Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Am Not Going to Get Up Today: How I wrote 50,627 words in 30 days during the 2012 SNL Month of Writing

Steffanie Triller Fry

I did not get out of bed. That’s my big secret. That’s how I reached my 50,000 word goal for SNL’s first annual Month of Writing last October. I did not get out of bed until I had reached my word count goal for the day.
            Bed was a familiar place for me last October. I was in my first trimester of a first pregnancy. I wrote with a granola bar and a water bottle beside me. Some mornings, despite the granola bar and water bottle, morning sickness hit anyway. My brain is never fully present to the world until I’m up and moving. When I’ve just woken, I’m still in a foggy, dreamlike trance. The covers are warm and the room is cool: my mind tends to wander in these moments. In these minutes, I do some of my most effective thinking of the day. I plan my day, work out problems, write drafts of emails on the insides of my eyelids. This is my time of uninterrupted creative expression. Last October, I used it to my advantage. Each morning, I set a goal of 2,000 words. I often wrote more: if I was on a roll and time permitted, I let myself keep going. I wrote quickly. I didn’t think too much about what I was writing. I was working on a novel – the first I’d ever attempted – about four children who travel back in time to a key moment in their parents’ lives. I did not plan much of the story beforehand; rather, I let it unfold in these early morning hours. Often, in this warm haze of pre-dawn, I found that my fingers worked without my direction. I write best when I don’t look at the keys. (After all, we all have our unwashed socks that we wear on game day to help us to hit the home run, right?) My characters interacted in ways I never thought possible. They found new relationships; they found words of dialogue. They found reasons for traveling in time. Words mounted; the story grew. It changed direction a few times, after all, it was only a first draft. At some point, I realized that I had written over 40,000 words and I needed to start bringing the story to a close. I had done it: I had written my 50,000 words, with a few hundred extra for good measure.
            Besides not getting out of bed, a few other tricks worked for me:
            Most days I woke at the same time. I subtracted three hours from the time I needed to leave, and set my alarm. I kept the computer next to my bed so that I would not have to break the spell of sleep. Somehow, if I did not leave the bed, I could convince myself that I wasn’t really awake yet. Somehow, I thought I had mastered writing in my dreams, still asleep, still blissfully unaware of the dark outside the window. The first week was hard, but once it became expected, became routine, it got easier.
            I didn’t talk to anyone. When I talked to someone else it became harder to hear the characters talk to each other.
            When I got stuck, I read what I had written the day before, or I went back to the beginning and started reading. Particularly on the mornings after I had taken a day or two break, it was helpful to ground myself in the story and the characters.
            I outlined every day. I wrote an informal list of places that I wanted to go in the story. The next morning, I could pick up with whichever scene most moved me. Because I always woke with a goal and direction for moving the story forward, I didn’t have to do this difficult work of structuring the story early in the morning, when my mind wasn’t working this way anyway.
            I gave myself a reward. I’ve come to love facials. I’ve only ever had two. But I told myself that if I completed my novel, I could get another facial. My favorite part is the neck and shoulder rub.
            I ran the event. Because I’m the SNL faculty member in charge of the month of writing, I would have been pretty embarrassed if I hadn’t met my own goal.  
            What are your unwashed socks? What tricks help you complete your writing tasks? This October, I invite SNL students, faculty, alums, and staff to challenge themselves to meet their own writing goals, even if it means refusing to get out of bed in the morning.

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