Lent is a superb time to get fed up with yourself.
I’m a writer who’s got a novel-in-progress since, oh, forever. I blogged about it, and everyone liked the idea. I told my agent about it, and eventually she admitted she liked my idea too (she doesn’t want me to get too cocky). Best of all, I liked the idea.
But that was months ago, and it’s not done.
Now to be fair, I’ve been doing other things. I did edits and suchlike on two other novels, one of which you all went out and bought last November (right? RIGHT?). But you know…come on. It should take me 100 days to write a novel. Three months. And then another three months to edit. Nine months? A year? That’s nonsense.
Now when Lent came around, I wasn’t sure what to do, and nothing felt right. Sometimes God will give me a kick in the pants as to what it is I need to be doing, but nothing presented itself this year, and I entered Ash Wednesday with three ideas, none of them front runners. Eventually I punted and went for the no-brainer: I’d read An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.
A few days into Lent, I was talking to my agent, and I realized: I just need to buckle down and get the book done. The problem is lack of discipline. I’m losing my will to go on.
Discipline. Oh, right, yeah.
God gave me two vocations: writer and mother/wife. If I’m not writing, I’m failing a vocation God gave me. And when is a better time to get back to doing what God wants than a time of year set aside by the Church to get closer to God’s will for your life?
So I’m doing a Lent-version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month.) I can’t sustain a NaNoWriMo pace without burning out, but I can and have sustained a slightly lower pace for indefinite periods of time.
We’ll call it my Personal Novel-Writing Lent. PerNoWriLent.
A thousand words a day. Few excuses. (Sorry, but I already had one child-related emergency, and as I was packing supplies for what I thought would end up as an ER trip, I told God, You don’t get your words today.) That should get me about 40,000 words by Easter Sunday (on top of the 35K I already had) and if I can’t just whack off an ending after that, then my agent needs to buy a train ticket up to the Swamp and roundhouse kick me in the head.
But she won’t need to do that. Because this is scrupulosity central, and I don’t want to have to tell God I didn’t write enough. Besides, I love ♥My Book♥. It deserves better than to sit neglected. It’s time to be a writer again.
Strangely, after years and years of attempting to follow advice to WRITE. EVERY. DAY., I’ve discovered that I tend to be more of a “binge writer”, if you will. In August of last year I started bribing myself with cake (No, really. Homemade chocolate cake.) to finish a rewrite that had been stretching out way too long. I finished it about two days before NaNoWriMo. I won NaNoWriMo. And then I did a whole lotta nothing all December because I actually was burnt out.
After letting the first novel sit for those two months (November and December) I went through and started slowly editing it for egregious typos and stuff. My goal was to finish at the end of January, but I was only 1/3 of the way through when January was 2/3 of the way over. (We were sick a lot around here.) Then I got a kick in the pants from a writing-related blog post and speed-edited the remaining 80k by the end of the month. My beta read the whole thing (all 120k ungainly words…) the same night she got it and pronounced it “very good”, but is waiting to give me more detailed comments until her spring break.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this next draft. Telling myself, “You have to write a modest amount every day until you’re finished” leads to drafts that take 3 years, and after 6 years I’m ready to be done with this thing. Maybe I’ll try telling myself to edit/rewrite full-speed for the entire month of April, and then take a break in May, work full-speed in June, etc.
I’m glad you know what works for you, anyhow. (See how I cleverly brought that back to the actual topic of the post? Writing skillz, I has them.)
You’re bringing up a good point: every writer writes differently. And I’ll go one further than that: some books demand to be written differently than the other books the same writer wrote.
In my case, I do know this works, but I also know from two years of doing NaNoWriMo that 1700 words a day will induce burnout in me. I can get it done, and then I’ve won. I defeated my book. Hooray. Then I never want to touch it again. The same thing happened with my Master’s thesis. It’s probably good, but I’ll never open the file again to work on it.
For a long while, I’d start a book with binge writing (6K words the first day, 3500 the second day, etc) and generally finish the same way. The first draft of Annihilation was a total binge (75K, 10 days) and also total garbage, so…well, that’s why we rewrite. And edit. :#)
Is it possible you’re tired of the book you’re writing? I’m asking because if you’re feeling it’s that hard to keep going, maybe you sense that the questions compelling you to start writing it are no longer compelling you, and maybe it’s time to reframe the book or spend some time in another universe. You’re not the same person you were three years ago, right? So there’s no reason to assume you need to be writing the same book.
In my experience, editing takes less out of you than drafting, so you might find it goes faster anyhow.
I haven’t gone back to really edit my NaNo novels yet, but that’s mostly because of where they are in the timeline of my fictional world. I really liked the one I wrote in 2011. (That one wasn’t technically a “win” at 38k, but I got a draft done and fell in love with a character who’s always given me trouble before, so it totally counts as a win.) I might still be a little burnt out on my 2012 novel, but I’ve been getting little sparks of interest lately, so I’ll probably end up rereading it soon.
As far as my non-NaNo novel goes–the spark is definitely still there. I knew eight years ago when I got this idea that I wasn’t old enough to write it yet. (Does that make sense? It’s such a big idea that I knew I couldn’t do it justice, partly because of my inexperience as a writer and partly because I hadn’t experienced enough life. Maybe that’s a really mature insight for a 15-year-old–sort of a Socratic test of maturity. :)) I wasn’t really old enough six years ago, but 17-year-olds think they’re all grown up. 😉 I’ve been growing into the story more and more over the years, and I love it more every year, but at the same time, I’m ready for my brain-child to actually be BORN, you know? I want this awesome idea to exist in reality and breathe and go about the world.
Coming back to say that I read the NaNo novel. It was as horribly awkward and forced as I remembered for about the first five chapters. Then it actually got good. (This is consistent with the fact that I didn’t discover the plot until Day 6. That was a leap of faith, let me tell you, writing and hoping the plot would find me in time.)
Anyway, I read the remaining 24 chapters* in one sitting and laughed a lot and almost cried a couple of times. (Narcissist, party of me. Or is everybody occasionally moved to tears by their own writing?) So I think I’m declaring NaNo 2012 a win. (The fact that I *did* hit 50k is irrelevant to actual win status.)
*I am incapable of accurately numbering chapters, so I *think* there are 29, based on the fact that the last four chapters are numbered 26, 26, 27, and 27. There are probably other numbering errors I didn’t catch, though.