A Journey of 50,000 Miles…

…certainly begins with a single step, but it also consists of all 50-damn-thousand miles. Don’t delude yourself with helpful little platitudes. Starting to work is not the battle. Continuing to work is.

This was the principal lesson I took from my own little journey to 50,000 words in 30 days as a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The trickiest part of the process was, predictably, being consistent with the work. The biggest revelation for me was how easy it actually was to put together.

For the week prior to the start of the month, I focused on trying to cobble together a loose outline for my work, and I told myself that for the 30 days of November I would be sure to write 1,666 words each and every day to keep things manageable and paced well. I kept to that schedule until my trip to Boston in the middle of the month, which took me a few days out of the game and dropped me about 8,000 words behind schedule. However, once I was back from the trip, I just upped my daily writing count, cranking out 3,000 a day over the Thanksgiving break.

1,666 words is something that, if I’m in a groove and in a spot of writing that I’m not too unsure how to phrase out, I found I can do in about 30 minutes. More regularly, it will take me from 60 to 90 minutes. This is a pretty acceptable timeline. I had nightmare visions of needing to spend 2-3 hours a day just to scrape by. I also benefited from deciding that I would try to do most of my writing before bedtime. This ensured that my writing time was at the end of the day when chores and distractions were out of the way. It meant I went to bed a little later, but not so much so that I felt it impacted me at all. For a writer who is constantly worried about how his work will fit into the timing of everyday life, this was another pleasing discovery. Much like my view of many social events (traveling downtown to a club or concert, heading to the stadium for a game, etc.), my expectation for roadblocks and drama before I can get to the creamy nougat center of fun was totally blown out of proportion.

The other thing about a really large journey is that you can’t know what it looks like (not that you don’t—you can’t). You can know where you start, where you plan to end and where your waypoints are along the way, but the trip will change and deviate as it needs to regardless of your input. I found myself many times over the last month convinced that I was writing some truly shitty stuff. A page later, and I’d be golden again, the crap I was shoveling previously leading me to a new jumping off point. Getting discouraged about your work before it is complete is silly. It’s inevitable, but it’s silly. How can you say it’s bad? It’s not even done. It’s Schrödinger’s prose at that point. It’s good and bad all at once and you can’t open the box to see what it actually is until you’ve finished.

I’m not done with my novel yet. I’ll probably need to get to at least 80,000 words before I’m done. I’m confident I’ll get there because I’m allowing myself to just let what I’ve done so far exist in its undecided state. I’ve been forcing myself to only read the paragraph or two before what I wrote previously to pick up my thread. I’ve not stopped to edit or adjust anything. The one time I went back a few pages to make a change, it was only to add an extra couple of paragraphs—I wasn’t editing so much as amending. I think this has been really critical for me as well. A first draft should remain a first draft until it is totally complete. NaNoWriMo places you on a timeline to force this issue and it’s a really critical lesson. If you want to drive from San Diego to New York you don’t keep driving back and forth over the Arizona state line.

This is something to really commit to. There is a gaping plot point in the center of my novel that needs changing. As I was writing, I began to set my protagonist up to get embroiled in a full-fledged Lord of the Rings style war—but as I wrote I became more and more sure that I hadn’t set up a conflict of that scope properly. I’m not a Tolkien or a Martin. I don’t think I could pull that off, but I had at least 5,000 words that thought I could. At about the 45,000 word mark, I decided I was just going to change the conflict to something more personal and manageable—a rescue mission. So I just started writing as if that’s what I had intended the entire time. I didn’t hunt back through and adjust the text for continuity, and why should I? It’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be good, it’s supposed to get done. It shouldn’t be good until a third draft, really.

I’ll be continuing on with my writing on a 3-days-a-week basis for the novel. I’m going to shoot for about 2,000 words a week now. A much more modest pace, but one that will allow me to continue to work regularly on the blog, keep my novel going and not feel like it’s controlling my life.

Blog announcements coming up on Friday!

  1. #1 by Eric Thomas on December 2, 2009 - 12:15 PM

    That’s an impressive accomplishment. I, on the other hand, in the wake of a new job, have slowed down to a near halt on my blog. Unacceptable. Reading this encourages me to consider writing from a realistic perspective. I need to get back on the horse myself.

    On topic with this post, I’ve been pretty interested in writing a short story or novella myself. After I settle into a more comfortable and stable personal life (I’m still living with others, starting the job, etc…), I plan on dedicating some time to this endeavor.

    I’m interested in your story and can’t wait til you write out that final draft and let her loose.

  2. #2 by Badmoodman on December 2, 2009 - 7:35 PM

    “For for the week prior to the start of the month…”

    – – Ahh, so that’s how you did it.

    (Don’t you think the family name would more aptly be Snarkpelli?)

  3. #3 by Trent Kuzman on December 3, 2009 - 5:26 PM

    Badmoodman :
    “For for the week prior to the start of the month…”
    – – Ahh, so that’s how you did it.
    (Don’t you think the family name would more aptly be Snarkpelli?)

    Yes. 😉

  4. #4 by Oliver Grigsby on December 11, 2009 - 2:59 PM

    Nice work dude, congrats! Look forward to reading one day — perhaps the third draft? 😉

(will not be published)