Here’s to my first 1,000 words typed up. I’m sitting in bed, but I’ll have to go cross-legged style if my back and wrists will make it through.
6:08 – 6:50 I reached a thousand words, only stopping to get a little wire crate to make a bed-desk. I had a conversation to finish up and then transitioned straight into the second portion of the scene with guests arriving. I’d hoped for a mother-daughter bonding moment and sort of got it, but I was interrupted in its initial scene at our last Library Nano Session and I think I lost most of the emotion. Now Chloe has just seen two new characters and is analyzing their appearance with her painter’s viewpoint. I was actually on a roll and didn’t realize I went past the 1,000 point mark. I didn’t want to stop at first, but I do want breakfast and to stretch before I go on. Will probably move to a table as well, which works because they’re about to sit down at a table in the story. I’ll have to remember to reset the story words since this is showing on the counter in Scrivener as part of the sessions word count.
Session 2 – The Car
I have no idea when I started or ended this session. I finished somewhere around 9:30. I’m writing in the car as Dad drives me. This session was harder and seemed to go in spurts as I looked up names, tried to think of proper physical responses for the characters, and then began to fall asleep. The last few sentences, I wrote with my eyes closed for half of the time and a few I forgot what I was writing midsentence. Either that or I fell asleep. But I did write until I had 1,000 words! 🙂 And I’m still somewhat sleepy though I can keep my eyes open now. Sort of.
Session 3 Library 2:20-3:30
I wrote and forgot to record.
Session 4 – Evening Home on the floor in front of heater
6:00 – 7:30
I’m apparently a floor-writer. There are seven places in this room to sit and I choose the rug in front of the fire/heater. I have the house to myself. The pain level is annoying in my shoulders but tolerable. Okay. Going to focus now. It’s 7:27. I wrote 1516 words. I started around 6:00 but this session had several calls and texts interruption and a few computer adjustments before I got comfortable. I struggled, got to the end of a chapter, got the next going, then was 900 words short so I added a little conversation she remembered – and that kept going until I stopped to check. Over 15,000! Whoo! I’m going to make it! Also, I can’t find the songs I like. I haven’t listened to music for the other sessions and this one I listened to three. I don’t know if they were distracting or not. I think I turned them off to answer the phone because I never noticed they were gone. For now, though I think I’m doing better without since I don’t know the emotion of the scene so I don’t know the song to choose. Okay. Break time. It’s 7:30. I have a live-writing session online at 9:00. I’m going to beat this! It won’t be my first record. I think I did 10,000 words in an all-night writing session a few years ago. But the other day when I realized I’d need 5,530 words every day, I nearly decided there was no way I could do that. Why even bother writing any? I’m much happier beating this. In fact, I had to calculate the numbers three times just to convince myself that I really wrote 1500 words – but now that I see the time that went by super fast too. 🙂
Session 1 – Bed 6:10-7:10 – 1,000 Words
It took about five minutes for me to talk myself into getting up, even though the alarm didn’t go off and I again dozed all night, waking often and not really feeling refreshed. That seems to be a common pattern lately. I spend all night like a kid at Christmas, waking up over and over as the hours drag on. When morning actually comes, I’ve made peace with the idea of sleeping and don’t want to get up. But I told myself I could go back to sleep after I got my words if I still needed to and — I don’t.
I drank water and used R.C. Essential Oil to help with my breathing. I didn’t have the “Pain-Free” oil in the room and could really tell with my wrists. I felt like I was making good, steady progress with only second-long pauses to figure out where I want to go. Honestly, I feel lately like my brain is doing little glitches where I randomly stop for a second even when I know what to say or what I’m thinking. I didn’t listen to music. I allowed the characters to continue their discussion though it may be cut from the book because one character is piecing clues together too early. And when I got to the end, I just chose to bridge it to the next big event.
I left my writer’s journal which means I still don’t have my outlines, ages, or character sketches. The timeline and list of names are what I’m missing most.
I finished the 1,000 words, then came downstairs for breakfast and ginger tea. No coffee yet.
Session 2: Word Wars
9:05-9:30: 524 Words
9:35-9:45 194 Words
9:45-10:17 282 Words
Hah. I stopped for coffee. Also, there are two red wasps sitting on my curtain staring straight at me.
Today I’m continuing to go slower, though by the time I reach 1,000 words, I feel like I could write more of the story. I’m drinking one cup of coffee. About to go clean the house and give myself a computer break. I have the next session scheduled for noon so I have almost an hour a half.
Session 3: Bookstore
12:30 – 2:00 – 2,000 Words
Had a few interruptions and a bit of trouble with wrapping up the scene. Then got on a roll and the hardest part is not to exposing everyone in the bookstore to my facial expressions as my character’s faces sad and shocking discoveries. This isn’t exactly easy, but it’s making the idea of needing over 5,000 words every day suddenly not intimidating. I don’t know if I could do it on a day when I have other things to work on between that requires severe mental switching but it does make me excited.
Session 4: Home
Had a long break this afternoon, working in the garden and mixing the weeds and leaves into compost. Cleaned the house. Made dinner. Avoided typing. I had two word-wars with friends, getting me over the 1,000-word mark. I’ve now written 5,169 words which means I only need 3,000 each day to finish on time. 🙂 I like the 5,000-word challenge though so I’m going to keep on that schedule but drop the last 500 as a requirement.
It’s 7:08. Jami will call soon. I may read and take the rest of the evening off.
Session one: Bookstore
12:00 – 1:33 700 words. First Session. (I forgot to record the rest of this day.)
Session Two: Lazy Boy Chair
5,000 words spaced through the rest of the writing-frenzy day. I begin taking 16-minute breaks after each session, then taking a short break before writing again.
Session 1: Lazy Boy Chair
1,062 Words. I’m typing slowly. Thinking slowly. The storyline is just an event that I know needs to happen, but I don’t know anything that will happen during it. It’s surprised me once already. Going to take a 17 minutes pause, then find food. Meeting Jami online for a sprint at 12:00. I can do this. I have no doubt I’ll make the 5,000 words but feel I should be a little more alarmed because tonight is the deadline and I’m going the speed of a sloth.
Update: I wrote without recording my sessions but my speed picked up as my storyline did. By evening, I was completely immersed in the story. I passed the 50,000 mark and then kept right on going. I ended the story at 52,527 words with plenty of hours to spare. Enough time to go upstairs, write out my bills and plans for the next month, and then get myself so excited about my writing progress that I began working on my Sentarra Series that evening.