Friday, 27 October 2017

To NanoWriMo or Not? Building a Writing Habit - Lynn Huggins-Cooper

I have lost count of the amount of times people have told me that they have always wanted to write a book - if only they had the time. I have considered making up occupations at parties - firefighter, baker or toilet attendant - just to avoid that awkward moment where 'inner me' shrieks ''Well, write one then!'' and 'outer me' tries the sympathetic-smile-turned-rictus that is supposed to convey my understanding of their predicament. Writing, it seems, is the thing that us languid writers do, sipping our cocktails on a silken bench and occasionally penning a line. Yeah, right.

It is interesting how many times I have been described as 'prolific' in my 20 year writing career. As though I am a veritable wellspring of ideas who effortlessly knocks out a book before lunch. The secret to the quantity of books I have written is the dullest secret in the world. I get up; I make tea - and then it's bum-on-seat writing time. Then I have lunch. A little Facebook-footling and yep; the bum goes firmly back into the groove it has worn in the chair by the desk.

Many of the folks who come on my writing courses struggle to find the time to write. On my writing retreats at Gibside, a lovely National Trust property close to home, we talk about this regularly. The truth is, if you want to write enough - if you need to write, you will find time. It sounds harsh, but it's the truth. When I was first published, back in 1997, I was teaching full time in a management position. I had two young children to look after. Yet I spent hours specially carved out of the day writing. Eventually, I earned enough from writing to give up the day job.

Many of the writers I work with also have families and day jobs - but they write. They write because ideas bubble up and boil out of them onto the page. That drive; that need to write pushes them on. Many of them are weighing up whether to leap into the madness of NanoWriMo this November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month - that's 1667 every day. It seems like a big commitment to many people, but it is the act of writing every day that builds writing muscle, and turns writing into part of your daily routine. It's the daily placing of the bum-on-seat in front of the laptop or notebook that makes you a writer. I shall be Nano-ing this November, as I often do, to get a jump start on a new book project. I love knowing that in coffee shops, kitchens and studies around the world, other writers are beavering away, building their word count and more importantly, building their writing habit. Will you be joining us? Look me up. We can be writing buddies and push each other on. I am, rather unimaginatively, listed as lynnhc. Hope to see you there!


Sue Bursztynski said...

And then there are the people who have a great idea for a book and want to tell you about it in great detail at that party or even, heaven help you, to write it for them.. One of my friends actually did have a great idea for a book, and knew he didn't have the ability to write it himself, but I didn't write it. I valued our friendship too much.

Next year I may have time for NaNoWriMo, if I'm not working on a paying writing project at the time. You may sneer at those people who tell you they don't have time - and with a day job in teaching the best I can manage right now is short fiction or articles and I do my writing on the train - but for me November is running to the end of the year, not the first term as it is in the northern hemisphere. I have reports to write. As a teacher librarian, I also have library stuff to finish. And teaching takes up much of your creativity. It must be nice to be able to devote all your work time to writing - I am retiring, so next year I might even be able to manage a full scale book, from among the unfinished works on my computer. I may even be able to do school visits, something I can't do while working in one!

While Nano might, as you say, build up writing muscle, I know a number of people who do it year after year and never actually do anything with the manuscript afterwards. I know of one who has self published a book, but it wasn't one of her Nano ones. If you're going to put that much energy into writing a book, why not at least try selling it?

Of Sirius Black And That Firebolt

Stroppy Author said...

I think that's fair, Sue. It's easier for people who have a very different job, or one that makes different types of demands on them, to turn to writing in the evening. I spend most of my time writing one kind of book and rarely have the imaginative energy spare to write other kinds of books later. It's often in the gaps between commissions that I make progress with new fiction (as in, not fiction that is already commissioned).

There is a point to writing books you don't try to sell, though. It's practice, skill-building, like the musician who spends hours on scales but doesn't sell tickets to let people hear them. Even though I make my living from writing, I also write things I don't intend to sell.

Sue Bursztynski said...

That's what my blog is for! ;-)

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Sheena Wilkinson said...

I'm catching up late but I wanted to say how much I identified with this post! Yes, I wrote my first book in difficult circumstances -- dying father, fulltime job, etc. -- and it would have been so easy to give up. But I wanted to write the book more than I wanted anything else so somehow -- hour by hour, I made the time and it got done.