Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To Slay a Dragon, Or Write Every Day for a Month (Jennifer Castle)

My writing routine is delicate. Temperamental. You could even say, pansy-assed.

Ideally, when crawling my way through a first draft like I am now, I write for about two hours every weekday. Ideally, I work in the morning, between getting my daughters out the door to school and lunchtime, because that’s when I feel most creative. Ideally, I’m in my home office on my couch looking out at the woods. Ideally, I have tea and a cat nearby. Ideally, I’ve had eight hours of sleep.

Are you sensing a theme here? Ideally, life would always present me with ideal conditions to write. Stupid, silly life. It doesn't.

If something comes up in the morning that I can’t avoid, such as a doctor's appointment or urgent errand, I give up on the day’s work. Because what can I do? I lost my window! If I’ve had insomnia (as I often do) or am dealing with, say, a sinus headache...I skip writing, telling myself that the work would come out crappy anyway. If one of the kids are home sick from school, I blow off the words, because, well you know, my child needs me to be Mom today. Weekends? Pshaw. I don’t even bother with weekends. Too many plans and commitments, too much housework, too much too much too much.

The beginning of this month found me in a professional crisis. I had a draft of a new book due in January, and I was less than halfway done. To make things worse, I wasn’t 100% sure how the second part of the story was going to arc. I needed to just write my way through it, but it was hard for me to find momentum to do that with all my fits and starts. So in honor of NaNoWriMo, I decided to try something I’ve never done before: write every single day. No matter what. I would shoot for 1,200 words a day, but mostly I would shoot for words, period.

Apparently, the universe decided to see how serious I was about this, because in the past eleven days, I have forced myself to do my daily writing...

...while yawning because I forgot about the Daylight Savings time change that inspires my 5-year-old to be awake at Ridiculous O'Clock.

...in bed after being up half the night with a stomach bug, typing in between sips of Gatorade and bites of saltines.

...at the town library while my daughter was home sick from school with aforementioned stomach bug, cared for by my husband.

...in the afternoon because the morning involved a lot of puking (see above about child home sick from school).

...completely stressed out after getting some bad news about my husband's big work project.

...at a cafe in Brooklyn with my friend the author Kim Purcell, on a laptop I borrowed from her husband, because we came to visit them for the weekend and I forgot my computer, and I was going to give up on trying to write until she said, “No. I feel shitty when I don’t write. Let’s go now for an hour before dinner while the husbands watch the kids.”

So obviously, most of the last eleven days were less than ideal. They were damn hard. Life got in the way, but I pushed it aside. I fought for my writing. And even on the days that I could only squeeze out an hour of work, maybe 700 words, those were 700 words more than I had the day before. Even if I end up cutting 90% of what I wrote on a single day, it’s that 10% -- that 10% that is more than 0%, and could contain important notions or great lines or perfect moments that would not have come to me on a different day.

We were gone all yesterday doing Active Superfun Family Things. I planned to write for a little while after we got home. But it was later than expected, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. It wasn't until I whimpered into bed that I realized I hadn't done my daily writing. I would have been upset about it, if I hadn't passed out three seconds later.

But something has already happened here. The October me would have woken up today and said, "I really do suck. Look: I tried to write every day for a month and I only made it a week and a half."

However, the November me is acknowledging the missed day...and moving on. The November me has learned a few things about the importance of intention in writing, and how a heightened commitment can really make a difference not just on the page but in my enthusiasm about my work. I've also figured out that I have, like, actual power over most anti-writing circumstances. I just need to choose to wield it.

I’ve got 20 days left in the month and I will still aim to write on every single one of them. Unless, of course, I finish the draft a few days before November 30th...in which case, instead of writing there will be sangria, and you're all invited.


  1. Jennifer, I can completely relate to the life excuses. I've had the same NaNoWriMo wake up call. Writing daily is a lot more possible than I allowed myself to think and then if you do miss a day--you're miles ahead of where you were before. Rock On!

  2. This is what keeps me going, what your friend, Kim said, "I feel shitty when I don’t write.”
    But you're right. I didn't one day last week (hey, my kid was puking too, all the way across the country) or two days when I was at a writing conference (doesn't count though you'd think it would). But what I've found is that sitting down every day (between kids on bus and lunch, hey it works for me too), becomes a habit and when I don't do it, I feel like shit.

  3. So so true. Everything you said. Writing is hard. NOT writing is harder. But, geez, why do I feel like I have to keep learning this over and over? Thanks for sharing--nice to know I am not the only one who struggles with this.

  4. Glad you ladies can relate! Yeah, it's not unlike exercising or choosing healthy food options versus junky ones. We know we'll feel better. We know that when we do, we'll look back and say, "Wow, that was really not that hard. What was my problem?" Yet it's so easy to cave to the excuses. Maybe "no excuses" should be my writing mantra along with "Trust your voice."

  5. This is so awesome and inspiring. I completely relate because I do the same things in terms of only wanting to write when the situation is ideal. Now that I have a full time job, my situation is so so so NOT ideal, but I am going to take something from this and work my way into a commitment!

  6. I am going to print out this post and tape it to my office wall. Thank you, Jennifer!

  7. I love your "no excuses" policy! So inspiring.

  8. Fabulous! That's the trick to writing...doing it even when your stomach hurts. Hope you're feeling better!

  9. It's so easy to say, "Ugh. Didn't write today. Momentum is gone, forget it." Your November attitude is great!