Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Works

I'm the first to admit I have a questionable work ethic when it comes to writing fiction. I can writing anything else—marketing stuff, grant applications, letters, newsletters, etc. etc.—blindfolded, with my arms pretzel-twisted behind my head and mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. But fiction, which of course brings me the most personal happiness and satisfaction, has always been another animal. The moment I attempt to focus myself as in, okay, let's just finish up this scene, I freeze up. Because what does that really mean? As everyone knows, you can endlessly tinker with a word, a sentence, or a paragraph while believing you are actually working. You can decide that you meant for the scene to go another way entirely and then begin again. You can spend an afternoon in Google heaven because you've decided that in order to correctly set the scene you need to know everything about the manufacturing of pita bread in humid climates or something. What I'm saying is that writing a scene can conceivably go on forever. Or you can decide the scene doesn't belong after all and delete it, which technically fulfills the goal to "finish up this scene." Call me slow on the uptake, but I have only recently realized that the vague, barely-there, open-to-manipulation-and-interpretation-and-other-various-methods-of-skullduggery directives I give myself result in...pretty much nothing.

Okay, so that doesn't work for me. But I'll tell you what does. And I do so with a hung head and flushed cheeks because it's really sort of basic and therefore slighly embarrassing. What works on an almost daily basis is this: Write 200 words in 20 minutes. Editing of previous stuff doesn't count, but it is allowed (because I often can't help myself). It's a super-low wordcount, so it's more than achievable and thus does not make me feel like a total loser. At the end of the week, I have at least 1,400 words that move the narrative forward (or sometimes sideways, but that's okay). And this, my friends, is 1398 words more a week than I typically squeaked out using my previous sorry process. When I get to the end of whatever this is that I'm writing, I will allow myself the luxury of going back to fiddle all I please. But for now, I just need to get it down in a way that allows me to nurture my children and my marriage and other important relationships, keep my house, fulfill my volunteer obligations, and squelch drama before it begins.

In the immortal words of one Willy Wonka, much time, so little to do. Strike that, reverse it.


Julie Wilson said...

V, I can see how that would work. Five days a week, I faithfully post a few hundred words--okay, sometimes many, many less. But, to do the math, I have to hang my head. After three months, I'd have 18,000 words. I love my blog, but I'm wondering if rather than treating it as the core writing, I should be looking at it as dessert. "You don't get to update your blog until you've contributed to the ms!"

(Still loving your voice here, by the way. Makes my day; it truly does.)

ver said...

I'm surprised at how well it works for me, as I've never thought of myself as particularly goal-oriented. Turns out the goal just has to be very, very small!

There was a time when blogging was virtually my only writing because I just couldn't deal what with the kids and all (look at my sidebar; the archive reveals the total posts in a given year, and '04 and '05 were clearly mothering-intensive!), but now blogging is the equivalent of consuming raw chocolate chip cookie dough while watching tv. If you know what I mean.

And I think you do.

(I make your day? Really? Reason enough, then, to continue feathering my little nest here...)