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Posts Tagged ‘daily word count’

Today is Day 3 of my impromptu urban writing retreat. So far, it has been a pretty awesome experiment.

On Monday, I met my friend George at the New York Public library on 5th Ave. We’d intended to work in one of my favorite spaces, the Rose Reading Room, but (naturally) that part of the library was closed for renovations. Fortunately, it was a beautiful fall day, so we relocated to Bryant Park, grabbed a table under a sun umbrella and chilled out for a couple hours. I worked on revising my novel and tried not to get stung by a crazy bee. Later we headed down to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe to hear a reading and panel discussion by Lev Grossman, Lauren Buekes, and Jeff Vandermeer.

Yesterday I decided to stay in-borough and risk the perils of invading a hipster paradise. I put on my best rolled up jeans and my most ironic army jacket and headed to Brooklyn Roasting Company in DUMBO. I can see why all the hipsters want to keep this place for themselves. It’s awesome. The space is huge and there’s a lot of seating (still, I had to really hunt for a free table). I scored a fab spot on the bar along the front window looking out over the East River. There was good tea, lots of light, plenty of background buzz, and super-tasty donuts. I wrote 2500 words on a new short story.

Today I’m meeting George again. Our plan is try the fabled Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel. We figure if we get there early we can beat the start-up kids who supposedly camp out there. If it sucks…well, stay tuned!

So far, the best thing about the urban writing retreat isn’t that I’m getting lots of writing done (though, I am being quite productive). It’s that I’m being reminded what an amazing city I live and how many wonderful things I have available to me for the swipe of a Metrocard and cost of a donut 🙂

Don’t get me wrong, I have a proper home office (which basically is the elusive unicorn of NYC housing), but a change of scenery can be invigorating. This week has been a great reminder of that.

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Out there in the world of writing advice, there always seems to be just two camps.  There’s the “follow the rules” camp and the “there are no rules camp”, there’s the “let your muse guide you” camp and the “gut it out” camp, there’s the “work and practice” camp and the “indefinable art” camp.  There’s the “pants” camp and the “no pants” camp.

But that’s not really right, is it?  As with most things, these aren’t the only camps, just the loudest ones.  I mean, much as we humans love to put things in boxes, to make them clear-cut and easy to align ourselves with, real life is almost always a grey area.

The grey area I’m struggling with right now is the one between inspiration (“let your muse guide you”) and perspiration (“gut it out”).

Some people say they can only write by the light of a full moon, or in nothing but their underwear, or just on the 3rd Thursday of the month, or only at midnight with bonbons and booze.  It’s that “I’m an artiste through whom the ideas flow from on high” mentality; or, more simply put, the idea that you can’t force things.

On the other side of the scale are those who promote the philosophy of “butt in seat, fingers on the keyboard” every day, whether inspiration strikes or not.  But I challenge any of you to claim that you *really* and *truly* follow either of these practices.  Most of us fall somewhere in between, trying to capture fleeting moments of inspired imagination and corral them into our offices, out of our fingers, and onto the page.

But how?

How do we block out the mundane world – the honking horns on the street, the toilets that need to be cleaned, the siren call of the television, the need to go exercise, or a million other things clamoring for our attention – and make space for the fanciful worlds we’re struggling to create and the imaginary friends who occupy them?  Where is the line between being moved and excited about what we’re writing and laboring to hit a certain word count?  How do we balance the inspiration and the perspiration?

This morning, in that muzzy place between sleeping and waking, unwritten scenes from my novel played out in my mind.  The characters were vivid, the drama enthralling.  By the time I woke, though, they’d turned to smoke.  I chased them down the hall, trying to grasp their vapor, but by the time I had my tea and was sitting in front of my computer, they were gone.  I felt bereft, at a loss.

Ah well, so much for inspiration today.  Time to gut it out.

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Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  forward motion on the second draft of my archaeological time-travel novel, ABSENT, is the order of the day (well, that and endlessly making slides for my class lectures).  I hope to squeeze in at least 1K words this morning.  In the scene below, the protagonist, Emily, attends a dinner party.

Snippet from the screen:  “Down the table, Kelly’s husband, James, a real estate agent, expounded to no one in particular about Park Slope housing prices.  His cheeks were flushed and his voice over-loud.  Kelly must have squeezed his leg under the table because he turned an even deeper shade of scarlet and subsided.  Mark was refilling the wine glasses and paused a moment to offer James an affectionate smile.  Emily had always loved that about him; he could find warmth in his heart even for the biggest of jackasses.”

On the iTunes: I’m on an Afro-Cuban Jazz kick these days.  Mongo Santamaria is playing right now.

In the mug: Numi Chinese Breakfast – I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Out the window: it’s fall at its saddest out there — dark and gloomy, like someone milled children’s tears into a grey film and draped it across the sky.

Keeping me company: his Royal Furriness, Mr. Ramses, King of Cats, is seated on his throne.  Now that I have a Nook, there’s some free room on the bookshelf.  As with any free space in the apartment, Ramses has interpreted this as being his rightful domain.  Perhaps he is correct.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: First, in the “end-is-nigh, the publishing industry will go up in fire and flames” genre, there’s this from the New York Times re: Amazon starting up their own publishing fiefdom.  Second, if your bent is more scientific, check out the latest on DARPA research into long-term space travel.  And, for a lark, John Scalzi challenges us with some rather amusing writing prompts drawn from Scifi/Fantasy movies.


Alrighty, folks!  Back to work.

Please share your goals for the day, what you’re working on, and any juicy links in the comments.

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Good morning and welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: Today’s a NaNoWriMo day, so I’m plowing ahead on the first draft of “Absent (see “Miranda’s Writing” for a synopsis).  So far, I’ve written 21,000 words in 15 days, but I’m still over 5,000 words behind.  I hope to eat away at that deficit today.

Snippet from the page: “Nick’s first impression was a blinding glare–the sun overhead.  Then the cold.  It pressed greedy fingers against every inch of exposed skin.  He gasped and the air bit deep into his lungs.  Emily’s hand still clutched his, and he saw Reid crouched nearby, his hands against his knees and vomit trailing in the wind.  Brittle, tundra-like grasses sprouted in miserable clumps, bent down in submission to the wind.  A jagged line of mountains loomed in the distance.”

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses (The Overseer) has turned his attention to guarding the borders of his domain.  At least he’s not trying to steal my chair this morning.

Patrolling the borders

On the iTunes: Instrumental soundtracks are great for novel writing.  Right now I’ve got the Main Title (House Atreides) from Children of Dune playing.

Out the Window: it’s warm today, for a November, but miserable and gray.  The forecast promises “soaking rains.”  This might actually be inspiring since I need to write several scenes set in Ice Age Wyoming.

In my mug: Empty! Gah!  I’m contemplating a second cup of Irish Breakfast, but it’s still early.  Must. Pace. Myself.

A Little Procrastination Never Hurt Anyone: a few links to share today….Catherine Schaff-Stump on the love of writing, Scalzi reminds us to nominate books for the Nebula, and The Ferrett on the importance of working your writing muscle.  Enjoy.

Well, that’s all from here folks!  What are you up to today?

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This is my first year giving NaNoWriMo a try and one thing that has surprised me is the general chatter out there regarding whether NaNo is for “real” writers or not (by which folks generally seem to mean published pros).  My feeling is that every writer, newbie or pro, will benefit from the practice of daily writing, so I’m frankly not sure what the fuss is all about.  Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo’s pros and cons:

NaNo’s advantages:

  • I’m nearing the end of Week 2 and am several thousand words behind of where I should be to “finish” on time…but, I’ve also written about 15K, thereby kick-starting a novel I might have otherwise never begun (and one I’m really enjoying writing).  Whether I reach 50K by the end of the month or not, I’m chalking this up as a win.
  • I write, revise, research, or otherwise work on my writing regularly, but the habit of putting down 2000 or so new words every day is a valuable one to develop.  NaNo has helped me develop this habit.  Again, a win.
  • Lets be honest, we all have goals we’d like to meet that fall forgotten into the gutter where they molder and die alone.  But when we announce those goals to the world at large, post our progress on a website, and read about the progress of our friends on Twitter, Facebook, and the like…well, the social pressure of something like NaNo can be very motivating (though also occasionally disheartening).  It’s a little embarrassing to see your buddies’ word counts grow while your status bar just sits there stagnating.  I’d be willing to bet social pressure plays a pretty big a role in how many people “win” NaNo.

And, for the cons:

  • The biggest drawback of NaNo, in my view, is that when you’re cranking out 50,000 words in one month and the NaNo cheerleaders are shouting “keep going!” “don’t edit!” “go!”…well, you get a frantic sort of feeling that isn’t conducive to reflection and revision.  There’s more to drafting a novel than just word count.  Giving yourself time for ideas to percolate, mutate, and grow into something more twisty and gorgeous than you first envisioned is an important part of the drafting process.  NaNo might not be the best means to facilitate plot and character development.

Some are quite critical of NaNoWriMo and say it’s a waste of time engaged in by only unprofessional writers who will produce mostly drivel.  While I don’t doubt a huge quantity of drivel is produced by writers during the month of November (and could provide whole passages of said drivel from my own manuscript), there are also plenty of examples of novels that go on to be finished after NaNo ends (50K is not really novel length, after all), revised, edited and eventually published (famously, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, but also (for speculative fiction fans) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and many others).  For many of these authors, the salient point is that NaNo provides a forum for setting a meaningful deadline and getting that first draft (or a big portion of it) down on paper.

NaNoWriMo isn’t really about finishing a novel in a month.  It’s about publicly shaming yourself challenging yourself to internalize what really amounts to a professional writing behavior: getting down a daily word count.  This is the advice that EVERYONE gives newbie writers: write, write, write.  Try to carve out 30 minutes, an hour, whatever, each day and write.  All NaNoWriMo is doing is saying to try this for a whole month.  All the rest about finishing a novel and so on and so forth is just window dressing.

So, bottom line.  If you struggle with producing a regular, daily word count and you want an external task-master (ah, that ever-helpful social pressure) to assist you in making it a habit, NaNoWriMo is an excellent tool for achieving your goal.

That’s my two and a half cents.  What are your thoughts on NaNo?

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