Where The Work Happens

NaNoWriMo Day 15. Novel Day… well, that’s a tough one to peg down.

I’ve been working more or less full-time on Warden of the Lost Way since August of 2015. Back then I was still calling it The Maiden War, but even then I wouldn’t have called it the beginning. I wrote the novel’s first words on January 18th, 2015, but that was not the point of inception either. The story existed far before that. To trace the path of this work back to the moment when the characters first flowed from the tip of my pen, (in red ink – I still have the pages) I have to go back – as near as I can figure – to the front half of 1996, when I was a third year university student living in a basement in North York. So with that in mind, let’s call it NaNoWriMo Day 15, Novel Day 7,550, and be content.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming. A lot of life has happened between then and now. So, the way I see it, looking at this body of work in terms of a one-month exercise in endurance/sprint writing is kinda like inspecting a T-Rex with a jeweller’s loupe: it doesn’t give the big picture, but damn, you’ll still just might learn something.

But, before I let on if I’ve actually learned anything, here’s a completely honest, sincere, non-monetized, corporate-free plug.


If you’ll observe the image above, you will see a depiction of my desk; my workspace, my retreat, my office, call it what you will. It’s where I have been spending 6- 10 hours a day for the last year. It is where I try to pull the things that exist only in my head out into the world, where someday someone like you might stumble upon them. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the image itself. Its own pixelated being. It looks like art, at least to me, but it started life as a photo. Then I fandangled it with a mobile app called Prisma and, presto! Art.

I’ve been killing time in my off hours playing with Prisma. I think it’s great. So does my wife, and she’s a pro at killing time, so she would know. If you want to kill some time too, check it out here.

But why, you may ask, did I show you an app-enhanced image of where I’ve been slaving over a hot keyboard these many days? I’ve shown you because of a secret. It’s one that  I already knew, but NaNoWriMo has accentuated it, given it a form and substance that irritates my eyes and ties knots in my back. And that secret is this: writing doesn’t just happen. It takes work, and a lot of it.

Okay, so it’s not so big a secret. We’ve all heard that writing is a tough job. Books don’t write themselves. But until you do it yourself, until you force yourself to pound out word after word, day after day, while the rest of the world whispers its siren song of distraction in your ear, you don’t really understand what it means to really write.

I’m not a coffee-shop writer. I’ve tried it, but there are far too many distractions for me. Even plugged into earbuds I can’t concentrate. I’m more of a close-the-door, draw-the-blinds, phone-on-do-not-disturb, there-better-not-be-anybody-home kind of writer. So for me, my desk, my space, is where I can work. Where I can descend into the work, if you will, until my head and the computer are connected through my fingers the way Neo was plugged into the Matrix, but without the bathtub full of goo.

I would say that Stephen King said it best in his oft-quoted book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

and also:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

I put my desk in the corner, as you can see, and for the last year (and especially the last two weeks) I have gotten down to work. And you know what? It’s paying off. Some days the allure of a Game Of Thrones binge looms large, but mostly that doesn’t happen anymore. I’ve become acclimatized to the work, and I can even relish those self-satisfying moments when I can look back at my writing log, (yes, I log my time at the keyboard) and see what I was writing two weeks ago, a month ago. When I do, it seems as though I have left a vast trail of words behind me. Did I really write all that in a month? It’s always a bit of a wow moment, something like what a mountaineer might feel after hours and hours of trudging up a blank mountainside to then turn, and be stunned into awe by the view.

So here I am, halfway through the battle, on pace and still going strong, though the war is not yet won. I’m in the final act of the book, but I’m not certain I’ll be able to wrap it up in another 25,000 words. But one thing is certain: come December 1st, I’ll be at least 50,000 words closer. What a trail I’ll have left behind me. I wonder what the view will be like from the top.


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