20 February 2014

That Page / Day = Novel Thing: Update

Okay so earlier in the month I wrote about this thing I'm trying, this page a day writing experiment which should, if all goes well, result in a short novel draft by the end of April. The plan in case you are opposed to clicking that link and reading my previous post is to write a hundred pages in three months, one page per day with the occasional two-page day thrown into the mix (12 two-page days total, so I'll be done drafting before the beginning of May), which will give me a 50-60k manuscript.

Rule to keep it interesting: stop at the end of the page (or two pages on two-page days). Stop mid-paragraph. Stop mid-sentence if the sentence isn't over at the end of the page.

The idea is inspired by the Graham Greene Challenge and by the numerous cheery observations made in sundry books of writing advice that if you just write a page a day, by the end of a year you'll have a novel! Well I'm not looking to go all Stephen King with my length here, and one of my handwritten pages is quite a bit more substantial than the average typed page, so three months will do.

So, how is it going?

AMAZINGLY. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is AWESOME. Here are some reasons why:

It is so easy to write this way. I've written 20 pages, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11k words, so far. I'm twenty percent of the way through my story, and I am not worried about it. I'm not worried about what's going to happen next. I'm not worried about whether my stamina will crap out. I'm not even worried about getting my daily page done in between finishing this post and heading out for the evening to teach tai chi. I will have time, because it will only take me about twenty minutes to write that page, a bit more if I dawdle or pause to Google something. I'm especially excited about the next page because there's a big reveal coming that will be nice and juicy to write about and cause my main character plenty of distress.

I don't hate my story and I'm not doubting my story. This could be coincidence: sure, maybe this particular story is especially strong. I tend to think I still like and trust my story because I have plenty of time to think about the long game, the short game, what will happen in the current scene, what will happen by the end of the first act, what will happen in the rest of the sentence I left off writing yesterday. Vast oceans of time. Not-writing is as important as writing. Or something similarly Zen.

I have time and energy for other projects, even though I'm writing a novel! Right now I'm combing through my back catalogue of short stories, editing them to the best of my ability, and prepping them to send out. I'm talking about correcting some pretty serious story flaws in stories I wrote before I had a good handle on structure and craft. I'm slowly working my way through edits on a (deeply flawed) novel draft I wrote a few years ago. I've also spent time writing some flash pieces, prepping April A to Z, blogging, and working on my craft. And reading.

I want to work on other writing tasks. I'm excited about working on other writing tasks. Committing to that one page a day is just enough to dip my toes in the writing water. Some days, that's all I have time or energy for, but most days, it whets my appetite for those other projects.

I feel like I'm achieving a much better balance of raw word count and editing. I've long theorized that I need to do some raw first drafting on a regular basis to keep my attitude toward writing fresh. I find that if all I do is edit, I end up feeling a bit jaded. On the other hand, I also find that editing a story can take much longer than drafting. The page a day gives me something to work on that's fresh, while keeping me interested in editing and leaving time for editing.

A lot of people who I've told about the page a day project have had strong objections to it because of the challenge it poses to flow. The objection goes, that if you're about to have a brilliant moment, you simply CANNOT! DAHLING! STOP! (STAHP!)  What if you forget that EXACT RIGHT word between today's amazing writing sesh and tomorrow's?  What if you forget what you were going to say? What if? What if?

I am wondering at this point what it is about we writers and our precious precious words. What makes us mistrust our amazing minds and talents so much, that we can't imagine that we will know exactly the right way to finish that sentence tomorrow? Or at least a close enough way that we can fix in revision? At the beginning of this experiment, I did make some marginal notes about what I wanted to include in the next day's writing if it seemed important. I stopped doing that once I realized that my brain would happily squirt out some solution to what I had written the day before, whether I remembered exactly what I had intended to say or not. As my friend Chris put it when I was first talking about doing this experiment, "What if the word you come up with tomorrow is much better than the one you would have written today?"

I am learning to trust my mind to do the right thing, have the right word, know what to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. I don't know if that is making me a better writer, but so far it is making me a happier writer.


Anonymous said...

Cool! I don't remember saying that, but it sounds about right. ;)

Andrew Leon said...

One thing I have found about myself:
Let's say I make notes about something. Later (much later), when I'm ready to write that thing, I can't find the notes, so I write anyway. Later, again, I find the notes, and I have always found that whatever it was that I did matched what I had planned in my notes OR I had remembered what was in the notes but modified or changed it to something I liked more.
There is no perfect word that you won't get again at some point. Not that there are "perfect" words, anyway.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I wasn't sure you would remember, Chris. It was a typical tossed-off piece of Kelworth brilliance.

I've found the same thing, Andrew. It is amazing what happens when you don't worry about it. The words show up if you let them. Or something.

mooderino said...

Interesting idea. Burn out is a big problem for a lot of writers, and most people try to push even harder to get more down when they fall behind. Slow and steady is probably a better way to deal with it.

Moody Writing

Unknown said...

Really hadn't heard of this method before, but I love the concept! I think it'd be a great way to keep up steady progress even on the craziest days. You've inspired me to give it a shot. (I've got a couple of ideas for novels I want to work on but am busy with other projects. This might be a way to accomplish both.)

As to what is scary about leaving a sentence or thought unfinished, maybe it comes from our core desire to express ourselves? Ultimately, that's why I write, so to inhibit that even a tiny bit might be enough to cause me some anxiety. :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

@mood: I know that cycle. It's a bad one. This is not a cure-all, since high-aimers like me will still tend to push in other areas.

@E.J.: Great! Go for it and let me know how it goes. I don't personally find leaving a sentence unfinished to be anything like inhibition, but I've been tending to write my page at the end of the day, when I'm just glad to get to the end of it so I can grab some sack time.

Deborah Walker said...

This project sounds amazing. I'm so tempted to try it out. With a second novel!

Yep. I'm novelling. I've got a rough draft that needs editing. I wonder if I should start another using this method. Tempting . . . tempting

Elizabeth Twist said...

It is so easy, Deborah. Seriously. I'm halfway through and I don't really feel like I'm writing a novel - just tooling away at a project. When I drop into the writing, it is smooth and easy. It is the last thing I do most days, and I look forward to it after dinner's over and the dishes are put away.

Typically I get my page (5-600 words) done in anywhere from 30-40 minutes. It has been a crappy month for me, but I am halfway through my draft. Continuing to pile up the word count gives me a sense of accomplishment when everything else seems to be so hard.