Oddly enough, the biggest thing I’ve taken away from doing NaNoWriMo this year is understanding a little better how I write. I maybe already knew this on a subconscious level, but it’s become very clear to me that I am really bad at writing on a daily schedule. I’m not just saying that because I couldn’t do 50,000 words this year (or many other years when I participated in the past), or because I have a job and other projects that got in the way of me meeting my goal. The goal wasn’t the problem, but forcing myself to sit down every day and write something was kind of torture…
What follows is going to be a lot of thoughts on writing, so if that’s not your thing you might want to tap out now.
“How do you write a book?” is a question every writer has been asked. Our answers are usually wishy-washy and highly varied, but I’m gonna try and make this comprehensible. I realize that the better I understand my own process, the easier it will be for me to avoid unproductive situations.
I won’t go into where ideas come from because that is unimportant. All that matters is once I have an idea that the writing starts. Usually one of two things will happen: 1) If I can see a beginning, middle, and end I’ll write an outline, or 2) If I get an idea for a world or a character but the story details are fuzzy I’ll write the first chapter to try and flesh it out.
When the idea for the Whisperers of the Gods came to me, instead of a traditional story outline I started writing a history… and kept writing. In one afternoon it turned into 11,000 words (about 50 pages) about cultures, religious uprisings, civil wars. Just like the Group of Seven would paint their canvases before they started a painting*, I write a history before I start a fantasy book.
So why is 11,000 words in an afternoon easy but 1,667 words a day a challenge? I started thinking back to how I’ve written over the years. In the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing and you just write as ideas came. In High School I discovered FanFiction, and I started getting in the habit of uploading a new chapter in a story once a week. Say what you will about FanFiction, but getting weekly feedback, and having a week between chapters to digest what I had written and recalibrate what was coming next was amazingly productive for me.
Apparently I slowly forgot that, because during college and university I stopped doing weekly chapters and went back to writing just whenever (usually whenever I had an essay due soon).
In the four years I lived in Japan, to stave away the loneliness and keep myself busy, I picked two novels I was working on and would go to a cafe and write a new chapter essentially every week. At first it was whenever I felt like it, but then I decided to only focus on WotG and made a chapter by chapter schedule (which I could do because by this point I had done the entire series outline – which is around 11,000 words itself – and knew exactly how many chapters were in every book).
I need space between writing sessions. I need to let what I just wrote sink in. I think it was in Stephen King’s book On Writing where he talks about how if he’s struggling with something he’ll just leave it alone for a time and later when his brain has had enough time to let it percolate, he’ll see how he can improve it, or fix any narrative problems. I agree with this a million times over. If a chapter is pissing me off, I will skip it and move onto the next.
So all this was to help me be more aware of how I write, and if you made it this far maybe you too have thought about how you write and how you can improve your productivity. If I do NaNoWriMo next year I am not going to force myself to sit down every day. I don’t have enough time to internalize what I’ve written, and I run out of steam way too quickly. Giving my all one day a week seems to be the way to move forward.
Now, I need to go work on the next chapter in Inko…
*This is something I was taught in elementary school, but couldn’t find a source when I googled it. As I recall they would paint their canvases orange, to keep the bright white from washing out the image (or sneaking into the space between the other colours). I now don’t know if it’s true, but I always thought it was a great idea, and feel the same when it comes to writing. You have to fill the space behind the story, even if no one but yourself is ever going to read it.