Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything. But getting people to pay for something is MORE everything.
I’m a part of the women’s movement, even if nobody knew it but me.
My eyes can’t help it when the worst one is right there at the top.
My entire life, I was the smart kid who didn’t do her homework, but aced every test. I got As and Bs without really trying. I wrote every paper the night before, the morning before, the class before. This means is that I trained myself to write a great first draft. I left myself no time for rewrites and revision, barely enough time for a cursory spell check. that worked fine for me in school. i probably could have had a few more As with a little more work, but I was happy.
Except now I’m screwed, trying to write novellas and novels. Now my brain believes that every sentence must be great. We only get one chance at this, it says, and I can’t convince it otherwise.
A week ago, I bought, downloaded, and started using Write or Die. I hesitate to mention it because it’s working so far. I wrote two thousand words yesterday, in ten minute rounds, 300 words at a time. Routines work well for me, but only for so long. The same way a drug will work until your body grows immune, eventually, I can’t write the way I used to.
I wrote the first half of my first novel using a digital timer. I set one for ten minutes, and wrote. I set the other for five minutes, and that was my break. Write for ten, read for five. Write for ten, click around the internet for five. Write for ten, dance around the apartment for five. It worked for 30k words. Then I took a break for Christmas, and my brain could never get back to that same place.
I did this thing where I wrote a few sentences, then played a round of Doodle Jump. That one worked because a game never lasts very long, and there’s only one level. There’s a defined beginning and end. I’ve tried writing “real” words in 750words.com. It almost never works.
My new method of writing is less a routine and more a structure. My first novel was an idea, not a plot. I figured if I could write a thousand word scene for every one of the 50 United States (plus DC), I would have 50k words, and a good foundation of a first draft. The thousand word scene worked a charm. Now I just have to figure out how they fit together.
I’m a better plotter now. If I want a novella 20k long, I make a list of 20 high-level plot points. That’s the skeleton. The muscle is 10 expanded points within each of those 20 high-level points. Like a fractal. Now I have 200 scenes, and if I can write just 100 words for each one, bam, 20k words. I’ve used this same method for my last four long-form projects, including the novella I’m currently writing.
What wasn’t working was my word processor itself. I’m afraid writing in Scrivener is too similar, for my brain, as writing into Word those papers I used to do at the last minute, back in university. I started to stall, stop, let my brain wander around, looking for just the right word. I needed more urgency. I’ve never been good with deadlines. I need to make myself good at deadlines.
That’s where Write or Die comes in. You tell the program how long you want to write and how many words. You tell it to go easy on you or kick your butt. Then you start writing, and if you stop, you suffer the consequences. My consequences, because I’m not yet brave enough to move the meter all the way over to Kamikaze, are the screen turning red, and then a sound like the most annoying alarm clock ever. It works. I don’t even want to see the red start to fade in. I move my fingers just to stop the noise. I’m writing the best shitty words of my life.
There was no one in his band who could get more jazz out of his instrument than Cab could get out of his throat.
Buffering [Sonny Payne]
When I was a percussionist in high school, we were responsible for keeping the jazz band, full orchestra, concert band, and marching band in time, and we did so through a haze of marijuana and hormones and passed-down stories of some guy’s uncle who saw Gene Krupa perform a 12-minute solo using every part of a high hat while eschewing the rest of the kit. And to this day, when I see videos like this, I get an urge to skip class and go make out with a bassoonist in a sound-proof practice room. After all, life is short, and lunch period is even shorter.
Did you read that? That was swell. One hundred five words. Less than half a page.
That’s all it took for this person (whom I’m pretty sure I’ve never met) to make my day. Now I want to follow this person or star this person or favr this person or whatever the fuck au courant verb box I need to mash on in order to see more things like that.
Yes, I realize I am — already, again, seemingly forever — carrying on like that weird relative who always smells of gin and Starlight mints as he threatens to “set you up with a sweet Doobie Brothers mix.” I love Starlight mints, but please don’t misunderstand me.
I genuinely enjoy looking at oversaturated pictures of coltish women I’ll never meet. I’m always game to make fun of “improperly” punctuated “signs.” And God knows I love reading (and posting) elliptical quotes from famous books I never finished reading. Stipulated.
But, brother. Do I ever wish more people would write little stories like Buffering’s. It’s just so wonderful. You know?
I mean, Jesus Christ, people, LOOK. We have keyboards! Literally right in front of us. Right this second.
This post is nearly four years old, and I think about it nearly every day. Every day when I make the clackity noise and especially the days when I don’t.
Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.
Little stories come easy for me. I’ve written little stories my whole life. But the bigger they get, the harder they are to write. The secret is to break the big stories into little stories. 250 words in ten minutes, scene by scene, and if you work at that long enough, you’ll find you have a novel.
I used to feel like I would never write a novel, like I couldn’t. I’ve long thought that I’m more a poet than a prose writer. The first time I read a Harold Pinter prose poem, my brain went, yes, yes, yes. It was about cricket, and I don’t know anything about cricket, so I wrote one about hockey, dissecting Pinter’s structure and style.
This was before I started writing on the internet, and when I did, I recognised it as poetry immediately. I use whitespace and line breaks the way poets use whitespace and line breaks. It’s my punchline, my rhyming couplet.
I had been going about this novel thing all wrong. I was trying to write a novel like the ones we read in school. But what I was writing online wasn’t anything like that. The only way I’m ever going to write my novel is to write it my way: making the clackity noise, telling little stories, clicking them together into bigger stories, and knowing where to put the line breaks.
It’s been a quieter month than I had hoped for. I always know I’m not writing when I’m making too much of the wrong kind of noise, the whining instead of the clacking. I needed to read this again today, if only to remind myself that writing doesn’t happen in your head.
It happens in your fingers.
As Facebook has become a real-life social network infested with parents, co-workers, ex-friends, and people you barely know, Tumblr has become the place where young people express themselves and their ACTUAL INTERESTS with their ACTUAL FRIENDS.
Writing isn’t coming easy this month. I don’t think I like the story I’m writing. Nearly 10k in, and it feels like I haven’t got to the good part yet. But I also think I’m distracted. Earlier this month, I received word on my two upcoming novellas. The first comes out in April; the second in May. Which means March is all about edits and covers and the minutiae of making a book. So many forms to fill out. Thank God all the best calls I found with March deadlines are short stories.
It struck me this morning, rewriting my bio again, after April, I will never again be an unpublished author. I’m not writing to write anymore. Now, I’m writing for money, for readers, for the next level. I’m on the edge of something big, but I’m also hating every sentence I write in Scrivener, so no worries about my ego getting out of control.