When I crossed the 50,000 word mark to become a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2009 winner in November, I estimated that I would need somewhere around another 10,000 words to finish my novel. As of last night (I haven’t worked on it yet tonight), my word count was just shy of 67,800 words. Obviously, I grossly underestimated what it would take me to finish. I am, however, happy to report that I have the pieces coming together. This is good because virtually nobody knows anything about this novel. Literally, I think I’ve given only two people details, and even those were rather skimpy. Knowing that I struggle with endings, I’ve been very tight-lipped about it because I wasn’t entirely sure where it was going. Or rather, I didn’t know if it would work. Perhaps in the next few months I will get to a point where some of those who have expressed interest in reading it will be able to take a look at some of it.
I’ve started to become anxious to finish the first draft just as much as I am to write something totally different – a short story or two that I’ve had floating around in my head, maybe. I’m eager to practice writing by doing different writing exercises. My brother recently picked up photography as a hobby, and yesterday he spoke of feeling discouraged because out of fifty pictures he took, only one or two were good pictures. I thought about this in the context of writing. Realistically speaking, it’s very difficult to write something that’s good. I could just as easily write fifty short stories and only come out with one or two good ones (and “good” is such a relative term, anyway), but that’s practice. Those other 48 stories hold mistakes from which I can learn. While we expect that we will have to practice anything else in order to be successful, we don’t necessarily believe that holds true in writing. While there are an abundance of writers who hone their craft and are constantly fine-tuning their work, many (especially where academic writing is concerned) are looking for instant gratification. I’ve been mulling over this and the need to practice my craft since my friend Jim wrote an interesting blog on the topic of practice last week. (And Jim, after this blog, I promise I’ll also try to stop making Matthew Wilder references soon.)
When I hit a good stride with my writing, I can crank out pages at a time, sitting for an hour or two and focusing only on this world of my own creation. If I’m having a really good day, I’ll get five or more pages in one sitting. If I’m having an okay day, maybe three or four. Anything less than three, and I’m really struggling. I’ve begun noticing that my motivation level in writing is directly proportional to how much success I had in my previous writing session. If I sat down yesterday and retained my momentum throughout, I feel great about coming back to it today. I feel better than great, actually; I look forward to it. Even if I don’t get a chance to write on one of those good days, I can at least go to sleep knowing that it’s because I ran out of time and not because I was trying to avoid it. (For the record, I’ve been trying not to run out of time, though.)
On the other hand, if I sat down yesterday and really struggled for two hours to get two and a half pages, I’m a bit more reluctant to go back today. Maybe it’s a simple fear of failure, but I’ll bring up the document and then find a million other things to do around it. The logical part of my brain knows that if I don’t work through it, I won’t find that stride again, but I keep waiting on something. Inspiration, maybe, but I’ve been told that inspiration is just an excuse, and I’m coming to believe it. I’m a big fan of Peter Elbow’s free-writing exercise, and I think that it can apply to my writing. Elbow would advise me to sit down and write anything at all that came to my mind for ten minutes without stopping. I wouldn’t have to pay attention to grammar, spelling, mechanics, or whether or not I was being clear. Instead, I would be writing about anything or nothing at all in the most stream-of-consciousness kind of way. I think there’s something to be said there for how I can take that from, say, a very general writing exercise that I might use (and have used) to torture my students to a way for me to just get words out. I need to remind myself that I’m writing a first draft of a novel and that no one expects it to be perfect or even “good” in this stage. Right now I need to get something out, and if it doesn’t work, I can work with it in the second draft as I revise. The point is that I just need to create something to work with, so I need to let the words flow for the time being.
This brings me now to another goal (I’m big into those lately). My writing goal for the next few weeks is going to be to try to work through those broken strides by, in a sense, free-writing my way out of them. I don’t expect this to be easy, especially at first. I do, however, expect to gain practice from it, to keep on moving, and that’s what’s really the larger, overarching goal.