Writing Strategy Number 10,001?

Stacey Kite

Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Or maybe it was Wile E. Coyote. I get the two confused. Anyway, my point is that whether you call something a success or failure depends on how you choose to look at it.

With that in mind, I’m choosing to call my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a success—because I’ve learned that it’s not for me.

My production did go up in November—initially. Then my daily word-count plummeted, and my writing ground to a complete halt. Also, at least half of what I did produce before high-centering was pointless garbage.

For me, NaNoWriMo was an anti-production exercise. Telling myself to write faster didn’t help; it only made things worse. Upping my daily writing time didn’t help either, neither did using a timer, writing longhand or staring at a blinking cursor for hours on end. (That’s six things that didn’t work, but I’m going with Edison on this one and calling it progress, anyway.)

But before I move on to the next strategy, it’s time for a little analysis.

Why did my writing go sideways so fast?

I had a premise I really liked—still do—good characters, and a solid story outline. The early chapters flowed. But then it felt like I was piloting a ship on a lake that had had its plug pulled. The water just drained away. No matter which direction I aimed, it got shallower and shallower until pffffft—I ran aground on a sandbar. Now, my barge is surrounded by mud, and it looks like there’s no moving that sucker until the monsoons blow in.

In retrospect, I realize that I had thought about and daydreamed my way through only three sequences in the story: the story’s climax and two early sequences. I’d played with and tweaked those events over and over again in my head, running through multiple iterations of the scenes before ever sitting down to write anything. I’d perfected them bit by bit in tiny bursts over months. (OK—years. Clearly, this is an idea I’ve been toying with for a while, though I hadn’t ever really focused on it before.)

I knew those sequences didn’t add up to a whole story. They were fragments, and their ends didn’t come anywhere near meeting. So, I put my head down and came up with an outline that connected the dots. (I did that before November.) It wasn’t a perfect outline. There were gaps, but I thought there was enough density there to float a boat. Uh, nope.

When I started writing on the story that first week in November, I wasn’t writing. I was transcribing. Transcribing what I’d already polished in my mind. That’s why my word count was decent. It was all the stuff I’d worked out daydreaming my way through mundane tasks: folding laundry, walking the dog, sitting in traffic. Then I ran out of those sections and started in on the connect-the-dot scenes from my outline. Though they worked on paper, so to speak, I hadn’t lived through them in my head before I tried to write them. I had no feel for those scenes, and they came out as riveting as Medicare supplemental insurance ads.

At least now, though, I know that giving myself arbitrary deadlines doesn’t work.

So, on to the next strategy: directed daydreaming.

Before I start some necessary but boring task, I’m going to think about the next connect-the-dot scene in my outline. Then, instead of listening to an audio book while I vacuum or playing sudoku on my phone while waiting in the doctor’s office, I’m going to try to daydream my way into the scene as if I was the POV character in it.

I don’t know if this strategy will make me write any faster, but I won’t know that unless I try it. Edison never gave up. Of course, neither did Wile E., and we all know how that turned out for him. Hmmm …


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