Day 13: Sometimes, You Don’t Write

It’s been more than a week since I’ve posted on here and more than a week since I wrote seriously on NaNoWriMo. The good news is I wrote more than the “Words Per Day To Finish” marker for the first time since starting. The bad news is I will have to do so again, like, every day from now to the end of November to win. And that’s hard.

My absence was not a loss of interest or from getting stuck in the book. I’m hardly far enough into this to get stuck. Other things in my life took precedence, and I could either half-ass both or do one well, then refocus on the other. Jumping back in is also a decent opportunity to discuss what to do when (and it happens all the time) you screw up, lose your vaunted momentum, and need to get back on track.

Ever Seeking Distraction

External and internal forces conspire against you when you’re writing a book. The external is everyone else in your life, human and animal, and occasionally the spirits (as in, two mornings ago the spirits decided to break my coffee maker, just on a whim). Writing looks just like goofing off to everyone who isn’t currently doing it (even other writers), and they are always sure you can just get back to it whenever. Most non-writers do not understand pre-writing rituals must be performed. Writing is anxious work, and you need to allay the anxieties and force away the internal recriminations that crop up, constantly, telling you not to bother. To everyone else, writing looks like tossing off an e-mail. So they know you’re available whenever they need you.

They would not be as understanding if you were constantly calling them away from performing surgery/typing in pieces of data/wondering why all the other idiots in their office don’t realize how dumb they are. That’s real work. The business of imagining is too much like play, and they need us to know it isn’t real work like they do. (Of course, they’re kind of right, but DO NOT let them know that!)

Internally, there is the self-doubt that the rituals are meant to allay. There is the inner assurance that you’re writing it wrong. That today’s not the day. That inspiration hasn’t struck, and by forcing it you are making it shy to come at all. These internal forces that try and knock you off your game, you need to be able to tell them all to go to hell. Even if, on some days, they’re right and everything you’re writing gets tossed out in the first read-through. You still need today’s terrible words before you can get to tomorrow’s adequacy, or the day after’s brilliance.

But even as we recognize these fumbling factors, we also know they’ll work, and get in our way. Kids and pets and parents and spouses get sick. Roofs collapse, and sausage goes bad after a few days in the fridge and sometimes writing cannot occur. What do you do then?

Suck it up. Start again, and don’t think about whatever your old goals were. If you have a soft deadline, hey, it just got softer! A hard deadline, then you change how much you write each day. Reset your goals, and forget the missing days. However stupid wasting them away might have been, thinking about it later is far, far stupider.

I use word count targets rather than time for my writing sessions. This is largely because I am deeply forgiving and sympathetic to myself, and so when I write one or two sentences and feel it is “enough” for the day, I just want to give me a hug and some soup, and nod. That way leads to unfinished books, so a taskmaster Kent has to set up quotas. According to the NaNoWriMo web page, I need to write 2375 words per day to finish the book on time. That’s about 9 pages a day, which is not fun. But I can do it, and so I do not stop for the day until I reach my quota. This, as I discussed earlier, is infinitely preferable to trying to catch up to all my “missed” pages, writing 60 or so pages in a day. This might be possible. It will certainly be exhausting even to try, wear me out and make it almost certain I will take some more days off soon. That’s a bad cycle. A little extra work per day, less bad.

Today’s NaNoWriMo:

2395 words (7264 total.) My tendency is to sit down, and write straight through until I’m done. Today, I found myself stuck in the middle of a conversation, so went to the whiteboard to try and structure it. I’ve never done that before. It got me to the end of the conversation, but I can’t be sure if what I wrote resembled at all the structure I used. In Dan Harmon’s articles, he floats the notion that the circles are fractal, and that the larger structure can be broken down into similar smaller structures, to the point where every action and reaction can be similarly outlined. Sounds tedious, but it helped me today to break through a previously pointless conversation.

Music for Today’s NaNoWriMo: Drag Me To Hell Soundtrack by Christopher Young.


2 responses to “Day 13: Sometimes, You Don’t Write

  1. I got stuck on a scene and did the same thing – really helped! Glad you’re finding some success!

  2. I’m not stuck, but did reach an unexpected hurdle the other day. I don’t have a white board, but I do have a sketch book and a lot of pastels. If I haven’t pushed through by lunch tomorrow, maybe I’ll break them out and art therapy my way out of the situation.

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