Nov 17

Night of Scribing Recklessly

"I'm NaNo," I told the librarian. It was 4:30 p.m. on the National Novel Writing Month's ("NaNo" for short) Evening of Scribing Recklessly, which had started at 2. About 30 fiction writers were packed into the library's conference room, including teens and two children, with not a single seat open. Wedged into a corner I used a chair as a desk. Junk food was available and pizzas brought in. I was surprised that talking and banter were allowed ("Hey, anybody, what's a good family name to put on a mausoleum?").

After the library officially closed at 5 we NaNos were "locked in" (one could leave the library but not re-enter). Until 9:00 p.m. we could sit anywhere in the library and I set up near the front window and then moved back into the conference room for the final hour. I missed some of the "get up and stretch" moments and the raffle that repaid the leaders for their outlay on food. Participated in some five-minute "timed writes" during which everyone wrote as quickly and as much as they could.

I wrote 7,252 words this evening so my novel draft is at 24,111, almost half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words during the month of November -- and there is less than half the month left! One should be writing about 1,700 words daily (about 75-90 minutes' worth) or, alternatively, attending organized write-ins all over the city to write in concentrated blocks of usually three hours. The seven-hour Night of Scribing Recklessly is one-tiime event. I just had to be there.

I value the pressurized and communal NaNo novel-writing experience, although the draft so far lacks shape and like most NaNos I have no idea what might end up in the book. NaNos (thousands, nationwide) are drafting, writing for quantity, bypassing our inner critics -- for now. We update our word counts on the National Novel-Writing Month website, nanowrimo.org. It's nonprofit and free and open to all. And, contrary to what I had imagined, it's not crazy: The discipline is sobering and sane.
Jul 21

"Focus" for Productivity

24 January 2009

Experimented this month with telling myself, when I'm drifting-- "Focus!" And then focusing on the task at hand. It helps. Drifting wasn't daydreaming exactly. It's numbness from overload [insert long backstory here] or it's odysseys through the Web and its news, like trying to find out what John Updike died of. My Updike story: Another writer and I, back in our 20s, strolling in our paradise of Harvard Square bookstores, spotted John Updike -- he'd just passed us on the sidewalk. "I hate his books," said my friend. "I hate his books too," I replied. We turned around and yelled after him, "We hate your books!"

But I was talking about focus. It helps to say it aloud or have it on a Post-It. With this discipline, production and revision improved vastly. Now and then one must relax, but I do that 75 percent less than formerly, and do it consciously. Life is short and art is long. It seems that focus fits them together.

Note: 21 July 2011: In late January 2009, my former husband, whom I'm caring for, is dying of cancer; he will die February 6. My "boyfriend" broke up with me. I can't stop crying. I'm working and teaching two night classes. Meet Me is in production and I'm trying to get it proofread and finalized and get copyright permissions from 13 writers. My left breast is looking odd (it will be diagnosed and removed in May 2009). I was still writing?! And telling myself to focus!
Jan 22

Go Easy On Yourself

I've been fiercely disciplined lately. I'd love to go easy on myself today. So:

I will think highly of myself and my accomplishments. In fact I will list them.

I will finish a piece or leave it unfinished, as I please.

I won't wish I were another writer. I'm who I am, and I'm where I'm at. World, you can just deal with it.

I won't wish I had been born with an Anglo surname. I won't notice that the new issue of Natural Bridge, #17, features six "emerging writers" from around the U.S. Their surnames are: Boyle, Garrett, Fenton, Williams, Kohler, and Merrifield. (This issue was edited by John Dalton, who is a nice guy.)

Just for today, I'll puke up a draft of something new, maybe even something totally "out there," without caring how good it is and where I will publish it and how people may shun me when it's published. I may write as badly as I want, or as badly as I can. (Fun.) How about a poem about a dragon and a princess...
Jul 06

I'm Booked

Neighbor says: My sister's daughter is having a wedding shower Saturday at the VFW Hall; you will drop in, won't you, and say hello to Marie and give your blessings to the bride?

Writer says: I am booked.

Relative says: I've tried for an hour and I just can't get the inkjet cartridge out or the new one in. And I've got to get this thing printed by tomorrow. You're into computers, right? You can come over tonight, can't you?

Writer says: I am booked.

Dear Writer: You're working on a book, aren't you? (Who isn't?) Then you can confidently say -- when someone tries to railroad you into doing something you didn't promise to do, aren't obliged to do, never agreed to do: "I'm booked."

Your score doubles if you use that time to work on your book for real.
Jun 24

Do Real Writers Write Every Day?

It is said that "real writers write every day," but of course that is a myth.

I once was in conference with a famous writer. (It was E. L. Doctorow.) The first thing he asked me was, "Do you write every day?"

I said, "No. I have to work."

His manner changed. I understood that my answer had disqualified me in some fashion; that it proved I was not truly committed, and had no future in the big leagues. The rest of the conference was perfunctory.

I didn't think it was a rude question at the time. I had read, over and over, that some writers were "too lazy" or "not disciplined" if they did not get up two hours earlier in the morning or use their after-work time to write. I tried those things, for about three days each, and couldn't see straight, much less think straight.

"Do you write every day?" E. L. Doctorow is a fine writer. But that question proved he was not a teacher.

Maybe writers who do nothing else can and should write every day, but writers with responsibilities other than writing can get too burnt-out. Tired. Depleted. And if you feel that way -- you are exactly what you feel like!

The following coping idea came from a writer with a full-time job. She tried writing in the evenings, but at best put in a spotty half-hour. The results were not worth her efforts. Weekends had to be spent on housework and errands. So she told herself:

Okay, no writing Monday through Friday. Period. You are not to go near pen and paper on those days. Writing is permitted on the weekends only -- and then only if you feel like it.

The first week she rejoiced in her freedom from the mental burden of "writing every day."

By Friday night of the second week she could hardly wait to get to her computer. She did her housework and schlepping on weeknights, didn't short herself on sleep, and on Saturday and Sunday, rested, she got good chunks of time to sit down and write. She's a real writer.