Back In The Saddle

Well, my vacation is over. It was longer than I expected, owing to some unexpected late night adventures with friends and some much needed time spent with my wife. Today, though, I finally got back to writing, and it felt good. It was comfortable, easy, and fun.

I think for now, what I’m most excited about is that the hard part is over. At least the initial hard part is over. I’ve spent the last three weeks focusing on that first goal: fifty thousand words. Once I reached it, there was definitely a time to celebrate, much like every NaNoWriMo winner does. The difference is, though, that I’m not really finished. I reached the first major milestone, but the next leg of the race is longer and harder.

Conservative estimates put the total length of my novel at about 125,000 words, or about 400 or so typed pages. We’ll see for sure when the story is finished, but if I keep on the current pace in the story, that estimate should turn out to be pretty accurate. At the moment, that means I have more in front of me than I do behind. That’s a short-term challenge, however, as I’m now less than 10k words from the halfway point, after my work today. I know that it will be difficult, but I plan to push through and hit 75k by the end of the month. That’s going to require more consistent dedication over the next few days than I’ve averaged to this point, but I feel like I’m ready for it. It’s less than two hours a day, at least, which is better than a part time job.

At any rate, I’m back to work. I’m putting my face back down, and this time, I’m not looking up until I get to ‘The End.’ Or at least until I get to ‘To Be Continued…’

Should be done with that before Christmas Day, and I’m really hoping for a huge celebration then, because I won’t have just written fifty thousand words. I’ll have finished my novel’s first draft.

Call It What It Is

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. There’s a brilliant idea that you just have to get out and it’s scratching and clawing at your brain. You sit down to your computer and you pound out five thousand words without blinking an eye. Maybe this happens two or three times in the same week. You’re excited, thrilled even. All those idle fancies you’ve had over the years of being an actual writer are starting to come together in your head and in your hands as your fingers fly across the keyboard and word after word flashes up on the screen. The world will know your literary brilliance. They will come to love your snarky dialogue and your eloquent prose.

But then it happens. First, you realized that you thought the word ‘snarky’ would look good on paper. Second, your steam runs out. The coal shoveler inside your brain is taking a semi-permanent hiatus, and whenever you sit down to write, all you get is feelings of ‘it will never be good enough.’ You’re wrapped up in how wonderful something else was that you wrote two, three or ten years ago, and you wonder how you will ever live up to that insanely high standard you set for yourself. You switch windows from Word to Facebook to MSNBC.

The next day you hardly think about writing at all, except for maybe a minute or two. You might even open up your word processor, but then close it, without really thinking about writing anything. Or you might scratch out a sentence or two, decide that it’s not worth it and go for a jog. By the end of the week, your hopes and dreams of publishing are squashed beneath your endless complaining about your ‘dead-end’ job and your finances and how it’s just not fair that you got stuck here. You’re too talented to be stuck here. Always, always stuck.

Woman asleep at her desk

My favorite way not to write.

That will last for maybe two months, and then it will come back. The flash of creative genius and the work and the energy and then the crash and the agonizing torture of wondering if the cycle is ever, ever going to end.

Psychologists have a term for that particular kind of behavior. It’s called bipolar disorder and it’s generally associated with long periods of inactivity followed by a short burst of excessive energy, a huge mood crash and a rapid descent into another long stretch of depression and inactivity.

I have my own term for it, when it comes to writing at least.

Laziness.

Before you get all bent out of shape and start telling me that I have no right to judge you and that I can’t possibly understand the torment you’re going through and that your struggles with writing and writing well are your own, let me remind you that I’ve been there. I’ve spent months and months not writing. Months. Most of the time, I’ve been able to justify it, calling it fear or writer’s block or some other name that I invent to disguise the plain and simple truth.

When I write, it’s because I want to. When I don’t want to write, I don’t write. It’s that simple. The problem that we all face (or at least most of us) is that most of the time, we don’t want to write. We want to dream. We want to fantasize and marvel at the wonderful worlds we’ve imagined in our minds. And, quite often, whether it’s because we think that words can’t do the image justice or it’s because we feel inadequate, or because writing just takes too darn long, we put up our ‘Gone Fishin’ signs and close up shop.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during the process of writing a novel, it’s that there is no room in a serious writer’s life for laziness. Your muse and your stories and poems are perfectly willing to show up to work and do their parts. And their part is easy. They just have to be there. And guess what, that’s all you have to do, too. You have to show up to work. You have to turn your computer on, maybe turn your internet off, open up a word processor and force yourself to write. Write ten words, then fifty, then a hundred. Write for an hour and then quit. But the next day, when you’re already bored and you’re wondering if it’s worth it, shut your brain off, sit down, and do it again.

Maybe all you can do, consistently, is to write five hundred words a day. If that’s the case, then do it. While five hundred words may not seem like much, consider this. At five hundred words per day, you will produce about 180,000 words, which means that you’ve written the equivalent of roughly two 250 page novels or twenty (That’s right. Two. Zero.) decent short stories of publishable length. In a year. The numbers add up.

Discipline is the line that divides bumbling amateurs from the professionals. It isn’t talent or luck, it’s dedication to the work. If you aren’t where you want to be as a writer, then there’s only one thing to do for it, and that’s to write more. Write every day. After a few weeks, it will be as natural as breathing. After a few more, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to spend your time doing anything else. Put in the time and the effort, and believe me, you will see the results.

Mini-Vacay

I believe that reaching 50,000 words in my novel has earned me a night off.  No writing, no blogging.  Just me and my wife and our dogs.  I’ll see you all tomorrow, when I begin my journey to finishing the novel.  We’ll say that’ll be reaching 125k.  See you then.

Victory March

Yesterday, I was tired.  I posted a throw-away blog entry because I felt like garbage.  I barely scratched out my minimum word count and it took me four agonizing hours to do it.  I hated writing with every fiber of my being, and I wanted nothing more than to say, “I have twelve days, and only five thousand words.  I should just take it easy the rest of the month.”  I didn’t.  But, believe me, I wanted to.  Every torturous minute yesterday reminded me that writing takes discipline.  It takes the determination to push through when it’s hard, when it’s painful, when it isn’t fun.

Yesterday, writing was not fun.  I left the day at 46,700 words.  So close, and I was certain that the same thing was going to happen today.  I was sure in fact that my novel was going to be hideously unpleasant to write for the duration of its first draft, and then at the end I would discover I had only trash and hundreds of wasted hours of my time.  Yesterday, I wanted to quit.

But that was yesterday.

I did it.  For the first time in SIX years of attempting National Novel Writing Month, I did it.  At 11:00, Mountain Daylight Time, I crossed the fifty-thousand word barrier for the first time in my life.  Even as I drudged through a whole chapter today that I found incredibly boring to write, but necessary for character development, I kept thinking about how close I was.  I could taste the victory champagne (it’s Dr Pepper, really) at the end of that final lap.  And now that I’m here, the victory is as sweet as I ever imagined it could be.

Today, I’m done writing.  But my story is not finished, and my novel is not complete.  Some people will take their fifty-thousand words this month, put them away and think, “Ah, that was great,” and not think an iota of writing again until next November.  But, I’m not done yet.  I’m only about 40% of the way through, in fact, but it’s the hard 40%.  It’s that first 10 miles of a marathon.  Ten miles.  I haven’t run ten miles in more than half a decade.

Tomorrow, I go back to work.  Tomorrow, the words may come fast or they might come slow.  There will be moments of exciting outpourings of creative energy and there will be moments of drudgery and impatience and bitterness and depression.  But I can do this.  I can finish this.  I can’t stop now.

A Picture Is Worth…

My offering for you today:

McIntosh Apples

Sorry, iPads are on aisle three

That will be all for today.

The Snowball Effect

I’ve been getting a lot of the same questions from people when I tell them I’m writing a novel. (I’ve stopped mentioning NaNoWriMo, but only because the sheer craziness of it confuses and confusticates most folks).  The most common now, I think, of those questions is: “What are your goals in writing this book?” which is usually followed up with, “I mean, are you trying to get it published?”  The answer to that question will be yes.  But it isn’t right now.  My goal right now has nothing to do with publishing or book tours or royalty checks.  My goal right now is getting the blasted thing written.  It’s a matter of getting the whole bloody story down on paper.

And now, a little more than a third of the way through, I can see light at the end of that particular tunnel.  I think I’ve mentioned to several people that my resolve when it comes to the novel-writing process has historically been relatively weak.  I’ve powered my way through 12-13,000 words and then I lose focus, energy, or just plain get distracted.  I always think I’ll come back to it someday, but as of yet, my four or five unfinished manuscripts are still sitting at 30 or so pages and 12,000 words.  I’ve written short stories that came out to 12,000 words.  This novel is four times that length and just barely getting started.

Today I wrote four thousand words.  That’s about twice what I usually write in a day, and I think there are a few reasons for my prolific output today.  One, I think I was subconsciously still trying to make up for Monday.  Obviously between today and yesterday, I more than did that.  Two, I can see that 50k ‘finish line’ on the horizon.  I contemplated going for another 2500 today, just to put some more words up, but out of respect for my own sanity and my desire to sleep tonight, I decided against it.  I don’t think I could sit at 47,500 and go to sleep.  It would bug me too much.  I would absolutely have to scrawl out another 2500, which could keep me up way past my bedtime.

But that right there is what lets me know I’m going to finish.  The more I put down on paper, the less it feels like I’m doing each day.  The first day I started, four thousand seemed like a mountain of pages and an impossible task for a single day.  Today, though, four thousand was nothing.  It was a walk in the park, and I didn’t feel myself struggling at all.  It snowballs for me.  Getting from 30,000 to 40,000 was way easier than getting from 20,000 to 30,000, and it seems like each 10k words that I get finished with is one more tick mark on the path to a complete work.

So I’m putting my nose to the grindstone, putting my head down and getting it done.  There are two weeks left in the month to win NaNoWriMo, but I’ll still be writing come December 1st.  I wonder how many others will be too.

 

New Directions

I’m not sure what I’m doing.  I’ll have to be honest about that.  I finished what I thought was chapter ten on Thursday.  On Friday, I sat down to start chapter eleven, which is a meeting between my protagonist and the primary supporting character for the entire novel and into the next two books after.  As I tried to think about how I wanted this to happen, I realized something pretty awful.  My second character was going to be more than a supporting role.  She was an outright second protagonist.

When you’re writing a novel, you should probably have your protagonists introduced before chapter eleven.  It doesn’t always have to work that way, but as a general rule, it’s probably a good idea.  Long story short (or rather short story longer), my main plot is on hold for the next several days as I write out seven chapters or so for my second protagonist.  I’m about done with the second chapter for her, and I realize that she is a much rounder character than I thought she would be.  I very much like her spunk and charm, and I’m looking forward to how she interacts with my first protagonist.

On top of all of this, I only wrote three hundred words yesterday.  Because I did not finish the minimum there was no blog post.  To make up for it, I’ve already cranked out 2700 today with probably 1500 more coming this evening.  I do not feel any guilt for taking most of yesterday off, though, for two reasons.  One, I did write for a solid twenty minutes.  That may not seem like much, but I feel better about that fact that I at least did something.  Second, I spent the whole evening with my wife, away from my computer.  And, since Ashley is the reason I’m willing to work so hard to finish this novel, I think she deserves to get her fair share of my time as well.  I wouldn’t be doing this without her support, after all, and I think she needs to know how much I appreciate that, from time to time.

I did also work a ten-hour shift and we spent some time with some of our best friends.  So, in all, even with the piddlingly low word count, I feel like Monday was a success.  Also, I pushed past the 40k mark this afternoon, which makes today a success too.  To be fair, I feel like every day this month has brought success with it, and I really like the feeling.

All right, back to work.  My characters, try as they might, will not save the world without my help.