Doing Un-work #IWSG

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time again for the meet-up of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, that monthly sharing of trouble, perseverance, and strength hosted this month by the awesome  Lauren Hennessy, Lisa Buie-Collard, Lidy, Christine Rains, and Mary Aalgaard. Many thanks to the folks who put this together.

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Getting Out There, Part 2 #IWSG

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time for my November check-in with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the lovely mutual aid society that connects those of us struggling with our words. This month’s awesome co-hosts are Stephen Tremp, Karen Walker, Denise Covey, and Tyrean Martinson. Thanks to the whole support group!

I’m a lot less insecure right now than I was 24 hours ago, because I did it – I read from my work to others for the very first time at the monthly meeting of R-SPEC. I promised last month that I would, and I did!  From this experience I learned three important things. Continue reading

The First Draft Scare: A Halloween Tale of Terror

TreeGhostIt’s been a long time since I’ve been scared on Halloween, the American holiday that repackages fright and death into fun and games. But today, I got my heart pounding. Today was the day I hauled out the NaNoWriMo draft of my novel and looked at it for the first time since August.

It’s been almost a month since I promised to do this, and only three days before the day I’m committed to reading my opening to the good people at R-SPEC (Rochester Speculative Literature Association). I have been actively avoiding reading what I wrote, or even thinking about it very much. At first it was because, really, you should let your draft sit for a bit before you start editing. Everyone knows that, right? And then the school year started and I had a ton to do to get my classes off and running. And I keep finding other things to work on (this blog, for example). But I made a promise, and today I finally took that deep breath, squared my shoulders, and opened that scary folder, the one labeled Draft 1. And what did I see?

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Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 – CHECK!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerI crossed the magical 50,000 word point today, so I’m going to gloat a bit. And I’m not even sorry.

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.

Lessons From the Treadmill

TreadmillWe have a new exercise device at home, joining the stationary bike and a few free weights. I’ve been using the treadmill to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for a couple of months now. And as I push to the end of a first draft at Camp NaNoWriMo, I realize how much overlap there is between the two activities.

They are very different as well, of course. Writing is mostly mental, with little physical activity at all; walking is pretty much all physical. Writing is about connections with other people; walking is (for me, at least), solitary. Writing is work, but also pleasurable (well, mostly–see below); walking (for me, at least) is NO FUN AT ALL.

But I’m going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month, winning Camp. I’m going to keep going for a week or two past that point to get the whole draft down (estimated at 60,000-80,000 words). I’ve never before finished such a big project all on my own in such a short time. And yesterday, as I huffed and puffed through my exercise, I realized one thing about how I did it.

I am a planner. I’m such a planner I plan my planning. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works. Before I July 1 I already had a spreadsheet for calculating my daily word count and my cumulative word count, and comparing those numbers with what I needed to meet the goal of 50,000 words by July 31. Each morning I sat down knowing that I needed to write 1,613 words that day. Some days it went fairly smoothly (my highest daily word count was 2,861 words, on July 8 – I told you I’m compulsive about keeping track). Other days it was much more difficult, and I realized there were two different kinds of difficult days.

Some days there was just too much else going on to devote the kind of time I needed to reach my word goal. For example, my lowest day was only 685 words, and that was a day that involved 4 hours of travel and unpacking when we got home. This, I realized, was like those logistically complicated days when I just never got onto the treadmill at all. Some days that happens. You just have to allow for them and keep going. All told, there have been six days so far in July when I missed my goal by more than a few dozen words.

Other days, though, it’s just plain hard. I’m facing a scene that I haven’t fully imagined yet. I struggle to figure out what’s going on. People start out over here,doing this, and suddenly I realize they need to be over there doing that. I type, I erase, I copy text and move it around to new places. I switch dialogue and actions from one person to another, which means it has to be rewritten to fit the new character. I’ve been at it for an hour and I’ve added 78 words to my total. I hate it. The book stinks. What made me think I can do this? I want to stop.

That is exactly what my time on the treadmill is like every single day. I am not the kind of person who enjoys physical activity. If they invent a pill that keeps people healthy without exercise I will never move again. But based on several consistent research studies, I’ve set myself a goal of 30 minutes of fairly brisk walking five days a week, and once I get on the machine I do not stop until my 30 minutes are up. I’m still compulsive about numbers (I’m at 19:30 – that’s 65% done!) and the mantra “I hate this, I hate this” keeps running through my head, but until 30 minutes are up I don’t stop.

So on some of my most painful days, I just keep checking my word count and I just don’t stop. I can break it up, allowing myself to take a breather when I hit 600 words, then again at 1,200 words, and then it’s an “easy” 413 before I can quit. But when I find the litany playing in my head, I just think of the treadmill and just keep going.

And like the old joke about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer–it feels really good when I’m done.

Do you ever have days like that? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and moving forward to your goal, whether it’s word count or something else? Share your experiences.

The Middle Muddle

CookieMiddles can be yummy!

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?