Next year if I do NaNoWriMo, I’m not doing it officially, which bums me out to say, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I skipped last year because I’d already learned this, but I thought this year I’d be able to get a book done I absolutely had to get done. Then came the Sleigh Ride/Fever Pitch double insanity and me signing up for both accounts.
The weird thing is I actually got what I wanted out of it: an incredible almost-draft of both books. I might have been able to do that without the push, but maybe not. I can see from here the end of Fever Pitch, how it happens–but I also knew fifteen thousand words ago what that book needed most was to sit and gel a minute. It wants like three months, but it’s making due with three weeks. Or maybe two and a half, I forget when I stopped drafting that one. I’m starting on Monday again, and it’s my goal to hand it to Sasha by Christmas so I can truly have the holiday off. But if not, it’ll be in by the stroke of 2014. Sleigh Ride, which was never planned but sort of garbled itself into the situation, will be done sometime in January. It’s nearly done now, and I’m only 15k away from my target word count of 60k. I loved the little bit at a time writing of it, loved the way I discovered my two boys.
The problem is that what both books taught me during this month is that the fallow, quiet periods that happen in my drafting process are essential. When I take on a project and agree to a deadline, I have to factor in those pauses, and I have to start early enough to allow for them. Chuck Wendig writes an article this week about taking a month off before you edit: I arched my eyebrow and thought, golly, that’s an idea. Sort of like I should exercise every morning, drive slow enough to get good gas mileage, and reserve time in my schedule to make a healthy dinner. Excellent idea. It truly is the ideal.
It’s been years since I’ve had anything close to that kind of idealism about writing production. My husband has stopped saying to take my time and asks how he can help me get to my deadline, because we have reached the point where my yearly writing income is a second salary, and a good chunk of it goes to car payments, school things, and of course our daughter’s greatest lifeline to sanity and anxiety control, Royley the former racehorse. My working as a writer is the difference between us staggering under debt we had no idea how to manage and finally starting to get on top of it. So when I sit down and work and the writing is slow, I don’t just think, “Golly, I don’t want to be late to my deadline because it would look bad,” I think, “If I don’t get this in on time, they’ll have to move my slot, and then I’ll have a hole in production, and what in the world will I do without an income spike at that time?”
Revisiting NaNoWriMo felt like a nod to that dichotomy, the need to balance freedom of creation with punishing reality, and in many ways it was. It reminded me to show up at the manuscript and just get something down. 2k a day is an amazingly small amount of work. Most of my blog posts are that long when I get going on one of my tears. And whether its muses, people in space, or my carefully arranged psychosis, I’m getting really good at turning to the people in my head and saying, “I really need something here, can you help?” and they bring it. Last night they were telling me it was time to stop, but I was 6k down. I wrote–and counted it as words–a summary of what I knew I needed and why I had to give this some space, and then said, “But I need 4k still even after all this. Can you give me anything at all? Even if I have to cut it all later?” Within three minutes I was tapping out a freaking steamy hot sex scene that probably I can’t use, not as-is, but which confirmed the conflict was what I thought it was, showed me more about the characters, and lit a few more paths to the finished book. It left me only 1400 words shy of “winning.”
Yet let me explain how very much you don’t want to read this book right now. If you like my work, you’d be crushingly disappointed with it in its early stages. Oh, there are witty little scenes, and I could pump something out that would entertain you, but it would very much be something that as you sat and thought about it too hard it would fall apart, if you didn’t start doing that in real time as you read. Sleigh Ride is missing a spine. BIG time. Arthur and Gabriel are gorgeous and I think they have my heart in ways nobody else quite has yet, but they need to sleep and grow. All those little asides, fussy little details, dovetailing back into a main story? That times time and craft, especially to make it look like it took no effort at all. Fever Pitch is far, far worse. It’s twice as long, three times as thick, and has four-layers-deep serious meaning beneath a lot of joy and fun. Right now to read it would make your head hurt. I certainly know it does mine.
I’ll be able to fix it next week–I can feel the end now, and I’m not nervous about getting it done on time…but that’s entirely because I stopped drafting mid-month. I “won” with word count, but it’s not done, not even close. It doesn’t even fully have an outline anymore to the end, because the ones I keep writing get blown apart. Elijah showed up, blew my mind, and now I have to figure out how far back into the manuscript I have to write him. I’ve been thinking about him since mid-month, letting him whisper while I did dishes and folded laundry. Now it’s ready–and it’s Gabriel and Arthur’s turn to send me to strange videos or farm implement stores or whatever it is they’re going to do to show me how they finish up.
I’m bummed, though. I wanted to play along. I wanted to get to write-ins and hang out with people. I wanted to tap-dance well enough to get this done. It isn’t even that I did two at once though–in fact, if I’d tried to do just one story it would have been a horrible disaster. Somehow doing two at once helped even more to illustrate how much I need to pause. How for me books in one month will be very, very rare, and never something I can schedule in advance.
When I finish this post, I’m adding it into my word count, verifying, and then I’m going to not do anything on my computer until Monday as much as I can help it. I’m going to read every book on my kindle I’ve been dying to read. When my daughter wakes up I’m going to tell her from now until she goes to school on Monday she and I are hanging out, baking things, going to the barn for as long as she wants, going to as many movies as she wants, and doing a My Little Pony marathon if she’s in the mood. I can’t do the same thing with Dan because he works evenings this week, but I’m going to be present outside of my office. I’m going to start trying to make GF versions of my Christmas cookies. I’m going to start planning Christmas shopping.
On Monday I’ll go back to Fever Pitch. I’d love to say I’ll work on a gentle schedule, but I’m going to do what it takes to get it done, whatever that is. When it’s done and Sleigh Ride starts whispering at me again, I’ll finish it too. But for this weekend, everything is fallow. Everything is resting. Including me.
I’m leaving you with this video link: the song is “What If” by Five For Fighting, and it’s a huge ringer for Sleigh Ride. I always see the end when it plays, and it always makes me happy. I can’t even explain fully how this exemplifies the story, but it does. This video, though, is amazing and has nothing to do with SL. The video made me cry. It’s a good cry, but I warn you, there will be tears. Gorgeous song, though. A lot of Five For Fighting in that soundtrack, but this song is the song.
I have loved watching all of you read Let It Snow. I smile every time someone tags me or emails me or PMs me or even simply reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. (My 2014 goal is to figure out Booklikes, but right now I cannot even do one. more. thing.) And there are still some Love Lessons readers still just getting around to Hope University. It’s a little surreal to be working on books two of both those as you read books one. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to company in real time as I compose. It’s been awesome, and thank you.
So I leave you with “What If.” Thanks for being part of my last 1400 (it’s actually 1600, so yay, padding). Soon I will give you a survey for Carolyn’s scene she asked me to write for all of you, so start thinking of who you want to see and what you want them to do.
In the meantime, I need to read some books, make some cookies, and hug a kid.