So there I was, in late March, when I came to realise that my rewriting was a bit of a failure. You can read about my initial forays into rewriting here and the challenge of writing the first draft in a month here. I’d had a crack at it but it wasn’t working out for me so well. I wasn’t giving up but I was realising the scope of the project in front of me and knew that I needed to be more productive and accountable.
Enter Camp Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo is what I’ve done a couple of times now and is held in November. Camp Nanowrimo is held (this year) in April and July. It’s another opportunity to sit down and write a 50,000 word first draft of a story. The thing with camp nano though is that you can choose what you are aiming for; be it words, hours, or pages.
Nanowrimo is set at 50,000 words. It’s annoying for someone like me who writes so much, as I’d rather set it to 100-200,000 words and really challenge myself like the first time I tried Nanowrimo. Enter camp nano. This is when you can change your goals to tailor your project. Last year I did camp nano and aimed for a straight 50K word story which I spoke about briefly during this long, rambling post. This year I decided to aim for 30 hours of rewriting. I wasn’t fussed about how many words I typed, I figured that every hour I spent on the project was more important than the volume of words written.
The following is my experience. I apologise for the lack of photos in this post.
The chapter a day thing I was initially planning on doing? Dreaming.
I got stuck on chapter 7 for the whole first week of nano. That’s right, for a whole fucking week, I wrote and rewrote one chapter. I crafted a version which was great, then realised that it should come later, so I deleted it. I wrote another version and had my main character doing things that made the story flow, only to realise when I read it back the next day that it would be how a different character would have solved the problem, so I deleted it. I wrote a fantastic scene that involved this pyramid of skulls, only to realise that it’s not even something related to my book as I have no characters that would do that kind of thing. Once again, I had to delete it.
I’m only writing for an hour a day, so it’s only 7 hours of time I’ve put into this chapter, but on the last day of week one, I sat down at my computer and wrote on and off from 2PM till 11PM. I documented it on Nano as 5 hours but realistically it was closer to 7 or 8.
But by the end of that, finally, I managed to get to the end of chapter bloody 7.
Statistically, my project was growing. My chapters on average had grown out from 1500 words to 3000 words per chapter. While I was only up to chapter 7, I was combining the important parts of later chapters with these earlier chapters and fixing the pacing.
People say that you cut your second draft by ~10%. It seems like my second draft is all about adding detail. I’m ok with this though, I’m saying what I intended to say in the first draft. I can cut things out later when I’m editing instead of rewriting in the next draft. Oh god just the thought of going through chapter fucking 7 again! I’m finding that writing is hard work. It’s not physically hard like digging a hole but mentally it’s draining. I got a sore back from sitting in my chair for so long on the last day of that week, and it impacted my desire to sit down the following day.
I also had a gig coming up on the 12th of April so there were days when I had free time but had to choose between writing and practicing music for the gig. When the deadline for something is a week vs a month, the closer deadline wins.
Then there was reddit, I’m hooked on that damn website sometimes. I’d find myself waking up early and instead of getting up and writing for an hour, knocking it out straight away, I’d instead lie in bed on my phone and procrastinate. It’s very frustrating to look back on your week and realise you’ve spent over 7 hours browsing reddit, and have only just hit 7 hours writing.
By the 18th of April, I had clocked in 15 hours of rewriting. I wanted to do an hour a day, so I was behind schedule, but I wasn’t impossibly far behind. One of the reasons I was behind was because of how you document your time on the camp nano website. You can’t document half hours. Now ideally every day I would be able to sit down for an hour, but some days I was time poor. If I’d get half an hour of rewriting and then miss the next day or two, I would have to remember that I wasn’t starting the day from 0. There’s no point cheating the nano system; you get what you put into a project and I’d rather have done more hours and said I’ve done less than the other way around.
The second week was hectic emotionally. I didn’t get much done in regards to anything in my life outside of my relationship. I played the gig and then after that things all kind of came to a head and I had to drop out of work, music, and writing for a while. Well I did still work, but only the 2 rostered days I do every week, I didn’t pick up any extra shifts. Nothing felt important. Not the projects I was working on or the money I could have earnt had I worked more, or the songs I could write. I needed instead to focus on some basic shit in my life and I needed time to do it. I lost entire days that I had pre-planned as dedicated writing days but that’s what happens, life rarely goes to plan and you have to figure out what you prioritise in life. As Stephen King says, “life isn’t a support system for art, it’s the other way around”.
The other problem I had was I felt uninspired. Writing first drafts are fun. Well frustrating and fun, but there’s an element of fun about them. This was more frustrating than fun, but I was up to week 2 which is a well known sore point during nano. I found myself one day, awake at 4 AM typing instead of lying in my warm comfortable bed and I thought damn, why am I doing this? Why don’t I just go back to bed and get some rest? I was behind with my hours though, and I knew that every hour I put in was one step closer to the end. So I put my head down and typed for an hour. This in itself holds me accountable; if I don’t finish the project then every hour that I do put in and push myself is for nothing. My end goal with this rewrite isn’t to be published. Don’t get me wrong, that’s the dream end goal, but for this draft it’s to have a shareable story that I can give to friends and family.
I averaged about an hour of rewriting every two days during the second week, and by the end of it I was up to chapter 8. I was having trouble getting through this chapter too. I had things I wanted to reveal to the reader but I also didn’t want to spill everything like I had in the first draft. I’ve got a character who only knows one side of a complex issue. I had him talking about both sides when realistically the other side of the argument should come from a different character later in the book. This is something I was working towards but I haven’t even written this other character yet, so I was navigating a lot of dialogue during the 4 hours of that second week. I ended the week with 6000 more words, the end of chapter 8, and a glimmer of hope that I was through the worst of it.
Week 3 things started to shift. Kind of. I was back on track as far as hours went but looking back I wonder how much I actually achieved.
I had written up to chapter 10, clocking in 10,000 words over the course of 3 chapters. Then I realised that it was essentially 2 characters just talking. I’d just spent 2 weeks writing 10K of fucking dialogue. It flowed well, I’d spent hours and hours tweaking and refining it and I was happy with it. But then I looked at a map of Australia and realised that my characters have a journey of 900 KM’s. That’s a big walk. All of this stuff was happening in the first 100 KM’s from when they set off. I’d essentially written an info dump. A well flowing info dump, I enjoyed reading it back, but realistically it was too much.
So I took a deep breath and deleted around 8,000 words.
Now I didn’t delete them completely. I’m using a program called scrivener, so I simply moved them out of the manuscript and put them into a folder to use down the track. But even then, when I do go to put that stuff back in, I’ll have to change it. The characters were sitting in a bar, so the moments of action in between dialogue involved drinking whisky and stuff. Now though, I’ll have to put who knows what in between, them eating or talking at night by a fire. And I’ll have to split it all up. I think this is what people mean when they say kill your darlings. This wasn’t a character that I had to kill, but it was hours and hours of work that was now dead to me. My poor beautifully crafted dialogue was dead. I was literally telling and not showing.
The thing is, I revealed some fundamental stuff in that dialogue. Then in one swift action, I lost it all, and found myself back at chapter 8. I spent an hour writing a thin plot device that moved the story forwards but I wasn’t happy with it. I knew that I couldn’t leave all of the dialogue in but it felt like I’d sold myself short with what I’d replaced it with. Gone was 15 hours of work. Instead I had what equated to 1 hour’s worth of work and I was at the end of week 3. I knew I would have to go back and change it but in that moment I just wanted to move the story forwards and make some progress, partly just for my own damn sanity.
So by the end of week 3, I was up to chapter 9. My story felt flat. I felt like shit. I was drinking more and writing less. I was considering tossing the whole thing and restarting it from scratch. I was considering putting back in those deleted chapters and sending it off to some random beta readers for feedback. I was full of doubt about deleting so much work but I know that regardless of how well written my 10,000 words of dialogue is, it’s just too much.
I pushed my negativity to the side. I continued.
Then suddenly, I did it. On the 29th of April I managed to “win” nano and write for hour number 30. It was tedious and annoying, there were highs and lows, but all in all I made more progress with the story during this month than I had previously. That being said, this nano “win” gave me the least sense of achievement I’ve ever felt at the end of a nano.
Because there’s no finished story.
By the end of the month, I was up to chapter 11. During the final week I would try to write down my aims for the session before I started and then sit down and do the work. If anyone out there is doing a rewrite, I highly suggest that you try this. Work out your aims for the writing session, then go in and execute the plan. During the last week I managed to delete less and keep more, but in the end I wrote 4 chapters in a month.
I had written for 25 days out of 30, getting 30 hours of writing in. The month before, I’d written for 13 days. So doing camp nano definitely helped boost my accountability, despite my journey of self doubt and frustration.
The problem with setting a nano challenge at 30 hours of rewriting instead of writing a first draft is the sense of completion at “winning”. It’s like making a brick wall and laying the 30th brick, but knowing there’s still 187 more bricks to lay. There’s nothing special about hour 30 of a rewrite. It was just a number I picked to hold myself accountable to write more this month.
Despite this I’m glad I did it. It’s not a lot of time, 30 hours, but it also kind of is. It’s 30 hours I didn’t spend watching Netflix or browsing reddit or playing a video game or sit in a pub drinking. It’s 30 thankless hours, 30 hours where I prioritised myself to the benefit of no one, 30 hours that will count for nothing if I was to just stop here and never keep working towards the ending. I could have spent that time doing anything but I’m happy I can look back and say that I kind of know where the time went.
I intended to keep the momentum and turn it into discipline, a routine that I could keep doing in future months, but May was a failure. I was going to post this blog a month ago, but it ended up being a bunch of excuses about why I couldn’t write during May. And I admit, I was busy. I had gigs and volunteer work with PBS radio station and other stuff on. But looking back, they were just excuses.
This set back is one of the main reasons I haven’t posted this blog post earlier. I had been moving the story forwards during camp nano, despite my ups and downs, and then when May hit I just fell flat afterwards. You can see that instead of consistently writing I was trying to do long writing sessions less frequently. Another shit thing was on the 19th of May, I deleted some stuff and found myself back on chapter 7, which felt like being back in the first week of nano.
May turned to June though, and with it, a new form of discipline. Partly I think this was thanks to the get your words out challenge; I wanted to hit my goal of 240 days of writing in the year. Partly it was my decision to do camp nano in July and write the sequel to the first book. I wanted part 1 to be rewritten before I started that. So June came, and I put my head down and prioritised writing.
The end result of this was that I finally finished rewriting part one of my story, pushing it out to over 88K from 50K. It still needs some work, the ending was rushed so that I could start nano, but I’m much happier at the end of June than I was at the end of May.
And so I sit here, typing this instead of focussing on my current challenge, 100,000 words by the end of July. Camp nano is here and so far, I’ve been busy. I’ll do a post on it at some point most likely, but I am the sloth writer after all, so don’t expect it straight away.