NaNoWriMo Diaries, Intro/Day 1
I’m starting up NaNoWriMo this year after a long hiatus from the event, and I’m going to blog through my efforts for my own process, for the curious, and in case this helps someone else.
To give a quick background, writing cold in case someone comes here from a tag; I’ve written regularly since I was twelve, attempted publication since 1999, achieved publication in 2009 (my third book was a NaNoWriMo novel), and since my first published book I’ve written and published over thirty novels which have sold collectively over 100,000 copies and have been translated into four languages and counting. I’ve been with five publishers and have also self-published, and my books have received multiple awards and recognitions.
I list all the credits there because I want you to have full context when I say this year has been really rough on me; I’m tired, worn out, and while I’m not precisely in a slump, I’m having a much more difficult time than I would like.
I can pin a lot of this on a publisher closing and tossing thirteen books back into my lap, causing a lot of financial and career chaos, but I also like a lot of authors have been dragged down by world events and have difficulty crafting HEA when so much about the world feels gross. I also have only one child and she’s in her junior year, so I’m torn between wanting to spend all my time helping her with her final high school years and having some advance mourning because soon she won’t be living with me all the time, and the thought makes me sad. Writing is literally my job, so I have to find my mojo to do my part to pay the bills. I’m blessed to have the support of readers and patrons and many author friends, but at the end of the day it’s still me in front of the computer.
I joined NaNoWriMo18 because I have a contracted book due, the third in a series (books one and two aren’t out yet, they’re all coming in 2019, so don’t go thinking you missed something) and I was hoping the camaraderie and focused attention of daily goals would help me get closer to completing the assignment. I’m actually also working on three other things at the same time, book four in the Love Lessons series, something I’m writing entirely for fun, and a book that sort of hit me out of nowhere that I really like and would be happy to throw everything else aside for but I need to work on these other books first. This is the other reason I joined NaNoWriMo: I really need to finish this third series book, and I have a lot of distractions. I thought this might help give me some insurance I don’t wander off because something else is shinier.
I have mixed luck with NaNoWriMo books. It’s often far too fast for me, though the first book I wrote for under the setup is probably my favorite novel. In general, my writing pattern is a burst to get the first 20,000 words, then a pause as I sort out what the book’s frame is, another burst to 50-60k, some fretting because I still don’t understand, a slow fuss to 70k, serious panic unless I got lucky and figured the whole book out by then, and then I stop and wrestle the book until I can see it properly, often going back and rewriting slightly until I can get to the end without feeling lost. Then, once finished, I go back and usually rewrite the beginning immediately and also find two or three places in the middle where critical scenes are missing. At this point it goes to my editor, who might well tell me to rewrite the opening again, or sometimes change whole elements of the plot. So I don’t get too attached to anything since I know she might tell me to change it. In fact I’m currently waiting for an edit to come back from here where she’d asked me to substantially change a secondary plot element. Really hoping I did it right this time.
So I’m nervous about this whole writing straight through thing, and I might jump ship and write in another book for a bit if I feel like I get stuck. I’m also not going to focus on finishing the novel so much as getting a seriously huge chunk of it down. In past NaNoWriMos I got obsessed with finishing, but the books were often a mess, and I can tell you the ones I wrote and sold from NaNo excepting that first one, didn’t do well.
It’s really important that you honor your process when you write, and if you’re using NaNoWriMo, you use it for your own ends. If your’e just starting out, it’s completely worth trying to see if it fits you, because it might. If you find it doesn’t quite, analyze why. This is the trickiest thing about writing, backing up and looking at what you’re doing and deciding what is and isn’t working and not taking it personally. When my books don’t work, it makes me frustrated, and I definitely have to sit there and freak out for a day or so and think, “my career is over, I’ve lost my touch, everything is death and destruction when I touch it,” and then I get over myself and work because nothing will get solved until I do. I’ll tell you a secret: I have the same problems after thirty books that I did in my first books, but I solve them faster and am less clumsy about it, and I don’t waste time angsting as long because I walk in assuming I can do the job, and I just do it.
The other thing I want to talk about is writing with a disability.
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, hypermobility type, which I’m not going to go into in depth here, but the bottom line is I have to be ultra careful about how I sit and how long I sit, how I hold my hands, what my keyboard and chair are like, what kind of mouse I use. I need to take not only frequent breaks but monitor how many hours I’ve been using my hands and how many hours I’ve been sitting in a particular position. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and have a disability, I want to give you an extra boost and high five and encourage you that you can do this, but to also remind you to take care of yourself and not hurt your body for word count.
I’ve collected a million things to help make my work station more ergonomic over the years, and I’ll share some of them here in case they help. You can ship a lot of them quickly if you want them for NaNoWriMo.
I can’t function without my Kinesis Freestyle Blue split keyboard. I use the 20″ variation, and I have the VIP3 accessory (essential in my opinion) which gives you wrist support and tilts the keyboard. Looks like this in use.
(Can you tell I’m having a flare up day? Lord I didn’t realize I was this puffy/swollen until I took a pic.)
Mice are absolutely a personal preference. A lot of people love vertical mice, and I’ve considered them, but I use a three mouse combination. My main mouse is the Kensington Expert Wireless Trackball, and I use the wrist rest. I had to duct tape it on because it always fell off, but this is hands-down my favorite. For big scrolling, though, I use the Apple Magic Trackpad, and for when my Bluetooth is stupid, I have a Logitech trackball, whose scrolling I dislike but whose connection is USB and saves me frequently when I have some kind of connectivity issue with the others.
My office chair is this expensive number I got at a furniture store, and when the base broke I had my husband’s friend and my FIL rebuild the base with a plywood bottom and new gas lift, base, and wheel parts, and now I’m set for another ten years, I think. I have a Purple cushion that basically gives me another five hours a day to sit, though I’d love to find a Tempurpedic version. I also, at my PT’s suggestion, put bed pillows behind my back and neck, and I often put a roll pillow or sometimes straight up foam roller behind my neck. When my arms are stupid (a frequent issue, I put folded hand towels under them to achieve the height that relieves tension that day.
I also customize where my keyboard and mice sit depending on the day. In the photo above you’ll see the keyboard is on a blanket; I pull that blanket into my lap so my arms are in the most natural position possible, and I have enough blankets under there to make the height exactly right. There are days I feel like I want it higher or lower, and I adjust. I also have my mice on a TV tray beside me, then propped on books to achieve perfect height and accessibility. I can shift the books (the bottom ones are huge) to get the mice in the best position possible to avoid strain on my shoulder.
I also have a Varidesk, which I use when I can’t sit any longer; I stand then on a Wurfboard, or my travel Tempurpedic bed, and I make sure to wear knee and pelvic braces so I don’t cause myself more problems. Sometimes, though, my body just is not having it at all, and I have to sit in a reclined position or lie in bed to write, at which point I use my Laptop Laidback. Ice packs are also my friend, especially the migraine hat when my neck has pinched nerves to the point I can’t think straight.
For braces, I’m in love with Bauerfiend. I can’t survive without their Sacroloc, elbow brace, and I covet their knee braces. I have various techniques for wrist support, my favorite being a simple compression sleeve my PT made me, but I also use KT tape, Ace bandages, and sometimes a carpal tunnel support because I like the hard wrist piece underneath to keep me from hyperextending. I have a lot of difficulty with my pinky hyperextending too, but I haven’t yet figured out a good way to stop that. I’ve seen some great custom EDS braces, but none that address what I need yet. Mostly I keep up my exercises and go to my various therapists.
This might seem like an incredible list of stuff needed to write, but my point is, I use all this and have quite a limiting condition and have a solid writing career. It’s not really my physical condition keeping me from writing right now, though the Nortriptaline isn’t doing me any favors (makes me really dopey). So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo or considering writing in general and you have a disability, the point is, you can modify everything however you need to in order to get to your goal, if you’re patient and clever.
Anyway. I’m going to go back to clawing at my words in my ergonomic environment. I have about 350 so far and I’ve been at it all morning. It’s the first scene and those are always hell for me, worse when it’s a sequel because I feel the weight of everything that came before. This one has the benefit that only a handful have read books one and two, but sequels still have pressure in them, to keep everything straight. Trying to remind myself right now I just need words so I can fix them later.
It doesn’t help that the words I’m getting have a character who wasn’t supposed to be there showing up and doing things not in the plan. This, alas, is typical for me. Heidi Cullinan, characters going off plan since 1989.
I wish everyone who’s writing this month many words, productive writing times, and comfortable chairs. I don’t know if I’ll update this diary every day, but I’ll update it at least semi-regularly as a kind of writer-in-slump mental health check.
Oh, burying the lede: here’s my NaNoWriMo page, so you can check up me.
Now I really am off. More soon.