Newbery Honor Author, New York Times Bestseller, Time Traveler
When I heard about my dear friend Mary Nethery‘s new approach to writing, I thought it would be perfect timing to share it in November, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Though I shake my head at Mary’s sweet tooth, I am in awe of her tight, elegant and fresh writing. I am grateful to have her as a guest blogger today!
Don’t even try to guess how much sugar is in this tall Americano!
It’s Word Packets, Sugar!
by Mary Nethery
A latte for Kirby, a double shot of espresso for me — that’s the only way to kick off a day of our high-spirited school presentations! However, before we exit Starbucks, I need to stop at the sugar counter for, let’s see, about six packets of sugar, while Kirby watches and laughs.
“Would you like some coffee with your sugar?” is the common response. Probably from my husband, not Kirby. She’s way too darling to actually say it out loud. But I do love my sugar. And that got me thinking about how to keep myself motivated to produce 50,000 words for a novel I’m currently writing. 50,000 words is humongous.
Some say, write 1000 words a day and you’ll have a draft in like 50 days. Or, sit at your computer for three hours, writing all the while, and stop at a point where you can’t wait to get back to work the next day. Either of these approaches works swell for about three days, and then it just becomes overwhelming.
As a writer, my style is to think, think, think, and write slowly. Part of the intrigue for me is the crafting of the story from the very beginning. I work off of Richard Peck’s advice: “The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.” I like to consider planting props for use when solving plot issues that invariably emerge no matter how much pre-planning you do. And I like to be as aware as possible of the puzzle as it unfolds. I don’t like extraneous material that doesn’t support the story. It bothers me, I want it gone.
I’m not advocating my style as a powerful approach. In fact, it has its disadvantages. Laying down that first draft without assessment or much evaluation can provide you with material, straight out of the universe around you, that you might not have accessed when you write a bit more deliberately, as I do. But we write the way we write. And, dare I say, my approach usually requires fewer large scale revisions.
As I embarked on my current YA, I stood in front of the Mount Everest of word count (because of course I would be thinking ahead!). How would I ever buck up to this aspect of reality, the need for at least 50,000 words? Oy vey! I opened a brand new doc, gave it a working title, and left for a double shot of espresso.
Carla, the barista at Ramone’s, my favorite watering hole, pulled a great two shots before I ever reached the counter because she knows what I want. I’ve become too predictable. And, predictably, I headed for the sugar. As I counted out six packets as a starter–you always have to do a taste test to make sure you don’t need more– my mind continued to battle with those 50,000 words and it occurred to me that maybe I’d hit on a convergence here. Why not think of those 50,000 words as consisting of only 50 packets of 1000 words each. 50 pieces of something is a whole lot easier to wrap your mind around than 50,000 pieces!
I headed back to my computer. In a few days I’d finished 1000 words. And as I was writing, I wasn’t thinking about word count. I was in the flow of creativity. Only forty-nine packets to go. I can handle a number like 49!
Mary’s knocked off a few more packets since she wrote this post. And, as the lucky person who’s been able to read those packets, let me say, there might be something to this sugary solution of hers!
Mary Nethery’s books include Hannah and Jack, Mary Veronica’s Egg and The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star. An adventure/mystery novel, The Amazing Remy Hicks, is out for submission.