Quietly, with only a little fuss, I've ov'rleapt the final cliff-edge and plummeted out of my day job into the PhD full-time. I've been doing the degree in a part time basis for the last year, but with the miracle of a wildly unlikely funding grant, I've been able to take this ultimate plunge.
I was surprised about how unnerving it all was. It felt like taking the brakes off, or at least unhooking the stabilisers. I was confident enough that I could ride, but a little uncertain if I could do so without falling completely and utterly off. But I think I've managed that first little wobbly meander. I've made it through the first week of full studying independance and survived without scraped knees. I'm all but set to pull a few sick wheelies and wicked bunny hops. Yeah, it feels pretty good, friends. We should all take more plunges.
But there have been a few helping hands - my ever-supportive wife, some lovely well-wishing from colleagues, lots of very fine vegan chocolate, and, of course, the menagerie of animals and their withering looks. But, more constructively, there has been this hashtag: #100DaysofWriting.
I'd seen it doing the rounds with a couple of writerly friends on my various social medias. It seems to be the brainchild of fabulous writer and fellow Prestonian Jenn Ashworth (am I right Jenn? Did you invent it?), who is currently on day 42. Following in her wake are Carys Bray and Sarah Jasmon, plus around 25 others so I'm led to believe. The idea is simple. Write solidly for 100 days. At least something, every day, for a century of days, even when the last thing you feel like doing is writing. Especially on these days, in fact.
So I've been doing it since Sept 4th, last Monday. This is my 7th day. I'm using the method solely on my PhD novel - and it has to be creatively written sections for me, not just a few cue cards sketching out a plot point or character arc (although there has been a bit of that, which I very much enjoyed actually). It has to be Proper Words. And, at the moment, I'm not counting other writing - short stories and the like. Just the novel. The aim is to have a full draft of the thing by Christmas. My 100 days expire on Wednesday 13th December, just in time to give myself a festive break.
Interestingly, this first week has featured many of the highs and lows of such a process. On three of the seven days I really had to force myself to pick up pen and paper and scratch out a couple of hundred words. On one day I sat down in the morning and hammered out a couple of thousand. One day, I was super busy with other stuff, but I kept it in mind and found half an hour at the end of the day to squeeze out a brief scene. Yesterday, I was the most hungover I'd been for a long while and I very nearly didn't make it. But instead of spacing out my brain with PlayStation at 11pm, I took to my study, clicked my pen and let whatever was going to spill out, spill out. In the end, it wasn't half bad - it contained something of a nice little surprise that I wasn't expecting at all.
All in, I've written around 7,300 words. Cycle that up by thirteen and a half weeks, and I could be hitting around 98,000 words, give or take a few hundred. Which is kind of insane. BUT I've about half a novel done already, half to write, so the second bit of this process should be solid editing work. So, 50 days of writing, 50 days of editing, novel, published, film, $1M, retirement. Easy, right?
The Need for Food
I'm usually quite skeptical about this kind of thing. Many years ago I tried NaNoWriMo but came away disillusioned. Partly by the battering of emails from the organisers, partly by the unfaltering progress of others, partly by the sickening thought of writing a novel in a month and calling it finished (I know, I know, that's not the point - but that is, quite often, what happens). But this feels different. It is simpler, comes with less pressure, and is more open-ended. I have imposed my own restrictions on the formula but, as a concept, is much more flexible. The writing could be flash fictions, poems, blog posts - anything. Whatever suits you as a writer.
For me, it lodges in my daily brain like the need for food, and encourages me to plan ahead a little more; spy a bit of time each day to fit it in, keep good track of where I am in the novel. There are pitfalls coming, I'm sure, and I can foresee a lot of scrappy scrawling in twilight before grumpily crawling into bed, plagued by a sheet of godawful scribbling. But it'll be worth it to be able to feel the wheels of momentum turning. This week is proof. The words are coming out. They may, at this stage, be nonsense, but they're coming.
I'll check back on this in a month or so and see how its going. Right now, I'm turning the corner on my destabilised bicycle, giddy but heading straight into the busy road. It could well be the road to victory. It could be all downhill from here. If it all goes wrong, I'll just blame Jenn Ashworth.