Let’s write a novel

Laptop-with-blank-notepad

I’m writing a novel. I’ve been writing a novel for six years now. multiple novels. Some I’ve abandoned. Some I’ve stuck away with the intention of getting back to…when I can find the time.

And therein lies the problem. I’m not going to ever find the time. The time has to be created.

The last time I did NaNoWriMo Mia was two years old. The November after that I was working a miserable job that sucked the energy out of me. the November after that I was pregnant and sick. The November after that I had twin babies. We also took Mia to New York the week before Thanksgiving and we had family visiting the week of Thanksgiving, so I didn’t even attempt it. And I just spaced it last November (I also had one-year-old twins but I can’t play the twin card forever).

Okay, stop. That right there is why I have multiple novels started but not one full-length manuscript to speak of. Excuses. And, sure, some of them are good excuses but no matter which way I look at them, they’re still excuses.

I’m always going to feel pulled in twenty different directions. I’m always going to feel guilty for carving out time for writing. There will always be something more pressing, more demanding, more obligatory. So where does passion fall in line?

That one month that I did NaNoWriMo was probably the most productive I’ve ever been in terms of getting a full-length novel on paper. No matter the mess of a draft I was creating, it was a draft with fully realized characters, a solid plot, emerging subplots and themes…Okay, it probably (definitely) didn’t have all of these, but it was on its way to having all of them. They were all faintly sketched between the words I strung together when I wrote without over-thinking it. I had a daily goal, and I met that goal, and it didn’t matter that my words were clumsy, my plot haphazard, my characters two-dimensional. I had faith in the process of writing, in just getting the idea down; that “the first draft of anything is shit” (Hemingway), but the only way to the end — and THE END — is to get through it. I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that one of my biggest obstacles as a writer is losing faith in myself when that momentum of the beginning slides into doubt and frustration by the middle.

And now, finally, I am ready to get back to attempting a novel on NaNoWriMo’s terms — more ready than I’ve been since the first time I attempted it. Not only am I ready but I need to do this. It’s more than just satisfying some creative urge. It’s an attempt to shake this feeling that I’m not worthy, not capable, not good enough; that not only do I not have the time, but I don’t have the right to readjust priorities to make this happen. Because when I dig deep enough, that’s really been what’s been stopping me. Not new babies, or dishes, or laundry, or trips, or holidays with family. It’s the feeling that I don’t have the right to do this.

But I can make this happen. I can and I will.

writing a novel

It will take discipline, and organization, and determination, and a fierce push to carry on when I let doubt get the best of me. But I’m choosing to prioritize passion.

Annnnnd…then I remembered that I will be on deadline for two projects come November.

Hmm…

I know! I’ll tweak the rules. That’s allowed right? Rules were made to be broken and all that?

So, I’ve decided to stretch NaNoWriMo. My projects start at the end of October and go through December, so after crunching numbers and variables (just kidding. I don’t do math), I’ve decided to start noveling October 1 (I know “noveling” is not an actual word but I hardly think I’m the first to coin it). I’m giving myself until midnight on New Year’s Eve to complete a first draft. That’s three months, which doesn’t sound like much of a challenge when juxtaposed with NaNoWriMo’s ambitious one-month goal, but three months with looming deadlines and three kids sounds like a lofty enough goal to me. I’m proclaiming it publicly to raise the stakes of the game, to declare my commitment to do whatever it takes and hold myself accountable.

I’m also declaring it publicly to ask you to join me. No really, will you? I’d love to have you along on this journey with me. I’ll be posting updates a few times a week on my progress, and you can update us through comments, or links posted in the comments if you’re doing updates on your blog. I’d love to stop by and lurk cheer you on. Together we can share tips and strategies, ask questions, be sounding boards, etc. (I’m still going to play along with NaNoWriMo, mostly so I don’t miss out on those pep talks by well-known authors.)

Already I feel the weight lifting in just declaring my intentions, my goal. This clarity of thought preempts the messy, challenging days ahead, I’m sure. But for now I choose to revel in it. Choosing passion over obligation feels freeing.

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Why write?

Hemingway there is nothing to writing

I was engaged in a conversation with another mom the other day – a mom I don’t know very well. We started talking about what we do for a living. I explained that I’m a freelance writer and do most of my work for educational publishers. She was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I told her. That led to me venting a bit about rejection. When I came up for air from my whine fest she bluntly asked, “Why do you do it?”

I was taken aback for a second. My first instinct was to defend my profession, my industry, myself. And then I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked myself why I do it.

I’ve always written. I’ve always been called to paper and keyboard; to tap out a rhythm that echoes my days; to chisel a world from a scrap of dialogue; to connect through words unspoken. It’s my way of hashing things out, of processing things, remembering things, making sense of things. It’s my way of escaping, relieving stress, learning more about myself, pushing myself, disciplining myself, teaching myself.

Writing, for me, takes the jumbled mess of thoughts knocking about my head, and organizes them, colors them, ties them up with perfect little bows and compartmentalizes them in chronological or alphabetical or any other -ical order. Or maybe it doesn’t do this at all. Sometimes a writing session multiplies the jumbled thoughts into an unruly vagabond tribe — wayward and haphazard, searching for a place to land — voices too distinct to ignore. Voices I will surely revisit. Either way, I always learn something in the process and by the time it’s done, whether it’s a news article, a non-fiction unit of study, a blog post, or a picture book manuscript, I am changed for having written.

Something happened over the summer. Somewhere in the stretch of structureless days I lost sight of my writerly self. It wasn’t until I resumed creative writing for a freelance opportunity that I remembered  “rejection” is just another word for “try again”.

Sit back down, face the blank page. Take it bird by bird.

Feedback, when given authentically and truthfully, is a catalyst for growth, an opportunity to push yourself and your work to new limits, to beyond limits, to utilizing muscles and tools you didn’t think you had but you did. You had access to them all along.

With the rejections that I’ve received from submitting synopses for this project, I have been granted a second chance. Because with each one, I held tight to a character or a scene or a plot that I begrudgingly relinquished for the sake of this project. And now they get a second chance at life. A limitless life. Rejection has resuscitated the storyteller in me.

All of this is not to say that rejection doesn’t sting. Of course it does. But I’m happy enough with my progress on this project thus far to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I never really wanted to relinquish a few of these little darlings in the first place. Maybe they were always meant to be mine–part of the vagabond tribe with voices too loud to ignore. I don’t know that they’ll ever see the light of day, and I don’t presume that a beckoning voice means their stories will flow seamlessly from my fingertips. Crafting their stories might turn out to be hard work. Some of them might fight the page. Others might careen onto paths unforeseen and I’ll have to trust where that takes us. Maybe to a dead end. But maybe not.

“I hate writing, I love having written.” -Dorothy Parker

So why do I write? Though it might cause bleeding from time to time, the high from having written is enough to move forward, to make me think I can do it again and do it better.

Write One True Sentence

write one true sentence

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” -Ernest Hemingway

The most difficult part of writing is the writing. It’s the showing up every day, putting down a word and then another until miraculously, the words you’ve strung together complete a sentence, possibly even a coherent thought.

My thoughts over the past week have been broken, spliced, interrupted by grief and anxiety and stress and doctor appointments and we STILL don’t have the nebulizer that was promised to be delivered over a week ago, which wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that now they’re sick and not sleeping well and filling our nights with sounds of gagging and hacking and crying because THEY CAN’T BREATHE.

Boston broke me down. I turned inward, held my babies close, got lost inside my head for a while, but I don’t think I’m any different than most. All of us tip-toeing around our days until we find our footing again. And honestly, if it wasn’t clear from the paragraph above, it wasn’t just Boston.

But I’m here now and I’ve realized something. I need to show up. I need to begin with just one sentence. I’ve heard that in developing a routine — showing up at the same time everyday no matter what — you develop a sort of reflexive muscle to the act of writing. That in creating this practice, the act becomes automatic. I know this but I have a hard time implementing it, always waiting for inspiration, always fighting distractions, when all I need to do is sit down and write one true sentence.

I need a plan. I need a focus, a goal. I need time-management skills and possibly a minimalist room with a view of the ocean and a fat Buddha silently willing me to breathe and write. Breathe and write. I don’t have that room but I think I might have found something to help with the time-management issue. If you struggle, like me, with keeping focused on a task or goal (doesn’t have to be writing), check out the Pomodoro Technique and Goal Streaks. I haven’t actually tried either one yet, so if you use them I’d love to know what you think.