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.
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.
I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday. It ultimately clocked in at 59,722 words.
My feelings right now are still pretty mixed. While the first draft is done, the novel itself isn’t actually done. So that weight is still there.
On the one hand, like I’ve said, I’m proud of having done this thing. Actually drafting a story like this from beginning to end was something that I had convinced myself was impossible for me to do. I believed that for a long time.
On the other hand, what I have now is a garbage pile of words that I kind of want to set on fire. I’m told this is a normal headspace to be in. I kind of never want to see this project again. Although I’ve told this story from start to finish, it’s missing a lot of things. I know that the first pass revision is going to involve extensively rewriting the whole thing, and it’ll basically feel like writing an entirely new story. Maybe. I mean, I guess I don’t know that, but that’s what it feels like from this myopic emotional distance.
Here’s some of the stuff I do know:
Remember this in moments of despair. If you find writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
– William Zinsser, On Writing Well
You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true.
– William Zinsser, On Writing Well
I hit 50,000 words this morning! (50,270 if you want to be exact)
Some people have told me that the feeling accompanying this achievement is excited elation, with light beaming down from the heavens as champagne fountains pop all around you, covering you with drunken glitteriness. I mostly thought, “Well, that happened.”
Not to say that I’m not happy with it – I definitely am! Hitting this major milestone has proven several things to myself and has (hopefully) permanently silenced a very specific jerkbrain litany that used to work really well against me. I am proud of myself.
My last two words written today were not ‘the’ and ‘end.’ I think I still have a good several thousand words to go before the climax is wrapped up and this draft is good and finished. I’m almost there though, and it’s going to happen by the end of this month. And then I’ll break out the champagne.
For now, I’ll go pour myself a less bubbly drink and take the rest of the day off (and do some Tgiving prep for tomorrow). I’ll savor this moment. And then I’ll see you back at the keys tomorrow.
Week three check-in time!
This week has gone by with much more ease than the previous one. Which is not to say that it is easy. It’s still definitely work. But I’ve managed to put some systems into place that have been helpful in making it not feel so much like a struggle.
The main change-up that I did for my workflow is implementing a modified Pomodoro Technique to break down how I was writing. This was something that was suggested under the “Week Three Tips” section of No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty as a way to put in some 6,000 word days to make up for any word deficit that was accumulated by the end of week two. Instead of doing that, I worked the system into my usual writing routine.
Week two check-in, and actually at the two week mark. Week two is the notoriously difficult week. When enthusiasm wanes and you’re left with a bit of a slog. A disastrous half-conceived plot. Characters that once raced to get things done, now going through the motions aimlessly. Disenchantment with the whole thing.
It’s been harder and harder to not listen to the inner editor (aka brain weasels, aka jerkbrain). I kept thinking about how terrible my writing was and how boring it was. I still didn’t know how some key pieces were going to work. I had lost faith in the process. Everything just felt wrong. I found myself glancing at the word count every page and then every paragraph and then every sentence. Did I hit the goal yet? Could I stop for the day? Disheartening to say the least.
In No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty points out that this is the week to remind yourself, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” But even when I told myself that, I just had a hard time getting words out on the page. It was like pulling teeth, but slower and without anesthesia.
But I still did it.
You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird