Getting Over The Hump

And so we slide fully into Week 2 of NaNoWriMo, and perhaps your journey is going considerably better than mine (if you have written your daily words, or even if you just don’t regret picking the thing you chose for NaNo, then yes, your journey is vastly improved upon mine). But perhaps, even if this is the case, you’re still wondering how the hell you’re going to get another 30-odd k out of your tale, or you’re still not at all certain how you’re going to finish this, even if you’re full of ideas and everything. Or perhaps you’re not worried at all, and just joining in the blog-reading of NaNo and the procrastination and seeing the suffering of your fellow participants. Either way, all are welcome here 😉

I think Week 2 is the scariest part of NaNoWriMo, because it’s about Week 2 that it becomes clear that 50k is a LOT of words. Unless you’ve been hit by that wonderful literary lightning, or are really, really good at this, and have hit the word count already. It happens. Not for quite as high a percentage as following the NaNo hashtag on Twitter might have you believe, but it does happen.

The nice thing is that I still have no doubt that I can hit my 50k. I know I can abandon all pretension at writing quality and write quantity if I must. Last night, I was certain that I ought never to touch this book again, for fear of ruining it perpetually, but I made myself do another hundred words, and then that inevitably turned into 500, and even if my count is still now only just over 11k, I’m not worried, that’s fine.

What worries me more. curiously, is getting to 35k. 35k seems to be the number that plenty of people fail at, also, have you noticed? It’s so near, yet still quite far. For me, that’s the hump of NaNo. The halfway point is simply horrifying – you realise just exactly how bloody long 50k can be, and the idea of having as far to go again is brain-numbing, unless, of course, you really do have that surfeit of ideas. But at 35k, you are over the hump. You’ve the bulk of your book and you can quite easily finish it simply by extending every scene you’ve already written by a few words (this is quite a fun tactic which I do recommend if you get heartily stuck once you’re over the hump – it can make for some quite entertaining twists and revelations…).

At 35k, you can see what you’re doing, see your destination. That’s scary, sometimes it’s almost as horrifying as being ‘only’ halfway, but it is a reality, rather than a panic, and as with all horror, it’s easier to get through when you know what you’re dealing with, rather than dealing with the ghost that is fear itself.

And 35k doesn’t even come until Week 3. So, much as above, knowing it’s so much easier to get through a panic about something you can see, rather than something you can’t, I am steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any feelings or panics I have at all until I’m over the hump, and can really, truly see what it is that I’ve done. And then if, as last year, I still hate it, it doesn’t matter for it is only the work of a few more days to achieve the goal. The best part of NaNo is when you are on the downhill slope, flying towards your goal, knowing you’re going to meet it. At that point, you can disregard any emotions or fears altogether.

But that part doesn’t come until you get over the hump. And for me, as I say, that’s at 35k. So I’m aiming right squarely for 35k and I’m not going to be scared and I’m not going to stop doing the million other things that have suddenly started to seem so attractive during this November because that too is part of NaNo and its joy – you learn that it is possible to accomplish infinitely more than you thought you could. And, even if you knew you could do NaNo, sometimes you get to also be surprised at all the other things you can accomplish simply by spending time at the keyboard not only riffling through Tumblr, but also writing all the other things, or chatting with other writers, or making friends (or enemies) in communities you only just happened upon.

It’s a great month, is NaNoWriMo. Fear not. We’ll all be over the hump soon enough.

 

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Planning vs. Pantsing

It’s the infinite NaNoWriMo question. I’ve tried both, and would say I’ve had considerably more success pantsing, but that planning is easier. Make sense? About as much sense as the process of making things up and writing things down can, I suppose. Here’s my pro-con list, in which each method’s pro has its con in the opposing method’s pro. Eh.

PANTSING:

  • No prep work. Perfect for the lazy/disorganised.
  • No restrictions. Want to flip from technobabble to dinosaurs? No problem! Gritty inner-city modern-slice-of-life to Tudor period drama? Go for it! (Already I am constructing both of these stories in my mind.)
  • The imagination is completely free! It’s so much easier to be creative when you have no walls and boundaries.
  • Writers’ block? Write something, anything at all! You can always work out how it makes sense with your story later, and who knows where that’ll take it?

PLANNING:

  • Lots of prep work. Great for when you want to get going early, or if you have so many ideas you’re scared of forgetting something.
  • Enough restrictions for the brain to function properly. You’ve got a great, linear story idea? It probably needs, shock horror, a storyline. Yes, you might not know whodunnit yet, but you’ll want a vague idea of how you – and the reader – is going to find out.
  • The imagination gets to do the cream of its work – the colouring in, if you like, of creativity. It’s so much easier to be specific when you have a nice neat outline.
  • Writers’ block? No problem! You can just pick up the next neat bit of outline and get going on that, with no worries that it won’t work, because you already have a map for where you’re going and what you’re doing!

So, even with this tiny, four-point list you can see that it’s all much of a muchness, and that the main thing is, still, just putting one word after another. My best advice, if you’re not sure which you are, or if you’re one and are rapidly, at this end of Week 1 phase of NaNoWriMo wishing you were the other, why not try a tiny switch? If you’ve been pantsing up until now, take precisely two minutes to construct yourself an outline. Then confine yourself to that for exactly one day’s writing and see how it goes. If you’ve had a fine plan and you’ve run out out at 10,001 words, or you’re bored of everything about it and wish your characters would jump off a cliff/form a knitting circle/time travel already, hide your outlines and character assumptions from yourself for the day and write a sidebar, a prequel, a parallel universe, hey, why not stick them in space for a minute and see what happens?

It’s not original advice, but then, there really is no original advice when it comes to writing, and if you’re not one of the wonderfully inspiring/soul-crushing types who are powering into the 20ks and beyond already and tweeting gleefully about it, you might well be procrastinating exactly as much as I am and trawling the blogs of fellow NaNoers looking to be told once more things you already know in order to simply keep going. So, I’m just doing my bit for the community here, k?

Happy NaNo; here’s to Week 2!

(P.S. full disclosure: I’m well behind at only 7,676 words. But I’ve got plenty of time to catch up today, and no fear for it.)

Write the Next Word, then the One After That.

 

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This is my old writing office. You don’t need one of these.

I have a great many things to discuss, but this is not the post for those because the most important thing about November, which today I must considerably address, is that it is, at last, NaNoWriMo! One of my very favourite times of the year, although there are many moments in the depths of forcing one word out to the tune of another where I wonder how and why I ever thought it a good idea.

But, it’s always a good idea. I like to think of last year, where, even now, I can’t really remember what I did for fifty thousand words, I can only remember how much I loathed it. I was so upset with myself that I’d taken a good idea and ruined it. I was so angry that my amazing concept for a novel had been beaten into a bloody and miserable pulp and left crying on the frosty grounds of December that I thought I might just never NaNo again.

See, it only took about a day after that, where I didn’t fight with it, for me to think…hey, that was a great idea I had there. Hey, that was interesting. Hey, maybe some day, one day, I’ll come back to that.

And now, as I begin to push forwards on another, different project, I’m finding it quite a comfort that I’ve already won NaNo four times, which means I have four fifty thousand word lumps of material to tweak and play with…or three, really, because one I already moulded and chopped and lopped and so on and turned that into The Pulse.

This couldn’t be a better time for me to NaNo, though. I’m in a new home, back home, with space and time and opportunity and to have the structure of NaNo to get writing into my every day is precisely what I need right now. And if there’s one thing that you can get from NaNo, it’s material, and if there’s one more thing you can get, it’s the gift of fitting writing into your day.

I think a thousand words a day is pretty easy. I can, if I go to WriteOrDie, bang out a thousand words in fifteen minutes (and sometimes they’ve been my best ones XD). But it’s that damn 667 that get me. They mount up so quickly. It’s easy to feel behind in NaNoWriMo, and that’s why sprints and marathons are a great thing. I’m going to do a couple of them today. And I’m not going to use up any more of my easily-coming words blogging about it.

It’s just a hey NaNo, yay Nano, missed you NaNo sort of post. Anyone else doing it? How’s it going?

My Coffee Judges You

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Let’s see, what was this post for? Housekeeping and attempting to stocktake my brain, I think. Lots of loose ends around, and some writerly tribulations.

First up, wtf is with the so-many-views from Mumsnet?! I can’t even see how or what or…strange, super strange. But hi!

Second up, I see now why people who don’t work from home and have the luxury of structuring their day however they would like to fall behind on their TV-watching. I am particularly doing so as I have literally no time or space to myself, and won’t have until I can move into somewhere, which won’t happen until my new (delightful, joyous, cakecentric) job actually yields an income, a time I’m very much looking forward to. I realise now what a luxury a spontaneous 45-minute bath with The Good Wife actually was. Sigh. But in order to move forwards, one must, y’know, move, and that is happening. Hopefully on Thursday I can mainline everything I’ve been missing. And have that bath…

Third…it’s nearly November. And that, obviously, means NANOTIME (my username there is ‘antelope’ – come add me, if you haven’t XD). As ever, I will be doing this, and I will be winning it. I’m tempted to go for two projects again – one memoirish thing, one novel – but I haven’t quite decided. I do definitely want to get cracking on the sequel to because, actually, if I’m honest, because I miss Aiden. I really do. So it’d be pleasurably indulgent to crack on with that in November…

…but at the same time, I have to, really have to, wrap up this other, potentially saleable novel I’ve been wrestling for the last couple of years. It’s missing some really essential bits, as well as the removal of an entire timetravel segment (my silly brain wants to keep it in, but my logical, would-like-to-be-a-real-printed-author self has other opinions) to get to the truthful ‘first draft complete!’ phase, even. I mean, I’ve done a beginning, middle and an end, but there’s certainly a few letters of the alphabet missing, here and there.

Fourth, I suppose, is the lament that I’ve not written anything like as much as I’ve wanted to. I’ve slipped back into that “can’t start until I’m in just the right place” thing a bit, and I’ve been so frustrated and displaced with the living situation that I’ve not got at all comfortable enough to simply write. Obviously NaNo is the perfect remedy for this, and I’ve no qualms at all about completing that, but the stuff that can’t be NaNo-ed and must actually be paid attention to, that’s nagging at me rather a lot just at the moment. After all, one of the greatest lessons I learnt over the last year was that books can be decent, written, edited, finished and published even without having your own mahogany desk and a cat.

Fifth, working out. My body is really not dealing well with work, and being on my feet all day. I’ve not had back pain in years but I spent half of last night flat on my back on the floor coaxing muscles into various stretches and wincing every time I needed to get up. I know it’s because I haven’t grounded myself in weights enough of late, and I know I need to go back and get on with that before I have to start all over again, but, again, I actually have somewhere to be and things to do these days, so I can’t go and run myself into the ground knowing that I’ve got a whole day to recover in precisely the way I want to. Makes me realise how I’ve been training, and how there’s a new sort of balance I have to find. Shorter sets, fewer reps, gently, gently…it’s never really been my style…but then, much of all this upheaval and starting again is precisely because I sorely needed a new style. It only makes sense that something as crucial to me as my workouts changes too.

Sixth…I miss the internet. I’ve only just kept myself up to scratch with the latest on Miley Cyrus (which, I’ve realised, is my internet priority, shortly after the football scores and whether or not my friends have cut their hair). Everything past that, including, as above, all the latest in the world of TV, is all out the window. I’ve barely communicated with anyone, which is rather distressing. I hope you’re all well, etc, and you should probably email me if I’ve missed anything interesting about you because I care, I just, kinda suck. But you knew that, and have put up with it thus far, so, yeah. Email XD

Crikey, this is like an LJ entry or something, isn’t it? Anyway! Onwards…

How to Start Writing

Having got excited about this, I thought I’d ask and see if there was anything any of my friends wanted me to write about, and Bearnerdette suggested About writing. Your methods, your inspiration, and so on and I thought, that’s a good idea.

And then I thought, oh crikey, where to start? Because I have a LOT of thoughts about writing. I have a lot of thoughts about most things, true, but especially about writing. I could write forever about writing, but that might not be too helpful, so, in this post, what I will try doing is to start by writing about starting writing. Which took me a lot longer than anything else in my writing ‘career’ thus far.

I’m not writing this because I think I have anything new, or special to say, but because, before I could write, what I did was read what other writers said about how they did writing. Anything and everything I could find. Repeatedly. On the matter, the most famous and prolific and prevalent are probably Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, both of whom could be described as exceptionally enabling. But not just them, no. I looked for the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter, and I searched for self-publishers who were writing, and I read author friends’ blogs about writing and anything about writing I could find.

I do think I thought there’d be a magic incantation I could recite, which would magically make writing easy, or plot possible. I figured, if I could just check with enough writers, one of them would’ve been foolish enough to let it slip.

I spent almost all of my twenties avoiding writing. Firstly, because I liked it, and I found it very difficult to ‘allow’ myself to write things. Secondly, because I didn’t have anything to write about. I couldn’t imagine any characters, I couldn’t see any stories, I had a lot to say, but it wasn’t really important, or consequential, and I couldn’t understand how I’d sit down and come up with anything even slightly original. So I didn’t. I waited. I figured, one day a story would walk up to me and say, Hi Abbi! I’m your bestseller. Would you mind sitting down here and taking dictation?

Actually, that’s not so far from what happened. It’s just, the difference is, I walked up to the story and said, would you mind telling yourself to me so I could write it down? And the stretched truth of the metaphor is, I sat down and started typing.

I’m not saying anything about the quality of what I write, or hoping to make out that I am particularly good at it; recall, I am British, and thus self-effacing and self-deprecating and still new to this idea that one must use the internet to sell oneself and one’s capabilities at all possible moments. But what I am saying is, I know how to sit down and get writing.

That’s all I did, and that’s all, it transpires, you have to do. But sitting down and starting was still ridiculously difficult! If you’re not someone who’s ever struggled to get started, then, it’s likely difficult to imagine. But, if you are, or, worse, you can sit down, but you don’t get further than a few words here or a few words there, then you know exactly what I mean. I found three ways through this.

How To Sit Down And Start Writing

1. NaNoWriMo or, National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, and you’ve always wanted to write a book, hie thee to their website or this book, and have at it. It’s wondrously motivating, a great community of people, and some fabulous books have come out of it. All you do is write 1,667 words a day for a month, and swim in a sea of tips and encouragement whilst you’re at it, and then, lo and behold, you have a workable first draft of something. More or less. But it’ll get you started, and over the hump.

2. But sometimes a goal alone is not enough! Sometimes you don’t want to write a novel. Sometimes you need to write a short story quickly. Sometimes you’ve got an article you have to get out, or a blog post to write, and everything you write is nonsense, or you really need to clean the kitchen floor, or you’re a useless, hopeless writer who mustn’t ever be allowed near anything that can form letters, not even rice or dust, and you need to Just. Start. Then you, my friend, need WriteOrDie which, whilst not literal, at least feels that way. I set mine to 1,000 words in 15 minutes (I am a typing demon, so this is no stretch for me – you want to have it at the very limit of your constant typing powers, with a few seconds spare for flexing away the pain) and just GO. It doesn’t matter what you write. Write about writing. Write about a blister. Write about a fox. Write about cheese. It’s amazing how many peculiar stories start to thread their way into existence if you just…type. Before you know it, you’re finding an urchin with a cheese obsession who rides a fox through a forest until it gets a blister on its paw and, you get it. And the thing about doing it in that window is that it feels like some daft game, not at all like Serious Writing, and then when you look at it later it’s quite difficult to work out where it came from at all. But it doesn’t matter where it came from: all that matters is, suddenly it’s there!

3. Perhaps this is too weird or intense. Perhaps that much typing is not fun. Perhaps you like writing with an Actual Pen. Well, here’s that thing that sometimes people talk about and often people talking about writing mention, and I’m going to mention it too because it sorta kinda works sometimes. In The Artist’s Way (not really a book I’d recommend, it’s pretty weird and quite dramatic, but this bit’s good) Julia Cameron suggests (actually, she insists) that you write ‘morning pages’ – three sides of A4, every morning, without fail. About anything or nothing. Just fill three sides of A4 with words. This is basically a low-pressure version of WriteOrDie. It does a similar thing, though, in getting the words out, and demystifying the procedure of stringing together words.

These things are also, stuck or not, things I like to do before trying to actually write any specific story, because they let me a) have something to start with, for nothing makes me find other things to do like a blank page b) see what the obvious thing to write might be, or c) discover I actually want to write about something else rather a lot.

Where do you start?

I am now trying to start my stories in the middle. It turns out that the beginning isn’t usually that important, and, if you must, you can always write a bit of it just before the end.

But where do you get the first idea from?

Open a book, start with the first word your eyes land upon. Then write another word after that, and, lo, that’s writing.

One more thing: I used to set everything up nicely. I used to think I needed a desk, a space, an hour, a rainy day, a whisky, a soundtrack, a cat, you get it. All I needed was something to write with, and somewhere to write. Everything else can be there, or not. I try, I really do, to make a point of not getting myself into a place where I need x to start, or y to continue, because that way a really clean kitchen floor and no words lies.

So, this is the start of my writing about writing. Do you write? How do you start writing? Do you have a ritual or a place for it? Even if I have figured out how I like to do things, I still never tire of hearing how other writers do these things.