fiction, on writing, Personal Journey

How to be a Writer in November: Show up and Throw up

Want to be a writer? It’s as easy as show up and throw up. Write stream-of-consciousness. Write garbage. Write your dreams, your fears, somebody else’s fears… What often happens in the show-up-throw-up process is: something awesome makes its way onto the page. Inherent in the process is a throwing-off of the shackles of self-loathing and– usually at about a thousand words in– one manages to shut down the inside voice that says this is a ridiculous waste of time. Why don’t you just get a job at Aldi? They kill themselves too, but they get paid for it.

November. Writers know it as National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo for short. Two years ago I participated, thanks to my blogging friend Nthato. After several starts and forfeits, I finally wrote that crappy first draft all writers need to complete. Every day for a month I showed up and didn’t let myself off the keys until I’d vomited several thousand words onto the screen. If you think I’m being dramatic, try writing 3000 words in two hours. It’s slapdash, my friends. It’s Chinese manufacturing.

Can I confess how much I hate writing crappy drafts? I know it’s the way, the prescription, but it’s hard to keep dumping time into a project that can only be honestly appraised as: half-assed. Apologies to my young readers and sensitive souls for the coarse language– but it’s appropriate because in novel writing, half-assing only becomes satisfying when you’ve got a really big ass going. I’m talking tens of thousands of words. Once you’ve got the meat, you can show up at the very least, pleased with the sheer copiousness of your own derriere. This is your brain on paper. Ain’t it big? Ain’t she a beauty?

The reason writers have to write that crappy first draft is because loping off swaths of exposition we’ve labored over for hours is more wasteful (and painful) than amputating thousands of words puked onto the page… and one will never escape the process of novel-pruning. It must be done. The age of Tolstoy and his eternal rambling is over. But still. I have to love it a little in order to show up to the page every morning. Which means I’m often wasting loads of time on one crucial word in a page of words that will eventually get scrapped. This is writing. I thank God I love the process, that the search for that one perfect word I threw away with the rest was still pleasurable.

Showing up, even to a nearly-finished novel, is difficult. I come to the screen and wonder if I’ll have anything to write. I show up empty-handed and hope something materializes. It usually does. And once I get into my world, oh boy… it’s awfully hard to climb back out into reality to fold a load of laundry.

My novel I Trespass is at 76,664 words and is labeled in my folder as Trespass Millionth Draft. I consider every read-through like combing a knotty head of really, really, really long hair, like miles of it. Each time I take the comb through, a few more knots come out. Soon I’ll be looking for beta readers. Soon I’ll be able to say, I finished.

Personal Journey

A is for Albatross

AI received an email* from one of my students. His problem: writer’s block. I think he knows there are better-written articles on the subject by better-written writers than me. But I’ve been where he is.  I’m there right now actually. You see, were it not for that A, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be watching nine hours of Pride and Prejudice because my lungs feel like they were swapped for cement blocks. I’m coughing them up and wadding them into tissues.

Until a few days ago my pen was a firehose. I had to push the words away and take up the vacuum for responsibility’s sake.  That was then. Today, Day 1 of the A to Z Writing Challenge, I’ve had to pry these words for you with the jaws of life. You won’t be able to tell, because to you they’re just here. This post is me squeezing my stone until my fingers bled. That’s how much I didn’t feel like it today, dear student. That’s how one overcomes writer’s block.

Were it not for the A to Z Challenge, I would not be here on this screen, frustrated, wanting art to sally off the tips of my fingers, my mind to yours. Any old barf can go on the page. The words other people will see, those are more carefully chosen. Hedge yourself into a place where you’ll be forced to procure words someone else will see, whatever flavor works for you. Here are a few: Nanowrimo, Cracked Flash Fiction, Mashed Stories.

Because if I didn’t have to hit publish, I would not have finished.

Writing is my self-styled albatross. I’m glad of it. Even on the rough days.


*Email from my student:

Hello Mrs. Griffiths, I have a question to ask. I have serious writers block and I for some reason, I can’t get into my writing flow as quickly as before. I have been only ably to write two or three sentences, and then all of a sudden, its like the writing waves get clogged. This has been going on since the beginning of the year. It’s actually becoming very frustrating because this has never happened before. The longest writers block has ever lasted for me was two hours. I don’t know if I need to have a change of scenery or if I need to change anything. So how do I unclog that writing wave so I can get back into my usual writing flow? – Joshua 

If you know of any great sites, contests, or tips for my student (or me!) we’d love to hear from you! 🙂