For a long time I’ve loved the idea of writing, the notion of it. Sitting in front of a computer or typewriter, sipping on a beverage, and just letting the inspired ideas pour out on screen or paper. It was something creative and productive, proof of time well spent.
Since then I’ve gone through periods where I read about writing, and perhaps even attempt it, but then it quickly fades away, usually replaced with enthusiasm for something else like music.
Lately I began re-reading No Plot, No Problem, written by the founder of National Novel Writing Month Chris Baty. This was a very thoughtful and well-received gift from my brother, and in the past I had gotten excited for and even began a NaNoWriMo session or two, but it never really got far. My longest piece, simply titled Awesome Novel, is 40 pages and 6,800 words. I don’t remember it taking that long to write, but re-reading it shows that nothing really happens.
The biggest point the book makes so far (the later part of the book isn’t supposed to be read until getting into your month-long novel writing endeavor) is simply getting into the most important habit a writer can have: sit down and just write. This can seem like such an odd thing, especially when attempting a much larger body of work. Aren’t I supposed to spend all this time planning, outlining, refining? In actuality, no! Sure, it helps to have at least something in mind, a rough summary of a plot and/or one or more key characters. In his book Chris recommends taking at most a week before NaNoWriMo to do any planning, but no more. Anything further just lets anxiety, doubt, and over-working starts to ruin things. So many people seem to forget that the first draft not only doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be anywhere above the level of total dog shit (important note: that’s my take on it, not from Chris).
I had heard of several writers on /r/writing that had done just that, gotten into the habit of simply sitting down and writing. Some had done it for a few days, others a few weeks, and a few were approaching a year if not longer. Everyone pretty much agreed: almost everything written was fairly bad and/or embarrassing, but not as terrible as they had feared. And some of it was, surprise, not too bad. Almost usable as-is!
I think that’s the “secret” of writing. Just like movies and TV, and fitness models and such, we always see the end results. It’s the same when we read a book. We’re viewing the final work, the last draft or edit, or the person at their peak physical prime. All things that took time, blood, and sweat to even begin creating, and that much more further down the line to refine, reshape, and even completely change if and when it wasn’t working.
The point is that we don’t need to worry about what others might or will think. When writing there is no obligation to show the text to anyone, either now or ever if we choose. We can take what’s been written and either continue building off of it, edit and re-arrange before continuing, or if it’s a complete dead end just close the file (no reason to delete, you never know one day…), start a new file, and try something else. Second, third, fourth, and further drafts are when to let the analytical reasoning half of the mind into the room to see what’s been going onto the screen or page.
(Holy shit my habit of writing more has seeped into this post). ANYWAYS, I decided at the beginning of this week to see if I could develop that same habit, simply sitting down in front of a blank screen and just take off. My first day’s writing was around 800 words, and for the rest I tried to get at least 1,000, usually coming in just above that mark, with the largest close to 1,200. On one day I didn’t get to do my writing until later in the day, and it was starting to get close to not even coming close to my daily number. The weird thing was even after just a few days I really wanted to keep my streak going, so after dinner and a little Netflix I made sure to get my laptop and start writing, and within 2 hours I had my 1,000 words.
The end results are the same as what was mentioned on that sub-reddit; most of it is pretty meh, but there are a few small portions that could be worth taking and trying to make something of it. That may be something I do later on, but for now I’m gonna keep writing new material during the week (taking the weekends off to relax and recharge). One thing I did notice is that so far the writing follows Awesome Novel in that nothing really happens. I think this week I need adopt a soap opera, melodramatic overkill mode, and just throw much more action and such at the reader. A novel can afford to take time to meander and delve into little things here and there, but for short writings I need to get going.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it, but it will be at least for a few more weeks. I do want to eventually gain enough experience to eventually move onto what Ray Bradbury recommended doing, which is writing a short story a week. That would be pretty easy to do, word count-wise, as it would still be around 1,000 to 1,500 words a day for 5 days. The main difference is that I would need to have a little bit of prep going into it, at least a rough idea of the story I want to tell.
I think if I could get into that, and work in that mode for a few months, then I would finally be ready to possibly take on the writing of a novel. I don’t know about doing it within a single month, as my job and daily responsibilities simply can’t be compromised, but perhaps two months would be more than reasonable to devote free time on.