You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Got my package from Heatonist. This’ll be fun.
If you’re in the US, go vote today.
I could give you lines and lines why, but you already know why, don’t you? So I’ll give you this instead:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
– Chuck Wendig, 30 Days in the Word Mines
This week was rather eventful on the writing front.
I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.
I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.
The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.
My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.
My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.
I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.
The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).
But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.
(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)
I’ve read a bunch of writing books. And if I’m going to be honest, I’m going to read a bunch more writing books. In part, it’s because there’s still a part of me that’s looking for the secret even though I know there isn’t one. (Except, write.) (But also, maybe it’s in this other book over here…) But mostly, it’s because I like to read writing books.
I like the memoir-y tomes that talk about the struggling novice writer and the eventual triumph. The ones that meditate on the inner life of writers. The ones that make me think, maybe these are my people.
I like the books that present yet another way to look at structure and plot and character and narrative. Anything to try to help me figure out my own thoughts on those things.
So. I read books on writing, and as I do, the magpie part of me likes to pull out the shiny bits from each of those books and collect them.
When I found myself furiously scribbling notes and collecting quotes for reading during the dark times, I figured it was time to just endorse this whole book: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.
If you’ve never read any Chuck Wendig, well, you should give him a try. He has a lot of books and a prolific blog and a hilarious Twitter feed — lots of different ways in which you can familiarize yourself with his writing. (Seriously, check out some of his Twitter exchanges with author Sam Sykes. One of them even became a horror movie.)
He has a very particular style, especially when he is talking about writing (or politics), that is equal parts hilarious, profane, and profound.
In Damn Fine Story, he breaks down the elements of a good story and tries to verbalize how to be a good storyteller. He goes through structure and character and theme, and uses a lot of Die Hard and Star Wars references to get his points across. The book is irreverent and joyful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, in short, very much Chuck Wendig.
In lieu of just quoting the whole thing to you, you should go grab a copy and read it for yourself. And if you know any writerly friends, it would make for a good holiday present.
This is a very special time. The beginning of the beginning.
It’s just you and the manuscript.
Your full mind and the empty page. Tip the cup to spill part of you all over it.
This is fundamental and formative.
This is volcanic and pyroclastic.
This is pure.
The empty page is perfection.
And perfection sucks.
– Chuck Wendig, 30 Days in the Word Mines
Happy NaNoWriMo eve, everyone! (And Halloween. Of course.)
NaNoWriMo is a great month for challenging your creative output and getting a sometimes-much-needed kick in the pants. You’re surrounded by supportive friends and fellow WriMos and the energy is buoying. The momentum helps a lot.
I shouldn’t feel nervous about NaNoWriMo, but I kind of do. Being nervous means I have doubts, that I’m still in that mode where I’m thinking I’m going to try to win NaNo. Which means that I haven’t decided that I will yet. Which means I’m still allowing for the possibility of disappointing myself. Which is just whisker-twisting bullshit.
Just have to keep in mind what Yoda says about trying and doing. Agonizing about a decision is just a way to put off making a decision. And then you’ll be in agony, and a decision still won’t have been made.
ANYWAY. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about in advance of tomorrow.
Prompt: A party, six pastries, a duel.
- Write a piece of flash fiction daily for the month of October — 31 first drafts for 31 days.
- Each flash fiction piece should be <1000 words long and must contain an arc/plot/conflict (vignettes and slice-of-life stories don’t count).
- Feel free to use the list of prompts collected.
- Try to go two to three layers down from where your brain first goes with the prompt.
- Share the piece: to your blog, to a kind friend, to an internet rando (feel free to send it to me!). Maybe tag it with #flashfictioninktober. (Or not. I don’t know how clever hashtags work. How do internet?)
In advance of NaNoWriMo and to put off the NaNoPrep I know I should be doing, I’ve been distracting myself by trying to figure out what I’m going to use to write. Mostly these days, I have a bunch of Word documents (or sometimes Google Docs) with names like “that one thing ver 1” and “that one thing ver 2” and “that one thing ver 2 – polished” and so on and so forth. All living in folders nested within folders nested within folders.
For a brief period of time, I toyed with Scrivener, which I know is supposed to be an amazing powerhouse piece of software. But I always get vaguely annoyed that the Windows version, which hasn’t received the beautiful 3.0 update that Mac has, just looks kind of clunky. Additionally, there are about a million settings that I can change and get distracted by. Couple that with a handful of settings that I can’t seem to change though I sorely want to, and I just drive myself crazy fiddling with buttons and knobs instead of putting words on a page.
It is gorgeous. The interface is simple and straightforward. There are basically no settings for you to adjust. You just go in there and write. There are no fonts to choose, there is no formatting to mess with. It’s just a word processor and you.
But also, it has some of the novel relevant functionality that Scrivener has that is definitely lacking in most less specialized pieces of software. You can label scenes and chapters and rearrange pieces. There’s a section for a plotting chart (which I haven’t tried yet, but am curious about) and another for story notes. When you’re done writing, Dabble can export your words into manuscript format with the click of a button — suddenly, everything is Times New Roman and double-spaced and exactly the way it needs to be as a Word doc or a text file. (This might be a me thing, but I hate writing in Times New Roman with a specific formatting because it just. doesn’t. look. nice.)
It even hooks into the NaNo word count API and updates your word count for you if you link your account.
Thus far, it is the thing that comes closest to what I would want in an ideal word processor environment. The only two things I’ve noticed straight off the bat is the lack of inline comments (I make a lot of inline comments to myself) and the inability to resize within the program (though this is solved by just magnifying in the browser).
It’s free to try through the end of November. After that, it’s a subscription service, which I don’t mind — usually means that people are paying attention and updating things in a more or less timely fashion. If you participate in NaNoWriMo you can get 20% off the subscription fee, and if you win, you can get 50% for a year. In any event, I’m going to try it out for this NaNoWriMo and see how it goes.