I ran a coaching call this morning made up of a group of writers most of whom had finished or were nearly finishing a first book—and by finish I mean putting on the final touches, NOT completing a rough draft. They asked questions and shared techniques, and each approach that had worked for someone sounded wise and wonderful. One said that he wrote slowly, that it took him a long time each day to reach his minimum word count.
“I’m very tolerant of stillness,” Jonathem Letham says in an interview in this month’s Poets & Writers. “I don’t mind sitting there for half an hour. I’d rather not move my hands just to move them; I’ll wait for the right thing.”
This makes so much sense to me, and yet another writer client on the call this morning talked about how effective “Write or Die” is for her, Dr. Wicked’s online program where you set a word count goal and a time goal, and the screen goads you not to stop typing, flashing bright colors and wailing unpleasant tunes at you if you stop, or—at a more extreme setting—eating backwards the words you’ve already typed if you don’t begin again to add more. This works for me, too. It breaks me past the brain’s ceaseless desire for the perfect plan to be in place before embarking on any actual writing. It allows me to discover what my storyteller has to say if I type fast enough that I can listen only to her and have to shut out the other voices, harsh and critical and terribly smart, that would rather I not write at all when you come down to it.
Another writer wanted to know if she should write chronologically or structurally through the story or merely pick a juicy place to work and labor there for the given day. One client responded that he’d gone straight through the story, following or changing the loose plan he’d made. This allows for the momentum of storytelling—and then what? And then what?—to keep your writing travelling forward. On the other hand, another client got on the call and reported that she’d chosen scenes nearly at random from all over the book and later strung them together, and now was filling in holes in a similar jumping around mode. This allows you to go where the energy is, to make discoveries both in the writing and in the linking, never to get stuck or bored.
As always, we come back to my number one rule for writing: Whatever works. Just make sure your athlete writer sweats and gets her heart rate up and pumping. Try this or that approach, hone your technique, and rewrite rewrite rewrite, but whatever else you do, write. And that’s what I love about NaNoWriMo.