Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Writing is Hard

My weekend workstationImage by lorda via Flickr

The reason I joined the NaNoWriMo activities even though I'm not writing a novel (which means I can't officially win) is because having specific numeric goals is quite helpful. There's also the group accountability of posting one's numbers every day, comparing them to your buddies and to others.

I'm still behind a bit. I've set a goal of 3,000 words a day instead of the 1500 or so they recommend in order to catch up. I think that means I'll be caught up by this weekend.

After having spent a lot of time not writing, the last two days, I found I had a lot to say and getting to 3000 seemed pretty easy, but then today, getting there was like pulling teeth. I posted to Twitter that "a watched pot won't boil and a watched word count won't increase." I'd write a couple of sentences and then check my word count and see that it had inched up only by 100 words, not like when I'd check after a couple of pages in previous days.

Without NaNoWriMo, I might have simply quit when I found myself doing that and come back to the work tomorrow. But then there would be the chance that tomorrow I'd feel the same way. You don't get to choose whether to go to work or not, so why should writing (if it's your work) be any different. So despite the slowness of the words coming and despite my feeling that what was getting on the page was utter crap, I kept writing anyway. This is what we writing teachers have always told our students. It's a common strategy to have them free write without editing to get them past the usual excuse of saying they have nothing to say. We give them prompts. We brainstorm. And yet, we often forget those same techniques when we ourselves are struggling.

After I write, I take a shower. While in the shower, I can't help but think about the things I've just written. Quite often, I've gotten out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and run into the office to jot down ideas before I forget them. These become prompts for the next writing session. NaNo pushes me to keep writing no matter what and as I keep writing, a momentum builds so that the writing starts to perpetuate itself some days. For most of us, writing is something we do occasionally, not every day and so it is like cleaning out the garage instead of doing the laundry, a project not a process. To really write, though, it needs to become a process.

I am 120 pages into this project, 40 of which I've written through NaNo. I'm starting to piece things together, starting to see more threads and connections than I thought were there. I know much of what's actually on the page will be completely transformed, but having a kernel to work with in the first place is truly helpful. And maybe this gives me a way to continue writing instead of postponing it like it's a garage that needs to be cleaned out.

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