As I approached finishing my dissertation, I was afraid of what google told me was the "post-dissertation blues," or the "post-dissertation slump." This is when you experience a very real period of depression after finishing your dissertation. To keep that at bay I decided to run a NaNoWriMo.
[And O! My cute writing-nook! Deer eats dangling participles! Or so I tell myself sometimes.]
Guiding principle of Nanowrimo: during set months of Nov. and/or April, write 1500 words a day and produce a 50,000 word, draft of a novel. Bellow are the top ten things I learned about writing, and myself as a writer, from this experiment.
While a gold-standard for blogs is not to pass 500 words a post, I'm breaking that limit and using a word count for what I averaged daily (about 1,750). And yeah, the NaNoWriMo website echoes a lot of what I say, but my list has lovely and important pictures.
1. You are doing a fine job...
I don't write creatively. This is a fiction I hold as an absolute truth of my identity. In order to, publically, both write a novel *and* not be a fiction writer required some mental gymnastics. The good thing about having a time crunch is I didn't have a lot of time, or energy, for Artist's Laments.
The faded scrap of paper (framed above) hangs out by my desk. A while ago, a disgruntled student took to ratemyprofessor, on the offensive. The course was in session, and I ran a kind of mid-term evaluation.
I ask all students to, each, note some areas where the course might need fixing. I leave the room, mote it be Anonymous! Eventually, they invite me back in. There is one piece of paper on the front desk. Of course I cry! And frame it!
When we're being mindful, we're usually doing better than we think. I did this, you can do this, and it doesn't have to be as terrible as one might predict!
2. Write Through The Charlie Horses.
It may have been bad planning to try this during May--historically the most challenging month for me. May includes the anniversary of my dad's death, a week later my birthday, then mother's day. And all the graduations. There are many feels, as the kids say, this month.
When I started getting weepy about missing my dad, I swallowed it and wrote extra hard. I will use this time to salute him by writing the kind of speculative fiction he would have wanted to read. [Note for revisions: in my novel America pulls out of the Paris Agreement in 2020. Must change timeline.]
3. Explore New Writing Places!
I spent a lot of time not at home this month. Necessity being the mother of exploration, many quests were taken to find places I could write. I found five places I adopted as new writing spots, four dear friends from the past, three lake-views, two fireplaces, and one waitress that kept me in free coffee.
In past-present-real-time, I'm writing this post from Mirbeau in Skaneateles. It's lovely. I admire the woman that brought cans of Fresca in her purse so she could have the cocktail she wanted. I will be her in 15 years (only with a jar of a certain kind of olive juice).
The Sherwood Inn, kept me in free coffee while it stormed outside (see that coffee above!). I watched the angry lake swell, and hit things. When writing a story that involves sea travel, and angry oceans, it helped. Kismet! (which I don't believe in.)
In the quest to find new writing spots, I spent a full workday parked at the bar of Empire in Cazenovia. A passing conversation with a gentleman about the book I had with me changed the course of my narrative.
Of course I know that people do this, in our lives. One word, or one look at the right time or place can change an entire internal universe. But since I am not a fiction writer, I didn't know that it worked on writing, too. (Does anyone believe me yet? I am not a writer!)
(Featured in the image above to the left of the 'puter: I also started using a Panda Planner this month. I personally endorse this product.)
If you know who you are, thank you. If you think it might be you, and aren't sure, take it. If you want it to be you, but you sincerely think it isn't, make it be you. If it couldn't have been you.... it could still be, try anyway.
5. Rely On Friends! Always!
This is true for all things writing--for me anyway. I do my best work in social pomodoros. I am not a creative genius that needs isolation. I am a dirty, little gym-rat of a writer that needs a dirty, little gym-buddy. Most of the novel was written in social poms, either F2F (see image below), or remotely (over skype, fb msger, gchat, or texting. you know who you are by your platform.).
And I can't say this enough: pomodoros made this project possible. Just like my dissertation. Just like every article or chapter I've published. Or most blog posts, for that matter. (I am not a productive beast. Pomodoros just work.)
This comes straight from the NaNoWriMo advice: tell everyone what you're doing, share the details, tell your family you're a novelist, share share share. So I did. Everyday when I woke up I told my dog. I told my mom. I kinda told someone on my dissertation committee (bless her for not saying one word one way or the other).
I told the internet.
And then I told T.C. Boyle.
I told other novelists that I have ir/regular twitter-correspondence with, but if you tell T.C. Boyle, that means it's really real. And then he'll tell you micro-stories about saxophones and memory. And then you'll send him more pictures of your dog. And you still won't understand the egg.
Did you know that everyone's allergies this year are particularly bad because of excessive Oak pollen? At least in the northeast. It's because the winter was too mild. Due to climate change. [ahem, this May or May Not be a plot point in the novel. May.]
As seen in the disaster picture above, pollen tried to eat my face and debilitated me for a couple days. At first I feared it was the dissertation blues catching up with me--but then I took Allegra and was able to move my face again. I'm not *that kind of doctor* so take this with a pot of flowering tea.
Over-write whenever you can. Shit happens. Pollen happens. Life happens. Stay ahead of it.
8. Over-lap What You Know!
Writing what you know is a cliché that we fight with in teaching. Try to tell them Coetzee's line about how once you know the other you have killed them. Try to tell them things must be grounded in a critical conversation. These two are at odds--but they aren't.
I've transitioned into thinking about overlapping what you know in the thinking and the writing. And the other skills.
O help me internet, is there a word for this? While writing I rarely listen to music I know how play on the piano, because my brain flips muscle memory, and I start playing chords or running melodies instead of typing words. And sometimes when I'm stuck on a word-issue, I put the laptop on my piano, and the words slip out faster than I could sing them. Painting and writing is another post.
What semiotic synesthesia is this? Do I need to email Oliver Sacks' students? Or get a CAT scan?
Different parts of my brain are doing things when they shouldn't, and sometimes it helps. I don't know why, but the overlap is real.
And then, when you can't overlap, or write what you know, because you are not yet an expert on everything......
9. Ask For Help!!!
There is a lot of science in my novel--some of which I know very well (perennial plants, microbial soil structure, and the flora and fauna of this region), a little bit (climate change specifics, Operation Zeus, microprocessor fabrication), and then not at all (birds, and biological nanotechnology).
I made the choice not to google anything (except for the biology of why our palms sweat. oops.). I wanted to do the thing people did before--ask people that knew more than the asker! I learned things google wouldn't have told me.
Google lets you determine the rabbit holes you explore. Experts throw you down an exquisite rabbit hole they have constructed just for you.
Experts explain why you need diamorphic birds, even if the plot point stays between you and the text. Experts tell you why you must keep what feels like a heavy handed plot device, because your hands aren't as heavy as you think. You are doing just fine, you must overshare. That is how you learn.
My least favorite part of this project was killing my protagonist. I made the choice to do it in the first sentence, so I wouldn't be able to back out. Then, mid month, I wrote the actual death (which was near the end of the structure of the novel). It sucked. I didn't want to. I hated it. I did it at night.*
*This is significant because I have a hard rule of no writing after dinner unless it's an emergency. (How do I get anything done? Pomodoros!)
I was stuck until I did this. Turns out that writing fiction is a lot like every other thing you do: you waste a lot of energy hating the thing that is pending, and if you just do the thing you hate sooner, everything else gets easier. The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Google it.
I'm at the end of the project/month. I can look back and say that I absolutely didn't get the post-dissertation blues. It helps that I am fortunate to have a landed a post-doc that I, excitedly, have on the horizon (not everyone finishing a dis has that. I know. Survivor's Guilt sucks like Imposter Syndrome.). [Of course once I land at GIT I'm going to push to run a campus-wide NaNo' in April.]
It also felt good to stretch my creative-problem-solving-brain-muscles in ways that I haven't in a while. With my specific dissertation, the last year (year 3) was dedicated to very specific revisions--I really wasn't producing new thoughts. My neuroplasticity and brain-chemistry feel changed in doing a marathon of new thinking.
(Above: Me at Turning Stone post graduation gift spa-day. I got a massage, drank a huge boozy-milkshake, and gambled no dollars. Word count for the day: Zero.)
I loved every bit of this project. It's a draft, it isn't done. So what's next? Mid-June I head to #Oxyfood2017 to give a paper on FLOTUS and neoliberal pica (aka eating diamonds). Then comes July, and there's a NaNo writing camp! I'm gonna do it! Finish this novel! Send out book proposals! Yeah, I'll be preparing for an interstate move.
Why not? Seriously, why not?