Personal Writing Challenge: fait accompli

In June I decided to write a novel in the month of July. That’s 50,000 words in 31 days. Most of you reading know I don’t – er, haven’t – written 50,000 non-school-related words in 365 days.

I did it. Over 52,000 words done by July 31st.

As with all writing, goals, or challenges, some reflection is necessary to put it in perspective. This isn’t a very pretty post. My language is flat. In our writerly varlance, I’m all tell, no show. But I wanted to share my reflections with you so you can take from it what you will.

Goals & Pragmatics

50,000 words in a month breaks out to about 1,600 words a day. I had an evening once, way back when I was a night person, when I did a happy dance at 800 words. The first week of July, 800 words was a – ahem – miracle. My goal, to get this done, was 1600 words a day. I thought between the hour in the morning and the time in the evening that it was very doable, if not easy. Not easy comes because I’m a pick-it-apart writer. I overthink everything.  So writing in the evening was my intention. The reality…evenings were my worst time for writing, despite my child crashing into sleep nice and early. On a good night I got 800 words (happy dance).

Clearly, I reevaluated.

Personal Space

By “personal space” I mean not only the physical space but also the functional time.  I was really behind on where I thought I’d be, word wise, early in the second week. Add in my husband’s random schedule (it’s his job, not a slam on him), and my son’s random wake-up schedule, and it was a mess.

I’ve recently read an article on great female writers with children. The phrase that came up over again, and I believe was part of the title, is “Shush, I’m working.” Now, I know this is a phrase you’ve used in some variation before. There are work-from-home writers in this group. But it’s usually used in conjunction with a clearly defined office, with a door, and older child(ren).

Side note on the office: I have one. The door serves to keep guests from noticing that it looks very much like rental storage. I had intended to “work on” the office this summer, but really when choosing between writing a book and cleaning out the rental storage who wouldn’t choose the book?

Side note on the child: He is smart, sweet, sensitive, and clingy. C L I N G Y. This isn’t driven by fear or anything worrisome, just a high preference for company. An example: this past Wednesday when my husband’s schedule switched from being in the office to being on the site (three hour drive) from early morning and through the night, my schedule switched from a day alone to a day with the child. We were, if not in direct contact, at least within 6 feet of each other from 4 am to 7 pm. Good thing he’s so cute.

As with this very article, I wrote the book on the couch. That’s where my son first looks for me when he wakes up in the morning. He comes out, snuggles up to me, and all too quickly asks me what’s for breakfast. It’s easy to get distracted, to forget what word comes next, how the scene’s supposed to unfold.

Something that children know and adults have unlearned (not at all exclusively, but I do think especially women because of how we are socialized) is that if you don’t demand it, you probably won’t get it. So I demanded time from my four-year-old son. “Shush, I’m working” doesn’t cut it. (Yes, of course I tried it.) My new goal was at least 1,000 words each morning and 600 or more after the boy went to bed. My son already knew I was writing a book. Again, he’s four. He has no clue what “writing a book” means, and could care less.

Still, I explained what I was doing, what my goal was, and then demanded the time to do it. That is, I told him I was writing 1,000 words every morning regardless of when he woke up and what he wanted, and the more he left me alone the sooner I could get off the couch to do something interesting, like make him breakfast or play cars. I’m proud of him. There were days he left me alone – as in alone in the room – for a whole thirty minutes. Then there were the days I had to finish my word goal while he drove cars or built legos on my legs.

Permission

I made it because of my deal with the boy, but also because when I first brought up writing a novel in July – knowing full well I wasn’t go to do it because a novel is just too damn long – my husband said, “That’s a good idea.” At the time it felt like validation. I wanted it to be a good idea, just needed to hear it from someone else. In reflection, it’s validation in another way. “That’s a good idea” meant that I not only could focus on my writing, I should focus on my writing. Somehow I forgot that in the last four years. Choosing to be a writer means giving myself permission to write; and I hadn’t done that since my son was born.

Permission to write, by the way, comes from ourselves.  It means permission to ignore the laundry until you are down to your last pair of underwear, permission to forget where you put the lawnmower, or the vacuum cleaner, at least until you’ve met that day’s goal. For me, it was permission to spend my child-free days writing to make up the loss for the days I was interrupted so much I didn’t make it past word 50. Nothing else got done in July that wasn’t absolutely necessary (note: meeting friends at McDonald’s when you have a four-year-old and a 113 degree day, IS absolutely necessary) or directly related to the book. That’s okay, I had permission.

Writing Flow, Habit, and the Internal Editor

I’ve written on the site Write Anything about my habit of starting things in a notebook because otherwise I edit as I write. This is something I worried about when I began the project but it turns out that writing a long piece in a very short period of time does the same trick. I just had to, again, give myself permission to focus on 1) writing daily and 2) focus on moving the story along rather than on the story’s integrity.

I wanted it to get me in the habit of writing every day, but that didn’t happen. The morning after I finished my novel, I started reading someone else’s. But the challenge did let me know that I can do it. I can write strongly every morning; I can write longer pieces; I can give myself permission to write and demand my family respect that. It will work out wonderfully.

What I did learn is that I like the story. Not as I wrote it, mind, but the concept is sound, and so are many of the characters. They need to not sound like each other, of course. Now I just need to figure out how to write a second, integrity-based draft as my four-year-old piles cold metal toys on my feet.

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12 thoughts on “Personal Writing Challenge: fait accompli

  1. Impressive! I am curious, did you edit as you went along? Did you just brainstorm this one out and now need a few months to revise and edit?

    • Usually when I type, I edit as I draft. This time, because it so word oriented, I forced myself to just get the story down. It’s messy and not my usual style.
      Ideally, I’d wait a few weeks then take another look at it. As ideally never even comes close, probably nothing will happen with this story. I did have plans to pare it down and rewrite it. I even started that. I got through the first scene with a good strong voice and – blammo – no more writing time. Maybe another writing miracle will happen — who knows.
      Have you tried writing in a short period (maybe NaNo or along that vein?)

  2. That’s a brilliant achievement – many congratulations! I gave myself a month to finish my first draft – the last 20,000 words – and was feeling very proud of myself that I’d managed it. You’ve definitely upped the ante!

  3. Every year in November when I do NaNoWriMo, I’m impressed by how difficult and frustrating and energizing and truly amazing it is to whip out 1667 words in a day. I can’t write every day during November, of course, so I end up having to write two or three or five times that on some days. Giving oneself “permission” to write at that volume is critical.

    The other thing that a lot of people forget is that this is “just” a first draft and not the finished product. But getting that first draft down on the page can be so uplifting! Congrats for getting your 52,000 words down!

  4. Congratulations. I’m with Rob. I do Nano every other year or so, and it is truly an amazing accomplishment. Especially with a 4 year old.

    It’s very difficult for me to write without editing. You’ve given me a new incentive to try again this year…just get the story down-edit later!

    Well done!

    • So glad I’m getting you inspired! This is the longest story I’ve written, and wouldn’t have happened if I tried it my normal way. Good luck to you! Let us know how you separate your creative process from your editing process.

  5. Congrats! I did Camp NaNo in April and was thrilled with my just over 21,000 words (I was aiming for a 17,500 novella, so yay, me!). I edited it in July and my husband finished the artwork. It’s now published on kindle ebooks and createspace (paperback).

    I say all that to agree with Selena–write, then edit later.

    I did some editing as I went along but not with my usual gusto. It was good to take a couple months away from the words and get back to it later. I was grateful for my husband who also helped me see that I needed to do more with certain bits that showed my obvious word fatigue 😉

  6. Wow! Jessica, this is a momentous achievement, first because you accomplished your personal goal, and second because you wrote a novel in a month, NaNoWriMo’s ultimate mission.
    Thank you for describing a detailed post about the technical aspects of the project. I over edit when I work and the insight that you can accomplish so much if you force yourself to defer the editing till later is sound incentive. Even if I don’t do NaNoWritMo (and I won’t), I see how much more I could write if I get out of the nit picky editing phase.
    What are your plans for this draft?

    • I never thought I’d do NaNo either, to be honest. But I knew I needed something with a deadline to be able to actually FINISH a piece. That I managed to finish it book-length (let’s not talk about quality, though) made me really happy. As I mentioned in another comment, I did hope to revise it. Sadly, it’s not going to happen. (Happily, I did write the entire story in draft form — which hasn’t happened in years; and in book length – which hasn’t happened ever…)
      Good luck pushing aside your internal editor. Mine is a stubborn, cranky, b — um, person.

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