I’m exhausted. I’ve got mud in my eyes and aches in my bones from sitting so much this past month. Worst of all, my ending isn’t coming together as envisioned. Time to create a new vision in preparation for next month’s revision.
There are seven writing days left in November and I’m confident I will have 50,000 words by the end of this month. That is not to say it’s been easy. I’ve written every single day — many more words than usual — and fatigue is starting to set in. I’ve never done rock-climbing or even climbed a wall, but this image sums up how I’m feeling today.
While the end is in sight, I’m still smack-dab in the middle of things. Reaching for toe and hand holds as I navigate this first draft. Novel-writing is an endurance activity and my brain and sitting muscles are feeling the strain. Good thing I’ve got the reserves to get me over the top because quitting is not an option.
I will prevail.
It’s Day Eleven of NaNoWriMo and while I’ve managed to achieve my word count each day (a minimum of 1700 words), I’m still susceptible to panic and overwhelm. For example, yesterday as I drove home from my solo writing retreat in Estes Park I wasn’t congratulating myself on the progress I’d made. Instead, I worried that I hadn’t yet found my narrator’s true voice. Then I switched to agonizing over my “too many plot lines” I’d never be able to connect, followed by the certainty that my first draft was such an irredeemable mess it would take years to revise the manuscript into anything coherent.
I felt like a poser. I wanted to run away from the whole thing.
Those feelings mirror what it’s like when I stand in the ocean and watch a huge wave come my way. I experience a slew of emotions. Panic. Exhilaration. Awe. Fear. An urge to run for shore.
While I frequently do run from big waves, I don’t like to run from my writing commitments. So this morning when I woke with those same angsty feelings, I looked for some online support and wisdom to help me reel in negative thoughts about my first draft. I found this: 7 Things NOT to Worry About During Your First Draft
All my worries are addressed in that article which makes me think I’m not the first writer in history to freak out about her shitty first draft. Newsflash, huh?
Today I continue working on my NaNo project. And as the words add up I have those same big-wave feelings I experience when I choose to dive into the wave and then come out the other side. Exhilaration. Pride. Awe.
The desire to do it again.
Writing a novel isn’t like building a brick wall.
You don’t figure out how to do it, and then it gets easier
each time because you know what you’re doing.
With writing a novel, you have to figure it out each time.
Each time you start over, you just have the language and the idea and the hope.
~ Kate DiCamillo
I’m working on my revisions and mostly succeeding in ignoring the nasty voice in my head that says “this is crap” and “why even bother?”
What’s the key to my (mostly) success?
Remembering there’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript. Perfection is an unattainable ideal that just so happens to also be highly subjective.
From my perspective this purple coneflower is perfection. Flawed petals and all. I love it and have spent quite a bit of time gazing at its loveliness. However, your mileage may vary. And that’s okay.
With great writing there is great clarity.
~ David Costabile
That is precisely why I’ve got my notebook out again, jotting down elements of the manuscript I’m revising in hopes of making connections I’ve missed so far. It’s hard to admit, but my story lacks focus. How that can still be true in the fourth draft I do not know. What I do know is this:
With mediocre writing there are muddy waters and confusion which result in the reader not knowing exactly what she’s supposed to root for or why any of it matters.
Word of the day (and probably however long it takes to finish this draft) = CLARITY.
Today I’m suffering from a self-inflicted case of the writer’s malady known as Shiny New Idea Syndrome. I’ve been revising a middle-grade novel and mostly liking it and, in fact, the other day had a breakthrough regarding how to rewrite the opening and quickly reworked it to my satisfaction. The revision is mostly going well and there’s no reason to set aside the project.
I learned of a submission call for picture books and decided it would be good for my brain (that’s been almost 100% devoted to writing novels) to try something new. I figured noodling on a completely different type of project would lubricate my creative juices and invigorate my work. Am I invigorated? Who knows? All I can say for certain is that I just spent the last couple hours going through my Picture Book Ideas notebook and now my brain is ping-ponging between multiple story possibilities. None of which are suited for this specific submission call, but details like that don’t ever matter to Shiny New Idea Syndrome.
Universal truth: The grass is always greener on the other side of the work-in-progress. All that not-yet-effed-up potential is so very tempting.
I’m going to keep working on my middle-grade. If a suitable picture book idea comes to me, I’ll pursue it. Otherwise, I won’t go beating the bushes for other distractions.
You read it here first.
Despite the fact that I chose FLEXIBILITY as this year’s guide word, I’m feeling seriously inflexible right now. In the past month, I haven’t been consistent with my routines and have been sitting way too much, for way too long.
This is my reminder to move, stretch, and experience life outside my writing space.
One of the best things about being a writer is that we can always learn and become better storytellers. Today, I happened upon two insights regarding character motivation (wants vs needs, and choices) that were worded in such a way that I immediately spotted what was wrong with my work-in-progress. What I read wasn’t new to me, but information doesn’t always sink in the first (or second or fifth) time I come across it. Today, things clicked. And that makes this writer very, very happy.
Art can’t be taught;
passion can’t be taught;
discipline can’t be taught;
but craft can be taught.
And writing is both an art and a craft.
~ Elizabeth George
Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.
~ Pablo Picasso
I guess that’s basically what I strive for with my fiction: to write lies in such a way the reader realizes some truths.
I loathe liars, but this kind of lying is a pretty good gig.
I’m not sure what put the light in this rabbit’s eye*, but I know where mine came from: today’s writing session was great fun. Even though I’m writing a first draft and, therefore, not overly hung up on language, I put down some good stuff. And that makes me very happy. Even after reading the following:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~ Anton Chekhov
Much of what I wrote today is more tell than show, but I still had a damned good time.
*okay, it was probably the sun
Some writing days are excruciating. The worst are those when I don’t get any words down, and instead spend my time catastrophizing and twirling in my head. The next worse are those days that feel like a death march through neck-deep glue, in which every word has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the page.
Today was the latter. I achieved my word count, and now possess a messy mass of sentences which have the potential to be revised into something less vomitous.
I’m in the process of drafting a middle-grade novel, a story I started six years ago and then set aside after writing 50 pages. Those pages burst out of me with voice and vitality, from who knows where, and while it’s great fun to be reunited with those characters, my process for writing the brand new pages is very different. This time around, I’m using a synopsis as my guide.
I’ve never written a synopsis before completing a first draft. Ever.
Last spring, when I’d let my agent know about the project, she asked if I had a synopsis to send along with the newly revised 50 pages. Um, no. However, I decided to give the loathed document a whirl, with the caveat that I wouldn’t shoot for any specific length, rather, I’d include EVERYTHING. A week later, I sent her the pages plus a 10-page synopsis. And today, I did the unimaginable: I thanked her for suggesting a synopsis. I told her that it was helping me keep on track, which was, in turn, helping me keep writing.
Which is why I decided to devote today’s blog post to my newfound appreciation for knowing-what-in-the-hell-comes-next. So, I pulled THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: CRAFT AND THE WRITING LIFE FROM THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP off the shelf in hopes of finding a passage to reinforce my synopsis love.
Except, the part of his essay “Not Knowing” that spoke to me was this:
One night in Iowa City, I sat and listened to our instructor recount his day of writing, how he followed a character down to the basement, where he heard a strange rustling, and the character turned and drew out his gun and shot in the dumbwaiter a rat. “And,” the instructor grinned, “I didn’t even know it was there.”
And I thought, “So you don’t have to know.”
Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!
I admit to feeling momentary panic about that blasted 10-page synopsis. But then I calmed the f*^% down. Just because I’ve charted a path for the story I’m writing does not in any way mean that I am beholden to that chart. It’s a general guide, nothing more. If a rat or gun or dumbwaiter shows up in the story, I’ll allow them time to lobby for their inclusion. I won’t automatically toss out anything that shows up to the party.
And when that panic and angst over being too structured returns, (because I know for a fact those emotions will return), I’m gonna come back to this right here. After all, I set out to write one kind of post, and quite happily ended up with another.