Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A million words in 2016 (March)

I'm writing a million words in 2016!

Below is the progress diary for March (I'll be updating it as the month goes on).

If you're interested, here's the intro and here are the diaries for January and February.

The red number in the right-hand column is the total word count. Please wish me luck in watching that number tick up to 1,000,000 over the rest of the year!

The Million-Word Diary: March

1st March356,517
I'm doing a new writing class at the moment. In it, we're reading a story by Jonathan Buckley called "Briar Road" which won the 2015 BBC national short story award. The full text is available via this linkIt's a beautiful story, and dissecting it in a writing class is a brilliant idea because the it's a masterpiece of subtle, clever storytelling. There are no explosions or screaming matches - it's just beautiful prose all the way through. Don't read it quickly. Take it slow.

In this quote, the narrator is observing a family. It's a great example of Buckley telling us soooo much in just a few words:

No love is left between these parents, but the situation is an ordinary one. Many children come through such things uninjured. Mine did.

... that tiny little "Mine did" on the end tells us:
  1. The narrator has kids
  2. The narrator fell out of love with her partner (and they presumably split)
  3. The kids were left relatively unscathed by the split
  4. (...and probably several other things that I'm too sleepy to think of right now)
That's an amazing amount of back-story to tell the reader in just two words.

I'm sure few authors would allow it, but I would love to see their first drafts (so I could compare them to the finished piece). It'd be such an education! The editing process is still quite a mystery :-( Is it possible to take the messy first drafts that I'm currently writing and turn them into quality stories like "Briar Road"? I hope so...

Anyway, the class was good fun and I feel like I have a lot more insight into the story now. I'm hoping this'll help me improve my own writing. Fingers crossed!

All the late nights have finally caught up with me. I was meant to go to a writing group this evening but fell asleep! I got home from my morning writing class at midday, put my head down for a moment, and didn't wake up until 7 PM. I should probably learn a lesson from this, but no - here I am at 3 AM typing this blog. It's official... I have no common sense.

Today's word count was 6,273 which brings the total to 356,517.

2nd March362,187
I mentioned to a friend today that I was terrified I'd never be able to edit all these words into something worth reading. He made me laugh with this reply:

I'm not going to mention monkeys with typewriters and infinity, but I'll bet there's already some good stuff there!

So there you go... the image of "monkeys with typewriters" just gave me reassurance :-)

Word count today was 5,670 so the total's now 362,187.

3rd March370,913
Aargh! So many writing classes! 

I like them. I really do. But if you do lots of writing classes in a row then you need to take in a different piece for each.

You can take the same piece to each one, but there's no point because it's unlikely you'll hear anything different from one class to the next. After all, writers' groups are writers' groups - they're full of writers telling you to trim your adverbs, delete the first chapter, and to "show don't tell".

I "tell" far more than I should. Bad me.

I had nothing new (nothing that I was prepared to show, anyway) so decided to be brave and take in a chunk that was written for NaNoWriMo 2015. My poor NaNo manuscript has been languishing, unedited, in the dark depths of my hard drive - it was about time part of it got dragged out to stand blinking, naked and terrified in the sun.

But there was a problem. It was all in "messy first draft" form, and it was hard work to find a complete scene to fit the word limit (in most writing groups that I attend, there's only really time to show 1,000 words max). Things went well though - I had plenty of good feedback and now feel a lot more confident about editing the rest! I have to admit... it's kinda exciting to get good feedback about a piece that hasn't been edited. It gives me hope that the editing process won't be as bad as I think.

It was a really fun group tonight. Everyone was positive and very friendly. It's a great class! We had quite a variety of subjects: invisible stalkers, psycho burglars wearing veils, a bunch of druggies in a van, Greek carpenters, mysterious gadgets, and a fun piece about a severed head which cracks me up every time I read it :-)

And somewhere in amongst the writing groups, I managed to get a bit more typing done as well! Today's word count was 8,726 which gives me a total of 370,913.

5th March397,792
I've been re-reading my NaNoWriMo story and it's not as bad as I thought. The "psycho inner voice" character is quite comic (as well as being psycho) and the "crazy girlfriend" character seems fittingly scary. It's proving tricky to edit, though. The most worrying part is that I've peppered it with a bunch of freaky sex scenes. The scenes work with the story (the girlfriend uses sex as a weapon) but I've never written sexy scenes before, so I've no idea if they're good, bad, or just plain awful. And here's the thing... no way am I brave enough to take a naughty scene to a writing group. Just no. Can't do it. It was bad enough the other week when I wrote that short story that squicked everyone out. I may never live that down!

Word counts for 4th and 5th of March were 9,824 and 17,055 so the total's now 397,792. That ain't half bad for a guy going through a divorce and a house sale while also trying to deal with a weird health condition. Am soooo close to the next big milestone. 400k, I'm coming to get ya!

8th March422,589
What is it with staying up all night?!

During those few times in life ("now" is one of those times) when I've been lucky enough not to be slave to a morning alarm, my body clock has adjusted to exactly the same routine:

9 PM - Wide awake, with creativity cranked up to 11/10. (Yes, it goes up to 11.)

4 AM - Okay, now I'm dead. See how dead I am? But I'm still typing, so there.

5 AM - All right, Body, you win. Time to sleep.

8 AM - Zombie Mark staggers around thinking this is waaaay to early to wake after a 5 AM bedtime.

9 AM - Brain is slowly waking up now. The day can begin.

2 PM - Sudden energy crash, regardless of what I've been doing/eating. This is the afternoon slump taken to a crazy extreme; it's like a black hood suddenly being pulled over my head. Sleep is usually non-negotiable.

5 PM - Wake up and stagger around like a zombie again.

9 PM - Brain comes back to life, and the cycle begins once more! Write write write till 4 AM.

Does that sound a bit insane? Yeah, I guess it does. But this routine appears to be what Body wants to do, so maybe it's for the best.

The "black hood" thing probably sounds a bit alarming but it's been happening to me daily for years (and was far worse when I was on "normal" working hours). I think it's an ME/CFS thing (I mentioned it on a "how to cope with M.E." course once, and several people said they'd experienced the same symptom).

Anyway, despite the crazy sleeping hours, the words are still spilling from brain to page. I've got four novels so far, although admittedly they're all in "first draft" form (i.e. worth nothing without editing).

Word counts for 6-8 March were 18,169, 3,952 and 2,676, which brings the total to 422,589. Can't believe the midpoint is now in sight. This "million words" thing might actually be achievable!

12th March436,715
Here's the Mumbletoes Guide to Starting New Projects:
  1. Have good idea
  2. Start project
  3. Work like crazy
  4. Hit a "blip" (Translation: a minor obstacle that interrupts the work)
  5. Never do any work on that project ever, ever again
Blips are a huge problem. I find a workflow break can completely destroy motivation... and I don't think I'm alone in this: people start stuff all the time and then - after just a few months - drop it forever. That's just being human, isn't it? For example, look at how Joe AveragePerson uses the gym: at the start he's full of enthusiasm and goes three times a week, but then a blip causes him to skip a couple of sessions. Maybe he tries to go back, but the momentum is gone. It's harder now. He forgets more and more often. And suddenly he realises it's six months later and he's turned into a potato made of cream cheese.

Analogy over.

Anyway, so here I am, nearly halfway into the "million words" project, and I've hit a blip. Noooo! Admittedly there are all manner of crazy things happening at the moment (not least that I'm losing my home) but I still can't help worrying that this is the end of the project. Okay, that sounds fatalistic, but I know what I'm like... my motivation has always been dependent on that surge of enthusiasm at the start, and my track record shows that as soon as I stop, I really do stop.

Let's find a bright side. (Thinks, thinks, thinks...) Ah yes - the current word count is awesome! In all honesty, the blip was expected much sooner than this; I'm kinda proud I've kept this project going for so long. So come on, Brain... stop acting grumpy and give me some more words. Please?

Tonight's entertainment was a fun poetry event. Hilda's Lounge is now officially open for business! At the launch event, we were all invited to:
  1. Sit on the 70s sofa (I did)
  2. Wear 70s clothing (I didn't)
  3. Eat cheese and pineapple on sticks (I did. Twice!)
  4. Drink Babycham (I didn't, but only because I was driving)
  5. Read a poem (I did that too. Twice!)
Word counts for 9-12 March were 3,958, 2,113, 1,958 and 6,097 so the total is now 436,715. Hmm... that actually doesn't sound too bad. Okay, now I feel dumb... after all that moaning about blips, maybe I'm not having a blip at all.

But it really does feel like a blip! Writing has been a crazy struggle these past few days. Aargh. Confused now! I'm going to cry under a chair for a while. Please send chocolate.

18th March460,700
The blip continues! Noooooo! (again)

The words are still happening but it really is blood from a stone at the moment. Bah! :-(

Look at my poor graph! (below) The red line is the "par" line (i.e. it shows the 2,733 words per day required to hit 1,000,000 words by the end of the year) and the blue line is my daily word count. It's great to be so far ahead, but look how the line has levelled at the end! Help! Since 7 March, it's flattened out! And that red "par" line does not hang around! It chases me! Seriously... skip a few days of writing and it shoots towards the blue line faster than rocket monkeys.

My poor graph :-(

Highlighting the issue, just in case it wasn't obvious!

Anyway, I have to be kind to myself. I've just been through a very nasty divorce and have also lost my home. The fact that I haven't killed anyone yet is actually kind of impressive! Word counts for 13-18 March were 4,821, 7,019, 3,444, 3,091, 1,946 and 3,664. The total's now 460,700.

(PS No, I don't know what rocket monkeys are. But they do sound fast!)

20th March474,528
Tonight was good fun. I was at Poetry Swindon's open mic night and the crowd was huge! Strangely, a big crowd didn't seem as scary as a small one. Why is that?

I read my "Hugs are more important than potatoes" poem and it seemed to go down well. Daft poems are more popular than expected! :-)

Word counts for 19-20 March were 7,457 and 6,371, which brings the total to 474,528.

23rd March491,360
The blip is continuing but at least I'm managing to keep going. Seriously, though... arrgh... it's hard work!

However, as I said before, I have to be fair on myself. I'm moving around a lot at the moment and it's hard to write steadily when you're not settled.

Word counts for 21-23 March were 3,647, 5,793 and 7,392, which brings the total to 491,360. I'd hoped to reach the half-million a few days ago but that's okay - there are less than 10,000 to go before I hit the halfway mark, and that's kinda exciting :-)

27th March513,882
Meh. This isn't fun any more. 

Hitting 500k is great, but all I can do is look at this vast cache of words and stress about whether I'll ever be able to edit them into something readable.

Admittedly my head's not in the game at the moment. I sold my house a week or so ago, and I'm feeling a bit lost. I'm the sort of person who needs to know where home is, and that's not possible right now. Home stopped feeling like home a couple of years ago, and now it's gone gone gone... And if I get a rented place then I'll have to go back into an I.T. job, which I'm certain will be the end of this insane dream to earn money from creative writing.

Yes, I know, most writers have day jobs... but I tried to play the game that way for over 15 years and it didn't work out, which is why I'm now going all inTo me, the nine-to-five is the easy option and going back to it means I've given up on what's important. That's not living. That's just existing.

I'm moving away soon to start an extended writing retreat. Until then, a friend has been kind enough to put me up. Living in someone else's home, I'm always worried I'll accidentally break something or screw something up. It's hard to relax at the moment, which might explain why the writing is currently so difficult.

However, I do have the place to myself (my friend cut me a key and then went off on holiday leaving me alone to chill out in his house - how awesome is that?!) so I'm managing to find a bit of quiet time.

Also, there is a cat. 

Cats are a bit dull (in my humble opinion) but this particular moggy is stuffed... with personality. He comes and goes as he pleases, and is extremely particular about reserving his special spot on the bed. And when he wants attention, he has a very distinctive way of letting you know (he headbutts you until you stroke him). Crimble may be gaining a few new characteristics from this puss.

I'm meant to be talking about writing, not cats. Oops.

So anyway, that's the current mood: I'm feeling low, but I shouldn't be.

Today I saw some friends who are always awesome at giving me writing pep talks, and I think they helped me feel better about the current situation. So let's find the bright side and shine a light on it (and mix our metaphors)... I have a big pile of first drafts and I'll definitely be able to get a few novels out of them. This monstrous pile of words is not scary - it's useful. Life's a beach and you can't build castles without sand.

Word counts for 24-27 March were 4,204, 7,089, 5,917 and 5,312. Total is now 513,882.

31st March525,237
Things are still ticking on, and now I'm exactly quarter of the way into the "million words" task. Word counts for 28-31 March were 1,895, 3,284, 4,714 and 1,462. Total is now 525,237.

This is apparently the way my brain works

(image from the wonderful hyperboleandahalf)

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