Shutting out the world, 30 days at a time

My life gets pretty crazy.

Two kids. A split household. Two small businesses.

Sometimes you can’t see my sink.

Okay, usually you can’t see the sink.

But despite the day-to-day essentials of lunch packing, homework helping, books balancing, order filling, photo taking, and household managing, I know that what is most essential about me must also be nurtured. And that is the writer.

The trouble is, I’m the must-really-focus-and-be-bathed-in-silence kind of writer. I wish I weren’t. I’d love to be a put-on-the-headphones-and-shut-out-the-world type of writer. I’d also like to be able to write in short bursts, say, in between dropping off and picking up for trumpet lessons.

But no, I need to feel my time won’t be disturbed, to settle in. If I get on a roll, then sometimes, if I’m super lucky, I can keep that momentum, gliding through the day slightly above its rushed activities, doing what must be done but still keeping the story whirring in my head. It’s a delicate balance, much like riding a unicycle on a tightrope.

With people tugging at your elbows for a snack.

National Novel Writing Month re-prioritizes my world for 30 days.  I’m supposed to write 50,000 words. I’ve achieved that five times. Last year I only managed 35,000. (But I added moving to a new house and setting up a new studio to the month—priorities didn’t budge.)

All of my novels have started out as NaNoWriMo projects. I don’t draft by the seat of my pants, but using an outline. I always have a direction for my stories, so I’m not writing total blather. While often I end up keeping 15% or less of the November words, they still serve an excellent purpose. Several, in fact:

  1. It tells me whether my story idea is one I want to live with for the next year through editing.
  2. It gets all the “junk” out. We often reach for familiar story lines and overused character types in our first drafts.
  3. It helps me find the “voice.” Slow drafting with breaks in between often means the character will pick up characteristics and mannerisms based on the new experiences and influences around me. Fast drafting helps me keep the voice consistent through the first version.

I never “come down” from the story. I leave my laptop powered up and open to the novel document at ALL times, sitting on the dining room table. Passing it keeps the action fresh in my mind, so when I sit down again, it all starts flowing, as if I’d never stopped.

Usually I take December off from the book. Most years the story isn’t done, as an adult novel is 80,000 words, so I’ll review what I did in November, edit the story line, make notes on changes, and finish out the draft by March. Usually by summer I have a good first draft, revised and rearranged, to start presenting to my critique group.

Stella & Dane, my current project, has been part of an experiment to keep readers involved since I’m writing a prequel to a novel just published last month. I’ve released bits and pieces of it, knowing that those scenes may not end up in the final draft at all, and certainly not in their current state.

Editing them, which is usually forbidden, has slowed me down just enough that I might not make the 50,000. But I’m very deep into this book, and the characters live with me now. And that’s the single best part of NaNoWriMo—immersing myself in a writing world, making it the first thing I do each morning, if only for 30 days.

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