Nineteen Days

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz


In January, I decided to pick up the completed manuscript of my first novel and clean it up to query again. I cut thousands of words and wrote thousands of words. I changed the ending, eliminated characters and altered some of the language in the prose. I bundled up my changes and sent the manuscript off to my writer friends for critique (and praise, of course).

I knew what would happen if I began editing it right away: I would e-mail them every day with changes and annoy them to the point where they’d never finish reading it. Since I needed the feedback on the changes but I was in a writing kind of mood, I decided to pick up a manuscript I’d begun in 2002. I’d set it and all of my creative writing aside when my daughter was born in 2003. I picked it up again and did some work in 2004 and 2005, only to get stuck and set it aside yet again while I was pregnant with my son. In March 2005, I did a little more work on it, found I was still stuck and set it aside.

During the down time, I thought about the story and the characters. I knew the general story I wanted to tell and I had some plot points and an ending in mind. When I opened the file on January 18, I had 64 pages and about 37,000 words written. I saw that sticking point and I made a decision: end the scene and write something else. So I did and 1,800 words later, I closed the manuscript, knowing where I was headed the next time I sat down to write. The next day I wrote 3,939 words. Then 3,147, 4,953, 3,825, all on subsequent days.

On January 22, I crossed the 60,000-word mark: officially a novel. I wrote 4,676 and made it to the point of my next major plot point. Years before, I’d written part of the scene and a scene that followed that plot point. That word count was 4,100. Then 1,465, 2,190, 3,701, 3,480 and 2,850 on a day where I made extra time to play with my kids and make a nice meal for the family. I suppose that getting so much work done increased my confidence and gave me extra mental and physical energy. That was ten days after I began.

On January 29, I reached 80,000 words. I had written 36,000 fresh words in ten days and I had no idea how I managed it. I blogged through all of it and did some updates in my regular blog as well, which means I wrote even more words than that.

On Groundhog Day, I broke 90,000 words. I wrote over 6,000 words on February 4 and the next day I worked about two hours, produced 2,600 words and finished the manuscript. In three weeks, I wrote 118 pages, 63,000 words. Suddenly NaNoWriMo didn’t seem so daunting.

I shipped the new manuscript off to writer friends (who now had two manuscripts of mine to cope with) and I began rereading and hand-editing the first book. Immediately after, I did the same with the second.

The whole time I wrote those 63,000 words, I wondered how I was doing it. What’s the secret? What can I tell people so they can do the same?

First, I allowed distractions. I wrote while I cared for my two small children at the same time. I could play with them outside, join them for a game, read books, etc. and still have lots of time to write. I think the frequent breaks kept me from getting bogged down.

I wrote offline. It’s too tempting for me just to “look something up quick” but get distracted at Wikipedia, Amazon or even Toasted Cheese. I made notations and look things up later.

I knew when to stop for the day. It didn’t matter if I wrote 1,000 words or 6,000. When I got tired or just wasn’t inspired, I didn’t write any more.

“When you stop, have an idea of what to write next.” This is some of the best advice I ever got from a writing professor and it’s why I was stuck for so long: I didn’t know what the next little bit would be. Once I solved the problem by ending the scene and beginning a new one, I followed this advice for the duration of the project and it made it easier for me at the next writing session.

I took days off. I got a bout of good weather, invitations from friends, took time off to be with my family and declared “no writing” days.

I didn’t set a specific goal. I didn’t say “I must write for at least two hours” or “I have to reach 1,500 words today.” My only goal on days when I wanted to write was “write.”

I wrote portably. I used a laptop for most of this story but I began it in a furry leopard print blank journal while waiting in a parking lot for my husband. I wrote in our playroom, our kitchen and in my son’s bedroom. I also edited hard copies, which were even more portable. I finished both edits in a matter of days. Flexibility was the key.

I rewarded myself. If I had great word count one day, I’d quit early the next and read a new book, watched a movie or took my kids out to play. I took breaks to do other creative things, like knitting, blogging or taking photographs.

I came out of this with a lot more than a novel. When I felt like writing, I discovered that I could find the time and the means. I showed myself that it’s possible to complete a NaNoWriMo-style project. I accomplished, even exceeded my writing goals. That translated into confidence, energy and the desire to accomplish other goals as well.

There’s no feeling in the world like completing a novel, but completing a second novel comes mighty close. I also love editing so having two manuscripts to edit was sheer heaven. I’m not as much a fan of querying, researching agents, all the business that comes with sitting on a complete manuscript. At least I didn’t think I was. Last week I found some free time to research agents and found many more resources online than I’d had when I went through the same process in 2001–2002. Dare I say that I’m excited to start querying again?

I guess when it comes down to it, I love writing. Pure and simple. Not just the joy of watching something new unfold but of sharing it with people, fine-tuning and honing it, putting it out there for rejection or acceptance and all of the business that goes with it. The creation is a small part of the whole for me and finding that I have the time to create is an invaluable gift from my long-absent Muse.

pencil

E-mail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com

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