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Writing the Book

For those who are keeping score, I started writing the novel on the 18th. The day totals have been 614, 690, 657, 443, 200, 871, 864, 763, 613, 663, 513. I haven't missed a day (which is habitual: I haven't missed a day in almost nine years). I'm 3,045 words ahead of schedule based on the goal of averaging 347 words a day for a May 22 rough draft completion date.

I finished the first (and only) novel I've written in 1994. I don't remember if I faced a "muddle in the middle" crisis or any failures of nerve or vision, but the book was episodic and in many ways felt like writing 21 related short stories rather than one extended story. Also, I interspaced numerous other projects. For this book, my intention is to focus on it until the finish. If I average the rest of the way what I've done over the first 11 days, 624 words a day, I'll finish in 160 days, in the middle of January.

Posting thoughts like this at this point feels naive to me, though. A book is long ride, and lots can happen, including deciding the whole project is a mess and needs to be dumped. My pattern though, at least with all my other writing, is to finish if the work builds momentum. There's a point of no return. For short stories, that's probably no more than a couple of pages. I've thrown out early paragraphs, but hardly ever multiple pages. So what is the equivalent of the point of no return for a novel for me? I guess I'll find out.

Writing Rythm and the Working Day

 One of the interesting aspects of writing while working the day job is getting into a rhythm that feeds my writing.  Since school started this week, I've been able to fall back into a pattern that works comfortably for me.

For the last four years, I've had a son at the high school where I teach.  My oldest, Dylan, graduated last year, but my 15-year old, Sam, is a sophomore now.  We live a long way from the building, so I have to get Sam up at 5:00.  We get to school before 6:00.  I do my prep for the day while he heads to Jazz Band, which practices before regular classes begin at 7:25.

I'm a morning prep person, and fortunately this semester my planning period is 1st, so I don't see students until 8:15.  From 6:00 until 8:15, I'm polishing my lesson plans (I have four preps to get ready for the five classes I face).  While I'm doing this, I'm also mulling over my thoughts from yesterday's writing.  The "mulling over" period is one of the reasons I'm a strong advocate for writing regularly.  Since I write every day, the story is always fresh in my mind.  It doesn't fade.  When I didn't write every day, the story could leak away during the non-writing times, and when I finally got back to it, whatever inspiration provoked it would be gone.  I'd find it difficult to pick up the thread.

I don't know how long the mulling period lasts for other people, but three or four days without writing can blow it for me.  Other writers might be able to hold the story longer.

At lunch I plan for my afternoon classes while still thinking about the book I'm working on.

Finally, at 2:50, the school day ends.  I go out to the parking lot for my afternoon supervision duty, while Sam goes to cross country practice.  By 3:15, I'm back at my desk, where I can write until the end of Sam's practice around 5:00.  Often times I'll tack on a second writing session after 9:00, going until 10:30 or so, although the Olympics have impacted that time this week.  He doesn't do a winter sport.  When cross country ends, I'll do my writing at home, before my wife gets home from her kindergarten job (she's never, ever home before 5:00--kindergarten teachers have a lot of planning to do!).

The weekends are like the summer: I don't have school to give me a regular time, so I shoehorn the writing wherever it will fit, often in the middle of the day because I like to go out for bagels with my wife in the morning before we run errands, and we like to end the evening with a DVD session.

This has been a good week so far.  On Monday I started the new novel, tentatively titled Low High.  My writing totals for Monday through Thursday were 614, 650, 637 and 447.  Since I only have to average 347 words a day to come up with a 100,000 word manuscript by the end of May, I'm ahead of schedule.

So, that's how I get it done.  How do you do it?


Here is my post for the "Write a Book in a Year" club for the high school.  I'm putting one of these conversation starters up a week at our blog.  The audience for them is newbie writers who want support for tackling big projects.  These really basic topics feel relevant to me, though, even though I've successfully tackled big projects in the past.  Every day seems like I'm starting over again.  The blank page is blank to me now in the same way it was blank when I was unpublished.  Thinking about the basics helps me.

Yesterday I put up a shelf in my eleven-year old’s room, which would be a pretty good thing to have done if I hadn’t have bought the shelf and hardware to do it six months ago.  I’m a horrible procrastinator.  There’s almost no job that has to be done right now that I can’t figure a reason to put it off until later, and that includes writing.

Procrastination comes from a lot of sources, but surely one of them is that there are so many distractions.  When I’m at home, there is the refrigerator (maybe there is a slice of pie in there that nobody has found yet), the television and DVD collection (isn’t it time for me to watch all of Lord of the Rings again?), my books, and probably the worst of all of them, the Internet.

The book I mentioned on the last post, The Writer’s Book of Wisdom, lists as rule #13, “Electronic voices destroy Inspiration.”  It calls television a “rectangular drain,” and so is the Internet.  When people first started getting cable and suddenly went from three or four channels to choose from to hundreds, a new bad habit was formed, channel surfing.  You probably know about that: where you start with the first channel, flick through all of them, pausing only a couple of seconds on each, and then when you get to the end, starting over.  Hours can pass this way.  It’s the same on the Internet, only worse.  I “favorite place” surf, and then I’ll do random searches for old friends, or I’ll be seized by an urge to look at 60s rock band YouTube videos.  It’s horrible.

Procrastination is like the Borg, resistance seems futile.

So, what sucks time away from what you know you should be doing?  What are your worst time-wasting habits?  Do you have a method for holding the Borg at bay?

I found this flow chart for procrastination to be disturbingly accurate.


The Brain is a Weasel

The weirdest things trip me when I'm writing.  Lately, for example, research questions stop me dead in my tracks, AND THEY DON'T HAVE TO!

I'm working on a story where a character is trying to outlast a tremendous snow storm in the mountains during the 1890s.  He's the sole caretaker of a water-powered generator that the mines need for their air compressor (the compressor powers drills and ventilation).  I have put the character in a real building, the oft-photographed Crystal River Mill.  I've spent the last few days trying to find out if the compressor is in the building, or if there are power lines running up the mountain to a compressor that is closer to where the work is. 

This is a detail that has little to do with the plot.  I just want to know.  I could solve it a couple of ways:  First, change the name of the building and make up anything I want.  Second, don't worry about historical fidelity, and just make it any way I want it.  Third, don't mention it.

It reminds me of a baseball cartoon I like a bunch.  The shortstop is running scenarios through his head.  One thought balloon reads, "If the ball goes right, hold the runner at third, then make the out at first."  The second balloon reads, "If the ball goes left, make the play at second myself and double the player at first."  The third reads, "If the ball is hit short, pick it up on the run and make the play at home."  The last balloon reads, "Boot it."

I feel that way sometimes when I have a lot of ways to go.

Occasionally even dumber speedbumps will stop me, like I won't be able to figure out how to get a character out of a room, or how to say goodbye.  I'll come back to the project the next day, and the answer will be obvious.


What kind of speed bumps do you have?  Do you have strategies for dealing with them?


Saturn Ring Blues

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June 2015


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