November Writing

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I did the NaNoWriMo thing. It’d been long enough that I had to recreate my profile from scratch. No, I didn’t get 50,000 words but that’s okay, because that wasn’t the point for me this year. Instead, it was more about how to build a sustainable daily writing practice for 2021 by trying different things and seeing what worked.

To be honest, I didn’t get even remotely close to 50K, but I managed more days of writing than I have in any month in 2020, even taking the pandemic into account. And, if you’ve been following the state of America these days, you can probably glean the perfectly reasonable causes for some of the gaps.

So, what did I learn last month…?

  • I’ve always been a big believer in the Writing Chain as a productivity marker. And it sure paid off!
  • I think I’ve finally cracked for myself how to actually write what Anne Lamott famously calls the “shitty first draft.” As shitty as my shitty first drafts always were, I found ways to make them even shittier by setting my personal bar even lower in order to just get stuff on the page. Boy, was it freeing!
  • What bars did I lower? For one, deliberately ignoring continuity mistakes that I know I’m making at the time. So if I wrote that it was raining when the paragraph above talked about a sunny day… well, fuck it. I don’t even make a mental note to “fix it later” because I trust that when I do get around to revisions, I’ll catch and fix it then.
  • I’ve learned to be okay keeping my metrics for daily success a little variable. Because they’ve always been variable. Daily Word Count(TM) never satisfied me, especially in the revision stages of a project.
  • So, what are my daily metrics? Depends on what I decide they’re going to be the day before, as long as it’s something I know feels right. So, it could be “draft 3 pages.” It could also be “make a revision pass.” Or, “generate a beat list for the next scene.” Whatever works to move a project forward.
  • I’ve finally learned how to leverage the right dayjob habits into my writing process. I beat myself up about this for years, not feeling able to find whatever it was that led me to relative success and proficiency at my dayjob but not in writing.
  • I experienced the utility of stopping for the day even though I feel like I have more — because I finally got it through my thick head that trying to push through when I’m out of gas has almost never worked. And even when it did, it generally wasn’t worth it.

I think ultimately, I’m learning how to trust myself a little bit more, in terms of what sorts of artistic practices resonate with me. Wow, like like all the money I’ve spent on therapy is finally starting to pay off!

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…” [March 2017]

Well, I warned you last time this wouldn’t look pretty. That there is 7 days of writing in a 31 day month. Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark.

One of my VP20 crew told me, “Output is not a measure of value.” Which other friends and loved ones have told me before, of course. I’ve always known this intellectually, but deprogramming is hard. I’ve taken a step in that direction (I hope) by realizing that maybe for right now the fact of having to re-invent my writing process wheel after the sorts of interruptions I’m facing (almost exclusively dayjob-related stuff) is just a feature and not a bug.

That doesn’t mean I stay happy with it, though. But maybe I don’t have to resent it so much until I can make changes. And changes are on the horizon. I’ve got a new short story I’m working on for a particular market; just 3 weeks until the deadline. Plenty of time–if I can stay on the stick, that is.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [February 2017]

God, I’m far behind in every way. It’s the end of March and I’m just getting to posting February’s writing progress now. And it’s not pretty. But there’s only one thing for it in cases like this. Pick yourself up, stagger forward, and just focus on putting one foot under the other.

So, there’s my February. Not great. But the one thing I can say about it is that each set of blank days represents specific and identifiable dayjob issues on which I had to focus, and that just took up all my energy. That’s not a “poor me” complaint; just a fact. A reality that I have to own up to and face. And I need to make my peace with it, and find a way to light an inch, rather than curse the darkness. And in a way, the fact that I wrote for as many days as I did in February kinda shows I did just that.

In fact, compared to March, I’ve probably lit a whole yard. Wait until I post this month’s utter failure. No, that’s not hyperbole–wait ’til you see it. Still, I know it’s important that I post it anyway. Accountability, right?

In the meantime, I’ll have to go through that whole process of making peace with what got in my way this month, what did and didn’t get done, and move forward next month.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [January 2017]

What you’re seeing up there is my attempt at a January writing streak. Each red X is a day I met a preset minimum fiction writing/editing goal. The end goal, of course, is to have as long a chain of Xs as possible. I’m not off to a hot start this month, but we’ll find out together how February turns out.

I tried posting these a few years back, but it lasted all of five minutes. I’m gonna try public accountability again though, if for no other reason than to live out the main takeaway from my Viable Paradise experience: Put up or shut up.

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

All I can say is, never say never… 🙁

I can say, though that May does look a bit better than April, which looks a damn sight better than March.

The life drama of the past few months is sort of heading toward better.  Some potential (good) dayjob drama is coming down the pike.  But life has eased up a bit, leaving me room to put some effort into my writing again.  Fiction, that is!

I’ve put the Serling project temporarily on hold for the rest of the week (although, I’ve already “failed” at this on a couple of occasions) and am working on a couple of short-stories, both for upcoming anthologies.  I almost forgot how good it felt!  After those first drafts done (I have a good 2-3 months for them), I’m hoping to use some of that momentum to finally get more done on my novella project. 

Yup, I think I feel like a writer again for the first time in a long time.

“Traffic was slow for the crash years/ There’s no other show like it ’round here”

I promised weekly writing progress reports, and I’ve fallen through.  On several levels.  So, here it is.  No excuses, no explanations, other than to say that my personal life has taken quite a few hits and it hasn’t stopped.

Prepare to be underwhelmed…

Pathetic, isn’t it?

I’m turning comments off for this entry.  I’m sure any number of friends will read this, cheer me on, and tell me not to be too hard on myself.  It’s so tempting to let them.  But the only person that’s going to get me writing again, despite everything else going on in my life, is going to have to be me.

With the help of my inner drill sergeant…

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

I could also call this entry, like the last one, “a dollar short and a day late.”   More like, two weeks late.

So, there’s two weeks’ worth of progress.  There were good and not-so-good reasons I missed writing time for the past two sets of Wednesdays and Fridays in a row.  This week, I’m batting 0 for 3 so far.  Oh, I’ve made tiny bits of progress, but not enough to justify X-ing out my days.  OTOH, I did score a win by finishing the first phase of my seekrit non-fiction project. 

Oh, well.  Better to light an inch then curse the dark, right?

“That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang”

Leave it to me to lose writing days on the month with the fewest…

No, I’m not having a pity party.  I’m just saying that not only did I miss a couple of days, I even low-balled some of my goals just to make sure I had Xes to make.  Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark, eh?  I did make progress with the seekrit nonfic WIP and even started a new flash story.  Which reminds me, I should find something to do with my last flash, huh…?

“Chain, chain, chaaaaaain…”

I didn’t get much done last weekend.  It was pointed out to me that I do tend to overdo it a bit during the week, and that maybe it’s worth taking a night off during the week.  I’m starting to agree–better to lose an evening or two rather than two whole fucking weekend days!  And I gotta tell you, as evidenced by the fact that I’m not going to be able to check off yesterday and probably not tomorrow, this week isn’t looking so good, either.

Although I’m willing to cut myself a break tomorrow.  Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings are coming to town!

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain”

As I said last time, I’ve had my head up a project, so this is a day late.  I think I’ve made up for being sick a couple of weeks ago.  Just gotta keep the chain going, right?  Or at least try to, what with the beginning of the semester at the dayjob.

I’ve promised that I’d actually go into what it takes for me to put an X through a day.  Well, here it is…

Everyone knows how much I love A Working Writer’s Daily Planner, so much so that I’ve resolved to buy one a year for as long as Small Beer Press continues to sell them.

But I have a confession to make. After a strong start last year, I didn’t even open up my 2010 planner after October, when life just got too damn busy.  My writing suffered.  Oh, not just I stopped using the planner.  Other things just got in the way, despite my best efforts to keep on track.

This year is going to be different.  Not because I made a New Year’s resolution, but because I’d given a lot of thought to revamping my writing workflow in general.

The one thing I probably love more than my writing planner is Getting Things Done.  I owe whatever minuscule amount of success I have to that system.  But I was sort of defeating myself.  I like to compartmentalize, you see.  There are ultimately two areas of my life: “writing” and “everything else.”  But my planning and execution of my tasks didn’t reflect that.  I kept my “writing” list of next actions together with my lists of “everything else” in a planner that I try not to consult when I’m writing. 

I love my “everything else”
planner, though.

My solution: I saw that even when I consulted my 2010 Working Writer’s Daily Planner daily (mostly to check out prompts and note upcoming deadlines), I wasted a lot of the calendar’s space. This was, after all, why I switched from medium-sized planners to something pocket-sized (i.e. a weekly pocket-sized Moleskine, around which I’ve wrapped a leather 3×5 index card case).

It finally hit me that I have all this space in my writing planner and not a lot of date- and time-specific things (‘cos I don’t log every submission deadline of every market under the sun), so why not use that planner, in large part, to keep a running next-actions list?

You know, for as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve struggled with a metric to track my progress.  Word count works, but only when you’re drafting.  What word count do you track when you’re editing?  Time?  I can waste an hour doing nothing, as a famous writer (Hemingway?) suggested, but stare at the blank wall until you start typing–which doesn’t always work for me.

Enter minimal GTD.  I define the two or three goals per week, and the two or three steps I can take every day to move any or all of my given writing projects forward–and then do them–then I can focus on, as Seinfeld suggests, not breaking the chain

Every writing session now, it sits open to the current week.  There are pages at the beginning of each month with enough space to list some projects I might want to consider for the month in question, as well as ticklers for things coming up in the next month.  And I can tell myself that “all I need to do are these two or three things.” Actually doing them, however, is a different issue.  For now though, it’s enough for me to know by my chain of Xes that I am.