Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating the Elephant

Most authors like to be ready with new writing goals for a new year, and I'm no exception. Most of the last half of 2010 was spent preparing for the release of my first published book, and there is still a great deal of work to be done on promotion, including signings and conferences. Through all of this, I can't lose sight of the goal to produce at least a first draft of a new book during this coming year.

The difference this time around is that I'm writing in a different genre with an all-new setting (heck, an all-new WORLD) and characters. The format is much longer (as long as 175,000 words), with multiple points-of-view and a plot that involves centuries of history (all made up by me!) and magical goings-on. It's a big task, but I'm determined to make it happen in 2011. All I need to do is balance producing a 600-page manuscript with all the other roles in my life.

Now, I admire all you nanowrimo aficionados. 50,000 words in 30 days, daily "sprint" exercises and all that good stuff. As the founder of the nano movement likes to say, producing that much "crap" is better than doing nothing at all. But I don't have a month to dedicate to writing, and on most days I don't even have an hour. Even if I give myself an entire year to do it, how am I going to accomplish such a big task?

I'm going to eat the elephant.

A bite at a time. This requires a little math, which my brain shrinks from but is necessary. 600 pages divided by 12 months is 50 pages per month. Not bad, I tell myself, I'm not so scared. I've written 50 pages in 2 days before. 50 in a month should be no sweat.

Not so fast, Mike.

Remember, I'm dealing with a much larger plot (actually a series of plots and sub-plots), and the opportunities to write myself in a corner are legion as I discover the deficiencies in my outline or allow a character to take on a life of his or her own. Entire scenes, entire chapters will be balled up and hurled in the trash, forcing me to re-write others to fill the gaps. I'm not talking about editing or revision, folks, this is my rough draft process. While I'm quite happy to finish a draft that consists of 600 pages of wombat doo-doo, it at least needs to make sense.

So 50 pages per month breaks down to about 12 pages per week. That's only 2 pages per day if I take Sundays off! A chimpanzee with a keyboard could do that, right? Maybe, but the average primate has a bit more leisure time on his hands than I do, and all weeks are NOT created equal. I'm juggling a wife and three kids (not literally, since my youngest is afraid of heights and my wife gets motion sickness), a full-time job and a stack of miscellaneous callings, assignments and events that can on many days keep me going from 4:30am to 9pm. To make things even more interesting, I'm not a "flash writer". Little chunks of time like the 17 minutes between dinner and my son's basketball practice aren't of much use to me. My brain works more like an old 286 PC than an iPad. It can take 30 minutes just for the operating system to load up, all before the first word is written. The fantasy world with my unique creatures and characters simply can't occupy the same gray matter at the same time as the real world, and it takes time to get into it. I need at least an hour to get warmed up, and my best writing occurs in hours two, three, and beyond. This reduces my productive writing time to weekends, holidays, and rare weeknights where nothing else is going on.

On a bad week, I'll have 8 hours to write. On a good week, I'll have 12. On a miracle week, 16. Let's take an average of 10 hours. 12 pages in 10 hours. I can do that. Some weeks I will kill it and get 30 pages done. Other weeks I'll be lucky to get 4. But with my handy-dandy page log spreadsheet, I can ensure that I stay ahead of schedule by comparing my actual page count with my forecast. The Law of Averages will eventually become my servant.

A year from now, I'll either have the 600-page draft done, or I won't. There won't be any excuse if I don't, because I have done the math, run through the worst-case scenario, and declared it possible. I have proven that I have sufficient creativity, and logic dictates that there is plenty of time. A failure at this point would reveal a lack of willpower. That's not something I want to be accused of.

Let's not forget -- 2011 is also the start of a new decade, the "teens" or whatever history ends up calling it. Be sure to make your long-term goals as well!


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you are going through. You've got the right idea, slow and steady will get it done. Can't wait to hear more about it!

Maggie said...

Good luck with that novel. It sounds like you're well prepared.

Cheri Chesley said...

Sounds like a good plan. But, wow. That picture is kinda creepy :)