November 23, 2014
Last year I tried to do a traditional NaNoWriMo. It was called "95 Kingdoms" (working title) and I made some serious headway, but fell far short. I didn't think writing the great American novel was the point or the likely outcome, but it still didn't feel great to know that I was behind day after day and then to ultimately give up.
As this year rolled around, I'd already been doing this 750words thing daily (more on that below) for a couple months, and I really wanted to jump right into giving NaNoWriMo another try. National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) has been so good for me the past couple years, after all.
But work was driving at a fever pitch and there were a thousand other things nibbling at my time and my mind. My extremely intelligent (and beautiful) wife said to me, "Jamie, don't be stupid. Why don't you just do NaNoWriMo in some other month." Which was brilliant. Yes, I won't be part of the website or the community. Everyone locked arms and struggling with their novels together. But I can be part of that some other year.
NaNoWriMo isn't about writing a novel, for me. It's about instilling a practice. It's about reminding yourself what it means to be a writer.
It's Monday and you are dragging. Dreading going back to work? Write.
It's Tuesday and you didn't get enough sleep? Feel sick? Write.
It's Wednesday and you are totally uninspired? Write.
It's Thursday and you are going to hit a happy hour with friends? Write.
It's Friday and you have a massive deadline? Write.
It's Saturday and it is snowing and looking gorgeous out there? Write.
It's Sunday and you need to weather-seal the windows? Write.
You're in love? Write. You're depressed? Write. You're kid got detention? Write.
When I get envious about my friend Justin, it isn't about the great books he's written. It's the practice and the dedication. He writes and writes and writes. He built a routine into his life and rarely deviates. That's work and takes serious commitment. His routine even includes exercise. Christ.
He's put out more than half a dozen books since I met him, while I struggled year after year to make writing a regular part of my life. If you are a writer, you write. If you aren't writing, you're a fraud. And that feeling seeps out into your whole life. It sucks.
I could be proud about all the great work I do at work and this great career I was building. I could make excuses about the responsibilities of being married or then the emotional drain of my marriage falling apart. I could talk about raising a wonderful child. But when I wasn't writing there was always a part of me that knew I was falling down.
Regular practice isn't about quality, it's about volume. Quality comes in fits and starts, let it take care of itself. And let editing happen when it is time to edit. Regular practice is about staying on top of words and sentences and rhythm and idiom. Keeping nimble and easy. Always pliable and charged for when inspiration pulls up a chair.
It's not about spending hours every day -- more power to you if your life affords that kind of time for consistent stretches, though -- it's about giving it a half hour here or 15 minutes there. Finding the tools that'll let that happen and instilling a massive habit.
The tools for me:
I started writing on my phone -- almost exclusively -- about 4 years ago. 99.9% of the poems on Very Most Good were written on my phone. It meant that I always had my writing implements with me wherever I was. And that change has had all kinds of amazing downstream effects for me and my poetics. Immediacy. Another go at the eternal struggle to break down the wall between the observer and real life. And so on. I only started typing with my 10 fingers again when I set out on this latest challenge to pound out 50k words in a month. I think I could've done it on my phone though (next time).
750words.com -- is a website based on the Artist's Way model of writing "Morning Pages" (go check out the Artist's Way some time... it's totally cheesy and you'll feel strange-to-outright-embarassed doing it, but getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to get out of your own head for a while -- thanks Jon). I'd been doing all this writing on my blog, but 750words gave me a private space that was always available (the mobile view is great). I can cut and paste from it over to my blog when I want, but the default is private. I needed this practice to be something that was intrinsically motivated. Not something driven by pageviews and reader comments and Tumblr likes. 750 words a day on my phone takes a half hour, and I made that a part of my morning -- getting up a half hour earlier on weekdays. That started something like 3 months ago and I'm still going strong.
Talking to my partner (and my daughter) -- you need help maintaining this little corner of selfishness that it takes to stay committed. I don't have tons of witty examples on this, but let's just all agree to the importance of communication in your relationships and this is just another part of it. And my daughter is writing more and more and 12yo-curious about this daily writing idea, which makes me feel like I won some parent award somewhere.
And that's it. Make it simple.
Make it regular.
Make it as private as you need it.
Make it easy.
And so this year for NaNoWriMo, I decided I could make time anyway -- despite that great advice from my wife -- but I did it a bit different. I wasn't going to write a novel, I was just going to hit a goal: 50,000 words in November. Free-writing, creative writing, journaling, anything. I amped up my 750words practice to pound out a private volume of words and sentences. As of today I just crushed my way past 46k and have 7 days to go. If I dialed my pace all the way back to the 750 / day I'd been maintaining, I'll get there. But I'm sure I'll keep writing more.
All month, my weekday pace has been 1,250 / day. Maybe that'll be my new normal. Maybe I'll keep doing this 10-finger-typing thing when I write. It's been a welcome change. Who knows. But whatever it is, I'm going to keep going.