Monday, 11 July 2011

Words, words, words...and then more words.

Five-thousand four hundred and thirty-three. While I might wish it was dollars or pounds won in a lottery, alas, it's only the number of words I wrote yesterday.

Lotus, Orchid Garden, Kuala Lumpur
Only? I'll take it! Finally, my writing is finally taking on a life of its own. It wants to be there and wants to get done. I've struggled for the four months since we moved to Malaysia to make it a regular habit; I've longed for this book to become my passion and for it and its characters to compel me forward. I couldn't understand why it seemed like other people wrote as if chased through the woods by banshees, driven to get their story on paper, while I just fiddled around with it and "worked" on it when the mood suited me or there wasn't some charity project to complete, a dozen emails to answer, photos to edit, days out with friends...whatever.

Understanding may be coming at last. Knowing that I am a more than competent "writer"--having made a very decent living at it for a couple of decades--I rather assumed that turning my attention would be much the same sort of process. An assignment, a timeline, tools, a project brief, research, a finished product, some rounds of review, critique and edits--finalisation and, kerblooey, a cheque for the bank account and a pat on the back.

I always found it pretty easy. I was the "Oh, let's call her. She'll get this done!" person. That's how it works, isn't it?

Well, no. After some months of barely discernible progress on my own work of historical fiction, begun during NaNoWriMo 2011, I was flummoxed. Did I really want to write? What was wrong with me? I had 50,000 words. I was  NaNoWriMo winner, comfortably resting on that laurel and occasionally wearing the t-shirt. But, while I was happy to research my topic and learn all about The Crimean War, medical practices in 19th century England, how to load and fire an Enfield rifle...all that effort wasn't being tranformed into words on paper. Why wasn't it happening? Where were the other 50,000 words?

OK. Panic sets in. On the theory that anything is better than sitting around, paralysed, I signed up for a couple of online writing classes through the UK-based Writing Our Way Home. Excellent stuff! I spent the months of April and May observing things around me and learning with Fiona and Kaspa, respectively, working in small groups exploring spirituality via writing and then moving into four different Japanese forms of writing and therapeutic writing.

Finally, I was getting somewhere. Since I'd expended so much energy taking photographs as we learned our way around Malaysia, written a bunch of poems and "small stones" in the WOWH workshops AND was dealing with a mother who really wanted me to be in California and not here...I self-published a book of photos and poems from my time here specifically for my parents, daughter and grandchildren. It was a hit.

But why wasn't a novel getting written? I didn't have writer's block. I had a story and something to say. I can sit down and write a 2,000 word email before breakfast. I am nothing if not prolific when it comes to spewing out words. In fact, I'd benefit from some genetic splicing involving the brevity gene, thank you.

On June 6th, I began a third on-line month-long course, this one through The ToDo Institute in Vermont, USA. It was called "Taking Action: Finishing the Unfinished". The course is based on the Japanese therapies of Naikan and Morita. Participants pick a project--of any persuasion--that just ain't getting done. And they learn how to do it in spite of themselves. Hmmmm. That sounded like just the thing for me. I signed up.

Wow. The course is finished. The cumulative result is amazing. I spent most of this past month doing small tasks, researching things about the Crimean War and Victorian England that I did need to know--all in manageable chunks and all while learning to deal with a lot of negative feelings, project-prohibiting strategies I use--and a whole lot more.

How did it get easy when it seemed so hard? Well, one of the quotes that sticks with me from the course is that "We can do hard." (Bo Lozoff). And guess what? I can do hard. Ironically, of course, it turns out it's not that difficult after all. In the words of Shoma Morita, PhD, “Confirm purpose, pay attention to reality, and do what needs doing next.” Course co-leader Loraine adds: "Rinse. Repeat."

Along the way, I picked up several significant management strategies (time, project, goals) from the course and the other participants in it, too. My whole day--in fact, my whole life--is looking just a bit different now as a result. It's healthier, I'm healthier--and a manuscript is moving toward completion. A good result.

And, speaking of the past four days I've written 2,743 + 2,804 + 5,462 + 5,433 words. That's a total of  16,442 words in four days, or over 4,100 words per day. I'd hoped that I could average 3,000 per day so have, frankly, been a little surprised by the total. But, like I said, I'll take it.

Yes, I've already begun today's work on the novel and now I'm keen to get back to it. One of my resolves was to blog more consistently so I am taking a break to share the outcome. Being a zealot once converted, I'll post more specifics but, at the moment, it's time to get back to the work at hand. I really do want to finish this book before November's NaNoWriMo, when I'd like to start a new project and, hopefully, struggle a lot less with getting to that page that said "THE END".


  1. Wow, congrats, congrats--now keep going, dear friend!

  2. Thanks, Conda! You are one of my inspirations--so you go, too, girlfriend! It's a long road. I think this will be 120K words when it's finished, maybe less. About the length book I like to read, I suppose, so that's logical. :-)