On Writing When You Can’t

If you read my last post about Challenge Mode: Baby, you know that this year’s NaNo is hard for me.

It’s actually really hard for me. Normally by the end of day two, I’m up to 15,000 words or thereabouts. I’m not even kidding. My husband says I’m usually at 50k around day 8 or so – I’m pretty sure it’s more day 15 but the point is the hard part of NaNo is getting the story done before Nov 30, not getting to 50k. Even if getting to 50k proves hard, I still hit around at least 10k by day two and then my word production drops off sharply after week one as I hit the week two slump. I never really recover from week two slump the way most NaNoers do, although going to my favorite cupcake/hot chocolate shop helps. Nothing like a white satin hot chocolate and a pie-flavored cupcake to get you writing!

Today, midnight start of day three, I have 2,309 words. So this year is going to be a lot harder for me, yes.

Part of the problem isn’t even that my daughter wants attention from me. She’s happily sleeping right now, but exhaustion makes it so hard to think that I’m having a hard time getting into my character’s heads. The first morning in the early am, she was being frustrating and it was a good thing my husband happened to wake up right around when I was ready to totally lose it so he could take over baby care. And during that time, the words in my novel were…interesting.

The thing about them was that I was so exhausted in all the ways one can be exhausted that I didn’t care about what my characters were doing. I was just grumpy and bitter and couldn’t push myself to type more story, but I hadn’t met the word quota. Rather than give up completely, I typed what was on my mind. My irritation that our baby fussed and fussed and wouldn’t be put in her bassinet when I tried to lay her down, but slept peacefully as soon as my husband tried. Exasperation at her appetite. Self hatred and despair concerning the quality of the draft thus far. And then, the actual start of chapter one. Is this cheating, including a bunch of rant in my story’s word count?

While my mom was over helping me with my new baby, she made me watch the movie Finding Forrester, which was really good. There was an important point made by Sean Connery’s character (the famed writer Forrester):

“The first key to writing…is to write.”

Forrester gives his pupil Jamal a writing exercise of just typing the words of one of Forrester’s pieces until Jamal’s own words flow; with this exercise, after typing the first paragraph of Forrester’s work, Jamal produces a brilliant piece of his own.

I feel that what I’ve done for my NaNo is an essential strategy in forcing words – or, perhaps, bringing back the words – when they’ve fled, when I can’t write anymore. When I have flow going, I can write even the hard, boring parts, the parts that are stupid and awful and will need much effort to revise later to be interesting. And when I have to stop and start and stop and start, especially during a hard part of the draft zero, I have to re-establish flow somehow else the ‘start’ parts of stop and start don’t involve very much starting. Is it wrong to include “I hate everything so much right now. Being a parent is hard. I mean why won’t she flipping go to sleep?”* as part of my NaNo word count when that’s clearly nothing to do with my story? No, I honestly and sincerely don’t think so because it kept me writing. My complaints about the current circumstances, over-dramatized by my normal way of handling trials and my exhaustion, turned slowly to my complaints about the story, in this case, not knowing how to start chapter one, primarily because I didn’t know what POV I wanted to use – I knew third person but did I want to write from multiple character’s perspectives? There are two main characters and I had never decided if I wanted to write from just the one or both perspectives. From there, it became my thoughts on how I may as well just write from Hope’s perspective because mistakes were perfect for Draft Zero, which I am writing, that experimenting with perspective is fine and I could always change it later. After all, my other WIP was in third person omniscient until Draft V, when I switched to first person. That’s a lot of work, but not unmanageable. I don’t have to get the right POV the first time. I don’t have to get anything right the first time. I just have to write. Once that was settled:
“Hope was doing a chore or something. Milking a cow. Yes.
[line break]
Hope was milking Cow, a chore so familiar to her now that she was able to gaze off into the distance and think about the boy she saw at the market today.”
And with that, I was writing Chapter One. Is it stupid drivel? Who cares! It’s writing that I can always fix later.

So when you sit and stare at the blank page or the last sentence you wrote and nothing doing, start typing anyway. Freehand. Write about your day or how frustrating it is you can’t continue or where you want the story to go. Write about nothing until you can write about something. You can always edit out the ramblings later. if you’re afraid you’ll forget, change the text color to red while you’re rambling, or type in bold if you want a technique with a quick key shortcut. It’s okay to put utter nonsense and unrelated ranty crap in your first draft because the first draft is messy. It’s okay. Just get it done.

If you have no success with general rants, you can always pull a “This thing needs to happen and happen like this and then this next thing happens and I can write that” kind of phrase. I’ve done that, too. “There’s this bridge and there should probably be some sort of deal with it or maybe not I don’t know but I’m spending all this time on it trying to figure out why it’s a problem to cross and that’s dumb so there’s a problem and then they figure out how to have it not be a problem and they cross it and then Tristan-” and on with the actual story.

Don’t let any block be an excuse. If you can’t write, write anyway, write whatever you can, until “whatever you can” becomes your story once more.

*Disclaimer: I fully understood that parenting is hard and this exact thing would happen well before I even got married, let alone pregnant. That makes it no less frustrating and exasperating when you’re up at three am with 500 or so words written and desperation creeping in as your child wants you to hold her and feed her when she just flipping ate and should be falling asleep instead for the third time that night, leading to a whole night of proper feeding and then crying and crying for two hours. I knew this sort of thing could and probably would happen. I did. But then it did happen and foreknowledge only meant I wasn’t surprised.

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About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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