Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2011, and I offer up the following:
I’m not sure it’s quite hit me yet that I wrote this much, towards a single end, in so short a period of time. Prior to this, 2000 words was a “long” piece for me.
As of today, I’m sitting at 55,112 words. If I averaged ~1000 words an hour, that’s 50.5 hours of straight writing. An entire billable work week of writing. Almost an entire weekend of writing, if I didn’t sleep. 50.5 episodes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey worth of writing! It’s kind of a lot when I stop and think about it.
It’s proof that it can be done. Whether it should be done…we’ll decide after a few months editing.
I didn’t write anything over the Thanksgiving break, but have been getting back into the habit now that I’m back at work. My new goal is to have the entire unedited first draft done before I leave for Arizona on the 17th of December. After that, I plan to step away from it for a while (maybe start a new project) until a point where I have forgotten what it is I have written, and can (hopefully) objectively edit.
Lessons learned in week 4:
1. Don’t pace yourself
In almost every other aspect of life, I recommend taking it easy and figuring out the next move before you blindly fire up the table saw and start installing thousands of square feet of laminate floor. Oddly specific. Anyway, when it comes to writing, I feel like the sprint approach is far better than the marathon approach. When you’re in the early passion of your story, excitedly discussing its chocolaty insides, the iron is hot: time to write. Get those weird turns-of-phrase down. Write that dialogue that is kind of insane. Have your characters blow something up. Those moments will wane as the project progresses, so write quickly, with intensity. You can always come back and scrap it if you got a little too wild one rum-fueled evening.
2. A good board is key
I can’t write in a notebook. I’ve tried. My handwriting is garbage, I can fit maybe 200 words on a page, and then I’m forced to retype it all later, anyway. The IT guy in me wants his hands on a keyboard. It’s how, besides my voice, my brain gets messages out into the world. I’m assuming most contemporary writers use a keyboard (my apologies to those luddite diehards out there still scribing away on typewriters/quill and paper/papyrus and alligator blood ink/rock-based cuneiform). If so, get a good one. One that is comfortable and satisfying to type on, and makes the appropriate “clacky” sounds when you strike it enthusiastically. Sounds dumb, but it made a big difference to me.
3. Read while you write
In November, I started and finished Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d never read the book (which was based on the screen play, interestingly enough), and it was appropriately SciFi enough for me to get some ideas from as I wrote. It helped keep my setting in context, and offered a prime example of what popular, successful story telling is all about. I didn’t read any Orson Scott Card, as I thought that might be a little too close to what I was writing, and didn’t want to start accidentally emulating his style where it wasn’t appropriate. Reading helped remind me why I was writing.
4. You don’t always feel like writing
I love to write. It’s one thing that despite years of practice and attention, has not lost it’s fun and luster. There were days in November that I didn’t want to write. I was tired or my arm hurt or I really wanted to collect flowers and insect parts and mushrooms in Skyrim to make potions that did not help my character in any way. But I wrote anyway. Short of my trip to see my parents, I wrote something (sometimes a lot, sometimes a little) every single day this month. Chuck Wendig has said it many times (and way better than I ever could): Writer’s write. So if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. If you are writing, then you are a writer. Pretty simple.
5. Don’t find time, make it
This applies to anything you want to do. Thanks to Apollo and his chariot, we all get 24 hours a day in which to do stuff. Normal folks are asleep for ~8 hours of that, leaving 16 hours. If you work full-time, that’s another 8 hours a day already spoken for. That leaves the remaining 8 hours to do everything else. Chores, social life, eating, collecting flowers and insect parts and mushroo…wait. If it matters to you, you’ll make time to do it, not just try to squeeze it in somewhere. Time management is about not wasting time. Does that hour or so of TV really help you, or could that time be better spent? Do you really need to read 15 pages of Rage Comics or a 500-comment Fark.com thread? If you can’t seem to find time to do what you supposedly want to do, maybe you should see what you’re doing with your time instead. Maybe the latter is what you want to do, and the prior is what you think you’re supposed to want to do. Deep.
The cool thing about being a human is that we can try all kinds of shit. Sports, creative arts, competitive eating, organized crime; anything you want! But the key is that pesky “want” part. Usually “want” comes with “work” which too many people seem scared of or at least very averse to. But that’s ok. I don’t play basketball because I suck at it, and I’m 5’6. If you can’t or don’t want to do the work for something, you don’t have to! You can try one of the infinite other things this crazy world has to offer.
Now that I’ve “won” I’ve got some celebratory mead to bottle.