Monday, February 18, 2013

Routine and how it's okay to suck at it



I strive for consistency, but I fail.

I spent weeks gearing up to start revision, and nothing. It’s not writer’s block (something that I don’t really believe in; I mean really? No one ever talks about Sculpter’s block, so why should writers be special like that?). But it was less productive. There were things that I dreaded, so I didn’t start. Once I started, I moved at a slogging, tummy-turning speed. That first day I called myself awesome for making 200 words (go wonder writer!).

The next day it was another 300 words that got me the pat on the back.

Then I turned out 3000 new words, just like that. And since then, I’ve been flying. Of course, it’s a revision, so not everything needed to be rewritten from scratch, but the first 10,000 words are brand spanking new. This is pretty typical for me. Super slow, then super fast.

Getting started was the hardest part. For the beginning, I felt like I’d never get going. I felt like there was no reason to get started. It was like the very idea of working on the project was stupid. I have a Shiny New Idea, surely I should be developing that into a novel instead of wasting my time revising. Does any of this sound familiar? I’m neurotic enough that I know I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes I feel like we have these ideas about how writing should work.

When I draft, I have an idea of how much I should be able to write in a week, a quota if you will. But how I get to those words is a jumble of sprints and flares of note taking, punctuated by long hours of not getting stuff done, doing laundry, and doing the day job. I wish I could say that I really have the discipline to just sit and work, but I don’t. I work hard, and then I don’t. I have stretches of incredible productivity followed by absolutely nothing.

I’ve come to accept this about myself because if you set goals for yourself that you can’t (or don’t) reach, something happens. You get down on yourself, and then it’s harder to make any goals. I know people talk about having a daily quota. I can’t do that, I have to have weekly goals so my goals are flexible enough for me to get lost cleaning out closets or grading exams without going through the I’m-not-getting-work-done crazies.

What works for you, slow and steady wins the race? Or do you take off like the rabbit only to find yourself napping at the end? I always thought it was funny story since they both ended up at the finish line at about the same time…

19 comments:

  1. Ha, you sound like me, Rena! Consistency just isn't my thing, and I agree with you about the whole writer's block lie. It's nothing but us dreading what needs to be done, what we have to do in order to be happy and complete. WE HAVE TO WRITE, but sometimes, we have anxiety over it. Why? I'll never know.

    Once, to get going on my word count, I pulled an idiot stunt, but it paid off. I'd written and rewritten the same story too many times to count, but I wasn't ready to give it up. That being said, I also didn't have the motivation to take another stab at it, so I queried an agent and sent 3 sample chapters of it. Long story short, she requested my full, so I had to ask for more time to work on the ending. She gave me a month. It took me 30 days to crank out 50k. I'm a pressure writer. Miracles happen when I'm under a bullet. Maybe you should put yourself in a tight squeeze and see what happens, lol. :D

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    1. Ack! I do that all the time. This is actually the first story I've ever been able to keep myself from doing something like that. I've entered contests, queried agents, everything. And it just hasn't worked out for me.

      But I am also a pressure writer. Deadlines make me laugh.

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  2. This sounds just like me. I know I'll never be able to sit down at 9am and write 5000 words by dinner time. And I'm not sure I'll ever be able to have my evenings completely free of writing - I always have something I end up working on.

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    1. Yes, exactly. I can sometimes trick myself into swapping tens (ten minute on this project for ten minutes of internet), but it's hard.

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  3. I have only ever had success with a daily word count during NaNo... and that's because I'm just using it as a "get the words out" exercise... not as the rewriting/refining stage... and I have to use the "Write or Die" app to make myself stay on task. Other than that, I'm VERY sporadic...

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    1. Me too, I just can't make it all work for me.

      I've had some fun with Written? Kitten! which is just like write or die only they give you cute kitten pictures for making your writing goals. I just recommend that you save all the time.

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  4. Since I began outlining, I feel like my processes are always slow. I mean, there are times when I don't need my outline and I can just get through anything...but I definitely like to plan. Now, editing on the other hand...I just procrastinate.

    I like that you said you didn't believe in writer's block. I find I am less productive when I think too hard on something. At times, it just needs to happen naturally, you can't force it.

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    1. Oh man, I am not an editing fan. Give me a first draft any day. I will gladly stare down those blank pages.

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  5. "Go wonder writer!" HA! That was awesome! I feel like that quite often. In the sarcastic form, of course!
    I have no idea if its slow and steady or zooming to the end. It changes from day to day, but at least I'm moving, right? At least most of the time ;)

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    1. Yes, movement is the key. I feel like there's such a thing as writerly momentum, so as long as there's movement, it helps the next movement.

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  6. I've never been good at daily goals. I strive for consistency in writing something each day, but never a set amount

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    1. That's a good way to go, I think. I try to at least give myself credit for the days when I come up with good ideas (that get written down!) when I can't make actual words.

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  7. I go through lurches and layabouts, too. And like you, it's usually in the getting started period that I go slowly (or get lazy and take a nap...after eating a tub of icing and watching Lost). I don't set daily goals - I tried, didn't work. I do, however, usually have a sense of where I am - lag or lurch - and set a weekly schedule based on my gut.

    I've also started keeping a log of what I accomplish. Even if it's only 100 words, it's nice to have a map of where I've been. It makes me see even the slow days have added up to something awesome.

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    1. You know, it's so funny, but we spend so much time avoiding and dreading the beginning parts that we spend way more time in the dreaded phase than we need to.

      I had a friend who laughed about how if you get something in your mouth that tastes good, you eat it right away. But if you take a bite of something nasty, you sort of swish it around in your mouth hoping it'll taste better (which it never does), prolonging the unfortunate experience. I feel like the lurching layabout part is sort of like that, but I don't know how to get myself past it.

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  8. I have momentum problems. It's really hard to get me started, but then when I start, I hate to stop. I'm that way with writing, closets, blogging...doesn't matter. And I will have long spells without writing a single word on a manuscript. Lately, I have been having an awful time getting writing time in. But I no longer sweat it (too much) because while I am not hitting keys...my brain is forming plots and scenes, so when I do sit down to write, I'm not staring at a blank screen wondering what to write. Maybe that's why we never get blocked!

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  9. I'm like you, I write in spurts. I try and get some done every day, but I mostly find I have a huge dumping of info where I write a BUNCH and then for days I can't seem to get anything like that until I get the next flash of inspiration.

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  10. I'm totally like you, Rena. When I feel pressure to meet a daily quota, I'm more focused on word count than getting the story right. And it's all about just diving in like you said---once we just jump, then it starts flowing. Great post!

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  11. I'm a slow and steady. I'm sure my process would drive most folks batty, but it's all about finding what works for you. Failure is but a stepping stone to triumph! :)

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  12. It's so interesting to see how differently everyone works. I haven't worked on a first draft since Nano, but I like to set tiny, achievable goals, and then blow them out of the water. If I can blast by a 300 word goal, and feel like 'wonder-writer' :) more often than not I'll end up happily writing a thousand words.
    Revision, though is another story entirely. More on that when IWSG rolls around again ...

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