This is a delayed post from my time at the Future Bookshop. Written during my 10,000 word day, this post took me to the finish line, and was the exhausted pinnacle of a day where I learned an awful lot about myself and my writing process.
I’ve just spent a whole day (10am-10pm) writing. I’ve written a combination of my novel/memoir, blog posts, and a first draft for a future article I’ve got an idea for. I’ve never spent this kind of a stretch of time writing before, and I’m absolutely stuffed. I expect to spend a fair amount of time just staring at a blank wall when I get home. I’m now in my final fifty minutes of writing, and I want to reflect on how badly I’ve planned my day, and how much more smoothly my day might have gone if I’d planned it effectively.
Indeed, this blog post is the result of hitting a dead-end after running my well of ideas dry for my manuscript and blog post and article ideas. True, I didn’t have a lot.
Before today’s writing session, I wrote down about five or six scenes I thought I’d like to write for my book. I just wrote down one sentence reminders of what the scenes were (“Hospital glass window”, etc). I also wrote down some blog post ideas (“Review: Summer Without Men, Hustvedt”). What I failed to take into account, however, was that I just might not feel like writing these things. As we all, no doubt, know from writing classes or workshops, it’s really incredibly hard to write something you’re not interested in. In fact, even if you’re not a writer – you probably know this feeling from your history of writing essays and papers when you’ve been given a list of topics that are all pretty boring.
What I’m trying to say here is that it can prove invaluable to plan out your time effectively. When you lose steam on one scene, move to the next one: and have a list that will be difficult to exhaust. If you’ve got a really long list, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit the end of it.
I also looked at my Now Write: Non-Fiction book last night. I thought about writing down some of the exercises, but I didn’t. I also thought about bringing the book in with me, in case I got stuck. I thought that would be just too naff, and so I also didn’t put the book in my bag. I just wrote my little list composed of a handful of ideas, and when I started writing I ran that list out pretty quickly.
One piece of advice I really should’ve thought about is Patrick O’Duffy’s idea of reaching 30,000 words by breaking the novel/book/piece of work down into 30 x 1000 word chapters. Write the skeletons of those chapters. If all you need to do (all, like it’s nothing) is pad out the prose, flesh out characters with detail and emotion, your job becomes a whole lot easier. Patrick outlines a heap of great ways to keep the words coming in his post, Welcome To Write Club.
However, I did not do this. My five or six scene ideas ran dry. I remembered one particular idea from Now Write: Non-Fiction, and I ran with this for quite a while. I got almost a thousand words from that exercise.
I considered googling “Now Write: Non-fiction prompts”. In fact, I tried to do this. But the great irony of the Future Bookshop is that there’s no or very patchy, dodgy wifi here. It drops out constantly, and today it’s been on the blink far worse than any other day I’ve spent at Future Bookshop. Of course! The one day I wanted to use the powers of the interwebs for good, to further my productivity, it decides to not work at all. Every other day when I’ve wanted to find a lolcat or read about some useless fact or other, or check my email twenty times in twenty minutes, or Tweet furiously about the security guards here at NGV (a singularly interesting/boring breed, by the way. Interesting/boring being a strange tension). And so I counted on my imagination to prompt where my writing went to next.
The imagination is a fickle beast. “The Muse”, as some might call it. It comes and goes. So when I put lots of flowery prose into something to fill up time or words, and I still came out dry, then I had to change tack. I had to move to another project, another way of writing, another scene. I had a document running in the background just to keep me writing. By the end of the day this document was at almost 1,800 words. My usual Morning Pages measure at about 750 words of faffing about, getting cobwebs out of my head in order to start the day fresh and clear. Today’s document acted as both a palate cleanser and a KEEP-WRITING! prompt.
Effectively planning comes in handy not just for marathon writing days, but for all writing days. I am currently about two weeks into my school holidays for Winter. They’re seven or eight weeks long. I haven’t fallen into a routine yet, but when I get time I know how it goes.
I wake up, and I read something inspiring. I read something non-fiction, so that I’m constantly learning, even when I’m not in classes that force me to learn (or not). I follow this up with some fiction, because you get better at writing by exposing yourself to lots of awesome things and just… absorbing. So that’s what I do, I absorb the work of someone far better than myself and hope that it wears off on my own work.
I then write for a few hours. I engage in what Aden Rolfe calls “Speculative Administration” (in his Business of Writing speech for EWF) – planning markets for my work, planning where I’d need or like to be in future, scoping out how much time I realistically need and what kinds of work I need to do to get to where I’d like to be at the end of the year. Or whatever the goal may be. Short-term and long-term planning. Both are important.
But lest I sit around staring at a blank page or end up writing a blog post about how important it is to plan your writing days constructively (even factoring in this “speculative administration” – planned pondering), I’m putting it out there, backed up by two weeks of largely unproductive holidays and a 10,000 word day that relies on this blog post.
Plan your days well, young scribe. Plan them well.