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Week One: Spiders, Mice, and Bonsai Trees...

By the end of the day today, Tuesday, I need to have 20,870 words. I'm currently at 14,295. That means I need to write 6,575 words today (roughly 25-30 pages) to get back on track, which will finish Act 1 and put me about a quarter of the way through the shitty first draft. Luckily, it's a rainy day in Boston—my favorite writing weather.

Here's a breakdown of what I've been up to since the beginning of #NineMonthsToNovel just 5 days ago.

Thursday, June 1

835 words into my first writing session, I decided to migrate from the couch to our itty bitty balcony. I set my camera on a timer to get a "happy first day of NineMonthsToNovel!" shot and instead managed to snap this photo of me killing a spider. It's legit. It's candid. I'm killing a real (tiny, black, hairy, jumping) spider in this picture. I even look calmish.

I didn't really hit a groove until the afternoon on day one. There's something about beginning that's really intimidating, no matter how much I tell myself it's okay to suck. It still feels like there's pressure of some sort coming from some unnamed place. (Self-doubt? Fear?)

Lucky for me, I'd previously written a semi-polished first chapter (which already needs to be drastically changed) for a fellowship application, so I just slotted that in as my opening and went from there. It wasn't what I'd planned to do—I wanted to start fresh—but it turns out I really needed that push, that little head start to take the pressure off.

Friday, June 2

I wasted most of Friday on the r/gardening subreddit because we (partner and I) just planted herbs on our balcony and I got inspired to dream about all the cheap, environmentally friendly ways we could sustain ourselves if we had land. (This was also the day after the U.S. pulled out of the Paris agreement, so, you know. Plants on the mind.) Did you know bonsai trees produce full-sized fruit?! New life goal is to own a tree like this:


So I didn't start writing until 9pm on Friday. And when I did, it was rough going, like my fingers were under anesthesia. Every sentence sounded the same, was murky and clunky and muddled and stuck. This was a bad, bad writing day. But I flexed the muscle. I wrote anyway. I got halfway through my goal (almost exactly: 1785 words) before giving up and going to bed.

Saturday, June 3

Saturday was better. The utter shit I wrote on Friday set me up for specific scenes I wanted to write Saturday, so it was easy to settle in for the day knowing exactly what I needed to tackle. This is something I've learned (and advice that was given to me before I started): always be thinking about what you're going to write the next day. Hemingway is famous for the writing tip "always end your writing session in the middle of a sentence" so that you know exactly where to pick up. I've tried to employ versions of that strategy the last few projects I've worked on, and it's often (not always) been effective.

I ended Saturday night on a high note, banging out 2,000 words in an hour and a half right before bed. I got deep into my POV character's head and rambled about his best friend, so it's not like I was struggling to advance the plot or write heavy scenes—I was just figuring out how Sultan feels about Dev. The prose itself isn't salvageable, I don't think, but the content is gold. I'll be reworking that section in draft 2 for sure.

Sunday, June 4

I wrote at Starbucks in the morning because we ran out of coffee at home. I ended up spending a fair bit of time researching, specifically about traditional Mexican fiestas—and about stowing away. The statistics on airplane stowaways fascinated me. Fewer than 100 known attempts have been made, usually in the wheel wells, and only 24% of people have survived. The lack of oxygen and the extreme temperatures (up to -80 degrees Fahrenheit) make it nearly impossible. Of course, statistics are skewed because of lack of information about people who succeeded and escaped detection (unlikely that this has happened many times if ever) and about people who fell from the wheels of airplanes into remote locations where the body disintegrated or was eaten by animals. How morbid. How interesting. I decided not to have my characters stow away by plane, clearly, but I definitely wrote an existential paragraph of Sultan thinking about these statistics and what it would feel like to fall from the wheels of an airplane. Even research that goes unused plot-wise can contribute to storytelling!

That said, I only wrote 480 words on Sunday. Major fail. It's hard for me to work when my partner and I are both home—not because he distracts me, I just kind of like to spend time with the guy, you know?

Monday, June 5

We woke up to two mice running around our tiny, relatively clean but suddenly-infested apartment. I spent part of the morning following maintenance around as they searched for evidence of mice and where they might be coming from, plugged up some plumbing holes under the kitchen sink, set some mouse traps (NO! can't we get rid of them humanely?! [Notice how I don't feel the same way about spiders. Cognitive dissonance is a bitch.]) and installed a door sweep under our front door.

That (and my subsequent jumpiness at every little noise) killed most of my morning writing time. After speed-writing 1,000 words in 45 minutes, I took the T to campus and met with my thesis director for the first time.

Turns out, she's wonderful. Our personalities gel, and she really gets my vision for the novel and seems to understand my writing process. Tentatively, we agreed that I'll give her my novel for feedback in two installments: the first half in August (which we'll discuss in October after she's spent 2 months dissecting it) and the second half in October (discussing in December.) That will give me two months, January and February, to overhaul the entire book and come up with a good final draft.

To close out, here's an updated screenshot of my spreadsheet.

A couple things worth noting:

1. You might notice that my total word count is off from the sum of my daily word count by 3,339 words; this is because I subbed in that first chapter I've mentioned a couple times now. I'm allowing those 3,339 pre-written words to act as a buffer and absorb my low word-count days from this past weekend.

2. I've almost made it through Act 1. My plotting/outlining method is to follow a traditional 3-act structure (often used in screenwriting) broken down like this:

Act 1: first quarter of the novel, ends with "inciting incident"

Act 2: second and third quarters of the novel, contains a "turning point" in the middle and rising action throughout

Act 3: fourth quarter of the novel, contains climax and resolution

3. I write faster than I thought. I'd budgeted 5 hours per day to get my 3,500 words down, but the spreadsheet reflects an average of nearly 2,000 words per hour. That's fantastic, but I haven't been recording the hours spent researching, plotting/outlining, or thinking about my characters and scenes, etc. So while my technical word production is faster than I expected, those low hours numbers aren't reflective of the process as a whole.

Until next time!

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