Embracing your sloppy first draft

stay positive

So I have begun the intimidating and grueling process of creating my ‘first draft’. And honestly there was nothing more scary than setting out to write that introduction.  As I typed out the words, the voice in my head was screaming rather loudly and words to the effect of “Is this the best that you can do?  It’s terrible.  Go bake a cake instead!

Bear with me while I introduce you to said voice.  I lovingly refer to her as Natalie.  I named her Natalie because it is vaguely reminiscent of both ‘nasty’ and ‘Nazi”.  Natalie is both of these things (and a lot more besides!).  Natalie is responsible for keeping me firmly in the land of the procrastinators for years.  And I mean YEARS.  After all, I am no spring chicken (ahem!) and this is not by any means the first novel that I have attempted to write.  I blame Natalie for the fact that in the past I have resorted to all sorts of life-changing decisions in response to the challenge of writing a novel.

Here, for your amusement, is a little list that I like to call “Ways to avoid finishing a novel”:

  • Started a children’s novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant instead?
  • Started a romance novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant again?
  • Started another novel of the ‘literary’ genre?  Why not emigrate to New Zealand instead?
  • Got an idea for another great novel?  Why not retrain as a lawyer instead?
  • Know you want to be a writer?  Why not ditch the law degree and retrain as a therapist instead?

The list goes on.  And on.  That Natalie is a real slave driver, I can tell you.

But finally, Natalie and I had to have a talk.  After all, there was nothing more that I could do to avoid writing.  I had done all that I could to distract myself.

I had a lovely life that brought me joy daily.  But I was still frustrated until I realised that the problem lay in my close personal relationship with Natalie.

Having a heart to heart with your inner critic

Like many toxic relationships, my relationship with Natalie was a love-hate one.  I hated her and she loved me hating her.  I listened to her and she loved to be listened to.  It could have gone on forever but I had had enough.  I needed to get real about what I really wanted from my life.  I had to get real about the fact that ‘achievements’ meant nothing if you couldn’t really give a rat’s arse about the thing that you had achieved.

So one night (0ne of those dark night’s of the soul… I know you’ve had one!) I told Natalie that we were through.  I was gracious enough to let her know that she could hang out with me only if she kept her mouth shut.  And this was the killer, I told Natalie, that voice in my head, that I had decided to write a novel and that I didn’t care if the first draft was awful.  In fact I didn’t care if the fifth/ twentieth draft was awful, I just wanted the pleasure of writing these little words: “The End”.

And so I have begun.  Natalie is still hovering but I am ignoring her and embracing the idea of a sloppy first draft.  I am loving the fact that I can breathe into the story and worry about technicalities and ‘art’ later.

An invitation to create slop together:

Today why not join me?  Gag your inner critic (whatever their name is!) and embrace the sloppy glory of your first draft.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to silence your inner critic.  All suggestions gratefully received in the comments….

 

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How to set a realistic writing target

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Image courtesy of this site

We have all read the importance of setting ourselves a writing target, but today I am thinking closely about the importance of making that target achievable.  Now that Nanowrimo is over for another year (got as far as signing up this year which is progress!!) it would be tempting to think that we could all churn out 50 000 a month, if only we could get up an hour earlier, or imprison the children for an hour or so every day.  Or, that most insidious of suggestions, relax our housekeeping standards a little.

Mmmm I have to say that I do not want to be the kind of writer who festers in her own dirty pajamas, surrounded by mouldy coffee cups and stinking piles of dirty laundry.  As a writer, I enjoy a tidy desk, and as a mother/wife, I enjoy a tidy home, so there is nothing for it but to try and find a way of having it all.  After all, isn’t that what we are all supposed to be able to do as women in the twenty-firsty centureee!

I considered going all manic and setting myself a mammoth target, piling out the first draft in six weeks max and then going into writers rehab but it just didn’t seem like fun to me.  I suppose it is a little bit like running.  Do you do the marathon approach and ‘train’ for it?  Or do you take a gentle jog every day?

To be honest, I know nothing about running because I am pretty sure that I am allergic to the mere idea of moving my body at speed, but as a writer, I can, of course imagine that the metaphor is somehow apt.

I knew that setting a word count target was important.  I also knew that it was impossible for me to write every day.

So here is what I did?

HOW TO SET A REALISTIC WRITING TARGET

1. Decide how many words you would like your novel to be roundabouts.  I chose 100 000 words because it seemed like a nice round number and is about the average wordcount for a decent novel.

2. Decide when you would like to complete your first draft.  I decided that 16 weeks was a good aim.

3.  Divide the figure from 1 by the number of weeks that you have set as your timeframe (2).  In my case that is 6250 words per week.

4. Divide the figure from 3 by 6.  This gives you a day off for good behaviour.  That gives me a writing target of 1042 words per day.  Which I have to say is totally doable.

5.  Create a pretty chart on which you can colour in the columns for each day.  I even set little smaller targets of 250 word increments. When I have written 250 words, I colour in that day up to that number and so on.

6. Buy yourself some gold stars.  When you hit your target for the day, give yourself a gold star on that column.

7.  When you have got five gold stars, give yourself a little treat.  Because you are so worth it, Beautiful!

So there you have it, my handy guide to setting realistic word targets.  16 weeks is like four months.  If you need longer, go for it.

Because you can do this.  And you know it.

How do you motivate yourself to hit a word target in your writing?  All tips gratefully received.  Leave a comment below….

Keep calm and write a novel

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I am wondering if it really is possible to “keep calm and write a novel”….

On the one hand we, as writers, are supposed to be consumed with the mighty fire of the Muse and throw ourselves like flotsam into the fray of birthing this novel.

I want to find a different way.  I want to find the writerly equivalent of a water birth – soulful, soothing and spiritual.  I don’t want to be consumed and burned up by this process.  I am on a quest to find a way of writing that feels full of a calm sense of purpose.

There is this association between art and depression/ madness that I have bought into in the past.  The romance of Sylvia Plath.  The tortured genius of Van Gogh.  The bright light of Mozart.  We want to see artists and creatives as different, dangerous, somehow defective.  We buy into this idea that angst will make us better writers, bring more depth to the process.  And indeed when, a few years ago, I played with poetry I did find that my best poems came from mining deep into my psyche and opening old wounds.  I was able to access those scars and use them to power the words on the page.

But can I do this for a 90000 word novel without decimating myself at the same time?  Probably not.  And more to the point, do I want my writing to destroy my mental health and take down the joy of those around me?  Absolutely not.

So how can I do this?

By shifting my paradigm.  Great art is not only born from great pain.  The artist/ writer does not have to sacrifice themselves to their art.  This is a story that we have been fed to justify not trying to create great art in the first place.  It is the systematic degradation of genius to the realm of dangerous and ‘sick’.

My new paradigm is that my writing can be a joyful expression of all the facets of who I am as a person.  I can write about sadness because sadness is part of my emotional spectrum.  But I can equally write of joy.  All the emotions that I feel are part of my story, my voice.  I do not need to take on the cloak of mental illness in order to be a ‘good writer’.  I can see writing as part of the expression of my whole self.  Writing should not burn me out, it should fill me up.  It should not feel like an endurance test, it should feel like playing.  Yes, playing hard and giving my all to the game, but playing nonetheless.

So today, I call upon this new paradigm to guide my process.  I embrace the idea that my happiness is invested in bringing this project to fruition, but it is the process that will bring me joy, not the outcome.  All too often as writers, we attach ourselves to outcomes over which we have no control.  And then we wonder why we get disappointed when the final ‘product’ fails to perform in the marketplace??  That is madness disguised as a industrial business model.

Today, I write for myself.  I write to express my own unique interpretation of the world.  I do not write to create product, I write to create an outlet for my spirit in all its unique glory.

Why are you writing?  Is it time for you to shift your paradigm?  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

Writing as a Spiritual Practice

use your gifts

For the last few days I have found myself retreating into my journal more and more.  Not that I am doing creative writing exercises or honing my craft/ideas/ writer discipline in any way shape or form.  Simply, I want to understand this desire to write stories.  I want to  optimise my process and not throw myself haphazardly into the fray, hoping for the best.

I am sure that there are those who would refer to this soul searching as a rather elaborate form of procrastination and perhaps, on some level, they are right.

However, mental preparation and understanding your own motivation and process is an accepted part of training to be a professional athlete.

Writing a novel is going to be like running a marathon, I presume, and I want to be in pretty good condition before I put pen to paper.

I think seeing my writing as a spiritual practice helps me to rise above that nagging inner critic who thinks that deciding to be a ‘novelist’ is a ludicrous display of vanity and narcissism.  ‘ Who the hell do you think you are?” the Harridan cries.

And I am answering Her call by trying to come up with an answer that gives a heartfelt response to this question.

Indeed, who the hell do I think I am?  I am not connected, or experienced.  I have no qualifications as a writer.  But this I know.  Being a writer of fiction has been the dream for as long as I can remember.  Being a novelist has been the dream that I have run from as long as I can remember.  I have found incredible ways of resisting this dream.  I have married partners who confirmed how ridiculous it was to even think of doing such a thing.  I have got degrees and certificates coming out my ears and yet the dream remains.  She quietly whispers to me in the night, “you know what you need to do…. do this and you will be happy”

So I am embracing the idea that writing is a spiritual practice.  Writing is my way of fulfilling my dharma, connecting with the divine, sharing something of myself with the world.

Because, even if I do not experience the hoped for outcome, I am determined to enjoy this journey.  I want to savour every moment of my writing, even this stage when I am not writing very much at all.  I want to feel that loss of self that comes from truly diving into a task and allowing the flow to run through me.  I want to see writing not as self indulgence but as the ultimate act of self-care.

And I don’t think I am alone.

I have read books about honing your craft and just hammering out the words.  There’s no mystery, they tell us, just set a deadline and get on with it.

But I am finding a different way.

I desire mystery.  I want to feel devotion.  I want the challenge to teach me something about myself and develop my strength to keep going because I am driven by love alone.

So today, I am pledging to see my creative process as a spiritual practice.  I am gathering my inspiration and finding my mentors.  I am taking this game seriously and wanting to do the best that I can so that I can look back and say to myself, “You did good.  You learned well.  You gave it your very best shot.”

And my best is good enough.