What’s been happening with the novel lately? I’ve been talking about other things (Photo Challenges, Flash Fiction Contests) and not so much about the book. Here’s the update about where I am on that path. Continue reading
The post lamp out by our front walk is drowning in plants.I had to take this shot from the second story just so it was visible at all. And you know what? The guiding light that’s been driving my writing is similarly buried in the thriving plants of the rest of my life. Here’s why this is okay for now, and how I plan to get back on the creative path.
Now that the frantic press to finish the first draft is over, it’s time to look back. What lessons did I learn from pushing through the draft of a novel in a month and a half? Here are six of those lessons.
This flag is the ensign of the United States Power Squadrons, a national organization dedicated to education, safety, and enjoyment of recreational boating, both power and sail. My husband, an avid sailor, is an active member, and this past weekend participated in a regional rendezvous. One of the events, the Predicted Log Contest, inspired this message.
In a Predicted Log Contest, teams work one at a time to row a dinghy over a course that has a known length as many times as they want, timing themselves and figuring out how fast they go. When they’re ready they are given a new course, told how long the new course is, and predict how long it will take them to row the new course. They don’t have access to any timing equipment at this stage. The team that comes closest to their predicted time is the winner. This weekend the winning team finished only 33 seconds off from their predicted time.
I love this contest, because it’s not about how fast or how strong you are. It’s about how consistent you are. It’s about setting a pace and sticking to it. That’s what makes you a winner.
The message is obvious, isn’t it? In many aspects of life the main thing is not to be outstanding or exceptional, but to be consistent and reliable. As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Some days it’s easier, some days it’s harder, but you just keep showing up.
I’ve learned to apply this to my writing through the Camp NaNoWriMo experience last month. I set a goal for words each day and I stuck with it. Now that camp is over I’m still writing, albeit with a lower word-count goal each day, but I have learned to really appreciate the discipline of writing every single day, without fail. The point is to show up. The point is to be consistent. I don’t need to do marathons and have huge word counts in any given day. I just need to know what my own particular pace is, and stick with it.
That’s life, after all.
The draft isn’t done yet, so I’ll be continuing to write for the next week or so until I can write THE END. Then I’ll do some quick surface edits before putting the whole thing aside for a while and coming back for the real revision. I will also need to track down some really gentle and tolerant readers to help me shore up the weak spots. So, yes, I know this isn’t anything like an end point. But it’s a mile post along the way, and I’m very happy to have made it this far.
Congratulations to all the thousands of people who’ve participated in Camp NaNoWriMo this year, whether they’ve “won” or not. The writer’s journey continues, as always. It’s been great to travel together on this leg of the trip.
They can also be challenging.,
I knew that I would have the hardest time getting through the middle of my first draft, and that’s how it’s turning out. I’m still making progress, but it’s slow and hard. I think there are two reasons for this.
One is that I’ve never had as strong and pure a sense of my own middle as of the beginning and the end. I know where my character and her world start out, and I can clearly picture how the whole thing wraps up. Getting from Point A to Point B? Not so much. I have an outline and I know where I’m going, but it doesn’t grab my gut the way the other parts do.
The other is that middles are hard in general. Most things that have a sequence are stronger at the beginning and the end, weaker in the middle. In the cognitive psychology field we talk about the serial position effect: when learning a list, items in the middle are harder to remember. Speech makers are taught to put their strongest arguments at the beginning and end, burying weaker arguments in the middle where they’re likely to be missed. A racer will often start and finish strong, but have a harder time in the middle. So I’m not alone.
There are several ways I’m dealing with this. One is that I knew this would happen and built up a cushion of extra words, being a few thousand ahead of my goal before getting into these middle doldrums. This means that a few days of lackluster word count won’t put me behind. Another is connections with my cohorts in my writing cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo, who nag and support each other as we push through. Another is simple grim determination. Some days this isn’t fun. So what? Do it anyway. I’m constantly reminding myself that, as a teacher, I expect my students to write their papers and get them in on time even when they’re not inspired and even when life gets complicated. How can I demand less of myself?
So that’s me – muddling through the middle.
What parts of your writing are hardest? How to you keep going?
The folks at Camp NaNoWriMo have a good system. For those new to the term, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The “real” NaNoWriMo is November, but the same folks run one-month camps in April and July each year. They’ve connected me with eleven other people in a cabin, and we chat with each other online and encourage each other’s writing. As I write this I’m involved in a Skype chat about untangling a plot question in a fantasy story, about which Christmas movies are best and why, and about what motivations work best. I share with them the daily motivational images I put up over on my Facebook page. They share the word of the day from a calendar and inspirational videos. It works well.
On the story side, I’m a few hundred words ahead of the daily goal and the chapters have worked out almost exactly as I planned. I say spooky because I know this will not last. As I approach the middle of the book, things are bound to get trickier. But I’ll get through it!
Are you doing NaNo? Have you ever done something like that? What was your experience like?