A Day Late and 1,668 Words Short

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The novel I’m writing has been gestating in my mind for the last three years. It’s a middle grade-ish novel about a girl who pretends to be her own identical cousin in 1965 because she feels so invisible. I’m itching to get it down on paper. I designated November as my month to do it and I joined NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month was created for November by a group of writer friends. It’s become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fund-raising gala and nearly 120,000 participants. That’s not counting those who may not officially sign in. As I did for several years.
I never signed up because I knew I’d never do it. I was already involved in a project, either well into writing it or editing it. This year I’d just completed a final (yeah, right) of my middle grade novel, Alex Bullied and sent a round of twenty queries to agents.
I was ready for NaNoWriMo!
Each day the writer must produce 1,668 words in order to reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I began writing this blog post on a flight home to San Diego from Maryland on November first. I was already a day behind on NaNoWriMo.
Yes, I know, as someone pointed out, you can write on an airplane. Well, I can’t. But I figured I could make those words up. I started the next day with eager enthusiasm. I knew how the story started, even had notes on the first few chapters. Had some pages that could be cut and pasted. I wasn’t sure if this was cheating, but I had those words to make up.
Dog concerns (was Bug going to need a vet? No, as it turned out), previous scheduled commitments, our son moving home, upcoming friend visits, and finally agreeing to attend a Thanksgiving dinner as well as the daily grunt work of shopping, errands, cooking , cleaning and caring for pets made for a lot of holes in my tight writing schedule. The word count did not multiply as quickly as I’d anticipated.
This doesn’t make sense. In spite of the distractions, I have most of every day to write. I have no excuses. And yet, maybe I do –
The November/December issue of Writer’s Digest has a section on NaNoWriMo. There is a section about how there’s a paradox of creativity in that is seems to benefit from pressures and boundaries. I have found this to be true for me. This blog entry, for instance. I would never post a blog without it having been read to my writers group and gotten critiqued. The group, The North County Writers Bloc, meets tomorrow morning. So I have to get this done – now. It’s amazing how the words flow when they have to.
The words that are going into this new book are pretty much crap. But that’s what editing and writers groups and meetings with agents at conferences are for. I think we have to figure that writing this fast is not going to produce publishable work without a lot of revision. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen started on NaNoWriMo. You can be sure it did not come out the best seller it was without a lot of editing.
And yet participants will send agents their first draft messes. Apparently agents shudder at the volume of queries they receive after November each year. “I have written this book in a month and here it is.” No book is written and ready in a month. So, slow down. But not until after November 30th.
This yearly challenge does seem needlessly masochistic. I feel a little like I’m drowning as I fall behind on word count. I’m sinking beneath those unwritten words.
But there are also positives to get from this exercise. I am building a habit of writing every day. My process has always been a slow one of outlines and first drafts on note paper with pencils. I want to train myself to have the ideas go directly from brain to keyboard to computer screen. While I still outline a little to help me when I’m stuck, figuring out how to go from A to B, I am getting more streamlined in my process.
Today is November 17, two days past the midway point. I am about 4,000 words short and expecting company for the weekend. I do not know if I will finish on time but I still maintain the delusion that I can.
Stay tuned.

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So Much To Do

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I have heaps piled on my desk: my Alex Bullied edit (finally finished), lists of agents who promise they’re looking for books just like mine, Morning of the Mermaid revisions (thirteen critiqued chapters, waiting for corrections), notes for this blog. There are novels to read, how-to books to study, scraps of paper with notes on them and file folders galore.

I organize and reorganize, use stacking trays or wire baskets or file folder holders. I still have heaps, though. They’re just stacked or upright.

I keep thinking I’ll whittle these heaps down into something manageable, but they keep growing. They become crushing mountains of white. Eventually there will be an avalanche and I will be buried alive. And still unpublished.

Then I stop and think about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s a must-read writer’s book, but really, everyone should read it. The central lesson concerns Lamott’s brother and his school project about birds of America. He didn’t know where or how to start, it seemed so overwhelming. So his dad told him to take it a bird at a time. And really, is there anything else we can do? Bird by bird.

When I got involved with my son’s school’s PTA, one of the things I took on was to organize the school’s annual Family Fun Day. Talk about overwhelming. I’d never done anything like it before. I had some moments of gut-busting fear. The solution was as simple as breaking it down, bird-by-bird style. Focusing attention on one thing at a time. It’s a philosophy that works for everything.

Then, to really help remind me, there’s my name. I wasn’t born Brix. I never cared for my given name. I was always on the lookout for a new name, something that felt more like me. When I was about twenty-five I had a friend who was something of a guru to me. One day, this being my mid-terrible-twenties, I asked him to fix my life.

He said, “The problem with you is that you want the wall to just be there. You don’t realize you have to build it a brick at a time.” This was years before Bird by Bird, so for me, it’s more brick by brick. My friend dubbed me “Bricks.” I loved it and spelled it with an x and changed it legally. So I am always reminded.

That’s what I’m doing now. Perfecting a book and getting it published is my wall and I’m building it a brick at a time. In that way I can face what seems insurmountable and make it manageable. I can organize my desk and my work. I can stop being so hard on myself. As someone recently reminded me — people with messy desks are creative. From the looks of mine, I must be the Queen of Creativity.

Do you also have a lot going on? Work piling up? How do you stay organized? Do you have a special trick that helps you? I’d love to know.