Just 750 Words a Day

I’m a big fan of morning pages. I find that if I get up and write the first thing in the morning, it seems to do wonders for clearing my head and getting my mind going. I’m not talking about getting a scene done or contributing to my word count for the day. I’m talking good, old-fashioned, steam-of-consciousness core dump. I just sit down at the keyboard and type.

I discovered morning pages back in the 90′s when I first read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I embraced them with a ferocity — only to discover hand-writing three pages each morning didn’t take half an hour, but more like forty-five minutes or more and there were times I found myself constantly interrupted. (You try meditating or doing any action that requires concentration when a small and determined cat is setting in front of you demanding breakfast.) At the time, Cameron did not encourage doing the pages on a computer; too easy to edit yourself she felt.

Over the years, I’ve tried using the computer for my pages, but found various things standing in my way. Maybe I let them stand in my way; maybe they were pointers saying, “This isn’t for you.” I’ve had some success in using my Live Journal for the morning pages, but every time go through the posts I made, there are the entries and it’s easy to get distracted. I don’t necessarily want to read what I write over again; the whole idea is to get the thoughts out and move on.

Finally, after bouncing back and forth, a friend suggested a site called 750 Words. You log in and a blank page appears. You start typing. When you reach 750 words (three typed manuscript pages), the system lets you know and you can either keep typing or stop. No formatting, no fancy things to fill out, just a blank page ready for you every day and you type. Oh, there are cool stats based on word usage to figure out what you’re focused on and if you’re positive or negative in mindset at the moment or maybe uncertain about things — but if you’re having story ideas start to dump out of your head (“Donna is worried he doesn’t care about her.” “What if things then go horribly wrong?”), you can be happy and excited and what you’re writing will say something else.

The point is to help clear the decks in the morning, get yourself ready to face the new day. With radical life changes over the past year which often meant I didn’t know what was happening from one day to the next, being able to do this is a valuable tool. I spent yesterday’s words just coming up with variation on one-sentence descriptions of a story idea for the Storywonk Discovery class I’m starting in January. Ended up about four different ideas, each with several variations on the one sentence. Took about twenty minutes, and gave me a very positive start to the day. Those ideas are now safely copied into my Scrivener file and I need to decide which one I’m going to use for the class — and had another contender today.

This isn’t for everyone, but if you feel doing a core-dump would help you in the mornings, check it out. At the moment, the site is free, though I opted to kick in a small subscription because I find it useful — and I do mean small. He measures subscriptions in the cost of a cup of coffee, so you can kick in a cup or two if you feel like it. Give it a try.

NaNo Inspiration: November 30

“Victory belongs to the most persevering.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

Word counts are due to the NaNo site tonight by 11:59 PM. Do yourself a favor and get them posted early because the site will start seeing some heavy traffic.

We’re here. 30 days and however many words you’ve written, if you’re still here and pounding the keyboards, you’re still doing good. Make no mistake; 50,000 words in 30 days is a long road, and while this year marks my third failure to hit that mark in the nine years I’ve been doing NaNo, I still think it’s terribly worthwhile because the point is doing the thing, to take time during the middle of the madness of November to make time for your writing.

In some ways, I still count myself a winner. I didn’t take the easy road this year, which would have been to simply ignore the whole thing, curl up on the couch and just let another month of not writing slip by. I tried my best to make the time for the writing and discovered that there are things I need to change, patterns that have been slipped into that actively work against my having that time. Some of them are outside expectations that have cropped up, some of them are habits I’ve slipped into and need to change. It is only due to the stress and heat of the moment that comes with NaNo that exposed these things. As I wrote on Saturday, I may have decided not to pursue the 50,000 word goal, but the writing continues and the work continues. Part of that work is putting into motion the lessons I’ve learned these past 30 days.

So, a question for anyone who’s reading this: what have you learned from doing NaNo this year?

NaNo Decision: November 27

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” — Aaron Sorkin

The upshot of of Wednesday was that we managed to come up with a solution that didn’t take a large amount of time away from my writing that evening. However, over the past could of days, we’ve had some talks about the incident. My writing has been put on the back burner a lot over the last year as we dealt with family problems and my mother-in-law’s declining health. When you’re in a situation where you’re living one crisis to another, it’s a little difficult to get yourself into any sort of routine. Part of the purpose of this year’s NaNo was trying to re-establish a routine. That hasn’t happened, due in part to my own health and also finding things picking at my schedule. Not surprisingly, this has caused some stress.

So late Thursday, after turkey and pie had been consumed, the husband asked an important question: Was I having fan this NaNo? I thought about that for a while and realized the answer was no.

Since I wasn’t having fun and it was clear I wasn’t going to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, the next question was whether or not to continue with NaNo, or to sit down and make a plan for moving forward that didn’t include killing myself just to make a word count. I gave the matter some serious thought and decided it was best to abandon NaNo and start planning.

I don’t suggest abandoning something lightly; it’s too easy to find yourself surrounded by never-finished projects (let’s not look in my knitting basket). But this was an instance where pushing forward was going to do more harm than good. I’m still going ahead with my plan to post inspirational quotes for these last days (giving up the blog is not an option), but I need to think about my characters, my story and what I’m actually doing with them. The creative well is emptier than I’d anticipated, and I need to spend some time and energy filling it up again. Today, I’m going to indulge myself with A Star is Born on Turner Classic Movies while working toward finishing my Aeolian Shawl. I’m going to let my mind just wander over my characters, think about why they’re doing what they’re doing, not just what they’re doing. I’m going to rest, which I haven’t been doing enough of recently, and try to get some of my strength back. Most of all, though, I’m going to try to be good to myself because I haven’t been doing enough of that lately either.

The thing about learning to walk away is making the choice and knowing when it’s time. Decisions are made by those who show up and sometimes they’re not easy decisions to make.

NaNo Inspiration: November 11

Instead of thinking on NaNo as a way to sell a book or not, how about using it as an opportunity to make writing central to your schedule? — Lauren Dane

I found the above courtesy of Alison Kent, and it’s exactly what I was talking about yesterday. Too damn easy to let life get in the way of the important things, and if one is going to write — really, seriously, I want to be published and earn money with this write — then writing has to be one of the important things.

Life is a series of choices. Sometimes nothing can stop us from certain things and sometimes we put stuff on hold for what are very good, solid reasons at the time. The problem is, getting back to what you put on hold it is often very hard. (Ask any knitter; they probably have loads of unfinished objects they put aside “just for now” that are still lurking in bins. There’s a reason Ravelry has the “hibernate” option for projects.) for ne, that ‘s what NaNoWriMo is about: getting back to what might have been out on hold.

There have always been this who decry the very idea of the month of writing madness. They say it encourages bad writing, that it pretends writing is just a hobby that can be taken up and put down, that it pushes the idea novels can be churned out in a month. I’ve seen some heated blog posts (and heated responses) on the subject and I have to wonder why some folks are getting themselves so worked up about the idea. If you don’t do it, fine. That’s your decision. I’ll be over here with my word counts.

See, I do NaNo for myself, not anyone else. I don’t do it according to “the rules” — I have often started prior to November 1 on a project, and I often work on multiple projects during the month. Blog posts don’t count — unless I’m a bit shy on my word count come November 30. The only “prize” I get is the satisfaction of knowing I put my butt in the chair and did 50,000 words or more in the space of 30 days that is usually filled with some type of family drama. My husband swears he loves NaNo if for only one reason: being able to say at family gatherings, “I’m sorry, but we need to head out. Caro needs to get her words done today.” Some friends of mine, horrified at the idea of trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, participate in WriSoMiFu, which challenges people to write something every day for 30 days. (It stands for “Write Something, You Miserable…”)

In the end, we should either do or not do these things for ourselves and if other people decide not to do it, or color outside the lines while participating, what’s the big deal? Have fun. Practice some discipline. (Those two statements are not mutually contradictory). If you’re enjoying NaNo, great — but don’t think everyone has to do it because it isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like NaNo, fine — but don’t be a wet blanket to those who are doing it. (Well thought out reasons why you’re not doing it or doing it differently are always welcome; saying it’s the scourge of the earth is not.) As Yoda would say, do or do not — but do it for yourself.

On a lighter note, I did a massive burst last night and am almost caught up. Also, Apple pushed a new system update for Snow Leopard and my laser printer is once more playing nice with my Airport Express. Life is good.