Karen Rivers

no na no wri mo for me, thank you. but you go ahead...

Karen Rivers

I hate the word counts, I'm not going to lie.

The word counts make me anxious.

Here is why I am not doing Nanowrimo (and never will again).

1.  Seeing other people accumulating words, whether they are good or not (and I have no way of knowing), will make me feel like I am losing.  

2.  Not adding up the words fast enough because I've had to go backwards and delete and edit and rewrite before I can move forwards will make me feel like I am losing.

3.  Not taking enough time at the beginning of my draft to find my character's voice and to feel out where he is going to go and what he is going to do, is going to make my words taste and feel artificial as they come up on the screen.  I will feel them straining to be something they aren't and I will start to dislike them, and I will feel like I am losing.

4.  My character, not quite properly formed, is going to be pushed through the action in my plot awkwardly, like an adolescent who has suddenly grown tall but hasn't yet gained a matching ability to balance their new height, which will make me feel like I am losing.

5.  A story that is not formed enough to roll easily is going to feel like my awkward, gawky character with balance issues is trying to push a square wheel up a steep hill, and at that point, I'll definitely be losing.

6.  After a month of sweating out clunky sentences in order to meet artificially set word goals, I'll resent my character, hate my plot, and notice all the horrible flaws in my writing.  And I will have lost.

I don't want my job -- which I love -- to be a win/lose proposition.

But for you, maybe it's not your job.  Maybe it's something you want to try.  Or maybe it is your job and this is what works for you.  I'm a little bit jealous, if that's the case.  Because it seems somehow ... clean.  Like a clean, precise way of executing this funny, messy, out-of-control thing that we do.

So if that's the case, I say, "Go forth and write!"  

But I won't be.  I mean, I will be, but not on that kind of schedule.

Here's something true:  I actually write more than 50,000 words a month, every month.  But only if I'm not counting.

Here's what my writing schedule looks like:

Write something.  


Here's a recipe for writing a book on a schedule, if you go in for that sort of thing:

Write something

Delete it.

Write something else.

Save it, just in case, but delete it later.

Write a character.  Think about a character.  Wait for the character to become herself.

(Worry that you're possibly losing it.)

(Just a bit.)

Keep waiting.

When you have your character, think about something that could happen to your new person.  That's the "What if?"

That's your novel. 

Go for a walk.  Think some more, while you are doing other things.  Turn the story over and over again in your mind.  

Write the first chapter.

Abandon it.  

Go back to doing what you need to do which is rewriting an older project, replete with characters and what-ifs.  Rewrite the old thing by re-reading it.  Wonder if it's any good, after all.  Decide it isn't.  Wallow around in self-doubt for a good long while.  Peruse job listings.  Polish resume.

Go back to writing your new thing.  Get all fired up about the new thing!  Get halfway through the new thing and remember that you have the other thing you are required to finish.

Finish it by avoiding opening the document until finally, nauseated, and late, you face it.  Sentence by sentence.  At first, it's tooth-grittingly hard.  It will be.

You will take a while to remember how to breathe under the water of your old, lumpy draft.  It's not nearly as shiny and exciting as the new one.  Resent it.

But keep at it.

Eventually, something will give.

Let the pace pick up.  Remember when this WAS the exciting, shiny, best thing ever?

Get caught up in the excitement of it again.  Think about nothing else.  Think obsessively about their characters and what they would do in any and every situation.

Forget what you are saying half-way through a sentence because you've just finally realized the one thing that's going to bring the plot together.

Walk through the woods, watching your feet in the leaves, while you mentally shift the entire book back six months on its own timeline, changing the seasons the characters inhabit.  Realize this is going to be really hard.

Do it anyway.

Rewrite the entire book in one rush of 27 solid hours so that the timeline is suddenly right.  (At certain points, this will feel like wrestling angry vipers.  Don't give up.)

Feel high from doing that.  Feel like you should do something exhilerating.  Like cage-diving with sharks.

Clean your house.

Re-read your most recent draft.

Realize that although the timeline is right, a bunch of the other stuff is not.

Wallow a bit more in self-doubt that's balanced by slight awe that you managed to actually do what you thought you couldn't do with the timeline.  If you did that, you can do anything.

Remind yourself.

Blog some stuff.

Walk more in the leaves and pouring rain, the wind whipping into your eyes.  Listen to loud music.  It's probably safe to sing now because not very many people are in the woods.

Go home.  Realize that a pivotal part of your character is just plain wrong.  Go through the book very slowly, chipping off this wrong part and adding in the right part and fixing the long ripple that this repair has made.

Feel like your fingers are bleeding from this effort.

Take a week or two to do that, working hard, head bent over your desk, sweating.

Re-read your WIP again.  Realize it now almost sort of works.

Then, from the beginning, go through very slowly, as though with an extremely hot iron.  Take your time.  Iron each word as smooth as you can, and from there, push your iron further, over each sentence.  Iron the paragraphs.  

Take another large chunk of time to view the whole thing as a ... well, a whole.


Realize that you've actually done it.

Go for another walk, only this time, think about nothing.  By now the leaves will be gone.  It may be snowing.  While you are thinking about nothing, a new idea, a new character, a new setting will creep into your mind.

When you get home, write the first few pages because you need that rush of excitement to keep you going.  Pace yourself.  It's not quite this book's time yet, because you have that other one on the go that needs to go through the hard part.   The work-part.  The edit and the rewrite and the labor of getting your story to its natural end. 

That's why it's a "job".  Starting books is a hobby.  And a really fun hobby.

Finishing them is the work.

I guess -- well -- I just guess I don't see how word counts fit in.    The books are as long as they are when they are done.  Word counts?

Are just not in my process.

But I wish you luck.  I really do.  I wish you all the best.  

Mostly, I want to stand behind you and shout, "YOU AREN'T LOSING!"  Even though it might feel that way.  

Nanowrimo makes writing into a team sport.  And I like team sports!  Go team!

I don't like team sports.  That's a lie. I'm sorry.  I want to be the sort of person who likes team sports but I just am not that person.

Maybe that's my problem.

Maybe that's why I feel compelled to write this post once a year.  To remind all the people who hate team sports that it's OK to not play team sports if you don't like them.

For all of you, my no-team-sports people, if I was going to invent a writing month, I'd make nanowalkmo.   I'd suggest you walk for two hours every day.  Alone.  No writing allowed.  All you could do would be to walk and to think about the book that you'll write when you sit down to write it.  You wouldn't be allowed to even start until you'd thought about it for a month, no touching it.  One full month.  Walking every day.  

Maybe try it in December?

You won't lose.