Day 101 – New chapter, fresh start

Day one hundred one of my 365 Day Writing Project

Words: 1,100

I love starting a new chapter. Even when it’s a direct continuation of the previous chapter, it still feels to me like a fresh start. When I begin a new chapter, I usually hit the ground running. I get a little excited. I get a little more motivated. I enjoy the feeling of anticipation of what the new chapter is going to turn into. The possibilities are open and the first pages of a new chapter set the tone. Naturally, I find writing those first pages to be a lot of fun.

A big part of my appreciation for starting a new chapter is the fact that it is a tangible reminder of progress. Another chapter down, another one started. This particular chapter puts me into the teens. I have envisioned that my book will be somewhere around twenty chapters. I am now on Chapter Thirteen. My book is no longer a baby or even a tween. It’s officially a teenager. Thankfully, it doesn’t talk back or roll its eyes at me. So, I think I’ll enjoy these teens just fine.

Day 81 – So what if it sucks

Day eighty-one of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 1,000

Earlier today I happened to mention to an acquaintance that I’m writing a book. He became very interested and started asking me a lot of questions about the characters and the story. After several specific questions, I started to feel uncomfortable. It felt a little too personal and I had some difficulty talking about it. I’m sure he thought I was nuts and my book doomed to be a total failure. Afterward, I wondered why I had that reaction. The book and what it is about are no secret, so why did it bother me so much to answer his questions?

It came to me tonight as I was writing. I feel protective about my work because in a sense it is my baby, my creation. The real issue, I think, is not so much that it is my baby but that it is a work in progress. The idea for the book, the characters and even the plot are still evolving. It feels strange to me to describe these things in detail when they are still changing. It also feels risky to put it out there for someone I don’t know to give feedback that I’m not quite ready to hear. In other words, I’m scared. Scared to have this amazing project ruined, scared to have my dream ruined, scared to realize that my idea, my baby, totally sucks.

And then I gave myself a kick in the pants. Get over it. So what if it sucks. No one and nothing can ruin my dream to write a book or my project to write every day. I’m doing it. I’m living it. And that’s all that matters.

Day 71 – Cutting out and adding characters can be risky business

Day seventy-one of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 500

It was a slow weekend of writing for me. I wrote a total of only 400 words between Saturday and Sunday. Not stellar, but at least I kept things moving forward. I encountered a problem which halted my writing flow to a snail’s pace. The problem was my decision to add an unplanned character.

As I write this I realize how ridiculous that sounds, that adding a character could cause a problem with my writing process. But it did. I think it was not so much the addition of this person as it was the timing of it. I introduced him at a point in the story that in hindsight, was maybe not a good time. I am now trying to tamp down the urge to go back and re-write it. But I will not. I will wait, I will wait, I will wait. Write now, edit later. Write NOW, edit LATER. (Yes, you’ve heard me chant this before because I literally need to remind my obsessive-compulsive, hyper-editing self over and over and over. And yes, it works.)

Now that I have added this new character, who has a small role to fill, I will need to later decide whether to cut him out completely or change the timing of his introduction. I foresee another slowing of progress because of this, but I suppose that is okay. It’s all part of the creative process and I must embrace the bad with the good. And who knows, maybe later when I read it I’ll think the character’s introduction is brilliant in timing. Or not. And if THAT flip-flopping chain of thought isn’t incentive enough to wait to edit later, I don’t know what is.

Day 66 – Looking forward to a change in my writing routine

Day sixty-six of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 500

Today was another day of spinning my wheels. It definitely was not as bad as yesterday, but I still experienced a similar start-stop, start-stop, slow progression of the story. It was also somewhat eye-opening because I picked up where I had left off yesterday, but took the story in a direction I had not thought about until today. Cue another lesson in knowing when to take a break. Sometimes, the story will be better off for it. I am pleased with where it went. It just hasn’t been easy-flowing writing the past two days.

I may have some time to write during the day tomorrow and I’m thrilled at the notion. I’m hoping a change in routine will unlock the flow of my creative juices. To write during daylight and with a fresh mind sounds so appealing right now. It may not happen, but I am going to try like hell to pull it off. One thing is for sure: the timing couldn’t be better.

Day 52 – Cut yourself some slack

Day fifty-two of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 300

Yes, that is correct. I only wrote 300 words today. For several reasons, I have decided I really need to get to bed at a decent hour tonight and I am therefore cutting it off early. I can pick it up again tomorrow with hopefully more spring in my step and more creativity at my fingertips.

It is hard to let things go sometimes. I have ideals about how much I would like to write each day, but sometimes, they aren’t realistic. Rather than feel like a failure for not reaching my short-term goals, I choose to cut myself some slack. We all need to do that. It is so much easier to punish ourselves instead, but where does that get us? Nowhere. And quite frankly, that just doesn’t work for me. I’m on a mission to make progress every day. This train isn’t stopping. Anything that tries to get in the way of my progress has no place here.

Self-loathing, discouragement, cynicism and all the other progress-halting factors, self-imposed or otherwise, can go find some other place to loiter. I have found that these things dissipate the moment I cut myself some much needed slack, and the train chugs on. Because any amount of writing, even just 300 words, is progress.

Day 43 – How writing every day affects the outcome of quality versus quantity

Day forty-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Time: 45 mins

Words: 650

If I’m not mindful, I can easily spend an hour on one paragraph writing, editing and re-working the sentences over and over until they are just right. When I’m finally satisfied with the paragraph, I feel accomplished and relieved at the same time. I feel relieved because it is over. I finished it. I’m done obsessing and my mind can rest for a while. When I allow myself to get like that it is not only exhausting, it is counter-productive. Imagine trying to write a novel one paragraph at a time with this system. Agony. 

It is my natural tendency to strive for quality over quantity. It is just how my brain works. I’m a Type-A, obsessive-compulsive, over-critical, pragmatic, detail-oriented, perfectionist lawyer. Blech. Actually, let me re-phrase that: Part of me is those things. Part of me is also a creative, imaginative, resourceful, artistic, expressive, insightful writer. A month ago I don’t think I would have described myself in the latter terms. I suppose they have always been a part of my make-up, but they are becoming more vibrant since starting this project. I am experiencing the gradual redevelopment of these traits. They are slowly starting to redefine who I am, and as a result, I feel like a better version of myself. 

After just 43 days of this project, I am learning what could very well be the most important lesson (for me) about becoming a successful writer. That lesson is this: writing for quantity sacrifices quality, and that is okay. To write every day – to just get something down on paper that wouldn’t have come to be if I had watched TV or folded laundry or gone to bed early – means abandoning my tendency to obsessively edit, mash, mold and contrive my writing into something perfect. I simply write. I no longer worry about quality. Letting go of the worry is incredibly freeing and allows the traits that make me a better writer to be cultivated. As a result, my writing is becoming more creative, imaginative, resourceful, artistic, expressive and insightful. 

What is really special about this lesson is the irony. By sacrificing perceived quality during the writing process, I’m actually improving the overall quality of my writing. I’ll have a big job to do later when it is time to finally edit and refine my work. But at least my creativity during the writing process will not be thwarted. The finished product later will possess far more in quality than ever would have come to be if not for letting go of the worry. 

 

Day 38 – Unproductive and uninspired can still amount to something

Day thirty-eight of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Time: 40 minutes

Words: 500

Today was not a very productive writing day. I guess I’ll have those sometimes. It was tough to pick up the story where I left off because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take it. I also got a very late start which did not help. Exhaustion was thick. Motivation and creativity were thin. After very little time I realized that I’m probably better off breaking and picking it up again tomorrow.

Despite it being a short and uninspiring writing session, it wasn’t all for naught. It isn’t anything special, but in the interests of reminding myself later that even the tough days are worthwhile, here is a paragraph I wrote a little while ago:

Mike looked around one last time and pushed open the back door. In the low, late afternoon sun he stepped out onto the street. The frigid air turned his breath into small, white puffs of cloud, prompting him to button up his coat. As he did, he noticed the long, ominous shadows cast by the nearby buildings. It was getting late. He looked left and right, at a loss for where Skylar and Ben would have gone. About four hours had passed since they had been there; they could be anywhere. Mike walked back to the door of the restaurant and turned around to face the street again. Imagining himself fleeing from someone, he tried to figure out which direction they might have run. He took off straight and then turned to the left, jogging down the sidewalk. Seeing all of the buildings and intersecting side streets ahead of him, he stopped. It was no use.

Day 37 – Changing character perspectives

Day thirty-seven of My 365 Day Writing Project

Time: 1 hour

Words: 1,250

After several chapters writing from the perspective of my main character, I have made a big change. I am now writing a chapter in which other layers of the story unfold as described from the perspectives of two key players in her life. Although unplanned, these changes in character perspectives are proving to be quite enjoyable to write. Even more surprising is how the scope of the story has significantly expanded from these developments. Oh, how I love the learning process of writing fiction! 

I took the story in this direction because while writing about some pretty intense things happening to “Skylar,” I couldn’t stop thinking about what these two men would be doing while she was missing. They would be trying to reach her, frantically, and would be worried and confused about perhaps their own involvement in things going wrong. They would both be compelled to take action to find her. First, separately, and then later, together. Operating on very little information in a very big city, they would have to go through many challenges to get answers, and hopefully, to find Skylar.

Of course, I have read many books with accounts from different perspectives. But writing it is an entirely different experience. I’m writing all three perspectives from the third-person point of view because I think it is easier for readers to follow. For this book, which has plenty of action and plot twists, the flow of the story is important. When I go back and read how this chapter flows I may switch back and forth between these three characters more often. Or, perhaps I’ll keep it to a minimum. Only the story will tell. For now, I’m relishing in the new creative channels that have opened because of these unplanned changes. 

Day 36 – It happened

Day thirty-six of My 365 Day Writing Project.

Time: 2 + hours

Words: 2,400

Well, it happened. On day 34, I didn’t do any writing. I was on a mini vacation with my family and we had a full day with good friends. By the time I had a moment to myself…well, wait – I never did have a moment to myself. I went to sleep late with two out of three kids in my bed and that’s the end of the story. The funny thing is, I didn’t feel badly about losing a day of writing. Instead, I woke up the next morning determined to write more than usual for the rest of the long weekend. And I did. I wrote 1,500 words yesterday and 2,400 today, amply making it up. I’m happy with that. 

Not writing for a day for the first time in 34 days got me thinking about how far I have come in that time. Writing daily has not yet become a habit, but it has become a solid priority. I have to work hard at it. Finding time to write is not easy for me. While I can’t deny that I feel a bit of guilt for not abiding by the no days off mantra this past weekend, I have to cut myself some slack. My main goal in doing this project is to make writing a constant in my life and to consistently work on it. As of today (day 36) I’m accomplishing that. 

If you wish to be a writer, write.  – Epictetus

 

Here is a raw, unedited snippet from my current piece of fiction:

She gathered herself, opened the bathroom door and walked straight to the back of the restaurant. The dining room was dark and alive with lunch-goers talking politics, weather and holiday plans. Waiters were hovering around the waitstaff station, entering orders and pouring glasses of water. Skylar saw the door to the kitchen behind the waitstaff station. Just go in. She took a deep breath and walked past the waiters into the bright white light of the kitchen.

Inside it was hot and noisy. Steam was rising from the dishwasher station in the back and line cooks were plating food and yelling table numbers to the servers. Skylar walked slowly through the commotion, looking side to side in case anyone might approach her. No one did. As she neared the back she stopped by a large walk-in cooler at the end of a short hallway. On either side it was bordered by shelves filled with non-perishable bulk food items. There, standing by a mop and bucket in the shadows, was Ben. He stepped out into the light and gave her a polite nod.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” said Skylar, looking back over her shoulder to see if anyone else was there. They were alone. Ben was not much taller than she, wearing brown corduroy pants and a grey hooded sweatshirt. He had dark brown hair that was a little too long and very curly. His chin, jawline and upper lip were covered in dark stubble, as though he had not shaved in days. Skylar thought he looked much the same as he did in high school, just older. His eyes showed strain and worry.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” he said, noting her nervousness. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. I want you to be safe,” he said, taking a step toward her as she took a step back. “I see…I see that you have been in contact with them. They haven’t hurt you, have they?” He looked genuinely concerned.

“No. But I was followed,” she began, Ben’s eyes flying open as he leaned to one side to peer past her. “No, not here,” she continued, “I am pretty sure I wasn’t followed here. I mean, I lost him. He was following me earlier. I lost him in the subway.”

Day 32 – When you just aren’t into it

Day thirty-two of My 365 Day Writing Project

Time: 50 min.

Words: 850

I didn’t feel like writing at all today. In fact, I really wanted to blow it off and go to bed early. I didn’t. I made myself stay up late and I wrote. Discipline. Always reminding myself: No days off

Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about the story I am writing. No matter what I am doing – taking a shower, eating lunch, busy at work, in the car singing with my kids – I want to work on the story. I want to keep it developing on paper, not just in my mind. I want to write. I can’t wait for the opportunity to sit down, uninterrupted, to work on it. I look forward to banging out my thoughts through the tapping keys of my laptop. I want to write. I can feel it in my bones. My imagination is bulging like a balloon with too much air in it, about to POP. My psyche is crowded and loud and hyperactive like a subway station, thoughts and words and ideas blowing in and out of tunnels like the trains. I want to write.

Today was just not one of those times. But I wrote anyway.