21 June 2014

Page a Day Novel Update: How to Break Your Muse (and Put Her Back Together Again)

I won't be lame and apologize for disappearing, but, uh, I'm still alive! In the last couple of months, my focus has been on doing more blogging for my small business and trying to keep things going with my non-blogging-writing goals (sort of going okay-ish?). Then there was a major family medical crisis (mostly resolved with some scary question marks still hanging there). Life: wow.

A while back I wrote about my page a day novel project, and then (while it was still going smoothly) I posted again to say that the page a day plan is a really easy, almost effortless way to produce a large volume of writing over a long-ish time span. Basically, I decided to try writing a short novel project at the pace of one page a day, starting in February. A page in this case is one of my handwritten pages, so on average about 550 words.

Well, somewhere around April I decided that I wanted to be done with that project. To my logical mind, a page a day was starting to feel a bit slow. I decided that I would double up on my pages every other day - one page, then two pages, one page, then two...and so on. That's a good compromise, right? Still much slower than my usual novel drafting pace. At my fastest, I've done 6-7k in one day. That's not a normal pace, but it was something I'd managed three or four days in a row when I was trying to get the thing done.

Have you spotted the flaw in that previous paragraph? Yes. My logical mind decided what to do, without consulting the intuitive writer that was happily ambling along at the very comfortable rate of one page per day, and even, on most days, happily going on to do other stuff after the page was done.

I should have paid more attention when, at the beginning of the month, I ended up continuing on with the page a day. On the days I'd planned to write two pages, I just didn't feel like it. Instead of asking myself what that meant, I pushed a little harder. I managed four pages on a couple of days: great progress. Sometimes it's good to push, yeah - like the man said, you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THOSE TIMES. By the end of April, my muse was pissed, or my inner procrastinator had taken over, and I just wasn't getting that page a day done.

I've worked on a bunch of other stuff since then, but one of my major focuses has been trying to get back into the page a day habit. I am five pages away from the end of the page a day project as I write this, and rather than speed up, like I imagined I'd be doing, I've slowed down even more. The more that is happening in my story, the slower I want to take it. Or maybe this is just standard procrastination drag. Not sure? Seriously, none of this has ever happened to me before. It's like it's been opposite day...for the last three months.

My current theory is that my muse, my inner writer, my personal scrawler of first drafts, was pretty happy with the deal we struck at the beginning of this project, and, when challenged to go faster, simply broke down. I'm slowly massaging things back into shape, and already looking forward to bombing through 50k in July, but I guess I've discovered that it's important to hold to an intention I set at the beginning of a project. I said a page a day. Next time, I'll stick to a page a day. If I want to go faster, then I think I need to have that talk with my muse at the beginning of the project.

It's still the easiest novel-length project I've written. Next time, I'll know not to push things that shouldn't be pushed. 


Botanist said...

Writing a novel is more a marathon than a sprint. 550 words a day will get you a decent-length novel in six months. To put it into perspective - that's more than most people will manage in a lifetime, so I reckon that's not bad going :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

Hi, Botanist! I'm a NaNoWriMo participant, so I'm very used to powering my way through a novel draft. I guess this experiment was about seeing what would happen if I played it slower. The quality of the writing is different, I think, than it usually is - overall, there's a lot more introspection / dealing with my character's interior life. I think there is, anyway. I'll know when it's time to edit.

Andrew Leon said...

Okay, so, um, how in the world do you get 550 words on a piece of paper? Is it microscopic? I write pretty small and, if I'm using a normal college-ruled notebook, I'm only getting 250-300 words per page.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I'll post a sample page, Andrew, so you can see. My handwriting ranges in terms of size. The more slowly I write and the more I'm into the plot, the tinier it gets, but with a novel it tends to get smaller as I go.

I've also found that your standard three-holed lined paper varies in terms of line depth and size of the paper. I tend to go for closely lined, larger paper.

Gosh, I'm sounding like a pen and paper fetishist here. Probably because I am.