Lessons Learned.

I haven’t posted in a few days, so I thought I’d step back and think about why, and what I’m getting out of this supposedly month-long writing exercise. (You might say it’s also an attempt to hack / semi-quantify my writing productivity; what’s working, what isn’t, when my squirrel mind is most receptive to flashes of insight, etc.)

The idea was to write 26 short pieces, each one after a Pavement song title. Easier said than done already, but the main twist was that I had to come up with one a day, like a multivitamin, and post it on the blog.

So, lessons learned:

1. I shouldn’t have started this at the same time I enrolled in two fairly intensive classes with lots of homework.

Even now I multitask between this blog entry and a quality management plan for the 9 am – 4 pm Sunday class I’m taking — and I’m placing that in italics so you can read my excuse clearly — and we know that this sort of multitasking doesn’t work.

Supposedly it takes about 15 minutes to settle into an effective level of concentration, and so even the temptation to look at your phone / check your email / shuffle your Spotify playlist / scratch your nuts pulls you out of the zone, if you ever got into it in the first place. Maybe the real lesson here is don’t multitask, but yeah.

2. Oh wait, I was writing about writing. (Also I’m partly convinced that fiction writers who write about writing are obviously not writing fiction, so it doesn’t quite count. Helps flex the muscles and all that, sure, but…)

Okay, onto the second lesson: I can’t write and edit that fast.

NaNoWriMo is about chaining your inner editor to a dungeon for 30 days. (Not your real editor; that probably counts as a felony in some states.) The point is to give yourself permission to write utter crap and let the words flow.

Of course, the ability to write utter crap is, alas, not a problem for a lot of people. I’m talking about permission here, for those of us folks who edit obsessively and can’t get to DONE. (Though in writing, things are never really “done;” you either slam into that tree with DEADLINE painted on it, or you say “fuck it” and hit that Send button.)

The surface goal of NaNoWriMo is to hit that 50,000-word count, or something like 1,600-plus words a day. Doesn’t matter what those are. This could be the first-draft writer’s act of taking inventory of a room and the objects in it, like:

She picked up the cup and stared at it: its circumference, the way the handle curved and felt in her hands, how it dully reflected the early morning light. She remembered the time she almost hurled it at her husband. She looked around the room and saw the faded rose curtains, the light fixtures they purchased from the quaint little antique store in Bedford the year they moved in, the chairs they happily discovered at her grandmother’s attic. She put the cup down, because she forgot that she was still holding it in her hand, and gently placed it on the table they purchased from another quaint little antique store in Bedford, but the year after they moved in. The cup made a pleasing sound as it connected with the wood.

Right. Like, no one would want to put that on their blog. But that was a nice chunk of words — 131, to be exact — written in a couple of minutes. It’s good for your daily word count, but the sort of tedious stuff that gets thrown out for obvious reasons.

Sure, anyone can write that (I just did), but I’d edit it first before publishing. Quality-wise, my pieces may stink or semi-stink, but I at least gave them a once-over (or a thrice-over) before I clicked “Publish.”

I can’t keep doing that every day.

3. Fame Throwa.

Ok, that was more of a digression. But “Fame Throwa” is the next Pavement song on the album and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. The lyrics make no sense, it looks like a typo — and for all I know it may indeed be a typo and Malkmus made a song out of it anyway. But I did come up with a story, which I’m still editing. Stay tuned.

4. I can’t switch gears that quickly.

NaNoWriMo is about writing one body of work: a novel. What I thought I could do was write 26 short pieces with nothing in common between them except willfully obscure song titles.

With NaNoWriMo you get to dream up plot twists and deepen characters’ lives. You get to see evolution and efflorescence. What I was doing for my exercise was constantly switching back and forth: new characters, new settings, new plots, every single day.

I know now that I can’t do that.

On the other hand, I’ve written in 11 days (in order):

  • a piece about a man haunted by women
  • a piece about a troop of soldiers who muse, Terrence Malick-style, on their guns
  • half of a conversation by a woman in a moral crisis about a breakup
  • a bedtime story about a king who couldn’t sleep
  • a bizarro fiction piece about a giant baby on a rampage
  • a semi-autobiographical piece of piffle about missing San Francisco
  • a prose poem of sorts, with organic structural constraints (alternating pronouns, with the first independent clause an echo of the second independent clause of the previous line), about a man and a woman
  • the beginning of a psychological horror story about mysterious scars
  • a piece about a woman, a man, and a gesture
  • the germ of what may be some insane alternate-history work set during the Filipino-American War
  • and an interior monologue about grammar by a woman on the receiving end of oral sex

And that doesn’t include the piece about a man mourning his wife, or that other Lovecraftian noir story I wrote for practice prior to November. They don’t all work, but hey — as the software developers say, “Fail fast; learn faster.”

That’s more fodder for longer pieces. More first- and second-drafts. More new ideas written in two weeks than I have in probably the past year.

Am I still going to write the other 15 pieces? Yes, but not every day.

Am I writing everyday? YES.

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