For the first time in weeks I’ve hit my word count goal before midnight and I can take a breather, knowing that I won’t approach the novel manuscript for another 8 to 10 hours. This also marks my last day as a resident fellow at Bellagio Center, courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation.
I’ve been writing every day since September 1st, 2013. And as of today, I amassed 100,000 words on a novel about prosperity. I started last November as part of National Novel Writing Month AKA NANOWRIMO.ORG and pounded out 42,000 words. Nine months later I threw half of those out in a single afternoon as I reread over my work and decided it was crap (unavoidable), and even worse – off target.
I could have hung on to the despair and believed I was not a writer. But I started over. The first few weeks involved constant interruptions (death to creativity). The writing was weak, but it added up. Just knowing who my three characters would be was a huge step forward.
In my second writing month (October 2013) I gathered steam. I added 49,340 words that month and logged all of my progress and pitfalls in a trello board. A nine month writing gap gave my novel a much more layered feel. But that didn’t make me a writer yet. Writers finish manuscripts. Writers publish.
In my third month I feel that my characters and conflicts are humming like never before. It was easy – I only had to write 400 pages of manuscript to discover the 200 pages of “final draft” that are likely in there somewhere. Today I pounded out nearly 4000 words (16 pages) of sheer enjoyment, and I can see how it will all tie together in the next 100 pages.
And the zen of writing is captured best in Thomas Mann’s quote:
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Writing is truly more difficult, not because our capacity to do the task is lower, but because we are challenging ourselves by putting to good use whatever God-given talents we have every day.
Write every day. That is what makes somebody a writer. There are no short cuts.
This quote could be said about a lot of talented people who spend their lives being talented instead of doing talented work. Everything is easy to talented people who are NOT busy using those talents to DO stuff.
Nelson Algren once said, “Any writer who knows what he’s doing isn’t doing very much.” And I’ve tried to live by that. My story is in the hands of the people who live it (on paper) — AKA character driven noveling. The whole book idea was supposed to be a Narrative Non Fiction project, but I took on the challenge of novelizing the ideas behind a social genetic algorithm for prosperity, because that was the best way the story could be told (not the safest). I started this ChewyChunks blog in order to motivate myself to write more often (and 355 posts over 5 years is “more”). In fact my first post was about the cycle of distractions that keeps most of us from doing the things that would prove to be more satisfying in life.
So in my final month of first-draft novel writing (November 2013) I am excited to watch a major project come to fruition. Giving the ideas time to percolate, ferment, and blossom is what this Sabbatical and Writing Residency has been all about. But such time would not be nearly as fruitful if I hadn’t spend my Novembers of 2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012 writing manuscripts, that to this day go unread, unedited, and most certainly unpublished.
I have never looked back and regretted a single day of that effort. Never.
I have often regretted the hours I’ve wasted playing computer games, watching TV, and putzing around on the Internet.
Perspective helps. To Bellagio, I brought two notebooks with me from 2003-2004. In them were the original ideas for this novel. After rereading them this month, I can safely say that there wasn’t a single line of text worth salvaging. The whole notebooks were worthless. The characters resisted any personality or originality of thought. The “dialogues” were instead monologues between me and my “reader,” who most likely left the room after page 3. But the good part was that I started that journey 10 years ago, which is how I know that I am on the right road today.
Writing, just like innovation, is an iterative process. You can’t pen a 500 page novel without first writing 200 pages of absolute worthless garbage. It’s the chaff in your system. And it comes up first.
But being able to compare my ideas going back ten years makes it much easier for me to see the progress I’ve made as a writer. And that inspires me to keep writing.
Everybody has at least one book in them, so why put off starting yours?
Read my first ever blog post on ChewyChunks (2009), where I was still asking, ‘Am I a writer?’: