How Not Writing a Novel During National Novel Writing Month Made Me A Better Writer

 I don’t write novels. Never have. Never will. But every year since 2011 I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I’ve won it 5 out of those 8 years.

This was a winning year. I validated last Friday and high-fived myself.

I do it mainly to increase my stamina and endurance as a writer. I think of it like treadmill running. It gets me in shape for winter, and the introspective writing months to come.

I hop on Scrivener, set my word goal, and just crank. I get winded, I stall out a lot, but I know I have to hit that 1667 daily word count daily, or else tomorrow there’ll be a deficit to make up.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over 8 years of doing this crazy game, it’s that catch-up is a bitch.    

Doing NaNo has taught me tons about how I roll as a writer.

I have learned, for instance, that I am definitely not a coffee shop writer. (I lost the year I tried that.)

And that even though I’m entranced with fountain pens and Moleskines, they are not conducive to serious output, and positively discourage editing.

I have also learned that for me, the best soundtrack for writing is no soundtrack. I require silence to hear the music of my mind. One year I made a playlist on Spotify and I lost that year. And now, every time I hear any of those songs, I get slightly nauseous.

But I have also discovered how I do work best:

First, I need exercise. I do what I call my “Campus Scamper”—a brisk 3 mile hill and step-infested walk around campus.  

Next, I  buy or make a large Americano which I take up to my cozy lair, aka, my bedroom.

If it’s cold out, I turn on the little space heater. I need warmth to write.

I then fire up the diffuser with 4 drops of Eucalyptus Radiata and 4 drops of Helichrysm essential oils. This is my magic “brain blend.” As soon as I smell that, I want to write.

I sit down in my Space Chair and fire up Scrivener, the best writing app in the world, set my 1667 word goal, and crank for as long as it takes.  Ideally, all this goodness happens at the same time every day. For me that time is within 4 hours of getting up. Because after lunch my brain goes offline. 

I love and look forward to this ritual.

This year I called my not-a-novel The Yoga of Everything 2.0.  

Here are some of the things I wrote about:

I wrote about the yoga of boredom, and the yoga of dog training and the yoga of cleaning.  

I tried to figure out the artistry of Haruki Murakami, and I analyzed The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. 

I pondered the point of blogging, and the point of, well, everything.

I beta tested a “metta” project where I telepathically sent a “May you be happy” message to every person I passed on my walk, and tracked the results.

I wrote about signals and all the ways people signal to one another. 

I wrote about paint colors for the dining room

 I asked myself “why?”with an obsession that bordered on neuroticism. 

So now I have 50 thousand words to mine in the coming months for little blog posts and essays. The brain dump is over, the resistance monster has been slain. I’m feeling strong and have honed my endurance. 

I feel in shape and ready for those long winter writing sessions.

I’m even looking forward to them. 

Another NaNoWriMo in the books.

Boo-yah.

NaNoWriMo Post Mortem

When I set out on this sea of words this month I had some goals.

I was going to use the game of NaNoWriMo to get some long-delayed writing projects off the tarmac and into the air. Here’s what I wanted to do:

1. Write the book about “Projects” that has been rattling around in my brain for ever.
2. Refocus my blog.
3. Do the exercises in the book Theme Weaver.
4. Write the little e-book about “How to Prepare for Your First Yoga class. “
5. Design 8 “themed” yoga classes for a Yoga for Beginners series that I will package and offer online.

So I just validated and “won” NaNoWriMo. Omg, I am so tired.

So how did I do on my goals?

1. I now have a really good first draft for my Projects book. This is the thing that makes me the happiest. I will spend the month of December editing it, and have it ready to ship by mid January.

2. I finally have a clear vision for my blog now, and 10 post ideas that need to be fleshed out and written. It was really hard work sussing out what I wanted to do with InspirationLocation, but I finally fixed it, in my head, and in writing.

3. The Theme Weaver exercises were surprisingly time-consuming and difficult but also interesting. I now have my Yoga Bio, my Mission Statement and I have articulated my Brand. And even though I realize that this process is ongoing, what makes me happiest is that I now can theme my classes in alignment with my beliefs and values. This feels new. This feels solid. This makes me feel more grounded as a teacher.

4. My little ebook is just about done. A few finishing touches and it will be ready to “ship” in January as well.

5. The 8 themed classes for the Beginner Series is my most embryonic project at the moment. I have 8 themes roughly sketched but this one will need a lot more and time and nurturance to flesh out before it will be ready to ship.

Now I get all philosophical about writing

I am so happy about what happened this month, and what I was able to accomplish. (I am ebullient, actually.) Without the game of NaNo I would not have done all this work.

People say that writing is hard and they are right. It is hard because thinking is hard and writing is nothing more than thinking onto a page. The hard thing about thinking is facing the depressing reality that you really don’t think clearly at all. And that your thinking is a mess. And all over the place.

What you want to believe is that your ideas flow logically and smoothly. This is the beast you have to wrestle every time you start to write anything.

I wish writing was just a matter of just tapping on a keyboard, or scribbling with a pen. But it’s not. Writing is thinking.

But it’s even worse than than that.

Because not only do you want your ideas to be clear, you want them to sparkle.

You want your words to engage, to move people to action, or to tears, or even to hysterics. This is the artistry part. And this will never happen unless you devote your life to it; unless you sit down everyday and work at it.

But that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

What I discovered doing NaNo this year is that I kind of enjoy doing this kind of work.  I like trying to articulate my ideas and make them sparkle on the page, even if the outcome is dismal at first.

I like writing the  way some people like splitting wood. It’s hard, yeah, but in the end you get something that warms the cockles of your heart.

But it is still stupid hard.

Know what I wish? I wish I was smarter. I wish my ideas flowed like buttah. I wish I wasn’t so wordy. I wish I was a more agile thinker.

Practice and all is coming (Patabhi Jois)

But what I discovered this month is that, with practice, I can up my thinking game. I can become more agile and adept just by persistently trying to articulate my ideas in a clear and sparkly way. I can become a better thinker just by practicing.

Writing sucks, but editing is fun.

I now have 50K words that look a lot like a dog’s dinner. There are a lot of words in that document that need an enormous amount of editing before they are ready for Prime Time.

But editing is the fun part for me. Editing is polishing rough ideas to a high luster, whereas writing is the laborious pick and shovel work of mining for ideas in very dark and uncomfortable places.

There were days this month when I’d have to pull myself out of editing mode by the ponytail. I would get all involved with polishing sentences and suddenly notice that an hour had passed and I had only written 50 words of my mandatory 2K daily word count. Yikes.

Editing during NaNo is is big NoNo.

Brain fat gone

Before NaNo I was feeling flabby in my brain. I didn’t realize how flabby I had become until I started cranking a daily 2K word count. Now I feel all toned up, rocking a brain six-pack. Boo-yah.

I did not do this alone.

People got me through this month:
Technology got me through this month:
Things made my life sweeter and got me through this month.

The breakdown:

Edie. Rick Jarow said, “You can only go as far forward as there are people standing behind you.” These are the truest words ever spoken.
Edie made dinner, walked Boomer, cleaned the house, did my laundry, even made the whole Thanksgiving dinner without any help from me.
She did this so I could sit and crank words . She unfailingly backs my projects. She always believes in me. And it’s not just in that cutesy, “I believe in you, honey” lip-servicey way. It’s in that real-world, practical, “Let’s get this done and let me be of real help to you” way. She made sure the the conditions were right for words to happen. Without her I would probably have scabies and be strung out on caffeine.

Scrivener. About 5 years ago I downloaded this fancy-schmancy word processing app called Scrivener. It promised to revolutionize the way I wrote and did research. But after I downloaded it and spent hours and hours messing around with it, I still couldn’t understand how to do even a fraction of what I knew this software was capable of.

I wound up buying a really unhelpful book; I dinked around with it some more, but it wound up languishing on my task bar because I came to see it as nothing more than a source of hair-pulling frustration. I could never make it work the way it was supposed to work.

This September I saw an ad for a program called “LearnScrivenerFast” by a guy named Joseph Michael. The testimonials for this program were ridiculous; the hype was solidly in the too-good-to-be-true zone. I was really intrigued, but also really, really skeptical.

But in the back of my mind NaNo was looming, and along with it, visions of how wonderful it would be to finally be able to use Scrivener and take advantage of all its neat tricks. My thinking was I that could kill NaNo if I could only work in Scrivener, rather than in crappy Word.

So I bought the hype and bought the program. I even went for the “Ninja Package.” Price: $200.

And??

BEST MONEY I EVER SPENT, OMG!

No, really. This Joseph Michael guy is freaking brilliant. His teaching method is so understandable, and he breaks all this complicated content down into 3 or 4 minute video chunks.
And this allows you to stop the little videos at any point, go into Scrivener, road test the lesson for yourself, then resume.

And best of all, I now have access to all these tutorials any time I want them, so if I ever forget how to do something, or want to go deeper into an element of the program, it is super easy to find the particular tutorial where he addresses the issue.

Have I mentioned that this is a great program? People, this is a great program.

Totally worth the money if you are a writer. Scrivener is very cool, but its learning curve is wicked steep and it really taxed my patience and forebearance. But now that I know how to use it, I cannot live without it.

Oh, and one more bonus thing Scrivener does: It plays really nicely with Evernote, which is my all time favorite info-gathering app.

So, deep bow of gratitude to you, Joseph Michael and your LearnScrivenerFast program. Kudos!

Books
There were a 5 books that I had at my elbow all month:
Theme Weaver by Michelle Marchildon
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Ship it by Seth Godin

I knew that Theme Weaver was going to be a big player this month because I set as one of my writing goals to go through all her exercises and figure myself out. I only got through half of the book, but that half was such a rich and productive journey that I am really looking forward to finishing it this winter.

Austin Kleon is my total idol at the moment. I love both of his books, find them deeply inspiring, and when my energy was sagging and I was feeling frustrated, I would read a few chapters in either one of his two books and feel instantly amped.

His Show Your Work will be the bible for my what my newly envisioned blog is going to be: a showing of my work as I work through my projects.

For vanquishing procrastination I always resort to the big gun, The War of Art. That book never fails to get me down to business. Never.

In this last week, as it was looking more certain that I would actually “win” NaNo this year, I dug up Seth Godin’s little booklet, Ship It and I am keeping this handy now because this month will mean nothing at all unless, and until I Ship.

Vince Nance
I eliminated all fun social interactions like lunches and meetings for coffee this month. The only thing I left on my schedule besides my yoga teaching was my training sessions with Vince Nance. About a month ago I started strength training under his guidance and it has been an fun, enlivening and an eye-opening adventure. Thanksgiving and a party in Connecticut have kept me away from the gym for the last 2 weeks though, so I cannot wait to resume. The body gets mighty cranky from cranking on words. Time for some functional exercise!

The “Little Things
My Poang chair and Levenger lap desk up in my cozy room.
My little chiminea-shaped space heater that kept my room so warm and toasty. Like a womb.
My Verismo espresso maker and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee. The best!

IMG_1366

It was a great month. Intense, but great. Tomorrow December begins, and with it all new projects!

Thanks for indulging me in this long blow-hard of a post. 

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Spinning Plates on Sticks

I just realized that it’s been almost a month since I’ve written here and there are actually few people who still subscribe to this blog who may be wondering WHY they do, given that there is clearly nothing happening here.

I’ve been seriously considering blank-slating this blog and starting all over because I don’t think I can, in all honesty, live up to its initial promise, which was to provide “inspiration.”

I’ve been re-reading some of my more recent posts and this is not an “inspiration location” AT ALL.   Quite the contrary.  But that is a discussion for another day.  All I wanted to do today is account for my absence to my loyal readers.  (Who I appreciate, thank and love.)

As you know, I am into streaks, and keeping streaks going.  And once I have a streak going, it’s like spinning a plate on a stick: I have to keep tending to it, because come hell or high water, I do not want to break that streak. I do not want that plate to crash. And I will organize my whole life around seeing that that streak stays in tact.

Before November began, I had 2 streaks going: 750 words, and a daily yoga/meditation practice.  Both of these plates are still spinning strong, by the way. Today was Day 355 of 750 words, which is 10 days shy of a whole year without a miss, and Day 50 for the yoga/meditation, which isn’t a lot, but that streak is getting a strong foundation under it.

But as every juggler knows, it’s no trick at all to juggle two balls. It’s only when you add the third ball that it becomes legitimate “juggling.”

So in November, in a moment of insanity, I added my “third ball” or, as I prefer to think of it, my third “spinning plate.” On November 1st I joined “National Novel Writing Month” aka “NaNoWriMo.”  I wanted to see if I could use this annual crazy competition to fuel myself enough to finish the book I have been dinking around with for, perhaps, EVER.

I wanted to see if I could just stay with the damned thing and see it through to some END.

Just to see.

Just to see if I had anything. Just to see if I could not fink out on it because I was bored or frustrated, or because it read like a dog’s dinner.

Because believe me, this inchoate thing that is half inside my brain and half hanging out of it, is a bloody mess.  I wanted to see if I could crank out 50K words on the same topic, in the space of 30 days, just to once and for all, DO IT.  Could I reach a finish line? Maybe not THE finish line, but SOME finish line?

So, that’s why I’ve not been posting here. I’ve been writing. I am also, in the process, trying to learn Scrivener, which if nothing else comes of this, I think I have found a really amazing and kickass piece of software that I am completely loving as a tool to organize and work on different pieces at the same time.

But I have to confess.  As I sit here now, writing this post, I am so very close to be being on the verge of NOT MAKING IT. I am woefully behind in my word count (to make this manageable, you should write 1,667 words a day, every day and I have not been doing that.)  I don’t even know how far behind I am, actually. I am afraid to look.  At this point I am just trying to pound out words whenever my schedule opens up.

So, that’s why I haven’t been here.  And why I won’t be here until December.

But thanks for checking in, and I promise to report back on how things turned out. I have 10 days to go. Miracles can happen, and sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to take.

Wish me luck.

The Power of Intention

Cover of "The Power of Intention"

Cover of The Power of Intention

It’s been disturbing me that I’ve gotten rather spotty in my posting here.  Every morning I wake up and check on myself, mainly to read (and cringe at) what kind of sleepy nonsense I managed to type into this space before I hit “publish” and then the pillow.

It’s just that it’s November, and I am not a fan of November. My skin is dry, my lips are chapped and I am already wearing down clothing, albeit just down vests at this point, but down nonetheless.

When it’s November I want to curl up and read all the books on my bed table. I want to join NaNoWriMo. I want to go to Springwater for a month and meditate. I want to wake up at the ass crack of dawn and do ashtanga with Christine again (but not feel ass-draggy all day as a result.)

I’m reading more these days (and writing less).  I’m reading Wayne Dyer’s the Power of Intention at the moment and trying to the apply its principles to my life: creativity, kindness, lovingness, beauty, expansiveness, abundance and openness. In that vein:

What if I am an infinite being in a temporary physical incarnation?  How does that change things? And what if my life is magic?  And what if everyone I contact and connect with is being brought into my life to teach me something, or point me in a particular direction?

And what if they’re not, but I pretend as if they are anyway? And what if I pretend as if everything I want is already mine (because it is)?  How does that change how I roll, how I operate, how I live?

This is the stuff I’ve been thinking about, so do you see how it might be hard  sometimes to sit down and write a blog post, especially at night, when I am newly home from my class, and tired?  Do you see how it might be hard to know where to begin?

I wonder what I’ll think of this when I read it at 5:30 tomorrow morning? Remember Rule #6, Kath.  Rule #6.

**Rule #6: “Don’t take yourself so damned seriously.”