New Jersey Romance Writers hold a writing challenge in February—our answer to November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NJRW “only” requires 30,000 words to win. Since February is such a short month, that comes out to a little over 1000 words a day.
A thousand words a day doesn’t seem that difficult, does it? That’s generally four pages of double-spaced prose.
I have yet to get to the end of the month with the required number of words under my belt, either in the challenge we fondly call JeRoWriMo, or in the better-known NaNoWriMo in November.
Oh, I start out just fine, all full of resolve and great ideas. We’re told to clean the house, prepare and freeze meals, and alert the family that we’ll be unavailable during writing time for the month. We’re supposed to plot out our story ahead of time so we can jump right in and get words on the page at the stroke of midnight on February 1.
At this point, last year’s challenge is something of a blur. I remember sitting on a beach in Florida during our annual trip there, balancing a legal pad on my lap while the wind tried to rip it out of my hands. Children ran screaming along the sand, and the activities of my fellow-vacationers were so much more interesting than whatever I intended to put on the page. Once upon a time I could write in longhand. These days, spoiled by a computer, I can’t seem to think in longhand anymore, and once I return to the keyboard, I can’t read my writing.
This year I was challenged by a never-ending cold that felt more like the flu, accompanied by an extremely annoying cough and pounding sinuses, and an uncontrollable desire to sleep until my health returned. I pecked out part of a story while slurping chicken soup during those rare moments when I left my bed to stumble into the office down the hall.
Once my health returned to normal I made a pilgrimage to California to spend a week with my daughter, dutifully dragging along the laptop I’d purchased for just this reason. Because in between activities I was going to sit in the hotel room and write. After I took advantage of their indoor pool, their complimentary evening happy hour, their cooked-to-order free breakfast, and a very nice menu of on-demand TV. Oddly enough, these activities, along with the actual visit, used up most of time I should have been devoting to writing.
The biggest obstacle is my writing process. The idea behind these writing challenges is to spew out the story in whatever form it takes, then go back to fix it up after the challenge ends. This is the principle my friend April Kihlstom teaches in her Book in a Week workshops. The idea, to paraphrase Nora Roberts, is that you can’t fix a blank page, so just get something down there and worry about it later.
I just can’t do it that way! No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t seem to move on until I’ve gone over everything I’ve already written and tweaked it until it’s just the way I like it. It’s not a plotter vs. pantser issue—it’s an editor vs. spew-er issue.
You would think by now I’d realize my brain just isn’t wired that way, and I’d stop signing up for these challenges. But I always have hope that it will be different this time.
Then again, I also believe that I can resist ice cream and chocolate, and that one day my house will be uncluttered. But writers do spend a lot of time in fantasy land, don’t we?