I bought this book by the guy who started the National Novel Writing Month, an annual project in November to encourage people who want to write a book to produce a first draft in just one month. A 50,000 word first draft, that’s the same length as books like Brave, New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Lord of the Flies.
In a spurt of inspiration, I bought the book a few months ago because I liked the playful writing style and the title: who wouldn’t identify with that, as a writer? No plot? No problem! I’m in.
But reading halfway in, it wasn’t exactly telling me how to write, which is what I was looking for, which is ridiculous when you think about it. No, instead it was more the event surrounding the first draft, the psychology of committing yourself to doing it, of making the commitment public, and then hunkering down and just doing it.
So why is it harder for writers to write than most normal people? Is it that writers fabricate this illusion that writing is harder than it really is? 50,000 words sounds like a lot, but in just 16 installments, I am halfway there today. Like any game to lose weight or count your steps on a FitBit, measuring progress with numbers can really motivate. I’ve started writing my word count on our kitchen calendar every day, like an odometer reading, and today I reached 25,052.
Unemployed since December, I had a lot of goals for this timeframe. Like getting closer to my dog, learning to speak German, climbing/hiking again, reconnecting with my family, launching a new freelance career for myself, plotting the logistics to relocate to Europe for a year, and writing a manuscript.
I am really proud to say that despite the audaciousness of this list, I am going to complete a first draft of my memoir, because for however hard it is to produce something good, it’s not that hard to produce a first draft. And you don’t produce something good without this necessary, albeit painful-to-read first step.
What’s killed my writing in the past is going back and reading it. Which is why this time, I’m barreling forward to the end, to a 50,000 word goal that will be roughly 90 pages on 8.5 x 11″ when it’s printed, and once it is I will sit back and read it with a pen, and likely keep about 5% of it, then start over.
It’s similar to how I write blog posts or poems, often drafted with pen and paper on a walk, with some notes or ideas, transferred to the laptop, reviewed and reworked, then published. The publishing part’s easier in the digital world, but I’m not going there.
Because at the end of the day, after all the romantic bullshit I’ve rolled in about writing and art and self-realization and so forth, writing has a physical routine to it that requires you develop a method that works for you: for me, it’s about not letting myself get in the way, to keep the rabbits from getting under the fence and destroying everything I’ve planted, to be out there with a shovel chasing the rabbits away and re-secure the border. The rabbits, unfortunately, are in my head.
The memoir is, for nothing else, therapy. I sit here cold every morning and work up scenes from the last 20 years and dramatize them. I signed a lot of agreements when I left my job that I wouldn’t write about it, and I bit my lip when I did that, but I’m not going to think about that now. I’ve just got half of a first draft, which isn’t going to change the world, not yet.
Thank you for being a very necessary part of my fantasy, and enjoy your weekend.