We’re back from the honeymoon! The psychological/time burden of wedding planning has finally been lifted. Though I promptly sprained my neck at the gym the day we got back from Bermuda, which gave me dizziness and bothered my vision for about two weeks. But I’m finally feeling better, and I’ve turned my attention to a new novel.
Background: Or How I Tried…and failed…to Write a Novel
From 2014 until earlier this year, I wrote a novel of about 60k words.
When I went back to edit it, it was a mess. A big, stinkin’ mess. After months of rewriting, I realized it was unsalvageable. I might as well rewrite the whole thing. Which I started to do. The second rewrite also failed. The problem was, the novel’s characters and circumstances were based on loosely veiled events in my own life, which constrained my imagination. I had become bored by the characters and the story. There was no coherency or momentum. So I started avoiding the project. There was always a pile of dishes in the sink to be cleaned, laundry that needed doing, a Sunday New York Times to marathon through.
Eventually, I came to accept that my years of work on this novel would come to…nothing. Except a learning experience (which I believe is quite important.) But I hadn’t been working on other projects during that time. I was 32 and had published very little. It was quite disheartening. I found myself researching Caribbean medical schools, thinking of businesses to start–anything to combat the feeling of failure. Many of my friends were on the high powered career tracks they had been pursuing throughout their twenties, and I was–a wannabee writer. (Still am…)
I played around with a few additional ideas since I stopped working on the novel, but nothing stuck. Was I really meant to be a writer? Maybe I should start a business! At least I could try to make some money…
Then, last Monday morning when I was lying in bed, in between dreams and waking, a line popped into my head.
I watch her at night.
A character started to take shape in my mind. Then another. And some more.
I decided that instead of taking a walk or reading during lunch, I would set a timer, eat lunch at my computer, and start writing. This was partially due to the strained neck–I was too dizzy to want to walk anywhere. Maybe I was also trying to prove that I hadn’t damaged anything in my brain, as the sprain felt suspiciously like a concussion.
And by Friday–five days later–I had written over 5,000 words. Crucially, I had a structure. As well as one sentence outlines of some future scenes.
But writing during lunch wasn’t the only thing I did.
Each night, I read aloud to my husband what I’d written that day.
Now, you’re probably thinking, I could NEVER read someone my first draft. It’s a complete non-nonsensical jumble. It would be humiliating.
But my knowledge that I would be reading my work to my husband each night–and desire to do so–helped my writing in several ways.
First, I was motivated to write as much as possible, so that I actually had something interesting to read to him each night. I was, quite simply, excited to write each day.
Second, it forced me to tell a coherent story. I couldn’t free write, or write scenes out of order. I had to write something compelling and coherent.
Third, he gives me feedback. Not too much. Just a note or two. One evening, he told me that the dialogue sounded unrealistic. Another, he said that a scene I’d written was his favorite piece of writing that I’ve done. His feedback has been helpful in forcing me to make adjustments as I went along and made me conscious of blind spots in my writing that I can be conscious of before getting down a whole draft and having to rewrite so much.
I know that this method would not work for everyone. Or most people. The idea of having someone read your raw and unedited work…is kind of terrifying.
I think it helps that I have a clear sense of the characters, the story, and roughly the next few steps of where I’m going. (Do I have the endings and twists figured out? Not at all!) Also, I’m lucky to have a partner willing to listen each night. But you don’t need to have a significant other to employ this method. You can read to a friend, family member, or writing buddy. Post your writing to a blog. Or read to a pet, or a even a wall. The point is creating a sense of daily accountability, momentum and excitement. If none of your writing motivational strategies have worked so far, you might want to try this one.
One thing I am NOT doing is waking up at 5:30 a.m. to write each morning, or feeling guilty about not doing so. It just doesn’t work for me. I’m lucky to have a job in which I can take a lunch hour, and I find that time is highly productive for me. I’ve had caffeine relatively recently, I’m awake, and I’m not depriving my body of the tons of sleep it seems to need. The only downside is a lot of time spent sitting at my desk, but I’m trying to walk up and down the stairs, and exercising in the evenings is going to become more of a priority for me, once my neck heals completely.
As of Sunday 9/16, I have about 6k words. I’m not going to psych myself out with word count goals per week. I’m just going to try to write at lunch every day, and on the weekends if I can. I’m hoping that if my current rate of productivity continues, I’ll have a first draft of a short novel by Thanksgiving.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I need to remember: Butt in chair, timer on (which I don’t actually check, it’s more of a superstition/ritual), hands on keyboard, eyes to screen. Write.