Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing and Running

I often view writing a book the way I view exercising. When I step on the elliptical, I don’t let myself think about the long thirty minutes that lies ahead. Instead, I break it into five minute chunks at different inclines and resistance levels. Then I mentally prepare myself to make it through the next five minutes. I think only about those five minutes. And then the next. And the next. Until, before I know it, 30 long minutes have passed.

With writing, I set daily goals for myself, tiny page goals or word count goals. If I sat down every day with the notion that I had 75-80,000 words to get down on the page, I’d feel so daunted that I’d have the urge to run from the computer screaming. So I never let myself think about the big picture, not at first anyway. I think about the first 2000 words and then the next 2000 and then the next.

When I sit down to write a book, I take out a calendar and put a page number that I’d like to be on at the end of each day for the next three months. At the end of every day, I then check this page number off. I only let myself look at one day at a time. And each day, on its own, feels achievable. Five pages, 2000 words, isn’t so much, is it?

Is it sometimes hard to make myself sit down and write every day? Yes. And do I always stick to every single one of these goals? No. But usually I do, because the goals I set feel very manageable and doable to me.

I guess my point is, that you need to find whatever feels right to you. People write at different speeds, so set a writing goal that makes you feel comfortable, that doesn’t daunt you. And even if you set out to write a novel, pick many smaller goals within this enormous venture to keep you on task.

And if you get stuck – go exercise! I do some of my best brainstorming on the elliptical while I’m trying to make it through my workout, five minutes at a time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Little By Little

The topic of the week is Setting Writing Goals--something that, for me, is pretty easy. It's the actual, um, accomplishing of the goals that's the hard part. Sure, it's easy to say, "I'll definitely finish this book by the end of next month!" But the day-to-day commitment is where the challenge truly begins.

Having just finished my next book, I've found that there's truly no "easy" period for me when writing. I'm full of energy and excitement for the first third of the book, but also daunted when I realize that, after all those hours, I'm still only about 15% finished. My brain starts whispering, It would be so easy to quit right now.

But, eventually, I push through to the dreaded middle. This is where many manuscripts are at risk of death. You've set your story up, and now you need to amp up the conflict, throw in subplots and work toward the climax. I'm always tempted at this point to start throwing in filler scenes, just to pad my word count. In the back of my head, I'm always asking, "What's the point of this scene?" and the writer inside me who just wants to write The End will snap back, "It shows, um, character development. And Stuff."

Finally, after much blood, sweat, tears and carpal tunnel, I'm at the last third of the book. It is now that I begin to hate my book. Because I'm so freaking SICK of it and I just want to reach the final scene. I can already see the problems in the manuscript and know it's going to take a lot more effort to bring it up to shape before I can ship it off to my agent. Finally, I type the last sentence.

So I close my computer, vowing to start revisions the next day, and cast a side-glance at the writing goals calendar that I drew up a few months prior. And I laugh heartily. Better late than never, right?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

While the title of this post would have served quite well last week for our Winter Olympics topic, it also serves very well for this week's topic: Setting Writing Goals.

You see, for me, it's very much a thrill when I make my daily/weekly/monthy writing goals, and it definitely feels agonizing when I don't. Even with the potential of defeat, I still set writing goals. In fact, I'm very much a goal-oriented person. If I don't set goals, I'd get very little done. Goals make me accountable, and one of the ways I plan out my goals is by writing lists of what I want to accomplish.

I used to create a daily list of objectives in either a Day Planner or a simple notebook. The problem was that whenever I didn't get to something I'd planned on, or when I didn't complete the goal completely for that day, I had to move things around. I spent a lot of time crossing out entries and writing in new ones.

About six months ago, I changed my game plan. After re-writing a week's goals & plans out for like the third time, I became frustrated. I thought "Wow, Tracy, how much easier would it be if you did this on the computer. Then, instead of always re-writing, you could simply cut and paste, edit the goals as they changed, add in space for that new appointment that came in out of nowhere." And then I thought, "HEY, I can do that easily with a SPREADSHEET!"

So, I did. And, I have to say, I'm actually finding it easier to accomplish my daily writing goals. Probably because it takes so much less time to type than write, to copy and paste than re-write, and honestly? It's helped me stay on track better, because frankly, I don't have the neatest handwriting anymore (I used to. Not sure what happened). I open my Excel calendar in the morning, take a quick look at the day's objectives, and get going.

But back to setting writing goals (yep, I went off on some weird spreadsheet tangent...sorry!). I used to use this nifty program that you simply typed in the book's title, the total amount of words you were aiming for, when you were planning on starting, and when you wanted to finish, and like magic, this program would tell you how many words per day you needed to write to accomplish that goal. If you wrote more than the minimum one day, it would alter the minimum amount of daily words accordingly, as well as showing you when you would finish if you kept up at that pace. Oh, naturally, it did the same if you wrote less than the minimum number on any given day.

It's a great program. I've used it for many projects. But there was a problem...and that problem is that I don't write evenly throughout a book, and I don't always write the same amount every single day (hey, I get sick, have appointments, need veg days, etc). My writing tends to start out slow. The first third of a book is my slowest and often really, really painful. I start to pick up speed the farther into the book I get, and by the time I pass the halfway mark, I'm usually flying and writing far more words per day than I did at the beginning. So, as much as I loved this program, it didn't really work well for me and my writing patterns.

Now (with a new spreadsheet I designed), I start off with lower word counts and ramp up as I go. THIS works SO much better for me. With the other program, I always felt like a failure in the beginning of my projects, because no way was I able to write that much per day at that point in my novel. Feeling like a failure is not productive to writing. At least it isn't for me. So my new system isn't only more honest about my process, but I find it easier to reach those daily writing goals from the very beginning of a book all the way through the end. Feeling successful is productive to writing, at least for me. :)

That's not to say I always reach those goals, because I don't. I have four kids, four pets, other work that needs to be done, and some days I'm lucky if I can write an email, let alone xxxx number of words. On those days (as long as there are not too many of them), I give myself some slack. After all, I'm not a machine. Also, writing at its best is so much fun. I prefer for it to be fun as often as it can be, and when I'm down on myself for not making a daily goal here and there, then it becomes not fun. And trust me, I know that writing is work...but usually, I have fun with my work.

Whew. Way longer post than I anticipated. Hope you all have a terrific Monday and I'll see you next week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Podium Ponderings...

As the resident Canuck Girl, I will say straight up that I'm proud Canada is hosting this event. I want us to go out there and kick Olympian butt.

But, some of the sports... I just don't know. I will freely admit that I don't really get some of it.

Like men's figure skating--I certainly don't understand the scoring--I'm not sure anyone does--but I particularly don't get the costumes. Seriously. Is that... maribou? You look like a muppet in a Vegas strip joint.

Actually, there's a lot about Olympic-wear that kinda gives me the wiggins. Speed skating uniforms for example. They just look like they would chafe horribly. How long does it take you to get into something like that? And where does the sweat--and I imagine there is a deal of it--go?

Curling pants... what does one say about curling pants besides... "Eep." Except maybe "Ow my eyeballs!" and "Why? Why??"

The hairstyles of the snowboarders.

There are other things, non-sartorial things, I also just don't get about some of the events.

Double's luge? Who thought that would be a good idea in the first place? What's the guy in back contributing to the process?

Skeleton is, quite obviously, a sport for the certifiably insane. "I'm gonna luge. But I'm gonna do it on my face. Yeah."

Ice-dancing. That's... different from ice-skating. I think. And I still don't get the scoring.

I get sympathy knee-aches watching slalom events. Do those guy even have any cartilage left once they reach their 20's?

Is bobsled really a sport? It just kinda seems like... steering fast to me. And what do those other three guys do after the initial push-off??? Aren't they just... ballast? Honestly. I really don't know. If there is something here I'm missing... please let me know.

Like I say, some of it just leaves me scratching my head.

But--here's the other thing. I also get kinda... verklempt... watching the Olympics. Particularly the individual contests. I can't stand it when skaters fall, skiers crash, boarders wipe-out... I feel nervous and clenchy and palm-sweaty when it's one athlete out there busting their hump, striving to achieve and I feel bad--really bad--when they lose. Or come up short. And there's always that shot of slo-mo heartbreak that they show over and over again. Which I guess, is kind of the point. It's the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.

But then there's the hockey. Wherein everything (except the officiating--but that's to be expected) makes sense. Hockey. That, to me, is what the Olympics is all about. GO CANADA GO!!