I had my summer vacation this week. In the past, I used to make elaborate writing plans for my vacations that invariably fell through, so this year I decided to change the approach but not the goal, which was to get a bit more writing done.
Instead of making detailed daily plans for writing I told myself “Try the life of a full-time writer for a week. That means you forget there is news in the world, you forget there is a world, and you write because that’s what full-time writers do.”
The conditions were favourable. The weather wasn’t too hot, at least not at the start of the week, the kid had a whole garden full of bugs to occupy her time with and, for a change, we had no infestations of any sort.
On Monday, I overslept. I mean, I woke up when the alarm played Isolated System (I had to change it to that from Stop the Rock because I don’t sleep alone and I set my alarm for 5 a.m.) but I didn’t leave the bed. You’re on vacation, I told myself. You don’t have to take Cat to school and no news to write. You can give yourself another hour. So I did.
At 6 a.m. I made my way downstairs to my little lair of a study (it’s got the dimensions of a prison cell, I think, and has no windows because it used to be a pantry. I love it.). First, I logged in the latest dream, which I consider something of a warm-up before the actual writing if I’m lucky enough to remember what I dreamed about. Then, I donned the coat of a full-time writer.
I’d been working on the second draft of 11 Doors, the sort-of-sequel to The Lamiastriga, and I’d basically had to throw away 90 percent of the first draft, so there was quite a lot of work to do. I set my timer for 45 minutes and started writing. My secret hope was to get it done by the end of the week. My realistic hope was to get it done by the end of the month. I wrote THE END yesterday morning and I’m proud as hell. I also think I’ll love a full-time writing life.
The 45/10 regime has been a revelation. Before, I wrote as much as I could before work. With the timer that tells me I have exactly 45 minutes and then I need to find something else to do for 10 minutes it’s all become a lot better organised though I’m not sure why.
This week, I wrote for as much as five hours total every day, with 10-minute breaks between the 45-minute writing sessions. I currently believe most of what I wrote is good and while I may turn out to be wrong when editing time comes, I’m sure it’s better than the junk in draft 1 and writing it was easy.
I wrote in the mornings and in the afternoons I binged on Revolution and planned the chapters for the next day. On Tuesday and Wednesday I ended up with too little material planned and too good of a momentum to miss. So I wrote in the blind, so to speak. I spotted inconsistencies and went back to fix them. I got increasingly excited about the book. It was turning out more interesting than I’d expected though I say so myself. I was definitely not bored while I wrote it.
On Friday, which happened to be my birthday, I finished it. I tried to do a quick spell check but for some unfathomable reason the default and apparently unchangeable dictionary for this one specific document was Bulgarian and no amount of rage on my part and attempts to change it to some variation of English, ANY English helped. For context, a short story I started last week has English U.S. as its default language. I’ve no idea what all this is about. I assume it’s once again software’s hate for me, which I reciprocate fully.
Anyway, a spell check was out of the question at this point but I had a better idea. Usually, I let manuscripts sit for at least a month between drafts to get a perspective on them before I start rewriting or, hopefully, editing. This time, I’m not doing this.
After five days of quite intense writing I had a manuscript of about 47,000 words. I had the skeleton and internal organs of the story, and some meat on the bones but no fat and no skin. The story is still fresh in my mind and I know what potential inconsistencies to watch for and which parts need fleshing out. So I’ve decided to start fattening the book next week. I’ll give myself two days for short stories and blogs, and then it’s back to 11 Doors, which, by the way, needs a new title urgently because the 11 doors are gone. There’s just one gate now but The Gate doesn’t sound unique enough because I’m sure there are dozens of The Gates.
All in all, I did more — a lot more — than I thought I’d manage. I wrote and during my breaks I did a bit of exercise, browsed the garden, or, okay, hung out on Twitter. But just for a few minutes. I stuck to the 45/10 plan and stopped writing either when my head temporarily emptied of words or when interference from real life, read Cat, became impossible to ignore. By the way I introduced a new rule for my full-time writer life: If the door is closed, don’t try to come in. I will come out when I’m done. It has a nice sinister ring to it, doesn’t it?
I remember how last year I had a similar writing plan, complete with the titles of all the short stories I’d write during my vacation in addition to editing The Lamiastriga. I edited that all right but didn’t write a single story. I spent a lot of my time idling. Not this time. A change in the approach was all it took. In the process, I found I’d been wrong about something.
A few days before my vacation I chatted with a friend — and fellow journalist — about full-time fiction writing, a dream we share. “I think I’d miss the news,” I said. “I definitely won’t miss the news,” she said. “At all.” At the end of my experiment I see she was right.
I haven’t opened a news website since last Friday. I only came across one news headline and that was on Twitter. I simply didn’t scroll down fast enough to miss it. But that was it. I didn’t miss news for a second. I suppose this says something about how people change and how things that used to make us happy and fulfilled at some point stop doing that at a later point.
More than changing attitudes, however, my writing experiment told me something else and it was something I already suspected. The more you write, the easier it becomes. It’s exactly like learning to ride a bicycle. It’s hard and often painful at the beginning but if you love it enough and keep on riding you’ll eventually become good enough to ride for hours and enjoy it. That’s exactly what I’m doing.
P.S. There are a hundred pages with books containing the word Gate in their titles on Goodreads. I’l need to come up with something different. Have I mentioned how great I am with headlines and titles? Yeah, I’m the best…