A Surprisingly Fond Good Riddance to 2016

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-150I’m sure most Americans will agree that 2016 was crazy. Stressful. Jaw dropping. Anger inducing. On the political side of things, we can barely cope right now. However, the state of politics, government, or our favorite social justice moment doesn’t have to dictate how our year went on a personal level. While everything around us is crappy, we still can grow.

This year was a big year of growth for me. My husband and I took on a level of stress we’d never faced together (big building project + 2.5 months of live-in in-laws) and we have learned to communicate and hug our way through it. For my writing, I confronted some deep issues in my first WIP, Dead Girl Swimming, that made me rethink how I tell stories and create characters.

DGS is the book that taught me how to write. I came up with the concept for it in high school and all through college I wrote and rewrote. It taught me to be a ruthless editor, a constant learner, a planner, and so much more. About two years ago I finally had a full first draft, I worked for months on a second draft, and then bam. My writing group gave me the bad, but very necessary news. It sucked. They didn’t use those words exactly, but, still, they were honest. I needed to break through my barriers and write something that was open, rich, and lifelike.

In 2016 I set that WIP aside and different story took hold. I gathered all that DGS taught me, plus the help of several writing books that I wish I had read years ago, and let the story simmer. I didn’t write it for about 6 months. I collected scraps of story, tucked them away for a while, then pounded out an outline. I let that outline sit until I had plenty of emotional distance, then I rewrote the outline.

When NaNoWriMo hit, I was ready. I wrote 50,000 words in 17 days.

I’m thankful to NaNoWriMo for forcing me to create a regular writing schedule. As a stay-at-home mom, time and energy to write is pretty hit and miss. But if I focus, I can regularly set aside 2-4 hours a day. So now, in December, I’m aiming to finish my draft at 90,000–currently on track at 65,000. The only reason I can produce so many words and power through the story like this is because of a few realizations:

  • Draft 1 is a throwaway draft. I don’t need to worry about having all the scenes right. I know that I’m going to cut whole chunks out of the middle, and I’m probably going to rewrite the entire ending. But that doesn’t matter. As I write, I learn more about my characters and my world, which will inform my draft 2 rewrite (I won’t even call it an edit).
  • Write what you’re excited about. I outlined thoroughly, and I’m very glad that I did, but I gave myself the freedom to bust out and write what I wanted. The further I got into the draft, what came out became more honest and character driven than before.
  • Find daily satisfaction in your progress. I found that I was highly motivated by NaNo’s word count tool. Now that NaNo is over, I found a tool to replace it. I also started a writing log, as is mentioned in “How I Went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to Writing 10,000 Words a Day.” The collected information, while helpful for analysis, mostly helps me feel that I accomplished something. That sense of satisfaction is very very hard to get when you’re working at home.
  • Find what works for you. My sense of organization doesn’t make me or my writing passionless–quite the opposite. People sometimes call me crazy for being so driven, but that just shows that I’m on the right track. I need to be disciplined and ever growing. Often that means using charts and graphs and outlines and binder tabs and all those beautiful things.

With that said, how have you grown this year? 


On NaNoWriMo, Productivity, & Anne Lamott

I hit 50k last week. I did a fist pump or two and promised myself that I’d keep writing 1k a day until Christmas. I’d have a full 90k draft to celebrate on Christmas morning, in the midst of stockings and cinnamon rolls.

Guess what? I haven’t written anything since then. Instead,  I spent a week editing on super speed for a client and, despite the super speed, it was super fun. So I’m a little off track, but I still have my eye on that 90k. Why? Writing has become part of my DNA. If I’m not writing a story, I’m editing one. If I’m not editing, I’m outlining. Brainstorming. Researching. Etc.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep moving forward. Keep writing, creating, playing, reading, dreaming, researching, and–believe me–analyzing. When you stay productive, the habitual cycle of consuming and creating will help you grow.

Stephen King’s On Writing encourages (almost demands) that you write every day. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott also encourages a productivity-centric mindset, but in a more poetic way.

Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual act of writing–turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward (xxvi).

While I am still very publication/end goal/word count focused, it’s good to be reminded that the messy and challenging process is worth cherishing. Productivity isn’t just a means to an end, just as my life isn’t just a means to an end. Every day, even with all the mush and mundanity, is valuable. Those moments when I stare at the wall, wondering how the heck I’m going to get my character out of this life-and-death situation, I’m still doing valuable work. It’s all part of the process.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to extend my writing break for another day and read the next chapter of Bird by Bird.