Hi, my friends:
Lately I’ve been dealing with family illness while trying to make significant progress on my new novel, Winds of Vengeance, so I haven’t been around much. I really appreciate Victoria stepping in and blogging so excellently.
Since I’m in the middle of a major project — well, I consider writing an epic MAJOR — I thought it might be of interest to discuss just how how a writer keeps up progress and enthusiasm while just basically writing one word after another, one sentence after another, one paragraph after another, one page after another. How do you keep up your enthusiasm so the project doesn’t seem too overwhelming, and you keep making forward progress?
Well, for me it helps to set goals. I set a weekly goal for myself, and do my damndest to stick to it. If I achieve the goal, I try to reward myself in some small way — buying a new hardcover book, for example, or taking my husband out to a new film we want to see.
Of course there are times when you’re not going to achieve your goal. These are the most dangerous times for a writer. If you’ve slacked off writing for a couple of days, or a week, because of some kind of personal crisis, etc., it seems like it’s pulling teeth to get back to it — at least for me.
What I’ve learned about that is that you should then assign yourself a mini-goal. Promise yourself you’ll write JUST ONE PAGE, or that you will write for just TWENTY MINUTES, or something of the sort. An easy goal, one you can envision achieving.
It often helps if you set up a “buddy report” system with a sympathetic friend. Tell your friend what your interim goal is, and then promise to REPORT on what happens. If you know that you have to make a phone call, or send an email, and actually tell your friend what you did, it can spur you into achieving that small goal.
And taking that first step to get back on the wagon is the most important thing. That way, you can at least think to yourself, “Hey…I wrote today. That’s better than I did yesterday. I am making progress.”
Of course the best way to proceed is not to interrupt your flow. Even if you have to write a page by hand, try to write something every day. It’s really crucial in helping you focus on a project. I recently bought a notebook computer, and it’s a big comfort to me to know that I can take this notebook with me when we go to visit my parents on the Eastern Shore, or camping, etc. And that every day I will be able to make some forward progress — and that, even more importantly, my mental FOCUS on the project won’t be lost.
So…try some of these productivity tricks if you’re having trouble writing and completing projects.
Consider doing the following:
1. Setting a daily and weekly goal of what you want to accomplish. Don’t be too ambitious in the begining, because you want to be able to ACHIEVE that goal.
2. Reward yourself when you achieve your weekly goal. That gives you something to look forward to while you’re staring at the cursor and wondering what the heck to write in the next paragraph.
3. If you do lose momentum, get right back up on the wagon and get rolling. Set an interim goal that is easily achievable. Anything to get yourself writing again.
4. Try to keep your focus on your book and your story. Let the flow start. Instead of lines on a page, try to envision your story unrolling before your eyes like a film, instead of as just words and sentences on a page. Stephen King calls this “falling through the hole in the page.”
Anyhow, hope this is helpful. If anyone has any comments on how they “trick” or cajole or induce themselves to keep plugging away at a long project, I’d love to hear them.
-Ann C. Crispin
This was timely. Thanks so much for posting it, Ann. It seems like whenever I get on a roll and then something happens to interrupt it, I have trouble getting my focus back. Yesterday I determined that I was going to write something every day, even if it’s only a sentence.
I am a new advocate of the buddy sytem. Being held accountable for your goals makes it tougher to slack off – because then you have to admit that you slacked off. Having to report to a friend makes me more likely to keep writing and stay sleep-deprived. A good trade-off. I highly recommend it.
I’ve also heard that ending in the middle of a sentence makes you more eager to pick it up the next day. I’m too OCD to manage this, but it seems like a useful trick.
I love this advice too. So many times people reduce it to nuts and bolts (the character of Ted Mallory, in Diana Wynne Jones’s Deep Secret, strikes me as a wonderfully wry critique on the “writing is like building bicycles” school of thought, a sort of easter egg for those of us who know it’s a lot more like riding a frisky animal that doesn’t always want to be ridden.)
Right now, I’m in an MFA program — largely for the deadlines and the kickstart time, and for Jim Kelly’s great, maniacal workshops. When I get out, I’m intending to start up a workshop locally or online. The idea of it is both to do the normal workshop things (critique, etc) plus have a socially enforced deadline. Criteria of continued membership: every three weeks, one submits a novel chapter or a short story. Critiques happen. If you miss your deadline, you’re kicked out and can rejoin the group after a few months.
Especially if I know I’m going to be away from a project for a while, I stop writing in the middle of a scene, even though the whole scene is completely clear in my head. Then I tag on a couple of point-form comments to remind myself where it was headed. That way, when I do eventually get back to work, I can simply read through the scene & those couple of pointers, and dive right in to finish ‘just this one scene’. By the time that’s done, I’m usually back in the mental groove and ready to roll on.
One of the ways I keep myself going, particularly in first draft, is to not write in order. If I have a scene itching inside my skull, even if I don’t know where it fits in, I’ll write it. Sooner or later I discover where it goes.
I’ve actually been lucky. SO FAR, I don’t have to set any goals. I don’t work outside the home so therefore I write practically every day. (Except weekends)Unfortunately, there comes that burn out time when I just need a break but then I get right back up and start writing again.
This summer, my family and I are going away for two weeks and I don’t have a notebook. I’ll have to work around that. I’ll write like crazy before the vacation so I can “relax” without thinking about my next plot DURING the vacation. Will it work? We’ll see-LOL
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Great post – thanks!
I hope that the family illnesses are cleared up and a thing of the past.
I think you really have a good point when you mention a buddy report –
OK – here’s something I found – This little word count pill is online, and it help keep me focused:
Curses, I always get your name wrong – even when it is right in front of me.
My apologies, Ann.
Thank you, Anne.
Am in paralytic dither right now, waiting for a publisher to make up a collective mind.
This will help.
Don’t worry, Alicia, I hear that voice as well sometimes.
A.C.’s post is great advice.
One thing that I find helps is making myself excited about what’s happening next in the story, sort of like the “flow” thing you mentioned. Obviously I’m not in suspense to find out, since I (usually) have a pretty good idea–but I think about my characters and how they’re going to reacte to and handle it, and sometimes I’ll even chuckle to myself and say, “You guys have NO idea what you’re in for…” (not out loud, of course).
Thanks for everything you and Victoria do with this blog, and I hope everything turns out well with both the illness and the book.
Wow, this came at JUST the right time! I’d been setting goals and largely meeting them and chugging along just fine when that pesky life thing came along and got in my way. And it’s been SO hard to get back into the flow and the tempo of it all!
And why is it that when I fall off the horse and I have a hard time getting on, there’s a little voice inside me that says, ‘REAL writers don’t have a hard time recapturing their story! YOU must be a poser! A fake!’???
Your post helped me a lot and it was just so needed right NOW.