Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Renovate Your Writing Life

Right now, thousands and thousands of people are having a go at NaNo - writing their hearts out to try and get down 50,000 words in a month. I'm totally into revision mode and my head couldn't come up with a novel-length idea if my life depended on it, so I'm passing this year. But I have plenty to think about as I pull my first draft to pieces, dissect it with pens and coloured markers, and then attempt to rewrite based on notes, new ideas and what I see are gaps or soft spots. This is a slow process. Apart from anything else, it's adding around 20% extra words (I'll be in big trouble if I end up with 50,000 extra words!).

You might be thinking So what? You do that kind of rewriting all the time. Do you? Everyone seems to rewrite in a different way. I'm beginning to think that just fixing what your critique group picks up is maybe not the best way to go. It's the easy, fast way, for sure. There have been times when I have sat down and started a whole novel all over again, from scratch, barely referring to the first draft. While this has got me closer to making the novel work the way it needs to, it hasn't been a "cure all" process. Sometimes all it's done is introduce new problems!
So this process I am learning is exciting, different, intensive and needs a lot of perseverance.

Which brings me to the Renovate Your Life workshop I attended last Sunday. A few people I know read Craig Harper's website articles and email posts regularly, so they have an idea of what his thoughts are on things like goals and motivation. That was one of the interesting aspects for me - the discussion about staying motivated. Basically, he says the feeling of being motivated and enthusiastic never lasts (true), that you might attend a workshop or read something great and feel motivated by it, but that will fade and then what do you do? The people who achieve stuff, who get where they want to go, don't rely on motivation.

I have days when I think my writing is going so well, that it will last for weeks and weeks, and I'll finish my wonderful novel and it will be brilliant. Ha! Within a day or two, doubt sets in. The novel concept is stupid, I can't write, no one will want to read it. Why am I bothering? At times like that, it's very hard to feel motivated. And telling yourself that your goal is publication and won't that be wonderful doesn't help at all. The brain, in its infinite pessimism, just mutters, "Yeah, what about the bad reviews." So Craig is right. When motivation disappears, what is left?

For a start, what Bryce Courtenay calls BIC. Bum in chair. Setting small goals, such as 500 words a day. Bribing yourself. Re-inspiring yourself with writing books. Everyone has their own "tricks". Work out what gets you moving, and use it. Some of the things Craig talked about included:
* we get in our own way - over-think and under-do.
* we shut doors on ourselves, and say things like "that's not me - I couldn't do that".
* we sabotage ourselves, and talk ourselves down, or out of possibilities.
* we don't plan our lives, we just let them happen (he suggested would you just get in a car and let a trip from Perth to Sydney happen? without planning for money, petrol, maps etc?).
* we look at our history and let it stop us from trying new things or changing.
* we play the blame game.
* we look for shortcuts and quick fixes.

There was a lot more than that, of course. Plenty of positive ideas for change and achieving what you want. I think he's planning to release a DVD of the session at some point. But while all of those things are about life in all its aspects, I couldn't help applying them to writing in particular. And a point about hours hit home with quite a few people there - we often use the NO TIME excuse (I know I do). Count up how many hours a week - honestly - that you spend watching TV. Then take four of those hours and write instead. That's a starting point to think about.

Whether you're doing NaNo or not, maybe take some time to consider the whole motivation and perseverance idea. NaNo is excellent motivation for getting that novel down that's been inside you for months or years. But what will keep you going afterwards? If you're not doing NaNo, like me, what is keeping you writing right now? And next week? And next month? On a good writing day, when it's all humming along, is there anything you can capture and nurture, to use on the bad days? What motivates you for the long distance?


Anonymous said...

After months of stagnation, I was reminded of NaNo, dropped the novel I was working on and and have now written 8396 words in five days (and I'll get some in this evening too) of something new. It is indeed a huge motivation. But I've been wondering, too, what will happen when NaNo fervour falls away. Will I be back to where I was the two previous months?

One thing I can be sure of - I can't use the NO TIME excuse anymore because I'll have proved to myself during NaNo - even during these last five days - that even with kids and work, I can find the time.

Kristi Holl said...

I found over the last year that motivation was a LOT easier to find when writing on a project that I really wanted to do. It was on spec, don't know if it will ever sell, but it was fun. In past years of being professional, and having to sell in the single mom years, I lost a lot of the fun. And when the fun went, the only motivation was the money/job/paying bills. I think from now on, no matter what other writing I do, I will have at least one project going that is just pure fun to write.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

Swain - isn't NaNo great for that? I was the same - I'd leave my computer running and anytime I had half an hour or so, I'd sit down and write. All those little bits of time (that I used to think I never had) added up to a huge number of words.
Good luck with your 50,000!

Sherryl said...

You're right, Kristi - money turns out to be not much of a motivation when you have to sit down, day after day, and churn out words. You start to feel like a tired old butter churn!
Writing something you love, and having characters you love, makes such a difference. There are still days when it's hard though - those are the days when I tell myself, "Hey, are you a writer or not? Write!"