It’s been a while since I posted an entry, but that’s not because I haven’t been writing. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. I am hard at work on my first novel! I’ve been writing between 2,000-3,000 words every day, and I am super happy with the progress I am making.
Yep, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, and I am so glad I did. It has given me the impetus to sit down and write every day, whereas before I had been writing but not consistently, and my novel was only inching along. NaNoWriMo has also helped me grow as a writer by helping me learn how to get out of my own way. I am a total editor by nature, and I have really never allowed myself to write first drafts before. As a matter of fact, all through college I never once wrote a first draft. As a writer friend of mine once put it, “my first drafts always looked like someone else’s eighth draft.”
Whatever I put down on paper always went through numerous revisions inside my head before my fingers touched the keyboard. Consequently, sitting down to write was a tremendous chore for me–and I was an English major! I used to agonize over any writing assignment I was given, sometimes taking ten to twelve hours to write a 3-page paper!
I haven’t always had that problem. I have to give my ex-husband credit for that.
I’ve been a writer since elementary school. I used to journal and churn out short stories, poems, essays, and articles with no problem whatsoever. No agonizing. No feeling self-conscious about my writing. I used to really love to write.
That all changed when I married my first husband. At some point very early on in our marriage I caught him going through my journals and writing notebooks, and–get this–he got jealous of my writing. If I wrote poems or short stories he always assumed I was writing about another man, and fights would ensue. I started hiding my writing from him, but that didn’t work, because he actually went looking for my journals and found them. I guess I wasn’t very good at hiding things, but whatever! To make a long story short, I stopped writing for well over a decade. And to make an even longer story even shorter, we finally got divorced.
And I immediately started writing again. But now I had the problem of a control-freak internal editor from hell.
NaNoWriMo has fixed that. NaNoWriMo is an event where crazy people, aka writers, sign up to try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. There are forums on the official NaNoWriMo website, regional meet-ups, and Facebook groups galore where you can converse with, complain to, and cheer and be cheered on by fellow writers. There are also a lot of people who are glad to help you get your writing done by inviting you to sprints and/or word wars.
I’ve found that sprints and word wars are an awesome way to get a lot of writing done quickly, without succumbing to the pressure of my internal editor.
Sprints are what they call it when some writers get together at the same time, agree on how long they are going to write, then write as much as they can for that period of time. Generally sprints will last 20 or 30 minutes, but I’ve seen them go for as little as ten minutes or as much as an hour. In a sprint, you’re really only competing against the clock. I have only done sprints in my Facebook NaNo group.
Word wars are very similar to sprints, although maybe a tad more competitive, and they usually occur in a chatroom or in person, during “write-ins.” I try to find time to hang out in official NaNo chatrooms and war almost every day. Those are fun because they’re short, usually 10-20 minutes, and there is a bit of friendly competition.
I also occasionally participate in #1k1hr sprints on Twitter (@AnnisaTangreen), but I find that it’s harder for me to carve out a solid hour for writing most days. 1k1hr is just what it sounds like: you sit in front of your computer for one hour and try to write a thousand words.
Sprints and word wars are also a wonderful exercise in silencing your internal editor and getting out of your own way. They are great for getting your ideas out of your head and down on paper quickly. When you’re sprinting, you can’t afford to go back and edit what you’ve just written, or think about it too much before you write. They are extremely helpful in getting your first draft down.
You may or may not find that what you’ve written is worthy of a Pulitzer prize, but at least you’ve got something to work with. You can always go back and edit, cut, embellish, enhance, or move it all around. The most important thing is getting those ideas out before they vanish into the ether, never to reappear.
I really have to be thankful for NaNoWriMo. It has helped me be a consistent, disciplined writer, and it has taught me how to silence my internal editor from hell.
Do you have any tricks for silencing your internal editor? Leave me a comment below if you do. I would love to hear them!
I’m excited to share this excerpt of the novel I’m working on for NaNo. It was part of the original plot, but as I got further along in the manuscript this scene became less and less important. I think I’ll eventually end up cutting it from the novel entirely and starting a new story with it. That’s not to say that I don’t like it. On the contrary, I’m quite proud of it and that is why I am sharing it with you.
The Witch and Her Wyrd
The old woman sat with a bowl in her lap outside the ruka, chewing on a mouthful of leaves. Inside the bowl was a dark liquid that reflected the sky. Careful not to swallow any of the leaves or juices, she periodically spit into the bowl. As she sat, she hummed a sort of monotonous tune and rocked back and forth. So the minutes passed for the old woman: rocking, humming, chewing, spitting.
She looked ancient, but her people aged quickly and lived a long time. Her shoulders were hunched with age, but you could tell she had been a strong woman, for they were wide and looked accustomed to carrying heavy burdens. Her silver-gray hair was still thick and she wore it plaited into two long, heavy braids that reached to her waist. Her face was a geography of spidery lines and deep valleys. Her cheekbones were wide and her features were coarse. Whatever loveliness she may have once possessed was lost a long time ago, not to age and time, but rather to bitterness and spite. Her eyes were black as coal, not clouded, but sharp and piercing, like the eyes of a vulture, and they contained not one shred of compassion for her patient.
A half-dozen hens scrabbled in the dirt close to where the woman sat. Farther out in the yard that doubled as a corral and surrounded the little windowless house stood an old, decrepit mare, a stallion, and a milk cow, swishing their tails at flies. On beyond the flimsy border of sticks was a small field planted with crops and irrigated by shallow ditches the residents of the ruka had dug with their own hands.
It was late in the afternoon and the sun was just dipping behind the mountains to the west. The old woman finished chewing the last mouthful of leaves, then spit the remaining juices into the bowl and the used up leaves into the dirt beside the door. She stood, adjusting her woolen poncho and the belt pouches at her waist, then re-entered the dwelling.
Inside the ruka a man lay dying. His arms were bound together at the wrists and fastened to a post at the head of the primitive bed, and his ankles were bound to the posts at the other end. This was a precautionary measure, taken for his own good, to ensure that he did not injure himself in the throes of his madness-induced seizures. The man’s wife sat, cross-legged, on the bare dirt floor beside him, weeping and moaning. The only other occupant in the house was a scraggly old dog, who occasionally stirred himself long enough to scratch at the fleas that bit him. The light cast by the small fire in the center of the room was its only illumination.
The old woman opened her mouth and a voice that sounded like dry leaves blowing over dry gravel issued from her throat. She began to chant and took a rattle from her belt, shaking it as she walked counter-clockwise around the room. Her chanting grew louder and louder as she circled the patient and her demeanor changed as she walked. At first, she walked with the limping, shuffling gait of an old woman, but as her chants grew louder, she seemed to grow in stature and her step became firm. The woman kneeling by the bed could almost see a tall, cloaked figure, wreathed in shadows appearing in the old woman’s place, and she shuddered as she recognized a Sorceror’s Shade. As the old woman’s shape changed, so did her voice, becoming deeper, younger, stronger. The firelight flickered and dimmed and the Sorceror’s Shade grew more corporeal and more menacing with each step until, stopping at the head of the bed, it knelt, set the bowl down, and removed a knife from another loop in its belt. With a sudden slashing movement, it cut the rope binding the patient’s wrists, raised him into a half-sitting position, and brought the bowl to his lips.
The man, who had seemed only half-conscious before, now opened his eyes wide and stared up into the face of the shadowy apparition with a look of terror. He struggled desperately to bring his hands up to the bowl, to push it away. The Sorceror’s Shade must have been stronger than the old woman had appeared, for it held the bowl firmly to his lips and forced him to drink the strange brew. He coughed and gagged as the dark liquid ran down his throat. Suddenly the man’s head snapped back, his back arched, and his body grew rigid. A strangled, gurgling sound halfway between the growl of an animal and a scream emanated from his throat. His fingers curled into claws and raked at the bed frame. The paroxysm lasted for less than half a minute, and, just as suddenly as it had occurred, the man collapsed on the bed, seemingly lifeless. The man’s wife sat rigidly beside the bed, her eyes wide and her hands clamped over her mouth, in fear of making a sound.
There was a short silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire and the sound of the wind in the thatches above. Suddenly, the man began gagging and choking. The shadowy figure let out a guttural cry, grasped the man by the head, and pried open his mouth. She thrust her shriveled claw of a hand into his throat and withdrew it, producing a bloody clump of flesh, which she then raised high above her head.
“I have grasped you, spirit of death. My medicine is stronger than yours. You no longer have power over this man, but I shall not let you loose upon this world,” the shadow-shape boomed in its commanding voice, striding to the fire. The old woman reached out toward a hot stone. She dropped the mass of flesh onto the hot stone and pushed it farther into the fire, watching as it started to sizzle.