I’ve written 3 first drafts now. I’m talking 3 novels each with a start, middle, and an end, 3 times. Yet not one of them is good enough to share with my friends or family. The big thing for me this year isn’t writing a story. It’s rewriting it.
So the aim for the next few posts are going to be about writing and the challenges I’m facing currently.
This post is going to focus on the first draft I wrote last November for nanowrimo 2017.
This story begins back in October, when I decided to make an album of music you could write a story to. It’s where the name for this blog came from, so if I’m going to do some shameless self promotion, I may as well do it right at the start. It’s called The Amazing Sloth Writer and it in itself was a challenge to make.
I’d decided that I wanted to have a soundtrack you could write to but I wanted it done and released before nano. Time was ticking, and October was busy. I collated music I had made. I tweaked and edited things. I caught up with my mate Sam who is great with audio and we got my shit mastered. Then I released it online. It did alright too, I got over 100 listens to it during the month of November when nano was on. Now it’s no Kanye West success, but it is a success for me.
When November 2017 hit I was ready. I’d finished one challenge so it was time for a new one. It was also time for a new story, and I knew exactly what I was going to write. Well, I had the premise anyway. It was a story I’d thought of nearly 10 years ago and have tried to write in the past but never gotten to the end. Even now, sitting here in the rewrite stage, I still haven’t come close to nailing it. But I’m working on it.
I also wanted to beat my old nano record. In November 2016 I did my first nanowrimo and wrote just over 150,000 words in a month. I wanted to beat that. I’m fully aware that my situation as far as work/life balance is unique, and I get long periods of time off work when I can indulge in challenges like this. The idea of writing that volume of words was feasible because I didn’t also have to work a full time job. I work casual, and if I want to take a week off then fuck, I take a week off. I’d rather have that time than the illusion of security that a permanent full time job gives you. If I’m smart with my money and keep a safety net of savings aside, then I can take a week or a month off a few times a year and it won’t kill me. I can’t stress that enough, I know that my lifestyle is fucking unusual to a lot of people, but the reason I live the random life I do is so that I am open to opportunities and can partake in these kinds of things.
Also writing is a fucking cheap hobby, and it beats sitting around the house bored waiting for work to call when there isn’t anything going.
I kept a bit of a journal during this month, so the rest of this blog post is me interpreting what I had written for each day.
To you, the reader, this is a glimpse into what it’s like to write a book in a month. I apologise if some of the photos are blurry, they are screen shots and they shouldn’t be but it might look different on mobiles. Let’s be all crazy and begin at day 1.
Day 1. I worked a nightshift and found myself entering the first of November wide awake. So I begun writing around 12:15 AM. I managed to get 3324 words down that first day, writing when I could at work and also when I got home in between sleep and wakefulness.
Day 2. I had another nightshift, but got to around 6000 words total. I was already starting to come across some difficult patches with how old my characters were, their names, their relation to each other etc (e.g. Is it an uncle or a grand father? Is he 50 or 70 etc). These are the “minor details” that you can spend hours tweaking instead of moving your story forward. I chose to ignore the inner editor and press on, which means that now I’m in the rewrite stage, I’ve got to go back and fix all of these “minor details”.
Day 3. Here’s a quick thousand words all about day 3:
Day 4. I got up to 15,000 words. I was feeling good about my novel. I hadn’t hit much drama, but I felt like I had set the tone of the story quite well. I am feeling on day 4, that this story is already better than the one I wrote for last years nano, despite having less words in the same space of time.
Day 6. I was happy with the story but disappointed at my pace. Last year I had written the 50K by day 6. This year, I was on 29K. The other big change for me was motivation. The first year, the nano faces chart had inspired me. I had been in the race from the start, and it motivated me to keep typing. This year, as I got a slower start because of work, I didn’t have that push and was getting through a lot of it on determination and discipline. I was hovering somewhere around #66 on the chart by the end of the day, up from #86 and 10,000 more words written than at the start of the day.
Day 7. It was Melbourne cup day, and I was a bit annoyed at myself for choosing to be sociable and losing a whole day of writing. My headspace during nano is a bit whack, but I prioritise writing above almost everything. If I’m not at work, then that’s a day I can spent writing. I made sure I got 1000 words in before I left to go to the party, so I crossed the 30K line, but it was not nearly as productive as the 10,000 words I’d written the day before.
Day 8. I felt tired and flat. I was hungover and had no motivation. I was #75 on the chart and didn’t care. I wanted to see Bec but we had made a bit of a pact the month before that we wouldn’t see each other much over the month so I could write. It just added to the pressure and the guilt I already felt about not writing. So yeah, I wrote, but I am unsure how much, as my head wasn’t in it.
Day 9. Late in the day, I drove down and saw Bec. I hadn’t written much, but I spent the night with her and the next morning when I woke, it was like a door had opened. It makes me start to believe in muses. I wrote a bit, not a whole lot, but it felt like the story was moving forwards and I was starting to get my point across.
Day 11. I hit the 50K line and I was stoked. I wrote a bit over 7000 words this day, and reached the end of part 1 of the story. 50,000 words is the entire challenge, that’s what people want to do in the entire month. For me, I just wanted to get to a satisfying end to the story, as it’s always been intended to be a multiple book series. To reach the main milestone and also finish a story arc was a great feeling. I rode this wave of completion into a drunken afternoon with my friend Clint, discussing the possibilities of Luddites, AI reaching singularity, and what the world would look like if most humans just kind of disappeared. I did mention my book is post apocalyptic yeah?
Day 12. Slow day, due to the hangover. Got around 3000 words down, but also spent a fair bit of the day napping. Naps are an important part of the process, so I don’t beat myself up if I need a little sleepy. I was #58 on the chart too, so there was a sense of progress.
Day 13. I wrote on and off all day, and got 7000 words down.
Day 14. I wrote 4000 words but I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next as I wrote. You know that feeling when you turn the page of a book wondering what twist will come next? I experienced that and I was the fucking author! That experience, when combined with hitting that 50K part 1 story arc, made the experience feel worth it already. I had to go to work that night so I couldn’t go all out and keep writing, but I was very excited about what was happening. The story was coming along beautifully, and I was #39 on the chart, sitting at 66,000 words.
Day 15 and 16 just disappeared. I have no idea what happened. I’m sure I wrote, but I didn’t journal about it.
Day 17. Depression. I’m feeling shit. The story isn’t working. The characters aren’t where I want them to be. I can’t think of a solution. I’m spending hours agonising over what should happen. I’ve procrastinated and researched. I’ve drank too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes. I’ve even broken my cardinal rule and gone back and started editing minor details, as I’ve realised what a fuck up everything before this scene has been. I’m at 76,000 words and #55 on the chart. My solution was to go for a walk, then go home and drink beer. By the end of the day, I’d written another 2000K words, and had solved the problem (or so I’ve written in the journal whilst drunk, I have no actual idea what the problem or the solution were in retrospect).
Day 18. I finished part 2, with mixed feelings. It was shit, part 1 had felt good but part 2 didn’t. But I’d moved the story forward, and that was the main thing in this moment. I was at 84K and #46 on the chart. I was coming to the conclusion that I wouldn’t hit the 200K mark I had wanted, and at this stage was happy to just push on and get the story to 100K by the end, as my stats from last year were much higher by day 18.
Day 19 or 20. I found a chart that was like the overachievers one, except it was set in Melbourne. So it had a list of everyone in Melbourne (who asked to join) and ranked them by how many words they had written. Only problem was that I had way more words than anyone else, and I felt like it would be a cunt act by me to just jump in and join it. I spent a couple of days writing and agonising over if I should join this chart, because in my reality I wasn’t really that exceptional. Fuck, look how many people were above me in the chart I had been going off.
Day 21. Knackered. I crossed the 100K line, and also managed to do a nightshift in the mix. I was absolutely rooted but it was good to put the time in and see it paying off.
Day 22. Really tired again. I was torn between going out for drinks with the writing group or just staying at home, trying to write more and sleeping. I spent 3-4 hours just contemplating what to do, not even writing in a sleep deprived haze. Decisions were hard, but I did eventually join the Melbourne chart after I saw another writer, Write_Obsession, had added themselves as well and was slightly ahead of me. I was happy to join it and come in to second place, but not to slide in to first. I know how motivating the chart can be, but also how demotivating it can be. The idea of someone “winning” the “race” and then having some cunt roll in at the 11th hour, it just didn’t sit right. But it was still close, only a few thousand words separating myself and the previous leader, so I went for it. Plus there was still a decent lead to catch up to.
After all, the leader of my other chart had been sitting at one word off a million for a few days so I didn’t think my effort was that amazing.
Day 24. I worked nightshift and the time pressure made me write more. I did 12K over the 23/24th, sitting on 120K by the end of the day. Suddenly the leader of the Melbourne group, Write_Obsession, had some competition!
Day 25 disappeared. I wrote every day of the month so I got something down but no idea what.
Day 26. I wrote 9K after I picked up a shift the next day and had a deadline. I put my head down and wrote during that window of free time before work. Things started to heat up in the Melbourne nano chart, and perhaps that small sense of competition as well as the deadlines is what pushed me in these final days. I can’t remember if this is the start or the end of the day, the time is in PST which is different to ours so it could have been late at night, but you can see how close it was between Write_Obsession and myself. If I didn’t sit down and put in some time, she would get just ahead of me within a few hours.
Day 27. Wrote in the morning before work and managed to hit 139K.
Day 29. I wrote a dickload, 15,955 words in one day! Sure, people have written more, but it’s the most I’ve ever written personally. I spent all day writing, and I guess it flowed, as I didn’t say much about it in the journal. I think I had a lot of pressure, as I was also going to be doing a singing concert the next day, and I needed to finish this so I could concentrate on that.
Oh yeah, I haven’t really mentioned that ever have I? I started doing singing lessons in 2017. On the 30th of November I was lined up to do an end of year concert. Bec was coming up to watch, and I was going to get on stage with a backing band playing a stripped back cover of Creep by Radiohead. Think of it like live karaoke. I had a 15 minute practice with the band the weekend before, but the song goes for 5 minutes. So we ran though it 3 times, then boom, I’ve got do it in front of a crowd of people. That’s not the easiest song to sing either, so I had some underlying nerves as you may have guessed. Plus, Bec didn’t know that I was singing that song, so the whole thing was a bit of a surprise.
Did the pressure of this cause me to put my head down and write? Was it the way the story stated to just flow by the end? Was the action exciting enough for me as a writer to not want to put the book down? I don’t know. But things aligned and I fucking wrote like a man addicted.
Day 30. I crossed the finish line, writing 162,076 words in one month. I’d done it, and it was early, around midday.
That was pretty cool. But the Melbourne chart was even better.
I was #1. I don’t think I’ve ever been #1 at something, it’s not in my nature to really chase it. I sit back and let people win, to the point where I even fuck myself up subconsciously and lose. Sometimes it’s called cracking under pressure, and I have had this happen to me playing sport. I’ve also had the opposite happen, and I’ve risen to the occasion. All in all it doesn’t really drive me much to “win” when I’m doing something. This was an accidental win in some ways, as I just wanted to get to the end of my damn story.
So I was #1 in Melbourne. I’d written more words than anyone else in Melbourne during the month of November. Well more words than anyone who was both in the competition and also participated in the chart. So there’s a chance someone beat me in the comp, and I have no doubt that someone randomly would have written more words than I did during the month of November who also happens to live in Melbourne. But fuck it, I’m claiming that victory! Truth be told, it’s actually a pretty shitty thing to be stoked about as in reality no one says the words you use have to be good words, be in any particular order, or make any sense. So Old Jack Foolish down the street could have just written “there’s only two genders” and copy pasted it enough times to “write” more words than me.
Whatever. I was happy knowing that I’d written something good despite writing it fast. Not great, that’s what rewriting is for, but it was a good effort. My story had a beginning, middle, and end which was all I was aiming for. The frenetic pace I’d been writing at hadn’t produced bad writing, it had just made me write quickly. I didn’t spend too long second guessing or pre planning, it was like improvising with words instead of sounds. Having Lan (that’s Write_Obsession, we became writing friends/nemeses by the end) there to try and gamify the writing experience was good too, as I suddenly had someone I could talk to about this absolutely ridiculous challenge I was doing.
Being done at midday meant that I had the rest of the afternoon to practice singing for the show. I had a singing lesson with Lisa and then Bec came up and I went off and did it, getting up and doing my song for her. I’ll admit, I smashed that out too, and all in all things were going pretty well in my life.
Well, there were just one or two minor things. But after writing about them, I’ve decided not to post them on here as it’s just me moaning and bitching and who wants to read that.
One thing did happen before the clock struck midnight however. Write_Obsession, after I messaged her and said how I had finished writing and I had the singing thing coming up that night, took it upon herself to put in one final writing session and she sailed across the line and stole my writing crown in the final moments of the month. I have a sneaking suspicion it happened because she knew I was out at the pub getting pissed with Bec and enjoying the fact that all the stressful things were over for the month.
So that’s the background, the set up, the scene if you will, to what I’m doing now. The rewrite.