Clarion West Write-a-thon Wrapup

On August 3, Clarion West 2013– and with it the Clarion West Write-a-thon– came to an end. Ultimately, I didn’t quite make my word count goal. My final tally was 36,247 words; my goal had been 42,000. I’m not disappointed, though. I got off to a good start on a novel that I’m still planning to finish by the end of October, and I learned a lot about the plotting of a novel, and about my own writing process.

From the beginning, my goal was not just to write 42,000 words, but 42,000 reasonably good words. I know I can write thousands of words of dreck quickly; I’ve done it before (my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel was 50,000 words of me fumbling around looking for a plot), so when I began to slow down near the end of the Write-a-thon I decided not to spend time writing a bunch of words that I was just going to have to go back and delete. I’m no longer interested in merely finishing a novel; I wanted to finish a novel that I can be proud of– even if it takes a few passes of revision to reach that point.

It wasn’t so much writer’s block that slowed me down, it was writer’s fatigue. Writing 1,000 words a day on top of keeping up with the dayjob, gym, and more than anything, suffering from frequent bouts of insomnia meant that I spent weeks barely managing to drag myself through the day. It was not unlike what I imagine new parents taking care of a baby feel like– a continued inability to get enough sleep to function. The insomnia itself was probably brought on by three things: (1)my apartment isn’t air conditioned, which meant even here in Seattle I was often too warm to comfortably fall asleep; (2)insomnia is a side effect of taking Zoloft (as of this week I’m actually switching meds); and (3)engaging my creative brain late at night often meant that the gears of my brain would still be churning for an hour or two after I left the computer.

Around the time I hit 35,000 words I began to feel like the draft was broken. Not seriously– mostly I felt like I was writing just to pad word count, taking the characters to uninteresting places so they could ramble. And I had several ideas of how to fix that, but doing so would have meant doing a lot of revising at a time when I was trying to make positive word count. And I was already exhausted enough that I just couldn’t try to maintain the 1,000 word a day pace and do revisions on top of that. Perhaps if I were less neurotic, I could have just kept going with a mental note to fix it later, but as stated before, I don’t need to prove to myself that I can churn out dreck. I know I can do that.

So caught between a rock and a hard place, I stepped away from the Write-a-thon and caught up on sleep. It’s a decision I don’t regret.

With the Write-a-thon over now, I plan to go back and revise the draft a bit– try to keep up better momentum, add a couple interesting twists to the plot, and rid it a bit of “Word Count Padding Syndrome”– then continue onward. I really like this idea and this world, so I want to keep the writing fun. If I feel bogged down, I’m going to listen to my gut and try to figure out where I went wrong. It’s possible that this approach will backfire, but I feel like it’s important for me to try it, for the sake of improving my novel-writing craft, and so I can learn what works and what doesn’t for me.

Thanks to everyone who supported me over the course of the Write-a-thon. For everyone else, it’s not too late to make a last minute donation and support the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Even though I wasn’t attending the workshop this year, I still had a blast attending the weekly readings and various social events, meeting the Clarion participants, and getting a chance to hang out with awesome folks. Maybe attending the workshop itself will be in the cards for me next year.

First, though, there’s a novel to finish. Onward!