Reflections from DaNoFiWriMo Week 2

Here are some thoughts from my second week of DaNoFiWriMo, my project to draft a 50,000 word non-fiction book in a month.

New word processor. I’ve switched to a new word processor called Rough Draft, which my writer friend Jennifer recommended. The thing I like most about Rough Draft is its simplicity. For what I’m doing, I don’t need styles, tables, diagrams, or change tracking. I may want those features later as I edit my rough draft into a smoother draft. For now, I need to type words, emphasize words, highlight words (to mark them as notes to myself), and count words. Rough Draft does all of that simply and cleanly, with few bells and whistles.

Rough Draft does have one distinguishing feature (either a whistle or a bell, I’m not sure which) that I’ve quickly come to rely on. For each file that you open, Rough Draft attaches a notepad, a simple text file in which you can type notes. Rough Draft displays the notepad as a narrow panel to the right of the main editing window. I’m finding this very handy, because it supports the spiral method that is central to the way I write. As I write about a topic, I think of other ideas that I want to write about, or questions that I want to answer, before I close the topic. I simply click on the notepad, jot a note, and go back to what I was writing. As I finish writing a thought, I check the notepad, grab an idea to write next, write it, and delete the note from the notepad. When the notepad is empty, I’m done writing that section. The notepad works as a high-priority list of micro-ideas. Very, very nice.

Version control and backups. Something I forgot to mention last week, probably because I was focusing on what was new in my writing process, is that I use a version control system to protect my files. I’m partial to the Tortoise SVN system, because it integrates nicely with the Windows file system. When I finish a writing session, I right click in my writing folder and commit my new material to a repository for safekeeping. Though Tortoise SVN takes a little bit of technical savvy, I highly recommend it for writers.

For greater protection I use EMC’s Retrospect, which automatically backs up my files to a separate hard drive every day at 5am.

Depleting the high energy queue. Several times this week I depleted high energy queue. It’s pretty slim right now. Scary. But so far I’ve been able to find something to write about every day.

Bigger topics. I never know how many words I’m going to write about each topic. Most end up in the 300–800 word range, similar to my blog posts. This week I found a few topics about which I had more to say. A few topics went to several thousand words each. I love when that happens.

One of those topics was definitions of resistance. Another was, more or less, why we don’t do the things we “know” we ought to do. Lots of people have asked me about that over the years, and when I finally started writing about it, I got four or five thousand words from the topic. And I’m not done yet. The scare quotes around “know” are a clue to my ideas on the topic.

Obsessed with word count. I long ago developed the habit of typing CTRL-S into whatever editor or word processor I’m using. I want to make sure my words are saved onto my hard drive. Every time I pause in my writing, I type CTRL-S without thinking about it. (Like just then.) I’ve now developed another habit for this book: Typing CTRL-W to display my word count. I’m obsessed with my word count.

When my word count for the day reaches about 1100, my energy really picks up. It feels as if I’m in the home stretch, and I can see the finish line just ahead. Very motivating. And most of the time my energy carries me a few hundred words past my daily goal. Which brings me to another topic…

Building a buffer. As I exceed my word goal each day, I start to build a buffer of “excess” words, so that if I miss a daily goal I’m still on target for the month. My buffer at the moment is about 2600 words, about a day and two thirds worth of writing. I’m hoping to increase the buffer to 3 days, because I’ll be teaching a class with Elisabeth Hendrickson next week and may not write much during those three days. (On the other hand, the class will probably give me a lot of fodder for the book, so I may write more instead of less.)

The Fieldstone Method. As I was writing about energy last week it didn’t occur to me (duh!) that I am using Jerry Weinberg’s Fieldstone Method to write this book. The central element of the Fieldstone Method is energy. As Jerry says in Weinberg on Writing, “That’s the secret of the Fieldstone Method: Always be guided by emotional responses or, as Fieldstone writers say, by the energy.” I’ve attended three of Jerry’s writing workshops, and each time come away with new ideas and new enthusiasm for my writing. The Fieldstone Method is all about energy, and that’s how I’ve been focusing my work each day.

Johanna Rothman blogged about her current writing project. She’s writing a chapter at a time, and as she finishes drafting each chapter she sends it to her editor for review. It occurred to me that I’m not writing chapters yet. I don’t know the structure of my book. Instead, I’m writing “fieldstones.” Each fieldstone is single idea for which I have some energy. Later I’ll use some of organizing ideas from Jerry’s Fieldstone Method to create (or find) a structure for the book, and revise the fieldstones to work within that structure. But for now my focus is: One fieldstone at a time.

Waiting for the muse. Nearly every day I use an old, familiar pattern of mine: I wait for the muse to inspire me before I sit down to write. And nearly every day I find that my muse doesn’t work that way. Instead, as Madeline L’Engle says, “Inspiration usually comes during the work, rather than before it.”

Multiple projects. I’m planning to write a novel next month as part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This week I’ve started to flesh out the characters and plot for the novel. That gives me something to do when I want to write but don’t have the energy for the resistance book. I find that after a half-hour or so of work on the novel I am fully into a writing mood and can use some of that energy for the resistance book.

Also, I’m finishing up the design for a workshop on power, which I’ll be presenting at the AYE Conference in a few weeks. It’s just dawned on me that if I’m stuck on the resistance book I can write a few fieldstones about power (maybe for another book for later). As with plotting the novel, writing about power will put me into a writing mood, which I can then redirect toward the resistance book. And of course power and resistance are closely related, so writing about power will trigger new ideas about resistance.

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