7. Committing to a schedule/plan to keep healthy & sane
Over time, I’ve seen the wisdom of starting my writing day with morning meditation and prayer time, a half hour or so. Along with my coffee, of course, and lots of water–I’ve got half-gallon sized pitcher on my desktop which my Beloved refills for me every morning, no kidding. (And no, you can’t have him.) Besides being good exercise for the soul, this practice clears my head and helps me focus. Fact is, I sometimes get my best plot ideas while praying or meditating.
Did I mention coffee? French press, specifically?
During bathroom breaks–often enough when you go after the coffee and water the way I do–I throw in a bit of upper body stretching and strength training using a 5 lb barbell. Not much, granted, but it keeps the blood circulating and I think better.
On days I head into the coffeeshop, I get a 2.5 mile walk. On days I don’t, I try to get at least a mile in around the neighborhood, or else an hour’s worth of yard work and gardening. I’ve learned my lesson! Two days in a row without this sort of exercise and I feel terrible, can’t think straight, and often can’t get to sleep at night.
8. Setting up my reading corner.
When in the middle of a writing sprint, I try to do a bit of reading about writing every day, and certainly during NaNoWriMo. But not too much. There’s a danger for some of us of overthinking the first draft, like a literary Hamlet. (This is an issue with me, I do confess.) The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get that crappy first draft down, come hell or high water.
In my case, since I have about a third of the novel I’m working on already drafted, my goal is to get another 50K words of the rest of the novel. I’m thinking more motivationally, and my favorite writing book of that type is Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art. If you haven’t read it, and especially if you have issues with Writer’s Block, lack of focus, or lack of confidence, this book is priceless.
9. Repeating my NaNoWriMo mantra, over and over:
Write fast and let that first draft be as shitty as it needs to be.
4. Cleaning up Desktops and Inboxes
Don’t know about you, but it’s amazing how many email lists I manage to get myself on over the months, and how many files accumulate on both my physical & PC desktops. So I’ve sorted through my Inbox. I’ve unsubscribed from the advert lists that distract rather than aid, and promised myself not to check email, during NaNoWriMo, until after my daily quota is logged.
I thought about setting an email autoresponder, but I don’t like getting those myself. Once a day email processing seems like the wiser compromise. And I’m letting fam, friends, and colleagues know via FB & Twitter that I may be a bit more unresponsive than usual.
As for my work space, I cleaned all my physical and digital desktops with an emphasis on backgrounding non-NaNoWriMo projects that must wait till December. I’m also giving the computers a bit of a tune-up–cleaning out caches, running defragment, updating, and backing up on both Dropbox and an external hard drive. My hope is to have a low-maintenance, smooth-running writing experience. There are few things more frustrating than having creative flow impeded by sluggish and buggy programs!
For that reason, I embark on my November NaNoWriMo experience with a well-developed outline of the novel already intact. My prep this year has mostly to do with revving up creative juices and clearing the decks before I set sail on the writing adventure that will, I hope, land me on the far shore of November 30 with the better part of a completed first draft.
A first draft, mind you, that will be as shitty as it needs to be. That’s what first drafts are for.
(For those who are still thinking through the story they’re going to write, and are looking for creative help, I’ve posted some handy links for that type of NaNoWriMo prep at the end of the post.)
Since nine is a sacred number in Norse mythology, and Norse mythology plays a role in my Grail Saga, it seems appropriate that I’ve accumulated a list of nine to-dos before November 1:
The Terrors of that crappy First Draft
I have always hated first-draft writing. A year or so ago I came to understand why.
After a quarter of a century in the writing game, I had made a habit of sitting down to the keyboard with insufficient preparation. Specifically, with mega-bundles of notes but an outline that amounted to little more than a handful of key ideas and scenes in my head.
The upshot: after a variety of missteps and false starts, it always took me w-a-y too long to finish a fracking first draft. Of almost anything.
Case in point, my Freshman effort as a novelist.
That manuscript was well over a foot tall. It had so many characters, digressing scenes, and winding subplots that after years of work the first draft clocked in at 250,ooo words.
That’s the size of the entire Lord of the Rings.
No surprise then that, coupled with other newbie mistakes and a busy big-family daily life, it took me fourteen years to publish that book. A book I had intended as the first in a series of five or six modern thrillers with mythic themes.
At that rate, I realized, I’d be as old as Gandalf before I finished the entire series.
by Debra Murphy
(This article was first published in the winter 2009 issue of Second Spring journal, so it doesn’t include any discussion of McEwan’s most recent work. But I think it’s still worth the read.)
[N.B. See my notes on Indiebound and Amazon book affiliate links.]
Two things need to be gotten out of the way before anyone attempts to address the fiction of English novelist Ian McEwan in a critical vein: First, he is one of the most acclaimed writers of our time; Second, unless your name happens to be, oh, John Updike, it is almost certain that McEwan is a better writer than you are.
In other words, one had best proceed with some humility, and I do. Rightly regarded as one of the finest stylists in the English language—McEwan’s prose is as perfectly calibrated as a Swiss watch, or a time bomb―his Booker Prize win in 1998, though for one of his fluffier little books, Amsterdam, was nonetheless not entirely misplaced. Sentence for sentence, it simply doesn’t get much better.
One of the most stunning chapters I have ever read in any novel occurs early in Atonement (2001) in a section describing a woman’s flowering migraine. It is the 1920’s, the scene is an English country house, and the woman is a prosperous upper-class wife and mother:
Not long after lunch, once she was assured that her sister’s children and Briony had eaten sensibly and would keep their promise to stay away from the pool for at least two hours, Emily Tallis had withdrawn from the white glare of the afternoon’s heat to a cool and darkened bedroom. She was not in pain, not yet, but she was retreating before its threat. There were illuminated points in her vision, little pinpricks, as though the worn fabric of the visible world was being held up against a far brighter light. She felt in the top right corner of her brain a heaviness, the inert body weight of some curled and sleeping animal; but when she touched her head and pressed, the presence disappeared from the coordinates of actual space. Now it was in the top right corner of her mind, and in her imagination she could stand on tiptoe and raise her right hand to it. It was important, however, not to provoke it; once this lazy creature moved from the peripheries to the center, then the knifing pains would obliterate all thought, and there would be no chance of dining with Leon and the family tonight.
By the time I finished reading this chapter, I had to make for the bathroom and a bottle of aspirin.
Thank you for your patience during the last couple of months while the site’s been up and down and finally up again. I wanted to do a major re-design to fit into our ongoing plans for relaunching the business. But in the meantime I also had some health challenges, and a technical challenge that came in the shape of a change of webhost.
Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing our plans and developments right here!
Publisher of Idylls Press
The latest issue of Image Journal has a lovely review of Farrell O’Gorman’s Awaiting Orders.
Here’s a snippet:
O’Gorman’s novel is a pleasure, a refreshing combination of frank creatureliness and ethical searching. He delves into our worst impulses without ignoring our noble ones.
For the rest of the review, click here.
To read more about Awaiting Orders, or to order a copy, click here
We’re very proud here at Idylls Press to share the news that Farrell O’Gorman’s fine novel, Awaiting Orders, has just received a wonderful review by George Lensing in the weekly Catholic magazine America:
Click here to read the review.
Click here for more about Awaiting Orders, or to order a copy.
And if you happen to be in the Starkville, MS area on March 29, Farrell will be giving a reading from Awaiting Orders and signing books at the Mississippi State campus Barnes & Noble Cafe from 7:30 to 8:30 pm.
for an Idylls Press Vintage Romance February 2007:
“Originally published in 1989, The Cardinal’s Snuff-Box is the first of Henry Harland’s ‘Catholic’ novels after his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1897. Set in Italy, this is the story of English novelist Peter Marchdale, who takes up residence in a small villa amidst the Lombard countryside. Intending to get some writing done, Marchdale finds himself distracted by his lovely young landlady, whom he discovers is actually the Duchessa di Santangiolo, an Anglo-Italian widow that he has been secretly in love with for years. The problem facing Marchdale is that she is wealthy and far above him in social station. Fortunately for him, the lady’s uncle is a Roman cardinal whose fondness for snuff is equaled by his flair for matchmaking! This new edition of The Cardinal’s Snuff-Box from Idylls Press is a true ‘time lost’ literary treasure that is once again made available to a whole new generation of readers and will serve to re-introduce Henry Harland as a gifted novelist deserving rescue from obscurity.” More…