Day 25: Winning

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

Yeah that’s right, I won early! I reached 50,000 words this Sunday afternoon, more than a week before the end of November. This is a first, for me. Here’s what my progress graph looked like on Sunday:

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I love these graphs, by the way. If I could add any feature to the NaNoWriMo website, it would be the ability to compare graphs side-by-side, or spliced on top of each other. You could compare your current year’s progress to every other year you’ve participated, or you could compare your own graph to any of your writing buddies’. I think that would be neat.

I didn’t stop writing, by the way. I’m now trying to reach a new goal of 70,000 before the end of November. Wanna see another graph? ‘Cause I sure do. Here’s where I am today:

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See how the bars are above the goal line?

Current word count is 55,483, and I’m still lagging about a thousand behind where I want to be for today.

Every single person writes differently, but here’s how I made my win happen:

It started with travel plans for the weekend. I thought I would be away on the 21st and 22nd, and I didn’t know if I’d find the time to write. Starting on Monday of last week, I made it my mission to get as far ahead as possible before the weekend hit. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I have time to write at the end of my workday before it’s time to go home, of which I took full advantage. It was nice. And so the following few days, when I taught right to the end of the school day, I did the same thing. I stayed late at my desk as long as I could, and typed until I had met my word count. Then I cancelled my travel plans at the last minute, and I was already so far ahead and on a role that I said, hang on, I think I can get to 50,000 by Sunday. And so I did.

My new goal, 70,000, will bring me a lot closer to the end of the story than 50,000. I’ve written this story completely linearly so far; it starts at the beginning and follows a plot and there are no missing pieces or pieces that obviously don’t belong. This is unusual for me, and after the current mess of my dragon book I find it relaxing. Even if I don’t make 70,000 this month, or if the story still isn’t done at 70,000, I want to keep writing until I find the end.

Cheers!

Day 18: Still Okay!

I’ve admired my Aunt Ruthanne’s consistent Wednesday blog updates for years now (A More Colorful Life! Erry Wednesday!). I don’t have any classes Wednesday afternoons this semester and, seeing as this is my third blog post in three Wednesdays, maybe I can follow her example and make Wednesday posts a regular thing.

I won’t write much, though, because I’m trying to get as far ahead on NaNoWriMo as I can before the weekend.

Here’s my progress graph! I’m at tomorrow’s goal, and I haven’t even started writing for today yet.

32,007 words!

32,007 words!

 

I like how this book is coming together. I like the shape of it. I like the characters that are popping up out of the darkness. I like my ideas for the ending. The book feels complete, somehow, in a way my books rarely do at this stage in the writing. I know there are some threads that are missing, and I know I will have to go back to the beginning to weave a few new colors into the story, but I feel like I can hold the whole thing in my hands and I feel it is good. This feeling probably means I am in for a lot of surprises, but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

I’m also having fun writing this book. I want this to be my job. How do I make this my job? Oh yeah. Keep writing.

Good luck on NaNoWriMo and every other thing, you beautiful people, you.

NaNoWriMo Day 11 Update: It’s Going Okay

The curve of my NaNoWriMo graph has a different shape this year than it did last year and the year before. I won both years, by the way—when I start NaNo, I finish. Usually I start out strong, though and things don’t get difficult until week 2. In 2013, I fell behind on Day 11. Last year, it was Day 9. This year, well, take a look. I started out behind, and didn’t even catch up until Day 7, the end of week 1. And today finds me behind again, but only by 3,000 words. I’ll catch up tonight or tomorrow.

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Last week, nothing was working. The intro I’d planned turned out to be the wrong way into the story. I couldn’t get a feel for my main character. The next episode of Parks and Rec kept happening on Netflix autoplay. Mentally, I think I was exhausted from all the hard story work I’d been doing on my dragon book right up until I put that project down for Nano. My subconscious story-generator needed a few days’ rest before it could start cranking out ideas for a brand new story—even if it’s actually an old story, and even if it’s a story I chose because I thought it would be less complicated.

This is what I like about NaNo, and the monthly goal. It would be really easy to let a necessary few days of rest turn into gratuitous months or even years. I’ve done it before. But when the clock is ticking and a goal is set, it creates a constant nagging reminder that your writing needs you. So even though I didn’t like anything about my story and even though I was feeling discouraged, I showed up on Saturday to see what I could do. It turned out I could do a lot. I wrote 10,500 words that day, which is a personal best.

So, yay?

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let a few days of inaction towards a goal make you feel bad. Maybe your brain needed that time to recharge. Maybe your spirit needed that space to find the story. Just stay focused on the big goal, and keep showing up to write.

 

How To Keep Writing

I’m going to start this blog post by telling you to read a different blog post, one written by Wil Wheaton entitled Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life. The whole time I was reading this, I sat at my desk and nodded my head furiously. Yes. We may have slightly different circumstances, age, struggles, changes, and goals, but this entire article rings so true to everything I’ve been doing (trying, working on) for the last two months—remember my last blog post? Near the end of his article, Wil Wheaton says: “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel good about myself. I can do the work that I need to do to accomplish these things.” Yes. This is, nearly verbatim, what I’ve been telling myself over and over again, and scrawling multiple times at the end of my journal each day. I am worth the work I am doing.

Instead of doing everything all at once, though, I focused on exercise first and made it routine. This was heading towards writing, this had to be heading towards writing, but for a few weeks I allowed myself to feel accomplished if I worked out and then went to bed without having written a single thing. And that’s great—but it wasn’t enough.

So now I’m writing, and I’m writing hard. This Sunday is Day 1 of November, when I’ll begin a brand new writing project for National Novel Writing Month. It will also be the Year One anniversary of my main squeeze, my in-progress novel about a trucker girl and a telepathic dragon. I am trying to complete as much of this book as possible before I set it aside for the entire month of November. It has grown so much in a year, from nothing to a 100,000 word manuscript. And there is still so much to do.

The uncompleted draft of a novel is terrifying thing. It’s too much to keep in my head all at one time. The plot itself is overwhelming, and so are the doubts about the story and about the act of writing a book. Even as I’m writing and planning and plotting, I ask myself if it’s too long, if the ideas are stupid, if no one will like it, if it’s too similar to this book or that book, if it will ever be published. And more, even as I am trying to piece together the very first draft, I am already borrowing worries from the future: Will I have to re-write this section? Will an editor tell me to remove this character? Did I write this wrong? Is this bad? Will I ever finish the third and fourth revisions? Will constructive criticism kill all the excitement I feel, right now, for this story?

I even worry about how excited I am. Excitement is temporary. When the sparkle days return to plodding grey, will I keep writing this book? And how can I live with myself if I don’t?

100,000 words says I will. It is so hard to spend hours and hours on something when you can’t see the end of it, but all I can do is continue to check things off my chapter to-do list and keep making decisions about characters’ actions and motivations and what happens next. I am trying (it is difficult) to focus on a first draft, to focus only on writing a whole story that makes sense, and to leave the rest alone for now. Even if it is too long, or too stupid, or never gets published, that won’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

I’ve made a lot of personal progress since August. I no longer have to fight so hard to feel valuable, and to feel like a good person. So I’m fighting for my writing instead, which I’ve been fighting for all along. In 50 years, I’ll probably still be blogging about how writing is hard. I just plan to have written a few novels by then. So here’s the new mantra from my journal: My dreams are worth the work I am doing.

Write, and repeat as necessary.

NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?

NaNoWriMo, By the Way

NaNo Stats for 22 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Stats for 22 November 2014

I’ve been quietly doing NaNoWriMo all month. That stats photo above is from yesterday, my most heroic day of writing so far, where I wrote 7,027 words and caught up on four days of writing in one 12-hour period. It was day 22, yesterday, and last year I didn’t break 37,000 words until day 28, so historically speaking I’m ahead! And most importantly, caught up to par, if I can manage around 2,000 words today (which I’m sure I can).

Having a local writers group who are also doing NaNoWriMo has helped a lot this time around. We’ve met up for write-ins a couple times a week, sometimes at apartments and sometimes at bars, and it helps so much to be able to discuss plotting and inspiration issues with other folks who are sharing the same frustrations.

I think the best thing about NaNoWriMo this month is that the consistent goal has allowed me to notice patterns, and to be more aware of how the choices I make affect my workflow. This week, for instance, I began the week officially Caught Up after some pretty intense work days over the weekend. Monday, I stayed on track because I didn’t play a really fun looking board game with Brother, Mr. Huntington, Brackett, and Ranger B. Instead, I said hello to everyone, went into my room to write, and then said goodnight and went to bed. Tuesday, I stayed on track because I didn’t plan a big dinner for myself and Mr. Huntington. Instead, I microwaved something for myself after work while I caught up on my word count, and then I invited him over afterwards to watch Adventure Time and drink hot chocolate. Wednesday, I had a horrible, no good, very bad day at work, and I didn’t write because I only had enough energy afterwards to eat the dinner Mr Huntington cooked for us and go to bed early. Thursday, I didn’t write because I attended an event with Mr Huntington after work, and then got dinner with friends, and then it was bedtime. Friday I PLANNED to write, and I invited over some writing buddies for that express purpose… but sometimes your writing night turns into a medley-themed party (we had a carrot medley, a ravioli medley, and a wine medley) and I had a beautiful time talking with my friends and didn’t write a single word. And all of this was allowable, because I did have a spare 12 hours on Saturday, yesterday, in which to write for all four days.

So the lesson is compromise? It’s always been compromise, but when I don’t have a clear goal the things like boardgames and events and nice home-cooked dinners always take precedence over spending a few hours alone with my computer. And I think we’re somewhat conditioned to choose the social activity, to do the thing, to not be lame and not be a hermit. And I don’t regret the choices I made on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to be social rather than productive. The social activities were seriously important and productive in their own ways, good for my relationships and good for my mental health. The difference between this week and every other week was that I knew what those choices meant for my writing goals as I made them, and I traded those three nights for my entire Saturday. And then I followed through, and caught up to my goal.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of goals, remember that Sketch-a-day challenge I started in December last year? I didn’t complete it last year, but this year I’m going to try again and think I can do it. Stay tuned.

Celtic Bull and Status Update

I was reading up on my Celtic Mythology, and I took a break to sketch an illustration I found in the book. The following is a sketch of a drawing of a stone carving of a bull. According to Celtic Gods and Goddesses by R.J. Stewart, the original can be found in Burghead, Morayshire, Scotland (Stewart, 16).

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I’m working, but I’ve been really discouraged these past few days. Sometimes, it’s easier to focus on all the times you’ve quit and let things slide than it is to focus on all those other times you’ve started up again and worked your hardest. You start to recognize every platitude and new strategy as something you’ve said and tried before, as something that obviously didn’t work because here you are again, back to where you started. I also recognize that the negative energy doesn’t help, so I’ve been cleaning and organizing and seeking positive inspiration (thanks, Dad) and taking care of myself (12 mile bike ride, woo!) and working. Writing the words and making the pictures is, ultimately, the only way to prove to myself that I can.

Blog Number 100: Space and Summer and Goals, Goals, Goals

This is the 100th post on the Grace Makley Blog.

Yay.

We also had the two-year blog anniversary sometime last week.

Woooo-hoo.

Neither of these strike me as especially significant, but it’s so hard to get anything done these days that I might as well celebrate small accomplishments.

I’ve been thinking about workspace. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year is that writing/arting in my apartment is difficult. My bedroom has barely the requisite space for a bedroom; forcing it into double-service as desk-area and studio really taxes its reserves. There is no space I can work in my apartment that is not also the space I use to relax, so it’s hard to find any distraction-free focus. I work in coffee shops when I can, but the difficulty there is the danger of your work being on display. I’m putting together a kick-ass painting of Vanya and I don’t care who looks over my shoulder at Starbucks and sees it, but I’m using a photo of Mr. Huntington as reference. He’s not making I guess the most flattering face in the photo, and the Vanya-shirt isn’t his usual style,  and he’d frankly rather I not inadvertently display it around town—and since I’m going to be needing many more reference photos, I’m rather keen to respect his wishes on that.*

So I need a better space. Not necessarily my own solo space, but a space where I don’t need to feel self-conscious about the accouterments of my work, and a space where I don’t need to buy a drink to stay there. I actually had the possibility of an exciting opportunity that would solve my space problem and provide a fulfilling occupation and some extra income. I was hoping for it with all my hopes. It still may come through, but it’s looking less likely now, so I’m trying to move on to other solutions. I’m at a point where I’m ready to invest money in this, ready to make it happen—except, oh yeah, I’m also out of money! Not out out, but this business of cutting back to three days a week from four without an extra part-time job to fill in the cracks is starting to make itself known in the size of my bank statements. Even if I’m ready to shell out cash for some workspace and willing to make that investment, I just can’t afford it right now.

This post is not supposed to be a downer! I’m just putting the problem out there to the universe. Acknowledging the issue in good faith, making my goals known, stating them so I can start working on them where I can. And hey, I grabbed an extra shift today. And I’ve got a job lined up painting a fence this summer. Not enough for rent on a studio space, but at least I’m getting by.

And, oh yeah, the weather is beautiful. I’m biking places, and yesterday I ran the Back Cove Trail for the first time this year (over four miles, starting from my apartment). Today it reached 80º, and I have more energy after work than I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been trying to eat more fruit, and trying to at least go for walks when the weather is nice and I don’t feel up to running. I cleaned my room yesterday, and some harmony in my space makes me feel like I can breathe. Gotta wonder, sometimes, if Maine winters are really worth it. Do people in warmer climates feel this good all the time? Or are summers only so welcome in places like Maine and Michigan because we have endured the snow and cold and depression all winter long? As someone who would choose 90º F over 50ºF any day, I think I would like the opportunity, one of these years, to discover whether I would miss Maine winters if given the chance to do so.

Hey internet! Do you have any advice for me on finding a studio I can afford in Portland, Maine?

 

*The reference photo problem actually represents a solution to ANOTHER problem, the problem where I wasn’t using as many reference photos as I should because it’s hard to work ON the computer while looking at a photo that is also on the computer. So I started printing my photos! Now I can use my whole workspace for painting, but an 8″x10″ photo propped up beside my computer draws more attention than a few pixels taking up space on a screen.

 

What I did on a Sunshiny Day

Yesterday was Sunday, and Mother’s Day, and perhaps the most beautiful day we’ve had in Maine yet this year. Temperatures in the 70s, sunshine, everything you could ask for. My apartment, which tends to be a little cold during the winter, has actually been overheating. I forgot it did that. This winter was especially brutal. I’ve always lived in places with cold and snow in the colder months, but this year it seemed to just keep coming. I’m still a little paranoid about this Spring thing. I don’t quite trust it. Warm weather? Us? Must be some kind of set-up. Where’s the catch?

Yesterday was too beautiful to stay inside, so Mr. Huntington and I took the ferry to Peaks Island, the most popular of the islands in Casco Bay right off the coast of Portland. My roommate Brackett met us at the ferry and gave us a quick tour; his family has a cottage on the island and he happened to be out there the afternoon we decided to take our impromptu trip. After walking around some rocks by the sea and getting a tour of Brackett’s cottage, we walked down Island Ave to the ferry landing and sat in the sunshine and ate ice cream while waited for the next boat back into town.

The rest of the day was taken up with dinner, and laundry, and not much else.

What do you do when it’s a beautiful day, and you’d rather be outside than at your computer desk writing?

Is there value in disciplining yourself to the desk, to the work? What sacrifices do you make to further your craft, and where do you draw your lines? How do you navigate the boundary between distraction and things you need, things that feed you?

A Tale of Woe

Three weeks ago, while on a flight from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, my computer died. I didn’t do anything to it, it wasn’t jostled or harmed in any way. I was just scrolling around while I drank my in-flight ginger ale. I let the macbook attempt to connect to the in-flight wireless, and took a look at that illustration I’d been working on for a couple weeks.

Guess who?

Guess who?

And then my macbook slowed down, and stopped responding.

So I restarted it!

And never got past the long-in screen.

So I tried again, and again. Eventually the startup screen showed a blinking image of a folder with a question mark. This was the exact opposite of reassuring.Pmhp4

Consensus was, I had a busted hard drive. There went all my plans of being a semi-productive writer and illustrator while on vacation. The good news—the really excellent news—was that I’d backed up my entire computer before I got on the plane that morning.

I had no choice but to enjoy my florida vacation completely guilt free. I spent a lot of time with family I don’t see very often. For most of my life, holiday gatherings have been a four person affair (my mom, dad, brother, and me), but this Easter I celebrated with…well, we never did get a head-count, but at least 35 relatives of some degree or other. In Florida, everything everywhere was green, a nice contrast from the Maine of a few weeks ago. I went running by the Suwannee river, went swimming in the ocean in APRIL, paddled a kayak through salty inlets to the sea, and saw dolphins, wild horses, an alligator, and many birds.

Back in Maine, my first prerogative was a trip to the Apple store. They checked my computer in on Monday and told me I could pick it up on Tuesday. I had both days off, and the half hour bus ride to and back from the Mall took a good chunk of time from both days. On Tuesday, there was good news! They hadn’t needed to replace the hard drive; only the connector cable. All my stuff was still there, and my computer was back to normal. Much rejoicing, etc. I brought it home, and commenced browsing the internet and getting caught up on my favorite webcomics. And then, my computer, staaarted    to       slooooooooow                 dooooooooooooowwn.

I restarted it, and got stuck on the log-in screen for a long time. Like, half an hour. It kept trying really hard to function normally, but it took an intolerably long time to accomplish anything, and eventually crapped out every time. The nice fellow on the Apple Support line was able to schedule me another appointment at the store for after work the following day, an appointment I missed because my work day started and finished a half-hour later than normal, without warning (this week, my schedule changed to two hours earlier instead). In the end, I couldn’t go back until Saturday, where my computer was again admitted for repair. Got it back on Sunday, good as new, this time with a brand new hard drive.

And that’s the story of why my productivity has plummeted for the past three weeks. Now it’s the weekend. I have three days off in a row, I’ve warmed up with writing a blog post, my apartment is less of a mess than it gets sometimes, and I just finished my second cup of coffee for the day. I’m going to get to work.

I probably won’t accomplish a lot in the next few hours. I probably won’t meet my goals this weekend, this month, or even this year. But I have to keep plugging away at it, a little bit at a time and in whatever way I can, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.