The final lap

A wise man said, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” The point being? If you wait for perfect conditions, you will wait… and wait… and wait…. and never get started.

I’ve had people ask me, do you wait for inspiration strike before you write? My answer: do you wait for inspiration to strike before you go to work?

This week seemed like perfect conditions for writing: a week to myself in the city of Hemingway, the fridge fully stocked, no shortage of coffee, and plenty of cafés and coffee shops to choose from. I set my goal–15,000 words, 3,000 words a day–and set to work.

The curve ball I didn’t see coming: feeling pretty lousy for half the week. Suddenly conditions were no longer perfect. Who cares that it’s Paris, I don’t even want to go outside!

I was hoping to get a lot of writing done in the mornings. It didn’t work out that way; instead I ended up writing through the afternoon (usually my least creative time) and well into the evening.

I wanted to try new places in Paris and get back to some others I hadn’t been to in a while. That didn’t really work out either. Who wants to sit in a café–or a library–hacking and coughing and generally being a public health hazard?

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Here’s one of the libraries I didn’t go to… Maybe next week.

So it didn’t go like I’d imagined. But it did go, I got through it, made it to the end, made my goal. And what was the result? Too much to describe here (it would take about 15,000 words…), but some good progress… and some utter junk.

Like the parts that were just filler words; literally writing things like: “Oh here’s an idea… etc. etc.” or “I need to rethink this part” or “This character needs to…” Some of it was lists of ideas (most of them dumb) until I got to the one that worked.

And that’s okay. I’ve read plenty of articles on how to free write where the encouragement is given to just put the pen to the paper (or fingers on the keys) and start writing, even if it’s just “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Because as you keep writing, keep typing, eventually words that start to make sense start hitting the page. It really works.

So, the Audacious Writing Week is in the books. Tomorrow is another day. And I’ll be writing.

 

Ignoring the voice that says, “Quit”

Well. I thought yesterday was a challenge… but sometimes things get harder before they get easier! Used a tree’s worth of kleenex today. Fought off a persistent headache with some big guns. And believe me, if I hadn’t set myself a writing goal, it would have been movies on the couch all day long. As it was, I only left the apartment to go for a short walk this evening to get some fresh air. (And chanced upon some good breakdancers doing their thing at the Trocadéro across from the Eiffel Tower.)

 

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Sorry, this isn’t from the Trocadéro, but I didn’t take any pictures tonight. Hope you don’t mind.

Let me tell you, the excuses and rationalizations were nipping at my heels all day. You’re 200 words OVER your goal for the week–that means you can quit with fewer words today. Or heck, just quit whenever you want and make it up tomorrow… You’ve done enough, call it a day…

But I made it. And discovered things about the plot, my characters, and the world they live in that I never would have if I hadn’t spent so much time with them today.

And even wrote 250 more words than I was aiming for.

 

Stuck in the middle

Anyone who’s ever started anything knows: beginnings are exhilarating, endings are fulfilling (hopefully), and middles… Yeah, the middle can be a slog.

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Sometimes in the middle, you can’t even see the end…

In my college days, a number of times I hiked the Manastash ridge trail in central Washington State before dawn to catch the sunrise. It was the same every time: Getting up and heading out in the dark to hit the trail? Yes! How exciting! And then at the end, standing at the crest while the sun inched up over the horizon and the dawn light filled the valley below? Awesome. (It was the nineties, so everything was awesome.) But slogging up the seemingly never-ending trail in the shadowy, predawn half-light with a head full of bleary thoughts? It went something like this: What am I doing here? I should still be in bed! I’m starving and my side aches… I really don’t even like this trail!

No doubt about it: the middle is hard.

I’m into day three of five days of focused writing–my Audacious Writing Week. (And I actually got a head start on Sunday evening, and I’m thinking I’ll extend into Saturday… but either way—I’m smack in the middle.) Today was most definitely more of a slog than the previous two. The novelty has worn off; now it’s feeling more like a grind. And a face-filling head cold has decided to come my way which means I’m propping up the kleenex industry and drinking loads of seltzer.

But I’m still on pace for my goal. And in the midst of just trying to get my 3,000 words down, I even had some unexpected–and welcome–character and plot breakthroughs. And I guarantee, without the goal in mind, I wouldn’t have gotten those breakthroughs. Perseverance pays off. And even though the middle can be a grind, I managed to cap off the day with an evening with friends. Now to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s coming.

Got a goal driving you? Has perseverance paid off? Leave a comment!

Audacious Writing Week, Day 2… and excerpts of eloquence

It’s Audacious Writing Week……… Day 2!

So far so good. Made my goal on Monday, more than 3,000 words written in five different scenes in the final act.

Yesterday, on my way to a coffee shop near Saint-Michel (for my third writing session of the day), I took a wrong–yet serendipitous–turn and came across this statue of that most celebrated of essayists, Michel de Montaigne.

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Michel de Montaigne, by Paul Landowski. Situated across the street from the Sorbonne.

Notice his shiny shoe: apparently students think it’s good luck to give it a rub before an exam. Of course, this is the guy who is largely responsible for popularizing the essay form. Not sure how many students want to thank him for that…

Today, instead of hitting a coffee shop, I met with my writing group for conversation, a bit of critiquing, plenty of eating, and yes, even some writing.

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The writing group spread: camembert, baguettes, pickles, salami, prosciutto, ham, coffee… my contribution was the chocolates from Jeff de Bruges. They say you can never go wrong if you show up with chocolate!

Whereas yesterday was all about getting some scenes into shape, today has been mostly work on backstory, world building, and solving story problems. So not as much “real” writing, but crucial stuff nonetheless. And I’m already well on my way to my daily goal: just 850 words to go.

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Before I sign off today (and get back to drafting/outlining/world-building), here’s a lovely little morsel from Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence (which I’ve been re-reading on my writing breaks). From Chapter 1, Alliteration:

You can spend all day trying to think of some universal truth to set down on paper, and some poets try that. Shakespeare knew that it’s much easier to string together some words beginning with the same letter. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It can be the exact depth in the sea to which a chap’s corpse has sunk; hardly a matter of universal interest, but if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies,’ you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way–e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’–and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.

Why does The Tempest still get put on every year by a theatre company near you… even though nobody has spoken like Shakespeare for hundreds of years… even though there’s no shortage of playwrights, no shortage of plays… Is it the universal truths he serves up? Perhaps. Or is it his use of language, his turn of phrase? Maybe it’s actually the alliteration after all…

Audacious writing week

Put on the coffee, log off Facebook, and get the laptop charged up–it’s time to write. A lot. Yes, it’s time for an audacious writing week (came up with that myself). Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. Maybe aiming to write a whole mess of words doesn’t quite fit the mold of “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” After all, it’s just writing; it’s not like I’m going to be swimming the English Channel or climbing the Eiger. But it does mean putting everything else aside, putting in the hours, and putting down the words.

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Here’s a distraction I can handle: a lovely view of Notre Dame from Shakespeare & Co.’s new cafe.

Why now? Well, Merideth is off to D.C., the girls are on a ski trip with their school (gotta love the schedule of vacances scolaires in France!), so for me, it’s the perfect opportunity for a mini-NaNoWriMo of my own.

Now, I could use the time to get out of Paris to see another part of France; I did that in the fall and had a great week in Colmar and even got some good writing done. But doing that also means a lot more planning and energy spent finding places to write. So this week I’ll stick to Paris and see how much I can get done.

Planning the work, working the plan

Planning for this week has already paid off. Leading up to it, I spent time going through the manuscript, evaluating which parts need the most work, where the gaps are, and seeing what I could hope to get done in a focused week of writing. Suffice to say, I’ll have no shortage of material calling for my attention.

Having some specific writing goals helps, but the real enemy to getting the writing done isn’t found in the writing itself–it’s in all the distractions that clamor for my attention. (Like blogging, maybe? Hmm…) So, the more important planning I’ve done for this week has gone into how I’m going to organize my time, such as:

  • Getting to bed at 10. No binge-watching Netflix and noshing on Cheetos (can you even find those abominable things in France? I hope not!) and then waking up too sleepy and sluggish to get the writing started.
  • Getting up at 6 and getting ready for the day. (So far so good!)
  • Planning out some reading to give my brain a break from writing, since I can’t just write for eight hours straight. I’ll be starting each day with a chapter from 1 Peter and then dip into The Elements of Eloquence throughout the week for some writerly inspiration (I blogged about finding this fantastic book here. Check it out. Everyone who writes should read this book!). I’ve got a couple other books cued up as well.
  • Being intentional about exercise and meals and even chores.
  • Planning some lunches and coffees with friends and even a game night. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, but I still need to see other human beings!

So: here’s hoping for 15,000 words–or more–this week. I’m already more than 10% of my way there.

And now it’s time to get back to it. The next chapter is waiting.