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This year I made a firm decision to do NaNoWriMo, but waffled back and forth about which novel to write. My original thought had been to finish Shifter, the murder mystery set in the Fireborn universe, but I read a number of things that made me think something with more of a steampunk feel might be more likely to sell. And I had a character in a world that mixed magic and tech, a world that intrigued me, that I wanted to explore. Similarly, the character intrigued me, he seemed larger than life in some ways and was obviously flawed in others, but perhaps not in the same ways that the first guy who I wrote about who knew him thought. So I did a bit of worldbuilding, came up with the beginnings of a plot, and started writing.

Partway in, I realized I needed a second viewpoint character, and spent a day doing almost nothing but thinking about who I needed her to be, her attitudes and skills and character.

I also kept running into spots where I needed a clearer idea of the world and how it differs from our own, or things that I had to research.

I spent a lot of my time on this book doing things other than typing words; things that made keeping up with the word count more stressful than I expected. I expect once I have the worldbuilding completed, I’ll have to do a pass through the story just to check that kind of detail, and to add things, though some things I added when going back to check information I’d written early in the book.

I learned some things about how to manage my time for writing; and I learned that the time I’ve been spending on writing since last year's NaNoWriMo has made a difference in both my ability to do this kind of sustained sprint and to do other writing while working on a novel. Last year I worked on no other stories while I was writing the first draft of Mirri's Walkabout. This year, I didn’t stop other writing during November, though it slowed down.

I learned that for me, making a commitment to other people, even to something that's basically a social fiction (NaNoWriMo isn’t exactly a contest, and I didn’t “win” anything but words on the virtual page), that having companions of some sort, even distant ones, makes a very real difference to me. This was no surprise to me; there’s other things (exercise, music practice) that I’m far more likely to do if I’m doing them with someone.

By the way, the comments I get on my fiction also work this way, helping to keep me inspired to write. So if you want to see more from me, take a moment to comment. Even a smiley-face with no words reminds me that I’m not alone, that my efforts make at least a tiny difference to someone besides myself.

But back to NaNoWriMo.

This project, more than any other, highlighted how important the writing time that’s spent on other stuff is. Research, from factual data—when were different things invented, or what an angry skunk sounds like, or how a manually-powered dumb waiter works—to more speculative things. If there’s no oil, how do people heat their houses? If people need to move to energy-efficient homes a century or more ago, what technologies were available or easily discoverable? Characterization—what type of character traits would both be compatible with the characters I can already have and different enough to provide some contrast? Stuff that’s hard to research, that you need to talk with people—how much smoke does something like a molotov cocktail or similar device make? How about using alcohol to burn an old wood door? How much air does either one of those things use up? Pacing. Holistic stuff--if the antagonist’s motive is such and so, how would that show up early in the story, before he or she takes more direct action?

And it taught me how important down time is to writing, time not spent typing words and also time not spent actively thinking about writing.

And that’s the scary part of this subject, to me. If it were only a matter of planting my rear end in the chair and typing fast, I could do 25,000 words in an 8 hour day (figured at 60 words a minute; I’ve tested at over 80.) But it’s not. It’s all this other stuff, and especially the thinking, the dreaming, and the refilling of the creative well.

There’s lots of things I understand about writing, but this one is a mystery:

How do you time-manage thinking and dreaming?


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
For me, it is any time not spent actually writing-- especially time spent doing 'mindless' tasks like dishes or showering or cleaning the fridge, etc. I have found if I am stuck in the book, getting up and cleaning the kitchen will, a lot of times, unblock me.

For you, perhaps gardening? Some task that engages the hands but lets the mind roam free... :)
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:26 am (UTC)
Housework sometimes yes, sometimes no. With my allergies, housework raises dust and other allergens; unsurprisingly, allergy attacks don't help with thinking or writing.

Gardening would probably work much better, but there's not much one can do in the garden in Milwaukee in November.

But the other thing that makes it mysterious is that I can't say "OK, I'll do something else for an hour and then know what to type next." Sometimes one minute googling or five minutes playing computer solitaire works, other times hours of research and other activities don't help.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
*nod* Oddly, for me, the thing that works best is taking a shower. I've taken to joking that inspiration is water-soluable!
Dec. 3rd, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
Sounds like it's not as soluble as you make it out to be, if it's becoming a useful precipitate in your brain as soon as you hit the water!

Dec. 3rd, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
*laughs!* Good point!
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
Gardening, cleaning the house and even showering are good ways to unlock the creativity. Of course, you need to rest and sleep as well.

Likewise, you need the time to write. :)
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
Yes, sleep is very important!
Dec. 2nd, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Sometimes when I'm stuck in my writing I decide to sleep on it or take a walk. Recently I have been painting with water colors to try to re-energize myself. I'm not particularly good but the use of colors and textures and designs somehow make me feel better. Then when I go back to write, voila! I'm not stuck anymore.
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
That's cool. :-D

When I know I'm trying to work out story stuff, not stuck so much as processing, I'm reluctant to paint, because I know that painting uses a very different mind-focus than writing. I have to mentally shift gears, enough so that I'm hesitant about possibly derailing ongoing processes.

But if I'm feeling burnt-out on writing, painting or one of the other creative arts that's (for me, anyway) very different than writing is absolutely a good idea. Thanks for sharing!
Dec. 2nd, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Long walks give your characters time for conversations with each other, I walk & talk and look quite mad, and long lie ins. When I was well I used to do a lot of my writing when literally asleep, and wake up type it out 3am (one reason I've shut down a lot on my writing lately as it pushes me beyond my physical limits)
Dec. 2nd, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
Good luck convincing your body to give you the writing at times when it's not unhealthy to get it down. That should be possible.

My characters seem to prefer talking to each other when I have a keyboard available. lol
Dec. 3rd, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
OOC -- I have a day job, and I have a commute of some half an hour to and from it. That's an excellent time for thinking and daydreaming, if I am being organized.
Dec. 3rd, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
Depends on the circumstances of the commute. If not too distracting, you're right!
Dec. 3rd, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
I drive down a generally-crowdy but civil highway. It works for me! ... um, usually.

Dec. 3rd, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
It's that last caveat--"usually"--that makes it a mystery.

Sometimes doing something that distracts me totally helps; other times it hurts. Ditto with spending time carefully not getting too distracted, or doing research related to what's going on in the story.

But I usually don't stay stuck for long, so I won't complain too much.

I do want to get faster/more efficient, however. At this point, I guess that means just building up the muscles more. Which means it's time to write!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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