Just as Write by Midnight has evolved over the past four years, so, too, have each of us as writers. We’re still discovering new things about our abilities and growing in our craft. Our journeys have been varied, interesting and unexpected. As we conclude Write by Midnight 2020, we’re excited to share with you how this year’s write-a-thon inspired and challenged each of us and how we plan to incorporate what we learned as we continue down the road to publication.
Laura Ayo: Write by Midnight is designed to help writers make steady progress on their manuscripts and develop or maintain daily writing habits. The beauty of the challenge is that it meets writers where they are without a lot of pressure. Don’t have more than 15 minutes to write today? That’s ok – just write for 15 minutes. But I needed something more from this year’s write-a-thon.
My story follows the journeys of two siblings who are separated from one another, and I had about a quarter of each of their story arcs left to write before I’d have a completed first draft of my manuscript. So my goal for this year’s WBM was to finish that draft. To succeed, I would need to write not only every day, but consistently write a lot of words – more than I usually do – every day. It felt like an unobtainable Go Big or Go Home-esque goal; and that was deliberate. I needed to set the bar high to see if I would push myself. By setting such an ambitious goal, would it ignite relentless determination in me to prove I could do the unlikely, much like a child digs in with a “watch me” attitude when an adult tells her she can’t possibly do something? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. I worked every day on the story – although some of those days weren’t writing days; they were research days. Having an extra day in the month because it was a Leap Year felt like a sacred gift. I wrote more than 4,000 words that day.
In the end, I didn’t finish the entire manuscript. But I completed one character’s arc, which helped me realize that seemingly unreachable goals aren’t out of reach after all. With 31 days in March, I know without a doubt that I can finish the other sibling’s storyline and have a complete first draft of an entire manuscript in one more month’s time. Just watch me.
Megan Norris Jones: I finished 2019 with a bang, completing a first draft of a new manuscript. As I wrote that draft and discovered issues with the story, I made notes of things to change in revision. My goal for Write by Midnight 2020 was to complete that initial revision list of things I already knew needed fixing before digging back into a more thorough revision process. The problem? I finished the list in January. Woohoo! or maybe Oops? Either way, the final push to finish the manuscript in December followed almost immediately by a crash revision in January left me with absolutely no perspective on any aspect of my story. It was a perfect moment to step away and give myself a breather.
But . . . February is Write by Midnight. I LOVE Write by Midnight. I helped found Write by Midnight. I must participate in Write by Midnight.
I dug back in, and did my first read through of the completed manuscript. And had no idea what to do next. Maybe it was brilliant or maybe utter garbage. Difficult to say. So, I pulled out my favorite crafts books and searched for wisdom on revision. And still didn’t know what to do. Well, actually, I did know what to do. I just didn’t want to do it.
I needed a break from my manuscript. All the craft books recommended taking a break after completing a draft. But they didn’t mention what to do when that needed break coincided with your favorite annual writing challenge.
Finally, a natural disaster in form of a flood that threatened to inundate my parents’ home intervened. Don’t worry–the river crested lower than expected, so their home was spared. But we didn’t know that until after we had moved everything out of it and surrounded the house with sandbags over the course of two days. Definitely wasn’t writing, thinking about writing, or pretending to write over those two days. Or the next two days it took to recover from the exhaustion. What I did do was finally admit to myself that I shouldn’t be writing in the month of February. And since it took me half the month to figure that out, I might not write until halfway through March either.
And that’s okay. I’m still a writer with a completed draft of a novel I love. And I have a plan for completing it. I just need the patience to wait until the right time. In that case, I might not have finished a new draft this month, but I did learn some valuable wisdom. Patience is necessary in writing.
Naomi Hawkins-Rowe: My goals for Write By Midnight were four-fold: to regard my writing time as sacred, to take a slow and focused approach to the development of my characters and the story, to focus on the crafting of each sentence rather than word count, and to have a first draft of Chapters 1-7 by Feb.16 to begin revising the second half of the month.
The first two weeks went well. Although I didn’t have a complete first draft of my chapters by Feb 16th like I had hoped, I had mostly succeeded in keeping my mornings dedicated to writing. Even though I have a lot to edit before I submit my chapters to my mentor this month, I did manage to write some scenes I feel proud of and I feel really good about that.
The last two weeks was a sick-factory at my house, which began with my son and ended with me getting a cold which morphed into a more serious upper respiratory thing. However, in my more lucid moments this past week, I spent time making notes and writing freehand in my journal. This time, when I was too sick to get out of bed, gave me an opportunity to really think through the direction of my story thus far. I came up with some changes that I believe will make these first chapters stronger and my protagonist more interesting.
While I’m bummed to have missed our writing retreat, I feel WBM ended up being very fruitful for me.
Stacey Kite: This year’s WBM challenge was a struggle for me, which is a mealy-mouthed way of saying I did not reach any of my goals. I have plenty of excuses: we had a small machine uprising at the beginning of the month, we’re in the middle of planning a cross-country move and I’ve been sick. But the truth is I’m simply at a point in my book where things have gotten tough.
Normally, I like to write in chronological order, but over the last year, whenever I got stuck on a scene for too long, I skipped ahead and moved on to a scene that I could really feel. That left gaps in my story, so my plan for this year’s WBM challenge was to write all those missing scenes. As it turned out, though, there were more voids in my plot than I’d originally thought—in some cases, giant, cavernous, blackhole kinds of voids.
When I realized the scope of the problem, I shifted my goal to just plotting those sections, but that did not go as planned. The reason I’d struggled with those particular scenes in the first place was either the characters’ motivations in them were on the limp side, or the causal links from one scene to the next were amorphous and coincidental. Beating my head against the problem areas and talking through them with my writing buddies gave me directions and ideas, but my progress in February was dismal. I never once got that key-in-the-lock feel for anything I worked on.
But I’ve decided I’m okay with that. I know that the right solutions will come in time. I just need to push hard for a while, then back off, then push again. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
Missing a goal is a setback, but it’s not failure. It’s only failure when you give up.
Now that you’ve heard how we fared this month, please share your WBM experience with us by tweeting @writeowls or commenting below. Then, tune in for our monthly Write by Midnight Pep Talks for tips to stay the course until February rolls around in 2021.