I spent November typing my brains out for National Novel Writing Month and reached my goal of fifty-thousand words—that’s 50,000 for your numerical folks. I wrote in the morning. I wrote on my lunch break. I sometimes stayed late after work to write and went to bed at 3am after cranking out 4,000 words on Saturdays. And I had the time of my life doing it. (Disclaimer: I’ve been known to thrive off my grumpiness, so even my grouch days were awesome.)
“I wish I could do that,” is a refrain I often heard these past 30 days. Here’s my answer to that: If I can do it, so can you! Seriously, I am the least disciplined, dedicated, and focused person I know. I can look up Tudor history on Wikipedia, and the next thing I know I’m checking out the IMDB trivia link on The Last Dragon and two hours have passed. True, I don’t have a child living in my house full-time and I’m blessed/cursed with an inordinate amount of energy. But finding the time, motivation, and get-up-and-go isn’t easy, especially since I do all the cooking and the Beast needs to be walked.
The biggest piece of advice I have about writing—among the many nuggets I gleaned—is to figure out what works. Some writers say to write when you first get up. Others tell you to crank out ten pages a day. Still others suggest 1000 words and no more. Try them all if you want—the only right way is to write the way that’ll keep you writing. Here’s what worked for me:
One-Hour Sprints: One night, I hadn’t so much as typed a single word and the last thing I wanted to do was write, but guilt was knocking at my door. I happened to go on the Twitter where superstar television writer Jane Espenson (@JaneEspenson) posted that she was gearing up for a one-hour sprint. “Join me. You can write, knit, clean—whatever you need to get done in one hour.” So, from midnight to 1am, Jane and I and many others got it done. I typed 1189 words in that session alone. After that, these sprints were the only way to go. (Thanks, Jane!) I learned I can get more done in an hour than I can in a whole day. If you don’t believe it, set a timer for fifteen minutes and clean your kitchen. You’re countertop will sparkle when the timer goes off.
The Time Out: Just as I would time my writing sprints, I also timed my sessions of self-doubt. Any time nanowrimo-panic overwhelmed me, which was often, I allowed myself ten minutes to go off about how terrible a writer I am, or how stupid my story is, or how no one will ever read/like/publish it. Once the ten minutes were up, I had to shut up and get back to writing. The shower is a great place for the Time Out. Usually, by the time you’re conditioning your hair, inspiration hits and you switch to thinking about how you’re going to write your next chapter.
Music: Some people need silence when they write. But sometimes Sunday football—with its constant crowd roar—bursts my writer bubble. The Big Game is a non-negotiable for the Hubs, so thank God for noise-cancelling headphones and Peter Gabriel’s Passion. Ever since I first heard this soundtrack in 1993, it’s been the only music that instantly puts me in the writing zone. It’s eclectic and exotic, emotive and epic, and, at times, perfectly accompanied a scene I was working on. I also put the Afro-Euro-Soul vibe of Les Nubians’ Princesse Nubian on repeat. I am less likely to get distracted or sing along to songs that are in French.
The Team: Writing is a very solitary endeavor and I’m an extrovert. I know, right? So, the fabulous friends who let me lean on them for strength, work out my story ideas, complain about how tired I felt, or use their likeness were essential. They accompanied me on working lunches and helpfully nagged me to keep writing or else, and I was buoyed by their support and the gratitude I felt. To thank them all here would start to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech (and the music would play me off). Among the well-wishes and way-to-go’s, I was heartened to get a message from my best friend from elementary school, Sarah, who wrote, “Woke up this morning thinking: ‘Any day now, Camille will make 50,000. Maybe today!’ I swear, it’s the only reason I can find to explain my chipper attitude this morning.” I swear, it was notes like Sarah’s that kept me chipper, too.
The Hubs: What, did you think I’d just forget him? For an entire month, he endured takeout dinners, my insecurities, being a single dog-parent, and the steady clackity-clack of the keyboard. He listened as I talked about my characters as if I was gossiping about my friends or complaining about my family and tuned me out when I got crabby from too much sugar and too little sleep. He was my port in a storm, my sounding board, and my biggest cheerleader.
So, what did I learn from this whole experience? The long answer might take me another three weeks to plunk out. But in short, I learned I was a stronger writer at 40,000 words than I was at 4,000. I learned that coffee is Gatorade for writers. And, most importantly, I learned I can do it. (You can, too!)
Thank you so much for taking this journey with me. I plan to do it all again next year; I’d love for you guys to join me. FYI, my crappy first draft is nearly finished and I’m so excited for the next phase: Rewrites!
Check back this Friday 12/2 when What’s Camille Dewing? hauls out the holly and slices up the fruitcake with a month of guest bloggers and egg noggers as they bring their stories, recipes, how-to’s, and ho-ho-ho essentials to get you ready for the holiday season!