Reading “A Day In The Life of Alexander Chee” over at Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog, Catching Days is inspiring. If you’re in the midst of writing something, if you’re aspiring to write something, if you’re in the midst of revision…go read it to start off your writing/revision day (as I am, mine).
Alex’s description of his workspace and his discipline is one that will get you itching to work on your manuscript. He has 3 desks for writing (his office, his living room, his kitchen)–so that writing is unavoidable in his home–reminding me of how my father used to come visit my apartment in college, and critique my setup. “The apartment should be about studying,” he would mumble, waving at the desk in my bedroom, setup in the most uncomfortable, unwelcoming corner. He wanted me to put a study desk in my living room, and a study desk in my bedroom, so that I couldn’t avoid studying.
(I now, for the record, have writing spaces in 3 rooms of my home: my office, my dining room, and my bedroom–all set up with the comforts of writing. Dad should be proud).
Another piece of advice that Alex doles out is that one should “Write down the page number where you stop work on your writing, so you can start there again the next day, and not begin on page 1 per the computer’s software. You’ll destroy less of your work that way.” This is something I learned the hard way, destroying much of my work by opening Word to page 1, and machete’ing my way through the manuscript until I arrived at the page I’d last touched the previous day. Valuable advice, especially if you’re writing a novel and can’t afford to machete your work every single morning.
For me, Scrivener has been key to finishing my novel manuscript’s first complete draft, a project that has taken me more than five years to finish, all told, given life’s twists and turns. Before Scrivener, I kept starting my novel over and over, and doing so without a structure in mind. Scrivener’s format is novel-centric; when you think about it, Word just isn’t made to support a longer piece of work. (For one, the doc opens at page 1, and you have to scrrrrrrrrolllll through until you reach page 50, 100, etc.). Word doesn’t have innate support for chapters and doesn’t help you see your novel as a whole. I’m not being paid by anyone to advocate any of the tools I’m mentioning in this post–I don’t think I’d write another novel without Scrivener, though.
Then there’s my Lacie backup drive. Backup your novel. I have immense solace in the fact that my novel is backed up somewhere (and now, also printed out and secure in a bubblope).
Sometimes, in the course of writing this first draft, I got stuck. That’s when Dr. Wicked Write or Die would come in (now in a downloadable desktop version). Write or Die is simple: you give yourself a certain amount of time and the software starts “torturing you” if you STOP typing, the idea being that you’re negating your inner critic by getting the words down before the critic shuns them. Then at the end of your time period, you copy and paste what you wrote into your manuscript. There were a few times I got more writing done in 30 minutes with Dr. Wicked than I got in an entire day other days without Dr. Wicked.
The internet. Other apps on your laptop. Twitter. Facebook. Writeroom (“distraction free writing”) helps you block this all out on your laptop.
Update: Too many of my friends tout Freedom for me to ignore, and thus I’m going to add it as a belated recommendation on my list. I haven’t used it personally but several of my trusted friends have done so, and recommend it highly. It’s supposed to disable networking on your Mac for up to 8 hours (you set the time limit, and the only way to “un-do” the limit is to reboot your Mac). I am afraid to use it because I’m afraid I’d reboot my Mac a kazillion times; Writeroom doesn’t actually turn off the network access, it just has a full screen that helps you “ignore” the internet.
Music. iPod. Blip.fm. Pandora. I’ve used them all. Sometimes your novel requires music, other times it requires silence. Sometimes headphones work. Sometimes your novel wants nothing in your ears, just like your novel sometimes prefers that you drink tea and other times juice and other times prefers you totally dehydrated.
Take care of yourself. Sleep. Nurture. Take care of your body–because your mind can’t function with your body, and vice versa. I took up running, but you/your novel might require different.
Last but definitely not least, my friend Randa and I made a pact to write a certain amount of words per week as we both wended our way through our novel first drafts (I started from scratch at the beginning of 2009). We kept each other going through some rough weeks and cheered each other on during great weeks. Get yourself a writing partner–share your word counts (you don’t even have to share your writing). Encourage each other.
Good luck. :) And wish me luck, too, as I revise (and revise and revise)…Hopefully, I’ll be back here in a few months to offer what I learned in the revision process!