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My fiction writing in March

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For the month of March, I promised myself that I would write fiction every day.

And I did. This is the first time I've ever written every day for more than a week or so, and I'm very pleased that I managed to do it. But some aspects of it were non-ideal.

Background: I'm writing a novel. I've been working on it intermittently for a very long time. I agreed with a friend to have a new draft of it done before WisCon, so in February I decided that I needed to start focusing on it more regularly.

The first few days of March, I was waiting for feedback, so instead of working on the novel, I worked on a short story in the same milieu. I made a lot of progress on that story in those first couple days, including figuring out the protagonist's background, and doing a bunch of research (and taking a bunch of notes) to back that up.

The question of how to count research was a tough one for me; for example, there are books I want to read, both fiction and non-, that will count as research, but researching per se is not going to get me any closer to having this draft done soon. So I had specifically decided that I would add actual wordcount to a work-in-progress every day, not just do research or write notes. Furthermore, although I didn't give myself any specific wordcount-number requirements, I had it in the back of my head that I would write about 500 words/day. When things are going smoothly, that's about half an hour of writing for me; seemed manageable.

And indeed, for those first three days when I was working on the short story, I wrote 500+ words a day without a problem. (Plus about 600 words of notes spread out over those days.)

And when I switched to the novel, things also went well for the first couple days: wrote a new pair of opening scenes, about a thousand words, in the first two days.

But after that, things went less smoothly, in a couple of ways:

  • There were a total of three days (all in the first half of the month) when, even though I took notes for the novel, I added no more than a dozen new words to the text. Those days were productive and useful; for example, on one of those days I spent about five hours doing major restructuring, adding blank placeholders for scenes (very useful to me in this case; see below), doing research, writing two long emails about the book to people who were giving me advice/info, finding and plugging small plot holes, and reading relevant parts of Steering the Craft. So that was a day well spent; but still, there was no significant new wordcount that day.
  • Most of my writing was at the end of my day, often after midnight. I was sleepy and couldn't hold big-picture stuff in my head, so I would write new scenes instead of dealing with major issues. Again, this was good and necessary, but writing when actually awake would probably be better.
  • On three days later in the month, I was so sleepy that I couldn't focus on the novel at all, so I wrote more on the short story instead. This too was good, in that I do want to finish writing the story; but it didn't advance the novel.
  • Most of the days when I did work on the novel, I wrote about 300 words, rather than the 500ish that I had hoped for.

In the end, I added 7300 words to the novel over the course of the month (which came to an average of nearly 300 words per day that I worked on it), and added nearly 2300 words to the story (averaging 380 words per day that I worked on that). On the one hand, I suspect that I have never before written 9600 words of fiction in a single month, so yay me! On the other hand, I had been unspokenly aiming for more like 15k for the month, so I only managed about half the novel wordcount I'd been hoping for. And I probably still need to add another 10k words to the novel to get it to a reasonable short-novel length (it's now at 58k, but about there's about 5k of specific scenes that probably need to be cut), and I'm running low on time for this draft.

A couple of things that helped keep me moving forward all through the month:

  • The fact that I made a commitment (publicly, I think) to writing every day. It would have been embarrassing to have to say I had missed a day. (I read an article a while back that said that announcing your plans ahead of time is bad because it makes you feel like you've already accomplished your goal so you don't end up doing it; but for me, it gives me a strong reason to follow through.)
  • A friend posted every day on Facebook inviting people to set small doable goals for themselves for that day, and to post about what they accomplished wrt the goal of the day. Other friends have hosted this daily-goals thing for the past few months, and those have been great too, but this is the first time I've participated more than sporadically. Having a welcoming place to post my progress every day was really helpful.
  • The fact that I didn't commit to any specific daily wordcount. If I had promised myself that I would write 500 words a day every day, there were a bunch of days when that would've seemed like an insurmountable goal. And so I would've skipped a day, and then I would have failed at my write-every-day goal so it would've been easy to skip more days. So instead of setting a daily wordcount goal, I just told myself I would write every day.
  • 300 words generally only takes me about 15-20 minutes if I don't have to stop to figure things out, so when I did write late at night, it didn't keep me up too much longer than I would've been up anyway.
  • The aforementioned blank placeholders. In retrospect, adding those to the Scrivener document was one of the most important things I did all month, because it gave me about ten places where I didn't have to think about the big picture, I could just open up the page and write the scene that I knew had to go there. (And I didn't have to start my writing session by making plot decisions or figuring out what to do next.) So on the (too many) days when I was too sleepy to think about the whole book, there was writing I could do that didn't require a lot of thinking or holding a lot of things in my head at once. I know that outlining doesn't work for lots of people, and I think that strict outlining doesn't work for me; I wouldn't have wanted to start with a scene breakdown of the whole book and then just fill in the scenes. But in this particular context, where I had a daily goal, setting up structure ahead of time to fill in later worked well for me.

Part of me is now thinking “Okay, I accomplished my goal of writing every day in March, now it's time for a break from all this writing stuff!” The rest of me is aware that I have yet to accomplish my goal of finishing this draft of the book, and that it's going to take a lot more work to get there, and that I should probably not only write every day in April but also set aside more time earlier in the day to do so, so that I'm not always writing while half asleep.

And writing long blog posts about writing doesn't count toward that goal, so I'll stop here.

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