NaNoWriMo 2016~ Journalling a Struggle ~ Check In #2

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It started with a note in my journal on Monday the 7th:

I was thinking yesterday that I’ve made a wrong start with the novel. I should have started with an earlier scene and made the story more chronological and less flashback-y. This could be me feeding off chicken shit energy, starting to feel less brave. Perhaps what I need to do most is stay firm with the point in the story I have decided to tell it from and get this first draft completed.

On Tuesday I hadn’t let go of the thought and was still picking through it:

After having Sunday off from writing, Monday felt like a slog to try and regain not only word count, but the thread of the story. I have readjusted my daily word count so that the challenge can be written in 26 days, so Sundays are not writing days ~ these are things I couldn’t have accounted for before the challenge started. I definitely need that day of rest for my mental health. I don’t want to binge write. I know some people are up to 30,000 words by the beginning of the second week and I can only think that they are getting high on the adrenaline of smashing their word counts. I hope it works for them. Writing 30,000 words in six days would make me cray-cray.

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By Wednesday I was admitting to myself my writing mood had changed since the high of the first week’s inspiration:

The novel is on my day 8 of writing and I’m struggling. It’s so hard to trust the process. I’m so glad it’s part of a challenge because I think I’d start to falter now if I was doing this off my own steam, and might walk away. Imagine!

As for the story, none of it is in order. I have to focus on the fact that it’s not about having 50,000 of a perfect draft at the end of November. It’s about getting 50,000 words down so that I can really understand the story I’m telling. I think in an ideal world (a non-NaNo month) I would want to get the first Act down on paper and then word process it and tinker with it until I found the right direction. But, of course, that is not the challenge that I’m currently undertaking.

My brain is trying to tell me to chicken out and that what I want most of all is to have a simple life, not a writing life. But if I take a step back and observe this thought I see it’s not true. It’s just fear of not being up to the challenge. The writing is hard this week and yet I am happy, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. I am happy that I have work that is engaging me and challenging me.

Do I have an attachment to writing in novel form? Not particularly, but I do want to write to make sense of life through language and story, and novels are one way of pursuing that. I am carrying so much baggage about my previous attempts and failures at novel writing that I think the ground can only be cleared to move forward by persevering with the white heat of this challenge.

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By Thursday, me and my characters and still trying to plough our way through the malaise:

Some people have second week inspiration ~ soaring upwards. I definitely have the second week slump. I don’t have the characters’ motivations tight enough to drive us all towards the end of Act One.

At the beginning of the first week I picked up a thread and I managed to hold onto it throughout the story for 36 handwritten pages. That is some achievement. It seemed like I could write a rough draft of a novel from beginning to end with a clear emotional and motivational arc for the main character. It seemed like magic. Stopping on Sunday gave me some rest and critical distance, but that distance also meant that I lost that thread. I picked up a thread that was like it, but it wasn’t exactly the same and that made all the difference.

If I want to carry on writing this week (and I do) then I’m going to have accept the limitations of my ability and my process. I’m going to have to dig into the back story to get back that thread of drive and motivation, both for me and for my characters.

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On Friday I am starting to draw parallels with the blocks I’m facing now and the ones I’ve faced with novel writing in the past:

Yesterday I left the forward movement of the plot and just went for back story. I think this is what happened in my NaNoWriMo 2007 (the only time I’ve ever tried the challenge before). Back then, even though I kept on writing and refused to get lost in writer’s block, I deemed myself a failure for taking a detour to find my inspiration again.

I’m not sure if I’m doing this challenge ‘properly’ now so much of my daily writing is plotting and back story. I’ve gone rogue. But I’ve given myself a challenge to write 50, 000 words towards my novel in November and that’s what I’m going to deliver to myself. Working so quickly is forcing me to blast through problems of process and find the method of novel writing that suits me. I just need to shake off that habitual feeling of guilt. I can’t drill down further into my feelings about this until I recover from this sneaking feeling of disappointment and depletion. I’m just going to keep on pouring myself into the daily writing and try and stay buoyed by the feeling of connection I experience when I’m writing.

It’s taken a little while to edit these journal pages and to feel a little distance from the raw feelings before I felt comfortable to share them. But I wanted to share this to let you know that struggling with a project after the initial excitement is normal; to need to change parameters to suit your needs is normal too. I wanted to share these words to let you know this. I wanted to share these words to let me know this too.

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And in case you’re wondering? Yes, I’m still writing.

NaNoWriMo 2016 ~ Building a Bridge ~Check In #1

Last Monday, the last day of October and the day before I began this challenge of writing 50,000 of a first draft of a novel in 30 days, I wrote myself a list of what I had in my corner to support me through November.

The first was time. I do not work full time, so I have those two magical hours a day to write in the morning as long as I am willing to get up at 5.30. And, yes, I am willing.

The second was place. I have a study and desk where I can write, free of clutter and full of inspiration, overlooking a window (I cannot work when I am facing a wall). I know I am incredibly blessed to have this space, what Auntie Virginia dubbed A Room of One’s Own. But I also have the means to take myself out for a coffee when I need a change of scenery to write too. A Room not of One’s Own can also be a necessity.

The last advantage that I thought of was my strong writing hand. For the last fifteen years I have written three A4 pages longhand in half an hour every day. The connection between my mind and my hand is strong. I was sure this would come in useful during November’s writing marathon.

I thought being armed with these three facts would keep me strong throughout any early wobbles. And on that first day I definitely felt nerves before I began writing. All I could see was the mountain ~ how does a person write 50,000 words in a month, that is 1,677 words every single day? And what I actually meant by this was ~ how does a person write 50,000 words in a month, without blood sweat and tears? My desire to remain unscathed was as strong as my desire to get this draft down on paper. Changed? I can accept that. Harmed? I cannot.

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So on that first day as I sat in the coffee shop, pen in hand with the weight of all my promises weighing down on me, there was that sliver of a possibility that I might not start at all. Could I do this? I didn’t know. And not knowing if I could complete a task before I started it was what weighed the heaviest upon me. Thankfully, despite this uncertainty I knew I had to try. The project already had me in its hand. Even if I didn’t embark upon the good ship NaNoWriMo, I would continue to live in the story’s grip, until I committed it to paper. And that’s what led me to put the first word on the page: knowing that  I needed to take control and establish that I owned the project, and not the other way round.

After 80 minutes I had my first 1000 written. I felt calm and it felt like the words were flowing from something deep and centred already within me. It felt like I was coming into my own creative rhythm. It was a good start.

As the week unfolded the writing was good and right on target for my word count, but what was taking its toll was the rest of the stuff that makes up a life. I easily get to feeling resentful of working and living against the clock. But it was the novel writing that felt like the most calm and connected part of my day. There was no ease in the rest of my working week ~ it was all pow, pow, pow! But I held on to the thread and picked up my pen at the same time every morning and settled in for two hours of writing.

The list of things in my corner did turn out to be a comfort, especially my ability to write longhand with ease. I’ve not seen the value in my daily journalling as a writing practice before, as its biggest benefit in my life has been its positive impact on my mental health. But honing the skill of sitting and writing down what is on my mind, without fuss or hesitation, has meant I have been able to take full advantage of the writing time available to me. And I’ve had no hand cramping problems either!

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Then on Friday night I watched Carol ~ the film version of Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Highsmith is one of my all time writing heroes. As an English teacher who sometimes has to mark confusing sentences for hours at a time, the first thing I want to read when I’m done is a Patricia Highsmith short story (thankfully there are many). Her concise sentences are like a long glass of water to a mind parched of beautiful, clear language.

But watching Carol? I was so incredibly moved because freed of the captivating language, it was the story I watched on screen, and I realised the lead character of Thérèse was so clearly Patrica Highsmith rendering a version of her own young self. A young self who was deeply changed by the act of falling in love as a young woman. The novel I am writing is a coming of age story too, and in a way I am writing my own Carol. We write about what haunts us and what we can’t shake loose. The film’s eloquence was showing how much we can learn about ourselves through the mirror of another person that we fall for, even if we never really end up with them in any way that looks meaningful to the rest of the world. Just for Friday I felt like Patricia Highsmith was my twin writing flame. But it’s a memory I’ll hold on to for the rest of the month.

November is the dark before the celebration month of December, and I am spending it with my face turned towards this first draft. It feels like the last year has already passed and am I building a bridge to the next. It’s this bridge that I’m building that will support me through November and let me cross over to the new year that lies ahead.

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From the Diary #26 ~ Embarking Upon the Good Ship NaNoWriMo

For the uninitiated, an introduction from the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

I am so ready to burst forth into a writing project. Not just any writing project, but the coming of age novel that I have been skirting around for the past ten years. The one that has felt so immense that I have scarcely wanted to touch it for fear of failure.  In the past couple of months, though, there has been a shift in my creative energy and the biggest danger will be that if I don’t direct this energy it will rage through my life anyway, or become even become blocked again. One of the things I’ve learnt along the way is don’t start a project for any other reason than you need to create and have these things flow through you NOW.

And so I am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year because I am at the point where I’m ready to start this project. I’ve been clearing the ground enough and slain enough demons that there is all of this creative energy flinging around and it needs a channel to flow through. I know a project like this needs a big charge, and it feels like I’m riding it right now. I still have a fear of failure, but I also know I have a greater fear of this creative energy darting around and making mischief: it must now be directed. This river of creativity flows into the wild sea of the mind, and rivers are not always life giving: they also have the potential to destroy.

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So I need to harness and channel this creative river so that it doesn’t burst its banks and do some damage along the way. The timing is right. I’ve prepped the ground. Add alongside that the momentum of the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, which will help keep the rivers raging. In the past I have had magical thinking about what this particular coming of age novel could achieve, and that ends up putting a lot of pressure on a project that is hard to sustain. The project becomes an Atlas type figure propping up the weight and expectation of my whole creative world. I release those expectations now, and just want to connect with the project with some deeply felt, heart centred writing. It is definitely a block that needs addressing with courage, and what better way of tackling it than with the  force of this creative wave that is flowing from my heart.

I want to make next month an example of how I can start a project with good momentum, and also stay centred and avoid anxiety. I need to stay both in creativity and healing mode. I am writing this novel to release old energies ~ it is time for change and to learn something new. I want to seize the day rather than have the day seize me.

I hold a red apple which is a source of hope, the fear is that if I bite into the apple that the hope will be gone. But there are seeds inside that apple which will be re-sown. Once a big bite is taken, then it will be clear how the fruit of creativity sustains and multiplies from itself.

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Own the story.

Break the cycle.

Bite the apple.

 

From the Diary #25 ~The Masks

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When your inner life and outer direction grow in new ways, there is likely to come a time when the decisions you make will cause upset in the people around you.  If you’re an empathetic person, this will trigger a panic in you. You might wonder what will happen if you are no longer seen as being gentle, kind or good? You might wonder who you are if other people start to see you differently?

You look around for guidance. The people you’ve upset now surround you. They are wearing masks, masks that you yourself have worn, masks that remind you of the past and who you used to be. You are offered a mask to cover your embarrassment but that time has passed. You need to show the people around you who you are now, who you’ve become. The time for hiding who you ‘really’ are is over.

You have been working out these patterns and challenges for as long as you can remember, but now the momentum has gathered and the changes are happening quickly. You are caught in the shadows of the past: always being the good girl, conformity, letting the crazy makers run rough shod over your life. These shadows cast a darkness over the spark of light that is there to guide you. It is finally time to learn what you need to know.

You have spent your life avoiding conflict, but this has meant giving up your inner peace. But now there isn’t the option of doing nothing because the ground you stand on is a battleground. If you do not wield the sword you will be wounded by the sword. And how long will it take to recover?

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So you face the masks around you and declare the next step forward in your life. You override your natural empathy because it is not safe to use here. The people who surround you see your innate compassion as a weakness to be exploited, a means to turn around your opinion in their favour.  No, not this time. You want to do what you are being guided to do, not what looks like the outwardly right thing, and not what will make other people’s lives easier.

You are clearing out your life, starting with your own brain. You are giving yourself a brainwash. You want to live in your own head prioritising your own thoughts, not what somebody else is thinking of your actions.

You want to follow the spark of light that is promising to drive you forward.

It is time to burn the masks and cast out the darkness.

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From the Diary #24 ~ Creating the Creative Life


I think I’m going to have to calm the heck down. I am becoming too highly regimented, which is missing the point of the freedom I am seeking for myself. Being busy and feeling busy is a good way of never mindfully engaging with my creativity. What I need is to breathe, to think about what I’m doing and why, without a senseless powering through my day. I need to pay more attention to how I’m living.


When I write I don’t want to just type out the stuff in order to make it all go away, although sometimes that helps. I am looking for calm and a contemplative rhythm. At the moment I am very close to living how I want to, but I don’t have the ‘how I want to feel’ going on.  I mostly feel uptight and worried about time running away with me. To feel squeezed is death to my muse. Every time I set myself a strict schedule I end up with severe writer’s block. Don’t keep doing it to yourself, Claire!


But, yesterday? Oh I really tired myself yesterday thinking constantly about the future. I didn’t tether my feet to the spot and my mind went floating off, a bunch of balloons fragmenting into their single components, each single balloon now travelling hundreds of miles in different directions. It was like I had decided I wanted everything in the moment and I wasn’t prepared to wait, but all I actually ended up with was an anxious, robotic response to my do-list and a sense of dissatisfaction. I can sleep when I’m over tired but I can’t sleep when I’ve had a day like that. And when I’ve had a night of sleeplessness, for at least the next two days, nothing is right. I have to avoid that wildfire of worry and dissatisfaction in my brain like crazy. Because it is crazy. Name it for what it is.

Sometimes I think I’d like to be a simple person who gets up at 7.30, works 9-5 and doesn’t have any ambition beyond who they are now and what they are doing now. Do these people even exist?


But I do have an ambition in life, and it is more than just writing. For the past twenty years I have been trying to create a life which supports writing. I yearn for the pottering, languorous life, to creating a sense of spaciousness with which to work in. And I know that when I feel the least pressure, when I feel the most relaxed, I create my best work.

It is not nothing to create this type of life. It feels like an art in itself.