I make a custom of date-stamping all of my draft writing with the start time and end time. In the wake of NaNo last year, I transferred those dates to a spreadsheet and to my Google calendar. What I learned was surprising: where I thought that I had spent three or four hours writing at a write-in, the record showed that I did 30 minutes of writing alternating with 30 minutes (sometimes more) of talking or reviewing work. During the work week, I managed 30 minutes, sometimes less, at nearly every lunch hour at the day job, and then occasional morning bouts, usually only 20 minutes.
Doesn’t sound like much, but it got me through 85,000 words of NaNo novel and 15,000 words of NaNoFeed blog posts.
Years ago, my mentor in the visual arts said to me, “We are not factory workers. We’re more like gardeners, and you don’t pull up the plant to see if it’s growing.”
By which she meant that artistic process, like biological process, is nonlinear. I’ve since added some words of wisdom:
- Beginnings are slow.
- Your feeling about the work is independent of the quality of the work.
That 30-minute bout seems to be the magical container size for me, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Learning how you actually work is key, and NaNoWriMo is a wonderful practice ground for proposing the outrageous–the Lost Weekend with 50,000 words in four days; the 10,000-word Day One, and other glorious experiments. Succeed or fail, you learn something with each try.
For me the most important lesson is this: Each project has its own rhythm, and each has its own method. Asking this year’s novel to be like last year’s is asking for trouble.
Saturday, in despair, I said to one of my writing buddies, “I’m willing to turn this into a pile of raw materials and call it a novel.” I didn’t do the 30-day character questionnaire, my usual stand-by, so I always have that as an out. If I can’t figure out what happens in a scene, I can do a quick version of that interview at that point in the plot.
(Oh yes, and the answers do change. “Introduce yourself, in great detail” might have a very different answer depending on whether your character is at zenith or nadir.)
The worst enemy is perfectionism. Last year I had a great NaNo, and I’m watching myself because there’s a real trap to nostalgia. I’m rereading my 2011 NaNoFeed pposts and being reminded that it was no bed of roses, not with posts like “Day One: eyes like fried eggs” or “Day 21: not feeling it (but writing anyway).” The nostalgia is our good old friend, emotion recollected in tranquility (tr. with completed manuscript in hand.)