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It’s the little things

November. National Novel Writing Month. As already alluded to here, I sat down to write on November 1, shiny new novel idea lined up, and promptly realized that this would quickly turn into National Nervous Breakdown Month, and that would be considerably less fun. I can write 50,000 words in a month, if I have time (and this was not the month for that), but they’re not good and useful words. They’re just words in a loose semblance of prose, lots of rambling and not so much with the organized narrative.

So instead, I decided to write some fiction every day in November. No word count, no predetermined project, just fiction. And I did. Written?Kitten! was a great deal of help: it provides a little reward at the end of a certain number of words. I used the 100-word default, and some days that was all I wrote. I worked a bit on the new novel idea, and on a pair of short stories I’d like to finish by the end of the year. (I also wrote a fair bit of nonfiction and ran a weekend-long weaving symposium, but those don’t count.)

The whole thing reinforced my pre-existing belief that writing every day for the sake of writing every day isn’t all that useful for me. If I’m brain-dead after a long day at work, the words I write aren’t particularly useful, and I end up with snippets scattered across my hard drive. It’s better for me to write when I have the focus to do so usefully, rather than wasting my time trying to do something I’m not capable of doing just then. I’m not denying the importance of writing regularly for someone who wants to be a professional: momentum is important.

Instead of writing after work when work has eaten my brain (which isn’t always), I should do other things that will free up time later in larger more useful blocks. I have little time; I have to make the most of it by managing time and brainpower.

Some wonderful things I’ve accumulated:

Predicting the weather, 1851 style: with leeches!

Mesopotamian math homework. (Someday I’m going to write an article on Renaissance Italian story problems: the history of mathematics instruction is fascinating.)

More on pedagogy: miniature murder scenes, a 1930s forensic tool. Special bonus: a “crime-fighting millionaire heiress grandmother.” Can’t beat that!

Three writing articles that go together in my mind, saved here for later:

They’re linked by the Palahniuk article; the second two don’t have much to do with each other. Or, rather, they do, but not directly. I’m pretty good with sentences; the thing in my brain now is what larger chunks of prose do. All three of those address that question, if from very different angles. Sort of.

Wow. That was an expressive description. Maybe I should reconsider this writing thing. But really, the thing I’m flailing to explain? When I understand it, then I can explain it. That’s how I knew I was making progress on sentences. This is the same thing but scaled up. (Learning is a spiral: you hit the same spot over and over, just out a little farther each time.)


  1. Vince says:

    Cool links! I especially liked the math homework and miniature murder scenes. I ordered the DVD “Of Dolls and Murder” it looked so interesting. And Jon Waters narrating? How could I resist?

  2. Eric says:

    What NaNoWriMo was not good for this year: I did not write anything close to 50k words, generating about 10k if you include a section of notes I drew up.

    What NaNoWriMo was good for this year: I figured out some things about my writing and how I ought to be writing, if I can just implement them and make them work. I learned that I probably need to start writing things backwards instead of trying to write one-thing-leads-to-another like George R.R. Martin or someone like that. I learned that I probably need to stop beating myself up if I don’t write any fiction on a day but still managed to leave a long comment on someone’s blog or elsewhere (e.g. a long forum post defending Star Trek, speaking purely hypothetically).

    The big one was the “writing backwards” bit, if I can just teach myself how to do it. Though “not beating myself up” may be important, too: I think I’m realizing something similar to what you said about writing every day, and for almost identical reasons.

    So I’m sort of feeling like NaNoWriMo was a “win” for me, even if it absolutely wasn’t even close in formal terms.