Today was supposed to be a much simpler post.
It was going to be a simple layout of how I do my notebook…ahem how I aspire to do my notebook, both for the monthly layout and the daily one.
However, I think I need to own up to a different issue, one that ties in pretty nicely with the last Life post that I put up, Your Schedule is Not Your Life. Because shortly after putting up that post, I clicked into my Editorial Calendar (a great plug-in for WordPress) and planned out the next two weeks of posts here. Three times a week, writing prompts about love, about life, about practice.
And then Thursday we got on the road, and drove to Cleveland to visit our friend the author Ferrett Steinmetz (yes, I’m name dropping, but only because I want you to do a search on Amazon for him and buy all his books) and somehow in spite of being in the car for hours I neglected to write a post for Friday.
And on Friday, when we were again in the car for many hours on our way to Gettysburg (where I was presenting on The Defining Moment among other things) I again Completely Forgot to write any post at all, much less the post about Love I had planned.
(That one had the working title of “Yelp Yourself” and was supposed to be about the joy of making lists of things you loved. For example, I recently started a list of cigars I enjoy. Guess what I didn’t update when I had a lovely Diesel cigar Saturday afternoon?)
As I mentioned, I can’t pretend that I didn’t have time to write that post. What I failed to do was set aside the time to write it. Time was spent on Twitter, reading the Star Wars comic series (a much better way to prep for the next movie than trying to watch Episodes 1-3), and driving and teaching. My partner Natasha and I took a tango class that was great – but that was ninety minutes that I wasn’t writing.
The good news, though, is that I can see where the way I spend my time can be changed. I don’t even have to “give up” anything, and I can leverage things to be rewards for habits. For example, I can set a boundary for myself: No twitter on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday unless the blog post is up.
I still get my dose of dopamedia, but I have a motivating factor to get it done proactively. In fact, that motivates me to do it the day before, scheduling things so they release at 8am on each of those days.
Becoming The Me-Whisperer
Any good dance lead will tell you they don’t really “lead” their partner — they create a space for their partner to be and then “invite” them to occupy that space. It’s similar to the idea of the horse-whisperer (caveat: I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book so I may have a false idea of what that word means). Basically, instead of berating yourself for not sticking to habits, calling yourself a failure, or trying to muscle through things…create a space for yourself to do the thing you want to do, and make it inviting. Make it as joyously inevitable as your soft bed at the end of a hard day, or a warm shower after coming in from a cold one.
It’ll be easy to see if this works: just come back on Wednesday and Friday and see if the post is up! Meanwhile: what are you going to whisper yourself into doing?
“To cook or fix some food, is not preparation; it is practice….Whatever we do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.” – Dogen (1200-1252
Ever have one of those times when you get the same message from three different directions?
Let’s start with that quote up there – shared by way of Tim Ferriss’ excellent Five-Bullet Fridays newsletter. I halfway suspect that George Lucas read that and shortened it into Yoda’s famous “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
It’s kind of fatalistic, at first. There is no preparation for something else. That means there is no “happily ever after”, no riding off into the sunset, no rolling credits and sweeping orchestral piece by James Horner.
Then it becomes a bit more freeing, when you think about it more deeply. If the practice is all there is, then you can enjoy it thoroughly – in fact, you might have your best practice at any moment! Think of it: this could be the best blog post I will ever write. Ever. And what does that mean? Most people look at it as a “glass half empty” kind of thing – things will never be this good again.
But doesn’t it also mean that I sat down at the computer often enough, practiced the craft of blogging and stringing words together long enough that I was able to realize the ultimate expression of my craft that I was capable of? So what if I never make my “personal best” again – isn’t that what “personal best” means in the first place?
No, pity the person who gives up and never reaches that pinnacle of achievement. That’s the person that we should feel sorry for.
Depressing News From Successful Writers
I attended a panel discussion by three professional writers. Two wrote non-fiction, and one wrote for TV. They were at the top of their particular fields, and the awards they had accumulated included several Emmies and a lifetime achievement or two. They were there to talk about what it’s like to be a professional writer.
It was pretty bleak.
Remember, these were people at the top of their fields – but both of the “book” authors were not even close to making a living off their books. Nope, they had day jobs. Even more, they didn’t have any fancy systems, new computer apps, or visualizing meditations that would turn you into the next Rowling.
How can I learn to be a writer?
“Writing can be taught – but really, it can only be self-taught.”
How do I find ideas?
“Your experience as a human being is valid. There’s your book.”
How do I get past writer’s block?
“Writer’s block is advanced notification you’re gonna write something bad. Write it anyway.”
How do I find the time to write?
“There’s no excuse for not writing. Sit your ass down, and fuckin’ write.”
How much help was your publisher when it came to marketing and publicity?
(Hysterical laughter from all three, one of whom makes a zero sign with her hand).
How do I finish a book, the editing and rewrites and stuff I hate?”
“You need to be your own publishing house. Deadlines help.”
In Other Words, You’re On Your Own
That last question was one that I asked, and like the others, it basically comes down to this: you’re on your own. As someone who struggles to balance current content with pushing completed content out the door and juggling all the hats involved in self-publishing, I confess it was a little disheartening at first. I had this dream of getting “noticed”, of having someone edit my books, design the covers, plan the distribution book tour, book my travel, arrange the Oprah and Tim Ferriss interviews, etc.
Nope. These were people with contracts from Simon & Schuster and the like, and they were saying: there is no help here.
Then again, that means that I am doing the best I can do. I have made several hundred dollars from my books; that’s more than many authors. I have complete rights to them, I get to decide where they go, who reads them, and what is done with their content. That’s a level of control that many other authors dream of.
In other words, there is no “success” on the horizon. I’ve already succeeded. Instead, there is practice. Continuing to write the next book, the next post, the next article. If my next book makes more money, great. If not, great. The only sadness is if it is unrealized for no particularly good reason.
What are you practicing? And more to the point: what are you waiting for?
This is it. The big and final day, and there are many out there who are ignoring all the calls of “CYBERMONDAY” and are simply looking feverishly at two numbers: their word count and the time of day. The former is growing and the latter is shrinking and the level of stress for each individual is precisely measurable by the difference in the rate of each.
At a certain point the day will run out. Sure, you can push it for a while – It’s still 11:30 in Hawaii! – but eventually November 30th draws to a close and National Novel Writing Month will be finis. Some will sigh with triumph, some with disappointment, some with the useless guilt of the I-coulda-done-better. It’s all beautiful, as I said last week; the mere act of dreaming the dream of a writer is a triumph of the human psyche.
What happens next? If you gave NaNoWriMo a shot, there’s going to be a very strange thing happen on December 1st. For the first time in a month, you don’t have to write. There is no word count that matters, no goal – heck, even die-hard participants take December off and dub January “National Novel Editing Month.” At first it will likely seem like the world has opened before you: NetFlix! Reading! OMG, I have friends again! You can get back into your exercise routine without feeling like you should be writing. You can sleep without obsessing about this scene or that chapter. It’s like a vacation!
Unless you really hated it, though, it won’t be long until you get that itch – before the words in your head start wanting to come out.
What You Gain
Whatever you feel like doing, do a lot of it – because that’s how you get good. – Nathan Skreslet, creator of PixelWho
Writing is a skill, and getting faster at it is pretty easy as long as you put in the time. Author Tony Lee (writer for Dr. Who, among other screen and print media) said on a recent panel that he writes two thousand words a day – and that when his two thousand are done, he stops. He doesn’t worry about whether it’s in the middle of a scene or if it’s some kind of problem with the plot; it’s his job, he’ll be back at the keyboard tomorrow, so word 2,001 can just wait its turn. You’ll note, though, that if he makes that every working day for a month, he ends up being just short the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo.
So now you know what it’s like to write for a living.
One way to transition from the urgent pressure of NaNoWriMo into a more reasonable pace is to do the “Morning Pages”. Originally coined by author Julie Cameron in her excellent work The Artist’s Way, the Morning Pages prime the pump of the writing by not being about anything in particular. Ms. Cameron says “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” Frankly, it’s kind of like yoga for the Writer’s Brain: not terribly useful or fun in and of itself, but you feel better when it’s done and the effects last the whole day.
Also like yoga, though, there is the important part: do three more tomorrow. It does not matter if today’s pages were legible, interesting, or served any purpose; what matters is showing up and putting the words on the page, be that physical or virtual. My Morning Pages were the start of a journaling habit that led not too circuitously to this blog and the work I do.
What You Lose
In a word: excuses. When I did NaNoWriMo it established my internal identity as a writer. It opened the door within me of capacity; for three years I had proven my ability to churn out 50,000 words in a month. Heck, the third time I did it it was easy; I think I was done within twenty days. Now, they weren’t good words, as such things go (there’s a reason my parents will never see them). But they existed, and that meant one thing: I had no more excuses.
“I can’t write a book” was replaced with “I won’t write a book.” And when the muse annoyed me enough – keeping me awake at night, driving me crazy with this feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing – it became “I will write a book” which meant things in my life needed to change. Change is not easy; change means loss, sacrifice, and pain. But when the changes were made it changed into “I am writing a book,” and at this point it’s “I am writing these books now…”
See how that works? It’s a progression for any skill or art or practice:
At that point, there are no more excuses. Just the responsibility you have to yourself to do what is important to you, and to let the rest go.
Simple, right? Well, not always, but in the case of being an author, that’s exactly what it is:
“Don’t write for others. Don’t write for yourself. Write to fill the page.”
– David McKee, Story (one of many great finds on Scribd).
This is a continuation of the idea of getting out of your own way. It technically applies to all writing, though there’s a different kind of alchemy when you’re applying it to writing for a living (hint: it’s kind of like how classical musicians all play exactly the same notes for a piece, yet can sound completely different).
During NaNoWriMo, though, you don’t have to worry about that. “Quantity, not Quality!” is your battle cry, and so you can, in fact, just write to fill the page. In fact, if there is a day when you really don’t know what or how to write, go ahead and just fill the page. Doesn’t matter what words are there, or if you’re telling the most boring story there is. Just don’t stop writing.
Believe it or not, there’s a magic to something as simple as:
Blaise wanted coffee.
“Georgia,” he said, “Bring me coffee, please.”
Georgia got up and went to the kitchen.
She came back. “Here’s your coffee,” she said.
“Thank you,” Blaise said. He drank the coffee.
What did Blaise say next?
You know, don’t you? When I asked you the question, you had an answer – likely a variation on “It’s hot!” – but you could hear it in your brain.
Here’s the thing: if you are crazy enough to want to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, you do not suffer from a lack of imagination. What you may have is the occasional blockage – Resistance as Steven Pressfield would call it – to letting that imagination work.
So instead, torture it.
The Parable of the Coffee
Once upon a time there was a young woman named Laura, and she was very much in love with Kate. Unfortunately, Laura lived and worked in New York City while Kate lived and worked in Ohio. In spite of the distance Laura and Kate saw each other every chance they got. They also took advantage of phone calls, letters, emails, and the occasional picture, but both of them were very busy and so there were times that days would go by without as much contact as the two of them would have liked.
Laura was getting frustrated, and she asked Kate if she could think of a way that they could easily have contact. Kate got a sly look on her face, and asked for one simple thing. “Every morning,” she said, “it would be really sweet if you could bring me coffee.”
Laura was puzzled, because she lived in New York City, and that was a long way from Ohio (where in Ohio, you ask? To someone from New York City, it really doesn’t matter. Ohio is just one part of that amorphous blob of nowhere known as “the flyover states”). But she shrugged and said “OK,” and after the usual number of affectionate farewells they hung up their phones. Well, actually they shut off the connection, but we still say “hung up” like we still say “dial their number” even though we really don’t.
Anyway, the next morning when Laura woke up she was faced with a conundrum. How could she bring Kate coffee? After a moment she shrugged, pulled out her phone, and sent a text.
Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
A moment later Laura’s phone chimed. Thank you! It’s delicious.
Laura was a little puzzled – it wasn’t like Kate had real coffee. But she seemed happy, and so Laura went on about her busy New York City day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone again, and typed Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
Again the phone chimed, but this time it said Ah! Thanks, dear. It’s a little too hot, but I’ll drink it soon.
Laura looked sideways at her phone. Too hot? It was a text! She put it down to some strange Midwestern ritual and went about her day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone and typed again. Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee. She paused a moment before she hit “send”, though, and then added I let it cool down a bit this morning before sending it.
Her phone chirped happily. Oh, so thoughtful! You’re so sweet. I love you.
Like anyone who reads those words from their darling, Laura grinned a goofy grin that she was glad none of her fellow New Yorkers could see, and kept it bright inside her heart for the rest of the day.
From then on there was no stopping her:
I put some cinnamon in your coffee this morning, because the Fall air is crisp.
Today I got you coffee from the corner bodega where the guy has a moustache that makes him look like Teddy Roosevelt.
This coffee is in a mug that my Grandfather used to drink out of when he’d read me the funny papers on Sunday morning.
…and so on. Every morning the coffee ritual became a way that Laura (who was a writer) could create something beautiful out of a few letters and an idea to send to her love, Kate (who knew that Laura was a writer who would never have been able to stick to just Here’s your coffee).
And they lived happily in New York City and Ohio amidst the coffee texts of love.
You are human; you’re wired to tell stories. If you are having trouble writing a lot – write a little. Write the bare minimum, until you can’t stand it anymore. I promise you: the words will come.
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What is your muse net?
In other words: how do you catch ideas? If you don’t have something in place, I promise you, you are losing a lot of ideas. I’m not saying you need to have a whiteboard in the shower (unless you do) but there’s a reason that pocket notebooks are such a big thing, why there are a zillion articles on how to best use EverNote, and why Ubiquitous Capture has gone beyond David Allen’s GTD program and into the realm of religious discipline.
Here’s the thing: ideas are slippery. If you don’t catch them when they come, you are very likely to lose them. You won’t think you will – you’ll tell yourself, like I do, Oh, I’ll remember that. And I can tell you from bitter experience that all you’ll remember is that you had an idea – and that it was a good one – but what that idea was? Oh, that’s long gone.
My Top Five Muse Nets
- Siri: If the muse strikes me while I’m walking or driving, I hit my button on my iPhone and say “Siri, remind me to write about…” It goes into my Reminders app, which makes it pretty easy to find later. The ability to use Siri without having to pick up my phone is the ONE thing that tempts me about the Apple Watch, especially since I could use it with…
- Evernote: Thanks to integration into just about every browser I use, I can pretty easily catch ideas, quotes, and articles in a special “*Love Life Practice” folder (the asterisk is so that it stays at the top of all my other folders). I can even sometimes give myself a head start and say what kind of post I think it will be – “love”, “life”, or “practice.”
- Editorial Calendar: This is a plug-in for WordPress, but a calendar on the wall works, too. When you have an idea, you write it in to a particular day so that you have an idea when to work on it. In terms of NaNoWriMo, you can take your outline for your story and lay it out on the calendar, so that each day you know exactly what you’re going to write.
Notebook: Ah, is there anything so joyous as a new notebook? I started my love affair with notebooks in the Moleskine world, but a gift of Fieldnote COLORS has been a lovely affair for the past year, and I’m experimenting currently with Baron Fig’s Confidant but I’m not sure that’s a lasting relationship. A key part is to also have a reliable pen.
- Repetition: Sometimes you just don’t have anything handy, and you do have to find a way to remember it. Last week I knew what my two blog posts would be, but I didn’t have a chance to write them down, so I started a chant: We are conduits. Love what you write. I said it over and over, under my breath, even singing it, until I got those posts written.
In case it’s not obvious: your musenet needs to be in easy reach at all times. If the notebook is buried in the bottom of your desk and the pen is at the bottom of your purse and the ink is dry, it’s not going to be terribly useful. Evernote and Siri work for me because they are easily accessible via shortcuts – I’ve tried other programs that were prettier and fancier and more expensive but they just weren’t fast enough.
If you want to experiment, try out James Altucher’s Idea Machine method and see if your MuseNet is fast enough. Most of the time they require tweaking to your particular lifestyle; feel free to email me with questions (or put them in the comments) if you would like help figuring out yours.
But I promise you this: you take care of your nets, and the muse will take care of you.
Enjoy what you’ve read? How about sharing it with a friend?
I am not one to romanticize writing, especially as a profession. While I’m a big fan of Do What You Love as well as Follow Your Passion, I’ve agreed to not harp on that for at least a while (especially since other people like Mark Manson are doing it for me).
But the idea that you can make a living writing about what you’re passionate about? HA! I can call myself a professional writer because I have used the written word to put food on the table and a roof overhead. Some of the money has even come from work that I was passionate about. Most of it, though? Came from things like:
- Ad copy
- Tech writing (“How to plug in a projector” – exciting, eh?)
- Ghost Writing (aka “Making other people’s ideas pretty”)
- Newsletter Writing
- Turd Polishing (a shameful part of my life when I was paid to make really bad real estate look really good)
- Paid blog posts for other sites (“How to rent a fishing boat in Florida“, one of my favorites)
These are not things that could be termed passionate, at least in my own life. But writing is a craft, much like woodworking or gardening or even music: it is possible to make a living simply following the formula that gives people what they want (usually the client, incidentally, not necessarily the reader; one of marketing’s dirty secrets is that they aren’t selling items to consumers, they are selling ad campaigns to businesses that make items).
I believe there are some people who make a living – a good living – writing about things they are passionate about. I believe that their number one skill – that I’m still working on – is getting out of their own way. But even then it’s work; as Mark Manson says in that article I linked to, “I am living my dream job…and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more…that’s just life.” Or take the way my favorite writer, Kameron Hurley, described her “success”:
At the current rate of my own book advances, I’d have to write twelve or thirteen books a year just to maintain my current income level – an income level I achieve now with a day job, freelancing jobs on the side, and writing a fiction novel, a short story or two, a column for Locus, and some other paid essays every year…I’ve been poor before. I don’t fucking like it. I work hard to stay as far ahead of it as I can. And that’s yet another reason I likely won’t ever give up my day job, even if I only keep it part time: I like money. I don’t like being poor.
No, I do not romanticize the profession of writing at all. For me, it just beats the alternatives. Then again, I also have a higher tolerance for being poor than Ms. Hurley.
NaNoWriMo is Disneyland for Writers
Guess what? When you’re doing NaNoWriMo, none of that matters. You’re not writing to support yourself; yes, you have a deadline and a word count, but it’s one you chose. You’ve given yourself a vacation in the writing world where you can just write about what you love! Nobody – seriously, nobody – ever has to read it. This is where you can say screw the quarterly reports and the keynote speech and the company newsletter and write about the rocketship piloted by a unicorn zooming through Jessica Jones‘ inner ear, pursued by an evil clone of N.K. Jemisin and Ferrett Steinmetz. You can write that love story about young Gandalf and Saruman. You can daydream about yourself thrown into one of those action movie stereotypes where you have to save your daughters and you kick ass all over town (that was my first NaNoWriMo).
None of it has to be any good.
Don’t worry about it being good. You have the luxury of having a writing assignment that’s kind of like Las Vegas: what happens there can stay there. No consequences, no editors, no rewrites (unless you choose to). So indulge yourself! Write what you want, write it in any style you like, just get it out of your brain and into language. This is the time to really wallow in writing for your own sake.
Write what you love. Because that way, when you’ve spent too much time writing what you don’t love, you remember what it’s like…and you can slip back into it, like that guilty pleasure comic book or that hot fudge sundae. Writing is magic. It’s just that it’s also work, and that makes it hard to remember the rainbows and glitter sometimes.
You have not chosen the story. The story has chosen you. – Steven Pressfield, The Authentic Swing
One of the questions that came up from people who had hoped to do the NaNoWriMo webinar was one word: Plot. They were having trouble with it. I had another colleague say the same thing to me as we talked about a new project she was undertaking. She had a great handle on the marketing, the production, the design – but there was also the matter of story. She needed to tell the story of her products, and that made her nervous.
“I don’t know how to tell stories!” she laughed, and I laughed too, because she was so wrong. I knew this for a fact, because my friend is a professional hypnotist, and when she helped me with some improvements to my memory she did so through the use of a “guided meditation.” She had me picturing a cavern going deep into my mind, following it down until I came to a “control room.” She described the walls, the buttons, the levers, the display…and then she led me step by step through “re-programming” my own memory settings.
It worked wonderfully (and is still available when I need it). But that’s not the point – the point is that what she called guided visualization is just another way of saying told a story.
You Aren’t Creating a Story
Sorry to break it to you. That story idea you’ve been thinking about? The one you’ve been pounding your fingers towards? It’s not new. It’s been told approximately 7,435 times before, 1,243 of which were in books and fifteen of which were made into movies. Not only that, but 200,435 other writers have had the same plot idea. Not all of them will put it to paper – much less 50,000 words of it – but they all had the same idea.
Call it the Seven Basic Plots, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, Jungian Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – it’s all been done before. And that should come as a huge relief, because that means you don’t have to make up anything. My third NaNoWriMo practically wrote itself, because I knew exactly the story I wanted to tell. It’s first modern popular incarnation was a Dashiel Hammett book which was made into a movie by Akira Kurosawa which was re-made into a Western by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood and then re-made again into a Chicago Gangster flick with Bruce Willis.
That made writing the book extremely easy. I sat down with popcorn and a notebook and watched Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, and Last Man Standing, outlining them scene-by-scene and noting the similarities. Then I mapped my versions of the characters into place, threw in a slightly weird meta-plot, and it was off to the races. It was like the book wrote itself, I would say, except you hear writers say that a lot, when they describe flow states.
Think about this: A film projector is just a mechanism by which tiny bits of translucent celluloid are run past a light source. The celluloid has colors on it that change the light, and when our brains see it we translate it into images, movement, and story. That one projector can tell a million different stories, depending on what celluloid strips are running through it. It doesn’t “create” the films – it simply mediates them into a form that lets them turn into a story.
Now, before the metaphor gets too far, you are not the projector. The projector is the mechanism. It’s the keyboard, the writing software, the coffee, the chair, the desk, the lamp. It’s all the mechanics that allow the story to take a form that is understandable to other humans – this month, that means a book. But that mechanism is not you.
You, my dear writer, are the light. You are the active presence that shines through the mechanism, through the film in your brain, and translates it into words. Sometimes you burn bright – sometimes you are just a glimmer. But you aren’t creating the story any more than the mechanism is. You just bring it to life by shining.
The muse gives you stuff. That’s how writing works.
The writer’s job is to get out of the way.
– Steven Pressfield
So take off the damn lens cover and shine, already!
We’re well past the first week, and you’re getting an idea now of what the rest of the month is going to be like. I’m not talking abou you, Writer, but your partner. Yes, you, Writer’s friend/lover/spouse/child/parent. “Manic” is often a word people like you – the companions of writers – use to describe behavior of their beloved.
- The despondency of not knowing what to write next (think Sesame Street’s Don Music pounding his head against the piano: “I’ll never get it! Never!”).
- The haunted look in the eyes at the end of a long day at work when the writing has yet to be done.
- The thing you told them about while they were writing that they acknowledged and yet had no memory of (my partner, bless her, knows not to tell me anything important while I’m writing).
- And of course the moment at 11:30 when the Writer, a deranged smile on their face, prods you awake to let you know in between triumphant giggles that they figured it out, the answer was mushroom unicorns, obviously…
Husband: “Did you write today?”
Me: “Not yet.”
Husband: “Okay. Well, if you want to do that, I can do my own thing.”
Me: “But what if I don’t?”
Husband: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Michael is being a complete douche and I’m kinda pissed at him.”
Husband: “When did you talk to Michael?”
Me: “The CHARACTER Michael not our friend Michael, god.”
Husband: “Oh. Well. How is he being a douche?”
Me: “I DON’T KNOW I HAVEN’T WRITTEN THE SCENE YET.”
Monica nails it: we writers do feel bad about the month of neglect that is November, but often in the throes of the act of creation we miss little hints that the relationship might be suffering – the sound of suitcases latching, doors slamming, and the car driving away. We do eventually notice – right around December 1 – but still, that’s not a great way to celebrate your success.
But the act of caring for the Writer in their natural environment can be rewarding much in the way maintaining a saltwater aquarium is: a lot of trouble, kind of tricky, but beautiful, in the end. So here are five suggestions for ways you can show love during the month:
Loving the Writer:
- The Magic Cup: Odds are there is something that the writer drinks to fuel their words. There is little as aggravating as being in the middle of a creative streak and finding that the cup runneth dry. Magically refilling (or reheating) their cups may not be noticed right away…but at a certain point it will be, and it makes a writer feel cared for.
- The Passive-Aggressive Snugglenote: You may want to hug your partner during this time, but the problem is that the act of hugging can become one more obstacle they have to overcome between them and the keyboard. They’ve already had to overcome the fear of the empty page, fatigue, distractions…so instead, leave little notes: I’m proud of you! Or You’re really sexy when you’re writing. Or Way to go, Writer! Put them on the mirror in the bathroom – so when they give themselves that look, that What were you thinking? look, instead your note is there to remind them they are loved.
- The Surprise Playlist: You probably have some idea of what kind of music your writer listens to when they write. We live in a time when it’s amazingly easy to create a mixtape (or even just the idea of one) and there are even pre-made ones you can find online. Just remember that the Muse is a strange one, and don’t be offended if your mixtape is turned off in favor of going back to listening to Dancing Queen on repeat. That’s why God invented headphones.
- Chocolate: This may be a literal suggestion (if their idea of heaven is something like the Land of Infinite Oreos) but it’s also a kind of archetype – it’s the thing that they crave, that they go to when they want a treat. Natasha knows mine; a hot fudge sundae on warm brownies. It’s not healthy, no, this is comfort eating – luckily, NaNoWriMo doesn’t last long enough to make it a habit. You know what it is they like – surprise them with it when you see them sagging at the keys, or trudging wearily from the bed to the cruel blank page. Reward them with it when they are chortling with triumph at their literary wit. Feel free to bribe them into “just another 500 words” with it if needed – there’s an entire category of job based around manipulating writers into producing words, and there’s no reason this can’t be your month to play “agent”.
- The Guardian of Solitude: Stolen wholesale from one of the greatest writers, this is kind of a strange one: come up with ways you can both be doing your own thing together. That means reading a book instead of turning on the TV, playing one-person games on the X-Box, or anything that means you are doing your thing while the Writer does theirs. Instead of creating temptations and distractions, it gives a sense of shared workspace. It helps eliminate the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as well as the GOFONIOY (Guilt of Focusing On NaNoWriMo Instead of You). Plus they don’t feel completely cut off from their life – they can look over and see it waiting there for them when the word count is done.
Use these as inspiration – you know your writer better than anyone, and with a little effort you can turn this month into a mutual triumph.
It’s ironic; I’ve been working on the whole “Maker Time” schedule, and on days like this (“Blogday”) the plan is to write all three of my week’s posts in one day.
The problem I was having was that I found myself writing the day’s post – the “Practice” post – and then getting drawn away into other things that were necessary. Well, ok, they were urgent, not necessary, and therefore my other posts were also done last-minute.
The answer, stumbled upon by accident, was simple: write my posts in reverse order to when they are due. So I wrote Friday’s post (“5 Ways to Love a NaNoWriMo Writer”) first, followed by Wednesday Life post (“5 Hard Questions for 2000 Easy Words”) over the past couple of hours. Incidentally, if I was doing NaNoWriMo, the total for those posts plus this one so far would be a good word count for the day.
But it’s also late in the day, and I’m tired, and opening up this blank blog entry was hard. In fact, I likely would have put it off (for the oh-so-reasonable excuse that I’m past my scheduled workout time) if it weren’t for the fact that I came up with the title last week.
Turns out it’s hard to say “I quit!” when you’re supposed to be writing a blog post about how to not quit.
Grit, True or False
So that’s one way: guilt yourself into keeping on going. I don’t really recommend it, as guilt is a really ineffective (as well as unhealthy and unethical) method of manipulating anyone, including yourself.
But there are other ways to kind of trick yourself into writing more, and keeping on going.
- The Prompt: This is the healthier part of what I did to myself last week: I wrote the title of this post, as well as a single idea, in the blank space. When I got here, I didn’t have to do the work of wondering what I was going to write about – I just had to finish what was already started.
- I Quit! …after this. Give yourself total and complete permission to quit, to get up and walk away and never write again…after you do this one more page/chapter/word goal. That’s right, this is the last bit of NaNoWriMo you’re ever going to do, and like any short-timer you suddenly have much more energy and a “Who gives a frak?” attitude that just makes the words fly. That kind of unrestrained creativity, by the way, is exactly what this month is supposed to be about. You may find, tomorrow, that you want to feel it again…
- Dog on a Leash: I suggested this to my Middle Daughter the other day. She had opened the document and was about to start writing, and I asked her to stop and just stare at the page for a minute or so. Not letting her hands touch the keys, just look at those words. She reported “It helped me feel like I was picking up from where I left off, but with more energy because it was a day later.” We like telling stories; if you deliberately hold yourself back, when you cry havoc and loose the dogs of creativity they will take off like a bat outta clichés.
- Stumbling Into Habits: This is kind of how I manage to do my morning rituals: I lay out my tools in places where I can’t help but find them. Maybe this means putting a blank notebook (open) and a pen next to your breakfast plate. Perhaps it means leaving your manuscript open on your computer so that it’s the first thing you see. Maybe it means subscribing to a podcast about NaNoWriMo so that your phone automatically feeds you support. Figure out how to put success in your way, and you may just fall into the next thousand words…
Got any more tricks you use to keep going for NaNoWriMo (or any other habit?). I’d love to hear about them in the comments. If someone you know could use a few tricks to keep going, be sure to re-post or forward this to them, with our compliments. Word count, hurrah!
It’s really an imbalanced thing, the love the author has for the writer.
“Author” is one of those identity words that falls in the realm of things you can deserve after you’ve done a particular set of things. If you’ve given birth, you deserve the title “mother,” assuming what you’ve given birth to is a human being. If, on the other hand, you’ve giving birth to a book, then the title you get is “author”, and it’s a select few. It’s not a halfway thing, either; you either have written a book or you haven’t, and you are either an author or you aren’t.
Those who choose to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) are trying to earn that title. There is one way – and one way only – that you can earn it, and that is by assuming another title: writer.
In many ways, being a writer is easier than being an author, because you don’t have to have completed anything. You simply have to establish the habit of writing, and as I’ve amply demonstrated with years of writing this blog, that’s not that difficult. But there’s a reason that I’m not an author because of LoveLifePractice.com. Sure, I’ve written well over 100,000 words, but it’s not cohesive. I’m a blogger because of that. I’m an author because I whipped about 12,000 of those words into a beginning-middle-end and published it.
Check it out: The Meditation Manual. I’m pretty fond of it.
Loving the Real vs. the Imaginary
As many NaNoWriMo veterans will attest, it can be a difficult road. Trying to make your word count every day; resisting the urge to go back and edit; trying to explain to family, friends, total strangers in the coffee shop that you are writing. They do this, though, because of a love they have for the future version of themselves that they see, the one who may or may not be a writer but who is definitely an author.
The thing is, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo for the first time you have no idea of what it is like to be an author. You don’t actually know how it will change you (if at all). You aren’t in love with that author you hope to be; you are in love with the idea of the author you hope to become. There’s nothing wrong with that; like any hoped-for love, the reality is likely to be both more and less wonderful than one could imagine.
But picture with me the version of you that is the NaNoWriMo veteran – the person who, on November 31, triumphantly uploads the 50,000 words to the word count and earns their badge. That person exists; the fact that we can’t see them right now is simply because we’re stuck in this silly one-way time stream.
That person not only exists but they also have a very real love for you, the NaNoWriMo writer. And it’s not based on unrealistic hopes – it’s based on hard memories. They remember every time you said “no” to something that would take your fingers away from the keyboard; they smile when they remember how you struggled with that particular plot point, and grin when they remember the ingenious way you finally worked through it. They are grateful to you for the things you gave up, the work you put in, because quite literally they would not exist if it weren’t for you, Writer.
In those moments when you need a little pick-me-up, try to remember that: there’s an author somewhere in December who loves you for what you do. You can meet them, if you do just one thing:
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