Starting Anew

nanowrimo_calendar_2011_by_coldfire_phoenix-d4cvskbAs I’ve been in the throes of revising my novel (again) and will soon be querying agents (again), hoping to launch my first book out into the world, visions of my next novel have been creeping into my consciousness. So, I had the brilliant idea of splitting my writing time between starting a new book while finishing up the old. I imagined greeting each morning bursting with new ideas, a new plot, and new characters, while spending evenings settled in an armchair with my red pen and manuscript, editing and revising and compiling a second-round list of agents.

To provide the structure needed for this new project, I signed up for a GrubStreet Novel in Progress class. On the first day the teacher had us go around the table and state our goals. I boldly avowed, “to complete a first draft.” It sounded perfectly doable. With the class running from mid-January to mid-April, that gave me three months to write a very rough, very skeletal draft. Plenty of time.

I know from my various work experiences how efficient I can be. I can literally zoom around an office, running on adrenaline, propelled by stress, multitasking like nobody’s business. Add to that kid-shuttling, grocery shopping, cooking meals, and volunteer work, and I become a personification of the quote, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” That’s always been me, able to squeeze one more thing into my crazy schedule. But the errands had people waiting to be fed or picked up on the other end and the work was time-sensitive.

Now that my kids are older I have more time to devote to my writing. But what I, and probably most writers, have discovered is that without an externally-imposed deadline, it’s easy to find ways to squander that time. It’s difficult to stay focused on your own writing when there’s other (read: “real”) work beckoning, dishes to wash, cats to entertain.

As for my lofty Novel in Progress goal, as countless Jewish grandmothers have remarked, “[Wo]man plans and God laughs.” So far, I’ve had two opportunities to workshop five pages. I met those deadlines, but sadly have not produced much else, maybe 5,000 words total. I guess those first novel revisions and life got in the way.

Now, looking at the calendar, I realize I have exactly 30 days until my last class. Finally, a serious deadline! And a chance to make good on that goal I committed to back in January. Countless participants in National Novel Writing Month have taken up the challenge and succeeded in writing a 50,000-word draft of a novel in a month. And I have a 5,000-word head start. I picked up the book written by NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem! Baty proposes averaging 1,667 words a day (and since I have only 45,000 words to go, I can get away with 1,500 words/day), though he admits slacking off in the middle and making up for it toward the end. I’ve already put this draft off long enough, so that approach is not very appealing. I’ve thought about different ways I could tackle this. Some people break their exercise workouts into 10-minute increments throughout the day to reach their 30-minute cardio goal. Maybe doing bursts of 500 words 3x/day would do the trick. If I alternated the writing with workouts, I’d be in great shape – physically and artistically. Or I could deprive myself of food until I’ve completed my daily goal, which could lead to productivity and weight loss.

Regardless of my approach, I’m excited about the prospect of buckling down and powering through this next book on overdrive. Forcing myself to do it in 30 days will be good practice for keeping my inner editor at bay and churning out that shitty first draft. According to Baty, “Nothing makes it more difficult to back down from a task than having boasted about it, in great detail, to all of your friends and loved ones.” He suggests telling as many people as possible of your plan to write a novel in 30 days to provide the fear of humiliation and embarrassment as motivation to meet your goal. I know it’s not November, so not officially NaNoWriMo, but let this be my public declaration: between now and April 15, while everyone else is scrambling to get their taxes done on time, I’ll be brewing pots of coffee, reducing my Facebook check-ins to once a day, turning down social plans, and toiling away on my draft. Wish me luck – there’s no turning back now.


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