Writing Calendar: Don't break the chain!

The Calendar

It has been 2 weeks now. I have been working on my novel every day for 2 weeks. I’m generally terrible with “every day” goals but I managed to get this system up and running again for the novel. And now the chain is long enough that I don’t want to break it by missing a day.

Maybe not-so-coincidentally, my chain of days of “not talking about politics with people on Facebook” is just about as long.

However. What I want to do with this post is celebrate 2 weeks of writing every day. Woot!

I also want to give a shout-out to Cynthia Franks at Frankly Write for this post about structure. As Dave in my writers’ group says, often writing advice doesn’t mean anything to you until you are ready to hear it. I think I was finally ready to hear this: “Structure is Translation Software for Your Imagination” (James Scott Bell). Cynthia recommended his book Super Structure on her blog, I bought an eCopy for $3.99, and it was money well spent.

But I had a long way to go before I was ready to hear that advice. In fact, I think I may have hit bottom with writing advice. I’m not sure when that happened; maybe a long time ago. I have been flirting with writing for years. I have done NaNoWriMo three times, I’m a member of a writers’ group. I blog. I went to a writing retreat this summer. I usually enjoy writing. As an introvert, I find it easier than speaking and it tends to be a more reliable way of expressing myself.

But I cringe at the amount of time, effort, and angst that many writers seem to expend on the act of writing itself, and it has been hard to just commit to a process that is billed as so fraught and fragile.

As NaNoWriMo approaches, so do the breathless emails that claim the label of writer as some sort of badge of honor to be earned with much sweat, angst, and caffeine. That quote about sitting at a typewriter and bleeding is going to start coming across my newsfeed again any day now–but who even owns a typewriter these days? Even James Scott Bell, whose book I enjoyed and found useful, seemed to feel like he had to spend a good part of the already slim volume defending himself and justifying the use of the structure he proposed rather than just getting on with it. And even Bell couldn’t seem to refrain from referring to an anonymous writer’s unstructured manuscript, before Bell worked his magic on it, as a “stinking mess” about which no one would “give a rip.”

I’m pleasantly surprised at the way a low-politics diet has been working. It’s not a no-politics diet: I’m still educating myself about the issues, and I know who I’m voting for. The difference for me has been in staying away from overwrought and manipulative language, and in not incorporating such language into my own self-talk.

I believe that such an approach will work well for me for writing too. So no, my first draft is not “shitty.” It is not a “turd” to be polished, nor is it an “updraft” (as in thrown up). I am not opening a vein, bleeding on the page. I’m also not insane, compulsive, delusional, possessed of a massive ego, or on my way to hell on a road paved with adverbs.

I’m just writing.

 

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20 thoughts on “The Calendar”

    1. I’m afraid Nov 8 threw me for a bit of a loop. My novel is set in the year 2074 and it is about a divided country. I have a lot to write about, and to say, but I seem to need some fallow time to find my voice.

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  1. Good for you! I was doing great at sticking to my writing every day routine, and then January happened. I’m still not back to it, but I plan to do 30 Days of Thanks on my blog next month. So, I WILL be writing daily, but not doing NaNoWriMo.

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  2. It’s funny that you write this because just yesterday (I kid you not), I was telling my husband that my inbox was full of offers from Jeff Goins, and now Joe Bunting, and he said, “Just write.” And I said, “If ‘Just Write’ had worked for me, I wouldn’t be spending fifteen dollars a month on Becoming Writer.” That said, I’m dithering about accepting Joe’s “Hey, we’ll help you with that NaNoWriMo book for $40 a month for 5 months” offer. For one thing, I’m not genuinely positive that my story is a book. It might turn out to be a short story or a novella, but because I didn’t crank out 50,000 words, my $100 is going to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (the only incentive I can think of that would definitely make me finish the book on time). (BTW, I’m really good at dithering. I majored in dithering in college. Alas, I have two days to decide.) Sigh.

    And here you are, just writing. I guess it works for some people. 🙂

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  3. The last couple of days I have been toying with the idea of making the commitment to doing NaNoWriMo for the first time…your sentiments on writing are refreshing, as in rejuvenating…we can so easily slip into the dark terrors of the beleaguered writer, who is cranking out drivel when not caught in the doldroms of a writer’s block…i don’t have to open a vein to crank out 1,700 words in one day.

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    1. Oh I don’t need to be beleaguered to crank out drivel 😉 One Nano year I wrote 25k words in the last 5 days.

      But seriously, I think it can be worthwhile if you don’t take it too seriously. What I think I’m going to do is use this year’s to edit. One hour of editing = 1000 words.

      Good luck and let me know if you sign up and want to be writing buddies. My Nano account is ravena143.

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  4. Couldn’t agree more, Karen. Just get on with it! I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and rather than get psyched out, or even up, I’m just using it as a tool to write as much as I can each day and keep going, a way to jump p start my novel. And while I enjoyed the Scott Bell book, I think it could have used a bit less conflict.

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    1. Right now my novel kind of IS my real work. I am only teaching once every two weeks. I am planning to ramp up the teaching at some point once my daughter goes to college (probably next year). I had hoped to be further along with novel writing by the time that happened. So this year it is important to get something done.

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  5. Excellent and wise attitude. I like to think we’re ALL writers. Some of us just write different stuff than others. So don’t bleed all over your keyboard. Instead, make music with it like a piano (or in your case a violin!)

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    1. That’s a great way to think about it! I went to a “Holiday Magic” rehearsal last night. The repertoire is a mix of Christmas music (Leroy Anderson, Nutcracker Suite), classical (die Fledermaus), and new age-ish (Walking on Air). It’s cheesy, but I love that type of music! And the concert is December 3rd, which is the night before my birthday 🙂

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  6. You are 100% correct about being ready to hear the advice about structure. I think almost every writer rebels against structure because they think it boxes them in. They usually go off on their own and crash and burn. The true writer, like the Phoenix, is born out of the ashes ready to learn how to be a better writer, proofer, grammarian and how to structure. I think you are on your way.

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    1. It’s not just structure. I seem to rebel against most writing advice. As I wrote on your blog, my biggest stumbling block against the structural advice I’d heard to date had to do with identifying a single protagonist and making that one person jump through all the hoops. I’ve been doing better thinking of each character as having his or her own story arc. Sometimes the plot points are the same for everybody. “Lights out,” for example, is the same event for all the characters. The care package and arguments against transformation are also the same for 2 of them–a mother-daughter pair–because their relationship to each other is a major part of what must transform as the story progresses: the daughter gains independence and agency and comes of age, while the mother gives up certain illusions of control and learns to accept what the universe offers.

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      1. I think that’s great! Look how much you’ve learned about your story! For me, when I can see those moments, it gives me a way forward. I know I suck at structure, that’s why I looked around for one that made sense to me. At the end of the day, you are the only one who decides. But I don’t see why you can’t have those key scenes for each character and I think it’s fabulous that some of the moments are the same for both characters! If that’s not a sign you’re on the right track plot wise, I don’t know what is. I don’t know if you have ever heard this, but often with mother-daughter stories the protagonist and antagonist dance around each other. Sometimes the daughter is the protagonist and sometimes the antagonist; same with the mother. I’ve never looked at this in a novel, but I have studied it in plays. The play that comes to mind is Night, Mother by Marsha Norman. I suspect The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, although not a mother-daughter story, has the same issue; I’ve not taken it apart yet, so I don’t know for sure. I know the end makes Lizbeth the protagonist of the emotional story, but that’s not the case trough the entire book. That would be a book to take apart!

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