Progress Report: Finally Learning Basic Lessons

On May 1, I began a new writing challenge. 30 days. 100,000 words.

It’s a double NaNoWriMo, and a massive undertaking.

Before tonight, I was sitting at 31,133 words for the month. I’m halfway through the 30 day challenge and still 19,000 words shy of being on par.

But, I’m not upset with myself. 31,000 words in 15 days is still an impressive feat. At least, for me. That is an average of over 2000 words per day. Double my failed goal for 2016.

I didn’t join the challenge for the sweet taste of victory. This challenge is about learning my limits as a writer—and then smashing them like a gamma-radiated berserker.

And, I’m succeeding on that front.

Weekends are still my weakness

I accept something important about myself: I will never be productive on weekends.

No matter how much I try to prod and cajole myself into action, I need 18 hours of rejuvenation. I am useless from Friday night to mid-morning Sunday.

It’s okay. I’m allowed the rest.

The prevailing wisdom for writers is to write every day. If you don’t write every day, you’ll do nothing with your life.

This isn’t good advice. I can’t do it and trying leads to disappointment and frustration with myself. Frustration leads to emo. Emo leads to the dark side, unflattering haircuts, and questionable light saber decisions.

Ten years ago, I was working as a warehouse manager from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM seven days a week. Those 16-hour days contributed to poor life decisions and chemical abuse. I made it 3 months before crashing so hard I didn’t think I would ever recover. When I quit that job and rebooted my life, I promised myself to never work myself to near-death again.

But, I’ve chastised myself for not writing myself to death.

My productivity during the week has been great. This month, I’ve been writing in the evenings Sunday through Thursday, and my word counts have been great. It is okay for me to take two evenings off.

I can still progress in my goals, with less personal suffering, if I accept I won’t be writing on Friday and Saturday nights.

It is okay for me to dedicate time to recovery.

Now, I need to adjust my weeknight goals to match. If I want to get caught up and hit that 100,000 word mark, I will need to write 6255.18181818 words per day. A tall task, but one I am more comfortable with than punishing myself for not writing those 4591 words on Friday and Saturday.

I’ve learned another lesson this month to help with those numbers.

Actual multi-draft writing

There are two schools of thought on rewriting: Heinlein and Hemingway.

You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
-Heinlein’s Third Rule

The first draft of anything is shit.
-Ernest Hemingway

I’ve always tried to follow Heinlein’s rules, but I agree with Hemingway.

I’m not a good enough writer to have a finished and polished first draft. Not even close. This month, I’ve learned to embrace it.

Because I’m padding my word counts, I’ve given myself permission to write something multiple times. I’ve found a five stage process works well for shorter pieces. I haven’ tried it on something longer yet, but I plan to soon.

My Five Steps

Step One: Brain Dump
Before I do anything else each evening, I come up with a concept sentence. Just a single idea I want to write about. I can pull this from the list of ten ideas I created as part of my daily practice.
Once I have the idea; I lay back on my couch with my microphone hovering just above my head, set a timer for 10 minutes, and then brainstorm as much crap as I can. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe as I go. I talk fast and try to get as much out as possible.
By the time I’ve finished, I have a few decent ideas or concepts worth elaborating. I use those to move onto step 2.
Step Two: A Super Rough Outline
I take the few points from my brain dump and put them in a hierarchical outline, but, I could just use bullet points or a simple list. I want the ideas on the right side of my screen as I work in a document on the left.
Step Three: My Rough Draft
I use dictation for my rough draft, too. This time, I’m trying to be more focused. I use the list of ideas to keep the words flowing and try to follow the same basic structure, but I don’t worry too much about it.
This is a first draft. It doesn’t have to be good, but I find I come up with some clever phrases during this phase.
When I’m done, I cut and paste this into the document on the right, leaving my notepad document blank.
Step Four: My Better Draft
This is my almost finished product. I’ve found I have a good grasp of what I’m trying to write by the third time I write it. I can look for transitions, polish the language, and cut the fluff.
This is where I feel like I’m writing something worth sharing.
Step Five: Editing and Polishing
I copy and paste my last draft into Prowriting Aid. I let it give me the obvious grammar and spelling issues, then I work my way through the draft from top to bottom. I look at word choices, readability, and formatting.
During this process, I will rewrite a sentence here or there, break blocks of text into smaller paragraphs, and polish.
Unofficial Step Six: Publish

This is just the basics of writing. I should have learned this lesson ten years ago, but, better late than never. Maybe it takes this long to understand the power of rewriting.

I haven’t used this method to write anything of much length, yet, but I will. My next goal is to move from 1500 word blog posts up to a five or six thousand word essay.

My Next Goal

I plan to keep working on rebuilding my writing muscle this month by pushing as close to the end of my 100,000 word challenge as I can. This is writing boot camp and my brain will either sink or swim.

I’m publishing blog posts three days per week and writing those posts the night before they go live. My other two days are spent practicing longer essays. I want to crack that nut. There is a steep learning curve, but I’m dedicated to mastering it as a style.

I will share one of the longer essays I’ve worked on before the end of the month. It won’t be good, but I can’t get better in a vacuum.

The next progress report will be on May 30. I will be as close to 100,000 words (or more) as possible. I also hope to have some other news for you, but it is still hush-hush.

In the meantime, I will try to entertain you with more of my philosophical self-evaluation, burgeoning food snobbery, and obsession with Edwardian fashion. You know, the basics.