Once I stopped worrying about crafting a masterpiece by getting every single word just right, writing became a lot easier. The masterpiece is crafted in editing, I discovered, but first you need a lot of vomit to edit.
Before I started vomiting, I could barely spit. All I had was a 1,480 word introduction.
That was it. I had trouble getting anything more out. There was a lot of stuff in my head, but I agonized about how to create the words on my computer screen. I wanted my keyboard to hum like I was a piano maestro with my fingers dancing on the keys. Instead, I found myself checking Facebook.
Nevertheless, I was committed to getting the story out. In June 2014, I sought outside help. I signed up for Accountability Club, a weekly three-hour in-person gathering at Story Studio, a Chicago writers' school. I was in a room with eight others, who were writing books, short stories, blog posts--even a screen play. The immersion was helpful, and at the end of the class everyone shared their progress and read a passage from what they had written. Even so, actually getting the words out on a large scale was challenging. I found myself repeatedly searching thesaurus.com for the ideal word.
The teacher assigned everyone writing buddies. I was matched with Rachel, a travel blogger. I committed to emailing her ten pages each week, and she pledged to post to her blog each week. We critiqued each other's work. Receiving another person's honest feedback on my words was helpful, as was the pressure to not let Rachel (or myself) down by not hitting my weekly target. I was soon spending a significant time writing each evening, and weekends were soon consumed by the hours I spent writing. However, generating ten pages a week was nothing compared to my next quota.
In July, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, an online writer's gathering. I was assigned to a virtual cabin with mostly teenage campers. At 48, I felt somewhat out of place. However, we all shared a goal: to write 50,000 words in one month. "Hey - that's only 1,612 words a day," I thought.
Within days, I had fallen behind. When I logged into Camp, I could see a graph that tracked my progress, a visual reminder that I was coming up short. Helpfully, most of my cabin-mates were not hitting their targets either. I took some small solace in the fact that I was not as far behind as some of my 14-year-old cabin-mates.
By mid-month, I was officially a laggard. "How am I ever going to write a book at this rate?" I thought. One night in Accountability Club, though, I remembered a lesson from the late Jerry Cleaver, whose writing class I attended in 2012. "Writing is like vomiting," I remembered him saying. "Write badly, randomly, and with abandon. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, tense, or anything else. Just get the words out." Right then, I wrote "I used to grind my teeth at night because..." and then listed a dozen reasons why. Some were funny--witty, even. I laughed out loud at one, then excused myself as I remembered that I was in a classroom. My mind started spitting, then drooling, and soon I was vomiting.
By the end of that class, I had written 23 pages and my mind was having fun with this. Many of the thoughts were scattershot. However, as I read back through my creation on the train home, I discovered some really tasty chunks. I logged into camp that night to post my word count. The graph showed a spike.
That weekend, I was spewing vomit like a geyser. The words just came out of my brain. Sometimes I would laugh, and other times I would cry. At times, I would look up and realize that five or six hours had passed in what seemed like minutes. I felt as if I was in a trance. My keyboard was humming and my fingers dancing. By the end of camp, I had filled our cabin's virtual toilet with over 70,000 words.
Writing Burn Zones suddenly seemed achievable.
Follow Jorge Newbery on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JorgePNewbery
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