Arts/Literature

NaNoWriMo Week One: Writing with abandon?

I got this. 6,668 words? Yeah, I got this.

Except I’m 294 words short of the goal for today. To get my 50K-word novel done by the end of November, I have to average 1,667 words per day. By today, Day Four, I should be up to 6,668 words.

As of right now, I’m at 6,374.

I started out National Novel Writing Month going gangbusters: 2,604 words in my first sitting, which took about two and a half hours.

But the week has been so hectic at work. Looooong hours. I’ve not settled in to write until well after ten p.m. most nights. Already, I’m only averaging about four-and-a-half hours of sleep a night.

I got this, though. I’m hopped up on a six-pack of Diet Mountain Dew and seven cups of coffee (no kidding). I only need to crank out 294 words tonight to stay on track. Cake. I’ll do that and then some. I just have to pound out my S&R story first, then I’ll turn my attention to my novel. I so have this.

When I look at the word counts some of my friends have posted, though, I get a little worried. In Madrid, Anna has written an astounding 14,858 words. “Writing on the edge!” she told me on Facebook. “We don’t attract wimps ’cause we write too fast….”

Fast writers? I think of Lizz Schumer, a former student of mine now living in London. By “chugging along,” she’s already hit 8,172 words—which includes a thirty-minute spasm of writing that resulted in two thousand words. “I type fast,” she told me.

I have to keep telling myself they’re atypical. Lizz reminded me that she doesn’t have “any of that pesky ‘real world’ stuff” to get in her way because she’s in grad school. And Anna’s on vacation this week, devoting her time specifically to her NaNoWriMo project. She’s read three books this week, too. “This is like a word-orgy,” she said. “I’m going to drown in words.”

Okay, so Anna’s drowning. And Lizz is a fast typer. That makes me feel better. I got this.

I’m comforted by the progress of my friend Jill in Bradford, Pa. “It’s coming along,” she told me last night. “Not as quickly as I want it to be, but it’s coming!” She just broke the 3,400-word mark and is feeling chipper. I take a lesson from Jill.

And that’s the point, Anna reminded me. Keep your spirits up and keep going.

“I don’t know how it’s coming, but it’s coming,” she told me. “That’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo, isn’t it? I set my goal for the first week at 3000 words a day, which seemed easy—hey, I have nothing else to do, right? I’m on vacation! Yeah, right. It turns out, it’s pretty much insane. Who knew that just thinking about 3000 words a day, never mind if they are good or bad, could be such hard work. I tell you, I fall into bed every night as if I had been working in a Chilean mine, and then I dream about people talking a lot. Words have taken over my life.”

That sense of wildness has really appealed to Jen in Cleveland. “Writing with abandon is thrilling!” she said to me. “I’ve let go and am just riding it out. Words are flowing like they used to, before I worried about ‘is this publishable?’”

JessAnn, my NaNoWriMo regional liaison, sent an e-mail pep talk that talked about that same sense of excitement. “The first few days of writing your NaNoWriMo novel can almost be compared to the first day after Christmas as a child,” she wrote. “You’re excited, full of sugar, and hyped up about all the neat things you have to play with.”

Choosing which toy to play with, she wrote, is like deciding which approach of many that writers can take when writing. “[W]hatever toy you choose to play with, don’t stop just because you can’t figure out which piece of yellow plastic is piece A and which is piece V. Move on to the next toy,” she advised. “Just keep writing.”

That, for me, has been the biggest challenge. While Jen has discovered the thrill of writing with abandon and JessAnn is telling me to forge ahead, I’m struggling. I can’t cut loose and just write, write, write, write. I can’t just dash out a first draft. I can’t let go.

Like my friend Jeri in State College, Pa., I’m “trying to keep my mental red pen capped until December.” Except that it’s not happening so well. That’s not how my writing process works.

I’ve long been aware that I’m a revise-as-I-go writer. NaNoWriMo is not designed with writers like me in mind. On Planet NaNo, plot is more important than language and freedom is more important than cohesiveness. (At least in November. December is for revising.) As a writer, I’m not wired that way.

So, I’ve come to realize, this is my NaNoWriMo challenge: I need to loosen up.

Fortunately, I’m still not at all worried about my ability to generate output. I did 1,028 words in about an hour last night, but on top of that, I cranked out another 2,500 words for work-related projects last evening, too. Overall, that’s a pretty decent output. Tonight, on top of whatever I end up cranking out I’ll have the thousand words I welded together for this update.

So yeah, I got this.

“So far I’ve been reaching my goal,” Anna told me, “and that makes me incredibly proud. No more procrastinating for me! This is why I love NaNoWriMo—because after all the doubts and hesitations, I can show myself and anyone who asks that by God, I can write!”

Yeah. I so got this.

3 replies »

  1. During my first year as a college professor, I invited a freelancer to speak to one my classes. He readily agreed. Here’s how the discussion began.

    Student: So what do you do?

    John: I write for money.

    Student: So what do you write?

    John: Generally, I write or edit in the medical field. Takes a lot of research.

    Student: Research?

    John: Yes. I interview medical researchers, doctors, pharmaceutical researchers, even lawyers.

    Student: And you write it up?

    John: Yes.

    Student: Doesn’t sound so hard. How much do you write?

    John: I am married with two children. I need to write 8,000 words a week, every week, month and month, or we don’t eat and mortgage doesn’t get paid.

    The student shut up.

    Carry on, Chris.