Saturday, November 14, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

I wasn't planning on posting anything in November, since I usually cut out all non-essential activities in order to make sure I reach the minumum daily word count for NaNoWriMo ( But things went really well today, over 3000 words - I have reached the half-way mark (25,000 words) a day early. Cruising along through the second half of the novel I got started with last year. The plot is starting to come together, I think that's why I've been able to make such good progress.

It didn't start out very well, though. Last year I was really mentally prepared for starting NaNo. I was eager to start my second novel, and really eager to win, after falling short the previous year.

This year, I did absolutely no preparation. My attitude was completely different. I already had a win under my belt; I was feeling completely overwhelmed with teaching; I hadn't touched this story at all in the past year, except just to share excerpts of it at writer's group. I figured that I would participate in NaNoWriMo this year just for the extra motivation it would give to start working on the story again. I didn't really expect to do a lot with it.
The first night I managed to crank out 1200 words, but it was slow going (especially since I had to prepare Monday's lecture first, which took until midnight. Didn't get started writing until after midnight, by 1:30 am too sleepy to get any more words out. The next night I was even sleepier - because of course not getting sleep the night before. After I got the kids to bed, I sat in the recliner with my laptop on my lap - and promptly dozed off. I didn't get a single word written. Already 2000 words behind. Not a very good beginning. The third night wasn't much better. I got a few hundred words down, but it was painful. One of those nights when you write a single paragraph and you feel mentally exhausted.

However, the fourth night was a "write-in" - a gathering of at least 7 or 8 other local Laramie writers participating in NaNoWriMo. At my favorite writing place, too, Coal Creek Coffee House. I couldn't resist that. So I showed up and met each of the ladies (no men). I was encouraged by their enthusiasm (not to mention that delicious quiche and caramel steamers are a wonderful addition to the overall writing atmosphere and mental attitude). Managed to get as far as 4000 words, still a long way behind, but at least the words were starting flow easier. I was starting to get back into the book. The characters were becoming familiar again, and new ideas started to generate themselves.

I got caught up with the word count by the weekend, and I've really enjoyed writing this week, everything is still coming really easily. However, I know from two years of experience now that the last two weeks are harder than the first two weeks. The "rush" you get from taking off wears off. There is still the very real potential that I could get sick, like I did in the last week of NaNo 2007, and gave up at that point (H1N1 flu is running rampant in Laramie. B has already had and three of the girls. I'm amazed I haven't got it yet).
I still have hope though. For one thing, the class is getting a lot easier - I only have four lectures left to prepare for and I can put off the major part of grading, the final project, until December. Then again, Stars is coming for a week (Nov 21-28), and we are also hosting a missionary family at our house for five days.

One problem with the past week or so, as the writing has been coming really easily, is that I'm not taking the time to pray before I write like I did last year. I am keeping up with my Bible read-through, but my prayer life is scanty. I am making a resolution as of today not to let that continue. I want every word written in this book to be blessed by God. Besides, I doubt I have any chance of winning - getting through the next two busy weeks on track - if I don't have the strength of prayer behind me.

I discovered a new tool that may help me get through the challenges of the last week. "Write Or Die" ( - a web site where you set a goal: either a word count or a time goal. You then select the most effective punishment mode for you. The modes are Gentle, Normal and Kamikaze. Until you reach your goal, you will be punished when you stop writing. When you click the Write! button you are presented with a blank text box on a white screen (simplicity is key to the banishment of distraction). Start typing away. When you stop, the consequences kick in. In Gentle mode, a text box pops up and gives you a mom-like reminder to keep writing. If you get distracted in Normal mode, you will be played a Most Unpleasant Sound, in a loop, until you start writing again. If you stop writing in Kamikaze mode, my mode of choice, your screen will fade to red and then your work will start To Unwrite Itself. It will delete one word per second until you start writing again. Once you've reached your goal, you copy and paste your text into your main document.

I tried it, and I wasn't imressed with Gentle or Normal mode. But once I switched to Kamikaze mode, and I saw my words start to disappear if I didn't keep typing, it switched me into a whole new motivational level.

I also discovered this interesting post from the blog by the inventor of "Write Or Die" (who calls himself Dr Wicked). I am including the entire post here, because over time links can get broken, and this is interesting enough that I want to keep it.

Ritual vs Habit
"I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix"
Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes's landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. "What one's digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain."

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my "Monday is creative day" regime and so far it's working splendidly (I know it's only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get and make your writing time your own.

What we're aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they're employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let's take a look at the word habit: the involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand... the definiton of "ritual" is any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can't aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.
So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you'll get more writing done.