Write-a-thon Week One and why it matters

One of the reasons I decided to sign up for the Clarion Write-a-thon was that I’d already made a commitment to write every day, so I figured, why not support a worthy cause while I was at it?

But it really is amazing how a public commitment can force you off your ass (or, since we’re talking about writing, onto it) in a way a private vow just won’t. There were days this week when I wouldn’t have written a word if it weren’t for the Clarion write-a-thon. Every writing day began around 10 p.m. this week, thanks to toddler bedtime chaos, and I do have a day job and said toddler wakes up awfully early. So I couldn’t allow myself more than an hour or two each day. But I used those hours well.

And I’m proud to announce, I met (and surpassed) my 1,000-word commitment every day. My novel-in-progress was at 58,078 words on June 17, the day before the write-a-thon began. Today, June 23, it’s at 65,720, which means I’ve written 7,642 words in six days. I feel good about what I’ve written, too. There’s a lot that will have to be improved in the second draft, but I can work with what I’ve got on the page now.

It helped that when the write-a-thon started, I happened to be in one of those places where I knew, more or less, what would happen in the next few scenes. There are always surprises and dropped stitches, but it’s pretty easy to write 1,000 words in an hour when you know much of what you’re going to write before you start.

I expect next week will be more difficult, because by Monday or Tuesday, I’ll have written everything I had mapped out nicely in my head. And I’ll be starting the third and final section of the novel, which is mostly vague unlikely coastlines and hic sunt dracones. I know where all my characters are going to end up, and I sort of know why and how, but not in any detail. So, I’m going to need a lot more time staring into space in next week’s writing hours.

If you haven’t already visited the Write-a-thon site, please do, and please consider sponsoring me or another writer. (And thank you to my generous sponsor so far!)

One of the things I’ve learned in my long, frustrating apprenticeship as a writer is that good fiction isn’t just something that Talent or the Muses deliver, all wrapped up in a bow. It’s something most writers have to learn how to do well. The main thing is the writing itself, sweating out the hours. But you have to work smart as well as hard. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands of words you bang out if no one has ever pointed out to you that your main character never makes decisions, or that your point of view bounces around in annoying ways, or that you use the same pretentious structure every third sentence because you think it’s arty. (Yeah, those are all things I’ve done. In fact, they’re all habitual faults of mine, and I’ll keep an eye out for them, and many others, when I’m turning my first draft of this book into a second.) Good books come from whatever helps writers do better work: workshops and “on writing” books and writing programs and writing groups and blogs and Twitter and open-mic reading nights. It all matters. 

And speaking of which, if you happen to be near Twitter at 2 pm EST tomorrow (Sunday), there’s a Clarion tweetchat happening using the hashtag #writeathon.

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