Day 5: Breakthrough

What a difference 24 hours can make. Yesterday I was sure that I wouldn’t be writing fluidly until day 24 out of the 30. Today, the characters took over, and one of them did something I never saw coming until I was writing it on the page. And at that moment I thought: I really am just transcribing a story that already exists! Amazing.

So today’s big exercise was pacing. Instead of moving at a fast pace to pound out the required number of words, I slowed down. I took time to see: what was really in the scene? To ask: what would Hero really say at this point? What would be his real reaction? Would that reaction be true and real? And somehow by the end of the word count, the characters were living in the moment and leading the way. Amazing. Hope this is repeatable.

Things I learned from school today:

Guideline 5: Close the door to the space isn’t always going to work for me. I am too extroverted to write alone with the door shut, especially if I’m having the characters interact with each other. I want to talk about what my characters are thinking and doing with someone else, and get immediate feedback. Often times when I get stuck,  the very act of saying something aloud to someone else fixes the problem. (I call this talk therapy.) It was nice to have my husband here to hear me out.

Constantly reading other books inspires and helps me. While I was writing today, ridiculous questions would pop up like: “what’s the best way to write about how this character gets up, checks his inbox, then walks across the room?” or “if she’s thinking to herself for three pages, do I need to write her name every now and then so the reader remembers who she is?” Picking up a published book and seeing how the pros handle these and other ridiculous questions really was a support and comfort.

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Day 4: Bait and switch

Today was rough. Eked out 300 words, and then the well ran dry. This is what I’ve learned over the last four days: writing every day is work. Real work—like a JOB. The kind of work where it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel good, or you had a late night, or you’re not at your best. You’ve got a story finish, young lady, get back to work!

This is a surprise because writing is the fantasy I escaped to when my real job got to be too hectic or uncreative. I wish I were writing, I’d think dreamily. Think of all the fun I could be having just sitting in one place, and letting all my characters come to life on the page. 

I may have been confusing writing with reading. (Which by the way, I’m totally awesome at…is there a job where all I have to do is read? Don’t answer that. I don’t want that fantasy ruined, either.)

Okay: writing daily is a job. If I publish a story, I will expect to get paid for the work I did, right? All makes sense. So now that I’ve shaken the fantasy out of writing, the next step is to feel okay about feeling like the awkward new hire that doesn’t know how to run the copier. It’s going to take some time, and some days I’ll be better at it than others. Some days it will just be about learning the ropes, and that can be harder than anything!

Day 3: The Real Test

Today was a real test, as it’s the first day I’m balancing writing with my real life work. It would have gone better if I hadn’t felt a bit sick after I got home. I pounded out 2,000 more words, and this time I timed it. Took about 2 hours. Would have taken less if I weren’t so fuzzy headed. I really wanted to give up at 1,500 words, but giving up on Day 3 seemed a bit dramatic.

What I learned today:

Stick to it, and keep writing.

Day 2: Pain produced gain

“I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. —From On Writing, page 159.

Yesterday was painful because I did two things:

  1. Start my story, and;
  2. write with the King method instead of the Angie method.

Yesterday, the Angie method wanted to dominate. The Angie method is painful. You sit in front of the blank screen, crinkle your brow and try to think of just the perfect words to say. Once you’ve got that figured out, you painstakingly tap each perfect word onto the keyboard, checking all the way to make sure it’s still good. It’s a laborious and inefficient process for a first draft because you’re always second guessing yourself, or stopping to make things better.

The King method—as I have interpreted it—is this:

  1. You say, “What if?”
  2. And then you say, “and then what happened?”
  3. And then you write down what happened.

Much, much easier. With the King method, I’m not worrying about perfection in the first draft, I’m only concerned about getting the story out.

Yesterday morning, my first 500 words were painful because I was doing the Angie method and fighting the King method. By mid afternoon I was getting better at the King method, and by late afternoon I was comfortable with it.

Today, I just relaxed and followed the King method all the way. I got out my next 2,000 words fairly painlessly. Before I knew it, Mr. Muse showed up and he gave me:

  • a great name for the story
  • motive for two of the main character’s actions
  • a sweet backstory

I will sum up today’s writing experiencing with the two words that are scrawled up on a sticky note by my writing space: practice imperfection.

The things I learned from school today:

I can’t write in one big block. It just isn’t possible. I need physical and mental breaks to get my mind off of what’s going on. The best thing I can manage is 20 minute intervals, probably because I use the Pomodoro Technique for a lot of my deep work.

If you have digital ADHD like I do, it’s a great way to get immersed in deep work, while allowing yourself some leeway. Cue video:

Day 1: The first day is always rough.

The first day of a new school and class is always rough, and today was no different. I woke up early, eager and ready to go. Here was my schedule:

7:00 am: Wake up before anyone else in the house. It’s quiet and peaceful! I am really going to write! I walk into the office (my writing space) and firmly close the door.

7:01 am: Fire up the computer and prepare to take over. Purposefully turn off wi-fi connection. That is gonna hurt. But remember: no distractions.

7:05 am: Maybe I should wash my face. My face feels oily. It’s going to be impossible to write if my face feels oily.

7:10 am: Ah, nothing better than a freshly washed face! I’m ready to take on the day!

7:12 am: Back at the computer. Suddenly my stomach growls and I realize that I am starving. And this is terrible. People can’t think or concentrate when they’re starving. What choice do I have? I need to eat!

7:30 am: Back in the office after a quick breakfast snack. Where I encounter my first bully. Every school has one: the person who thinks they know it all, are better than you, and makes fun of the way you look and makes you think. Makes you feel like an insignificant speck in life. My bully’s name is The Blank Page.

7:35 am: I fight and wrestle with the bully. It’s incredibly hard. The words are coming out, but they are stilted and boring. I don’t know my characters. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m just making all this up! 

9:00 am: 535 sweaty, painful words have silenced the bully temporarily. Good grief, that was horrible. The house is still, as the rest of the family is still sleeping in. I am exhausted. I need to rest. I crawl back into bed and take a nap.

midmorning to early afternoon: Long intermission involving thrift shopping and discovering this song:

“Is this seriously about thrift shopping?” I ask my husband as I pop some tags from our haul.

“It seriously is,” he says. “Check the lyrics.”

I check the lyrics. And no for real, despite the language, this song is really about thrift shopping. Awesome.

early afternoon: I wrestle 800 more words onto the page. I thought this would be easier somehow, but it’s not. I’m still making it all up!

mid afternoon: Late lunch. And then surprise, I get sleepy again.

late afternoon: more words make it onto the page. It’s getting a bit easier now, and more ideas are flowing. Stop for dinner.

post dinner: 2,000 words. Hot damn!

The things I learned from school today:

1. Mr. King knows what he’s talking about re word count. I had about 10 pages when I was done.

2. I sincerely appreciated guideline #9: don’t wait for the muse. He’ll find you if you are at the same place every day. This morning I thought he would never, ever come. He showed up late, but he finally did come.

3. I am not yet to guideline #16 : the practice of writing is invaluable and should feel good. I hope with regular exercise, the pain will fade away as I practice more.

Preparing for class

I want to write. I have stories in my head. I have half-finished conversations between characters. I plot and plan. I get excited and start the first few pages. And then I stop and don’t finish.

Enough.

This summer I am starting my own private home school course with The School of Writing. My teacher is Stephen King, and my textbooks are On Writing (required) and The Elements of Style (recommended).

My goal this summer is to write a complete story from beginning to end. Whether the writing is good or bad is not my worry for now. All I’m concerned about is starting, staying on task, and finishing. To accomplish this, I will follow this list of guidelines I’ve compiled from On Writing:

  1. Work your ass off.
  2. Read and write a lot.
  3. Write every day.
  4. Aim for 10 pages a day, about 2,000 words.
  5. Create a writing space.
  6. Close the door to the space.
  7. Write one word at a time.
  8. Until you can filter out distractions, do not have any television, radio, video game, open windows, etc.
  9. Don’t wait for the muse. He’ll find you if you are at the same place every day.
  10. Write about anything you want, as long as you tell the truth.
  11. A story has these parts: narration, description, and dialogue.
  12. Plot is not to be trusted. Do it infrequently.
  13. Think of the situation first, then the characters, and finally the narration.
  14. You will create the most interesting situations by asking, “What if…?”
  15. Good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing.
  16. The practice of writing is invaluable and should feel good.

To Mr. King’s guidelines, I will add a few of my own:

  1. I will follow these guidelines for 30 days.
  2. I reserve the right to not write on weekends or travel days.
  3. I will blog on my progress.

Class starts tomorrow. Gulp.