My grant year got off to a bit of a rough start when my 95-year-old father, ill and in hospice, died in February. It was not unexpected, but it did put many things on hold. I spent a lot of time with him in those last weeks, and of course I don't regret that at all.
But it did mean that once the funeral was over and I returned to my computer, I had to think more strategically about how I was going to accomplish everything I said I would during the rest of this grant year. I made arrangements with Alison McGhee to critique a 60,000-word manuscript, and we agreed that I would provide that manuscript to her by October 1 in order for her to have a few weeks to work on it, and for me to have a couple of months at the end of the year to begin work on revisions. I did have one complete story and a couple of others in process. But I was a long way from 60,000 words.
I remembered a writer friend telling me about Camp Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo itself is the famed November event where writers all over the world try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days (and, for Americans, those 30 days include a major holiday). Camp Nanowrimo is an offshoot of that, held in April and July each year, with a more flexible goal program; writers can set their own goals, whether it's word count, page count, hours spent writing number of days spent writing, etc. Since I'm one of those writers for whom the rough draft stage is a source of unmitigated misery--please, please, PLEASE let me get to the revision stage, which is where the real fun is--what better way to get through some of that on a speeded-up timeline?
So I signed up and decided that 35,000 words, slightly over 1,000 per day, would be a stretch goal, doable, but challenging. I also had a short weekend getaway in there, so that added to the challenge.
How'd I do?
Let's just say that by April 23, I was in despair. I was behind (although to be fair, I had written quite a bit for me in a short period of time). The usual evil voices started whispering: You can't do it, you won't make it, you'll just have to be happy with the words you got, you were too optimistic, you set an impossible goal.
Then I did something that's not entirely characteristic of me: I argued with those voices. Maybe I still can do it. What will it take? What would I have to produce each day to complete my 35,000 words by the end of April 30? I mean, it's word count here, not exquisite literary quality. That--hopefully--comes during revision.
So I calculated what it would take over 8 days for me to meet the goal, and I went to work.
I did it. In fact, not only did I make the 35,000 words, I had the vast majority of it done after a major push April 27-29. One day I wrote 4,000 words in one day. That's a new record for me. By April 30, I had only 728 words left, which felt like a snap.
What I learned: I can do it. I can shut those voices up, and I can produce rough draft at, for me, a high speed. What's more, I found that the intensive approach led to some wonderful breakthroughs for a couple of different stories, and I even dreamed of some of these at night, dreams that led to other breakthroughs.
Although the Camp Nano website says I'm supposed to sit back and relax, I can't do that. I made great strides. I now have two more complete drafts to work with, and three others that are close. Having crossed that 35,000-word hurdle allows me to step back and continue thinking strategically about that Oct. 1 deadline. Those are 35,000 new words; I had another 9,000 words already written. So I'm about 3/4 of the way to a full rough draft.
I have more research to do, and a trip up north to wrap that up. But in the meantime, I'm viewing most of May as finish-the-unfinished-stories month, because in June, I've signed up for Book Camp. That's a month-long program offered by two local book developmental editors, and I'm going to use it to work on revising the completed rough drafts. Then when July arrives, I'm going to jump back into Camp Nano and spend that month generating the final stories. August and September I will revise like a whirling dervish (do whirling dervishes revise books?). And then, Oct. 1, the stories, in the best shape as I can make them by then, go to Alison McGhee.
Initially I thought I'd take a breather in October while she reviews the work. But I realize that I'm on the path to developing a serious, true writing habit. Taking several weeks off could easily cause me a massive setback. And I don't want that.
So, October--don't know what I'll be writing while I wait for Alison to critique my work, but I'll write something. Something creative, to keep me busy while I wait for the next round of revisions. I suspect that that part of my mind that works while I'm not paying attention will give me some ideas.
I hoped that this grant year would help me build this writing habit, and in spite of a rough start, I think that's exactly what it's doing.